Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grizzly Bear and Beach House at The Blue Note, 10/1

Can't-miss concert reminder! Two huge shows are happening back to back this week at The Blue Note: Andrew Bird with St. Vincent (see my earlier post on the show) on Wednesday, September 30, and Grizzly Bear with Beach House on Thursday, October 1.

Grizzly Bear, those dapper gents from Brooklyn, are bringing the Veckatimest to Columbia with a vengeance. The name of their latest album (released May 26, 2009) sums up everything mysterious and shadowy and downright cryptic about the band and its curiosity shop of sound. (Actually, Veckatimest is named after a small island in Dukes County, Massachusetts—not exactly a remote Bavarian pleasure palace.)

Based on name alone, you might expect the members of Grizzly Bear to bear close resemblance to Grizzly Adams.

When I first discovered them shortly after the release of their second album, Yellow House, in 2006, I had this mental picture in my head:

(That's Keef Hartley of Woodstock fame, in case you're curious.)

But instead, we find that Grizzly Bear is made up of some rather well-coiffed young musicians: Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboard, producer/backup vocalist Chris Taylor on bass, and backup vocalist Christopher Bear on drums. (That's right, Chris Taylor plays a mean bass and also knows how to rock when making all of the band's travel arrangements.)

Sean Pecknold produced and animated "While You Wait for the Others." (Sean is the brother of Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold and created the video for "White Winter Hymnal," just in case you're sketching out the old indie family tree.) Rabbits, fencing gear, and stop-motion animation, oh my!

There's something dark and slightly off-kilter about these tracks, as if, beneath the broad vocal harmonies and bouncy keyboards, a brooding beast lies in wait, lurking in its subterranean lair. This penchant for acid-trip-gone-wrong complexity--those crunchy, jarring, echoing guitars--makes Grizzly Bear one of my current favorites. Critics have often labeled them experimental, but while their previous albums featured ambient, aural soundscapes built on swirling melodies, Veckatimest reaches a more accessible, almost doo-wop level. The new songs are downright singable, which may throw off music snobs who savor the hairy mess or obtuseness of an "artier" sound. Love it or hate it, Grizzly Bear has wandered out of the forest...

... and into a CGI studio. Patrick Daughters, of "1234" Feist-y fame, directed the subtly creepy video for "Two Weeks."

Some Grizzly Bear Scat

  1. White-haired priest of power balladry Michael McDonald sings "While You Wait for the Others" on the flip side of the band's single. Listen here, but be forewarned: it doesn't exactly achieve the effortless kitsch cool you might be expecting. Michael McDonald sounds like... well, Michael McDonald.

  1. Daniel Rossen is also a member of the duo Department of Eagles.
  1. Jay-Z, Beyonce, and sister Solange are apparently fans. A YouTube search for Grizzly Bear turns up a lame and inexplicable video of the pair at a Grizzly Bear concert in New York. Click here if you want to waste one minute and thirty-four seconds of your life.
I leave you with a beachy version of one of my favorite Grizzly Bear songs, "Deep Blue Sea."

Beach House

Beach House is the dreamy, atmospheric duo of Alex Scalley on guitar and keyboards and Victoria Legrand on vocals and organ. Formed in 2004 in Baltimore, Beach House is rapturously moody: it makes an elaborate ceremony of ripping your heart out. This is music for an empty beach house—the beach house that gets boarded up at the end of summer vacation with sheet-covered furniture inside. The songs on Devotion (September 2, 2008) are dismal and gloomy, and you will love their brooding sea salt in your wounds.

Fall in love with the sacramental glow of "Heart of Chambers."

Don't miss Andrew Bird and St. Vincent at The Blue Note, Wednesday, September 30 (7:00 pm), and Grizzly Bear and Beach House, Thursday, October 1 (7:30 pm).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day of Atonement

(Kaparot )

Monday is Yom Kippur, one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, a day when Jews around the world atone for the sins of the past year by fasting, abstaining from sex and driving (not necessarily together), and avoiding leather shoes. While I will not be spending any time at temple myself, I would like to designate Monday a day of musical reckoning. On this solemn occasion, let us take to task those artists who have committed various offenses against the gods of rock.

In Jewish culture, kaparot is an ancient (and controversial) custom performed the day before Yom Kippur in which a sinner waves a hapless white chicken over his or her head three times while reciting a prayer that basically says, "Chicken, you're my sin repository. You're going to die so I can go home and be happy and watch Seinfeld." It should be noted that most Jews today do NOT slaughter chickens and have substituted money wrapped in a white napkin for the poor chicken.

As you might expect, animal rights activists are less than pleased about the chicken slaughter, and the ceremony has become rather controversial. However, kaparot is no more controversial than the ways in which the following bands and artists have sinned against our eyes and ears. Behold, those fallen from grace. May they be forced to wave chickens above their heads for such offenses as these:

1. Inexplicable Album Art

(Brooke Hogan, The Redemption )

Even waving a chicken above her head isn't going to redeem Brooke for this one. Then again, I think her soul has already been airbrushed away, anyway.

Perhaps this should read "No hope for the future of this band on the horizon." Sorry, U2. You will always hold a small horcrux of my soul, but this album cover looks like your music sounds these days.

(Neil Young, Fork in the Road )

He may be one of the patriarchs of rock 'n roll, but here he just looks like someone's crazy uncle who escaped from basement lockup during a party.

(Fischerspooner, Entertainment )

Are you not entertained? Casey Spooner dons a 1920's straw boater and wires it into some sort of electronic man magnet.

(Empire of the Sun, Walking on a Dream )

Please don't tread on their Siegfried-and-Roy-inspired dreams. If this album cover doesn't glow in the dark, it should.

2. Song Mauling

Confide takes you to "Such Great Heights" in their Postal Service cover. It all goes horribly wrong around the 40-second mark.

Please, don't confide in us. Tell it to the chicken.

3. Ear Spamming
  • Snow Patrol. Every time a Snow Patrol album is released, a television soundtrack producer gets her wings.
  • The Fray. It sounds like Isaac Slade is eating the chicken alive, and he can't quite swallow it, and it hurts—those big chickeny talons hurt! (This band also contributes to the wing-getting of television soundtrack producers.)
  • Dan Black. Huh? Black presents the world with "HYPNTZ," a musical marriage of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" and Rihanna's "Umbrella." (File also under "Song Mauling.")
    • Queen Ifrica. And the award for most uncomfortable song/video goes to...

      (All chickens forced to bear the brunt of any musical transgressions have been released into the care of mandolin-playing organic farmers who only play in the privacy of their own living rooms, would never sin against the musical powers that be by creating bad album art or releasing sub-par song covers on YouTube, and appreciate fresh eggs.)

      Saturday, September 26, 2009

      The Republic Tigers at Mojo's, 9/26/09... Etc.

      The Republic Tigers are loose in Tiger Country tonight. Mojo’s, your shelter from Roots ‘n Blues Fest, welcomes the Kansas City natives, along with So Many Dynamos (of xylophoney "New Bones" fame) and The Mulanix Street Orchestra (a sweet, sweet Kirksville, MO, collective). If you like blues as much as a guitar pick in the eye, this show is your chance to escape to a dreamy, transcendent plane with no buffalo wings. (So Many Dynamos is a little less dreamy and transcendent, so plan to hold off on the meditative bliss for just a bit.) The Republic Tigers have more psychedelic layers than an onion. Peel them back and savor—nay, weep with wonder.

      The Republic Tigers' latest album, Keep Color, was released May 6, 2008, and includes such gems as "Buildings and Mountains" (watch the video here ) and "Fight Song." Trust me, these guys are better than barbecue.

      Come see The Republic Tigers, So Many Dynamos, and The Mulanix Street Orchestra at 8:00 at Mojo's, Saturday, September 26.

      Check Out Rodrigo y Gabriela 11:11

      Stomp, stomp, stomp, slap, slap, slap! On September 8 Rodrigo y Gabriela released 11:11, a fiery follow-up to their awe-inspiring 2006 self-titled album. The duo creates an entire street carnival of sound from just two guitars. The first time I heard "Tamacun" on WXRT in Chicago, my heart skipped a flamenco-style beat and nearly sent me careening off the road in rush-hour traffic. It's impossible not to move your feet when you hear the strike and smack of their playing—it clicks like crazy castanets. Just watch the video below, and you'll see what I mean.

      Rodrigo y Gabriela are Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, originally from Mexico City and now denizens of Dublin. Oddly, the two met while playing in a Mexican thrash metal band and cite their musical influences as Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. Perhaps this isn't as odd as it seems: the songs strum along at death metal pace and have been known to cause diabolic foot tapping. Be forewarned!

      Here's a quick video about the new album:

      Post-Roots ‘n Blues Day 1

      If you braved the beautiful weather last night to check out some blues and barbecue, I'd love to hear about it. Drop me a line or add a comment below.

      Mystery Gift

      Finally, in honor of the upcoming season of spooks and kooks, I'd like to thank "beader1" for sending me the following YouTube video. Whoever you are, you possess an admirable affinity for the spinetingling. (Yes, that's a theremin.)

      Thursday, September 24, 2009

      Album of the Week, 9/25/09--The Dodos, "Time to Die"

      The Dodos are no dummies, nor are they close to extinction. If their latest release, Time to Die (September 15, 2009), is any indication, they are evolving into a new sound species all their own. Consider me your H. M. S. Beagle as we explore the musical mutation I like to call “Dodo rock.”

      I would expect nothing less than percussive perfection from a band formed by a former student of West African Ewe drumming (Meric Long). What, you might ask, is Ewe drumming? Native to the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, it’s a drumming style that involves several drums, a bell, and, yes, a rattle.


      One wonders, of course, what enticed white boy Long to connect with his non-existent West African roots and get all crazy with the bells and whistles. Regardless, in 2005 Long was living in San Francisco, doing his drumming thing, when he was introduced to former metal band member Logan Kroeber. The duo didn’t miss a beat (sorry) and formed the group Dodo Bird, releasing Beware of the Maniacs in 2006 and Visiter in 2008. Eventually, they adopted the name The Dodos after their growing fan base continued to refer to them by that moniker. (On a side note, their album Visiter is intentionally misspelled. After the Dodos performed for a special ed class in L.A., a student gave them a drawing with the word written on it, and so the album art was born.)

      And now it is Time to Die. Not really, of course. I want to live so I have time to listen to the Dodo’s latest album over and over. Time to Die came out on September 15, 2009, and it is already bludgeoning my eardrums with bliss. That's a good thing, I swear. It's just so darn rhythmic. Every song will hit you in the chest like a cosmic heartbeat, but gently, so gently. It's a mellow mauling—so mellow in fact that some fans of Visiter are complaining that the band "isn't as wild" as it used to be. Let's clear this up right now: A death metal band the Dodos are not (despite the fact that Kroeber was once in one). Their vocals are as soothing as the Shins'.

      Give 'em a listen:

      "The Strums"

      I imagine the Dodos are a band you would want to see live. Logan Kroeber mixes things up with a drum kit, strikes on the rims of the drums, and even uses a tambourine taped to his shoe. Meric Long plays acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars but owns something called a Tafelberg drum guitar. I had to Google this one. Apparently, it’s a table string instrument described as “atmospheric” and “droning,” and the first one was made… for the Dodos. Yet again, they lead us to a mutation in the musical code.

      Somehow I still don't think there's enough drumming here. But wait! During live performances, just to cover their beat bases, the Dodos throw in Keaton Snyder on vibraphone and percussion. Whew.

      Now that I know the survival of our musical species is ensured, I've got some Time to Die.

      Runner-Up: Kitty, Daisy and Lewis

      In honor of the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival this weekend, it seems only fitting to recognize a brother/sister band of British youngsters who bring the boogie woogie. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are Kitty Durham (16), Daisy Durham (21), and Lewis Durham (19). The north London trio sings and plays guitar, piano, banjo, lapsteel guitar, harmonica, double bass, ukulele, drums, trombone, xylophone, and accordion the way they heard it on their parents' Louis Jordan and Patsy Cline LPs when they were growing up. (Their parents are well-known British musicians and music lovers.) If you think the music sounds authentic, it’s probably because it was recorded using vintage 1940s and 1950s microphones and tape machines. The band does not use computers or any digital format to record, and so the album crackles with a happy hiss of nostalgia.

      I’m a sucker for a retro throwback, and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis’ self-titled album, released August 25, 2009 (not 1959), puts the rumble in my rumble seat.

      You can see the siblings in the 2009 film Last Chance Harvey, playing their song “Mean Son of a Gun" (check out the YouTube clip from the film here ). They're also featured in Alex Walker's documentary We Dreamed America, which dips into the British Americana music scene (yes, there's a term for it). Here they are getting their rockabilly swagger on:

      Wednesday, September 23, 2009

      Roots 'n Blues 'n BBQ, 9/25-9/26

      I would be remiss if I failed to mention one of the biggest events happening in our burgh this weekend. I'm speaking, of course, of the Roots 'n Blues 'n BBQ Festival. This is a can't-miss opportunity for you to see world-class blues acts at a reasonable price in our quirky town while stuffing your face with some of the best barbecue in the area. Even if you have no soul and hate music, you can amuse yourself sitting curbside, watching Missourians from all walks of life congregate in one very small area downtown.

      Last year at this time I had just moved to Columbia from Chicago. Chicago, as you well know, has that other blues festival , but we won't touch on that. Chicago is Chicago, and the less said in this blog about the Windy City, the better. There are far better sites than mine covering the City of Big Shoulders and Big Blues and Big Jazz and Big Big Big, blah blah blah. I'm here to celebrate Columbia's own big and amazing shoulders.

      At any rate, I had just moved to Columbia and didn't know a soul, so last year's Roots 'n Blues experience was a bit tentative for me at best. I walked through the festival with my "I'm-alone-and-okay-with-this-but-really-I'm-not" smile on and ended up wandering into Top Ten Wines, ordering a glass of sangria, and chatting the owner's parents up. Yes, I am ashamed. What I DID hear on my quick and slightly uncomfortable solo stroll through the festival was damn good blues, and it convinced me to put on my big girl pants this year and come back for the full experience.

      A word of warning for the crowd-phobic: Yes, there will lots and lots of people, but don't let that stop you from feeding off the crowd's energy in addition to the barbecue.

      So where to begin?

      For starters, you're going to need lots and lots of  "Green Onions" with your barbecue. This year Columbia is blessed with the master of mod himself,  Booker T (sans MGs). Booker T is responsible for booty-slappin' numbers like the one in the video below. Funky, funky, funky! Bring your ruffly lace shirt and boogie with Booker. It's going to be a dance dance revolution!

      The geek in me is pretty excited to swing with Atlanta Boogie like it's 1999. (Their myspace page says, "Sounds exactly like it should. Jumps and swings!" Big Bad Voodoo Daddy would be proud.) And crowd favorites the Carolina Chocolate Drops will have mama's little baby shortenin' bread, er... clamoring for a good old-fashioned jugband jam, that is. Who thought it was possible to combine beatbox and banjo? Here they are plunking down their Appalachian-inspired reworking of "Hit 'Em Up Style."

      If you want to hear George Clooney sing at this year's festival—I mean, the man behind Clooney's voice on O, Brother, Where Art Thou?—you have to track down The Dan Tyminski Band. (Sorry, ladies.) Tyminski helped launch the little bluegrass engine that could when he sang "Man of Constant Sorrow" in the 2000 film, and now he is bringing his non-sorrowful self to Columbia, a city that loves its bluegrass like the air it breathes.

      Also not to be missed: 95-year-old piano legend Pinetop Perkins, who's been playing the blues since 1927, touring with B. B. King, Earl Hooker, and Muddy Waters.

      Our sweet little festival showcases more than just blues: we have "roots," too. I can only imagine this applies to the grab bag of musical genres on the lineup. This year we get a little bit of reggae rasta...

      some honky tonk...

      a smattering of New Orleans brass...

      bluegrass (Steeldrivers), country (the Wilders), modern honkytonk (Heather Myles) (Heather "likes big cars; yeah, she likes big cars"), classically trained folk troubadours (Rory Block), lusty Yugoslavian blues (Ana Popovic ), and...

      (No, I swear this is not a picture of some of last year's festival attendees.)

      and, of course, lots and lots of blues, blues, and more blues.

      You can read performer profiles and see other YouTube clips at the official Roots 'n Blues website.

      I'm not a barbecue enthusiast myself, but I hear there are some good eats at this here festival, too.

      This guy likes hogs.

      Stay tuned for more tangy coverage...

      Tuesday, September 22, 2009

      Show KCOU You Have a Pulse!

      KCOU (the Pulse) needs your help. The station that brings you such heavenly delights as Yim Yames and Mason Jennings was recently nominated one of the Top 50 Best College Radio Stations in the mtvU Woodie Awards. As a daily listener of this station, I am happy to see 88.1 getting some love and support. True, true, there are times when I hear the same obscure song at the same time each morning on the drive to work, and I frequently wish the djs would properly credit the incredible artists they do play, but I generally hear more good things than bad on KCOU. It's my radio station of choice.

      Now it's your turn to help KCOU make mtvU's Top 25 list. All you have to do is click "Vote" at before the September 29 cut-off date. Come on, Columbia, help KCOU get a Woodie!


      Monday, September 21, 2009

      Skybox at Mojo’s, 9/22/09

      Late notice alert! Reserve your Skybox today. Don’t spend your Tuesday night stuck at home in the bleachers… come, come to Mojo’s to check out Skybox. You'll have the best seat in the house for these indie popsters from Chicago. I guarantee you they will get the party started right—at least, if they are anywhere near as fun as in their video for “Various Kitchen Utensils."

      So what do we know about these up-and-comers? Skybox are a Chicago quartet from Arizona with even older roots in Missouri (lead vocalist Tim Ellis still divides his time between Kansas City and Chicago). They’ve been compared to everyone from the cabaret-inspired Dresden Dolls to the psychedelic Flaming Lips to the glamtastic Of Montreal—and everything in between. In 2006, they self-released their album Arco Iris on iTunes and stirred things up with the hit “Various Kitchen Utensils" (see above). Almost immediately hungry fans wanted more from that freak-folk kitchen. And so Skybox served up “In a Dream"—a much more electro-infused synth track, which generated a lot of buzz after being featured in an iPod commercial.

      Try to avoid the swell from that New Wave. I dare you.

      The band's latest release, Morning After Cuts, is due out in January 2010. After checking out Arco Iris, I’m definitely anticipating the morning after. Judging from the difference in sound between "Various Kitchen Utensils" and "In a Dream," the band has taken a turn to the 80s dark side in the most brilliant way. Singer Tim Ellis, who lapses into a Devendra Banhart vibrato from time to time, rides the sweet, sweet melodies of pianist/guitarist Christian Fields, who spills out some truly gorgeous piano ballads above the catchy rhythm section powered by Mike Holtz and Dan Ingenthron.

      Again, I apologize for the late notice on this one. This band is a very recent discovery of mine (thanks to a lovely tip on Monday), and I only wish I had caught them a year ago at any of Chicago’s fine music venues. From what I hear, they are very fun, very high-energy, and very eccentric on stage. I’m not exactly sure what the “eccentricity” involves, but there’s a song called “Disco Duck” on their first album, and that can never, ever be a bad thing, right? Find out for yourself what really happens in the Skybox Tuesday night at Mojo’s.

      Skybox opens for The Rural Alberta Advantage and Love Language at 8:00 at Mojo’s, Tuesday, September 22.

      Saturday, September 19, 2009

      The Walkmen at Mojo's 10/4/09

      Prepsters The Walkmen will be playing Mojo's on October 4. Suit up in blazer and tie and slip into some penny loafers for an evening of educated rock a la Vampire Weekend. I've had a schoolgirl crush on this band since I first heard "Canadian Girl" on their latest release, You and I. The organ and piano alone are worth a ticket to this prom. Although the Walkmen have been playing together since 2000, their music sounds like it was recorded back in 1962 in a darkened dancehall littered with corsages and cigarette butts. As Hamilton Leithauser confesses in the YouTube video below, Roy Orbison is a huge influence on the band. Perhaps it's Orbison's strident yearning I hear in songs like "On the Water" or "Long Time Ahead of Us." I suspect, however, that the band's penchant for vintage pianos, organs, and horns creates its distinctive resurrected sound: these are tracks unearthed from a jukebox in an abandoned Route 66 stop-over.

      The Walkmen are true gentlemen in every sense of the word. I love these guys because they pre-released You and I last summer on the indie music site Amie Street for $5, with all proceeds going to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. They have heart! They have class! They play vintage instruments! Please give this band the old college try and cheer them on at Mojo's next month.

      Friday, September 18, 2009

      Faded Paper Figures

      Don't just watch the leaves fall this weekend. Spend some time falling in love with the Faded Paper Figures. This trio from southern California boasts a husband/wife combo (singer John Williams and backup vocalist Heather Alden) and a mastermind programmer (Kael Alden) who gained serious road miles writing the background music for a popular Lexus commercial. If you're staying far, far from the madding football crowd this weekend, sipping a bubble tea downtown perhaps at the Lollicup Tea Zone, this is the effervescent soundtrack to your life. Let the Faded Paper Figures be your happy paper soul cranes.

      Faded Paper Figures, say hello to the Postal Service.

      Don't miss "North by North." Alden's backup lyrics are a siren song tempting you to wander "far, far, far from home." I always feel like running when I hear this song—thanks to that bubble tea beat and Williams' enticing "follow me."

      Thursday, September 17, 2009

      New Feature! Album of the Week

      And so I bring to you a new blog feature, the Album of the Week. This is my chance to gush about the goodness of a particular new release… or a reasonably new one.

      This week I want to shed my high-beams on the Antlers, a melancholy band from Brooklyn fronted by guitarist Peter Silberman. In 2006, Silberman moved to New York, isolated himself from family and friends, and began writing sad songs in his apartment. Soon after, Silberman released In the Attic of the Universe under the Antlers moniker. Largely considered a concept album, In the Attic... drew critical praise and highlighted Silberman's budding potential. He eventually teamed up with drummer Michael Lerner and banjo/trumpet player Darby Cicci. Their latest release, Hospice, came out in March and was rated one of the best new albums of 2009 by NPR. In case you hadn't guessed, it's no lark in the park. The album, which took two years to write, tells the story of a hospice nurse watching a young girl die of cancer. The girl's name just happens to be Sylvia, a name associated with suicide and heads in ovens and such. There are obvious references to tragic Sylvias on the album—an entire song named "Sylvia," for one thing, as well as references to Leonard Michaels' tragic novel Sylvia, in which the author's wife commits suicide. You can also see Silberman's creepy doctored version of a Sylvia Plath self-portrait on the band’s official website.

      Sylvia, get your head out of the oven.
      Go back to screaming, and cursing,
      Remind me again how everyone betrayed you.
      Sylvia, get your head out of the covers.
      Let me take your temperature,
      You can throw the thermometer right back at me,
      If that's what you want to do, okay?

      Sylvia, can't you see what you are doing?
      Can't you see I'm scared to speak,
      And I hate my voice 'cause it only makes you angry.
      Sylvia, I only talk when you are sleeping.
      That's when I tell you everything.
      And I imagine that somehow you're going to hear me...
       --Lyrics from "Sylvia"

      Imagine if Bon Iver crossed antlers with elusive folk band Woods. It would sound something like this: a falsetto voice attacking a swirling melody. The effect is hypnotic.  In "Two," there are "no other witnesses, just us two," "two people living in one small room," "two half-families tearing at you," "two ways to tell the story," "two silver rings on our fingers," two, two, two... Repetition underscores the monotony of endless days of slow decline (and "hundreds of thousands of hospital beds").

      As the Antlers put it best, "this all bears repeating..."

      At this time of year, as the leaves begin falling from the trees, I find myself craving a delicious dirge for the dying season. These songs are guaranteed to rain on your parade. If you’re anything like me, you’ll wrap yourself in a comfortable sweater of drear and get cozy. After all, there’s nothing a good cup of wallow can't fix. "Kettering" is as delicate as rain drops tracking down a windowpane, while "Bear" suggests a slight ray of sunshine all too soon covered by clouds.

      This is music for shoegazers who like a good story: these songs don’t just drift, they tell a tale. The tale itself may be tragic, but the resulting album will convince you that the potential for beauty exists in the bleakest of places.

      Let the Antlers herd you to a haunted clearing inside.

      Incidentally, by checking out Silberman's blog, I learned an interesting fact: you can build a theremin from a French press!

      If you’ve always dreamed of constructing your own theremin (and, really, who hasn’t?), Silberman alludes tantalizingly to the possibility of building one from a common kitchen accoutrement. Unfortunately, the blog does not provide a how-to.

      I should also mention that the Antlers are not to be confused with local sports fans the Antlers, formed at the University of Missouri in 1976 to heckle opposing basketball teams. (USA Today even named them one of the top five fan groups in the nation.) Our local Antlers do not appear in the liner notes of "Hospice."

      Wednesday, September 16, 2009

      Andrew Bird and St. Vincent at The Blue Note 9/30/2009

      For a small college town in the Midwest, Columbia draws its fair share of big-name musicians. Scanning the list of upcoming shows at the Blue Note is enough to get your toes tapping in anticipation. On Wednesday, September 30, one of these acts du jour, Andrew Bird, flies into our humble hamlet to showcase his mastery of an eclectic range of instruments. As a fairly recent transplant to Columbia by way of Chicago, I have to support a former hometown son. Andrew Bird is a Chicagoan with an amazing talent for whistling—yes, you read me right, whistling. How many artists can successfully pair a robust whistle with a rockin’ glockenspiel? Andrew Bird does just that, when he’s not also plucking a violin, guitar, and mandolin.

      (Listen to that whistle!)

      Best of all, Bird spends half his time roosting on a small farm in Elizabeth, Illinois . Having driven through Elizabeth myself, I can wholeheartedly endorse the refreshing and stimulating country air. In fact, Elizabeth is famous for its observation tower, which provides views of the countryside for miles around. It’s not likely Bird ever perches atop this aerie, whistling and strumming his mandolin, but I like to picture it in my head.

      Bird says that growing up, he was attracted to Irish and Scottish folk music, and this shows in both his choice of living abode—the hills around Elizabeth could reasonably be called the highlands of Illinois--and his preference for bluegrass. But his music is much more indie than Appalachian, and it continues to defy categorization. If you ever listened to the Squirrel Nut Zippers during the 90s swing heyday, it’s likely you heard Bird. He collaborated on three of the Zippers’ albums. He was also a member of the Chicago jazz ensemble Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six and began his alternative music career as band leader of Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. The band went up in flames, but Bird’s solo career is still flying strong.

      (The squishy man-octopus love story is part of the film Mermaid, directed and animated by Lisa Barcy.)

      The September 30 show promises to be a feast for the ears. Columbia proudly boasts of many fine bluegrass musicians, so Bird should feel right at home.

      And what about the opening act? Like Andrew Bird, St. Vincent (real name Annie Clark) is also a multi-instrument-wrangling singer-songwriter. She’s a former member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ touring band. Expect to see lots of Regina Spektor and Feist fans in the crowd.

      (Listen to that voice... sigh. I have to confess I'm a sucker for the acoustic version. Is it just me, or does this sound like it comes from a kittenish 1950s musical? If I didn't know better, I'd expect to see St. Vincent in black tights and liquid eyeliner.)

      Saturday, September 12, 2009

      On Rocking Out

      The other night I was giving the local college radio station, KCOU, my daily benefit-of-the-doubt listen. I really do hold this station in the highest regard, despite its sometimes disappointing and baffling music choices. I can forgive them for their Michael Jackson tribute show, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Soul to Squeeze"? On college radio?! College radio should be squeezing our souls with experimental new tracks, not squeezing the life out of said souls by resorting to the business-as-usual top-40 model. Thank you, KCOU, for playing the Dodos and Silversun Pickups, but please find a remedy for Jason Mraz by NOT PLAYING HIM ON YOUR STATION. Okay, actually, I've never heard Jason Mraz on KCOU. But what I did hear the other night was one of my favoritest songs on the indie planet by Broken Social Scene. My friend calls it the "song I most like to rock out to in the whole world." I have no idea what the lyrics are. It's not important! Listen to those driving guitars! Oh, the sheer rush of it! This is one song that lasts long after it ends. That bass line will stick in your head, and you will need Jason Mraz to get it out again. Oh, and did I mention the clapping? Yes, there is clapping--this song can't help but applaud itself it is so good.

      I realize this song doesn't quite classify as a "rocking out" song, but I am not exactly a "rocking out" kind of girl. To me, this is rocking out. Give me some hand claps and crunchy guitars and I'm feeling edgy.

      Click to download the rocking, mush-mouthed brilliance of Broken Social Scene:
      Broken Social Scene: "Stars and Sons"

      Friday, September 11, 2009

      A Moment of Blindness

      One of the greatest tragedies of my summer was missing Blind Pilot when they cycled--yes, cycled--through Columbia in August. I am a silly twit. Despite a whole-hearted recommendation from a trusted friend, I refused to do my homework and skipped the musical tour de force when they rolled through town. Here's a sampling of what I missed:

      The very fact that this band toured entirely on bicycles in 2007 should have been reason enough to check them out. Never mind the fact that they invited Columbia cyclists to ride through town with them on their way to a gig at local bar Mojo's. Then there is their music: it sounds as earthy and rich as you would expect from two guys who pedaled down the West Coast from Vancouver on bikes that would soon be stolen. (After the bikes were swiped in San Francisco--effectively ending that tour--singer-guitarist Israel Nebeker eventually located his bike on Craigslist and was able to buy it back for about $50. Drummer Ryan Dobrowski was not so lucky.)

      This is music made for impromptu street-corner jams. "One Red Thread" spins quietly forward, picking up momentum, before coasting into a soothing interlude mid-way through... and then pedaling and charging back up the next hill. I play this song often and loudly, the volume on my iPod matching the driving force of the song. Now that I've discovered Blind Pilot, too little and too late, I want to cycle through town crying, "I was a fool! Come back! I'm hip! I'm cool! Really! I'll buy a fixed-gear bike. We'll ride up Ninth Avenue together. It will be cool. You'll see!"

      Alas, I was not cool in this instance. Not cool at all.

      Don't make the same mistake. If Blind Pilot comes to your town, do yourself a favor and pedal on over to the show.

      If you caught the show at Mojo's last month, feel free to share your comments.

      Go Fly a (Fire)Kite

      I can think of no better way to open this blog than with the Firekites' "Autumn Story." This song will clap its way into your heart and make you feel, well ... wistful? content? lonely? It's a tribute to this song that it never really clues you in as to how you should feel. To some extent, it reminds me of walking home on a quiet October evening alone; at the same time, I picture love and an old house and sipping wine on the porch.  My dearest friend--whose opinion I value above all others--introduced this song and video to me. Ah, shivers! Nothing but shivers the first time I listened and watched. I promptly fell in love  on the spot--with him and the song. Now when I hear it, I remember the spooky sadness and joy and excitement of a new-found love. The Firekites sing, "We don't want these days to ever end," yet there it is--the specter of impermanence rising on a sad violin note.

      I hope you find this blog a handy place to satisfy your hunger. Sometimes you don't even know you're hungry until you find something so satisfying it makes you realize you've been hungry for it your entire life. So it was for me with the Firekites. May they--and all of the other artists featured here--fulfill some need in you.

      (The Firekites are an Australian collective formed in 2005.)