Mar 22, 02:14 AM: Live Show: Oh No! Oh My!
Oh No! Oh My!
March 21, 2007 at the Black Cat, Washington, DC
Oh No! Oh My!’s self-titled album was ranked #22 on my top records of 2006 list. When I reviewed that album back in October, I talked about how I was hoping to see them live. Well, my wish came true the other night at the Black Cat.
Prior to the show, I joked that they would most likely play the songs I didn’t like on the album, mixed with “new material.” When the band opened with “Skips the Foreplay,” I knew my prediction was going to come true. I always wondered why they opened their album with that track, let alone the show. I find it to be a bit of an awkward song, but I held out hope for the rest of the set.
On the positive side, the sound quality at the Black Cat was excellent. This is often the case at the Cat, but last night was impressive. Unfortunately, though, high fidelity sound can’t make up for a poor set. The band played several new songs, including one that featured the drummer on vocals, singing “I’m not a monster.” That song was supposedly a “dance number” but was more just an awkward show of some awkward guys jumping around on stage.
They played every track off their record except for “On the Town,” “Farewell to All My Friends” and “The Backseat.” Unfortunately, those were some of the best songs. Their live versions of “Lisa Make Love” and “Jane is Fat” were awkward, and the instrumentation seemed to be off. “I Love You All the Time,” which relies on some synths and keys, seemed too focused on an acoustic guitar, which completely changed the sound.
I came away from the show thinking that they should just stick to the acoustic guitar and play songs such as “Farewell to All My Friends” rather than awkward renditions of the songs that sounded great in the studio.
Of course I give a band leeway in playing songs differently live. Most of the time the band can bring the song to life in a way that’s not possible listening to it at home. However, in the case of Oh No! Oh My!, it was much like watching a completely different band cover some Oh No! Oh My! songs.
It was the first night of their tour, coming on the heels of SXSW, so I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt. However, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Perhaps I was expecting something different, or something more. Instead I got a band that seemed like a bad imitation of The Boy Least Likely To.
Feb 26, 06:10 PM: Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud Thunder
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
Some Loud Thunder
I didn’t get around to listening to this record until, well, a few days ago. In the past I’ve referred to CYHSY as “Clap Your Hands Say Meh.” I thought their 2005 self-titled debut was just OK, and I was not part of the blogger brigade that brought this band and their self-released record to the forefront of indie music.
I’m done tooting my own horn. Let’s talk about music. 2007 is the year of hype deflation. The Shins, the Arcade Fire, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, all records that will bring bands back to reality.
Since I never understood the hype behind CYHSY’s first record, I’ll be honest and say I enjoyed Some Loud Thunder. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but this record isn’t bad. “Love Song No. 7” is my favorite track, along with “Five Easy Pieces.” The band takes things in a bit of a new direction on this release, adding a bit more complexity to their songs.
There isn’t so much anything akin to “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found)” or “Is this Love?” on Some Loud Thunder. The songs aren’t as shiny, I’d venture to say there’s a grittier sound which does the band well. “Yankee Go Home” evokes a Dan Bejar sound, which was certainly unexpected, and I haven’t rendered a verdict on it yet.
The album has it’s low points, though, and I’m not afraid to say “Satan Said Dance” is a fairly awful song. It’s an “Electronic Renaissance”-style song, but with terribly annoying lyrics. Hearing “Satan Said” crooned over and over becomes grating after a while.
Overall, Some Loud Thunder is an average release, and the band continues to get some brownie points for doing things themselves.
Feb 24, 05:59 PM: Review: Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
It’s been joked within the indie circuit that when Neon Bible drops, it will be a competition over who can pretend to hate it the most. After all, it’s our duty to bring the leader of the Overhyped Canadian Import Brigade™ back to Earth, no? The sophomore release is what makes the band, and certainly no band could ever live up to the hype that the Arcade Fire saw after 2004’s Funeral.
And guess what, they don’t. Neon Bible certainly isn’t the best thing to ever happen to music. Upon hearing it, you don’t drop whatever it is you’re doing and write on your blog about how the record has changed your life. However, it is a good record. A solid release.
If you’re looking for more “epic” songs along the lines of “Rebellion (Lies)” you’ll be pleased with “Intervention.” The already-released single, starts off with the powerful pipe organ and doesn’t quite let you go. “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” and “My Body is a Cage” also have potential to be stand-outs. However, none of these are quite on the same level as “Wake Up,” which is one of the best songs of this decade.
My main beef with Neon Bible is that it relies on rather cliched subject material. Religion, sin, war, etc., can make for good material, sometimes. The Thermals’ The Body, the Blood, the Machine comes to mind. However, I always associated the Arcade Fire with more interpersonal subjects, or at least more personal than the general subject of “war,” for example. I think my dislike of the title track says it all. There’s only so much you can say about the commercialization and general bastardization of religion in today’s culture.
Neon Bible is a decent sophomore effort by the Arcade Fire. It shows some development and evolution in their sound, which is always a good thing. This record confirms that the Arcade Fire has staying power. It also confirms that they are human, and that the hype over this release was impossible to live up to.
Oct 19, 09:56 PM: Review: Dirty on Purpose, Hallelujah Sirens
Dirty on Purpose
North Street, 2006
It’s getting close to November, so I feel like it might not be too soon to anoint something as the best record of the year. If I were to do so, Hallelujah Sirens would be the front-runner. I’m still waiting to find a 2006 release that tops this.
From the opening bars of “No Radio,” I was hooked on this band. I came across this album in July, and have been waiting for them to take a trip down to D.C. They had to cancel a show at the Black Cat due to van trouble, but will be playing with D.C. favorites Exit Clov at the Rock and Roll Hotel as part of the DAM! Festival.
Back to the album, though. The word I see used most often to describe Dirty on Purpose is “shimmery.” I’m reluctant to use that adjective myself, but if your introduction is “No Radio” and “Light Pollution” (the songs featured on their MySpace profile), then I can see how that’s fitting.
Speaking of which, “Light Pollution” is certainly worthy of attention, and is a very beautiful song. However, not every track on this record is marked by dramatic crescendos and (I’ll say it, epic, builds). My personal favorite track would be “Lake Effect.” Its a quiet, rather slow song, and has the best lyrics of any cut on the album. They manage to pull off lyrics such as:
The microphone caught every sigh
The microphone caught every comment you made
It caught every cry from the depths of your dreams
Another bonus of this record is that it builds to the best material, nestled right in the middle. “Always Looking” (Part 1) reminds me of Low Level Owl era Appleseed Cast, fading into “Marfa Lights” which brings together everything I loved about, well, the Appleseed Cast, among others, but also makes it fresh. The record mellows out again towards the end, with “Kill Your City,” which clocks in at 5:30 but builds to a beautful end.
This album brings together everything I enjoy about indie-rock. Some may call it derivative of early favorites Jawbreaker, or later favorites such as the Appleseed Cast. However, I find their take on these themes to be original enough to make it worth a listen, and worth the investment of becoming a fan of Dirty on Purpose.
Oct 13, 02:56 PM: Review: Oh No! Oh My!, Self-titled
Oh No! Oh My!
Oh No! Oh My!
Oh No! Oh My! is another one of those bands you want to love. And it’s not hard—considering how well done their debut album is. Falling back again on the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! meme, this self-produced album comes from the minds of two home-schooled songwriters, Greg Barkley and Daniel Hoxmeier. Along with drummer Joel Calvin, the trio has been a band called by a few different names, including the Jolly Rogers. In 2006, though, they morphed into Oh No! Oh My! and quickly became the darling of bloggers everywhere.
So how about the actual music? It’s good. Very good, in fact. Though I will be the first to say this is not a perfect album. The opening track, “Skips the Foreplay” is a bad first track. It’s not the worst song on the album, but it doesn’t quite capture what the rest of the album holds. This simple sounding song about teenage pregnancy seems rather out-of-place and the “oohs and ahhs” just don’t mix well with the song’s lyrical content.
Oh No! Oh My!’s sound is all over the place in their debut, ranging from nearly twee-poppish in “Walk in the Park” to electropop in “I Love You All The Time.” These guys are versatile, and can pull off most of these songs, but it’s hard to say if they all mesh to form a cohesive album.
The standout tracks are by far “I Have No Sister” and “Jane is Fat.” Both of these songs show off a unique sound Oh No! Oh My! has been able to accomplish, probably thanks in part to their band’s multi-genre past. “The Backseat” is another lovely tune off this LP, even if the theme of songs discussing backseats is a bit overdone.
There are some duds on this album, though. “Reeks and Seeks” attempts to make twangy repetition interesting, but comes up very short. “Women are Born in Love” is along the same vain, but includes handclaps. This gives it a few points in my book, but it was a weak ending to an otherwise strong album.
These guys have a lot of potential, and I’m hoping one day they will swing through D.C. on a tour. In the meantime, I suggest picking up this record, it’s one of the better albums of 2006.
Oct 8, 10:10 PM: Review: The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife
It’s not so much that this record breaks my heart. The Decemberists were never one of my all-time-favorite bands. I discovered them in early 2004, picking up Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty. Those albums, Castaways in particular, will always be associated with memories of the last half of my sophomore year in college. The inevitable commercial success of the band some two-and-a-half years later won’t diminish those memories.
However, Colin Meloy and company’s major label debut leaves much to be desired. In a lot of ways, it is exactly what could be expected of a major label record. Sure, there are a few tracks where the Decemberists sound like the Decemberists—those selected 10+ minute songs clearly are not aimed for radio play. Several songs do maintain the band’s unique sound, “The Island, Come and See, The Landlord’s Daughter, You’ll Not Feel the Drowning” is an epic 12:44 song that will undoubtedly be attractive to the Decemberists core fanbase. It maintains the unique instrumentation and songwriting that got the band where they are today. “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” is another tune that follows in the tradition of some of their earlier work.
However, the record is packed with filler, something which seems to come with the territory of being on a mainstream label. Songs such as “The Perfect Crime #2” and “When the War Came” are, for the most part, unlistenable. The latter, especially, sounds like Colin Meloy playing with Fall Out Boy (or some other generic rock band).
This isn’t so much a story of bad music, but more of lost potential. Maybe it isn’t fair to hold the band to a high standard for a major label release, but this record has too many low points to score even average.
A lot of people like this album, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. I’ve read comments by people saying that the band was forced to sign on a major label because “they have families to support.” These arguments are all hogwash, it’s very much up for debate whether or not a band sees more profit on a major versus an indie. Add into the equation Colin Meloy’s diatribe on major labels (and dedication of “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” to record executives) and the whole thing just stinks.
Of course there’s another explaination, that maybe Capitol Records didn’t ruin the Decemberists—maybe they have just burned out. Maybe they weren’t as creative as we all thought.
I’m sure we will all be hearing “Sons and Daugthers” in the background of some happy-style advertisement, maybe a Canon, Sony or HP ad. But if you want to hear something creative, don’t bother with this album. Colin’s college band, Tarkio, is more enjoyable than this record.
Oct 6, 12:23 AM: Test Drive: Songbird 0.2
Over the past few months I’ve found myself in a bit of a jam. My primary computers are now Windows machines. Both my PC at work, and my laptop at home. Unfortunately my Titanium G4 Powerbook is out of commission, and while I also have an older G4 400Mhz desktop… I don’t use it on a daily basis (other than to store my music, and it’s hooked up to the aux input on my stereo).
Back in the day, I used to use Winamp and manually keep my files organized. Of course, after using a Mac for several years, I became accustomed to all of the features in iTunes. So of course, I gave iTunes for Windows a try. Not a huge fan. Personally, I don’t think the GUI translates very well, but aside from that it was sluggish and it just didn’t work as well as I wanted.
Then I discovered Songbird. It’s an open source media player, based on the Mozilla code that powers applications such as Firefox. I thought I’d give it a try.
Songbird is only on verson 0.2 (“Test Flight”), so I didn’t expect much. A lot of features I would really like are not there. It doesn’t provide library organization (yet, and yes, I understand some people don’t want that… but it would be a nice option). It also is missing a few things such as the ability to reorder items on a playlist. But, it shows promise. It also integrates with a ton of online music resources and stores, and while I don’t use that functionality, it’s still kind of cool.
I’m hoping by version 1.0 it will truly be an open source iTunes killer. I am a bit worried about the future of iTunes. A friend of mine predicted that by iTunes version 10, it will only play music files with DRM. I potentially see that as a real possibility. We’ll see. I also just like the idea of an open source player.
Other options include Foobar2000 but it lacks the pretty GUI that I’ve gotten used to.
Anyhow, if you’re curious, I suggest giving Songbird a whirl. It probably won’t replace your current music player, but it’s interesting.
Oct 4, 09:59 PM: Live show: The Little Ones
The Little Ones
w/The Oranges Band and French Kicks
October 3, 2006 at the Black Cat, Washington, DC
I was very excited about this show. More excited than I’ve been about a live show in a very long time. I didn’t know much about the band, I had only listened to (and loved) their self-produced EP. I had no idea how many people were in the band, what they looked like, anything.
I knew it was going to be a good show the minute they came out to set up their equipment. I was able to get up close, first row dead in front of the keyboard. The Little Ones is a five-piece, two gutiarists, bass, keyboard and drums. The keyboardist also plays bass on a few songs. He also plays the Powerbook. The members were energized and looked very happy to be playing for a fairly large crowd for the headliners, the French Kicks.
The band opened with “Cha Cha Cha,” and I was blown away. I don’t know how many people at the Black Cat had heard the Little Ones before, but people started bobbing their heads and moving their feets—a rare occasion for indie shows in D.C.
Their set, nearly an hour long, covered most songs off their Sing Song EP, but also incorporated several new songs. I don’t know the names of any of the new songs, but they were very well done live. My worries about their ability to put together a full length album were pretty much quashed.
I remarked that the Little Ones are like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! if I actually enjoyed the vocals. I’ve never sen CYHSY live, but I’ve heard their show leaves something to be desired. The Little Ones do not have this problem, they know how to play out. You can tell they love playing their songs, and they do it well.
“Lovers who Uncover” was certainly the highlight, and was their second to last song. It was a little hard to tell, but I think a lot of people started shouting “Hey, Hey, Heyooooo” along with the band—and I would bet most of them had never heard the song before.
They closed their set with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” which became a fun sing-a-long. After their set, a fairly large group of people crowded around the merch table picking up their EP. Definitely a hit, and the Little Ones’ show at the Cat is up there on the list of best shows this year, and perhaps ever.
Oct 1, 11:00 PM: Review: The Little Ones, Sing Song EP
I’ve decided a new feature here will be brief music reviews. “Brief,” at this point, is loosely defined.
An aside: I’ve had difficulties in the past writing record reviews that are “accessible” to the masses. Hense, why I am now writing them on my blog. I may refer to artists you haven’t heard of, if that’s the case, then feel free to of course, Google them.
The Little Ones
Sing Song EP
When I first heard The Little Ones, I had some issues with their name. Too cute, I thought, bordering on ridculous. Before I even listened to this EP I had visions of some twee-pop that would probably put me to sleep. Or at least be grating in absurd cuteness.
I wasn’t completely wrong, it is cute, fun indie-pop. Music like this is a great example of the Internet allowing a band to find listeners. I followed a link to their (cough) MySpace page, and was hooked after hearing “Lovers who Uncover.” Each song is done well, and not overdone. The EP is a little under 25 minutes long, and comes very close to perfection.
How can this be true, a record made up of fun, happy songs that doesn’t feel completely ridiculous? The Little Ones have brought together all of the key elements of a good indie-pop song—handclaps, fun harmonies, and peppy beats.
I’m seeing these guys on Tuesday, when they open for the French Kicks at the Black Cat. I’m looking forward to clapping along with most of these songs. However, I don’t know how Sing Song will translate into a full length LP. Twenty-five minutes of this is wonderful, but will get old if it pushes an hour. This EP gets an A because it works well, but I’ll want more variety on their album.