Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Concert Review: Telekinesis/Blind Pilot/The Broken West/Say Hi

So I actually went to a show last night--possibly my last one before the next bun comes out of the oven. It needed to be a good one, and when I saw that Blind Pilot and Say Hi were playing a double bill at the Middle East (with two Merge artists I'd never heard of), it was a go. It's rare, for me at least, to see four bands in one night and not have at least one of them suck. There was no suckage last night, so...yay! The breakdown of the sets:

I nearly bumped into Michael Benjamin Lerner, the man behind Telekinesis, in the bathroom right before his band's set. An apparent Telekinesis fan started chatting him up while he was peeing, and for a guy who's clearly new at this indie rock pseudo-fame thing, he handled the situation well. Lerner is clearly a nerd, but he's a nerd who can rock your socks off, and I can dig that. Though he wrote and performed all the music on his forthcoming debut album, he (wisely) brought along a band for the tour. Lerner himself played drums and sang, which you just don't see all that much. The rest of the band was capable, if slightly bored looking. Lerner pretty much made up for that lack of energy all by himself however, and was the quintessential "I'm just so happy to be here" guy. The songs were punchy little numbers, and almost too short. Just as you were getting into them, they were over and the next song started. All in all, it was a fun set. I put a lot of faith in Merge, arguably one of the best indie labels out there, and I think they've got a potential winner here. Though sadly, the band has thus far failed to move a single object with the power of their collective minds.

Just a side note, I've never seen such a petite bass player. Seriously, her bass guitar was nearly as big as she was. She was also very cute, and I'm pretty sure my single friend didn't stop looking at her for the entire set. But for real, she could have fit inside her own bass case.

Blind Pilot
This was the band I was most looking forward to, and they met and surpassed my expectations. Blind Pilot is or was originally just two dudes, Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski , but the band that got on stage last night was much more than that. When six people get on a stage and start tuning their trumpet, standing bass, vibraphone, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, etc, then one tends to be wary. Too many wacky instruments can lead to a big ol' mess if not done correctly. But this band pulled it off with aplomb, and they enhanced the music from what was already an excellent album. I wish could find out the name of the woman who played the banjo, uke, and dulcimer (and on one song, the drums), because like The Dude's rug, she really tied the room together. The banjo, so often a scorned instrument, meshed remarkably well with the songs. This group had clearly been playing together for a while, and they seemed to be sincerely enjoying what they were doing. Even the banter was good.

They pretty much played most of the songs from their one and only album, as well as a few new ones (sorry I don't keep track of playlists like certain other bloggers, but I'm just too lazy). The new songs were great, and I sincerely hope it means another album is forthcoming. I also hope the album is recorded with this band. If so, I predict Blind Pilot is going to be on the radar of a lot more people in the next couple years.

Here's a video of the closest thing I could find to what I heard last night:

The Broken West
I probably have the least to say about this band. It's not that they were bad, but Blind Pilot was just a tough act to follow. Another Merge band, the music was pretty solid, but I was completely unfamiliar with the songs and I couldn't tell you what a single one of them was about. Stylistically, they reminded me of The Figgs, a band I really enjoy listening to when I hear them, but not a band I actively seek out very often. Good stuff--not great stuff--but good stuff. I kind of had the feeling they were having an off night though...I think they only played about 5 songs, then suddenly they were done with nary a "goodnight and thanks for coming." Kinda weird.

Say Hi
I just blogged about Say Hi's newest album the other day, and that post pretty much summarizes how I feel about the band. I didn't have super high expectations for their set, but I wanted to stick around for a band I'd been listening to off and on for years. Much like Telekinesis, the band that's actually touring with them right now, Say Hi is essentially a one man show, with Eric Elbogen recruiting whoever's handy for his tour band. Elbogen played his new album sequentially from start to finish, which was fine, I guess. I understand The Decemberists are doing that with their new album on the current tour, but that's a concept album, so it's a bit more understandable. As far as I can tell, Oohs & Aahs is not a concept album, so why play it like it is? At least they wrapped up with two of my favorite songs from my favorite album, "These Fangs" and "Sweet Sweet Heartkiller" from Impeccable Blahs.

Two things I found myself thinking about during their set. One, Eric Elbogen looks exactly like how I'd imagine Jay Sherman's son looking like, all grown up. Have no idea who Marty Sherman is? Here:

Yes, I am a pop culture geek. Two, and more importantly, I never really appreciated the odd structure of most of Say Hi's songs: they're all chorus. Whereas most songs are "Blah blah CHORUS blah blah blah CHORUS blah blah blah CHORUS" (wow, you can tell I never had any formal music training), Say Hi's songs are more like "Blah CHORUS CHORUS blah CHORUS CHORUS CHORUS CHORUS" full stop. In other words, it's like Elbogen stumbles upon two or three lines that sounds really good and just runs with it, generally unconcerned about whether or not they can or should be considered a real song. This is kind of a backhanded complement I suppose--I do genuinely like a lot of his songs. But they're simple. Some of them are REALLY simple. But any good ear worm has to be.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mini Music Reviews, March 2009 Edition

So I've actually been listening to a ton of music the past few months. I wish I had time to write at length about every album--not that many people care about my opinion, but because sometimes I'm really not sure how I feel about an album until I put my thoughts into words. I'm going to try to catch up on a few albums of note that I've been listening to...some are old, some are quite new. In the interest of time, both mine and any readers, I'll keep'em short, and even throw a letter grade in there for easy reference.

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
Listening to Erika Wennerstrom's voice is like taking a warm swig of good bourbon. It's smooth, but simultaneously has a bit of an edge to it. The songs here aren't quite as catchy as those on their previous albums, but I keep coming back to this CD even though I've had it a couple of months now. It's been a good winter warmer and it's a decent addition to this underrated band's discography. B+

Unbunny - Sensory Underload
This was a 2008 album, but I picked it up relatively recently, and I'm glad I did. The only band I could really compare Unbunny to is maybe Grandaddy. The songs are short, fairly lo-fi for the most part, and really catchy. I like nearly every song here (though "Water and the Spanish Tongue" and "Mandi" are stand-outs), and I find myself putting this on a lot considering it was an impulse buy. I'm even surprising myself a bit by giving it a solid A.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
I'm always hesitant to get the next Animal Collective album because I think they're consistently overrated by music critics, particularly the Pitchforkians. That said, I think this is one of their more accessible efforts and I'm glad I picked it up. Still not something I could to listen to frequently, but I'll listen to it more than pretty much any other Animal Collective album. B

Ben Kweller - Changing Horses
Kweller kind of blew his load on this one when he released the EP, How Ya Lookin' Southbound? Comein..., last year. Pretty much all my favorite songs from Changing Horses were on that EP, so the full length effort was a bit of a let down. There's nothing wrong with the other songs, but they strike me as a bit more disposable. So why not just dispose of them and go with the EP? C+

A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
This was my first Newman album outside The New Pornographers, and though it doesn't rate as high as any given TNP album, it's still pretty good. It's been a bit of a slow burn for me, and I definitely like the second half of the album better than the first (particularly "The Palace at 4 A.M.", "The Changeling (Get Guilty)", and "All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off"). But man, this guy knows how to write a quick little pop song. B+

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
And speaking of New Pornographers. I rarely use the adjective "sexy" to describe anything, but Case's voice is pretty damn sexy. I could almost listen to her sing the phone book. Instead I get to hear her sing some interesting covers and several quirky originals. The oddness of these songs--such as singing from the point of view of a tornado or tiger--is probably what is keeping Case from going more main stream. Oh well. The indie crowd is happy to keep her to ourselves for a while. A-

Clem Snide - Hungry Bird
I confess that I've only listened to this album once, and perhaps my expectations were too high. Clem Snide has put out some of my favorite albums over the past decade, and they were supposedly broken up as of a few years ago with front man Eef Barzelay pursuing a solo career. This album was apparently salvaged from some of their older stuff, and I kind of wish it hadn't been. Barzelay can write songs that are dour or witty (or if we're lucky, both), but the bulk of these songs lean towards the dour alone and it grew tiresome. I'd say better luck next time, but I doubt there will be a next time. I'm bummed that one of my favorite bands wrapped things up on such a sour note. D+ (the "+" is for old times sake)

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
I'm so not the target audience for this album, and I'm honestly surprised that I like it as much as I do. Here are a few possible reasons why. She's profane. Unlike Britney Spears dancing around being naughty with a song on her last album called "If U Seek Amy", Allen just comes out with a song called simply, "Fuck You." Her songs can be funny, like "Never Gonna Happen", and they can be sweet, like "Chinese." Or maybe I just like her accent. Whatever the reason, I'm giving it a B+.

Bishop Allen - Grrr...
Another one I haven't listened to all that much, but a bit of a let down after The Broken String, which I really liked. I definitely need to give this one some more play time, but so far only a few songs have jumped out at me as particularly good, and I can't say anything's great. So far, only a C+

Say Hi - Oohs & Aahs
Say Hi (formerly Say Hi to Your Mom) is always a little hit or miss. Usually, I like about 1/3 to 1/2 of an album and the rest is just meh. Sometimes I like the whole album, like Impeccable Blahs, but the last album, The Wishes and the Glitch, didn't do much for me at all. Happily, I can say that this latest album falls into the 2/3 very good category. Maybe I just have to be in the right mood for a Say Hi album, but it's undeniable that Eric Elbogen can write a hook like nobody's business. I might also just be getting my own hopes up because I'm seeing the band live for the first time in a few days. Maybe I'll get sick of this album sooner than later, but for now it gets an A-.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gory Musicals

I haven't posted in so long, I almost forgot how to ride this pony. As always, I'll keep it short and leave the in depth analysis to EJP. On the recommendations of some friends I have seen two rather brilliant movies lately that I'd like to pass along as suggestions.

Zombie Love

"...Never try to hide Zombie Love...eat flesh." Coming in at about 37 minutes, this musical is worth those minutes of your life (as well as the $15 bucks to purchase the DVD). I find myself wanting to sing these songs at work. Definitely a low budget film. Ha!

Repo! The Genetic Opera

I have a feeling this movie will generate a cult following. I'm sure it already has, and as always, I'm just behind the times. Since you can get this movie via NetFlix, I'm guessing that to be the case. Again, the music from the movie will find it's way into your brain and before you know it, you'll be singing about the Repo man.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Irish Red

This review is a little late since St. Patrick's Day was a few days ago, but I thought I'd give a little shout-out to what may be my new favorite beer from Sam Adams, their Irish Red.

I should start by admitting that though I live near Boston and I'm strong supporter of drinking local brews, I'm not a huge fan of Samuel Adams in general. For some Bostonians, this may be akin to saying I'm not a huge fan of the Sox or the Pats, but it's true nonetheless. Their flagship Boston Lager is a fallback in bars if nothing better is available, and their seasonals are often more misses than hits with me. It's not that their beer is bad, per se, I just don't usually find it interesting enough to choose over something from Magic Hat or Red Hook or any number of other New England breweries.

That said, I picked up a six-pack of their Irish Red (from the Brewmaster's Collection) and I'm impressed. I've sort of avoided Irish Reds for a while now because I think I drank one too many Killian's in college and it put me off the style for about a decade. I suspect Sam's Irish Red is way better than Killian's (the BeerAdvocate thinks so, too). It pours a deep ruby brown and smells a bit like brown bread. The Caramel malts are immediately apparent upon the first sip, but it's not a cloying sweetness (like the Cherry Wheat...blah!). It's definitely a malt-heavy beer, but there's just enough hops in there to give it a kick at the end.

A few brew facts for the beer nerds:

Samuel Adams® Irish Red is brewed with two-row Harrington, Metcalfe and Caramel 60 malted barley. The Harrington and Metcalfe malted barley provide most of the body and sweet backbone of the beer, while the Caramel 60 contributes to the deep red color that defines the style. To balance all of that sweetness, we use earthy East Kent Goldings and Spalt-Spalter hops. Their subtle bitterness and aroma provide a delicate complexity to the brew.

The taste is a bit complex, but in a good way. You want to take another sip and ask youself, "What did I taste this time?" All in all, Sam Adams has redeemed itself in my eyes with this brew, and since it's sold year around and could potentially be good both in warm weather and cold, this might the first Sammy to go into my regular rotation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sam Raimi: Back to Basics

Trailer for Drag Me to Hell, directed by Sam Raimi (sorry, no imbedding yet). I think Raimi needs something like this to cleanse his system after Spiderman III. Man, that movie was a disaster. A return to his horror roots is just what the fanboy ordered. And who isn't afraid of crazy old gypsy women?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flavor Tripping with Miracle Fruit

So today my work sponsored a "flavor tripping" party with miracle fruit, the crazy-ass berry that makes sour things sweet, and negates heat and bitterness as well. I enjoy cooking and eating, and though I wouldn't really consider myself a "foodie", I enjoy discovering new flavors and trying new foods. I didn't eat anything new today, except the miracle fruit, but I certainly experienced some new flavors.

The berry itself is no big deal. You stick it in your mouth and squish it around for a while. It tastes a little sweet, but that's about it. Then you starting tasting things...lots of things. Here's a list of what I tried, and how I felt about it...

  • The first thing we all tried was a wedge of lemon. They were delicious. It was like eating lemon drops, only better. I think we all would have eaten an entire lemon if we could have. I wish we'd had limes, too, but we did have...
  • ...grapefruit. Also delicious, though I'm not sure how sweet it was before the miracle fruit, so it's difficult to say how sour it was to begin with.
  • The dill pickles got a thumbs down from me, basically because because the berry made them taste like bread and butter pickles, which I hate. I like dill pickles just the way they are.
  • The tomatoes no longer tasted anything at all like tomatoes. They tasted more like cherries, or some other sweet fruit. Very strange, but not unpleasant.
  • The Tabasco sauce was by far one of the strangest samples. I dumped a full teaspoon or so on my tongue, and it was undeniably sweet. Not a hint of heat at all. Not that Tobasco sauce is that hot, but usually even those of us who have destroyed our palates with hot sauce can pick up a little heat from Tabasco. I also tried some Vietnamese hot sauce (you know the one, with the rooster on it?), with similar results.
  • Along the same lines, the peperoncinis and jalapenos were also pretty odd. Without the normal heating effects of the caspacin, you could actually taste the vegetabley parts of the pepper.
  • The wasabi was confusing. I always feel wasabi in my nose first, and that's still what happened here. But I put a big ol' glob of it on my tongue and just had a vaguely horseradishy flavor. At least until I swallowed. The back of my tongue apparently did not get enough miracle juice, so I got a bit of a jolt when I actually swallowed.
  • Chocolate stout. I tried this one first before the berry because I'd never had the particular brand before (and I forget the brand now). Tasted pretty stouty with a bit of a chocolate after taste. But after the berry: YooHoo.
  • Roxy Rolles (from Magic Hat)--This usually hoppy beer tasted more like a weakish summer ale after the miracle fruit. The beer lost all its bite, sadly.
  • Oddly, the fruit did nothing to aleviate the bitterness of black coffee. The coffee just tasted like coffee. Also, the raw onion tasted just like raw onion. Bleh.
  • I tried a co-worker's homemade kimchi, but since I didn't really know what it tasted like before the miracle fruit, this particular test was kind of wasted on me.
  • I'm glad I saved the raw garlic clove until last, because that pretty much tainted everything that would come afterwards. The garlic tasted like garlic, without the slight burning sensation raw garlic can sometimes cause. But I can still taste it on my breath 8 hours later, so I don't highly reccomend this one.
  • And finally, to top things off, I tried my own concoction of coffee, lemon juice, beer, tobasco sauce, pickle juice, and jalepeno juice. Not only did I not throw up, but it actually didn't taste half bad.
  • OK, I confess that I actually topped things off with a handful of TUMS. It's important to remember that the fruit dampens the taste of acidic foods, but it doesn't actually neutralize the acid.
Final thoughts: I really can't recommend miracle fruiting enough. Today's taste test made what was otherwise a very busy, not-so-fun week into something truly memorable. I think these "parties" would definitely be best with a large group of people--we had about a dozen--and lots of things to try. In hind sight, we wished we'd brought more. Every site that sells them will have recommendations of foods and drinks to taste. Be adventurous. Try something you normally hate. Bring your TUMS.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Zero

Their first single from the new album is available on iTunes; the album is available for pre-order. I've bought it already.

Anyone in Tennessee want to go to see them at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester June 12? I'm already there.