Sunday, May 30, 2010

Braids - Depreciation Guild live @ Knitting Factory May 25, 2010

Arriving in New York by way of Montreal Canada's emerging alternative music scene, comes Braids - a four piece experimental art rock unit that is starting to garner some much deserved attention.

Their stay here in the big apple was all too brief, but I was lucky enough to catch their debut live performance, in support of The Depreciation Guild's official album release party at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on May 25, 2010.

I was initially intrigued at the prospect of hearing this band when I read a press release stating that they were "able to craft seven minute experimental-rock epics." Those words alone was all it took to send me over to their MySpace page and give a listen.

Instantly captivated by "Liver And Tan" - one of only two song samples on there - it provided enough motivation to check out their live show. As they are presently looking for the proper outlet help them release their music, most tracks cannot be showcased, however one hopes that will change soon.

I recommend you give this one a listen, though:

It captures the essense of what this band is all about. Delicate, undistorted guitar interplay, jazzy percussion, and soft, passionate female vocals, that occasionally overlap into cresendos.

Although they are a solid four piece band displaying individual talents and contributions, the predominant focus ultimately falls on vocalist/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Her voice is soft and appealing. Bringing to mind, at times (in tone and phrasing) Kim Deal (The Pixies and Breeders), Kim's onetime sidekick Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly) and Beril Gucieri of Pennsylvania's East Hundred (

Overall the music and song structure is quirky and unpredictable. The vocals are built upon each other in layers of syncopation and counter melodies. Like some kind of ethereal gregorian chanting chorus.

As keyboardist Katie Lee alternates between synth strings and piano textures, much emphasis shifts to the percussion.

They brilliantly use effects pedals to create looping sounds, both on their instruments and vocals. What Robert Fripp initially innovated in the late 1970's now seems at the fingertips of bright young bands, who are both technically capable and sonically adventurous.

Taylor Smith is impressive as a constantly in motion multi-instrumentalist, alternating between bass, percussion and guitar.

Drummer Austin Tufts exhibits a sophisticated understanding of his instrument, marking out patterns that are fluid and structured.

Braids set list. Remember to change that delay.


Following Braids was Brooklyn's Wild Nothing

Coincidentally, they were also having their album release party. Many of their fans were in attendance and appeared to enjoy dancing to this bands modern Joy Division/New Order influenced sound.


Having written a number of times about The Depreciation Guild over the last year - and this being their album release party, I wanted to focus on the records deeper tracks. In an ambitious and bold move, the band chose to play the entire album through - front-to-back. The only time they would ever do this. So, having already reviewed most of the front half of the album (links to those at the end) it was the last four tracks I set my attention to.

"A Key Turns" features more of that smooth vocal sound from frontman Kurt Feldman. There is a slight famicon undercurrent, but more prominent are Cocteau Twins-like shimmering guitars. Christoph Hochheim and Kurt create a perfect dreamworld in this regard. The word atmospheric gets thrown around a lot in reviews, but in this case it’s certainly deserved.

Lyrically, the sentiment is somwhat ambiguous, as Kurt sings "a key turns inside another past - uncovers the unclear. Ghost resin synapse fires fast, she knows she has been here". In its most literal interpretation, turning a key usually signals the opening of a door. Perhaps this is the intent.

Listen to "A Key Turns" here:

The albums title track "Spirit Youth" presents a mid-tempo stomper that drives off the back foot via Anton Hochheim's solid drumming. There are many wonderful guitar textures on top, though. One can (again) pick up on a subtle Cocteau Twins-like vibe, with long, extended and slightly abrasive guitar notes subverting the otherwise sweetness.

It might get a little gazey

In a recent interview, Kurt told me that this song sprang from his going through his old tapes and reminiscing about the music he grew up with. "Still ringing in my ears, summarized on spools of tape," and "the spirit youth floats into space, it's making love with time."

Check out the bands spirited performance of the title track "Spirit Youth" here:

"Through the Snow" delivers a much quicker, forward driving motion. The heavy snare drum shot in double time sets the base for everything to float over top. There is even a near prog-rock style keyboard line in the chorus. Full guitar chords are strummed down like hammers, as the keyboards and bass develop the counter-rhythm. Our friend the Famicon lurks underneath as well. The song culminates with this great downward guitar chord break that underscores the thought and complexity in this bands songwriting.

Playing as a trio (and before Anton joined as a duo) since their inception, it was a revealing surprise when the band introduced its newest member - bassist and keyboardist Raffi Radna. The band had to rely on some programmed bass and keys during their previous live performances, so this show in particular was groundbreaking and displayed a band progressively evolving.

Here is "Through the Snow"

The final track on the album - "White Moth" is epic in it's construction. Clocking in at six minutes it's the type of song that truly illustrates what "deep tracks" are all about. Kurt uses the imagery of a moth he once sat and watched to convey feelings of moving in and out of the spotlight. "I think I could die by her tongue - and you, drawn to the fire. Why are you there on the ceiling, pushing the air through space? White moth you stole the show."

There is a sparse arpeggio guitar line that sets up the more powerful (and more dramatic) passages. Of particular note is the tasty singular guitar riff played by Kurt that ties each segment together.

The epic performance of "White Moth" can be found here:

Lights blaze as albums are played in their entirety

Cromwell joins the Guild

For additional words, video, photos and all around coverage of previous Depreciation Guild shows, see here:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everybody Was In The French Resistance...Now!

I had been looking forward to this one for quite a while now. Ever since this past December, when tracks from Eddie Argos' new sideproject titled Everybody Was In The French Resistance...Now! started to make their way onto my digital listening devices. When last seen aroud these parts, Eddie Argos was selling out five consecutive nights at The Mercury Lounge with his primary band - Art Brut. They came back to New York once more in Autumn - then word began circulating about this other project on the horizon.

While Art Brut took a hiatus after circling the globe a few times on tour - Eddie partnered up with his girlfriend and musician in her own right - Dyan Valdes of The Blood Arm - to create this project.

Dyan and Eddie

Finally they were here in New York to play their first of two nights on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at The Mercury Lounge (the following night playing at Brooklyn's Union Hall).

I had caught up with Eddie via telephone the previous week - while they were still out in the midwest (somewhere between Minnesota and Wisconsin). I asked him about the constant touring, and if he enjoyed it. "I like it because you get a feeling as if you are in a gang. I enjoy traveling and like meeting new people. Then packing it up and going to a new location," he said.

The song that sets the thematic tone for the band - "Creeque Allies" contains a number of names and historical reference checks. Eddie told me he was "a big fan of this era" (the WWII 1940's) and that one of his fave films is Casablanca. He also relayed that Dyan studied history at UCLA and was influential in selecting the band's name. Dyan also has a strong musical background - playing piano since she was 5 years old - and as such, she is responsible for writing all the music. Eddie, being the literary sort that he is, is predominanlty responsible for all the lyrics.

Watch and listen as they open the show in dramatic fashion - and then launch into Creeque Allies:

In addition to this introductory song - which conceptualizes the band's name - the entire collection of songs (and the album which accompanies it - Fixing the Charts, Volume 1) is written as a "response" to a popular (and sometimes not so popular) song that came before it. You can read all the wry explanations Eddie gives for each song via the links at the end of this piece, as I'd rather not rehash what has already been written and focus on, well, newer information.

On this next song, titled "(I'm So) Waldo P. Emerson Jones" Eddie mused to the Mercury Lounge crowd that he'd come to the realization that everyone just might not be as familiar with the Archies comic book character this is based on, as he is. I had to agree with him there. Nevertheless, it's an extremely catchy song, and very worth a listen.

Accompanying Eddie & Dyan on this tour
is Art Brut guitarist Ian Catskilkin

Crunchy guitarist Ian Catskilkin adds power and punch to the punky two minute song that is "Superglue"

Dyan's sweet background vocals once again provide a musical base for Eddie to tell his tale.

Eddie brings a smile to everyone's face as he reveals how he might possibly be the offspring of Michael Jackson and the Billie Jean he sang about. "My mother always told me I was a surprise - not a mistake," is the clever lyrical hook to "Billie's Genes." As the Stax soul tribute takes shape, it is quite amusing to watch Dyan and Ian try to keep a straight face as they deliver their vocal punctuation "hoo hoo's".

Watch, listen and you might just agree:

Ian moved to the drums as the band went completely live - with Dyan playing a lovely piano shape on the verses of "My Way (Is Not Always the Best Way)"

"Sometimes I'm not so wise, I make mistakes - ocassionally," Eddie confesses.
It's a far cry from Frank Sinatra's confident bravado.

See what I mean:

"Hey - it's Jimmy Mack - yeah, I've heard your track - if that's your attitude - I am never coming back!" Eddie exclaims. In an ineffable "response" to Martha Reeves classic song, the point is driven home that you should never play with a man's heart like this.

Once again, Dyan's background vocals adds musical legitamacy.

An accomplished musician and vocalist, Eddie informed me that Dyan not only wrote all the music for this collection of songs, but played most the instruments on their album as well (with the exception of guitar and drums). Of particular note are the horn parts written for Waldo P. Emerson Jones and the harpsichord part for "Think Twice (It's Not Alright)."

Ian (the cat) Catskilkin displays accomplished guitar technique and a keen sense of harmony.

Dyan contemplates her next musical interlude

With the show now in high gear, Eddie informs the audience to be on the lookout for Avril Lavigne! "Normally she's at our gigs. I think she's in the crowd somewhere, so be careful, girls - she's after your men," Eddie warns. "But primarily, she's after me," he continues. "Hey Avril - I have a girlfren (and I spell it like Jonathan Richmond)"

Look and listen:

Not only does Avril steal boyfriends, but she's now been caught "misappropriating" large chunks of other people's songs. Here Eddie & Dyan set the record straight, with this delightful cover of the orginal song - by a band called The Rubinoos - their Power Pop song I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend - complete with a lively guitar solo from Ian.

Piano notes, smiles and "la, la, la's"

Not content to merely sing from the stage, Eddie waded out into the audience, bringing the music (and the live show experience) to a crowd-pleasing more personal level.

The Mercury Lounge attendees found it to be a most rewarding experience.

Meeting Dyan at the show!

Supporting on this night was a band called Murder Mystery

They were pretty good and I enjoyed what I heard on first listen. However, what I liked best about them was they appeared to have "the world's happiest drummer." This girl was what you would call "cute" (but not traditionally beautiful, in that glam-cheekbones and lips sort of way - like, say - Dyan is). However, while she was playing, she would break out in a ear-to-ear grin that showed someone who was truly enjoying what they were doing.

She also sang lead on a couple of songs - danced - and was quite charming in her casual, unpretentious innocense. It made for a most pleasant experience, while waiting for the headliners to come on.

To read, hear and learn more about Everybody Was In The French Resistance...Now! check out the links below:

Join with them now - because the Resistance needs you!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Stellarium - Debut Album

I'm always pleased when a band or artist directly asks me to review their music. This is a more personal (and therefore higher level) of request than, say, having a PR company do it for them. If I like the music (and artist), as a general rule this level of request will most always receive first priority attention.

I had already gotten familiar with the band Stellarium after I downloaded their live at Blackhole bootleg this past November (offered for free on their MySpace page - link at the bottom of this review). It was love at first listen as the music they were making paid tribute to the sound I find myself gravitating back to more and more as the days go by - that being the golden age of music - the shoegaze sound of the early 1990's. I was instantly blown away at the sound quality and artistic vision of Stellarium - and the way they built their sound on the foundation laid by The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

So, when frontman Az Kadir contacted me about doing a review of their debut album, I was more than happy to do so. When you think of the city of Singapore - you're not likely to at first conjure up thoughts of early 90's shoegaze/stoner/noise/dream-pop. Yet that is in fact where Stellarium hails from. Along with Az on guitar and vocals, the band consists of Mar on bass and vocals, Bach on drums and Fid on additional guitars.

The album opens with "Any Day Is Fine," and you are immediately hit with a barrage of guitars that shriek, wail and churn with controlled chaos. “I don’t like to be this way, don’t wanna lie all the time,” Az sings.

Multiple layers of guitars swirl and feedback against drum machine patterns that take The Sisters of Mercy's "Doctor Avalanche" approach, but move it to a less static level. The chorus is deadpan doom & gloom that goes “I’d kill myself if I were you. I’d hate myself if I were you. I’d die anytime if I were you – and any day is fine.”

The guitars and bass synch together as one in a beautiful synchronicity of hazy sonic squall.

Az wears a t-shirt that shows a keen sense of awareness
Following that is "Chocolate & Strawberry" a straight forward driving piece that redefines the "fuzz bass" sound. A Place To Bury Strangers' Jono Mofo would be proud. The vocals delivered in a smooth and unhurried way. A song about the perils of attempting to get “high” on “cheap thrills” and how “prescriptions fail to satisfy.” A valuable lesson to learn.
“Harbinger” brings a deep echo and reverb to its opening verse, this time enhanced by bright single guitar notes. A cautionary tale about the war-like nature of mankind. “See the chaos, see what the war has done to us,” Az sings. “Deep inside the bars of hate, contemplation brings you down.” Reading those words its understandable how, if not hearing the music, one might mistake this as the work of a death metal band. But the sonic aspects of Stellarium couldn’t be further from that. Cascading and exploding into a gorgeous wash of sound that straddles the lines between heavenly bliss and a hellish nightmare from below. It’s a pure wall of fuzz, voices and emotion. If Phil Spector could be sprung from the can and convinced to produce some new music, I’d like to think he’d be going in this direction. “All the LIES bring you down,” Az continues. Just when you think it can’t get any more intense, another sonic level is added. Additional layers of guitars are lathered over top of that. The drumming is lively and vibrant. An addition of a gorgeous coda highlights what already is an impressive song.

Mar is the picture of the pretty female bassist

“Vertigo” continues this record’s theme with more luscious feedback. A cymbal heavy percussion track powers the forward momentum. The descending chord progression has an almost Bauhaus-like feel to it. There are also the same sonic qualities that made me love The Vandelles debut album. Soft, blurry vocals, reverberated chord progressions, walls of blissfully buzzy guitars.

“Paddle Pop” immediately hits you with a sound-wash that wouldn’t be out of place inside one of Sonic Youth’s extended instrumental breakdowns. Slowly emerging from this buzzing wall of bees comes something of a melody. Male/female vocals in the best My Bloody Valentine mode. Think “When You Sleep.” Heavenly. The endout really pulls out all the Sonic Youth/Lou Reed Metal Machine Music/Kevin Shields “holocaust” bombastics.

Bach delivers the solid rhythmic propulsion
“The Grass Is Greener” brings to mind the slow descending vibe of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Teenage Lust.” There are some quite amusing lyrics to this song – about “the summer of love” and (more about) “getting high.” Of course the only way you could ever know this, is to actually read the lyrics somewhere. Because you’d never be able to make them out by simply listening, as the vocals are buried so low in the mix. Clearly the emphasis is on the SOUND and the textures presented. A lead guitar melody line emerges, and becomes an additional dominant focal point for the listener.

“Tomorrow’s Monday” has less distorted guitar chords and a distant clacking percussion to mark out its progression. The brief beginning of lyrics sketch out the beginnings of a “working class hero” who “goes insane” as the system ultimately fails. Quite cleverly, the artists here then suggest you ‘fill in your own lyrics” as this “song is for you.”. Hey – that’s something I’ve been doing for years now!

Guitarist Fid channels the haze
Moving now to the heavyweight tracks on the album, “Fader” presents some nice, rattle-y drums n’ cymbals that are quite live and organic sounding. The guitars employ a rising sonic effect that gives the sensation of your head “lifting off.” Fellow shoegaze brethren Resplendor used this effect quite masterfully on their most recent album as well. Stellarium shows musical sophistication with their tempo changes within songs. Here one emerges in the center, with some tasty guitar soloing over top of it. This time I’m reminded of the brilliant guitar solo Edgar Froese plays during that extended jam known as “Coldwater Canyon”(from the amazing Encore: Tangerine Dream Live, from that band’s successful 1977 U.S. tour.) Additionally, there are descending guitar passages that at times also echo, say, something The Edge might do (circa “I Will Follow”) – especially on the elongated end-out.

The over 8 minute “final” track on the album – “Dead Nebula” begins with a foreboding, snare drum driven progression that might slot nicely next to early Sisters of Mercy (when Andrew Eldrich & Wayne Hussey first started the band). The vocals here are breathy and ethereal. Again, an impressive tempo change, with tom tom’s now marking out the time. The guitars being to swirl as the tension builds. Suddenly it all bursts open and the dual guitar attack (panned left-to-right in the speakers) begins to shred. From the four and a half minute mark to the end of the 8 minutes, it’s nothing but this.

I may love this band more than I realize. They combine two of my very fave things – shoegaze textures (and attitude) and shredding, bombastic, noise assault guitars. See The Raveonettes on songs like “Aly, Walk With Me” and “Breakup Girls” – and just about everything A Place To Bury Strangers does.

The album gives you a bonus (secret) track at the end. “Summer Bloodbath” doesn’t get started till a minute and a half into it (and I’ve never been a big fan of the extended silence intro) but when it does finally get going, there’s initial flanged guitars and a shuffling mechanical percussive track that’s reminiscent of Airiel’s “Sugar Crystals” (a track I completely love). Bathed over top of that are cascading waves of honey-soaked fuzzy guitars and ghostly vocals. There’s a distant melody there too – Lovely – romantic. The kind of romantic melody that a band like Ringo Deathstarr does so well. Just as suddenly – the track – and the album – is over.

Stellarium makes it very easy for fans to sample their wares. They have recently made available for free dowload - a recent live performance.

Download here:

You can also get the live at Blackhole bootleg, here:

But be sure to grab a copy of their magnificent full-length studio album release, here:

You can also find out more about the band here: