The C in The Sea and Cake (is for Consistency): Live at Littlefield, Brooklyn, 10/21/12

on Oct 23, 2012
Most in the audience won't know it until later, but Matthew Friedberger, of Fiery Furnaces fame, is turning forty years old tonight at Littlefield in Brooklyn. There are worse ways to go over the hill. Friedberger is alone on stage, walking calmly back and forth between two chairs, one at a keyboard and one at a sampler; the creation process as performance. What sound like fragments of different songs shoot forth one after another to make a continuous pulsing, intriguing, confusing whole. Occasionally, he stops in between the two chairs to speak an equally fragmented narrative into the mic - "I went to the bar where we met...the bar was closed...". It compels you to try to listen like you've heard it a dozen times and digested it all already. The cover art of his sister's recent solo album showed off an impressive head of hair, but Friedberger's thick chin-length bangs, which at times hide his entire face, are also something. Some families have all the genes.

Matthew Friedberger, getting psyched for birthday shots
There's another notable birthday in the house this evening: The Sea and Cake's Car Alarm was officially released four years ago today. Over that time, the album has proven itself to be not just a period highlight, but a highlight, period. One in a career with few, if any, low points. Sure, their music has had relative ups and downs over the past twenty years, but their career arc is not so much an arc as it is a slight bend. An initial creative burst, followed by a few mellowing records, followed by the current creative burst.

"If they were me/if they were me/and I was you/and I was you"
If there were inter-band discussions that led up to their third-act reinvigoration, one might imagine the weight of persuasion fell on getting drummer John McEntire fully on board, given how much of the physical burden falls on his arms. On the other hand, considering the dexterous fills he splashes out across the prolonged introduction of The Fawn favorite "The Argument" in the middle of the set, maybe it was his idea as much as anyone else's. Speaking of fills, Doug McCombs (of Tortoise and others) is filling in for bassist Eric Claridge, learning some of his lines in less time than it takes for guitarist Archer Prewitt to re-tune between songs.

About that initial creative burst -- most bands don't get their start by releasing three acclaimed records in a row in less than two years. At least not very often since the 1960's. Looking at it now, it's like The Sea and Cake were determined to create a rich catalog to cull from as soon as possible. Here, they reach back to their debut for "Jacking the Ball," but leave Nassau's "Parasol" off the set list, which made an appearance the last time they swung through town. There always have to be trade-offs. It must be getting equally difficult for them to pick between gems from the run they started with 2007's Everybody, and which continues with the recently released Runner.

The Sea and Cake have always been well measured, but as they've progressed, they've also done some streamlining and sanding down of the edges. Keys, for one. Ears can be deceiving, but by the end of the set it seems like a lot of the songs have started off with Sam Prekop playing the same chord on his guitar. A tool for grandiosity in most any other player's hands, when Archer Prewitt picks his e-bow up from the small tray on his mic stand, he wields it with tasteful restraint. One might imagine that, were he to start pounding at his pick-ups with a horsehair bow, it would somehow come out sounding refined.

Tasteful e-bow?

To the extent that it ever did, Sam Prekop's voice doesn't match up with his appearance all that much. His endearing chamomile tones suggest a slighter, more prim and bookish visage, not so much old jeans and untucked shirts. As is everything else about The Sea and Cake, Prekop's voice is subtle but distinct, and without question necessary to make the band whole. That considered, it is interesting how much Prekop has held back on both Runner and last year's The Moonlight Butterfly, and how light on vocals much of the material in this set is, not that his singing would ever risk overshadowing the rest of the band.

Having set them in place from the outset, the band has been gently nudging at their own boundaries since bringing in electronic elements with 1997's The Fawn. Car Alarm's title track and "Aerial," both sadly missing, brought in head-nodding rock. "Weekend" and "Harps," both gladly present and accounted for, fashion a kind of Sea and Cake dance music for swaying along with. They even end the night with the closest thing to a 'space rock dirge' they've written. All without ever leaving the comfort of their zone.

Selected Excerpts from the Fake Journal of a Fictional Animal Collective Fan

on Oct 15, 2012

May 13, 2012
Dear Journal,
Today it’s official! There will be a new Animal Collective record soon! It’s called Centipede Hz, and it comes out in September, and I’m so excited! Every record they make is better than the last, and I’m sure this one will be too!

May 14, 2012
Dear Journal,
Geologist was on the BBC today! They talked about the new record, and there was some big news. DEAKIN IS BACK! Oh gosh, that’s so exciting. Also, Geologist said that the band went ‘back to their roots’ on Centipede Hz. Hopefully ‘back to their roots’ means Sung Tongs and not Here Comes the Indian, but either way I’m sure it will be great!

June 20, 2012
Dear Journal,
I know that it doesn't really matter, but I’m a little worried about Animal Collective! They showed the cover art for Centipede Hz on the internet today, and it’s a little... gross? It has giant lips and the lips have eyelashes or something, and... it’s kinda hard to describe. I have to get over it though, because I’m sure the songs will still be really good. Maybe the cover will grow on me too!

August 12, 2012
Dear Journal,
Big news today! Animal Collective is going to play Centipede Hz on an internet radio show! I am very tempted to listen to it, because I can’t wait to hear the new songs! But no, that would ruin my super fun release day plans. I have to be good and not listen to ANY of the songs beforehand. I’m going to go to the record store right after work, and I’m going to buy the real life CD, and I’m going to take it home and listen to it over and over and over. Maybe I’ll eat pizza! I want it to be special.

September 3, 2012
Dear Journal,
I’m staying up past my bedtime, because I’m just SURE that Pitchfork will post their review of Centipede Hz tonight! It comes out tomorrow, and they wouldn't wait till after. I’m so excited to see what rating they give it! I hope it gets the highest score of the year!

September 4, 2012
Dear Journal,
Well, this day had to come but I just didn't think it would be so soon. Pitchfork gave Centipede Hz a 7.4. That’s too low to even get the ‘Best New Music’ label! I was so upset today that I didn't even buy the CD. I think I’m going to ignore it, and pretend that Animal Collective stopped making records after Merriweather Post Pavilion, just like I did after Bill Berry quit R.E.M.

September 10, 2012
Dear Journal,
Last week I was too upset to even think about Animal Collective, but I think I’m getting over it now. I’m still sad that Centipede Hz is not the best ever, but maybe I should listen to it anyway? I don’t know though, I just don’t want to be disappointed.

September 14, 2012
Dear Journal,
Well, I decided to download Centipede Hz today. It was on sale, and I was just too curious. I have only listened to it once on my lunch break, but... I think I like it? I’m confused though, because the Pitchfork guy said it had too much going on, like too many crazy noises and things? I mean, there are definitely lots of crazy noises, but it’s Animal Collective! It’s like that guy never heard ‘We Tigers’ or something!

October 15, 2012
Dear Journal,
I’m so happy I gave Centipede Hz a chance! It’s maybe not as good as Merriweather, but that’s ok! I’m a little sad that I didn't buy the CD now, but I still think the cover art is creepy so maybe it’s better this way cause I can change the picture on my computer! Anyway, New Town Burnout is my favorite song I think, but I like all the other ones a lot too! When they said it was going to sound like their old stuff I expected a lot of yelling and drums, but there isn't much of that really. It’s just a little less... computer-y is all. It is definitely intense though! I don’t know what is going on over there in Baltimore, but seriously. Yesterday I tried to listen to that new Dan Deacon album America right after Centipede Hz, and my brain almost melted. So yeah, not gonna do that again!

THE WEEK IN REUNIONS: Texas is the Reason and Lotion

on Oct 12, 2012

Later tonight, at the Showbox in Seattle, Rodriguez and Donnie and Joe Emerson will both play at a concert celebrating Light in the Attic's 10th anniversary. It will effectively be the 'check-mate' of rock reunions. No band is really broken up any more, only on a hiatus of one length or another, and for those acts that are too dead to come off their hiatus, hologram technology is on the way. Most any reunion is now well within imagination. Still, I never imagined sharing the moment of finally seeing Lotion play live with the band's own children. 

Any notion that their Sunday matinee show at the Rock Shop would be a semi-poignant Gen-X circle-of-life afternoon was quickly humbled by the realization that some of the shorter people in the audience were there to watch their dads briefly do something that said dads used to do all the time before they were born, a concept which is probably still not fully comprehensible to them. This presumption is based on personal perception; the 1960's have always existed in my imagination in a distant paisley past, even though the actual distance between The Beatles breaking up and my birth is roughly the time from now since, say, The Rapture released Echoes. Such a feeling of epochal separation is likely how the mid 90's seems to the kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the stage.

What you can't see are the dozen kids on the floor.
The following Wednesday, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Texas is the Reason had friends and family in the room as well, though singer/guitarist Garrett Klahn, playfully noting that "there's a lot of you f@#kers," indicated they were up in the balcony, wisely away from the main floor.

Texas is the Reason and Lotion have a little bit more in common than one might think on first examination. Both are New York City bands formed in the early 1990's. Both Klahn and Tony Zajkowski from Lotion had a way of singing at times as if someone was pinching their nose. Their most notable records (of course, in TitR's case, their only full-length) were released by indie labels (though spinArt brought Lotion nationwide CD club distribution) within a couple months of each other in early 1996. They also shared more than one fan: Dale, the guy who first introduced me to emocore, for one, agreed with how cool I thought Lotion's Nobody's Cool was.

The bands that history validates in rock'n'roll are usually not much of a surprise -- some age better than others -- but Lotion always seemed to deserve a slightly bigger patch of grass in the public consciousness than they've received. Urgent and dynamic, Nobody's Cool belongs on any shelf that has Chavez's Ride the Fader on it -- yet another album released in 1996 by a New York City group with a nasal-voiced singer. The fact that this year's Lotion concerts (their first reunion gig was last year) are at the Mercury Lounge and the Rock Shop, while Texas is the Reason sold out the much larger MHoW and Irving Plaza (for the next night's Revelation Records 25th anniversary party), doesn't necessarily mean that TitR's music has aged better, or arguably all that well. But TitR were a great band that never had the chance to get worse, and they also influenced a lot of bad bands that came after them who got very big. So they've been able to keep their artistic integrity while being cited all over the reference pages of one of the most popular, if unfortunate, rock trends of the previous decade.

Not as many children sitting on the floor at this one.
Texas is the Reason are the first band I've seen walk onstage to a CD playing their own song. They are also the perfect band for a reunion show, because no one could be disappointed by the set list. Their entire recorded output consists of thirteen songs that clock in around an hour total, so there's time for everything, including bonuses, even if we don't get to hear the aforementioned instrumental "Do You Know Who You Are?" conjured with real instruments. When the first of two 'new' songs is introduced, a cheer rises up from the crowd, and Klahn clarifies that it is new in the sense that it was written only thirteen years ago. The remark drives home exactly how old these tunes are, but Klahn, guitarist Norm Arenas, dapper-white-scarved bassist Scott Winegard, and drummer Chris Daly, tear through their cemented legacy with the visceral precision of guys looking to make a name for themselves, not run a victory lap.

As much as I long to hear Lotion charge into their set with Nobody's Cool opener "Dear Sir," I  adjust my expectations pretty soon after someone's grandparents arrive. As it happens, my father is in town and I've brought him to the show, but he can't even claim to be the oldest person in the club. The 10:30pm show at the Mercury Lounge the night before surely must have been a different scene. I'm guessing that Edsel (another underrated 90's band), coaxed out of extended hiatus to play these two shows, had their amps turned up a few notches louder than at the Rock Shop. The kids all have ear plugs in, by the way. Lotion are responsible parents with good looking families. There are one or two other guys in the audience that aren't personally affiliated with the band. They seem as mutedly happy as I am to nod along, and at long last be in the same room with "The New Timmy," "Rock Chick," and "Blind For Now," even if the experience does come with the charming-but-slightly-awkward feeling of dropping in on a family barbecue that isn't your own.

The demographic slice at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is more predictable, though there's less heartfelt hand gesturing than could have been reasonably expected. In front of me, there's only one 'sky grasper', and one guy close to the stage who does the point-up-then-point-at-the-band thing, like sign language for "Is this song from heaven? No, it's from you, bros." The audience anticipates well in advance when the best moments to do the emo breakdown forward-lurch are coming; the biggest one comes in the middle of "Something to Forget." The front half of the floor finally cuts footloose when "Dressing Cold" and "Back and to the Left" are vigorously wrung out before the encore break.

Given their limited output, there are no truly obscure Texas is the Reason tracks. "Blue Boy" may technically qualify due to it being the lone one not on their album or EP, but it was also released as one side of one of the most coveted split 7-inches of their genre. Also, of their baker's dozen discography, "Blue Boy" has perhaps the most interesting structure. The song's big hook is a quite brief and comes multiple times in a row in the second and fourth sections, with a guitar chord that suddenly jumps up the fretboard as Klahn's voice gets as close to blissed out as it ever does. The effect of this tight cycle puts it somewhere between a standard circular verse/chorus structure and a loop, producing a quickly recurring melodic payoff. If that's lost on any of the fans here, it hardly affects how genuinely moving their reaction is.  

Top 9 Songs Titled “All I Want”

on Oct 7, 2012
One more small step in mankind's giant leap toward ranking everything: we have taken nine different songs with the same generic title and put them in a numerical order that felt appropriate. If you are thinking to yourself right now that Toad the Wet Sprocket should be at the bottom of this list: you are not fooling anyone, including yourself...

#9.  The Offspring – “All I Want”

Remember when Smash came out and sucked, and then someone tried to convince you that The Offspring were legit because of Ignition or whatever, and you still had your suspicions that they sucked with or without any supposed "cred"? History is now firmly on your side.

#8.  Wet Wet Wet – “All I Want”

These guys were cooler than The Offspring. If only this were a Top 1000, The Offspring could and would be #1000. 

#7.  Skunk Anansie – “All I Want”

This band were way cooler than The Offspring. Need proof? For one, no member of Skunk Anansie is, or ever was, Dexter Holland.

#6.  Howard Jones – “All I Want”

On that note, you probably think this is Dexter Holland. Surprisingly, it's not. It is the much more talented Howard Jones, serenely reflecting on how good it is not to have written "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)".

#5.  Toad the Wet Sprocket – “All I Want”

When these gents gently rocked Brooklyn Bowl this summer, they were surely grateful they didn't have to dutifully run through that gawdawful "na na why don't you get a job" song.   

#4.  The Lightning Seeds – “All I Want”

Ian Broudie has a headache because "Self Esteem" came on the radio.

#3.  LCD Soundsystem – “All I Want”

Good thing James Murphy played those amazing farewell shows at NYC's Terminal 5 long before The Offspring jinxed the stage there with their wack ass concert a few weeks ago. 

#2.  Echo and the Bunnymen – “All I Want”

Echo and the Bunnymen were always a gazillion times better than The Offspring, they just had to wait a decade or so for them to start making their "music" in order for it to be proven.

#1.  Joni Mitchell – “All I Want”

Ms. Mitchell has probably never had to listen to an Offspring song, at least knowingly. Heck, she may very well not even know they are a band. Let us all reflect for a moment on how wonderful it would be to live in a world like that.  

Honorable Mention: Alanis Morissette – “All I (Really) Want”

That tropical twerp next to young Alanis is young Dexter Holland. She had to choose between doing a Sia-style guest warble on some Ixnay on the Hombre wack-track in the future, or being slimed. True to form, she took the dignified road.

BEHIND THE STAGE, NOT BACKSTAGE: Jay-Z at Barclays Center, Night 6

on Oct 5, 2012

Jay-Z isn't entirely sure what night this is. "This is night...5, 6?" he says at the top of the show, in the first of numerous times he chats with the crowd at length. You might have thought it was a kind of bravado ('I've done so many of these shows that I've lost track'), but during another pause a few songs later, he spontaneously confirms out loud to himself, "It's 6." It's not bravado; Jay-Z has done so many of these shows that, for a little while there, he lost track.

The camera work was exceptional,
 Eight nights of performing for 18,000-plus fans inside Brooklyn's newest and largest nonlinguistic metaphor is a legend-bulding residency. It's sort of like Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah shows at Maxwell's, except that if you shouted out for an old b-side by The Clean, chances are slimmer that he'd cover it. He did a sort-of-cover tribute to B.I.G., that included playing part of "Juicy" straight off the CD while emphasizing "yeah" over it when approriate. Surely for logistical reasons, most songs this evening were played only in part, which usually worked fine, but sometimes - "Girls Girls Girls," for one - left you longing for the whole thing.

Whatever you might have heard about contact highs at these shows was probably true. It didn't help being in the nosebleeds, where the audience's cummulative weed cloud could be seen and smelled even from out on the walkways. Anything else you've read about earlier shows also probably happened tonight. Brooklyn was mentioned an OCD-amount of times. Night #3 was proclaimed to have been the loudest. He gave the same posi-core "genius-level talent" speech at the end of the night that he's been giving since the first night. Then he got everyone to put their cell phone lighters up and sing along with that goofy 80's-relic Alphaville song. 

Jay-Z was beside himself,

Earlier, he also gave an equally passionate talk about detractors (whoever they may be) who have noted the small percentage of his actual monetary stake in Barclays Center. Personally, I had appreciated the idea of Jay-Z not being in too deep financially with a widely unpopular real estate developer and a questionable Russian business oligarch, but his point was valid, and without the attachment and support of such a unique and beloved local hero, the venture would likely be met with more public indifference and distrust. Even if his name isn't at the top of the receipt, it's all Jay-Z's house through the weekend, and the 40/40 Club in the arena will keep his presence felt.

...and everyone called their friends.

Aside from its promotional and Tony Robbins-motivational elements, how was the concert as a concert? "On to the Next One" slayed it, as did most everything else you would expect to. The songs that were spared the aforementioned shortening were all the more potent for getting aired in full -- "Public Service Announcement" and "What More Can I Say?" especially. There was a sly joke buried in the setlist, where "Encore" was the last song of the main set, before the encore itself. The band had two oversized drum kits and more keyboards than Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Turns out that Night #8 will be streamed live this Saturday on Jay-Z's new YouTube channel. If you didn't get a ticket, it may be worth checking out...I can vouche for the camera work.   

Holy Crap-elujah!: Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

on Oct 2, 2012

In a mere couple of weeks, Godspeed You! Black Emperor will complete a circle started two years ago when they began to play live again, releasing their first new studio album in a decade, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! Before the October 16th on-sale date, you can buy the album on their current tour. A couple people have now done this, and put the album up on YouTube as of Tuesday, so there went that afternoon.

GYBE's practice space
One of the leaks appears to be the album in full, while the other plays the sides in opposite order, and is missing roughly fourteen minutes of droning pieces. We listened to the former. However, since we don't know for sure if it is the full album -- or which side even goes first -- we've decided not to put on our thesis paper helmets, and let someone else try to figure out how to simultaneously reference Situationists International, the military industrial complex, and, somehow, Ty Segall. Instead, we've put some footnotes together (matched to the times of the YouTube clip), highlighting the moments where GYBE remind the listener why the past decade has been so very, very empty without them.
We're not even gonna front with feigned partiality. This is hang-up-on-your-therapist exciting. But, as elated as we are to have them back on wax, there's something very disconcerting about GYBE's timing. Their first two records, F#A#(infinity) and Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, were cauldrons of pre-millenium tension; ominous foreshadowers of the coming ills of the Bush administration and global corporate imperialism. To have this new record drop less than a month before the 2012 election troubles us greatly in that regard. Not to mention, that whole Mayan world death clock thing coming up right before Christmas. Here's hoping that this time civilization will heed their warning before it is too late...

00:01 -- Leaving no doubt as to whether this is a Godspeed record, we are immediately greeted by a creepy-voiced dude talking nonsense. "With his arms outstretched/with his arms outstretched...".

00:20 -- Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is...the incessant humming of modern society collapsing in upon itself. 

01:15  --  It's an odd feeling to become excited at the sound impending doom, but this impending doom is our old friend. Welcome, Old Friend.

02:20 -- Echoing sounds of seagulls screaming "run for your f@#king life!" Godspeed's ability to coax non-guitar sounds out of their guitars is maybe one of their lesser appreciated skills.

04:00 -- The first of what is sure to be many classic Godspeed "drops" to come.

07:00 -- Keeping more in spirit with Yanqui than with Skinny Fists, they are going for 'dark and heavy' first (if this is the right order...). This sounds like Led Zeppelin tearing up a James Bond spy song.

08:00 -- A more widely appreciated skill of theirs: taking a simple rock riff and driving that f@#ker like a French Canadian monster truck over everything else that tries to sound "big." 

09:30 -- Now it sounds like a joyous folk dance fired out of a Big Muff pedal canon. 

10:00 -- Is it just us, or are there 100 people in this band?

13:30 -- This music is far more suitable for deposing kings than for skimming through pictures of dancing polar bears, but such is the modern condition.

18:55 -- We've been led out into the street and left alone in the middle of a parade, surrounded by muted bells, stomping drums and distant voices.  

21:31 -- This band have mastered 'eerie tension'. We feel like we're about to be murdered by a singing little girl in a dark watery basement.

22:00 -- Are those creepy bagpipes?...Yes??

27:07 -- Water drips out of a rusty faucet in a windowless abandoned loft in an old decaying city center. (Or, it's a guitar.)

31:00 -- Aha, this is the posi-core side! Get ready for some spiritual uplift, Godspeed-style.

31:30 -- Feels like we are at a fictional high school football game in West Texas.

32:00 -- Here's where the synonyms for "soaring" start to come out.

32:51 to 36:15 -- Words fail what this band does best. This rivals the first five minutes of Skinny Fists for the most perfect stretch of music they've ever done.

42:30 -- Charging forward on propulsive bass and drums, this part has a Funeral-era Arcade Fire urgency. If Win stepped to the mic right now, it would not be shocking...

43:30 -- ...but because it's GYBE, that momentum has turned into near silence within a minute.

44:20 -- It's starting to fell like a few bits of great songs that would stand on their own have been stitched together here. It would be interesting to hear the movements on this half of the album extended and given more space to stretch out. 

46:16 -- Back to drone-land!

51:45 -- We're deep into the bad-vibe anti-meditation. Again, something this band does extraordinarily well, but not easily explained if it's not your thing. 

54:44 -- Well, that was draining!  Who else wants ice cream?