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by Thomas Hauner

5 Mar 2009

It was one of those nights when the headliner legitimately got outplayed and outperformed. Which isn’t to say that Blitzen Trapper put on a bad show. It was a solid performance with their sound and set well balanced, along with all the other trimmings that one comes to expect from a band coming off their most successful year and most lauded album to date, Furr (8.5/10 on Pitchfork; #13 album of 2008 on Rolling Stone; #4 single of 2008 on Rolling Stone, if you’re keeping tally).

But the Montreal trio, Plants and Animals, was in it to win it. They played one of the most broadly satisfying sets I’ve heard from anyone in months. Its scope was large enough for each song to feel new and captivating, but consistent enough with their natural idiosyncrasies to know that it flowed from the same spring.  So post punk numbers ended up sounding like jam-band musings and vice-versa. 

Though no battle of the bands, they played with a feverish reckless abandon yet compelling earnestness and epic, carefully constructed, songs became filled with intuitive improvisations.  Drummer Matthew Woodley was prolific and at once contemporary and old school with his traditional grip. On “Faerie Dance”, his hard beat evoked the laissez-faire groove of Sublime, as did the harmonic “la-la-la’s” in the fading chorus. Singer Warren Spicer was an amalgamation of Kurt Cobain’s dissonant melodies and blonde hair and Freddy Mercury’s flamboyant exuberance and epic vocals. The latter was particularly true because I was convinced that their song “Bye Bye Bye” was a Queen cover. It was not. But its contrapuntal chorus (“Bye bye bye”) and main lyrics (“What’s gonna happen to you”) over piano power chords was a total characterization.

With each member perspiring out of sheer intensity, they still had their heads on right and seemed genuinely unpretentious. At one point Spicer even asked, “You guys are feeling this, right?” 

His question put the pressure of pleasing ephemeral tastes in perspective immediately, and the source of their uncertainty became obvious: Everyone was talking, seemingly not paying attention. But after their finale, “Bye Bye Bye”, the crowds’ roaring delight assured Plants and Animals that they, in fact, were heard and well liked.

All this made Blitzen Trapper’s task, for me, nearly impossible. The scattered sextet simply could not match the drive and flowing harmonies of Plants and Animals. Despite having twice as many band members on stage, their sound seemed empty and flat, with singer Eric Earley dominating the workload. He even took over completely for a two-song solipsism, playing “his grandma’s favorite song,” “Cocaine Blues”. Cute. 

Furr’s best songs, “Black River Killer” and the title-track, were also the best received. But they were also played more or less verbatim on the album. The set was reserved and controlled in exactly the ways that Plants and Animals’ wasn’t. Instead of an exhilarating live experience, it was a reprise of their album. That album was pretty great, but when an Allman Brother’s-esque band comes up short live, it’s always a let down.

 

by Kevin Pearson

5 Mar 2009

During “by:Larm”, Scandinavia’s premier music festival, there’s probably more music per capita going on anywhere in the world. Sure, CMJ and SXSW boast myriad venues within blocks of each other, but where else can you watch shows in a tent, on the 11th floor of an office building, in an auditorium (that suggests you should be attending a college lecture), or in a tightly packed and sweaty bar all in the space of one city block? Oslo, the capital city of Norway and the host of by:Larm (pronounced “bee larm” by the locals) boasts all of these venues around Youngstorget, as well as dozens of other venues that are within walking distance. This is all well and good, especially when there’s a few feet of snow on the ground and sporadic blizzards throughout the three-day festival, which ran from February 19th through 21st. Music, it seems, is as popular here as skiing (seriously, the amount of people walking around with skis slung over their shoulders was more than I expected). With so many bands on show, as well as countries providing them (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland all sent groups and solo acts), it’s understandable that the music on display was hit and miss. The one consistent factor, though, was the friendly nature of the locals, who not only hit me up with tips on where to eat and drink, but also which bands to check out. Best of all were Swedish sisters First Aid Kit, whose folksy take on country music produced breathtaking harmonies that belied their young age. Rockettothesky’s amped-up take on the Cocteau Twins and all things shoegazey certainly impressed, as did Fjorden Baby! and their mish mash of styles, which propositioned them as a more rock influenced Happy Mondays. And what would a trip to a Scandinavian music festival be without some metal? Monolithic were technically awesome, but Merlin, despite bringing a Theremin out on stage lacked the wizardry their name implies.

A feature is forthcoming, but here are some photos to tide you over…

Thursday Night's Line Outside the Dagbladet Tent

Thursday Night’s Line Outside the Dagbladet Tent

Norma Sass

Norma Sass

Einar Stray

Einar Stray

Freddy & The Casuals

Freddy & The Casuals

Fjorden Baby!

Fjorden Baby!

Captain Credible

Captain Credible

Tor Konstalij

Tor Konstalij

Rockettothesky

Rockettothesky

The Captain & Me

The Captain & Me

Nils Bech

Nils Bech

Men Among Animals

Men Among Animals

The Shitsez

The Shitsez

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

 

by Jennifer Kelly

5 Mar 2009

In Babylonian mythology, Anahita is the goddess of water, fertility, healing and wisdom…a powerful symbol of the female life force. In musical terms, Anahita is a new collaboration between Espers cellist Helena Espvall and Fursaxa’s Tara Burke, a fragile, unearthly combination of female life forces that takes shape in floating vocals, plinking strings and Middle Eastern tonalities. The duo’s first record together, recorded primarily on four track and at home, roams an alternate universe, full of haunting harmonies and fleeting glimpses of infinity. The disc, called Matricaria,  is out on Important Records now.

Anahita
“Pirin Planina” [MP3]
     

“Chalice of Cypress” [MP3]
     

“Velvet Shoon” [MP3]
     

by John Bohannon

5 Mar 2009

Discovering recent music from other countries can often be a difficult, if not daunting task. There are only a handful of labels in the States that stay true to bringing quality international music to the United States, and Luaka Bop is quite possibly at the top of that list. Exploring the music of Brazil has often been a forte of theirs, and as of recent, they have brought a new face on board by the name of Márcio Local.

Local comes from the region of Realengo, a working class section on the north side of Brazil. By the time he was born in 1976, this part of Brazil was dubbed “Black Rio” which attracted thousands of young minds. Being one of the few to make it out with his immense amounts of talent, Local’s music finds its foundations in that of the Bossa Nova sound of his heritage, and the Afro-centric sound that swept Brazil in the ‘60s with Tim Maia and Jorge Ben.

But the thing that sets Local apart from his peers was his admiration for the modern sound and the implementation of it into his music. Luaka Bop released a series of 3-inch CDs last year, Local’s being the one that stood out the most, full of vigor and ambition. His sound consisted of all the traditional Brazilian instruments, but you could also find the use of studio effects, turntables, and countless experimentation with the sonic landscape. The time is now for the Brazilians to capitalize on the resurgence of their sound in the United States with groups like Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil—and Local is taking full advantage of this.

by Thomas Britt

5 Mar 2009

David Wain—the rarely disputed king of absurd comedy—is having a busy month. According to his (always-entertaining) blog, he’s currently shooting new episodes of his series Wainy Days and promoting the March 10 DVD release of Role Models. We live in hope that he’s using the remaining time and energy to expedite the DVD release of The State, which has been held hostage by MTV for well over a decade.

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