Saturday, January 24, 2009

Raveonettes and Nickel Eye at Paradise.

Just before this gig started, I passed distinctively chiseled Strokes’ bass player, and front man of Nickel Eye, Nikolai Fraiture, coming out of the bathroom at the Paradise. Just a little star-struck, I mumbled “have a good show” to him, and he thanked me casually, before disappearing backstage.

I really meant it too. But just a few minutes later, as Nickel Eye ran through some of the songs they have been playing around the country from their upcoming first album, “The Time of the Assassins,” I had changed my tune completely. By that point I had stood listening to them wander through track after track, looking, frankly, like they might fall asleep on stage. This is not a criticism of their music particularly (although I wasn’t taken with it – it was weak and generally lacking in drive), but of their incredible complacency. I have rarely seen a band apparently less interested in an audience’s opinion of them. I suppose that’s what they call ‘cool’ in musical circles. Nikolai sang “Don’t let them get you down,” and I suppose I am now the object of his statement. So be it – the band can’t be given a free pass to ‘phone it in,’ on the basis of the momentum they have gathered from Nikolai‘s past life.

The Raveonettes, who followed them, are cool in quite different terms. Their style, melding 50s harmonies and guitar drenched in spring reverb with massive bass and screaming noise-core distortion is still fresh and engaging, even after several years at what many critics label the cutting-edge. A friend who came to the show with me argued afterwards that they are not so new as they might want us to believe – that bands like Suicide have been over this ground before.

Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps this incarnation of ‘cool’ has overcome my judgment. I could tell they wanted to keep up appearances for the crowd when singer Sharin Foo broke at our applause, from her sultry passivity, into a smile. She looked like she had given something away – a secret that, perhaps she feared would damage their dark image. A secret that they really do care what we think, and that they need us.

How ‘uncool,’ and how endearing.

Ghosty's "Answers"

Kansas’s Ghosty are an easy band to write about, because they have roots in so many different, great bands of the last 15 years. They are like a super-group founded by members from four or five seminal indie acts. There is some Elliot Smith in the vocals, some early Black Crowes in the guitar, some Pavement (circa “Wowee Zowee”) in the bass, some National in the drums and keys. What brings these bands together is the mellow drift of their melodies, and the soft warmth of their tone. Ghosty uses this combination of elements to write calming songs that run over you like water.

“Answers” is undoubtedly a very successful album because their quiet confidence shows they achieved exactly what they intended to with this production. Is there a down side? Only that soft waves of sound can lull you into a state where the more complex lyrical or even melodic moves, which the album sometimes makes, are lost as you slip into lethargy.

What you loose from this kind of problem is not something you will notice though. To drift your way though beautiful music, sometimes unconscious of its depth, is only really a loss to the band. “Answers” is like the flowers that seduced the Lotus Eaters – a sweet album from which it is hard to pull yourself away.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tonight! Raveonettes at Paradise.

Tonight I'd like to recommend that you take a deep breath and step into the deep-freeze that our town has become, to go and see The Raveonettes, supported by Nickel Eye, at the Paradise. If anything could generate heat, it's Sune Rose Wagner's noise-core grind over Sharin Foo's soft, low vocals.

Nickel Eye, which is the band name used by Strokes bass player Nikolai Fraiture, are also generating a good deal of talk on the East-Coast scene. Amazingly, it looks right now like the gig is still not sold out. You should take this as a sign that you are being called to the venue, and join me down there.

A review to follow...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

REVIEW: TV on the Radio's "Dear Science"

A few years ago I saw TV on the Radio supporting Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I really didn’t get it. Nothing seemed to gel for the band that day. All the strands that I can hear in their latest album, “Dear Science,” were there, but they remained disparate and seemed to struggle against one another. For one thing, they were playing support to a band I felt were the epitome of experimental, but controlled, guitar music, and somehow TV on the Radio were working against that control.

I suppose what I wanted out of the band was pop music (in its broadest sense) – that is, I wanted to hear hooks and melodies I could follow and reproduce in my mind. But, at least when I approached the band for the first time in a live setting, they just didn’t seem to cohere in that way. With “Dear Science,” that has all changed.

I don’t mean to suggest that I want straightforward music that is easy to digest, and I’m certainly not saying “Dear Science” is a ‘simple’ pop album. What it is, though, is an album which speaks to me (and hopefully to others) in a subtle but lucid language which can lead us carefully through intricacies with the band, rather than having us scratching our heads ‘on the outside’ of the album.

I have recently entered the fray regarding the Fleet Foxes, another band who have collected more accolades for their latest album than I have pipe dreams of super-stardom. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NME, The Guardian etc. etc. have all leaped to TV on the Radio’s cause. This degree of hysteria makes me nervous, and inherently resistant.

Unlike in the case of the Foxes though, I really think there is some justice in a system that gives institutions like NME such sway over all our opinions in this case. They are absolutely on the money when Louis Pattison says the album is one of the best of the last year. “Dear Science” is packed with beautiful moments, elegant harmonies over heavy synths, driving rhythms moving around jazz brass sections – the list goes on. From playing a cacophonous gig in Boston city center that I quickly dismissed, TV on the Radio now have my absolute attention.