Tag Archives: review

Sunday Rewind: Itchycoo Park

Everyone has his Itchycoo Park. It’s that spot where you pick up a good vibe just by breathing deeply. Anxieties fade into the white noise of rustling leaves, nuanced hues intensify, and it all gets so clear. Mine is Indian Rock in North Berkeley: 51,400 square feet of volcanic outcroppings facing a bay view panorama that spans from Downtown Oakland to the San Quentin State Penitentiary, with San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate nestled in between. And it’s precisely this favor of spiritual rejuvenation that Small Faces channel on their 1967 psychedelic pop single “Itchycoo Park.”

Co-written and produced by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, “Itchycoo Park” scored the East London invaders a top-20 U.S. hit. The track begins with a simple acoustic guitar augmented by psychedelic effects and a whirling Hammond organ. Immediately, we transcend distress and disappointment, as Mariott’s flanging vocal transports us to his modern day Eden: “Over bridge of sighs / To rest my eyes in shades of green / Under dreaming spires / To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been.”

Riffs shoot from behind the vocals as the track builds irresistible momentum In a Blues derived call and response section, Small Faces have us reaching for the heavens and crying in ecstasy: “What will we touch there?  / We’ll touch the sky  / But why the tears then? / I’ll tell you why.” These questions give way to a chorus overwhelmed by natural aesthetic perfection, as the band exclaims in exultant harmony: “It’s all too beautiful / It’s all too beau-tee-fuhhh-awllll!

-HJH-

Dawes, Delta Spirit, Deer Tick Squeeze In Tight As Middle Brother

 They say they ain’t no supergroup, but self-proclaimed “exotic band” Middle Brother is brimming with indie rock’s finest road warriors: soulful Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vasquez, Dawes’ country-folk hustler Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick anchor John McCauley. This resplendent synergistic concoction is brought to us curtsey of Partisan Records, home anachronistic female trio Mountain Man and cross dressing miscreants Deer Tick. Drawing from Rock’s bottomless tide pool, Middle Brother’s eponymous LP fuses Mississippi blues, Dixie ballads and folksy Americana, cut with generous globs of quirk and kink.

On single “Me, Me, Me”, Middle Brother fires an opening salvo with carefree, spontaneous yelps and skittering piano lines. Chuck Berry-esque guitar riffs drag us through a lyrical morass, as McCauley conveys an urgent tale of manipulation and egocentrism. Bombarded with questions, he faces fierce competition in life and love: “If he puts lies in your head / if he interrupts a feelin’ / that he cannot comprehend / I guess it’s meeee me me me meeee.” This suave dude chasing after McCauley’s girl may be smooth around the edges, but he lacks an authentic and genuine core: he is hollow. The ensuing instrumental flurry, equal parts sock hop and raunchy carnival, sets up a proclamation of headstrong independence and boiling lust: “I do my very own things these days / I gotta desiahhhhh / I gotta desiahhhhh!’”

Vasquez struts to the mic in “Green Eyes”, backed by Goldsmith’s chiming Rickenbacker, as high standards meet slim pickings: “I’ve been lookin’ for sometime / in a room full of pennies, for my dime.” Dwarfed by chronic loneliness, Vasquez dishes out a densely rendered fantasy, rife with restrictive accent qualifications and the apparent contradiction of wholesome sexuality: “She’s a Southern girl without a drawl / she’s a good girl who wears black bras.” Shuffling tambourine and metronomic hand clapping on title track “Middle Brother” frame denial as second nature. In turn, ignorance is unadulterated bliss: “I know my days are numbered / but I’m bad at math.” Playful riffs shoot from behind the vocals to the pulse of rhythmic excitement. Taking us back to those trailblazing ‘56 Sun Records days, Middle Brother interjects us with Elvis’ throaty, erotically charged “Uh huh,” chased by a cathartic, exuberant “Woooo, wheee!” that would have Jerry Lee Lewis crying happy tears. As the track fades, we hear a faint “that’s a wrap,” followed by Vasquez’s signature schoolyard diction: “we did it motherfuh…” Just in time to keep that family friendly rating.

Country waltz “Theatre” matches Vasquez’s glottal grinding with a deconstructed piano. He delivers coarse, dirty vocals with brutal conviction, frustration, and resentment: “This life will tell you nothing / nothing but lies.” Ripping to shreds life’s unfulfilled promises with the rapture of gospel, raspy howls permeate the track. Covering Paul Westerberg’s “Portland”, tranquil, crisp, finger picking softens McCauley’s pitchy vocal, as his cool disregard is exposed as a poorly masked amalgam of nostalgia and anxiety: “Its too late to turn back, here we go / Portland, oh, no.”

Closing out the elpee with “Million Dollar Bill”, we are reduced to a two-dimensional slip of paper in pursuit of a girl that’s already slipped away. Goldsmith’s humble, pristine voice turns ambition on its head, as he fantasizes: “When it hits me that she’s gone / I think I’ll run for president / and get my face put on the million dollar bill.” But his drive for posterity is neither societal progress, nor world peace, nor any of that groovy jazz, but simply to remain with his erstwhile lover as a mere shadow: “So when these rich men that she wants / show her ways that they can take care of her / I’ll have found a way to be there with her still.” Vasquez finishes the album with soulful quivering that is at once bewildered and bursting with passion, as he wails in merciless yearning for his love’s return. Stuck in the middle with these three? Squeeze me in!

-HJH-

Dodos’ No Color Wipes Pallet Clean

The Dodos’ No Color has founding members Eric Long and Logan Krober trimming their instrumental crew to two, ditching that bloated vibraphone for the atmospheric, luscious backup vocals of alt-country songstress Neko Case. Concurrently immersed in cerebral contemplation and visceral intensity, The Dodos’ fourth LP recaptures the urgent physicality of 2008’s Visitor. And still baby faced on the steep side of 30? Ponce de Leon, call off the flotilla!

nocolor

Released on Frenchkiss Records — home to Silver Lake psych folkies Local Natives and loquacious, verbose indie rockers The Hold SteadyNo Color’s opening track “Companions” kicks off with frontman Eric Long’s blushing romanticism. Delivered with scalding conviction: “Insipid wait and so we play /Companions.”

Propped by raw, caterwauling raillery on “Don’t Try And Hide It,” The Dodos admonish passive embrace of turnkey lives: “Don’t give your eyes to other’s vocations / They are there to keep you in your station.” Offering us exodus from a monochromatic, future: “Don’t try and hide it, don’t try and hide it, fight it!” Throughout the LP, No Color features percussionist Logan Krober’s signature drum rim tapping and “tambourine shoe” to match Long’s escalating vocal prowess.

-HJH-

Tao of Thom: A Quick Guide To The Radiohead Paradigm

Radiohead’s newest LP release The King of Limbs, available via their site.

Music lovers are once again faced with the task of absorbing the bizarre inner-workings of Thom Yorke’s brain. And as always, uncovering the intricacies of new Radiohead material becomes nothing short of a contest. Whether you’ve been listening to the band since Creep or just recently joined on the fifteenth step, you know what i’m talking about.

The simple equation – so to speak –kingoflimbscover is this: fans fend off concurrent headaches in desperate search for meaning. They try to form an educated interpretation of the album as soon as possible, that way they sound well-informed at parties. Radiohead fans dance around their actual opinions like Christine O’Donnell at the semi-millennial Witch Masquerade Ball. For fear of being smite by their friends, party members, or perhaps Johnny Greenwood’s pedal board, fans stick to the four-or-five-things they think they’re supposed to say about the album, all the while trying not to be too contrary or congruent with whatever Pitchfork said (it’s a fine line).

Me? I’m gonna take this album one listen at a time. According to my super-secret algorithm, this LP – though short – will be a dense one. It falls in the Amnesiac and Kid A category unlike its predecessor, the illustrious In Rainbows, which featured uptempo cuts, aggressive beats, and glorious fidelity.

One thing’s for sure, do not put The King of Limbs on at a dance party: it’d be like going out for a jog and realizing that all you’ve got on your iPod is the There Will Be Blood OST.

-JH-

No Embrace For The Broken: 3 Reasons Why Almodovar’s Latest Falls Short

Pedro Almodovar has made a career out of operating on the thin line between reality and absurdity. From the musical numbers of Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1998) to the suspenseful voyeurism of Bad Education (2004), Almodovar twists, turns, and weaves stories unlike any other. I find myself watching his trailers before going to the film and thinking: “no way this one’s gonna work. This one is gonna fall short.” Well, unfortunately this time I was right. Following 2006’s ghostly creative Volver, Almodovar fails to surprise or entertain in Broken Embraces. Penelope Cruz, sex, cripples and gays: sounds like an Almodovar film, right? Unfortunately, Pedro falls into a familiar stride and fails to move forward with his latest.

TIME BANDITS

Almodovar often effectively uses time gaps to play out the drama of a story line (see Live Flesh). However, Broken Embraces takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride: the story is almost equally spread over two distinct moments in the characters’ lives. Rather than building suspense and intensity, this technique disrupts the pacing and pulls the viewer out of film just as they’re getting into it.

MOVIE IN A MOVIE

Many of the best scenes in this film take place on the set of a movie starring Penelope Cruz’s character: a captivating – yet struggling – actress who’s personal life is all too intermingled with her inconsistent takes and on-camera persona. Although the terrific off-camera drama is secretly captured on a handheld recorder (in perfect voyeuristic form, might I add) the scenes within the film are just plain bad. And come on, that title? Girls and Suitcases?!

SOAP OPERA ENDING

I like my Almodovar films to be over the top. And I’m okay with his frequently exaggerated finales. But I don’t want the story to be completely resolved. A great film lets the viewer connect the last few dots – if it finishes the entire arch, it falls into the dreaded category of having a predictable Hollywood Ending. Broken Embraces didn’t just drag on an extra half hour to spell out the entire plot, it relied on last minute twist and turns to play up drama. The problem? If the audience doesn’t care about the characters, the soap opera ending doesn’t work.

So there you have it. The positives? Broken Embraces is beautifully filmed down to every last shot. Almodovar once again proves that he is a master of his craft, however he falls into an uninteresting, overly complicated plot line and fails to deliver with this one. We can only hope that Pedro and Penelope have something of their sleeves for the next flick.

–JH–

The Start Of Something

HOW DO I KNOW I’M A MUSICIAN?

Well, as an obvious first: I play music. I’ve been playing guitar since my first steps, and took up piano shortly thereafter. I’m a songwriter and producer, and currently front a Boston/New York based rock group called Reel Karma.

But more importantly for the purposes of this blog: I listen to music. I don’t mean just listen – as in put on the new Beyonce track while I’m doing homework. What I mean to say is music consumes me. If the new Spoon album leaked today, I would have to listen to it. Straight through. Over. And over. And over again.

Does this obsession effect my social skills? Most definitely. Last week I was at a party chatting with a friend when Julian Casablancas’ new cut “11th Dimension” came on. Yes, it was my iPod playing. And yes, I should have expected something off “Phrazes For The Young” to shuffle its way into the mix. And yet, I entered that all-too-familiar state which I affectionately call “Listener’s Trance.” My conversation quickly dropped off, and I found myself staring off into space, listening for every synth melody, anticipating every chord change, and holding out for the line “your faith has got to be greater than your fears.”

ENTERING THE BLOGOSPHERE

So that brings us to the here and now. My situation: music consumes my life. I always have tons to say about new releases in the indie rock and freak folk genres. In effort to maintain my sanity, this blog will house my reviews, criticisms, and thoughts. What’s unique about this blog compared to, say, Pitchfork or Daytrotter? I’m talking indie rock reviews from an indie rocker. I’ve got no sponsorships, no cash flow, and no corruption – just open ears and typing fingers.

Secondly, this blog will double as the news source for my band! (Hey, everyone’s gotta do a little self promo sometimes). We’ve got some great new stuff in the works, and I’d love to keep fans updated on our antics.

Lastly, this blog will be used to document my upcoming semester abroad! As Emerson College students, 3/4ths of Reel Karma (Myself, Sir Riley Ziesig, and Sam Sam Funky Bass Man) have the opportunity to live in a castle in The Netherlands. I’ll be blogging for all of us, sharing great stories as we journey across Europe searching for music, love, and lovely music.

Well then, sufficient introduction complete. I’ll be posting some songs and links over the next few days to fatten up this blog, and will be back atcha with some reviews soon. Stay tuned for my “Best Of 2009”!