This review is way, way, way overdue. Back in March, Dreaming in Stereo invited me to cover their show at SXSW. I missed the show, unfortunately, but they were kind enough to send me their new album, Dreaming in Stereo 2, to review. Lo these many months later, I can say that, having listened to the album, if I ever get another chance to see this band live, I will go without hesitation. I certainly regret missing that show in Austin.
The album is gorgeous from start to finish. Truly a delight. The progressive pop music is cinematic, deliciously layered vocals floating over dreamy string arrangements. The songs have an unhurried quality, capturing what one might imagine a sunny Saturday in the band’s hometown of Miami Beach, Florida, would feel like. It’s tempting to escape into the rich sonic landscape of the record, to indulge in a mini-vacation with every listen.
The man at the helm is Fernando Perdomo, an accomplished musician whose credits include playing lead guitar on a platinum-selling album (Amar Es) and international tour for Grammy-nominated Mexican pop singer Christian Castro. Perdomo writes and sings most of the songs on Dreaming in Stereo 2, with the exceptions of “Saturday Song” and “Without You”, by Marisol Garcia. Garcia’s vocals are stunning; her range extends from quiet intimations to soaring climactic power.
One thing the band seems to collectively understand is the significance of the musical dramatic arc. “Enough’s Enough” is but one example in which a pop melody swells into full orchestral glory and then returns to the original theme. This prog tactic owes much to Pink Floyd, who seem consciously referenced in songs like “Open the Door 2”, with its Syd Barrett-psychedelic lyrics and Dark Side of the Moon acid guitar solo with female vocals underneath. The Beatles also seem to be an influence, as in the vocal harmonies of “Part of Your Life”. Like the Beatles, Dreaming in Stereo writes songs that have an undercurrent of longing, a delicate sadness made beautiful by music. In effect, the experience of the album as a whole is a sort of journey, both inward into secret emotions and outward in an exploration of just how picturesque sound can be.
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.
In a word: exhaustion.
Tornado Rider at Momo’s. Awesome. If you do not know who these Californians are, find out. I’d call their music folk metal. (Could there be any two more disparate genres?) Rushad Eggleston (a.k.a. “The Sneth Goblin”) prances around in pink striped spandex pants and a hat that looks like it came from Sherwood Forest whilst wearing — yes, wearing — a cello. He’s Eddie Van Halen meets Robin Hood meets Yo-Yo Ma’s headbanging bastard cousin from Appalachia. Graham Terry (“Grammeecious the Black”) counters Eggleston’s hyperactive energy with a heavy bass groove (and a coonskin cap), and Scott Manke (“Baron Skatogious von Doodooheimer”) on drums harnesses the mayhem into a Mötorhead-esque driving thrash rhythm. And they’re hilarious. It’s brilliant.
In a puzzling stroke of luck, I scored an artist wristband because for some reason my band Love Crushed Velvet was registered in the SXSW database. Our lead singer A.L.X. discovered this upon arriving in Austin and “checking in” at the convention center. He and I immediately put the wristbands to good use at the Pitchfork party at Emo’s, where we saw No Joy and Weekend before heading to Spill, where I bailed, but A. stuck around for Diamond Rings and reported back that the set was strong.
The day of kickass female singers and ass-kicking metal.
Paste party: Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea, at Stage on Sixth. What a voice this girl has. Later, I migrated with a cadre of New Yorkers to the SPIN magazine loft for a solo acoustic set by Jewel, who was stunning — and (who knew?) hilarious, relating personal anecdotes between songs with a charmingly understated sense of humor.
Hit Barbarella in the evening for a metal showcase. Lo-Pan gets my SXSW award for favorite new discovery. Agalloch, the one band I really wanted to see this week (and the only show where my wristband really came in handy), killed it on the outdoor stage; their dark, abrasive ambience engulfed the audience for what seemed like a relentless eternity.
(Note: do not go from a death metal concert to a church. I did this. It made me paranoid. I caught the end of City and Colour‘s set at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, and, while the acoustics were fantastic, I kept expecting an evangelist to take the stage and guilt trip me for having just enjoyed several hours of “evil” at Barbarella.)
The SPIN Party. Backstage pass courtesy of Electric Child, whose performance hypnotized the crowd and, if the number of email addresses collected is any indication, turned many of them into new fans. Other highlights were, of course, The Kills with their set of new songs, DJing by Moby, OMD, and TV on the Radio. The latter I like much better in this smaller venue; the first and only other time I saw them was in 2006 when they opened for NIN at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston. Up close, their music is more danceable.
Charlene Kaye at El Mercado. Interview forthcoming! Tried to sit in Auditorium Shores long enough to catch some of Bright Eyes, but the band before, The Felice Brothers, were so not to my liking that I couldn’t stick it out long enough to see the headliner. I don’t understand why The Felice Brothers, from New Paltz, NY, would have Southern-ish accents and sound like Bob Dylan with a backing band and a hangover. Sorry, guys. Didn’t do it for me.
I did hear the beginning of the Bright Eyes show as I was leaving. Lots of spoken stuff, from what I could tell. Felt like I didn’t miss much by leaving.
Decompression. Day of silence. No crowds. A journal. Four dogs. Wristbands off. Relief.
Do you want a solid music blogger to review your performance? Or your CD? (More specifically, do you want ME to review your performance or CD?)
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Do you want to help me bend the rules of journalism and blend it with PR?
If you answered yes to any/all of these questions, then get in touch with me. I am pimping out my blog, my opinions, and my writing next week at SXSW.
Here’s how this will work:
- For a $20 donation, I will attend and review your performance. (Note: if you’re playing a showcase that requires a badge, you’ll have to put me on your guest list because I don’t have a badge.) (450 words)
- For a $25 donation, I will review your CD. (500 words)
- For a $40 donation, I will attend and review your performance AND review your CD. (800 words)
- For a $100 donation, I will interview you. (1100 words)*
All of the above include photos. For performance reviews, I will take photos of you playing live, and I will give you copies of the photos for you to use however you want in the future so long as I am credited as the photographer.
I reserve the right to express honest opinions in my reviews. However, as I am not in the business of totally bashing bands that are new to the biz, I also reserve the right to refund your money and not write about you if I feel that I have absolutely nothing positive to say about you.
So, do you want to hire me? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org [Update 5/1/11 - I no longer use this email address. Contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @lindasusername.]
*You may notice that the charge per word is steeper for interviews. That’s because I have to spend time transcribing the interview after recording it (with your permission, of course), which doubles the workload for me.
Just what we need: another Killers Christmas song. It’s a holiday tradition that’s beginning to rival fruitcake as the inevitable gift that no one asked for.
Like The Killers’ previous yuletide singles “Great Big Sled” (2006), “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” (2007), “Joseph, Better You Than Me” (2008), and “¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe!” (2009), this year’s annual release, “Boots”, is so necessary that not hearing it would be like failing to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every time it comes on TV. You’d be denying wings to angels. Appropriately, “Boots” begins with an uplifting sample from that film classic, wherein Jimmy Stewart laments being “at the end of my rope”. This intro to the song is festive in a way that Ebenezer Scrooge would certainly approve.
The tune’s title is derived from its refrain, “Stomp my boots before I go back in,” which arrives on the heels of references to “snowball fights outside.” I wonder, what about Las Vegas, Nevada (where Brandon Flowers was born and now resides), conjures these wintry memories? Perhaps they are from Flowers’s later childhood, between ages 8 and approximately 16, when his family lived in Nephi, Utah…before he moved back to Vegas. Or perhaps it could be sand — not snow — that Flowers is stomping from his boots before he goes back in. Nothing says Christmas like the Mojave desert.
Vocally, Flowers goes for a stylistic choice that seems inspired by a slide whistle. His voice swings up or down before landing on the actual note he intends to sing. It’s post-punk crooning: Bing Crosby as a melancholy tenor in a New Wave band. All that’s missing is a little “Mele Kalikimaka”. And a white Christmas in Vegas.
On the tenth anniversary of the fateful Halloween party in Boston where Amanda Palmer met Brian Viglione, The Dresden Dolls reunited after a two-year hiatus for a sold out show at Irving Plaza. The significance of their first meeting ten years ago was clearer than ever: these two belong together.
Having seen them perform one of their last pre-breakup shows in 2008 and having seen them play separately since (Amanda at the Spiegeltent in NYC in ’08 and Brian with World/Inferno at Hallowmas that same year), and seeing them now together again, I can say with certainty that each are strong musicians and great performers but that something indefinable happens when they take the stage together. Their musical chemistry is electric; the crowd feeds off it, gives it back; the Dolls bounce it right back to the crowd. And what happens is bigger than two people onstage, bigger even than a jam-packed venue of loving fans. For lack of a better word, it’s magic.
As with so many bands whose live show is superior to their (already great) records, you have to see the Dolls perform to fully appreciate what all the fuss is about. Take my word for it. There’s something genius in the simplicity of two percussionists (the piano is a percussion instrument, after all) playing off of each other’s musical cues and body language in a sort of rhythmic dialogue. Brian and Amanda are like twins who anticipate what the other is going to say. And they’re even more in sync now than they were two years ago — it seems the break has left them supercharged.
The Legendary Pink Dots, who Amanda has always cited as her favorite band and number one musical influence, kicked off the show. After their set, a giant screen hid the stage and showed a Halloween-themed movie clip montage while an equally appropriate soundtrack played over the P.A. When “Sweet Transvestite” came on, the audience sang along, complete with Rocky Horror inside-joke callouts (“Say it!!”). It foreshadowed the singing to come.
Girl: I wonder if a lot of Rocky Horror fans are Dolls fans?
Guy: I’m pretty sure there’s some overlap.
When the Dolls appeared, the house erupted. Brian appeared sans Halloween costume (but later revived the Dolls’ trademark bowler hat); Amanda wore something resembling a caped Checkpoint Charlie uniform, the jacket of which was of course eventually ditched in favor of a black lace bra. The duo kissed, the message obvious to those who knew the high tension that split up the band two years ago.
They opened with “Sex Changes” and played for — are you ready for this? — two hours and thirty-five minutes, almost non-stop. The crowd knew every. single. word. of the set, comprising twenty-one songs (by my count), that included five covers:
– “Pirate Jenny” – by Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill (fromThe Threepenny Opera) – Amanda sang it in English
– “Pierre” – by Carole King – with Brian doing the “I don’t care”s
– “Double Rainbow” – from the YouTube phenomenon; it ended with a rainbow of balloons falling from the ceiling
– “Mein Herr” – from Cabaret – with Brian on acoustic guitar and Amanda, in a gold sequined bra, writhing on a platform, stage-right
– “War Pigs” – by Black Sabbath – and it sounded massive with Amanda on piano and Brian’s metal-influenced drumming at its best
They hit all the big Dolls tunes, most of them from the self-titled album and from Yes, Virginia, and they touched on “Glass Slipper” from A is for Accident and two from No, Virginia (“Ultima Esperanza”, “The Kill”). They kept up the theatrics that make watching them so much fun: Brian clowned as the perfect foil for Amanda’s slightly straighter-(wo)man (we use that word “straight” very loosely here). They recruited fans from the audience to sing backup on “The Jeep Song”. They paid tribute to their mutual friend Sean, who was in the audience and who brought Brian to Amanda’s Halloween party ten years ago. (The audience sent up cries of “Thank you, Sean!” to him on the balcony.) They received “boo”s when Amanda mentioned wrapping up the show. (“Don’t be idiotic,” she said. “We’re obviously going to do an encore.”)
And they played a five-song encore.
Only then was the audience reluctantly willing to let them go — and only because we know that, this time, it won’t be two years before we see them together again.
In addition to Girl in a Coma, another San Antonio trio played Brooklyn this past week: Pop Pistol, who made their NYC debut at Trash Bar on Tuesday September 28. The band consists of guitarist and vocalist Alex Scheel, bassist George Garza, and drummer Jorge Gonzalez. All three contribute either synths or samples to the studio recordings, a sound that’s replicated live by a backing track. Say what you will about using pre-recorded playback; it works for Pop Pistol by adding a sort of surprise to their onstage appearance. “Where’s the keyboard?” is a question that onlookers commonly ask, as the band generates sonic layers richer than their three-piece composition would lead one to expect.
Frontman Scheel sings with his eyes closed. After the show, he explains that, during the set he imagined the Brooklyn Bridge and other famous New York landmarks that he and his bandmates — all in their mid-twenties — had seen that day for the first time. ”To me, New York is like the only city in the world,” Scheel says. “Being here is like killing a fantasy.”
What is it about New York — about music in New York — that from the outside gleams like a city on a hill, yet on the inside hungers for new things from elsewhere? Here bands are a dime a dozen. Indie music-philes pride themselves in knowing where a non-NY band is from — and the more obscure the place of origin, the better. (For example, the fact that thrash maestros Lazarus A.D. hail from Kenosha, Wisconsin, makes them seem all the more special when they blow away the veteran German headliners at the Nokia/Best Buy Theater in Times Square.) Ironically, though, for musicians who live in other cities, being a big fish in a small pond only seems good enough if eventually New York notices you. Getting to New York is hard, but getting New York’s attention can be harder — even if you already live here.
Scheel likens being in New York to “killing a fantasy,” but really there’s a mystique to wherever one is not at the time or hasn’t been. And so I wrap up San Antonio Week in Brooklyn with this: Pop Pistol and Girl in a Coma — thank you for visiting. Rock on, and know that this niche of New York knows who you are.
On Tuesday night, I decided to check out The Cruel Shoes, who regularly play at Otto’s Shrunken Head. The trio of ladies, two of whom just moved to NYC from the Philly area, are KILLER musicians. Let me emphasize that. KILLER.
Now, I was expecting a solid show. If you listen to their songs, you can easily tell that they’ve got some strong, classic rock-inspired grooves. Fun stuff. But what I was not expecting was to sit there gaping at the stage with my jaw on the floor.
I’m not exaggerating. If I have your phone number, and you’re into music, I probably texted you at some point during the set. You know who you are. You received a message full of expletives and amazement from me around 10:00 p.m. In case my tipsiness made the message murky, I’ll clarify: this is the band I was talking about.
What makes The Cruel Shoes such an exciting find? For one, the three gals — guitarist Julie Brown, bassist Emma Lee Wright, and drummer “Goddess” Diana — work off of each other like members of a seasoned jam band (in the best sense of the term). That Brown and Wright have only recently added Diana to the lineup is almost unbelievable, given how organically they play together.
The songs are a throwback to the 60s and 70s, when bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and Zeppelin gave us good, gritty rock n’ roll, but the three-piece makeup of The Cruel Shoes lends the classic sound a more garage-rock feel. The lyrics (many of which are posted as notes on the band’s facebook page) have a sort of concise eloquence that alludes to a darker social commentary. (For the record, the song title and lyric “We Gotta Right to Their Suicide” is a gem that, I’d wager, any of the aforementioned rock greats — Beatles, etc. — would have been proud to have penned themselves. If Paul McCartney hears it, he’ll probably wish he’d been able to sing it circa 1968.)
Most thrilling of all — and much to the satisfaction of my inner metalhead — is watching Brown shred on a twelve-string guitar through solos that stand up against those of many a contemporary metal band.
High praise, I know. But I believe this band deserves it. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are their upcoming performance dates. Go see them live. Decide for yourself.
It’s no secret: I’ve been a cheerleader for Killola since I heard their first LP Louder, Louder! in 2007. This was before they helped me sneak backstage during SXSW 2009, where I interviewed them, snapped photos of the New York Dolls, and snagged a beer from the cooler as the bouncer threw me out. And, while I’m obviously biased, I’ll say that, based on my encounters with a LOT of musicians–both famous and lesser known–over the past several years, Killola are one of the just damn nicest, most accessible, and most fun bands to be around.
And they put on a hell of a live show. Lisa Rieffel is simply one of the most dynamic frontwomen on the scene. The last time I saw the band live, Lisa sang upside-down, hanging from the ceiling of The Studio at Webster Hall. Later that night, she was molested onstage by an over-zealous fan who stuck her hand down the singer’s shirt. (Lisa repaid her in kind.)
But the appeal of Killola extends beyond the stellar vocals; the L.A. band is also remarkable for how they’ve harnessed the fan-base building power of the Internet, to the extent that they’ve acquired a devoted cult following almost exclusively through an aggressive, grass-roots, online initiative. If for nothing else, Killola should be remembered as the band who whipped the web into submission until their music and concerts became a fan fetish. Examples:
- In 2007, Lisa tapped into The L Word audience and the OurChart social networking/dating site (now defunct) when she starred in the web series Girltrash!, frequently referenced by OurChart bloggers. The series also landed Lisa (already a professional actor) some mentions on the queer culture hub AfterEllen.com. In effect, the band gained exposure to a niche audience through the Girltrash! web series, then a relatively novel medium for entertainment.
- Also in 2007, the band announced on myspace that anyone with a Killola tattoo would forever get into Killola concerts for free. They posted fan photos of the K)) logo tatts on their profile. A brilliant on- and offline advertising campaign emerged. People are still getting K)) ink and sending their pics to the band. To this day, you can show up at the door the night of the show, flash your tattoo, and get in.
- Killola’s latest innovation is the pre-order format of their new album, Let’s Get Associated, on USB dog tag necklaces. For $40, you get the album in a wearable form, plus bonus materials, plus continual access to live recordings of Killola gigs. See the recent L.A. Times blog post about it.
Between the creative marketing savvy, the megawatt presence of the lead singer, and the tongue-in-cheek appeal of their music, it’s difficult not to appreciate Killola.
In Killola’s third studio effort, Let’s Get Associated, the band sticks with the California pop/punk vibe of their previous records while upping the quantity of 80s synth textures–and revving the vulgarity into overdrive.
Killola have never shied away from raunchiness. While tunes like “Cracks in the Armor” and “Traffic” are more introspective, you must have a sense of humor to swallow (no pun intended) a song like “I Wanna See Your Dick”. The same applies to the satirical “1-2-3-4″ (about moral hypocrisy) and “She’s a Bitch”. Whether or not the lyrics turn you off depends on your personal taste, though much of the crudeness is so over-the-top, so totally lacking in shame, that it’s almost impossible to take seriously. The brutal honesty of the the whole thing is enjoyably hilarious.
It’s also smartly feminist. Consider, what would we say about guy singing a song called “I Wanna See Your Pussy”? I think the general response would be, “Well, duh.” It wouldn’t be all that different from “The Thong Song” or “Baby Got Back”, both of which most of us laugh off and dance to without reserve. By turning the overt ogling around–that is, by switching the typical genders of ogler and oglee–Killola challenge the idea of sexual objectification as a male-dominated pastime.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into a campy rock song. Still, when a band is clever enough to self-manage and -market themselves as successfully as Killola have, that they might put the same amount of thought into their lyrics seems within the realm of possibilities.