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    Friday, March 30, 2007

    Listening booth #9

    Collage by Claudio Parentela

    * MP3: "North American Scum" (Ian St. Laurent's South Philly Scum Remix) - LCD Soundsystem [Buy other LCD Soundsystem]
    * MP3: "Trippy Green Skull" - Dan Deacon from Spiderman of The Rings [Preorder it]
    * MP3: "A Tender History In Rust" - Do Make Say Think from You, You're A History In Rust [Buy it]

    You can check out and buy other collages, illustrations, paintings and mixed media works by Claudio Parentela here.

    Series by Daniel Krieger

    You can check out more of Daniel Krieger's photography here and his New York series here. There's also an interview with him here and his personal website is here, where you can get in touch with him for all your photographic needs. If you're around Brooklyn, he has a show coming up tomorrow, March 31st from 7-10 at Mini Bar on Court St. between 4th and Luquer. Check it out.

    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    Grizzly Bear @ Bowery Ballroom, 3-6-07

    I like to think I have a special connection to Grizzly Bear. They were starting to gather acclaim at the same time I was starting this blog. Their album, Yellow House, was one of the first I lavished praise on and they were the first band to blurb me on their website. They were the first band I interviewed too. When I later wrote up a review of their concert that was good if not glowing, Ed Droste even went out of his way to email me and apologize. No need, I said, I'll be back next time you tour and see you again. Of course I knew that the four guys in the band were among the nicest in indie rock and have forged relationships with just about any blogger that asked. And I know that they're famous enough now that it doesn't matter what I write if it ever did. Still, I do truly love this band and I love their album, so I was more than happy to keep my promise.

    In a way, this show was a bookend to the earlier one in San Francisco, as Jason Robert Quever's Papercuts once again opened. His adapation to performing was pretty astounding, rendering his formerly hushed, reverent and slightly limp set into a powerhouse. Suddenly, he took sharp command of the stage, making every song feel alive and momentous. It was enjoyable and fitting foreshadowing to the headliner. Because Grizzly Bear too, from their first sinewy note issued from Chris Taylor's flute, demonstrated that this would be a band newly in control. They took all of the successful elements from their earlier show and promptly proceeded to maximize, magnify and blow them away.

    The most noteworthy aspect is that their live set sounds very little like either Horn of Plenty or Yellow House. The recorded songs are merely jumping off points into grander, louder, more muscular entities designed explicitly for the stage. They're reinvented as much as they're reenergized, engaging the listener in wholly different ways from the more mellow, insular albums. Another surprise for me was how often Dan Rossen took the mic, singing lead handily and confidently. It only confirmed the impression that Grizzly Bear could do whatever they wanted and pull it off.

    Like, fill stadiums for instance. Their sound was large and full enough to entertain row after bloated row of lighter-waving groupies. For now though, the grandeur was limited to a sold-out, appropriately adoring hometown crowd at the Bowery. Some of the set's highlights included "On A Neck, On A Spit," which became amped up and more hectic than usual, giving it a newfound sense of momentum. "Knife" was both a crowd-pleaser and a thriller, most notably enhanced by Taylor's otherworldily falsetto mating calls. And "Little Brother" was yet another show-stealer, the titular sibling becoming rebellious and self-assured in this incarnation. Its guitar riffs spiraled out boldly and wildly, completing the band's transformation from avant-folksters to bonafide rock stars.

    Every time Grizzly Bear returns, they manage to outdo themselves and explode any idea of limitations. They're as enthralling and exciting as ever, even as they're still clearly coming into their own. Where they'll land next remains to be seen, but I'm guessing that some of the live energy and fleshed-out sound will bleed into their third album. What is guaranteed though is that I won't be missing Grizzly Bear the next time they hit a nearby stage, so I can follow their evolution firsthand.

    * MP3: "Granny Diner" - Grizzly Bear
    * MP3: "Knife/Heartbeats" - Grizzly Bear vs. The Knife by PARRKA [Buy other Grizzly Bear]
    * Band Website: Grizzly Bear

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #18

    1) "Ice Cream" - Muscles [Visit him]
    2) "Candylion" - Gruff Rhys from Candylion [Buy it]
    3) "Who Smells Marshmallows?" - Lucky Lucky Pigeons from Happy Birds Day EP [Buy it]
    4) "Le Petit Pain Au Chocolat" - Joe Dassin from Les Plus Grandes Chansons, Vol. 1 [Buy it]
    5) "Lollipop" - Hidden Cameras from Learning To Lie 7" [Buy it]
    6) "Cake Parade" - Georgie James from Need Your Needs EP [Buy it]
    7) "Popsicle" - The Talking Heads from Sand in the Vaseline [Buy it]
    8) "Just Like Honey" - Jesus and Mary Chain from Psychocandy [Buy it]
    9) "She Don't Use Jelly" - The Flaming Lips from Transmissions From The Satellite Heart [Buy it]
    10) "Hittin Skittles" - Hot Chip from Coming On Strong [Buy it]
    11) "Spoonful of Sugar" - Of Montreal from Horse and Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed) [Buy it]
    12) "Candy" - El Perro Del Mar from El Perro Del Mar [Buy it]
    13) "Sweets" - M. Craft from Silver and Fire [Buy it]

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    Video Tuesday #30

    "Wet and Rusting"

    "Breaker" (unofficial)

    "The Great Escape"
    Patrick Watson

    "911 Is A Joke"
    Public Enemy


    Blonde Redhead

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    L'amour (or Less) @ Union Hall, 3-3-07

    Tipsy from pastis and just handed free drink tickets, I shouted out to Matt of Ear Farm, "This is like my dream concert!" He'd organized the show of French and French-inspired indie music with a big assist from Mancino's Jonathan Mason, but in a parallel universe where I knew how to book bands and arrange venues, I probably would've compiled a very similar bill. After all, on any given day, France is playing a big part in my life. I've been teaching myself French for the last year, translating Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal and Sartre's Le Mur, rocking my Serge Gainsbourg and IAM CDs, passing time in bistros with hangar steak and glasses of bordeaux, and even plotting to move to that country next autumn. So when I saw the announcement on Matt's blog, I knew there was no doubt I'd be in attendance.

    Mike Higbee

    The show was at Park Slope's Union Hall, where I seem to be hanging out more and more lately. The crowd started out thin but grew steadily, selling out somewhere after the second set. These were smart people—everyone on the bill ranged from very good to great. First among the five performers was Paris-to-New York transplant Mike Higbee, a singer-songwriter who alternated between acoustic and electric guitar. At first, I was pessimistic, as his opening songs were fairly straightforward surf-rock folk à la Jack Johnson. But as he loosened up, he showed off the full power of his voice and the impressive extent of his guitar skills. The longer he stayed on, the better he got and the more diverse his repertoire grew. He sang some great numbers in French, he invited instrumentalists to accompany him, and his style became all his own.


    Next up was Clint, a Parisian rock band who'd come over for a mini-transatlantic tour. This was their last date among ten, and their gratitude for the crowd was endearing. They played with that same level of enthusiasm, by far the loudest band of the evening. The style they favored, the kind of fun, indulgent, decadent, coke-bender rock that dominated in the '80s, isn't necessarily my favorite, but it was a tight, enjoyable and promising set. Undeterred by the intimate space, the lead singer Felix seemed to thrive on his rock-star status, swaggering and strutting around proudly like a Mick Jagger who trills his r's.

    Die Romantik

    Then came Die Romantik, another Paris-to-New York resettler, to change the tempo entirely. They still rocked, but the music was more intimate and layered. They drew me in immediately with their moody, arty music and soaring vocals. Of all the bands, I would've most liked to have heard their recorded material first. I think I would've gotten even more out of it that way, more layers and more elements. Still, even without that advantage, their set was a winner and Die Romantik impressed me as a band to watch. Anyone doubting their undeniable efforts could see the evidence in the sweat splotches growing ever-larger on guitarist Oliver Pierre Bernard's grey dress shirt.


    Fourth up was Mancino, who I previously wrote about here. Their music probably had the most tenuous connection to France, although both keyboardist Nadim Issa and drummer Jonathan Mason grew up there and their song "L'amour or Less" contributed the title to the night. No matter though—I wasn't about to be daunted by details. Nor was I bothered when both the band and Matt warned me this might not be their best set, as singer Mike Grimes was down with the flu. I'd been incessantly playing their debut Manners Matter enough that even a subpar Mancino set was preferable to a lot of other options. Then the trio launched into their first song and any and all equivocations became irrelevant. The guys were just as good as I expected, distilling their album to its most kinetic highs and elevating their game in the transition form record to performance. Birthday boy Grimes, who had just been lurking in a corner, head down, sipping water, showed no signs of sickness suddenly, revived, magnetic and emotive. Issa and Mason stepped up to the occasion too, providing the requisite vivacity and energy I was hoping for. It ended up being my favorite performance of the night, and if that was really one of their lesser sets, I can't imagine what the top of their game sounds like.

    La Laque

    Finally came Brooklyn-based, French-singing La Laque, an ideally calming, charming capper to the proceedings. They make retro lounge music that's stepped directly off of a French New Wave soundtrack. Their performance was atmospheric and sexy, especially given how lead singer Devery breathily and lustily purred her words. She sounded like Jane Birkin and looked like a coquettish Anna Karina, which is to say unconscionably gorgeous. It was hard to concentrate on the music, but when I did, I found myself enjoying it a whole lot. It was beauty-adoring, cheese-worshipping, philosophizing France honed down to its sonic essence, so of course I would love it.

    With the taste of radioactive-yellow licorice still on my tongue, I went home longing to rewander Parisian arrondisements, to feast on galettes and cider, to be coated with the stink of Gauloises at the Cafe de Flore. Still, Matt, Jonathan Mason and all the bands they brought together made a convincing argument that there's plenty of France to be found right here on my native soil. Now that there's talk of L'amour or Less becoming a semi-annual event, I'd recommend that you make it a point to attend next time. In fact, I'd recommend that you pretty much attend any Ear Farm-sanctioned concert from here on out.

    * MP3: "L'amour (or Less)" - Mancino from Manners Matter

    * MP3: "Hetchie Hutchie Footchie" - Mancino from Manners Matter [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Tik Tok" - Die Romantik [Visit them]
    * MP3: "Narcissist's Waltz" - Die Romantik [Visit them]
    * MP3: "La Sirène Dort" - La Laque [Visit them]
    * MP3: "Le Week-end" - La Laque [Visit them]
    * Artist MySpace: Mike Higbee
    * Band MySpace: Clint
    * Band Website: Die Romantik
    * Band MySpace: Mancino
    * Band Website: La Laque

    Tags: , , , , , , ,

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    Listening booth #8

    * MP3: "Desire" - Pharaohe Monch from Desire [Buy other Pharaohe Monch]
    * MP3: "Fake Empire" - The National from Boxer [Preorder it]
    * MP3: "Freedom Ain't Free" - Brother Ali from The Undisputed Truth [Buy it]

    I'll sleep when you're uploaded

    Hangar 18

    Yak Ballz

    Rob Sonic

    Aesop Rock



    "Up All Night"


    "Deep Space 9mm"

    * MP3: "Flyentology" - El-P (Cassettes Won't Listen Remix)
    * MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead
    * MP3: "Everything Must Go" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Buy it]

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Let's get personal: interview with Greg Goldberg, pt. 2

    Photo by Bao Nguyen

    Part two of my conversation with Greg Goldberg:
    (Part one is here.)

    NL: For my own edification, what are the intro and outro from “Tell Me How” from?

    GG: Oh, that’s from a work of pornography. Sean Cody.

    NL: Sean Cody? He’s the star?

    GG: No, he’s not the star, he’s the director.

    NL: The auteur.

    GG: Exactly. That’s the word I would use. I have a lot of things to say about him, probably more than you care to know but I’ll cut it short and say in my opinion, he started a wave of pornography that’s really taken off, which is fake-amateur pornography. There’s this set-up in all his porns that everybody is straight and that you’re just capturing this straight person in this really uncomfortable gay situation… which is strange when you think about it, like why would that be hot? And sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it’s just embarrassing. Anyway, a lot of his porns have this dialogue at the beginning to establish the straight authenticity of the person being filmed, so that’s where it comes from.

    NL: You seem very well-versed in this.

    GG: Trust me, I’ve done my research.

    NL: Something else I wanted to know: on “Personal,” when you say, “You looked to be eight-and-a-half,” for the longest time, I thought you meant he looked like an eight-year-old. And then one day, I realized you probably meant inches and it completely changed the way I heard the song. Was that ambiguity there or was I just being hopelessly naïve?

    GG: That’s amazing. You probably saw something that was there. I believe you can write something unintentionally, but just because you didn’t intend it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    NL: So then you meant inches.

    GG: That’s what I was thinking about when I wrote the song, yeah. That’s really funny though. That’s one of my favorite things, to hear people’s interpretations.

    NL: Definitely. I noticed you also have a lot of elements of modernity and postmodernity in the songs, like the plastic surgery in “The Face of Everything” and online dating in “Personal.” Do trends like that make you uncomfortable or are they just a sign of the times?

    GG: Well, I like Internet dating. It’s a good thing. You won’t find me condemning much as far as those things go. If you want me to say something bad about the world, it would probably be related to capitalism, something along those lines. That’s obviously a part of the moment we live in.

    NL: A pretty dominant part of it.

    GG: You might say.

    "You're looking for something else, something in the body of the people playing."

    NL: What are some of the moments that stand out for you most on the album?

    GG: I’ve listened to the album a lot and it changes for me over time. I go through moments where I like some things and don’t like some things and right now, I’m enjoying the end of “The Start Song.” It’s a nice moment for me. It actually had a different ending originally and Ginger came over and we were recording the violin part. We were working really hard on it and it was not going well. Ginger basically said, “I think it might be the part.” I’d spent hours and hours writing and arranging it, and it’s hard to throw out something that you’ve been working on for a long time. But she was right and I said I would just write something else. It was actually the last piece of the album that was written and maybe it was even the last song that was written. So for me, I guess it was a transition, because I’m just continually writing songs. It’s not like the albums are unified by anything other than what I happen to be writing at the time.

    NL: That’s surprising, because I hear a real coherence in Mattachine! I can’t just listen to an individual song. I have to listen to the whole thing from start to finish, probably more than any other album last year for me.

    GG: That’s good to hear. We’ve got five-and-a-half songs now that aren’t on Mattachine! and I wonder if they’ll do the same thing for you. Because I had a similar experience with Mattachine!, where I found, despite me not writing them to fit together, they did fit together somehow. Because when I write music, I’m working through ideas and they end up overlapping. Even when you’re not trying, it just happens naturally.

    NL: Right, because they’re all coming out of a certain period in your life. How long did writing the entire album take?

    GG: A year? When my last band ended, we were in the process of learning “Clay,” and I think that was the only song that I really brought over to the new band. So then it probably took a year-and-a-half for all the songs to be written.

    NL: Do you have a favorite?

    GG: I don’t have a current favorite, but all of us in the band definitely all go through phases in terms of what songs we enjoy performing. Something just happens where for a month you’re not into playing a song, and then for no reason you can come back to it. I like playing the easy songs. (Laughs.) And God knows what that means given that all the songs are the same three chords.

    NL: Do you prefer writing and recording more or performing the songs live? And what is the transition between the recorded sound and the live sound?

    GG: I’ve been writing and recording for a long time, so in some ways, it’s easier for me to do. And up until now, the songs have all been written with the live arrangements in mind. I tried not to put anything extra in the recordings, because that was my way of verifying the “completeness” of the songs… and that was the easiest way to do it, to write it that way and just bring it to the band. I’m thinking of adding in some extras though with this next batch of songs, freeing the recorded versions from the live versions. People at a show don’t want to hear the album exactly as it is anyway. You’re watching musicians make music. You’re looking for something else, something in the body of the people playing.

    "I do think it's different for straight white guys to get onstage and rock out with their guitars..."

    NL: This would be a much better interview if I had seen you live. I was actually supposed to come to the February 2nd show at Tonic, but then something came up.

    GG: It would be interesting to hear what you would’ve thought. I imagine that people want us to be really natural-looking. Like when you’re so into it that you lose yourself almost. My feeling is that it’s difficult to do that because you’re standing on a stage in front of a lot of people. There’s also something to be said about whose bodies are onstage and what it means for different bodies to be looked at.

    NL: This is getting very Foucault.

    GG: Yeah, that’s an author you’d definitely find on my bookshelf. I do think it’s different for straight white guys to get onstage and rock out with their guitars than it is for other people. I mean, I really do hate to oversimplify, but maybe I’d be willing to go with this: queer people in general are attuned to being looked at. So that brings a whole different dynamic when you’re onstage. It means something different to be onstage when you’ve lived in a way where you’re continually conscious of the way you move your body. The reason I don’t like to say things like that is because it’s different for people who have different gender expressions, it’s different for people who are not white, which I am…

    NL: It reminds me of that line in “When You Go Dancing,” when you say, “When you die, you leave your prints on everybody you’ve ever touched, so don’t be shy.” Just that joy of letting go and reaching out.

    GG: That’s a recurring theme, I’d say—the desire to let yourself go in that way. It’s something I probably do very rarely.

    NL: So you’re not a natural performer is what you’re saying.

    GG: Yeah. Well, I’m not a natural performer in the way of getting onstage and performing, but I feel like as part of my queerness, there’s a constant level of performance in the way that I’m monitoring myself. I’m sure somebody more eloquent than me wrote a book about this.

    NL: From your titles and your topics, there’s obviously a political interest and awareness in the music. I’m wondering how you draw the line between making your point and overwhelming the art. Like, how do you separate the message and the medium exactly?

    GG: It’s hard when you’re doing a topical issue like the war. I feel like my way around it in “I Hate The War,” was… I don’t want to say emotional, but something like that. It’s about frustration. The melody and the lyrics in that song are a little less natural than in, say, “In My Head.” In “In My Head,” they go together in this really tight way, but in “I Hate The War,” there’s this tension. Because if you’re saying something like “I hate the war,” the melody that pops into your head probably isn’t one that’s so glucose saccharine.

    NL: That’s the brilliance of it, I think. How many more somber, humorless, pedantic protest songs do we need right now?

    GG: I don’t know that I would say that, but it is hard to do. I definitely respect people who can do that and there are a lot of ways to go about it. I wish that I could do that more, but all the things that come into my head are about gay porn. (Laughs.)

    "I can say this because I feel implicated in this as well."

    NL: I noticed in my research that the word Mattachine, before it was the gay rights organization, was an Italian jester figure who would speak truth to the king. It’s also an Arabic sword-dancer who wears colorful costumes and a mask. So I’m wondering if pop music is kind of your way to sweeten the delivery of your message and your politics…

    GG: The thing is, it’s not really that deliberate.

    NL: It just happens that you like pop music and you like Marxism. (Laughs.)

    GG: (Laughs.) But It’s not coincidental either. With “I Hate The War” for example, you have to be careful about saying the thing you’re going to say. That’s when I get a little more deliberate. And Craig is a good censor for me, because he’s politically savvy and Ginger and Marina too. I can bring them something and when there are politically ambiguous connotations, they might send me back to make revisions.

    NL: To make it stronger?

    GG: To remove it. Or not to remove the politics, but to be careful. Because you want to be responsible when you’re writing these kinds of songs.

    NL: I got pretty politically involved at the tail end of college around the 2004 election and the lead-up to the war, and I invested so much of myself in it that I got burned out by the end.

    GG: I have a couple of thoughts about that. One is that people do go through those types of cycles, and it’s not necessarily one or the other.

    NL: I am starting to work my way back.

    GG: It’s also important not to relegate politics to the government. A lot of the topics that everybody in the band cares about involve things that people don’t necessarily have a choice about whether or not they’re going to deal with it. Transphobia and issues like that, the politics of everyday life. And the feeling that politics is something you can turn on or turn off, and not to target you…

    NL: Go ahead. I can take it.

    GG: I can say this because I feel implicated in this as well. When you’re a white guy, politics and privilege can be invisible. I’m twisting what you were saying, because you were talking specifically about the war… I’m using you to make a point. Probably not very good interviewee etiquette.

    NL: No, absolutely, I get what you’re saying. And now my last question of the evening, which is: what happens next? Like, are the new songs going to be a lot like Mattachine!? Are they branching out? Are you looking for a record deal?

    GG: We’re talking about it amongst ourselves, what’s our next step now, so it’d be premature to say anything definitively. I’d imagine, like I said before, we’d want to take it up a notch. I don’t know that it means finding a record label and obviously, that’s not the only way to go about things these days. In terms of the sound, I’m always pushing myself in different directions. I’m constantly taken by the little nuances of pop songs, so you can expect some new tricks on the next CD.

    NL: Like what?

    GG: There’s this Spanish musician that I am obsessed with. I’m trying to bully him right now into producing one of the songs. He records songs that are really intensely undeniably bubblegum pop. They’re so amazing. I want him to do this one specific song.

    NL: What’s his name?

    GG: Guille Milkyway, and his band is called La Casa Azul. I can’t think of any musician that’s working now that I like as much as him. So hopefully, there’ll be some over-the-top, euphoric bubblegum club pop as well as some stuff in other directions. But really, is anything else as good? (Pause.) Wouldn’t it be amazing if the tape ran out right there?

    * MP3: "I Hate The War" - The Ballet from Mattachine! [Buy it]
    * Band Website: The Ballet

    Tags: , , , ,

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Let's get personal: interview with Greg Goldberg, pt. 1

    If you wanted my attention between mid-November and mid-December, you were pretty much out of luck. I was too deep under the spell of The Ballet and their casually gorgeous debut Mattachine! Preparing to move cross-country, to reset my life and make some daunting decisions, I needed its refreshing, reviving bounce to lighten my step. I couldn't go for long without its sumptuous melodies and its graceful insights; I craved and delighted in all the ways the band could turn hard, ineffable subjects into indie-pop treasures.

    For weeks, I'd start all over again as soon as I reached the album's end, taking in every sublime moment from scratch. Yet every time lead singer Greg Goldberg confided, "I was in that December funk, but it's going away," it felt startling all over again. It was as if he knew the exact tenor of my blues and the precise sequence of chords to lift them. Eventually, I had to admit that The Ballet just have a talent for tapping into the universal that far belies the five hundred copies of Mattachine! they've printed. But it's also undeniable that they're making music that'
    s admirably honest, bravely individual and powerfully personal.

    Here's part one of my conversation with Greg Goldberg:

    Nerd Litter: What's your musical background?

    Greg Goldberg: I don’t have one! No, I took piano lessons when I was a kid from about when I was ten years old, so that’s the instrument I’m trained on. And then I picked up some other stuff along the way like guitar obviously, since that’s what I play onstage. Those would be my two main instruments. But I was never in Band in high school—

    NL: Really? Marching band?

    GG: That would be the one to be in if you had to pick.

    NL: Exercise, music—it’s the best of both worlds.

    GG: But I was never in musicals or in anything like that.

    NL: So when were you in your first band?

    GG: I played with some people in high school, but probably I would consider my last band, The Mean Corner, to be the first—where we practiced and played shows and had a CD.

    NL: Did you always plan on becoming a musician? (Greg smirks dubiously.) Or okay, do you plan on becoming a musician?

    GG: (Laughs.) That’s a better question. That’s a good question.

    NL: You could do music and teach. You could be a rapping professor like Cornel West.

    GG: Well, I always think in the back of my mind, what my students are going to say twenty years down the line when they read some interview from back in the day—

    NL: Like this one.

    GG: Exactly.

    NL: Where you just reveal all of your deep, dark secrets.

    GG: Posing nude and…

    NL: Is that a real one or a hypothetical?

    GG: Hypothetical. (Laughs.) No, I would say fantasy… (Pause.) What was the question?

    NL: Do you plan on becoming a—

    GG: Oh yeah. Well, you can do something seriously without doing something professionally. When I think of professionalism, I think in terms of the market, how much you want to sell. And I guess all of that stuff relates to how big are the shows you want to play and how big a part of your life you want to make it. I know it’s not the only thing I want to do and I think there’s a pretty strong precedent for people in bands to also have other jobs. Usually, they’re day jobs that they don’t want to do. (Laughs.) But hopefully, some of them are professors in tenure-track jobs at cushy universities.

    NL: Iron and Wine taught cinematography.

    GG: Oh yeah, that’s true. And we’ve been talking within the band recently about ways to step it up a notch in terms of, maybe, like, our next record will have wider distribution. Meaning that I won’t be mailing the CDs out from my apartment.

    "I probably shouldn't say that, because now I won't get a job."

    NL: What do you guys do during the day?

    GG: Marina works at a café. And Ginger does freelance work but really she’s an artist.

    NL: Like a painter? A sculptor?

    GG: Let’s say, she has many irons in the fire. Most of the work of hers I’ve seen is silk-screened prints. She also does textile work and she curates. She co-edits this journal, LTTR and she also knows more people than I can imagine. And then me and Craig are both in grad school, that’s how we know each other. We’re in the same department. We both have jobs through school that are working at different CUNY campuses. And I also have an office job on top of that.

    NL: Wow. And what is your thesis on? (Greg sighs dramatically.) I’m not Larry King. I’m not asking any easy questions!

    GG: It’s on file sharing and… loosely it’s on social theory.

    NL: Is it on the destructive effect of MP3 blogs by any chance?

    GG: I wish! That would make it easier to explain. Today I was writing about… What was I writing about? I made a point to remember to tell you so you would understand why I’m crazy.

    NL: Well, you’re Jewish, right?

    GG: Half. Halfsies.

    NL: That’s enough.

    GG: Are you?

    NL: Yeah, definitely. I understand the crazy.

    GG: What I was talking about today was surplus value. I was writing about Marxism, you know the labor theory of value and machines?

    NL: Yeah. Yeah... Not really. I studied literary theory. I can throw in some of that for good measure, but sociology isn’t particularly my strong suit.

    GG: Oh, I hate sociology. Me and Craig, we both hate it. I’ll go on record. (Laughs.) I probably shouldn’t say that, because now I won’t get a job. Someone will Google my name and this is what will come up.

    NL: The Internet never forgets.

    GG: Have you ever done online dating?

    NL: No. Well, that’s not true. I went out briefly with this girl on Friendster a while ago. She sent me a comment that she liked my picture and that’s all it took apparently.

    GG: I don’t understand how people use Friendster for dating, because I tried!

    NL: I wouldn’t be able to do it because I feel like I’d be spending the whole time convincing girls I’m not some creepy shut-in. But wait, you did write that song “Personal.” Wasn’t that based on your online experience?

    GG: The whole thing was loosely based on it. But yeah, I did try it. That’s how I met my current boyfriend.

    NL: How did that go down? You saw him on there and sent him a message?

    GG: Actually, he wrote me and I didn’t respond and then he wrote me again and I did, which is so typical of me and it had nothing to do with him.

    NL: I’m the same way. Bands email me all the time and it’s so overwhelming half the time I don’t even get around to it.

    "I fantasize about going on tour a lot... I imagine being in the car, eating shitty food."

    GG: So wait, now I have a question for you. When a band writes you, what gets your attention?

    NL: The very best thing is to demonstrate that you’ve actually read my blog, considered the styles I’m into and the type of music I post, and that you have something that would plausibly strike a similar tone. I get music a lot of the time that has nothing to do with anything I’ve ever posted or a message that’s from someone who obviously has no idea who I am or what I’m about. If it’s something that’s clearly being carbon-copied to a thousand blogs, I’m going to ignore it too.

    GG: That makes sense. I mean, I try to do that but I must have really bad solicitation skills because nobody ever writes me back. All the contact we’ve had has been with people who have approached us.

    NL: That’s very rare.

    GG: I think people also like discovering things on their own. Maybe there’s more appeal in finding something that nobody told you about than to have someone be like, “look at my band” or whatever. Which is why I’ll never be a publicist.

    NL: It’s okay. The world has enough. What kind of music were you listening to in high school?

    GG: The first musical love of my life was They Might Be Giants, which I pretty much listened exclusively to until ninth grade. I think I owned no other music. Except I did have a Paula Abdul cassette and the first CD I bought was Depeche Mode’s Violator. And then typical things that you would guess. I started listening to Magnetic Fields in high school, in ’95, ’96, and The Sundays, Lemonheads. Who else? I want to be careful here; that’s why I’m pausing. Stereolab was a big one for me. Oh and Luna. I’ve probably seen more Luna shows than anything else, because they’re also a local New York band that played a lot here and I went to high school in New Jersey.

    NL: You did? Why?

    GG: Unfortunately. I lived in the Bronx until I was ten and then my family moved to Jersey; then they actually moved back after I graduated college. Now they live two blocks from where I grew up. But I feel like, when people ask if I’m from New York, I always say no, just because I don’t want to be involved in that whole authenticity argument. I mean, no one is from New York. And the people who are the most from New York, who’ve lived here their whole lives are the least New York-y in the way that people think about it.

    NL: Well, they have nothing to prove.

    GG: Exactly. So whenever I have a doubt if someone is from New York, I ask them what high school they went to.

    NL: So then I qualify. And you do not. Perfect segue: do you consider yourselves a New York band or a band that lives in New York?

    GG: (Laughs.) That’s a funny question. I mean, I was under the impression that there was a more cohesive indie pop scene in New York. I thought that there was this core group of bands that everybody went and saw and being successful here would mean breaking into that. But I don’t think that’s true anymore, because who would those bands be?

    NL: That’s true, especially in this city. Everything is so diffused here. Maybe it would work in a smaller town, but even then, things are getting so globalized and people have access to so many sounds now that scenes don’t seem nearly as important.

    GG: And it also seems like some of those things are made by the music industry.

    NL: And lazy quasi-journalists like me.

    GG: We do it in social science too. You classify things because really what’s happening is too complicated to describe in a way that anyone wants to read in a blog post.

    NL: (Laughs.) An image and a file are already pushing the limit of what people can handle in a blog post. Okay… what does your process for writing involve? And what comes first—the music or the lyrics?

    GG: The most effective process for me is when the music and the lyrics come together at the same time, like there’s a synergy between them. I think a lot about the songs I find really catchy and why they’re successful, and usually it’s because the melody does something to the words and the spacing of the words. It brings them out somehow. That’s kind of the way I try to write.

    "If you only had to work with three chords for the rest of your life, how many different compelling songs could you come up with?"

    NL: For me, that’s similar to writing poetry, because the words and the spacing go hand in hand there too. The words are defined by the meter and the meter is defined by the words. I never sit there and decide how to space the lines. It’s like the words decide for me.

    GG: Right. My experience is that I know what’s wrong when I’m writing. I can play a hundred bad things before I’m finally like, that’s exactly what I wanted. But it’s not like I consciously think beforehand, this is what I want to do. It’s just a process of recognizing the thing as it comes out and not holding onto all the other garbage that occurs to you when you’re writing a song. And trust me, there is plenty.

    NL: Yeah, I understand that. That’s a lot like writing stories too.

    GG: That’s something a lot of artists have said. When you read interviews, they say that it just comes out of you in this raw form and then from there, you hone it or filter it down to the final thing.

    NL: And there’s that anecdote about Michelangelo saying he could see the sculpture in the marble and it was just a matter of cutting away all the marble that wasn’t the sculpture.

    GG: Yeah.

    NL: But I think that’s bullshit. It’s not like that for me at all. More like toiling for hours just to get a sentence I can stomach.

    GG: Well, he had sketches, didn’t he? Or not?

    NL: Um, I don’t know. I’ll Wikipedia it to make myself sound smarter. Does your aesthetic lean more toward If You’re Feeling Sinister or The Life Pursuit?

    GG: What are you asking? Are you making a comparison between us and Belle and Sebastian or are you asking which one I prefer?

    NL: I’m asking, between those two sounds, which one are you more drawn to? I hate to impose these binary oppositions here, but…

    GG: No, I’m all about totally arbitrary decisions and challenges. In part, that’s what appeals to me about writing such simple songs. If you only had to work with three chords for the rest of your life, how many different compelling songs could you come up with? So I like questions that only give me two choices.

    NL: Oh, let me rewrite the rest of these guys then.

    GG: I would probably say If You’re Feeling Sinister, although I think The Life Pursuit is a great album.

    NL: Wow. Controversial. What artists would you most like to tour with?

    GG: We’ve never gone on tour. We’ve played a couple of shows outside New York. I fantasize a lot about going on tour. Like every part of it. I imagine being in the car, eating shitty food. So when you go on tour with someone, you want to go with someone who’s fun and low-maintenance… and sexy.

    NL: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

    GG: No, I’m in a monogamous, committed relationship.

    NL: Hey, I’m the editor here. And no one cares about monogamy.

    GG: The headline is going to be “Greg Goldberg: Polyamorous Pee Slut.” (Laughs.) But I didn’t answer your question. This is why the other Ballerinas should’ve been here because I’m sure they would all have really funny ideas. I bet Craig would want to go on tour with Justin Timberlake. I somehow don’t see that happening in the near future.

    NL: And it might be a little incongruous.

    GG: Yeah. I like playing with bands that are quieter than we are, because it makes us seem really raucous. I mean we’re wimpy, but compared with ukuleles and finger cymbals…

    NL: So basically, you’re limited to Don Ho here.

    GG: Well, now you’ve got me thinking, I was limiting myself to actual possibilities. But if we could go on tour with anyone, yeah, Don

    * MP3: "In My Head" - The Ballet from Mattachine! [Buy it]
    * Band Website: The Ballet

    Tune in tomorrow for part two to hear Greg's thoughts on pornography, politics, queer theory, postmodernity and bubblegum pop...

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    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Video Tuesday #29

    "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')"

    "Amelia Earhart"
    The Handsome Family

    "Death of a Tune"
    Hidden Cameras

    "North American Scum"
    LCD Soundsystem

    "Giddy Stratospheres"
    The Long Blondes


    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Open wide: Portugal. The Man MP3s

    The EP is music's dress rehearsal, its pre-season. There's room to breathe, to explore, to make mistakes. The stakes aren't nearly as high, the spotlight not nearly as hot. And yet in that realm of reasonable expectations, bands can also produce some of their most intriguing and memorable music. Without having to save up their energy for a full-length run, they can give us bursts of brilliance and fun throwaway moments, not to mention songs that wouldn't fit in anywhere else.

    Portugal. The Man's new EP, It's Complicated Being A Wizard, is one such odd-man-out. As the band's lead singer, John Baldwin Gourley, casually describes it, "[It's] going to be the first in a line of self release/ random release shit we will be doing... These EPs won't always represent the sound that the album will be taking (as is the case here) but it is a fun way to send some music around." To make matters even more audacious, the EP consists of one twenty-three-minute title track, and nine subsequent tracks that loop through that same song afterward.

    If that sounds kind of wild/bewildering, wait till you get to the music. It's heady, ambient and experimental, as much an avant thinkpiece as rock soundscape. It beeps, swoons, bristles and chugs along at a leisurely, peaceful pace. It's peppered with lyrical excerpts from their great 2006 debut Waiter: "You Vultures!" and remains powerfully graced with Baldwin Gourley's otherworldly, androgynous vocals.

    The clear corollary in my mind is Liars, who similarly delight in confounding expectations and defying their audience's stamina. Factor in the overlap in subject matter ("If Your A Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses") and the tremendous potential of Portugal. The Man becomes apparent. Who knows what they'll possibly attempt as a follow-up or what it'll sound like? With the freedom of the EP format and the commitment to invention this band has demonstrated on It's Complicated Being A Wizard, I'm thrilled to say I have absolutely no idea.

    * MP3: "Ruby Magic" - Portugal. The Man from It's Complicated Being A Wizard EP [Buy it]
    * Band Website: Portugal. The Man

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    Friday, March 16, 2007

    Chris Garneau, Marissa Nadler and El Perro Del Mar @ Bowery Ballroom, 3-1-07

    Sometimes, you just shouldn't vouch. It was my friend Evan's birthday, and we'd gathered the troops, clinked glasses and made our toasts at an Irish bar's happy hour. But then as we started to disperse, I found out Evan didn't have any plans to commemorate his evening. The Asian markets had just plummeted, and he'd been pulling all-nighters to salvage what he could of his accounts. "Come on," I insisted. "It's your birthday and it'll be a really good show. You'll have fun." He finally agreed, but in retrospect, maybe he shouldn't have.

    Chris Garneau

    I was ostensibly going to check out first opener Chris Garneau, though I was also interested in the other two acts. I'd liked his dreary piano ballad "Castle-Time" and the video for "Relief." I was intrigued that Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart had helped get him signed to Absolutely Kosher. It all seemed pretty promising. And I was still encouraged when Garneau came out and sang a delicate, hushed piano ballad that sounded like "Castle-Time" but wasn't. Well, he certainly has a style, I thought. But the more he played, the more annoying it became, as he approached every song in that same tragic, overaffected, wrist-slitting tone. They were all sad and quiet in identical ways; I could see Evan drifting off, eyes closing out of exhaustion and frustration rather than reverence. The very few times Garneau branched out, it seemed like a positive step, whether it was using his backup band to create a fuller sound or employing a different part of his vocal range. But even his incorporation of a cover, Elliott Smith's "Between The Bars," couldn't rescue his depressing, comatose performance. As Evan put it, "This guy makes Elliott Smith seem really happy in comparison."

    Marissa Nadler

    Up next was Marissa Nadler, who sings a kind of witchy, mystical, haunted folk. Her voice was indeed pretty and enthralling, but like Garneau, Nadler rarely strayed from a fairly narrow formula. She also kept cutting into the mood by repeatedly stopping to give the sound guy instructions in the middle of her songs. To her credit, she did do a pretty decent cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," but I found her own songs harder to distinguish. Midway through her set, while I was praying for some break in the pattern, Evan declared that he was heading home. I implored him to stick around for El Perro Del Mar, who'd be nowhere near this slow or soporific. But with eyelids sliding down, he said he wouldn't make it. My credibility was shot.

    El Perro Del Mar

    I wish now that he had stuck around though. El Perro Del Mar, AKA Swedish songstress Sarah Assbring, more than made up for the weak openers with a knockout performance. I had my doubts she was ready to headline a venue of this size or that the music even required it. But as she kicked off, it was apparent how tight and accomplished this set would be. She had enough charisma and charm to pack a stadium, performing her dour throwback pop with real freshness and necessity. Without even doing all that much, she had command of the crowd, making every note count and every song special. When it came time for the obligatory "hit," she said matter-of-factly, "Okay, we're ready to play 'God Knows' now." For a sweet, unfettered four minutes, we all bounced around, sang along and celebrated. It took a while to get there, but finally we were remembering the electric charge that music could provide, the kick that only a kinetic performance could sustain. Evan was long gone, probably asleep by then, but I'd like to think we were kind of celebrating for him in absentia.

    * MP3: "God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)" - El Perro Del Mar from El Perro Del Mar
    * MP3: "Candy" - El Perro Del Mar from El Perro Del Mar [Buy it]

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