If you haven’t heard already on a music blog or in your tweet stream, allow me to break the days-old news: Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman have raised over $95K (and counting) on Kickstarter for a five-city West Coast “tour”, the contents of which have yet to be determined. Except that it will involve the happy couple Amanda and Neil doing…whatever it is they do together onstage.
Here’s the explanatory video, in which AFP confesses she doesn’t know what the fuck they’ll be doing in the show, but that, even if they’re not coming to your city, you should still give them your money.
Within hours of the start of this campaign, the highest donation option of $500 had been capped. This means that the max amount of fans possible paid $500 for a ticket to the show (whatever it turns out to be), a grab bag of merch, and an “intimate” meet-and-greet with Amanda and Neil. The ironic thing is that you can usually meet Amanda after any of her shows. For free. One can only assume that meeting Neil Gaiman is more expensive. But $500? Really?
Here’s the kicker: the project is already 475% funded; it has 22 days to go; and people are STILL DONATING. It’s like this cult of followers can’t stop themselves from giving, even when the “tour” has been funded four times over.
What peeves me the most is that Amanda’s songwriting has been less than her best since about 2006. Yes, Virginia was the last strong album she wrote. No, Virginia was essentially a bunch of B-sides. WKAP was an incoherent collection mostly of self-indulgent ballads with an online fantasy game accompanying it and a commemorative coffee table book made collaboratively with none other than Neil Himself. (So it came as no surprise when AFP and Neil announced they were dating around 2009.) Now they’re married, and apparently they believe that their simultaneous presence onstage is worth anywhere from $30-$500. My question is, where is the music to back up this ticket price? Is Radiohead on ukulele worth that? Is a live album in Australia worth that–or is it just a way to avoid going into the studio?
It seems like Amanda has realized that she can sell anything on the Internet and that people will buy it–four or five times over; so quality no longer matters. She can announce a show on the beach while her husband eats a banana, and people will give her $95,000. She doesn’t have to write good songs anymore. (Maybe Neil won’t have to write books anymore.) They make more money standing on the beach than most people make in two years. This is not art. This is a musician-turned-megalomaniac e-personality run amok. It’s crowdsourcing at its worst, flippantly inviting people to pay for concerts that probably won’t come to their city or for an opportunity backstage that thousands of people have previously gotten for free.
I was a huge fan of The Dresden Dolls. They worked hard, toured incessantly, and made great music. And I never had to pay more than $40 to hear it. Granted, I may have Roadrunner Records to thank for that. According to AFP, being indie is more profitable for her than was having a record deal. When it’s profitable to the tune of $95K for a uke, a half-formed idea, and a banana, I guess she’s right. The fans have spoken: do little, and we’ll pay you a lot.
At SXSW, in a week of strong if mostly homogenous indie rock-lite bands, and at a showcase for a genre of music (metal) that’s dominated more by screaming than by singing, Lo-Pan was a welcome deviation from the norm. I’m glad I skipped The Strokes.
At their performance at Barbarella, the Columbus-based band first caught my attention with their physical arrangement onstage. Bassist Skot Thompson stood downstage-right; guitarist Brian Fristoe was downstage-left; and drummer JBartz sat upstage center. Nothing atypical about any of that.
The unusual thing was that vocalist Jeff Martin (who writes all the song lyrics) was almost hidden from view. He stood upstage-right, kind of in a corner between the bass and drums. And there he stayed, for the entire set. None of those all-too-common singer/screamer-who’s-not-playing-an-instrument running around downstage with neck veins bulging and spit and sweat flying onto the audience type antics.
In a word: no diva.
But there was singing. Yes, actual singing. Strong tenor vocals, on pitch. No screams.
I’m not sure I’d call Lo-Pan 100% metal—and that’s not just because of the singing. I can’t quite put my finger on what the classification should be. Their myspace page says “Classic Rock/Crunk/Psychedelic”, but I’m not convinced that’s right. For one thing, the songs are virtually crunk-less. The music is rock, without a doubt. The hard-hitting forward propulsion of JBartz’s drums bears some resemblance to Motörhead. There’s also some Baroness-esque sludge going on in the thickness of the bass and guitar riffs. So, score two for the metal category. But there are hints of a ballsier Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in there, as well. Score one for rock/psychedelic. (Baroness, as well, visits trippy territory.) The Chris Cornell-quality vox and dirty guitars recall early Soundgarden, but Lo-Pan isn’t grunge. Alternative rock is a useless term, and this band is tougher than that, anyway.
So, what are they? The question keeps me listening. That, and their live presence: the amount heart in their playing is visceral—collectively, and from Thompson in particular. It’s not often that the bass player stands out in a metal band; more commonly the focus is on rip-roaring guitar heroics or speed-demon drumming. (Or screams.) Again, at the risk of over-relying on this comparison, Motörhead seems an appropriate reference, Lemmy being one of the few bass players whose unmistakable style has defined a band. Similarly, Thompson brings high-caliber chops and a cool intensity that go beyond grounding the root notes of the song; in many cases he’s carrying the rhythm and sustaining the heavy mood simultaneously. This is not to say that the other players aren’t pulling their weight—they certainly are. But just listen to how Thompson matches Fristoe’s guitar note for note on bass from about the 4:45 mark of “Dragline” (from the newly remastered 2009 album Sasquanaut), nearly to the end of the song. It’s an almost Priest-like double axe attack, with the bass standing in for a second guitar. Subtle, yet powerful.
Lo-Pan’s third record, Salvador, to be released this month, maintains this power trio + power singer formula with even tighter (read: potentially commercially appealing) arrangements. Lyrically, Martin presents an inner apocalypse that seems to manifest itself in physical metaphors. Even if violent images like “blood on the snow” and “rivers run red with the blood of the greedy” are a bit overwrought and lines about “all my paranoid fantasies” a tad vague, Martin does achieve an overall atmosphere of honest despair. These may not be the most sophisticated lyrics, but their earnestness is relatively believable.
I have a feeling that some people will dismiss Lo-Pan due to the accessibility—as in, listen-ability—of their music compared to that of indie metal bands who seem to trade on the fact that you have to suffer through serious aural abrasion in order to hear the actual music. (Agalloch, for example, who headlined the SXSW showcase at Barbarella that featured Lo-Pan, drew a packed crowd. While Agalloch is a terrific band, their death metal is not “easy” to listen to, per se.) If nothing else, I’d like to make a case for Lo-Pan with the idea that indie metal doesn’t have to be avant-garde or “difficult” in order to be good, or at least enjoyable.
Before you make up your mind about Lo-Pan, see them live. They’re touring and gaining momentum. I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard them on the radio within a year or two. The possibility of their finding a broad fanbase seems likely.
You may have noticed that this blog has been dormant since Brian Viglione and Vikka Yermolevya kicked its ass with awesomeness at the end of January. For almost a month now, I’ve been wondering what could possibly top those interviews or at least come close to their level of cool. The bar for this blog seems to have been raised tenfold.
But I have finally arrived at a satisfactory answer: at present, nothing. Nothing comes close to the creativity of conception and excellence of execution of Viggie & Vikka’s concert in Iceland. And fortunately, that’s not my fault. It’s just the state of the music culture at the moment.
With this realization that I’m not to blame for February’s having been a blah month, happening-wise, I feel relieved of the responsibility to write something that equals or surpasses the last three posts. On that note, here is my February recap of what’s been in my ears lately.
Was anyone not a teeny bit excited to hear this song? Was anyone not a teeny bit disappointed by it? The verse is almost note-for-note “Waterfalls”, by TLC, and the chorus can literally be replaced by that of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” because the key and the chord changes are the same. As the Good Book says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Lady GaGa has proven the point.
Catchy tune, lame video. Product placement much? Black Star perfume. Abbey Dawn clothes. Avril’s mom even makes a cameo appearance. Is the princess of pop/punk running out of sassy ideas? (No complaints about the lingerie, however.)
The Wisconsin metal band’s debut, The Onslaught, was the closest thing to a perfect thrash album that the 2000s have produced so far. For Lazarus A.D.’s sophomore effort, the band adopts a slightly more mainstream sound — not quite as furiously fast and featuring (gasp) singing (!). The band admits to having consciously gone in a new direction for this record, which is far from a dismal failure. It’s decent. Solid, even. But it doesn’t capture the same raw purity of its predecessor.
Someone give this girl a Grammy. After hearing her soulful Beatles covers, I knew she could sing. Like, really sing, with a rare combination of deep sincerity and impeccable vocal control. Quite an instrument she has. But when I saw her perform at Webster Hall with her band Firehorse…frankly, she blew my mind. The whole band is outstanding. It’s electro-pop meets rock ‘n’ roll. Fresh and different. And Siegel is one hell of a frontwoman. Like a much, much sexier Barbra Streisand (Siegel’s voice packs that much power and expression) — with a guitar. Go see her. And support the music.
The Beatles – 2009 Remasters
It’s happened. I like the Beatles. I even went so far as to “Like” their Facebook page. But this fact has nothing to do with iTunes and its recently released Beatles collection. It has everything to do with my very latent discovery of the 2009 remastered versions of the Beatles albums, which of course I did not download from iTunes.
Not long ago, I was dutifully listening to Abbey Road for the first time, and I was flabbergasted by how great it sounded. Not only were the songs good (this I already knew, even as a Beatles non-fan), but the sound quality was good, too! A Beatles fanatic friend (and superstar guitarist) Juliana Brown brought to my attention that I was probably listening to a remastered version of the album. Sure enough, she was right. (She usually is, when it comes to Beatles things.)
So, this month, I gave the Beatles a true chance at redemption by downloading the ’09 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band — which had been the first and last Beatles CD I had ever owned, circa 1997. I sold that album, which I had found totally obnoxious and unlistenable, back to the music store within weeks of having received it for Christmas. Until about two days ago, I had remained stubbornly, ignorantly certain that something was wrong with the rest of the world that thought Sgt. Pepper was great. Everyone who believed that had to have been on acid. Or just really gullible. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Emperor’s New Clothes was more like it. The people on the album cover should have been naked. I thought.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going. The difference between the ’97 POS CD Sgt. Pepper and the ’09 remastered Sgt. Pepper is absurd. So drastic that it’s not even worth describing. I no longer hate the album. Matter of fact, I like it.
One of the only beefs I’ll ever have with Michael Jackson (R.I.P.), since I really can’t comment on his private life, is that it took so fucking long to get the Beatles catalog out of his half-gloved hands so that it could be converted into a digital format that does it justice.
I should have just listened to my parents’ LPs.
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Your presents have been opened. Your waistline has been expanded. Your Christmas has been thoroughly celebrated. Unless you’re me, in which case your presents remain unopened, halfway across the country; your waistline is shrinking as you prove the effectiveness of The Poverty Diet; your Christmas was celebrated with two Jewish guys at a bar. And now you’re snowed in.
What better time to commence that all-important year-end activity — the listing of the Top 10 Best Albums of the year? In fact, there is no better time. The time is now.
Please join me in toasting with a half-drunk mug of this morning’s coffee the following albums:
10. The Black Keys — Brothers (notwithstanding the T. Rex ripoff that is the opening riff)
9. Massive Attack — Heligoland
8. Gorillaz — Plastic Beach
7. Robyn — Body Talk (Pt. 1, 2, and 3)
6. The Dead Weather — Sea of Cowards
5. Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
4. Big Boi — Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
3. Kylesa — Spiral Shadow
2. The Ruby Suns — Flight Softly
1. M.I.A. — MAYA
First, I have to apologize for the belatedness of this post. Life happens, blogs get neglected, etc.
Openers Gamble House hail from Los Angeles. Throwing self-censorship to the wayside, I’ll describe their music as your standard aesthetically inoffensive indie rock, which nowadays is another way of saying easy-listening music for 20-somethings. Still, I appreciate the fact that all band members were wearing relatively loose-fitting jeans. It’s nice to see guitar-wielding young men who don’t look like they’ve tried to squeeze into their girlfriends’ pants.
According to their bio, Gamble House seems to be a vehicle for lead singer Ben Becker, who began writing the band’s songs while he was still living in Brooklyn (a fact that also seems to explain why this California band has that all-too-common “Williamsburg sound” of sensitivity mixed with pop songs played by a four-piece). I heard a bit of a Beatles influence in their tunes, and I do have to give significant props to the smoothness of Becker’s and guitarist Ben Cassorla’s almost-falsetto harmonies. Their voices blend well, producing a less-fey-sounding Wild Beasts effect.
Shortwave Society, from Knoxville, TN, couldn’t have been more different from the opening act. Other than brass horns, there is hardly a type instrument that the five band members don’t play. Simultaneously, they employ a cello, an acoustic guitar, a synth keyboard, a violin, a laptop, drums, and an amped and distorted old telephone receiver. There’s also a xylophone, an electric guitar, and vocals. And on Friday night, the whole shebang ended with a segway into “Science Fiction Double Feature”–the closing credits version–from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, I’m all in favor of avant-garde music. It can be thrilling to hear unexpected combinations of instruments, styles, or techniques come together in a way that challenges the listener and stretches the boundaries of what we normally consider to be music. However, making the avant-garde or the experimental make sense is not an easy thing to do–not that sense is a requirement; it is, however, a means of helping the listener understand the musical ideas behind a song.
My point is that, with so much happening in their music at once, Shortwave Society have taken on the hugely complicated task of attempting to organize all of these sounds, all of these dissonant notes, all of these individual parts into a cohesive whole. And, for me, the myriad parts never quite…gel. While there is structure to each song, the motifs change so quixotically that the mind never gets to relax into a groove. Often, I couldn’t figure out why the individual players’ lines of music were happening, except that there was, for example, a cello onstage, so it might as well be made use of during the entire song. Although the band members appear to be listening to each other, the separate parts played by each musician frequently sound as though they have nothing to do with what anyone else is playing. I don’t mean that there are occasional clashing moments like those that occur in jazz improvisation; I mean that it sounds like someone determined the key of the song, outlined the structure, and handed each person a metronome set to the same tempo; then everyone went into separate, sound-proofed rooms and came up with their respective parts.
I hate to be excessively critical of a band that’s new on the scene, but I feel that the obviously high technical skill level of the members of Shortwave Society merits my respect in the form of an honest response, with my reasons for not entirely “getting” what they’re about articulated to the best of my ability. I have nothing but high praise for the band’s dexterity–especially that of violinist Sarah Hurd and cellist Alexia Pantanizopoulos, the latter performing with a gusto that is wonderful to watch. Maybe my ear lacks the sophistication required to fully understand their music. Or maybe “not understanding” is exactly their point. I have no idea. To me, that indicates that, despite the prowess, passion, and intelligence of the players, the thrust of the music remains unclear.
…Stay tuned for my recap of Adam Matta‘s performance…
Update 9/7/10: Please see Original Hipster’s interview with Adam Matta in lieu of part 2 of this blog post.