• Review: High Violet from The National

    the_national1-1A few months ago as I was perusing a music blog, I saw that The National would be releasing a new album, High Violet, in May 2010. I was absolutely ecstatic since they are one of my favorite bands and I have been eagerly awaiting the follow up release to 2007’s Boxer (3 long years of replaying that album). Despite my obvious bias as such a fan of The National, this review of High Violet (released May 11th) is utterly honest in origin. I’ve even polled (or grilled, as it were) a few friends for feedback and so far, it’s all positive!
    Ironically enough, this album doesn’t exactly bring the word ‘positive’ to mind. The National are well-known for being a little lyrically moody with beautiful orchestral backdrops coupled with beautiful driving guitars and tempo crescendos. One might even say they have a melancholic sound, and I can’t deny that’s why I’m drawn to them with such passion.
    “We started out trying to make a light and happy record, but it just didn’t happen,” says Matt Berninger.

    A little background information on The National: they are Ohio-raised, hailing from Brooklyn. The band started out unknown, only to rise in fame as Indie rockers with the release of Boxer, even performing on The Late Show. Members consist of Matt Berninger as vocalist with Aaron Dressner (guitar, bass, piano), Bryce Dressner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).

    If you’re familiar with Boxer, then I can recommend a few songs on High Violet that share similar attributes. Runaway, a subtle love song, is a bit like Green Gloves with its eerie, personal diatribe where Berninger says over and over “Well I won’t be no runaway ‘cuz I won’t run.”

    The biggest hit off Boxer was Fake Empire, and months after I discovered the album, I heard this song everywhere. A comparable song on High Violet is the first single, Bloodbuzz Ohio, which is actually a bit faster in tempo and definitely edgier (something you’d listen to in your car with the windows down).  Both songs are full of remorse, whether it’s sorrow for the fake lives we lead or regret that we can never go back and change things.

    My favorite song on the album is Conversation 16 with strange lyrics that spout two different meanings: “You’re all I ever wanted and more” versus “I was afraid I’d eat your brains ‘cuz I’m evil.” Despite the opposing lyrics, the song weaves a real-life story in true The National fashion: taking something ugly and making it beautiful.

    High Violet has transcended Boxer with undeniable force. I have listened non-stop for two days and each time I find something new to obsess over – lyrics, instruments, or the entire experience, which pretty much takes me to a different dimension. Said best by Aaron Dressner, “Making something heartfelt is our only concern.”

    Contributed by Ashley Columbus

  • Steven Pilker’s List of Awesome


    1.      Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma – already hugely praised, will end up on year end lists, I guess the biggest thing for me is how much this embodies the classic Warp aesthetic. I bought it on vinyl and listened to it in bits and pieces. Then I listened all the way through at work and was left wondering what his next album will sound like. So far ahead of his already excellent first two releases. I really hope this has an impact on the wonky hip-hop scene that’s going on. Download the fieldlines too, they are incredible.

    2.      Taxidermia – Gyorgy Palfi (Director) – I saw this recently and it’s incredible. A story of three men loosely related over the course of decades. Starts with a soldier, moves on to a competitive eater and ends with a taxidermist. All the parts you love about Jeunet and Caro along with the crystal clear body horror of Cronenberg. Amon Tobin does the soundtrack, the whole film is incredible.

    3.      Freeform – Human – just got this on a trip to Chapel Hill for 7 bucks used (MINT?!?!). Had it on CD and then recently got it on vinyl. Great organic IDM with touches of acoustic instruments, jazz, hip-hop, complete pattern based weirdness and a really great sense of humor. I’d forgotten how good it was and I’ve been listening to it over and over since I repurchased/reformatted it.

    4.      Poirier – Running High – phenomenal collection of singles and remixes from Montreal-based producer. It has Incredible energy and tons of speed-Caribbean rhythms. Instant party. Can’t take it out of my car cd player.

    5.      Various Artists – Document – great comp from Spectral compiling twelve inches that led up and follow this release. This release brings together everything I love about Spectral. The modern synthetic soul house of Lee Curtiss, the psychedelic techno of Matthew Dear’s Audion persona, and the jackin’ retro tinged tunes of James T. Cotton. Great comp, and the James T. Cotton 12 inch is out May 18th!

    6.      M.I.A. – Born Free (High Contrast Mix) – the original with the controversial video is pretty slammin’ and harsh, but for some reason I’ve been playing this download on repeat for the last week or so. Somewhat surf-y? Still kind of rough, get it before it gets pulled down!

    7.      Rebirth on the IPhone – UNBELIEVABLE, LIKE DIGITAL CRACK! One of the first music software emulating retro gear is ported to the iPhone and iPad, incredible! Such a great time killer and tool of musical inspiration! Plus they kept the sucky programming of the 303 intact!

    Contributed by Steven Pilker (Obviously)

  • What if Alice in Chains went to your High School?

    Cotton Swab

    Muzak Audio Architect Chester Fangs knew of the early group as ‘Alice N Chainz’.

    Well known for his trumpeting skills, Chester was asked to collaborate on a demo for a song titled Lip Lock Rock. A hard rock song, with trumpets, about kissing. Puts you right in the mood, right?

    Below is Chester’s story, carefully edited for our readers. (And, hey, Chester? Keep it clean in the future!)

    Alice In Chains started out at my high school in 1986.

    Chris Cornell went to Shorewood High School in what is now Shoreline Washington -  Seattle was a small city, and we live in a small world.  Layne Stayley was in the band at the time but not Jerry Cantrell or any of the other dudes.

    One day, they asked me to play trumpet for them (for real) in the studio for a really really horrible song they had written called Lip Lock Rock.  Oh my god it was bad. The trumpet parts were bad and my playing was unremarkable, but who cares anyway. We played a show at Kane Hall/UW and someone stole my wallet when I was onstage.

    Anyway, I lost the demo tape but through the magic of YouTube it has reappeared.  It’s as bad as I remembered.  Anyway, the horns come in around 3:17 and you can’t really hear my chipmunky voice doing backup vocals, but it’s there.

    You can hear the demo for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-A0Ytm_QEo

  • MGMT’s Flash Delirium

    071220mgmt2-1The new MGMT video for Flash Delerium is out on the web, and it’s almost as weird, if not weirder then the surreal epic for Kids.

    This latest release seems normal at first, but then spirals into layers of weirdness as the song progresses into new bridges and verses. It’s bizarre in a lovecraftian way and just sci-fi enough to feel grounded.

    Contributed by Steven Pilker

  • CSN&Y in 1974


    In 1974, I was finishing up High School and working part time at a local gas station. It was just 5 years after Woodstock, and tons of new music, new sounds and new acts had exploded onto the scene. So my friends and I would pass the time at the gas station listening to all of this great new music on the radio. As a big fan of Neil Young, who really inspired me to pic up a guitar, I jumped at the chance to go see the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour.

    They opened with an acoustic set and closed with an electric set—leaving the audience pumped up and wanting more. There was a lot of great material between the group’s previous album and their collective solo albums, like Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’. That was one of my favorites, and I nearly wore that 8 Track out in my car.

    Looking back on that show, it’s too bad that CSN&Y never did get around to finishing their planned second album. It’s also a little sad that the stadium where I saw so many Bulls and Blackhawks games has been demolished. But I have to laugh when I remember that during the show, Neil Young’s dog happened to wander out on stage right in the middle of the performance.  The crowd got excited, and Neil said: “He only comes out when he likes what he hears.”

    Contributed by Bill Spencer

  • Retro Album Art


    I remember bits and pieces of the ’80s with enthusiasm. I’d down sugared cereal while watching Rainbow Bright. On weekends, I’d bop around my mom’s uniformly pink hair salon, probably annoying people. At my grandmother’s, I’d get into things I wasn’t supposed to touch, like stacks of old vinyl and 45s. And each of these memories has a certain aesthetic that I thought was lost to that time: pastel colors, that hazy, fuzzy veneer.

    But as my generation faces the reality of adulthood, many Gen Yers and Millenials are reaching back into their childhoods for creative inspiration. And this trend isn’t just limited to fashion. It’s also impacting music.

    These retro inspired album covers are an awesome throwback to the cartoons and advertisements of the 1980s, but I absolutely love that they don’t take themselves too seriously.

    Common in each of these examples by Woodhands, Goldfrapp and The Bird and the Bee is playful sense of humor adapted to nostalgic imagery.

    Woodhands, Remorescapade (2010)


    Goldfrapp, Headfirst (2010)


    The Bird and the Bee, Interpreting the Masters… (2010)

  • JotDog Debut Impressive


    This Mexico City band formed last year with the intentions of bringing the Latin 80s pop trend to the forefront with their production and singing.

    Maria Barracuda fronts the Latin band “JotDog” with their debut self titled album that exceeds what everyone expected.

    Also along for the ride, which is filled with electro pop fueled by 80s synths and new wave are Jorge Amaro (ex-Fobia) and Alejandro ‘Midi” Ortega (ex-Moenia). Check them out!

    Contributed by Alex Espinosa

  • Best Band Names of SXSW


    With over 1,400 acts playing live at SXSW 2010, there are bound to be some interesting band names. Below is our top 10 list of most creative names this year:

    10. World of Warcraft

    9. I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness

    8. The Hong Kong Blood Opera

    7. The Spirit Animal Sound System

    6. Munch Munch

    5. The Expiramental Tropic Blues Band

    4. PC Worship

    3. Chiddy Bang

    2. Tiger! Sh*t! Tiger! Tiger!

    1. Nervous Turkey

  • Another Sunny Day at Cochella


    I remember running into Jeremy Enigk a handful of times during my tenure in Seattle, WA and always talking about how great his solo disc “Return of the Frog Queen” was.  I was always too afraid to talk about how much their early recordings with Sunny Day Real Estate gave me the chills in a good way.

    I also wanted to ask him “So, when do you think you guys will make another record?” and “When will you guys play together with the original lineup?”  The last part came true last year when the original lineup reunited for a tour.

    Now, there is word that they are working on a new LP, which will be the first album with the lineup since 1995’s “LP2”. That is the same year the band broke up for the first time and then reunited two years later without bassist Nate Mendel, who had joined The Foo Fighters.

    Now all is good in the universe with the original lineup; including Nate, playing a few Spring dates including Coachella in April.

    Contributed by Alex Espinosa

  • A Brief History of SXSW

    austin_skyline2SXSW, like my little sister, began in 1987. The conference now includes three relatively independent arms, dedicated to music, film and interactive media.

    The music portion gets the most attention, and for good reason: it’s grown to include a jaw dropping 1,400 different acts who perform at as many as 80 separate venues. But the interactive media portion is gaining ground, too. In 2007, a brand new concept called Twitter was first unveiled to a panel right here in the city of Austin.

    And just to demonstrate how powerful Twitter has become in three short years, when I landed this morning, I started to worry when my cell phone displayed the word  “searching” in the place where my little signal bars should have been for over two hours. Later on, I learned that 2009’s SXSW interactive media conference attendees used so much data Tweeting on their smart phones that various cell networks barely limped along as they coped with the high concentration of users. So I switched from 3G over to Edge, and things seem to be working much better.

    SXSW, in just 23 years, has gone from a mild mannered music conference to a force of nature, dumping an estimated $110 million into the Austin economy annually, and attracting over 30,000 registered participants. SXSW still holds tight to their founding philospophy: “to create an event that would act as a tool for creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers and to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas.

    From what I’ve seen in a few short hours, this is going to be a great week.

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