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by Thomas Hauner

23 Oct 2008

If No Age had Canadian cousins they would be The Carps. The Toronto-based duo had distortion and rhythm flowing through their veins, coaxing the audience for more energy and more applause with each song. Still, the Carps were clearly the loudest in the room, Jahmal Tonge pummeling his drum kit with Neil White jumping throughout the rest of the stage with his arresting yet fluid bass.

The No Age comparison mostly ends at emotion, the decibel level, and number of members. Otherwise, The Carps are on their own. Singing soulful R&B-like melodies over underlying churning bass and bludgeoned drums, Tonge seemed to exert as much control over the group and its resulting sound as did White—an unusual thing in any band of any size. In “Compton to Scarboro”, both staged, while playing their respective instruments, a dramatic reenactment of a convenience store robbery gone awry, with White tragically falling to the stage in death. Most surprising was that the audience couldn’t keep up with The Carps’ perpetual energy and rhythm. They seemed genuinely tired. But the insatiable beat was the group’s inertia, powering them through their set like a deafening locomotive, full speed ahead, only partly slowing down to point out the sights along the way.

by Thomas Hauner

23 Oct 2008

There’s something to be said about spending over 20 minutes to set up a set of flashing L.E.D. lights for a five-song set, one that was squeezed into an already tight lineup at that. Some artists, however, rely more heavily than others on a well-crafted image and persona to present their music and themselves. The two are, in fact, symbiotic. Thus it was appropriate that Cory Nitta, producer and vocalist, had possibly the most contrived outfit imaginable while still trying to pass for exactly that: An outfit, not a costume. All spandex and Mickey & Minnie tees aside, his music matched the already contrived tone set forth by being pretty much entirely pre-recorded. Just hit play.

Adding a live drummer and guitarist to enhance his electro-pop sound was a good move. The drummer was relatively in sync with Nitta’s post-programming execution, and the guitarist’s Cornflake-crunchy distortion added a much-needed tactile layer to the sound. A backup singer also flanked Nitta onstage, but looked noticeably out of place, as if his friend had signed him up for a talent show performance he did not entirely condone. Nitta himself was the eccentric stage-personality needed to match his eccentric image and sound. He jumped all over the tiny stage, pulled at his face and was constantly immersed in flashbulbs while singing “Hey Alligator”, among other songs. All this energy led to an anticlimactic end when he realized he had already performed his last song. I guess everything wasn’t programmed ahead of time.

by Thomas Hauner

23 Oct 2008

Exalting to prominence by producing a catchy remix of an already catchy song is a golden strategy. Remix Kanye West’s song (“Flashing Lights”) and you’re thrust from the outer orbits of musical obscurity into the star’s own atmosphere. But Munroe is no Icarus and isn’t tempted by Kanye’s glare, instead working on his own material with a supporting guitarist and crafting a huge but definitively pop-oriented sound. He has remixed U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” too, though.

Delivering power-pop with panache, Munroe played drums standing while also handling all vocal duties, occasional keyboards, and other samples and knickknacks. Strangely, he used plastic xylophone mallets the whole time (breaking one in the process) but probably in case he wanted to play his idle set of bells. His guitarist, playing both acoustic and electric, was incredibly solid and versatile, either strumming gentler phrases or singling out torrid lines. Coming together on “Will I Stay” the duo produced a surprisingly big sound with considerable scope. Munroe took to the keyboard for “I Want those Flashing Lights”, playing a solo intro and full verse before the pre-programmed verses and chorus ignited the pleased crowd.

by Thomas Hauner

23 Oct 2008

As soon as Nelo introduced themselves and their Austin origins it cemented my theory of what they would sound like. Now image is not everything, granted, but in music it is a lot of things. So when you look like you could be high school baseball teammates and you’re from a college town, chances are you’re going to sound like an amalgamation of the standard Big 12 conference college fraternity playlist: Blues Traveler, Bare Naked Ladies, Stone Temple Pilots and, last but not least, Dave Matthews Band.

As the six-piece eased into their laid back grooves, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be tapping a keg somewhere. The group showed some flair by adding saxophonist David Long and the lead vocalist, Reid Umstattd, seemed to alternate cues from Scott Weiland, Glen Phillips, and Eddie Vedder. The band was mostly listless on stage, needing at least four songs before showing any emotion. It was an opening slot, and they did profess a love of beer, but still, it’s your first gig in the Big Apple, make something of it!

Sounding very much like “Southern Cross” on their last song, the group could easily follow down the career path of successful alt-country rockers like Pat McGee. But their lack of bite and preference for easy smiles may just make them a West Texas name.

by Rob Horning

23 Oct 2008

Megan McArdle links to this post at The American Scene by Matt Frost about what Frost calls the Nothing But Flowers fallacy: “the tendency to count on economic disruption to bring about salutary social change.” (“Nothing But Flowers,” if you don’t know it, is structured a little like Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” in reverse: Instead of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, David Byrne sings about modern society falling apart and parking lots devolving into paradise as we get back to the natural way of things.) He finds Joel Kotkin committing this fallacy in a Washington Post article (reposted here) in which Kotkin celebrates the possiblities for a “new localism” in the breakdown of the financial system and the coming recession. He is not afraid to cheer for the possibility that the complacent, isolating consumerism we all know and love may be involuntarily displaced at last by hardship. And presumably he assumes that the fact we will no longer having to bowl alone will compensate for no longer being able to afford to go bowling.

Preaching the silver lining of austerity is the inevitable result of mistaking nostalgia for possible progress; or rather it is the result of failing to recognize the complications that troubled the past golden ages. (McArdle quoted Frost’s best comment: “according to Kotkin, our anomic communities will also be knit back together by high energy and food prices. A good pandemic flu, presumably, is all we need to complete the rebirth of American localities.”) Obviously you don’t have to read Studs Terkel’s Hard Times to know that the Great Depression was no one’s idea of a good fun. And suddenly changes in our standard of living is probably going to introduce more anxiety and friction into everyday life as opposed to open a space for us to be more involved with the community. For better or worse, when given the opportunity to detach from the community, our parents seized it. It’s not clear why we would feel any better about being forced to reverse that choice. As Frost succinctly puts it,

If we arrange our families and our living spaces poorly when affluence gives us choices, we are unlikely to suddenly flourish when those decisions are forced upon us. Hard times won’t compel Americans into becoming their better selves, and if we are heading into some bleak days, it’s best that we all understand that in advance.

As consumers began cutting back on spending, I wondered if they might not embrace the Aldi alternative—stripped-down shopping that makes the activity a humdrum chore again rather than an entertainment experience. But it’s as likely that luxury shopping will be remystified and reglamorized by its sudden impracticality and remoteness from ordinary people’s lives—after the democratization of luxury was threatening to totally extinguish the mystique of Tiffanys, et. al. Prosperity is not the problem with consumerist societies; prosperity doesn’t necessarily lead to consumerism, because consumerism, at least how I’m thinking of it, is not automatically synonymous with a lot of consumption. The problem with consumerism is the infrastructure of persuasion shaping our values and curtailing our freedom by narrowing the scope of experience and channeling us into certain kinds of consumption. Consumerism is an ideology, a destructive one that leads to environmental abuse, intensified stress, political inertia and, yes, isolated individuals who are perpetually unsatisfied. But these problems won’t be cured by our all being denied the potential to consume.

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