Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Whether The Empty Storm, Colter Harris, Keenan King

"Red Light"/"Simon"
* * * 1/2 / * * * * 1/2

When I first saw the band then known as The Fixture and now known as Whether The Empty Storm perform, they ended their set with a cover of Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" that was sincere but a bit much for the small, then-high school-aged ensemble to take on.  One rock opera (fight, the youth., penned by band members Evan Linsey and Brendan Hornbostel) and a few new band members later, Whether The Empty Storm is a formidable rock band capable of making Arcade Fire sound small.  Their latest, two-sided single unmistakably demonstrate this.  "Red Light" is a sweeping rock song that covers vast amounts of instrumental terrain and features some jaw-dropping moments (the synth-and-vocals section before the song's climax is perfect) despite being ill-suited for singer Sirkka Miller's strident voice--her vocals are the most well-defined thing in the song, and when she takes the mic, everything else seems to fade into the background. 

"Simon" is another story altogether.  It starts out innocently enough, with Miller singing about a lost love over pizzicato strings that blur the line between Top 40 and baroque pop, before giving way to one of the most poignant, massive, and artfully constructed choruses I've heard in any song this year.  The male-female vocal interplay and wall of crushing guitars bring to mind My Bloody Valentine, but rather than suggesting the ghost of a pop tune, the disparate elements combine into a bigger, catchier, and infinitely more beautiful hook than anything on the Top 20 at the time of this writing.  Whether The Empty Storm is clearly a band with lofty ambitions, and these two remarkable songs make it clear that their focus and devotion pays off.

Unblue EP
* * * *

The debut EP from Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Colter Harris is a scrappy affair, allegedly recorded in a laundry room, but it's also an intensely focused work.  Its five short songs move in a defined arc, beginning with two scrappy bursts of pure pop in the title track and "Jimmy Dean Of The Nile" before entering a lull with the next two more mellow songs and ending with the John Darnielle-esque rager "Cool."  While the mellower songs are less remarkable (despite the haunting sample that forms the backbone of "Telephones), the tunes that bookend it are elating, clever and incredibly catchy.  The title track is particularly outstanding, using twee elements like recorders and melodicas and managing to simultaneously be unapologetically adorable and piss-in-the-elevator gritty.  While Harris's early singles made it hard to tell if he was just fucking around or not, Unblue makes it clear that he isn't--but he doesn't give too many fucks either.

"Don't Ask Me"
* * * 1/2

Keenan King recently split ways from Sun Clay, which is not surprising upon listening to his debut solo single "Don't Ask Me"; while Sun Clay leader Matthew Horton trades in Deerhunter-styled indie rock, "Don't Ask Me" is the sort of hormonal pop-punk anthem most people who listen to Deerhunter-styled indie rock wouldn't be caught dead listening to.  That's not to say it's bad--in fact, it's incredibly effective.  The interplay between the different dynamics in the song is the key to its appeal, switching between an uneasy chord progression on the verse and a pop-savvy but intensely heavy riff on the chorus.  The production (courtesy of Sarchasm's Mari Campos) emphasizes the inherent aggression of this sort of power-leaning pop--there's not a weak-sounding instrument in the mix, and everything feels huge and aggressive.  But perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Don't Ask Me" is how promising it sounds coming from an artist who recently split from an extremely promising band--it's proof in one song that King is capable of running an equally, if not more, successful career than the group he left behind.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reid Saw A Ghost: The SF Rebirth Interview by Daniel Bromfield & Robert Sesma

After transport complications made it impossible to interview Reid Saw A Ghost at “Colechella” (a show they recently played hosted by guitarist Cole Berggren), I had a chance to catch up with the band at a recent gig at San Francisco’s SubMission.  With assistance from former band member Robert Sesma, I was able to gather the band’s opinions on various subjects such as martial arts, pot, Zombieland, and their recent Still Haunted EP.

Daniel Bromfield: Why don’t you guys play “Jeffery?” [sic]
Tuesday (a friend of the band): We don’t smoke as much as we used to.
Reid Riegelsberger: No, I smoke more. 
Cole Berggren: As a band we smoke more than we used to, even though Alex and I don’t.
Alex: We played “Jeffery” at Cole’s house.
Cole: No we didn’t.
Alex: The real answer is we’re rewriting it, so we’re not playing it until we rewrite it.
Cole: Well we already kind of did rewrite it.
Reid: It was on the setlist at our house, but we didn’t have time to play it.

Daniel Bromfield: Does this mean there will be more continuations of the Mad Scary saga?
Everyone: *negative noises*
Cole: It’s gonna slowly die.
Alex: The continuation of Mad Scary is just all the stuff we wrote in between Mad Scary and now, which is a new area.
Random guy: What are you kids doing?
Alex: Interviewing. 
Reid: I definitely feel like we play Mad Scary a lot different than we used to.  We definitely evolved as a band once Robert left.
*Robert laughs*
Alex: No, not like that! We just kind of changed.
Robert: Things got better.
Cole: Immediately.
Alex: That made me sound like an asshole.

Robert: So are there any concepts somewhere down the road?
Alex: We’re trying real life stuff versus fantasy.

Robert: At what point do you think you evolved as a band?  Or is it a current progression?
Cole: I think we’re always gonna... are we always gonna not like our music because we’re just gonna be getting better?
Reid: I like our music.
Cole: So Reid’s the only one?
Reid: I don’t like some of our music.
Cole: I like all of our music, everything we’ve written ever, because I was a part of it and it’s interesting to me.  But I always want to get better at it.  I’m always like aaargh I wish we had more songs.
Reid: Well, I always respect that the songs that we’ve written are, like, good songs, and I’m proud of it, but at the same time since we have better stuff and we’re writing more and more of it, I’d rather play that than the old stuff that I’m attached to.

Daniel: What’s you guys’s least favorite Reid Saw A Ghost song?
Robert: Anything Cole’s ever written.
Reid: Do you mean currently or, like, ever?

Daniel: Ever.
Reid: “Cole’s Mom.”
*everyone erupts into noises of recognition*
Cole: Oh yeah, I remember “Cole’s Mom.”
Alex: It was about his mom.
Alex: My least favorite song is the original “Zombies,” which is the social network song which is the first song off of the first Mad Scary [“Wake Up Dead (Try Not To)”].  It used to be...
Cole (singing): Take a shotgun...
Alex (singing): Bill Murray, take a chainsaw, Tallahassee...
Cole: It was much more very directly Zombieland.

Daniel: I know you guys have a few songs about movies.
Alex: Well that was the first song we wrote together as a band.
Robert: Hey hey I had nothing to do with the lyrics.  That was your fiasco.
Cole: You were an enabler.
Alex: That’s Zombieland, we have a song called “500 Days Of Summer...” 
Robert: That’s about Recess: The Movie, to be fair.
Alex: “Jeffery” is a reference to a movie [Get Him To The Greek].

Daniel: You make Star Wars references in “TV Song,” too.
Cole: Do you want the writing process for “TV Song?” Because that was, like, our stupidest accomplishment.  It was like, “Hey, OK, so let’s make a story song, right, because it’s what we used to do all the time.”  So we were like “OK, let’s make a guy who sits in this girl’s room and has a TV for a head and she thinks he’s just a TV and he’s never gonna have a chance with her because he has a TV for a head.
Alex: He has a full body sitting on the dresser.
Reid: Yeah, and she brings guys over and fucks them.
Cole: And he’s just sitting there, like, sad TV... I think he actually is a TV to some extent right?
Alex: And then he’s like “fuck this” and runs away to the beach and gets electrocuted.  Right?
Cole: He talks about how he can’t drive a car because he has, like, robotic claws.
Cole: And it kind of goes on like that.  And the best part--I remember specifically--there was one lyric we wrote... [addressing Alex] it was me and you, and we were sitting at your house and we were like, “what rhymes with dresser?”
Alex: Dresser.
Cole: And we were, like, “dresser!”
Reid: What’s that lyric?
Alex (singing): “That night he jumped off her dresser/stole her keys right off the same dresser!”

Robert: What visual artists are you inspired by?
Reid: As a drummer or as a person?
Cole: What I picture Reid’s semen looks like when he masturbates.
Reid: As a person, Claude Monet.  As a drummer, more like Jackson Pollock. 
Alex: I really enjoy pictures of pale women with red hair and tattoos.
*other people become aware there is a mural of a pale woman with red hair and tattoos on the wall behind Cole and Alex*
Reid: She’s holding the gun weird.  Like, if she pulls that trigger it’s flying into her face. She has the thumb on the side so there’s no leverage, and she’s holding it by her face, like, loosely.

Daniel: What about the cover of “Blister In The Sun” that appears on Still Haunted?

Reid: It was a shitty idea.  I fought so hard against it.
Robert: I would leave the band because of that.
Cole: Wow.
Alex: OK, you’re out.  You’re out of the band.
Cole: I think that we need to have better communication as a band, because I feel like I was not aware that Reid hated this idea.
Reid: I’ve been saying for years that nobody listens to me.  This is living proof.
Cole: See, I don’t think it’s proof that nobody listens to Reid.  I think I was trying to listen and I wasn’t communicating well enough and I am going to try and listen more and Reid is going to try and communicate more and we’re gonna rub penises just as hard.  After every show.
Reid: When are we gonna start open mouth kissing, guys?
Cole: Who used to do that?
Reid: The Strokes.  The Strokes used to open mouth kiss each other.

Daniel: Are you expecting people to smoke tobacco or pot with the lighters?
Reid: Probably pot.
Cole: Light candles.
Reid: OK, candles. 
Alex: If you look at our merch we have like fucking eight or nine different colors of shirts and it’s because this time we tried out the different merch to see what worked and the lighters worked.  So that was just one of the decisions we made... that works!
Cole: Really well.  It worked really well.
Alex: And the thing about lighters is you use lighters often so a lot of people see it and it’s recognizable and you always lose your lighter and end up with someone else’s lighter so it travels around.

Robert: What’s your favorite strain of weed?
Reid: Favorite strain of weed...
Cole: Green Fairy Double Black Edge Triple...
Reid: I don’t think that’s a thing.  Probably Blue Dream.
Daniel: Dude that’s mine.
Reid: Blue Dream, man.
*we hug*
Security dude: Let’s see you guys’s hands real quick, thank you.  Both sides.
Robert: What’s the other side for?
Security dude: Spray paint.
*Security dude leaves*
Cole: That was so scary.

Robert: What is your greatest accomplishment as a band?
Reid: You quitting.  Uh, Colestock.  
Cole: Colestock.
Reid: Um, Colechella.
Cole: I’d say the show at my house was the greatest accomplishment because we did that alone.  We didn’t have all of our, like, best friends.  And we murdered it, and we got people to come and care about it.
Reid: And it worked out because there were a lot of people I didn’t know there.
Cole: There were people I didn’t know wearing our band shirts.  That was crazy.
Alex: I feel bad ditching our friends, so... anything else?

Robert: If you could be described as a style of martial art, what would it be?
Cole: Fuck Robert-jitsu.
Alex: Reid Saw A Ghost is probably this one. *makes indeterminate pose* Like you get hit in the chest but you can still do some damage.
Cole: Some sort of yoga.  Water yoga.
Alex: Woga.
Cole: Sure.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

East Bay Bands: Reid Saw A Ghost, Wizzz, Sarchasm

Still Haunted: Mad Scary Revisited
* * * *

One of last year’s more surprising Bay Area releases was Mad Scary, a 7-song EP from Fremont trio Reid Saw A Ghost that showcased their bizarre yet bracingly tight take on power pop and brought them the attention of promoters west of the Bay Bridge.  The three rerecorded versions of songs from that album that appear on their promotional EP Still Haunted: Mad Scary Revisited are stripped of much of the instrumental insanity of their earlier incarnations, casting the tunes as the solid pop songs they are.  “Fifties Girl” and “Esther Moser” are less raucous, with only the latter suffering as a result; closing ballad “Girl From Across The Sea” is vastly improved, featuring swirling shoegaze effects that make it sound less like a hormonal teen-love ballad and more like a lost Deerhunter cut.  The rest of the album brings the band’s affinity for the sound and dorky aesthetic of ‘80s college-rock (driven home with a competent cover of “Blister In The Sun”) to the forefront.  “TV Song” finds singer Alex Lefkort dropping Star Wars references over lovesick dream-pop guitars; “500 Days Of Summer” is bleak, ennui-laced pop punk.  Best of all is “Barbaroux,” an almost girl-groupy love song with a great guitar solo and a surprisingly touching sing-along coda.

Full Of Mistakes
* * * 1/2

Wizzz is the kind of band that’s frustrating to listen to if only because it’s impossible to take them seriously.  But the obvious instrumental fuckery of this Oakland quartet (plus Sun Clay’s Matthew Horton, who contributed almost the entirety of “I Saw A Dead Body”) has yielded one of the more enjoyable Bay Area garage-rock albums of 2013, loosely anchored by witty, self-referential lyrics and the occasional, striking Beatles-esque pop curlique.  The album’s first 18 minutes, prior to the 13-minute intermission “False Euphoria,” contain most of its best moments; its best song, “Nic Nak,” comes close to the end, but the journey there takes you through a rather uninspired middle section.  Yet it would be entirely beside the point to say that Full Of Mistakes could benefit from some editing--it’s not trying to be tight or great or even all that listenable, and the amount of fun you have listening to it is roughly proportional to how much fun it sounded to make.

“Point Blank Range”
* * *

The latest single from East Bay punks Sarchasm replaces the sloppy style of their excellent full-length We Interrupt This Broadcast with the Apple Loop-dry sheen that can only come from a recording session at Ex’Pression College; it doesn’t do them justice, robbing them of the thick bass throb that anchored their sound on previous releases.  However, the band itself seems to be in fine form, with Mari Campos’s voice retaining the disarming mix of urgency and apathy that give her political tirades extra power; they sound less like musical revolutionaries bringing on change than bitterly politically aware entertainers providing a raucous commentary to the world’s moral collapse.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Outside Lands, Day 3

* * * *

As with Grizzly Bear the previous day, I sat down for Kurt Vile’s set with his touring band The Violators after meeting up with some friends.  Jammy but ambient, the band and their spaced-out frontman showered the audience with gorgeous clouds of guitar noise that occasionally gave way to tight songs.  The opening “Jesus Fever,” a Tom Petty-ish cut from his breakthrough Smoke Ring From My Halo, was a highlight, as was his celebrated outsider anthem “Freak Train.”  Though Vile’s music was easy to enjoy while chilling out on the grass, it was much harder not to focus on than Grizzly Bear’s, and I imagine it may have been even better had I stood up--but I had a fine time on the ground and don’t regret my decision a bit.

* * 1/2

I decided to stay at the stage where Kurt Vile stage--the folk-oriented Sutro stage--during a long lull between bands I wanted to see.  The next act was Trombone Shorty, another name I knew chiefly from festivals and who the friends I met up with had nothing but phrase for.  My friend Robin claimed he “invented his own genre of music”--which, for better or for worse, may have been true.  Most of the show consisted of the youthful, charismatic Shorty showing off his trombone chops over a slightly awkward melange of New Orleans funk and hard ‘70s-styled rock; though my reaction to his music may have been founded chiefly in stylistic prejudice against “rootsy” music, Shorty’s music seemed to me to prioritize style over substance, particularly the sharply divided genres he chose to mix and his admittedly incredible trombone chops.  (Also, he had the second most stoned drummer of the day--more on that later).  

* * * *

I left the Sutro stage briefly to see King Tuff, the L.A.-via-Vermont garage-rock hero who, according to my friend Baylor, “nobody hasn’t seen.”  This was my first experience seeing Tuff live and certainly not my last if I could help it.  He played in a power trio with a hip-looking bassist and an incredibly sleazy-looking drummer who were both very good; however, Tuff’s musicianship was the focus.  Tuff is as good a guitarist as he is a singer--and excellent at both, sporting one of the sexiest voices in contemporary rock as well as one of the most versatile guitar styles.  Fittingly, he also drew the single most attractive crowd I have ever seen in a rock show in terms of men.  While my other straight friends admired the many attractive women (“they must be out of towners,” said one friend, “because I never see people this hot walking the streets”), I was busy focusing on the guys at King Tuff, who mostly appeared to be high school seniors and college freshmen already deep into indie music and at the possible peak of their attractiveness.  If you were there and you’re reading this, hit me up.

* * * * *

There’s really no way to commence my discussion of Willie Nelson’s set without stating that he was the single best artist at the festival.  While Paul McCartney’s set contained plenty of mind-blowing moments and featured maybe ten of the best rock songs ever written, Willie Nelson’s set was arguably stronger for a number of reasons.  Firstly, while Paul’s set was tempered with more than a few of those cheesy Paul songs that are the reason it’s cooler to be a Lennon person, Nelson’s set was unwaveringly strong and contained not a single bad song (despite the obvious showing-off of his golden-maned guitarist son Lukas, who sports the least convincing blues voice this side of Caleb Followill).  Secondly, while Paul’s entire show felt more like a spectacle featuring a legendary musician playing his greatest hits rather than just a legendary musician playing his greatest hits, Nelson’s set felt like a jam that just happened to be composed of ridiculously tight musicians fronted by a fantastic singer and guitarist--and happened to also feature some of the best songs ever written, peaking with a rousing “Georgia On My Mind” that had the drunk lady behind me screaming and sobbing uncontrollably.  

The vibe was as loose and carefree as you’d expect from a group of musicians who presumably spend most of their time playing music and getting obscenely baked (probably both at once, considering how utterly gone the drummer looked).  Though Nelson was unmistakable with his white beard and multitude of hats and bandannas, he always seemed more like a human being than an icon, delivering his songs with jokey sentiment.  Even the guests seemed more like friendly hangers-on, with Bob Weir popping in Kramer-like to deliver a few lines and John Stamos coming out to bang on a pair of bongos and make self-conscious movie-star faces at the audience.  In short, while McCartney could have been an alien or a deity with his pyrotechnics and psychedelic visuals, Nelson never seemed like anything more than an intensely likeable, frequently relatable human being.  

* * * *

Like Metallica last year, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were great but more or less exactly what I expected.  There were no surprises, no deep-cut curveballs, none of the strung-out band tension that marked their awful/brilliant Frusciante-era performances--just the sober stylings of a band coming to terms with its greatest-hits phase and performing as such (they played no material from their newest album, the poorly-received I’m With You, and I knew they would do a second encore just because they hadn't played "Give It Away" yet).  But my God, did they play their songs well.  They sounded as clear and tight as they did on record, usually with a bit extra noodling but never any full-on jamming.  Flea’s bass dominated all, as did Flea himself--he did almost all the talking, while frontman Anthony Kiedis was content to merely sing rather than impose his personality on the audience.  As with Phoenix, I think I may have enjoyed this set significantly more were it earlier in the day and were I closer to the band--I was furthest from the Chili Peppers than any other act I saw, and I could barely see the band’s intricate visuals, let alone the band itself.

I saw the second half of Dawes’ set between King Tuff and Willie Nelson; they really weren’t that great and might have registered as a Mumford & Sons ripoff had I not known they had been around for a while before the recent wave of cute, almost-non-threatening folk-pop bands.


Tied with Friday as the best day, maybe slightly better.  Going to Willie Nelson was the best decision I ever made--for a minute, I wanted to see Vampire Weekend, but then I remembered I don’t like them that much.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Outside Lands, Day 2

* * * *

Due to various complications involving several friends and two guys calling themselves “The Party People,” I didn’t get to Outside Lands until around 4:30.  The first full act I caught was Jurassic 5, a group I previously only knew from festivals--they seem perennially on the second row of festival lineups, but I’d never heard a single recorded song from them.  Upon seeing them, this made a whole lot of sense.  The songs the L.A. hip-hop crew (the only rap act at the festival) played wouldn’t be brilliant on record, but they’re probably the best live hip-hop act I’ve seen since Odd Future in 2011.  The DJs contributed to most of the spectacle aspect of the performance, busting out turntable guitars and scratching an enormous, human-sized record during an epic competition that never had a clear winner.  However, the group’s four rappers made up for their relatively limited verses with limitless, crowd-pumping energy and seamless transitions from one MC to another.  

* * *

The next act up I saw was the fantastic Brooklyn indie-rock band Grizzly Bear.  I sat down for their set, which may or may not have been a good idea--half of their material was well-suited for ambient hillside listening, while the rest demanded frenetic dancing and crowd involvement.  Either way, I was slightly disappointed by their set, probably chiefly due to my disappointment with their recent album Shields.  The material from Shields was, for the most part, unmemorable--I barely remember which songs from the album they played.  The highlights came invariably from their early material, especially the songs from their excellent 2009 release Veckatimest and in particular their ubiquitous hit “Two Weeks.”  Watching Grizzly Bear play “Two Weeks” was similar to watching Paul McCartney play “We Can Work It Out” (a likely inspiration)--its pop tightness was kept intact, but the energy and emotion with which it was played transformed it into an all-out jam.  

* * * *

The act that caught me most by surprise that day was Griz, a 21-year-old Detroit producer who laid down one of the best DJ sets I’ve ever seen.  There were really three elements of his set--classic songs (Otis Redding’s “Shake”), trappy hip-hop, and, most effectively, lurching moombahton beats that largely built off the template of Skrillex’s “Reptile” but replaced that artist’s maximalist sound barrage with clicks, cuts, and masterful use of empty space.  Though I don’t know how his music would translate to record, Griz was rivaled only by the legendary Chic as the funkiest act at the festival.

* * * 1/2

I’ve seen Phoenix twice at Outside Lands; this year’s set was certainly inferior to the last, but more due to contextual factors than the band’s actual music.  I was much closer to their 2010 set; in addition, they played much earlier last time, meaning that my energy was still at relatively peak level.  However, it was a great set to at least witness--they fired off all their biggest hits from their massive 2010 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in addition to their best song, the monumental “Too Young.”  This was the only act at Outside Lands who played a deep cut I was itching to hear--I was at least hoping for “Sir Psycho Sexy” from the Chili Peppers, but they’re all dads now so no chance.


I heard Youth Lagoon’s set on the way to the festival; it was allegedly amazing, but all I could hear was Trevor Powers’ piercing voice, which cut through the music so sharply I couldn’t tell if he was in tune or not.


Probably the worst day, though Jurassic 5 and Griz (particularly the latter) were both pleasant surprises.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Outside Lands, Day 1

Apologies for lack of photos, my camera died almost immediately after arrival.

* * * 1/2

The first full set I saw was by Seattle’s Band of Horses, best known for their anthemic “The Funeral”--the only song they played I knew.  Though they were a solid band, they were the sort of group I felt I should have researched prior to seeing and were not quite interesting enough to capture my attention as a casual festival-browser coming in blind.  However, I am strongly interested in delving into their music in case I ever see them again at another festival (not unlikely given their hippie appeal and consistent pace of releases).

* * * *

The National’s set was a strange experience, to say the least.  Like Regina Spektor last year, the National’s music was entirely incongruous with what is generally expected of a festival act--but worked extremely well.  In stark contrast to the jammy, fun-loving Band of Horses, the National played melancholy music that hung over the crowd like a dense fog.  Stately singer Matt Berninger encapsulated the group’s aesthetic, wandering aimlessly across the stage and sipping from a bottle of white wine while not crouched over the microphone.  There can only be so much gloom at a vibey summer festival, and the National’s set dragged on long enough that they just became depressing after a while.  But at their early-to mid-set best, they were truly excellent, balancing atmosphere with crowd-moving rock rhythms.  

* * * *

Thirty years after collaborating on some of the biggest records by the biggest names in post-disco pop music, Nile Rodgers is once again one of the world’s most pre-eminent producers thanks to a little record called Random Access Memories.  Many animal-hatted EDM fans could be seen at the crowd, indicating that Rodgers’ work with Daft Punk was the main reason his band Chic was able to secure a gig replacing the notoriously flaky R&B singer D’Angelo.  But Chic didn’t play any Daft Punk songs, opting instead for a mix of their own songs and other Rodgers-affiliated work, such as Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and David Bowie’s almighty “Let’s Dance.”  Perhaps the most impressive thing about Chic was how much they sounded like a timeless ideal of Chic rather than a middle-aged disco relic.  Though they played with the effortless confidence of veterans, there were moments where they sounded like the most relevant band in the world--a statement that might not be as far from the truth as one might think.

* * * * 1/2

Paul McCartney was my first Beatle and I had no idea what to expect.  I was as prepared for a predictable set of the most boring stadium schmaltz ever as I was for one filled with immortal pop gems penned by one of the most influential and brilliant musicians to walk the earth in the last century.  With the exception of a few sappy Beatles and Wings cuts, the answer was almost unequivocally the latter--and even some of the throwaways had a way of being profound.  “All Together Now,” an oft-forgotten pseudo-kid’s song from Yellow Submarine, became a massive psychedelic sing-along complete with trippy Q*bert visuals; “Lovely Rita”’s gorgeous vocal descent defined absolute bliss for the few brief seconds it lasted.  The surprises never ceased--“Yesterday” with the Kronos String Quartet, a bizarre ukulele version of “Something,” a live signing of two ecstatic fans’ arms.  But the best moment for me was “We Can Work It Out,” one of the Beatles’ all-time best songs and one of the most effective live--the time switch was far easier for the stoned crowd to process than the one in “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” (which he also played, but a bit more awkwardly given that it was originally sung by John). 


I came in on the second-to-last song of Surfer Blood’s set; they played “Swim,” a great pop song, and another one I couldn’t identify.  They didn’t sound particularly tight and John Paul Pitts was very noticeably off-key, but their amateurishness complimented their music.  I saw snippets of the Men’s set but couldn’t identify any of the songs despite having heard their first two records; their music didn’t catch my ear enough for me to have any interest in lingering.  


Good day, but crowded and surprisingly dry.  I had trouble deciding whether to stay towards the front after the National to wait for Paul or to head to Chic and lose my spot, but I feel I made the right decision.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New White Fence, Colter Harris

Cyclops Reap
* * * *

Cyclops Reap is the most solid album yet from a guy who isn’t really fond of albums.  Tim Presley’s mission statement, the titanic two-part Family Perfume, was culled from 80 four-track doodles; Cyclops Reap was originally to be a similar compilation before Presley realized he had enough new material for a regular album.  The relatively clean production and concise structure of Cyclops Reap might be seen as cause for alarm given some of the recent pop moves made by Presley’s contemporaries (Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin, The Fresh & Onlys’ Long Slow Dance); however, easy to listen to doesn’t always mean pop, and the most remarkable thing about Cyclops Reap is how it finds ways to bend your mind amid such sober production.  “Pink Gorilla” epitomizes this approach, pitting a Syd Barrett-esque ditty against a guitar lead that sounds like it was run through a field of broken GameBoys.  A few songs on here are remarkably straightforward, most notably the gorgeous Dead pastiche “Only Man Alive,” but they work just as well as the headier shit.  While such forays into “pop” territory generally indicate an artist settling into a style or acknowledging an established reputation, Cyclops Reap feels like a step forward for Presley, one that puts him on the edge of something far greater and far gnarlier.

* * * 1/2

Two singles into his career, Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Colter Harris is still at the point where he could plausibly use a selfie as a single cover; at this stage it’s impossible to tell if his successes are talent or coincidence.  “Wasted” is 2:29 and feels significantly longer than that, but in the best way possible; it fits a lot into those minutes and is a pretty great pop song of the multi-section Sgt. Pepper-template variety.  But he’s not exactly trying to make the shitgaze “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”--it’s a punk song and feels as effortless as one.  Only time will tell if Harris will continue making songs like this, but “Wasted” has my curiosity extremely piqued.