Sammy the Seal

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

“Out of step with this world”

In music videos, vinyl on Thursday, 30 June, 2011 at 2:08

Song: Layers
Artist: Asobi Seksu
Album: Hush

Man, did that bout of Asobi withdrawal/relapse hit hard from out of nowhere. I get home, have a song lined up, then, all of a sudden, I play Hush twice in a row. I felt nostalgic, even though it had only been a few weeks. Relatively, this isn’t their strongest album, but I’m also not going to whine that it doesn’t sound like their self-titled debut or Citrus. I understand the latter was their breakthrough, and people fall in love with the first thing they know, but open your minds, people. I had similar reservations (it felt like background music initially), but given time, I like the direction they took on this album. It was admirable and a bit daring to strip away all the fuzz and extra noise that made everyone first fall in love, to create something clean and crystalline, that doesn’t necessarily wash over you, but is no less dreamy.

Case in point: gorgeous opening track “Layers”, with its sparkling tones and wintry imagery, comes off as a warm ray of sunshine on a cold, snowy day. It represents well the tone of the album, which is cool and icy on the surface but glows underneath. Not to beat the seasonal metaphors into the ground, but it’s as winter on the downward slope into spring. That tone is kinda hard to miss here, what with the chimes and bells, but it almost makes me long for winter here on June 30. And what would a pretty Asobi Seksu track be without brawny drums? 2:43 right on cue, thank you. What could have been merely sweet now has a little muscle behind it too.

Sparse, spare, but effective lyrics. Almost got them all myself, just missed though. Oh darn.

“Dining on a rooftop
icicles growing slowly
near my lantern
taking their time
guiding me home with their smile

under layers (x8)

__________ (so frustrated I couldn’t decipher this part, I got all the rest)
sinking slightly
beating down my own world
shining backdrops
raining brightly
out of step with this world”

The drums could’ve been softer, but who care when you can see how Yuki’s fingers flutter on the keys.

I know it was a new song at the time, but notice the less-than-enthusiastic response from the crowd 😦  In fairness, the sound of Hush probably doesn’t seem like it would translate as well into a rock setting as the other albums, though I personally would disagree with that.


“I’m still wanting my face on your cheek”

In vinyl on Wednesday, 29 June, 2011 at 11:23

Songs: Two-Headed Boy, Parts 1 and 2
Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Album: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

(The abrupt break between songs is because they’re not adjacent, rather they’re at opposite ends of the album.)

Two is better than one, right? No pun intended, just a coincidence, as these happen to be two of the best songs on the album. I know that doesn’t say much, considering how special the entire album is, though I will say, contrary to popular opinion, I’m ambivalent about the title track. If forced to, I doubt I could rank all tracks from 1 to 11, except that one would likely be #11.

I don’t know to say about this that hasn’t been said in the last thirteen years. It never ceases to amaze how time works on you. The “Carrot Flowers” songs and “Holland, 1945” were much more accessible initially, and indeed, I latched on to those. They’re still great, and “Holland” is still magnificent, but the way this two-headed duo made their way here before the others is impressive. I openly admit one-person-with-acoustic-guitar is not often my thing, but these two have powered their way past my loose, but defined prejudices. “Part 2” in particular is profoundly moving, no doubt aided by its presence as the final track on the album. Regardless of what the lyrics signify, you can feel that this was intensely personal. In that regard, you don’t necessarily have to know. Part of the wonder of listening is being able to connect with someone you don’t even know, while simultaneously forgetting yourself and experiencing someone else’s reality. (Out of nowhere rant alert!) Personally, I think knowing what everything means strips a work of art of its poetry, and reduces an artist’s humanity to a cheap, known quantity, usually in the service of attempting to “relate” to a work. It’s all so bloodless. It secretly irritates the shit out of me how some puny human brains must know, must know, must know– what’s the point if everything can be explained and rationalized, every thought and intention delineated? (Similar to how people want to know what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end of Lost In Translation, or even what all the Japanese dialogue in the film means.) For me, the wonder is that there is no clear entry point in the lyrics, and yet the emotional impact from the songs is very real and strong. I don’t need to know what exactly he was saying, and though I have no idea what actually went through Jeff Mangum’s head, by the end of this song, I could swear I understood it all.

The final song on an album being a spare, acoustic number is nothing new, but goddamn if “Part 2” isn’t heartbreaking. To say nothing of our closing line: “don’t hate her when she gets up to leave.”

Many of these live videos from the late 90s contain multiple songs, so at the end of “Part 2” you have “Holland, 1945”– as if that’s a negative point. If this was all too plaintive, let “Holland” kick your ass. Look at those kids dance! Bow that guitar, yeah!

“The cinders, they light the path”

In vinyl on Tuesday, 28 June, 2011 at 23:10

Song: Hysteric
Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: It’s Blitz!

I can’t believe I only today picked up the drumstick taps at 1:48, my eye/ear usually goes right to that stuff. Awesome. Love that opening ring. Simple progression, simple beat, simple lyrics, with a simple buzzing guitar providing subtle, but important structural support. I know everyone swoons for “Maps”– I’m not knocking the song one bit– but I much prefer this song, as it has more emotional depth and resonance. The overall emotions are similar, but there seem more introverted, grounded, and self-contained. Here, they blossom outward, and feel more inclusive. Normally I like me some edge, but the crisply, cleanly enunciated vocals do well to stand back and spotlight the gentle, reassuring melody. Call it the sound of maturity, I don’t know, I just think it’s pretty.

Oh, and don’t forget your Karen O vocal ticks (the short ah’s/uh’s in the end of the chorus).

“Four hundred more years of this shit”

In vinyl on Sunday, 26 June, 2011 at 18:09

Song: Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
Artist: Destroyer
Album: Kaputt

Okay, this feels more like a song for a laaaaazy Sunday like today. Actually, the whole album has the feel of a lonely night out, as well as a 70s/early 80s jazzy, soft rock feel. The sound of the album will sound familiar as such, for example the sax, female vocals, and overall instrumentation. If that description turns you off– I admit I cringed slightly when first hearing the soundscapes– be patient and you will be rewarded. (In fact, part of me still wonders how I’ve taken such a shine to this album, when we’ve been conditioned to dismiss sounds like this as soulless piffle.)

This song well represents that ostensibly cheesy sound, the flute at 2:00 being a prime example. It does sound kinda cheesy, but it works too. As well, the bursts of female vocals often scream “70s!” to me, but as anachronistic as they sound, they have a redemptive feel or reprieve when they appear, tempering the lonesome, though not necessarily depressing, atmosphere which I feel the “lite” sound creates, though certainly Dan Bejar’s singing sounds a bit subdued, maybe even resigned, as well. I don’t hide my aversion for long songs, though I have always avowed that if the songs work, they work, and this 8+ minute track caps off beautifully the marvelous first half (the album is only nine tracks).

I’ve listened to it enough the last couple of weeks that I thought of doing a song a day and putting up the album within a week, except I bought too much other music. It’s most definitely not a knock-your-socks-off record, so file under subtle and slow-burn. It’s still day out, but I think I’m gonna go take a walk with this album.

(I haven’t parsed the meaning too intently yet, but this song is allegedly about the history of U.S. race relations, if you care to study it. I was wondering why the word “negress” was in there. Lyrics contributed by Kara Walker, a black visual artist, so yes, she’s a real person. Strange to hear a white Canadian man sing about this, I’m curious to examine it further.)

“The answer’s always ‘yes'”

In vinyl on Saturday, 25 June, 2011 at 21:30

Song: Satisfied
Artist: Cee Lo Green
Album: The Lady Killer

Considered this for Sunday morning, except it’s a Saturday night song. More feel-good than “Fuck You”. Certainly it owns the “aww!” factor, and we’d be drowning in sugar, if not for the fucking exultant throwback Motown sound. Not only highly danceable, but I’d think this works well as foreplay too. What more can be said? Well, one thing:

Cee Lo Green is the soul machine.

“Hell, I never knew, was what we made it”

In vinyl on Thursday, 23 June, 2011 at 18:34

Song: In This Home on Ice
Artist: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Album: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

In honor of a long, mostly shitty day I had today. I remember back I first had this, I found this song quite comforting when I would be upset about something. I always thought the vocals walked a very fine line (though I was mostly okay with them), but the songs were still good. I always found warmth in the melody and the ringing of the reverb.

Though it doesn’t have the same effect now, I still do like the song– it just reminded me of those times. Also, my day ended on a promising note, so things aren’t all bad.

“Touching my skin won’t get you to my core”

In music videos, vinyl on Wednesday, 22 June, 2011 at 22:24

Cibo Matto, w/ The Chain Gang of 1974, @ Neumo’s, June 21, 2011  

Once again, I considered not going to a show I already had a ticket for (I believe it was Dismemberment Plan the other time), just because I had a long, thankless day at work (though it must be said I did myself no favors by getting little sleep the night before). I was fatigued enough that before I got home, I was already leaning against it. I’m not sure what snapped me back, possibly it was just lying down or taking a brief nap that cleared my head to make me sane enough to make the decision to go.

Anyway, the opening band was The Chain Gang of 1974. Not that I like to pigeonhole or label bands, but they had a decidedly 80s new wave, synth pop/rock, glam feel, that covered both the moody and dreamy aspects of that era. (There must be a revival going on, I recall a few opening bands in the last few months with a retro 80’s sound.) It certainly was abetted by such refrains as “never say it’s over”, “tell me”, “don’t walk away”, and “your love is all that I have to hold on to.” The lead singer had some Robert Smith hair going on which tended to get into his face, but he wore no make-up, thankfully. You can pay homage without doing straight-up mimicry, and I don’t think Robert Smith ever wore what looked like a sweatshirt with Mickey Mouse sticking out his tongue or blowing a raspberry. But, all the band members had huge holes in their jeans at the knees, as did I growing up, though that was a function of not being able to afford new clothes, it wasn’t stylistic. His vocal style certainly echoed that era, as did his dancing, with body gyrating and arms spread out and up, twisting and flailing about. He sure as hell didn’t care what anyone thought, I can tell you that. Hey, nothing wrong with dancing to your own music. It’s nice when people enjoy what they do. Maybe I’ve not been to enough shows, but I’ve never seen the singer for an opening band audacious enough to hop off the stage and perform in the audience during the second song. We all spaced out to give him room to move, but also, I suspect, because we were taken aback by this move and were slightly afraid of him and his carefree dancing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that. I was kinda impressed, actually. Not only that, but the next song had a bass hook that clung to my brain as soon as I heard it. I felt a li’l bad I didn’t have any cash, as I really wanted to know what that song was– I coulda bought the record, their full-length debut Wayward Fire, which dropped the same day. If all this sounds like 80’s aping, well, at least they brought it. It didn’t feel like posturing, everyone in the group was into it (bless your awkward white boy grooving, guitar player)– it didn’t seem so calculated, especially judging by the way they danced. Looking cool was not on the agenda. Here’s a first: having a set list for a band I’d never heard of, and an opening one at that. However, as I mentioned before, the refrains made it easy to look up their songs:

Heartbreakin’ Scream
Devil Is A Lady
Matter of Time (the one with the awesome bass line)
Tell Me
Don’t Walk Away
Hold On

You can sample here. I think it will bear out my description rather well. Pump each one up to dance level and that’s what it’s like live.

Wow, that’s a lot for an opening band. And now, the girls. According to Miho Hatori, they were in jail for the last ten years since their last show, so this must have been a big deal. They sure did make us wait, it was probably close to 45 minutes. All I know is it was long enough that people started chanting their name, it was a little after 10:30 finally. I don’t know, maybe they were nervous about touring again. Or maybe, they wanted to look just right. They did change from the clothes they had on during set up. Yuka wore a sleek, short black dress with a bright red belt in the middle, to contrast with the hoodie and black pants she had on earlier, with Miho in a cute, slightly poofy, sheer orange/peach outfit. (I hope someone posts their photos soon so I can link to them. If only I had an actual camera, as camera phone don’t cut it.) The girls were radiant, and very gracious and grateful throughout, like they were remembering what it’s like to be performing together again. After the first or second song, an audience member gave them each a corsage. Incredibly sweet moment. They were obviously touched. I know Miho, as lead vocalist, is the cuter (and did she look as cute as ever), more outspoken and goofy one, but Yuka is no less charming. It’s easy to forget her, as she’s more quiet, thoughtful and understated, but she’s just as sweet. She seemed a little overwhelmed (in a good way) by all the energy there, it was very sweet to see. For a group whose heyday was close to 15 years ago, they have aged quite well. Compare to the video below– they both look almost the same, just slightly more mature. Hardly older than their 90s selves. I can imagine feeling the same too if I were them, to be away for so long, but to be greeted so and still adored, if even in a small club like Neumo’s, you probably still have feelings and memories rushing back. (The guy in front of me with the shaved head and wife-beater certainly appreciated them.) It was nice to see them enjoy that feeling of being on a stage again, they looked so happy.

Anyway, for the first three songs, it was just Yuka and Miho, and neat as it was to hear and see them, I must admit, it felt like we were just kinda living in the past. After “Sugar Water”, they added a drummer and a bassist, in time to start playing off Stereo Type A, which makes sense, as more was added on that album to the musical/instrumental stew than on Viva! La Woman. It was awesome, the bass player was a guy with a dark jumpsuit with a neon orange stripe down the right side, and the drummer was a Japanese woman who looked like she could have been their aunt (the girls, I’m guessing, are at most early 40s)– listen to the song “Blue Train” below and imagine an older Japanese woman playing drums on that song. She fucking rocked. “Tenth Floor Ghost Girl” was one of the two new songs they played, and it was rather decent, for being an unfamiliar tune. Most of the time it’s hard to get into a newly unveiled song (I figure most people just indulge a band) but that one worked rather well. The other new one I didn’t feel so much, but they didn’t give a title. Seeing as they spoke of a 2012 release date and that they’re still writing, I’m guessing that song is still a work in progress.

It wasn’t a mind-blowing, life-changing show, but it’s always great to see and hear up close something that’s only existed on record– I still feel lucky to be there. Miho’s vocals on “Moonchild” always get me, and it was lovely to hear it up close and personal. A fun, goofy moment of audience participation was shared on the “stop– I need a new beat” segment of “Spoon”, as well as Miho turning the mic over to us for some “Birthday Cake” screaming. Wish I’d brought something to sign. And with no cash, I couldn’t buy anything to sign. No biggie though, I’m not superfan or anything. I was just happy I was there. Woulda been nice to say hi, but there were an awful lot of people around them afterwards. I know they were on a major label way back in the 90s, but it was still neat to see them in the back of the club, signing and selling stuff. Unlike a full-on rock show, my neck didn’t hurt so much from swinging it around, which no doubt helped make work more bearable. It was a fun show, but relatively easygoing. And, the show got out before midnight, so I was still able to have my fun and get some sleep too. So thoughtful of them! I love you girls.

Beef Jerky
Le Pain Perdu
Sugar Water
Tenth Floor Ghost Girl (new song)
Sci-fi Wasabi
(unnamed new song)
Birthday Cake
Blue Train
Know Your Chicken

The same people who brought you such loveliness as “Sugar Water”, “Moonchild”, and “Stone” also present to you “Blue Train”– yes, that’s them. Pretty damn cool.

Song: Blue Train
Album: Stereo Type A

A concert performance of the song from the late 90s, it’s unfortunate that the recording level was so low. Still though, look at the two of them. They’ve barely aged, in my opinion. Again, replace the drummer with an older Japanese woman. Yeah!

“As soon as I am able, I’ll say something nice to you all”

In vinyl on Tuesday, 21 June, 2011 at 19:12

Song: Split Myself In Two
Artist: Meat Puppets
Album: Meat Puppets II

Let’s hear it for great album openers. “I got a dollar on the corner and a lazer in my shoe”– come again??? So what the heck is a skrawky, charging nugget of psychedelic cowpunk doing here on Cibo Matto Day? Who cares, it’s an awesome song.

“We tried another, let’s try each other”

In vinyl on Saturday, 18 June, 2011 at 17:40

Song: Belong
Artist: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Album: Belong

Orgasm here, get your free aural orgasm! I swear, I could listen to the first 25 seconds over and over and over. Love at first listen. I read of a Smashing Pumpkins comparison, which initially I shrugged off, before realizing this is like “Today”, except with a lot more pop and shimmer. Not to mention the shoegaze influence, what with the soft, wispy vocals buffeted by mammoth walls of guitar that blow up the song open big enough for everyone to crawl inside and have a good time. Sure, the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic is here too, but fortunately it never stays quiet for more than about seventeen seconds at a time. Great for killing your ears and/or blowing out your speakers, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The danger in starting off an album this awesomely is that the rest can’t possibly compare, and, while this is technically true, the rest is still solid, achieving similar moments of heavy-osity. Just don’t let the vocals fool you, as this is not a wimpy album. Hell, the second and third tracks follow up quite nicely in the same vein as the opener. If I had a convertible, this might very well be a top-down song, being summer and all.

Thank you to the band for cramming all this glorious fucking crunch into one criminally catchy song, and for drawing out the closing refrains of “we just don’t belong” as much as possible in the last minute for sing-along satisfaction– it makes for a great sense of closure. A lot of good music takes time and patience to reveal their riches to you– this is like a handjob on the first date, but with the surprise of a genuine, lasting relationship.

Damned technology

In Uncategorized on Tuesday, 14 June, 2011 at 11:42

MacBook acting up on me after a mere seventeen months. Grr, arg. And here I was all excited to share all the new music I bought Saturday. Oh bum.