Friday, February 28, 2014

Beck - Morning Phase

I've been digging through Beck's catalog in anticipation of the new record. Morning Phase doesn't live up to the potential of some his past works, but there are still many things to like about this record. My favorite aspect is that this is gentle, relaxing music rife with an early morning ocean/beach type feel. I'm not sure if this album is better than its 2002 companion piece, Sea Change, but there is a vintage, 1960/70s California feel that comes across very powerfully. The beautiful, swirling strings wash over the listener, delivering a dynamic, restorative emotional impact while still maintaining a sense of simplicity.

"Turn Away" could have been a Simon & Garfunkel song, while Beck's plea for togetherness on "Blue Moon" marks some of his most earnest and heart rending lyrics. This is not my favorite side of Beck, and probably not an album I'll come back to very often as the year progresses. But it's still a very good record, not to mention that it is still rewarding to find a piece of singer/songwriter folk these days that doesn't reek of Mumfords/Lumineers coffee counter slop. Morning Phase should bear a strong appeal to anyone who loved Sea Change, or just anyone who's a fan of the genre.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bonnaroo 2014 lineup thoughts, impressions, and general excitement

With the Bonnaroo lineup dropping a couple of days ago, here are my thoughts on a range of artists playing the festival:

KANYE WEST - Pretty much everyone I know hates Kanye. Well I say haters can hate, cause this will easily be one of the best sets of the weekend.  College Dropout, Late Registration, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are all legitimately great albums, along with plenty of great tracks spread out through the rest of his discography. Folks who come out to Bonnaroo come to see a show, and Kanye has one of the biggest and baddest stage productions of any touring act today. This is his chance at a redemption show, and it will be intriguing to see what he does with it. His setlists are massive, and possible collaborations with Frank Ocean and Pusha T make this into a possible set for the ages. If I am at Bonnaroo this year, I am at this set.

JACK WHITE - very excited for Mr. White. I was hoping he was going to be Mumford's replacement last year; Jack headlining the night after Macca would have been an unbelievable one-two punch. The White Stripes stuff is awesome, Blunderbuss is awesome, I'm not as familiar with Raconteurs and Dead Weather material but can brush up on that rather easily.

ELTON JOHN - I only know four songs from Elton John, but I'm no dummy. I know this set has potential. Elton is one of the legendary artists of his era, this year's answer to Paul McCartney, who has a veritable back catalog of his own. If I end up making the trip this year, I'll make a concerted effort to learn his setlist.

LIONEL RICHIE - not much positive I can say here, so I'll keep it short. Lionel is obviously one of the greats and I respect that, but his brand of schmaltzy, cheesy 70s/80s love ballads does nothing for me. I'll probably have to sit through his set if I want a close spot for Jack, and I will not be thrilled.

SKRILLEX/SKRILLEX SUPER JAM/EDM IN GENERAL - I don't have the greatest impression of Skrillex as an artist, but seeing some of the things on the linuep this year may honestly be the year I give EDM a shot. I'm glad to see Roo is pushing themselves by putting on an electronic superjam; I'm curious to see how it turns out even if I probably won't know most of the guests that drop in. Not to mention this year is the year that Disclosoure and Chromeo are on the lineup. And hell, even Kaskade is sounding pretty sweet based on what I've listened to so far.

THE REST - Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys are near the top of my list. Wanted to catch each when they hit Nashville, but was unable to due to various conflicts. Excited to check out The Flaming Lips extravaganza for the first time, and also looking forward to what madness Die Antwoord has in store for us. Also really pumped that Frank Ocean is coming nearby; didn't think I'd get the chance to see him. I'm really enjoying what I've listened to from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; she seems like an artist I should give a chance to.

And of course, I've got to dig into some roots/folk music. First Aid Kit, Shovels and Rope, and Carolina Chocolate Drops should all be a blast. Last but not least, if you know me, you know I've got to get my metal fix. I'm glad to see Mastodon on the lineup. I was planning on heading down to Atlanta to see them with Josh; now hopefully we'll get to see them a lot closer (for me, anyway). And I also can't wait for the grinding intensity of a Meshuggah set. Should be an awesome time and I hope to see you  all there!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Deafheaven's foggy black metal frenzy casts a spell over Nashville

By the time Deafheaven arrived for their gig at The End, the venue was already packed to the rafters in anticipation of the San Francisco metal band's inaugural Nashville performance. The guys have been riding a major wave of hype since last June's release of their sophomore album Sunbather, which forges together an inventive blend of black metal, post rock, and progressive metal.  Their set was a very draining, exhausting, and intense experience, but was also very fulfilling.

Vocalist George Clarke is very interactive with his audiences. Clad in a black button up shirt, black pants and black gloves, he could be seen forcefully gesturing as though he was conducting some kind of bizarre orchestra. He clasped hands with those in the audience, leaned directly into audience member's faces while screaming into his microphone, and even crowd surfed for a brief moment. With two of his fingers pressed into his temple while he let loose a shriek, it looked like he was going crazy at some points. The only disappointment was that his microphone volume was turned so low his vocals were virtually inaudible.

Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke pours out every drop of intensity, and his fans do the same.

It was undeniable the amount of energy this band unleashed upon the crowd. When "Dream House" kicked in, an overwhelming wave of adrenaline was unleashed. Everyone pushed up front until we were all packed in close together like sardines. Girls were hopping up on stage periodically and stage diving into the crowd. As for the band themselves, they rumbled away with precision and tenacity. It sounded slightly muddier than on record, but they still generated large wall of sound. They weren't that loud at first, but the cranked that up later as they went along.

The drums were obviously very technical, but what stood out about Daniel Tracy's playing is how hypnotic it was. There weren't a ton of crazy fills; there was a little more time keeping than usual from drummers in this genre, but had a very mesmerizing rhythm keeping the pace for the rest of the band's insanity.

The setlist featured the four main cuts from Sumbather with a much needed breather in between each song. By the third song, "Vertigo," the crowd was exhausted and took a little break but kicked it back up into high gear for the last two songs. Quite a bit of it sounded different from the record but the great moments were all there. The frenzied lead in to "Dream House," the deep, grooving riffs during the denouement of "Sunbather" that serve as the perfect come down, the hazy, and dreamy guitar strains that open "Vertigo" -- it was all there, and it was glorious.

Deafheaven cast a spell over the crowd. Seeing them was not at all like what I expected it would be, and I'm not entirely sure if it was quite like any other band I've seen. Being still young and upcoming, they've not quite attained unmissable status, but this young band has something special going for themselves and you'd be ill advised to overlook it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reuinted Neutral Milk Hotel quietly takes charge at Ryman Auditorium

Out of all the bands that launched a reunion in 2013, few generated a bigger sense of euphoria and hype than 90s fuzzy acoustic indie folkers Neutral Milk Hotel. But hype can be a double edged sword. Friends of mine who had seen their initial reunion shows last October spun tales of massive auditoriums where everyone was singing along, people overwhelmed with glee, and generally just a groundswell of euphoria sweeping over the entire building. Everyone I heard talk about the shows were all hype as fuck even long after having seen it.

Maybe I was expecting too much, but this was far from the case when the band played Nashville's Ryman Auditorium last week. The crowd was surprisingly low energy. Near where I sat, everyone was plastered with bored, blank expressions. More than a few appeared totally disinterested, and could be seen noticeably shuffling around, while even more kept filing in and out all throughout the set to hit the concession stands. It was like people didn't know what to do if they weren't allowed to capture the show on their phone or Ipad.

Down near the front there was a little contingent rocking out and really getting into it, and at one point someone screamed out from the upper balcony, "We missed you!" but such displays were few and far between. It's possible that Neutral Milk Hotel did indeed make an indelible impression on this crowd, but it sure didn't look like it.

Which is a shame, because the band's performance was actually excellent. Frontman Jeff Magum, sporting his thick mountain man beard, kicked off the show by playing the magnificent "Two Headed Boy Pt.1" alone on stage. It was only the first song, and I already wanted it to never be over. The aggressive voice of Mangum's crisp acoustic guitar combines with his mesmerizing vocal melodies to create one of the most euphonious sounds in music today. Those divine horns, a staple of many bands associated with the Elephant 6 Recording Company, wonderfully accented "Holland 1945" and "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea."

The bass that propelled On Avery Island standout "Song Against Sex" was obviously less fuzzy, but made up for it by being more propulsive and energizing. Mangum, who is historically known for being introverted, didn't speak much. But he did seem to loosen up a little and at one point even cracked a joke. He asked everyone to set their cameras and phones down, and then said, "if it's really that much of a drag, I'll give you a drawing."

But he had a point. It was nice look around and not see any camera or phone lights in the crowd (even though I admit I take my fair share of pictures at most shows myself). And even though I've dogged the crowd a bit in this piece, there were a few moments where it was splendid to see the way one guy was able to stand on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar and hold a packed crowd spellbound in the palm of his hand. The hype that follows Neutral Milk Hotel may not be the greatest thing, but the band themselves certainly are.