Archive for April, 2011

(Editor’s Note: This piece also appears on The Bowery Presents The House List and Broadcastr)

A glowing green dot waited patiently in the middle of a panel of screens. And like the gathered crowd, it had come for Tame Impala. But starting from the band’s opening song, it began to mutate. The dot became circles and the circles pulsated to the music. For some, these oscillating shapes simply occupied the background, disregarded as a trippy distraction. This perspective, however, seems to miss the point entirely. Psychedelic rock is wholly sensory, visual field included. And experiencing Tame Impala’s music is linked to seeing it transform.

Monday night’s sold-out show at Webster Hall is part of this young band’s transformation. As they continue to tour behind their excellent debut album, Innerspeaker, studio arrangements are changing, as is their stage presence. When I first saw this band in the fall, they seemed rigid and nervous. Each band member stuck to an assigned part, delivering carbon copies of songs from the album. Now, evident from narcotized renditions of “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Solitude Is Bliss,” they are keen to explore new possibilities.

The first three songs (the aforementioned two plus “It Is Not Meant to Be”) felt slower by a few BPMs and sound manipulation rather than technical trickery filled improvisational gaps. A cover of Massive Attack’s “Angel” even sneaked into the set list, something not done before according to lead guitarist and vocalist Kevin Parker. And with a looser yet engaged attitude complementing their dreamscape melodies, Tame Impala appears up to the task of reinvigorating psychedelia.


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(Editor’s Note: This piece also appears on The Bowery Presents The House List and Broadcastr)

Perch Patchwork, the debut album from Maps & Atlases, is perhaps the best record you didn’t hear in 2010. With folk-rock immediacy and lush arrangements, it’s an album in the truest sense, diverse yet cohesive. The songs range from radio friendly (“Living Decorations” and “Israeli Caves”) to experimental (“Carrying the Wet Wood”), but none stray far from pop palatability. And whether frontman Dave Davison’s expressive blend of singing and croaking endears you to the music or pushes you away, it is undeniably unique and memorable. So, on Tuesday night at The Bowery Ballroom, it may come as no surprise to fans that Davison, positioned center stage, is the lasting image from the show.

Beginning with his solo introduction on “Pigeon” and ending with barely audible vocal flourishes on the show-closing “Was,” Davison’s appearance, unkempt with arguably the longest hair in the room, and musical contributions stood out. This is not to say, however, that the rest of the band faded into the background. Shiraz Dada (bass) and Chris Hainey (drums) commanded a rhythm section that navigated through shifting time signatures while Erin Elders deftly finger-tapped complex guitar riffs. These talents emerged on selections from earlier, math rock-centric EPs You and Me and the Mountain and Tree, Swallows, Houses, but also during the larger portion of material from Perch Patchwork, especially the showstopping “The Charm.”

Nevertheless, Davison, with few words for the audience but visible gratitude, provided the night’s best moments. During an adamantly called for encore, he explained that while Maps & Atlases rarely do covers, they decided to perform the Elvis Costello song “Radio Radio.” And although the selection seemed odd at first, Davison’s adaptable voice handled the melody surprisingly well. It’s this apparent connection to classic-rock roots mixed with technical proficiency that makes this band challenging yet shamelessly enjoyable.

Additional pictures I took from the show after the jump: (more…)

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

April showers make it difficult to go to concerts. The urge to stay in and watch bad TV is strongest when the weather is least inviting. But with determination and proper rain gear, a lazy, waterlogged night is avoidable. And when a musician can make you forget the dreary conditions, seemingly transporting you away, a concert feels like the perfect haven from the elements.

On Saturday at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Sharon Van Etten, supported by guest vocalists and a backing band, transfixed an audience of weather-tested fans. Poised with a candy red Gibson guitar slung over her shoulder, Van Etten used both her incredibly powerful voice and earnest guitar work to enliven many beloved songs from her new album, Epic, as well as earlier demos.

Her songs, impressive as recorded material, are devastatingly beautiful in person. From the initial lyrics of her opening song to her solitary encore performance of “Damn Right,” Van Etten mystified the crowd, silencing all with the force and passion of her singing. And although some audience members called out requests between songs, Van Etten showed only appreciation and kindness toward all those in attendance. Even as a fan insistently yelled out some inaudible message, she cheerfully dedicated the next song, “One Day,” to that person. And over the course of the show, Van Etten proved she’s one of the select few singer-songwriters who can make the rain go away.

Additional pictures I took from the show after the jump:  (more…)

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Identifying a band’s genre requires guesswork, drawing generalizations from assumptions. What’s heard is instinctively analyzed and distinguished. The difficulty comes when styles clash and meld, defying preordained expectations. Granted, some sounds are more recognizable than others, but really, what the hell is folk rock? After seeing Wye Oak, I’m not entirely sure.

Last night, playing before a capacity crowd, the Baltimore duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack headlined their first show at The Bowery Ballroom. Labor is divided with Wasner on guitar and vocals and Stack simultaneously balancing drums and keys. If the latter task seems difficult, that’s because it is. While Wasner is the center of the group, chatty and endearing, Stack provides stability, juggling his tasks with quiet concentration. And even though Wasner spoke for both of them, expressing gratitude and bewilderment, often saying, “I can’t believe you’re here to see us,” musically, they’re an egalitarian unit. Both contribute equally to Wye Oak.

One of the many pleasures of seeing this band live is witnessing their alchemic performance. Notions of masculinity and femininity and aggression and delicacy are recombined in song arrangements that both swell and overwhelm. Wasner’s voice, which falls somewhere in between a young Stevie Nicks’s and indie-rock contemporary Victoria Legrand’s, is powerful in a naturalistic, effortless way. In the show’s opener, “The Alter,” a song off Wye Oak’s new album, Civilian, sensuous vocals ultimately gave way to a monstrous, distorted solo. As made clear from the first song, Wasner is capable of raw, improvisational guitar work that’s as impressive as it is effective. Conversely, Stack’s light drum patterns and melodic flourishes, especially on “Civilian” and “For Prayer,” melted into choruses where brute force is favored. So while Wye Oak may be folk rock to some, it’s a sound of its own to me.

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Hey Playtonics,

I am thrilled to report that my fourth article for Tiny Mix Tapes’ Delorean blog was posted today! For those of you who don’t know, I, under the moniker “Playtonic J”, write for the online music magazine Tiny Mix Tapes’ Delorean blog. Previously, the Delorean section used to solely consist of reviews for older music. However, with TMT’s redesigned website (and ethos?), the ‘Delorean Blog’ will now be a place where I can write about almost anything: track reviews, lists, Beatles conspiracy theories, etc.

My first article was a kitsch nod to the holiday and film Groundhog Day with a review of the Manic Street Preachers’ song “Groundhog Day.” For my second article,  I continually listened to and painstakingly researched Talking Heads’ 1983 album Speaking in Tongues. Now, after a sizable break from my last article, I decided to write about hidden classic rock gem by Happy End, a little-known Japanese folk rock band from the 1970s. Click the link below to see my thoughts on Happy End’s “Haikara Hakuchi”:


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It’s Friiiiiday, Friiiiiday, listening to mashups on Friiiiiday. (more…)

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Afternoon Playtonics,

For those of you who don’t know, in addition to writing semi-daily for Playtonic Dialogues, I am also a contributing photographer and writer for The Bowery Presents The House List. Since moving to New York, I have written reviews for Animal Collective and Arcade Fire, as well as many other concerts produced at all New York venues currently booked by The Bowery Presents, including the Mercury Lounge, the Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Terminal 5, the Brooklyn Bowl, and more… This month I will be contributing reviews for the following shows:

4/3: Destroyer @ Webster Hall

4/10: Taj Mahal @ Brooklyn Bowl (UPDATE: I will not be reviewing this show)

4/14: Wye Oak @ Bowery Ballroom

4/16: Sharon Van Etten @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

4/19: Maps and Atlases @ Bowery Ballroom

4/23: Crocodiles @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

4/25: Tame Impala @ Webster Hall

4/30: Of Montreal @ Webster Hall

Look out for my reviews and photos which will be on The Bowery Presents The House List as well as this site.

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