Monday, July 31, 2006

Time For A Change

As you may have noticed, I decided to change things up a bit around here. I thought a more personalized template would be more fun. I took the banner picture this weekend at Mike's Pastry on the North End [the "Little Italy" of Boston]. I ended up buying one of the eclairs in the bottom left corner there. It was a tough decision--this is only a tiny portion of all the sweets they have there! Very delicious, though. And I was indeed bien calée after eating it.

Things will be tweaked over time, I'm sure. I'm not entirely sure of this color scheme, and I have a better idea for a banner. It's bedtime now, though.

In the meantime, what do you think? Suggestions for changes welcome.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Would You Please Spoon Me?

Said The Gramophone just posted a little gem by OHM, called "Spoon Me," available both here [STG] and here [OHM's label Sing Your Life]. This track, simply put, is a must download. This new Swedish trio has crafted a completely irresistible pop song. The melodies and individual parts are kept simple, instead adding layer upon layer until the song blossoms into a swirling pop delight. The rhythmic pounding and textured [almost crunchy] guitars create a great backdrop for vocalist Jenny Burna's sweet crooning. Her sugary vocals drip with sap--especially as she requests "would you please spoon me?"--but never overflow into the annoying, affected realm. And on a closer listen, the lyrics are a bit more complicated than might be expected. It isn't a clear-cut cuddle request; it's about control in a relationship.

Not to mention the handclaps! My pop addiction and love of handclaps are no secret, but I also happen to love cuddling--and spooning is a personal favorite. So for me, this song has an irresistible trifecta: 1) handclaps, 2) catchy pop melodies, 3) spooning. I didn't even know such a combination was possible. The only way to improve this would be to somehow include toast [I have a somewhat unhealthy love of toast]. I suppose I'll just have to eat toast while listening to this song while I wait for a song to satisfy all four.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I Shook It Like A Polaroid Picture

Of the three potentially great concerts last week, I ended up only making it to one. I worked almost the entire Monday and had no desire to haul myself out to see Diplo once I was done. And I didn't anticipate Jens Lekman selling out as far in advance as it did. Good for him, I suppose. I did, however, make sure to attend the Konono No. 1 show this past Wednesday at the Museum of Fine Arts. And thought I'm not usually too keen in picking favorites, Konono certainly ranks very highly on my list of favorite shows.

The MFA's courtyard is really a lovely venue--trees and vines growing along the walls behind the stage, soft grass to relax on, and a view into their gorgeous library. It's just small enough to feel very intimate without being prone to uncomfortable cramming of people. The weather was also perfect for an outside concert. Walking into the courtyard and seeing the stage all set up, I had a feeling this was going to be a great show. There was a very diverse mix of people in the audience. There was the older crowd that sat in the chairs, clearly dressed for an evening out on the town. There were both hipster kids and hippies. And there were a few professorial types; anthropology or ethnomusicology perhaps? It takes quite a band to bring that broad of an audience together.

I enjoyed looking at their equipment before the show started. In particular, their homemade amplification system seen here. They had two of these bullhorn-like PAs on stage with them, which looked, well, pretty rough. They also had "Fragile" stickers on them, indicative of how much they've been traveling. The band did use some professional amps and microphones, too. But it was neat to see that they still kept these, which had become such an integral part of their sound. The homemade amps must not be that powerful, though, because they had a mic on each one to further boost the sound.

The band made their way to the stage pretty promptly and after saying their name a few times, started right into their groove. There wasn't much potential for chatter since they only speak a little bit of French and their native language [I don't know what language that is--there are an awful lot of languages spoken in The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I'm not too good at differentiating African languages].

It didn't take long before audience members worked their way to the front to dance. And once a few had done so, many more joined them, myself included. Their Bambazo Trance influences were even more obvious live than on the record, as they let their songs continue on for twenty to thirty minutes at a time. They really only played a handful of songs in their set, despite it lasting well over an hour. I don't think I've ever had a better cardio workout. But it was quite fun wiggling around without having to worry too much about looking silly--I don't think anyone had a definitive clue how to dance to Konono No. 1's music. Some approaches to the dancing were pretty . . . Unique. One kid looked like a DDR mat belonged under his feet, while others looked like they aught to be on a club floor. I really wonder what the band thinks of Americans' methods of dancing to their music.

Even though I was jiggling about, I still paid quite a bit of attention to the musicians during the show. They really seem to love music and performing. Most showed it outwardly, via dancing and smiling. But the two elders of the group [pictured right] were quite somber and serious throughout the whole show. They played their thumb pianos intently, only making occasional gestures, but still seemed to sincerely enjoy themselves. And they quickly became my favorites. It was endearing to watch them play, stern faced, shaking their head as if disagreeing with what was happening.

The group put on a really great show. They're very solid performers, and it comes across well on stage. They created the dense rhythms almost effortlessly, the intensity and pace rising and falling naturally and seamlessly. They truly are a band that needs to be seen and heard live. Congotronics is wonderful, but it was nothing like this.

After their lengthy set and generous encore, I hung around to see about getting at least one of them to sign my ticket. My friends and I approached the primary singer and attempted a conversation with a bit of difficulty. I had forgotten the French word for autograph or signature, and in lieu of that, asked him: "ecrivez vous nom?" [write your name?]. Either he misunderstood the request, or was hitting on me and my friends, because he returned our tickets with his name and phone number written on them. Not what I had intended, but a pretty great souvenir anyways.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Send In The Trumpets

Cat Power [a.k.a. Chan Marshall] has just released a video for "Lived In Bars," the new single off of her album The Greatest. I like it enough to embed a YouTube video, so you know it's good.

This song was probably one of my favorites off of The Greatest, aside from perhaps the lovely title track. It highlights Chan's beautiful singing capabilities and the added bit of poppy soul to her sound works extremely well. This video, thankfully, lives up to the song. It just fits so perfectly--1) it's set in a Memphis bar, 2) it includes cameos by many Memphis-based musicians [the Memphis part fitting because she recorded The Greatest with The Memphis Rhythm Band], 3) it transitions from a calm, quiet bar into a sudden dance party right along with the song.

Chan is also pretty adorable here. Her dancing reminds me a bit of my own slightly goofy wiggling [which very few ever see]--except she looks a lot better doing it. Even when she's pulling those stereotypical sexy moves, she's not really taking herself seriously. So instead of looking a fool [very possible with those types of moves], she just looks, well, hot. But at the same time adorable. That's a combination very few can pull off. Look out Jenny Lewis, your title as Miss Indie Rock may be usurped this year!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I'm Losing My Edge

I am suddenly a little overwhelmed with concerts. More and more "I can't miss this!" shows come up all the time. And well, I'm not exactly rolling in cash. Or free time. So, I'm having to make decisions on what I truly must see. This is not so easy.

The main problem is next week. I am presented with three concerts that seem very promising:
A few years back, the prospect of three great shows in a week would have been exhilarating. But recently, it just makes me feel . . . Tired [work is a bit ridiculous at the moment]. It also reminds me that I should avoid being a broke-ass grad student if possible. Which means that I will probably be cutting at least one out. Question is, which one?

I've only heard a few tracks from CSS [Cansei de Ser Sexy--Portuguese for "Tired of Being Sexy"], but they have not impressed me too much. If you're curious, some limited-time samples are available here [via Fluxblog] and here [via Gorilla Vs. Bear]. Or try your luck at Hype-Machine. They seem a bit unremarkable, and rather snotty. But I really want to see their buddy Diplo. I've been a fan of his remixes and DJ work for a good while now, and somehow always miss his live shows. I'm curious if he could make me dance as much at the show as I do at my private dance parties. But perhaps I should wait until his tour-mates are more my speed? He does tour pretty regularly.

I'm pretty set on seeing Konono No. 1. I'm not sure how often the African group will be touring, so it seems smart to snag the opportunity now. The MFA also seems like an interesting setting for a concert. And how often does one get the chance to dance to thumb pianos, honestly? The only remaining question is which of their two shows to catch. With the earlier, they wouldn't be tired, but there's the possibility of it being cut short. The later show has more potential for ridiculous encores, but could suffer from fatigued performers. Quite a pickle!

I have already seen Jens Lekman in concert at Case's concert venue "The Spot." So, it would be possible for me to miss this one without shedding too many tears. Yet, that's part of why I want to see him again--I absolutely adored his live performance. He writes truly wonderful pop music, and it really should be heard live. I was actually a little disappointed in some of the songs on Oh You're So Silent Jens because I heard them live first. It really would be a very fun show. Plus, that Swede is quite attractive.

Anyone seen these performers live and have feedback? Any input on which show(s) to skip would be appreciated! I am a very indecisive person, to say the least.

Post Script - On an entirely unrelated note, I am beyond amused that Blogger's spell check wanted to replace "Diplo" with "dipole." Yes, this shows my science nerd side.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

That's Really Super, Supergirl

I am overdue on updating my recent listenings. And, I've been listening to a lot of music lately. The result: some pretty tough choices regarding my current favorite albums. The competition was fierce! . . . And by that, I mean I fretted for a bit longer than usual when picking the albums to highlight.

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
I think my recent post reviewing their live show did a pretty good job of articulating my affections for this group. I still haven't decided if I prefer this new venture to their sophomore Underachievers Please Try Harder. Though the more I listen, the more I lean towards the newer. I instantly liked this album. It's pretty hard to resist the catchy fake organ, incessant catchiness, and clever lyrics of opener "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken." Or the bittersweet malady of "Country Mile," with its stunning vocals. But on every listen, I find something else to endear me to the record. What can I say, I'm a sucker for smart, heartbreaking lyrics and a beautiful melody.

XTC - Skylarking
Going right along with melody and smart lyrics, XTC reminds me of a slightly less silly They Might Be Giants. They are by no means humorless, but they don't have any songs about people wearing "foreheads on their real heads." XTC's brand of sly pop is very refreshing. The lyrics are memorable, witty, and endearing. But unlike the majority of pop, most songs tackle surprisingly serious subject matter--everything from religion ("Dear God") to paying the bills ("Earn Enough For Us"). It's an interesting contrast with the lighthearted melodies. These songs are very unexpectedly catchy. With some songs, you can categorize the catch-factors, breaking down what makes it stick in your head and tap your toe. I have yet to succeed in doing that for XTC, despite singing "That's Really Super, Supergirl" and "1,000 Umbrellas" to myself all day.

The English Beat
- I Just Can't Stop It
The best word to describe this album is "fun." Plain and simple. It's upbeat and playful, inspiring all sorts of dancing and grooving. But the fun never overshadows the delightful songwriting/arranging and performances. You can't listen to these songs without noticing their deft musicianship. Songs like "Hands Off, She's Mine" and "Best Friend" are prime examples--tight rhythms, great instrumentation, and really excellent playing. I think many more recent ska-type bands focus on the genre's inherent lighthearted and peppy sound too much, forgetting to put the music first. The real fun, though, comes from well made music, not from some excessive horn section. And for remembering that, The English Beat have won my heart.

Jackie-O Motherfucker - Flags Of The Sacred Harp
I discovered JOM this past semester while scanning shelves at WRUW. When I read the name off of the CD sleeve, I was rather curious and picked it up expecting some sort of in-your-face punk outfit. What I got was nothing of the sort. The best description of the Portland-based group of music geeks I can come up with is Avant-Garde Folk-Drone. The band finds a lot of influence in traditional American music and spirituals, but this is by no means grandmother-friendly music (at least not my grandmother). With Flags, they manage to fuse these more traditional songwriting techniques and melodies into a completely avant backdrop of electronic whines and bangs. It somehow really works, though I'm still not entirely sure how. Songs like "Hey! Mr. Sky" are beautiful, understated sighs. There's also "Spirits" that wanders and drones without an established melody for sixteen minutes, but is still captivating. It's a bit difficult pinning down what exactly I like about this album. And that only makes me like it more. It's beautifully intriguing.

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
I actually got a chance to "see" Beirut in concert a few weeks back. I say "see," because I barely got into the show, and hence was stuck at the very back of an extremely crowded room about the size of my bedroom. Being about 5' 1", I didn't see anything. I did get to hear them, but for me, the visual aspect of watching musicians perform is the greatest fun of a concert. Anyways, I purchased their album after the show, and have been enjoying it quite thoroughly. I am not terribly familiar with Eastern European music, but I really enjoy this adaptation of a Gypsy brass band. As others have noted, there is something very appealing about the trumpet. I'm also really impressed with the song- and lyric-writing skills of someone so young. The songs sound lush and full without losing the more intimate touches of his folk influences. The album hasn't blown me away, but it highlights some serious potential. I look forward to listening as he develops his sound further--as long as he throws me a beautiful catchy thing like "Postcards From Italy" every now and then.

As I mentioned before, these choices were tough. I guess I'll just have to update this more often to get to some of the other contenders. Sigh. If only I were Supergirl . . .

Monday, July 10, 2006

Everyone Else Thinks It's the Bee's Knees

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of seeing Camera Obscura in concert for the first time. Considering my pop addiction and love of well-crafted songs, the Scottish band quickly earned a place in my heart after a few listens. I've been a fan of Under Achievers Please Try Harder for a good while, and their most recent Let's Get Out Of This Country cemented my high opinion of the sextet. So, I was really looking forward to a live performance.

The show was at The Great Scott in Allston, Massachusetts. The bar was actually quite charming, with small tables and an impressive wooden bar. And, since it's Boston, the obligatory television tuned in to the Red Sox game. The stage itself was quite petite, and somewhat tucked away from the rest of the bar. When I arrived, the house DJ was blaring music, blatantly trying to appeal to the indie hipster crowd. He did a pretty nice job, though I don't appreciate it when the house music requires wearing earplugs. Those are usually reserved for the actual show, thankyouverymuch.

After a very long wait, the openers Georgie James made their way to the dimly list stage [Which, by the way, made pictures a bit difficult. These were the best I could do.] The Washington D.C.-based band is a new, more pop-friendly project from John Davis, former drummer of Q and Not U. The group had a decent stage presence--about as much as can be expected from a reasonably sized group on a tiny, crowded stage--but I honestly wasn't all that impressed. The first batch of songs sounded almost exactly the same. Similar melodies, rhythms, timbres, and harmonies; nothing very distinctive. Later in the set, their songs did seem to branch out a bit. But as they continued to play, even the more unique songs started to blend in as they recycled the same tricks over again. I think Georgie James have a decent amount of potential. Their singer/keyboardist Laura Burhenn reminded me of a slightly more soulful, more pop-oriented Fiona Apple. And that seems very marketable, indeed. But they need to better define their sound and beef-up their song writing before they'll really distinguish themselves as a unique pop/indie act.

Between sets, the excessively loud house music returned. There was an odd delay between finishing set-up and the beginning of Camera Obscura's set, during which all six of them stood right beside the stage. The audience quickly grew restless and started clapping and clamoring, hoping to persuade them to the stage. It was pretty humorous listening to several groups try to chant "Camera Obscura"--which does not lend itself to chanting--and then quickly give up. Eventually, though, the clapping and attempted chants succeed. Once on stage, Tracyanne explained that they had been waiting for a dramatic entrance song, but it never came. It was both amusing and a bit endearing. It also made me wish the DJ had caught on and played something like "The Final Countdown."

Once on stage, they were quick to start the music, keeping the talk to a minimum. A quick "How are ya doin' " and then "Keep It Clean" began. Immediately, I was taken with the spotlessness of Tracyanne's vocals. Perfect tuning, clear and crisp. She remained spot-on the entire show. It's also clear in watching her that she's quite the perfectionist. She always requested slight adjustments in levels and kept a very focused, serious look on her face throughout each song. It's an interesting juxtaposition--Camera Obscura's pop melodies coming from such a determined-looking girl. The rest of the band was also quite polished; especially considering that it was only the third night of their tour. They stayed together perfectly, and sounded quite comfortable. They really seem to fit together as a band. It's a great thing to watch. I could hardly discern methods of keeping time within the group, which is impressive when considering their size.

The set was both well paced and selected. They hit all the highlights of Let's Get Out Of This Country [the title track, the clever single "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken," "Country Mile," "Dory Previn," and "I Need All The Friends I Can Get"], most of Underachievers' shining moments ["Suspended From Class," "Keep It Clean," and "Teenager"], and "I Love My Jean." The only real miss was leaving out "Let Me Go Home." Either way, there wasn't a dull moment. Even when they were slowed by equipment troubles, they volunteered chatter and jokes to fill the time. Tracyanne's Scottish pun--"What do you do when you find a trumpet in your garden?. . . Rut-it-ut!"--was a bit lost on the American crowd [for Scots, Rut = root and ut = out]. Both the joke and their bashful attempts to explain it were adorable. The set really showed off the band's versatility and range, including their twee-pop gems and twang-infused ballads. The encore was also a delight, with an acoustic rendition of "I Need All The Friends I Can Get" complete with audience handclaps.

Camera Obscura put on a great show, living up to my very high expectations. It can be a bit dangerous going into a show adoring a group's albums. Sometimes you walk out completely unimpressed and a bit saddened by the whole thing. But with Camera Obscura's obvious perfectionist ways, Scottish charm and straight-up talent, that was not the case here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

They Call Me The Wanderer, Part IV: Boston

After our quick visit to Salem, my parents dropped me off in Boston for the summer. I've been here for about a month now [yes, this is indicative of just how slow I've been on these posts]. My pictures, however, are few and far between. My quite sizable memory card appears to be blown, as it now only holds 2 pictures before claiming to be full. So I'm stuck with the starter card that only holds about 20, and haven't been taking to many pictures as a result. It's funny how spoiled I've become because of digital cameras. 20 pictures is about one roll of film, but now it just seems like so few that it's not even worth carrying the camera around for.

I did however get some lovely shots during a Duck Tour our program took during the first week here. The tours are a very creative way to reuse military vehicles. The idea is pretty brilliant, actually. For a city so surrounded by water, amphibious vehicles are the best way to give tours. We were lucky to get a guide who realized we were college kids, and probably weren't interested in the ridiculous amounts of quacking and song-singing that usually accompany the tour. Instead he asked us lots of questions about where we were from and made very geeky jokes in between his discussion of Boston and it's history. I quite enjoyed it.

All my best shots came from the water portion of the tour. On land, we were moving a bit too fast for photo-taking. I'm sure pictures of downtown and architecture are to come sometime this summer.

An old aqueduct by the Charles River. [Yes, I am enjoying my new-found iPhoto filters and tools]

A peek at the river.

Boats docked along the river.

All this picture needs is a plane flying by, and then most any traditional form of transportation will be represented. Trains, cars, and boats. You can also see a Duck on the right-hand side.

There is something I really love about this picture that I can't articulate. I think some of it is the positioning of the boat relative to the skyscraper.

There were an incredible number of sail boats on the river during our tour. This is only a small group of them. Apparently, there are very cheap sailing lessons offered every summer. Perhaps I will become Admiral Amy this summer.

I've really enjoyed Boston thus far, and I still have over a month to do more exploring. There is an interesting sort of intellectual vibe to the city. It's very different from most other places I've been. I could do without all of this humidity and heat, though. I didn't know that 95% humidity was possible without the air completely condensing. But Boston has shown me that it most certainly is possible. And it's disgusting.