In case you missed this yesterday, I’m putting out a new full length album in 2 weeks on May 24th. Read about it here and follow this blog for more of my music:
MY NEW ALBUM DROPS ON MAY 24th 2013, TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY.
As you probably know by now, it’s called Could Be Bitter Forever. That’s the thematically appropriate, self-absorbed cover art above. It will be available to stream and download on my BANDCAMP PAGE for FREE online at MIDNIGHT on 5/24. My band and I recorded it over the past four months at The Mannor in Wallingford, Connecticut with Ian Bates of Manners. I’m incredibly proud of how well this album turned out, and I look forward to hearing what you all think about it.
In addition to my contributions as songwriter, the record features a host of supplementary musicians and vocalists including some of my best friends. Could Be Bitter Forever is by far the most ambitious art project I have ever taken on, and it sounds better to me than I could have possibly expected, thanks largely to the work of the incredibly talented people who helped me make it. Check out the tracklist below and please reblog!
Could Be Bitter Forever (58:31) — out 5/24/13
- 1. “Improved Resolutions” (5:59)
- 2. “Plans For The Future” (2:03)
- 3. “A Published Author” (2:43)
- 4. “The Benefits Do Not Outweigh The Detriments” (3:21)
- 5. “Circulation” (7:27)
- 6. “I Learned To Be Alive In January” (3:47)
- 7. “No Exception” (7:41)
- 8. “Could Be Bitter Forever” (9:58)
- 9. “The Western Face” (4:54)
- 10. “Driving To The Hospital” (5:32)
- 11. “New You” (5:13)
Video: The Thermals - “Born To Kill”
The Thermals just dropped a terrifically gruesome visual clip to accompany their latest single “Born To Kill.” The track itself is a barnstorming anthem that, at under 2 minutes in length, does a great job at recapturing the raucous energy of their first three releases, which has been absent to some degree on their more recent albums. Meanwhile, the video features footage of a bloodied and battered frontman Hutch Harris mouthing the rebellious lyrics while sustaining various forms of torture and romping around in the woods. At its best, The Thermals’ music succeeds in conveying violent energy and lyrical themes with a modicum of fun— even joy; this video succeeds in doing that as well.
Watch the video for “Born To Kill” above and preorder a copy of The Thermals’ new LP Desperate Ground via Saddle Creek Records. The new album drops April 16th.
PREMIERE: Milkshakes - “Distant”
I’m happy to announce the exclusive premiere of a new track from the Connecticut punk band Milkshakes, one of my favorite local acts and a group whom I consider very close friends of mine. This song, entitled “Distant,” will appear on their imminently forthcoming 4-song EP Exactly Where I Need To Be. Some readers may recall that I had this group perform an acoustic set and interview on my radio show last August. Admittedly, when one has friends in the music scene, it’s often hard to think critically and be impartial when appreciating their music. Make no mistake, however; my love for this band’s music has little to do with my love for them as people.
Many times I have seen this group play in basements and DIY spaces across the state, always conveying an unassuming self-effacement that stands in marked contrast with the quality and intensity of their performance. With mature grit and experiential vigor, this mostly-teenaged band sells their brand of emo-stained pop punk terrifically in their live shows, and on “Distant,” they come closer than ever to capturing that unfiltered angst in a studio setting.
In its 3-minute running time, “Distant” oscillates between the crunchy power chord punk of their excellent 2012 split with Wisdom Teeth, and a new, previously unexplored solemnity. It’s as catchy as anything on that split, but there’s an element of maturity present on this recording that wasn’t there in the scrappiness of those three tracks. When frontman Tim Diltz sings “I’m not waiting around for you” towards the end of the track, there is a knowing acceptance in his unexpectedly fragile voice, like a pat on the back from a best friend. His lyrics may be simple, but the sentiment that they express is profound and universal. As the rest of the band lurches behind him, guitars blazing, the listener can feel an overwhelming internal conflict expressed outwardly. This kind of translation is what punk has always been the best at accomplishing in comparison to other genres, and Milkshakes validate that notion with this track.
Exactly Where I Need To Be Tracklist:
- 1. Distant
- 2. Snow
- 3. Bleed Out
- 4. The Boy With the Wagon Tattoo
LVL UP at The Panty House. New Haven CT. 11/6/12
LVL UP at Taco Hut. New Haven CT. 1/5/13
LVL UP - “Graveyard”
I have far too many nostalgic ties to "*_*" for me to dethrone that song as my favorite LVL UP track, but I will say that the SUNY Purchase four-piece’s latest single “Graveyard” has the greatest potential of any of their songs to become an early, career-defining indie rock hit. For one thing, it’s considerably better from a production standpoint than anything on their ramshackle, lo-fi debut Space Brothers, released in 2011. That record was great precisely because it felt so amateurishly sewn together, like a homemade quilt of all the great indie rock sounds of the 90s pumped through a forgiving reverb filter.
"Graveyard," by contrast, taps into something entirely more visceral, though still true to the band’s humble DIY origins. It’s not that they’ve suddenly grown up — although some of them are still teenagers, I firmly believe that they knew exactly what they were going for on Space Brothers. Rather, I think that the past year of touring and playing together has hardened these formerly-green college kids into true road warriors. The gritty, aggro tone of the guitars and bass on this track are testament to this, as are the eviscerating group-screams in the chorus. It’s invigorating in a way that nothing on Space Brothers even tried to be, and although it will still be recognizable to anyone who loved that album’s spacey, lackadaisical atmosphere, it’s hard not to appreciate how much the increased energy level benefits LVL UP’s sound.
"Graveyard" will appear on LVL UP’s forthcoming Extra Worlds 7”, due out on Double Double Whammy Records on April 6th. If you’re in the Connecticut area, be sure to catch them in New Haven on February 25th with TWIABP, Joyce Manor, & Dads.
Stream: The Guru - Go Easy (2012)
There is a moment on Go Easy, the new LP from The Guru, in which the precocious Connecticut four-piece seems to transcend their particularly infectious brand of Modest Mouse-indebted psych-pop, simply by lampooning it. It arrives within the first minute of the title track, as an agonizingly smooth saxophone line introduces itself and proceeds to bleed out all over the sunny array of guitars and Eddie Golden III’s surprisingly detached vocals. As the sax plays on throughout the track, the mood changes from comedic to self-fulfilled. It adopts a kind of self-aware attitude not unlike Destroyer's last LP, through which disco tropes and smooth jazz aesthetics aren't inherently detrimental to the 'seriousness' or quality of a band's music.
Unfortunately, that moment fades, and the rest of the album fails to pick up the slack as it continues on. True to its name, Go Easy is a gentle, relaxed album, free from the manic energy and forceful, consummate positivity of Native Sun, the band’s excellent LP from last year. Although the record benefits from the change in style, its apparent motivational deficiency is often stifling. If Native Sun could be described as positively forceful, like a good friend who drags you to a show on a night when you’re feeling down, Go Easy feels forcefully positive. After the stellar opening track, the band plods along without much urgency or direction, twinkling through the country-ish twang of the previously released single “Indian Day” and the stuttering noodles of “Tony Waves.” In between, “Foreign Moon” drags on slowly and without purpose, as does the lo-fi, experimental dirge “Pyramids.” Many of the faster cuts feel like lesser-quality holdovers from Native Sun, while the slow jams strain to hold the listener’s attention.
It’s not all bad of course — “Guacamole” features some really interesting distorted guitar, for instance, and “Cow” has one of those earworm choruses that so many of the songs on Native Sun could also lay claim to. The title track, too, is among the better songs I’ve heard this year. And yet, Go Easy is a frustratingly limited album that suffers most from feeling under-developed. Native Sun was the result of years of songwriting, touring, and recording. Those songs were birthed, developed, and honed over a lengthy period of time and finally released in their best possible form. By contrast, Go Easy feels rushed and lacking focus. It’s clear that there are some truly great new ideas in the mix, but that’s all they are — ideas in dire need of full realization and development. If you listen closely, you can hear that development happening, but it’s incomplete. In other words, this is the sound of a young band growing up, shaking its wings, and losing some of its charm in the process. Thankfully, though, they’ve always had plenty to spare.
Stream Go Easy above and buy it now on bandcamp for $3 or more. If you’re in the Connecticut area, you can catch The Guru live tonight at their record release show at The Space, with Tigers Jaw, Brian Stankus, and Disco Teen ‘66. More information about that show can be found HERE.
Sidewalk Dave - Hard On Romance (2012)
Stream: “Wait Forever”
David Van Witt — aka Sidewalk Dave — is at the very least enigmatic, if not a downright paradox. The ponderous, lanky 20-something has spent an number of years living the unpredictable troubadour’s life, travelling the country and cranking out volumes of thoughtful, solid folk rock and alt-country under his humble pseudonym. Then something changed. He sojourned to Brooklyn, and somewhere along the way, created a record that is qualitatively leaps and bounds ahead of any of his other work. It’s a record that bears conceptual unity the likes of which I have not witnessed in any other record this year — an album displaying the songwriting chops of a grizzled veteran much Van Witt’s senior, but with the attitude and grit of a rambunctious, sexually frustrated teen. It’s an album so fully realized in its production and execution, and yet so utterly (and purposefully) immature in every other facet of its existence, that it can’t help but come across as paradoxical. It’s also one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2012, and it’s called Hard On Romance.
As its title suggests, Hard On Romance is profoundly and explicitly sexual. Dave wastes no time with subtlety and tact regarding this subject; rather, he embraces it like a voracious, perpetually unsatisfied lover. And yet, despite more sexual references-per-minute than even the most explicit Lil Wayne single, Hard On Romance never uses sex for purposes of braggadocio or self-aggrandizement. On the dirgey psych-gaze opener “2k Girls,” Dave moans about sleeping with the titular number of women as if it were a form of punishment. “I am my father’s mistakes,” he sings. To Sidewalk Dave, the concept of “hard on romance” — that is, romance fulfilled only by physical stimulation — is an elusive and dangerous beast that yields short term satisfaction and long-term trauma. In a way, it’s rather like an addiction.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy it. Dave may recognize the inherent problems with a relationship built only on copious amounts of copulation, but he also recognizes the benefit. In the guitar-crunching chorus of the Pixies-like highlight “Wait Forever,” Dave sounds like a tortured beast demanding sustenance, alternately howling “I want you here now” and “I want you out of here.” The contrast between pleasure and pain is dizzying, and often it is the musical tone that determines the side on which each song comes down. For instance, despite the insecurity that its lyrics reveal, the stuttering second track “Something About Me” is probably the most outwardly happy track on the record. Likewise, the chugging, penultimate track “Soft Portal” exudes swagger despite opening with the revealing line “Baby, please understand that this ain’t love” and ultimately unraveling into a Titus Andronicus-level chorus of yonic philosophizing. Meanwhile, the atmospheric buzz of “Honey Bee” and the moody synth swells of the closing track “Wake Up Baby” take on a more dour tone. Given the sexual energy that courses through Hard On Romance, perhaps it’s fitting that the album ends on a rather limp note.
It’s fitting and understandable that the most successful songs on the album are those in which Dave’s ratio of enjoyment to suffering is most even. “Cayenne” — the song that owes the most to Sidewalk Dave’s country roots — lilts slowly underneath lyrics that describe the complicated longing that remains for a former lover. Later on, the Classic Rock indebted “Climbing Out The Window” finds Dave caught “in between staying young and growing old” — a crucial moment in a man’s life that much of Hard On Romance attempts to reconcile. Far and away, the best track on Hard On Romance is the supremely bittersweet “Happiness Is An Art: We Must Learn While We’re Apart,” which is not only most morally complicated, poetically developed lyrical work on the record; it’s also probably the catchiest and most singular song. Although these tracks may be more pensive than the rollicking, cock-out garage rock numbers, they pack enough musical grit and shoegaze-influenced guitar textures into their slower tempos to maintain a formidable bite.
On “Honey Bee,” which serves as a reflective intermission in the middle of the record, Dave describes the surreal combination of agony and ecstasy with which a male worker bee copulates with his queen, letting her use him for her pleasure only to rip out his innards and let him fall to his death. It’s a powerful metaphor for a concept that Hard On Romance as a coherent unit explores so well. And yet, even without that context, this work still stands up on its own. In all, Hard On Romance is an inimitable collection of some of the best garage rock songs 2012 has had to offer. From any perspective — lyrical, musical, or conceptual — Hard On Romance is unapologetically and unassumingly fantastic.
Hard On Romance is out now via The Telegraph Recording Company. You can stream it via Bandcamp and purchase it on CD for $8. The CD comes with liner notes, including a brief essay regarding the album’s concept called I Am A Virgin - Please Give Me The Sex Talk, and a set of (censored) nude photos of Dave himself because what else would you include in the packaging of an album like this?
Stream: Great Caesar - Scattered Air EP (2012)
Great Caesar is an anthemic indie rock band based in Brooklyn by way of Connecticut. They’ve spent much of the past year kicking around the New York circuit, playing high profile shows including a number at this year’s CMJ Festival. They blew me away when I saw them open for Titus Andronicus at Quinnipiac University in April, and I’ve been anticipating their release of new material ever since.
Thankfully, my anticipation has been validated. The band just dropped a new EP called Scattered Air, stocked with four tracks full of harmonic vocals, power pop chord progressions, and more sultry saxophone leads than you can shake a stick at. Highlights include the overused-but-impossible-not-to-love wordless chorus of “Tuned To Break” and the gritty, minor-key riffing of the lead single “Rearview.” If you make it through the first three tracks, look out for the eerie, jazz-inflected closer “Son,” on which frontman John-Michael Parker evokes a space-age Frank Sinatra. These four tracks are all impeccable, and hint at bright things for this budding and ambitious group in the future.
Stream Scattered Air above and purchase it via Bandcamp for $5.
The Guru - “Go Easy”
Connecticut’s own precious psych-pop youngsters The Guru have a new album on the way called Go Easy, and they just dropped the title track/first single via The Needle Drop. As Anthony Fantano points out, “Go Easy” marks an impressive maturation in composition and presentation from their last album Native Sun. True to its name, “Go Easy” is calm and relaxed, but it maintains the dancey, evocative grooves that make the band so infectiously enjoyable.
On this track, the group expands beyond the confines of their traditional four-piece sound, incorporating hilariously smooth, disco-reminiscent saxophone and a slightly distorted vocal effect that lessens the intensity of frontman Eddie Golden III’s manic pipes. On the whole, the track is not nearly as immediate or aggressive as anything on Native Sun, but it feels a lot less niche-focused and potentially more enjoyable in the long run.
Stream “Go Easy” above and pick up Go Easy when it drops on November 21st. Connecticut folks pay attention: That night, The Guru will be playing an album release show at The Space in Hamden with Tigers Jaw. Find more information about that show HERE.
Titus Andronicus - Local Business (2012)
"Okay I think by now we’ve established / everything is inherently worthless"
With those opening words from “Ecce Homo,” thus begins Local Business, the highly anticipated third LP from New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus. It’s a kicker of an opening line, and one that should resonate with anyone who has followed the band over the past five years. This is, after all, a band that named the closing track on their first LP after Albert Camus, and that proudly proclaimed on 2010’s The Monitor that “nothing means anything anymore.” And yet, despite the existential leanings of frontman Patrick Stickles’ lyrical pen, Titus Andronicus’ music has often flown flagrantly in the face of nihilist ideology. The band’s first two records, the previously mentioned album-of-the-decade contender The Monitor and its older, lo-fi cousin The Airing Of Grievances, were thoroughly life-affirming albums at heart. By sheer virtue of their conceptual depth, unbridled ambition, and fully-realized orchestration, they suggested the possibility of transcendence from the meaningless void of existence that Stickles’ lyrics described.
Now, with Local Business, that possibility has dissipated into the same void from whence it came. On the first listen, that opening line seems like a sarcastic jab at the band’s trademark lyrical aesthetic, which I don’t doubt was Stickles’ intention. By the end of the record, however, it feels more like an admission of defeat. This is not for a lack of capability, but it does seem to be due to a lack of effort. For a record by a band in their creative and commercial prime, Local Business feels frustratingly hollow and undeveloped, particularly on a musical level. From the opening one-two punch of “Ecce Homo” and “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter” to the three-song suite that surrounds the eight minute epic “My Eating Disorder,” Local Business retains the compositional depth that the band has become great at, but without the instrumental flourishes, shoegaze-influenced production elements, or pace-keeping samples that made their past two records great. In other words, on a musical level at least, Local Business is a straightforward rock album.
Titus Andronicus’ intentions are understandable, given their circumstances. Since 2010, the band has lost members including their violin player/guitarist Amy Klein, who brought a much-needed female energy and accomplished musicianship to their brash and boyish sound. Now that they’re gone, the album feels much like what one might expect five post-adolescent men with guitars to sound like if you put them in a room, sans any semblance of grit. This approach works if you view Titus Andronicus among the lineage of no-bullshit guitar bands like The Replacements and The Hold Steady, but if you’re like me and you appreciated Titus Andronicus’ occasionally pretentious musical tendencies, this record will let you down. And yet, precisely because of how ambitious their previous material was, the decision to work in a simpler musical format is understandable, if not entirely forgivable.
The larger issue is the production on the record. Local Business sounds far too clean and scrubbed-down to correlate sonically with the populist lyrical themes that Stickles plays with. On an aesthetic level, Local Business feels like a fancy new chain that just opened up in your town and is marketing itself to people who shop at real local stores. In the record’s worst moments, the souped-up production contrasts with the downgraded musical ambition, making Local Business seem like a high cost, low value investment. And yet, at its best, the lack of noisy guitars or lo-fi percussion accentuates the album’s catchiness. The third track “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus,” which was released in demo form on Titus Andronicus’ "mixtape" earlier this year, benefits the most from this; its Cock Sparrer-reminiscent chug simply begs to be shouted along with.
The record’s greatest strong suit are the lyrics, which is why I knew I had to withhold my official judgement until my copy of the record arrived with a lyric sheet. Free from the conceptual rigidity of The Monitor, Stickles experiments more as a writer on Local Business, opening up about his struggle with Selective Eating on “My Eating Disorder” and reaching a near-hip hop level of verbosity and vocal dexterity on “Ecce Homo.” His rhetorical ability is in top form, and he manages to spit potent one-liners on nearly every song. Occasionally, he dips into that Oberstian overshare territory, snarkily stating that his “authentic self was aborted at the age of four” on “Hot Deuce” and cringingly admitting that he’s been a “drug addict since single digits” on “My Eating Disorder.” Elsewhere, he’s lambasting himself and his entire lyrical style. “I heard them say the white man created existential angst when he ran out of other problems,” Stickles admits on the opening track. All of it is delivered through a comfortable sheen of self-awareness; he never lets himself be truly vulnerable as a writer, even when he’s singing about struggling with an eating disorder or feeling insignificant after moving to New York on “In A Big City.”
Local Business comes to a head on “In A Small Body,” a mid-tempo song towards the end of the album that, in a remarkably understated way, makes a strong case for the record’s best track. Stickles is completely in command from the powerful opening line (“Don’t tell me I was born free / that joke has been old since high school”) through a tempo change that welcomes insider lyrical references to The Monitor and Titus’ pals Diarrhea Planet. It also bears one line that distills the crux of Stickles’ existential issues down to a thesis — “What do you know about being no sort of slave? I know some kids who’d kill for this kind of cage,” he sings to himself in his impassioned, nasal sneer. This reserved self-criticism, coupled with Owen Pallett's gorgeous string arrangement, makes “In A Small Body” a rare moment of greatness on the otherwise simply solid record. It suggests a direction that Titus Andronicus could have explored more on this album, and that perhaps they will explore again.
Local Business is very frustrating because, despite its glaring flaws, pointless joke songs (“I Am The Electric Man”), and one-line filler tracks, it’s still a very good record that I can’t help but feel compelled to listen to near-constantly. I’m biased because The Monitor means more to me than just about any other album, but part of me also really wanted to hate this record simply for not being like its predecessor. Ultimately, I have to reconcile the way I feel about Local Business on a primal level. It’s simply, annoyingly solid, but by no means should it be anyone’s entry point into Titus Andronicus’ otherwise near-perfect body of work.
Key Tracks: “Ecce Homo”, “My Eating Disorder”, “In A Small Body”
Local Business is available for purchase now from XL Recordings.
Hostage Calm - “Woke Up Next To A Body”
Hostage Calm's new LP Please Remain Calm is the band’s most definitive idealogical statement and their most accomplished album yet. It doesn’t necessarily have any singular, all-encompassing highlights like “War On A Feeling,” but that speaks to the new album’s uniformity of strong tracks and its impressive coherence.
If I were to single out a favorite song, besides perhaps the lovely orchestral version of “The “M” Word” that appears on the record, it would be “Woke Up Next To A Body.” On an album rife with fist-pumping power pop anthems, this track stands out as the most transcendently anthemic. It starts with acoustic guitar but wastes little time with introductions as the harmonizing guitar leads and drums take their places in the mix. Frontman Chris Martin specifies the album’s thesis about the life of young people in America with a resonant story about the complicated appeal of rebellious young love that builds to the song’s tremendous chorus. The harmonized vocals and melodies recall The Get-Up Kids, while the lyrics and chugging guitars make me think of Taking Back Sunday if and when they were ever good:
"You had me feeling like a sinner on sunday / You had me feeling like your father would hate me."
The thing about this kind of effervescent pop-punk is that when the melodies are strong and the band is emotive and tight, they can get away with sounding a little dumb via their proclamatory, transcendental statements. Hostage Calm know how to sell their wares, and with “Woke Up Next To A Body” (as with the rest of Please Remain Calm), they do so with candor: through the sheer force of their sincerity and melodic sense.
Stream Please Remain Calm in its entirety and purchase it for $5 from bandcamp. The album is out now on Run For Cover Records.
Titus Andronicus - “Still Life With Hot Deuce And Silver Platter”
It’s not every day that your favorite current band puts out a new album. I don’t want to divulge my opinion of Titus Andronicus' Local Business too soon, as I haven’t processed the whole thing yet, but I can say that this track rocks harder than I expected it to. Live performances of a lot of the Local Business material looked pretty tame, but the clearer sound and in-room feel of the studio version of this track conveys enough energy to keep me engaged. I won’t be able to make any final judgements on “Still Life…” (or Local Business as a whole, for that matter) until I can pour over a lyric sheet while listening, though.
Stream “Still Life With Hot Deuce And Silver Platter” above and pre-order Local Business from XL Recordings. The album drops officially on October 22nd.
Photos: The Antlers live at Center Church. New Haven CT - 9/23/12
The Antlers played an absolutely heavenly headlining set inside New Haven’s colonial-era Center Church last night, and I was there to behold the majesty. Check out some of my photos above, and read my full review of this show HERE.
You can find more photos from this and other shows at the Lewis and his Blog facebook page!
THE ANTLERS live at Center Church. New Haven CT. 9/23/12
As the sun began to set on the New Haven Green yesterday, a legion of pale, shivering couples huddled close to each other outside of Center Church, waiting to get inside. Fall was in the air, and The Antlers were in town to ring in the new season with their emotional brand of atmospheric pop. Although the band’s music has become increasingly dreamy as they have evolved, seeing them at the onset of autumn provided concertgoers with the opportunity to nostalgize the cold months of 2009, when I and so many others clutched our copies of Hospice and sobbed until long after the final acoustic plucks of “Epilogue” had faded into the ether.
But just as the seasons change, so too must bands develop. By the release of last year’s visionary full length Burst Apart, Peter Silberman’s pet project had solidified into a full band, and with this development came a profound stylistic shift. Garish bursts of lo-fi shoegaze gave way to lucid guitar lines, and pining acoustic elegies were replaced by mournful dream pop. The Undersea EP, released earlier this year, marked the completion of this shift; it was utterly (and disappointingly) aqueous in both form and concept.
Even though their earlier work will always be most dear to my heart, it’s clear that the Antlers’ new direction has struck a chord with some younger artists. This was undoubtedly evident during the performance of Port St. Willow, who opened the show around 8 PM to a raptly attentive audience inside the colonial-era church. Much like The Antlers once were, Port St. Willow is officially a solo project; however, frontman Nick Principe is being joined by a keyboard player and drummer on this tour. Together, the power trio created a remarkably expansive sound that reverberated through the walls of the church. They opened their set with a continuous 30-minute suite that channeled the post-rock catharsis of Sigur Ros and the atmospheric qualities of The Antlers’ own records. Principe’s voice in particular — a lofty coo with seemingly limitless upward range — strikingly recalled that of Peter Silberman. The band performed music mostly from their new full length album Holiday, which is available to stream or purchase now from Bandcamp.
Port St. Willow’s meditative, restrained energy provided a perfect introduction to The Antlers’ headlining performance, which began shortly after the openers left the stage. Despite operating with the same four-piece lineup that they had when I saw them play at The Space in June 2011, it was remarkable to me how immediately different the atmosphere of this show felt. Part of that was due to the venue — a beautiful old church built in the 1600s — which added a gorgeous amount of natural reverb to the band’s collective sound. This effect was demonstrated rather by accident during the opening song “Drift Dive,” when the PA cut out towards the end and the band went on playing without vocal amplification or microphones until the song was over. In the final few seconds, Peter Silberman set down his guitar, and with his hands cupped around his mouth like an emphatic preacher, he projected a wordless wail down the old church’s central aisle. It was a surprisingly audible moment that, for a moment, felt nothing short of miraculous.
Once the PA began working again, the band settled into a set that leaned heavily on newer material, from the slow burn of Burst Apart's “Rolled Together” and “No Widows” to Undersea's dragging “Endless Ladder,” which built itself up in its Pink Floyd-reminiscent first half only to dissolve into a sonic puddle in the final four minutes. Thankfully, the rest of Undersea (which they played in full) sounded much more convincing at high volume. Although there was something oddly jarring about hearing the moody, sexualized throb that pervades Undersea's “Crest” and most of Burst Apart in such a sanctified setting, it would be hard to describe the breathtaking climax that the Antlers brought to “Rolled Together” last night as anything but divine.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show for me was the way in which the band amended and changed the older material that they played. A three song suite from Hospice occupied the middle of the set, and although the songs themselves had not changed, the live arrangements were drastically different in some respects from the recorded versions. “Kettering” was slowed down to a sludgy, glacial pace that made it seem frustratingly aimless, as did the final verse of the anthem “Sylvia,” in which Silberman traded the subtlety and nuance of the album version for Burst Apart-reminiscent vocal theatrics. Despite these disappointments, it was a treat to hear the Hospice deep-cut “Shiva,” which was brought to life in a dream-like waltz. The band wrapped their set up shortly afterwards, and returned for a two-song encore set that closed with the Burst Apart closer “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” a fear-of-death anthem that topped my Favorite Songs of 2011 list. With its doo-wop chord progression and gospel-influenced harmonies, it was a fitting closer for a rather heavenly night.
The Antlers Setlist - 9/23/12
- 1. “Drift Dive”
- 2. “Rolled Together”
- 3. “No Widows”
- 4. “Endless Ladder”
- 5. “Kettering”
- 6. “Sylvia”
- 7. “Shiva”
- 8. “Crest”
- 9. “Hounds”
- 10. “Zelda” (Encore)
- 11. “Putting The Dog To Sleep” (Encore)
Grizzly Bear - “Yet Again”
How does a critically lauded and commercially successful band follow up the record that established them as a noteworthy force in both fields? For Grizzly Bear, following up 2009’s Veckatimest with another equally lush chamber pop juggernaut would have led to constant comparisons between the two, and would probably have stifled the band’s creativity to some extent. Instead, Grizzly Bear took on the challenge of re-inventing their sound for their new album Shields, bolstering their rhythm section and adding grit to their electric guitars where it counts.
Shields is heavy in all the ways that Veckatimest was light and airy, and dense where Veckatimest was spacious. The four men making the music are the same, but the music itself has a very different tone this time around. One thing that is common between the two records, however, is the song quality; although both records are slightly uneven, they both feature some shockingly great individual tracks.
Although it’s not the record’s most ambitious moment, “Yet Again” might be the best overall song on Shields. With a punchy, Latin-tinged guitar riff and cacophonous, reverberant drums, “Yet Again” openly flaunts the band’s adventurous new sound — even revels in it. Meanwhile, Ed Droste’s vocals provide a warm sheen of familiarity to the track, reminding the listener that Shields is simply a directional shift in Grizzly Bear’s style, rather than a thorough and potentially alienating transformation. If only all sonic experiments could be pulled off with this level of grace and confidence.
Stream “Yet Again” above. Shields is out now on Warp Records.