If this were an outdoor blog you might be asking, where the heck is Lake Ruth? Since this is a music blog I don’t need to give you directions, hopefully you know where to find records on the internet. Hewson Chen of The New Lines, Matt Schulz of Savak, Holy Fuck, Enon along with vocalist Allison Brice from The Eighteenth Day of May opened up their resort earlier this year with a single that was like a cool drink perspiring on the arm of your Adirondack chair while you gazed at the ripples spreading out on the glassy lake.
If you are a fan of Chen’s New Lines, you will be likely be staying a while at Lake Ruth.They have expanded and updated the place with the luxurious long player Actual Entity. You get the sense that the place was built in the 60’s by a French architect who went to school in Berlin and studied Italian Renaissance. Also I think the place may have been used as the set for some long forgotten sci-fi television series, but I can’t be certain. Grab a copy and see if you can figure it out.
Northern Ireland doesn’t have a west coast, so I can only imagine that Sea Pinks are left to conjure sunny wide open California scenes through their music. Top Pink, Neil Brogan was originally the drummer in Girls Names but left that band to concentrate on his band Sea Pinks. For good reason, as he seems to have an endless supply of lush, jangle filled songs in his head. Sea Pinks’ music has an affinity with the US west coast due to Brogan’s smooth tenor which evokes the lugubriousness of the Beach Boys, combined with the guitars cracking with the dusty jangle of the Byrds.
Brogan’s boyish tenor could make him an honorary Beach Boy. It’s smooth and easy on the ears, lending a sense of melancholy to these otherwise upbeat songs. The new album Dream Tracks, their fourth, is not drastically different from the previous three, but in little ways you can tell that Brogan is stretching out as a songwriter and open to incorporating a more varied pallet of sounds onto his records. The inclusion of cello on songs like Dream Happening and Invisible Lines provides more depth to the sound, while Meat and Drink employs a undulating Stereolab-like bass which adds something new to the jangly Sea Pinks cannon. These additional embellishments mesh easily with Brogans top songwriting talent to produce what may be the best Sea Pinks album yet.
Paris by way of Biarritz, France group La Femme released one of my favorite records of last year. Psycho Tropical Berlin was a mix of electronic metronomic underground, cold wave surfy twang and punky ye-ye. It’s sly, fun, and playful. Listening to the album you it’s readily apparent that La Femme know how to have a good time. This impression was confirmed Wednesday night at the Vera Project.
The group knows how to throw a party, even in a sterile all ages venue where the nearest alcohol is blocks away (or in the flask you snuck in). Indie music is full of inanimate objects on stage so it was refreshing to see all six members of La Femme know how to entertain. Three keyboards buttressed the stage, but that did not stop them from coming into the crowd and dancing with each other. Singer Clémence Quélennec was constantly dancing, displaying some cool robotic 80’s Valley Girl moves, while her co-keyboard MC Marlon Magnée danced and pranced about the stage. It was infectious, fun to watch and provoked the entire audience into dancing too.
A couple highlights of the set were the manic Antitaxi with its lengthy synth introduction building anticipation that exploded in a twangy surf guitar riff to everyone’s elated satisfaction. The epic It’s Time to Wake Up in showcased guitarist and Theremin maestro Sacha Got playing some tiny wooden leaf shaped gypsy guitar from which he coaxed huge washes of sitar like hallucinogenic sounds.
I’m sure touring and playing the same songs night after night gets old for a band, but La Femme genuinely seemed to be having a great time. They are a band in search of a party and if there isn’t one nearby they are fully capable of starting it themselves. Like a French B-52’s.
Listening to Quilt and reading about them on the internet you get the initial impression that they are 60’s revivalist hippies. On their sophomore album Held In Splendor the Boston band pluck strings from psychedelic era Beatles, unearth dusty jangle from the Byrds and sprinkle misty mountain vocal harmonies from the Mamas and the Papas. The trio of Anna Fox Rochinski, Shane Butler, and John Andrews are all songwriters which adds to the variety of their sound on the album. They also have voices that allow them to harmonize like Crosby Stills and Nash which are often the focus of their sound. A couple interviews with the band touch on them being into chanting and even some dub. So I was expecting a show accenting their ability to harmonize. I wasn’t expecting a tendency for taking their songs into motorik and dub territory. What are good guitar solos on record turned into hypnotic grooves and made the songs take on new lives during their set last night in the Barboza basement.
When you add in these latent krautrock and dub tendencies you have an unbeatable combination, and at times last night they seemed to lock into jams like they were Stereolab or Neu. Perhaps it was the addition of a fourth member bassist Keven Lareau to the band for this tour that has opened up this new dimension. When they weren’t harmonizing in two, three and four parts, they were jamming and sometimes both at once to chilling effect. Quilt’s brand of psychedelia was already pretty good given their songwriting ability and willingness to go beyond the stereotypical hazy laid back stoner vibe that is all too prevalent in much of this new wave of psyche, but this show put them into by themselves. Already exceptional the songs were put into whatever you want to call the next highest category (neu-super-metronom-psych). Quilt are one of the band’s to beat in 2014.
Feb. 11—Media Club—Vancouver, British Columbia
Feb. 12—Mississippi Studios—Portland, Oregon
Feb. 14—Bottom Of The Hill—San Francisco, California
Feb. 15—The Satellite—Los Angeles, California
Feb. 16—Soda Bar—San Diego, California
Feb. 17—Last Exit Live—Phoenix, Arizona
Feb. 20—The Mohawk—Austin, Texas
Feb. 21—City Tavern—Dallas, Texas
Feb. 22—Fitzgerald’s—Houston, Texas
Feb. 24—529—Atlanta, Georgia
Feb. 25—Local 506—Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Feb. 27—Boot & Saddle—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Feb. 28—Rough Trade—Brooklyn, New York
March 1—Great Scott—Allston, Massachusetts
March 2—Casa De Popolo—Montreal, Quebec
March 3—Drake Hotel—Toronto, Ontario
March 5—Stone Fox—Nashville, Tennessee
April 2—The Windmill—London, United Kingdom
April 7—El Lokal—Zurich, Switzerland
April 14—Berghain Kantine—Berlin, Germany
April 17—Charlatan—Ghent, Belgium
April 19—L’Espace B—Paris, France
May 2—Carson Creek Ranch—Austin, Texas
May 7—Subterranean—Chicago, Illinois
May 11—Showcase Lounge—South Burlington, Vermont
Blouse at the Vera Project, Seattle | 17 September 2013
The big news about Blouse‘s second album Imperium is that Portland band has ditched their synths and gone for the guitar, bass and drum (and cello) approach on this new batch of songs. While this isn’t exactly a controversial approach, it is different and so sets them up for the possibility of fans being upset about their new direction. One thing Blouse proved on their debut album was that they could write a decent pop song. So the real question is can they still write a descent pop song? The next question is do the new songs sound as good with the new approach? Yes, and yes. In fact, Imperium has better songs that make a bigger impression on the listener.
Their self-titled debut had some good songs but its synth based sound caused the record to float by like a plastic band in the wind. Easy to take notice of, but not leaving a lasting impression. Imperium has no such problem. There are remnants of their stylized sythesizers, but they are replaced with a cello. This record deals in guitars, rumbly bass and Charlie Hilton’s ethereal vocals. The closest comparison would be to Broadcast‘s The Noise Made by People. There is a folk-based 60 sound to Hilton’s vocals similar to Wendy & Bonnie and the Free Design combined with comet scar guitars and other interstellar stardust that floats out of the speakers when you play this record.
Last night at the Vera Project they really let loose. The guitars were turned up and the keyboard was in the corner as they glided through the best of the new album putting new wings on songs like Arrested, 1000 Years and Trust Me. In photo’s Blouse appear as a trio, but they’ve added a second guitar player who plays a beautiful lavender Jazzmaster. This additional power made the songs crackle and spark. The band appeared loose and it seemed like the songs felt new to them making it fun for everyone. They dolled out Cure-like baselines, shards of shoegaze noise pop while Charlie’s voice seemed to float on top of it all. The twin guitar attack of Arrested was easily the highlight of the show. It suspended time and place and created a nebulous cloud of euphoria in the room. One of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
Here are the remaining dates of their West Coast tour:
9/20 Portland, OR – Star Theater
9/21 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
9/22 Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
9/25 San Diego, CA – The Void
9/26 Costa Mesa, CA – Detroit Bar
Stereolab with Richard Swift and Monade at the Showbox, Seattle | 17 October 2008
Around the time of Dots and Loops I was in the car driving on the freeway from Morgantown, West Virginia to Washington, DC. For the drive, I had the new Stereolab single, Fluoresences playing in the car. The last song on that EP is Soop Groove #1 which is one of Stereolab’s longer grooving songs like in the realm of Metronomic Underground or Jenny Ondioline. As I remember, it was kind of foggy going through the mountains when Soop Groove came on with its marching rhythm, followed by Tim Gane’s guitar and then the Sean O’Hagen’s short jazz-like bursts of horns. The entire 13 minute song builds on a building repetitive groove that put me into some kind of trance. It was like some kind of white noise where your eyes flip to the back of your head and you’re out. Somehow I continued to drive unconsiously following the white line with Stereolab guiding me down the road. My favorite Stereolab music is where they develop and establish a hypnotic repetition that just keeps on seeming to build but never quite comes to a nadir. I came out of the trance somewhere near the end of the song that day, but I’d traveled 20 odd miles and couldn’t remember a single one of them because of the hypnosis that Stereolab had put me in.
Last night at the Showbox the band only entered into a couple of those trance inducing songs, but both times it was more than worth the price of a $20 ticket or any drugs you might have scored. They did it once midway through their set with Lo Boob Oscilator and then again on the final song of the night Stomach Worm. On both songs the band put it into hyperdrive with Tim Gane at the back of the stage just bobbing his head back and forth lightly strumming his guitar and everyone else in the band with heads down on their instrument and locking into a groove.
For the other songs in the set, which was the majority, the band kept it short and sweet. Focusing a lot on Chemical Chords, their new album where most of the songs are short concise pop songs. I’ve since come around a little to Chemical Chords since kind of deriding it a few months ago. It is a study in catchy pop songs and doesn’t diverge into longer dirge and grooving songs that have been de rigeur of the past. The band have come up with a handful of their best catchy pop numbers for the new album of which they’ve only teased fans with on previous albums. If you’re a fan of the shorter and to the point pop songs like Ping Pong, Percolator, John Cage Bubblegum, French Disco and Miss Modular then this album and last night’s show are right up your alley.
Laetitia Sadier looked positively radiant singing, doing her cute little dancing, shyly smiling each time some guy yelled something in French to her, and knowing her own discography (Before Lo Boob Oscilator she mentioned that the song originally appeared on Sub Pop single). On the surface Stereolab may seem innocuous, with their easy lounge influenced sound and Saedier’s cooing and sometime sing-songy delivery. But many of Sadier’s songs have a serious leftist bent to to them, and the band can seriously stretch out and rock as was in full effect on Lo Boob and Stomach Worm.
My only complaints about last night’s show were that Sean O’Hagen’s brass and string arrangements were missed, especially from the Chemical Chords songs where they seem so integral. My second complaint isn’t really a complaint, it’s just that I really missed Mary Hansen’s backing vocals. Hansen was killed back in 2002, being run over by a truck while on a bicycle in London. Hansen with here backing vocals always gave the words a more forceful presence. Last night Sadier’s vocals didn’t seem as powerful and prominent as when I’d seen them previously when Hansen was still alive. Part of this perception may have had to do with me standing too close to the stage where vocals are always less prominent in the overall sound.
Minor complaints aside, Stereolab seem to still be at the top of their game, pushing the proverbial envelope with their lengthy jams, but also recognizing that they are a terrific singles band and highlighting many of those three minute pop masterpieces last night was a delightful way to experience this band who have been touring and putting out records for 17 years.
I walked in for the last chords of Monade, which is Laetitia’s other band, so I can’t really say much about them. I did get to see Richard Swiftand his band and he did not disappoint. Dressed Up For the Letdown was one of my favorites albums of last year,and though his latest album, Richard Swift as Onasis is a bit harder to get your head around, it”s certainly not a letdown. Swift writes classic pop songs in a Randy Newman and Harry Nilson style, and his band is more than up to the task of playing them. Swift was in fine form switching between playing guitar and keyboard. The highlight of his set was the final song Lady Luck (from Ground Trouble Jaw which you can download for free) where he set aside his guitar and piano and sang in a soulful un-ironic falsetto sounding a bit like Prince. It was pretty damn great and made me kick myself for not going to see him the last time he was in town at Chop Suey.
There are more photos and the set list over at my flickr. There are also a few more Stereolab dates for the US, all with Richard Swift opening.
10/19: Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver
10/21: Fillmore, San Francisco
10/23: Henry Fonda Theater, LA
10/24: Belly Up, San Diego
You may or may not know (or care) that Stereolab have new album out. I still like Stereolab, but they seem to have come to a point where they have genericized their sound so much that it’s great background muzak. I like the new album Chemical Chords, but the music sounds so refined that it has been smoothed of all its rough edges. Take me back to the days of Super Electric or the Seeming and the Meaning or Metronomic Underground where the band seemed to have more angst in them and could lite it up with a dirging groove. Like I said, the new record, is descent, but like the High Lamas (Sean O’Hagen does all Stereolab’s string arrangements) their recent albums just don’t compare to their earlier work. It’s good, but they seem to have lost the edge which made their earlier music so engaging. I can’t really find anything really wrong with it, but I also can’t find anything that they’re doing that is new or immediate. It seems like the band have for the last four or five albums been on a quest to perfect their sound, making minor tweaks here and there and in doing so have sanitized their sound to a point where it’s hard to engage it. Maybe that’s the point. I’m sure Stereolab will continue putting out albums every few years and for some reason I’ll keep buying their albums, out of habit I guess.
the old: mp3: Stereolab – Super Electric (from Switched On)
The answer to my Stereolab wo’s has come in the form of an Australian band calling themselves Summer Cats. Their latest single the Lonely Planet, out on Cloudberry is two minutes of krautish swirling guitars and organ with a monotone boy-girl vocal that even starts out with the French Je t’aime a la Stereolab. The Summer Cats feature Scott Stevens of the Earthmen, who were a jangly, pop band that weren’t afraid to rock out. The Earthmen released a bunch of singles and a couple albums in the 90’s on Summershine down under and on Seed here in the United States. The Summer Cats have hints of jangle, especially on their earlier stuff, but they seem to be mining gold with the Kraut direction they’ve been going on both the Cloudberry single and the split single they just released on Slumberland with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Stuff like this keeps me buying records, not out habit but out of the sheer fact of being blown away when I hear something this immediate and cracking.