The Temper Trap
Ace Hotel, New York City
Superb guitar parts. So much so that at first I had trouble understanding singer Dougy Mandagi’s vocals—and I’m not talking about a bad audio mix nor a heavy accent, just why he was bothering at all. “They’d be better off as instrumental post-rock band,” I thought (then promptly scolded myself for using such a silly term.) Prescient, then, that their only request to the sound guy was “more vocals” (in the monitors)—it all started to make sense after a few songs when other band members started joining in with twisty-turny background vocals, each secondary line every bit as interesting as the lead if you listened closely enough. Godspeed, you Aussie hotshots.
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The Temper Trap
AM Only Booking Showcase
The Studio at Webster Hall, New York City
Body Language, a Brooklyn four-piece, played colorful synth pop shaped by Tropicalia climaxes and a compelling lead singer, Angelica Bess. Saccharine synthesizer lines harmonized three ways, along with bells, forged dreamy melodies under a dance beat. Though their sound was saturated in electronica, practically all of it was played live on multiple keyboards creating a refreshing live dynamic and a lush full sound many electronic-focused bands couldn’t touch. Their last song, “Holiday,” showed off more of their melancholy vocals over another strong but ethereal beat.
The Bell House, Brooklyn
The White Stripes and Black Keys trend of a guitar plus drums duo extends to Common Loon. Using The Cure and Nirvana as sonic examples, the two members of Common Loon write simple “alt rock” tunes. No wailing guitar solos, no foot-stomping drums, no standout vocals, just distorted chords, muffled vocals and straight-ahead drum beats. Not that these guys aren’t talented or pleasurable to listen to, but they don’t bring anything particularly new or exciting to the table—and watching them bring it is kind of boring.
The Living Room, New York City
I’m an enthusiastic fan of Nickel Creek mandolin geek Chris Thile’s latest band, so being utterly transfixed by the shivering dynamics of the third movement from “The Blind Leaving The Blind” is a familiar feeling for me at this point. Equally impressive here were the new tunes: one billed as “both a celebration and an indictment of rye whiskey” and “Good Luck,” billed as “a Valentine’s Day/recession song (it’s a genre growing in popularity).” Bassist Paul Kowert’s occasional dashes into the foreground were a new twist—rumbling crescendo here, scalar run there, each time an unexpected highlight in the context of five sharply-dressed young shred hounds playing with such uncanny restraint. As one should expect with any venue in downtown Manhattan, the most enthusiastic cheers came with the Radiohead cover that gave them their big YouTube hit (“Packt Like Sardines In A Trendy L.E.S. Rock Club,” I think it’s called), but that’s just the familiarity factor, as it was no more or less fantastic than anything else they’d been doing all along. Which is to say, it was all fantastic. Thile’s roughshod percussive attempts to channel the glitchy side of the Brothers Greenwood—organically using his entirely unsuitable instrument—even prompted banjo player Noam Pikelny to comment: “Folks, you heard on that last song the sound of a warranty being voided on a mandolin.”
Partisan Records Showcase
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
The subtle, wiry tunes of David Strackany (aka Paleo) launched the Partisan Records showcase at the Bowery Ballroom last night. Reminiscent of the late Eliott Smith, Paleo’s warbly, delicate vocals stood out against his charmingly modest demeanor, also reminiscent of M. Ward or a less jarring Conor Oberst. Privileged onlookers parked themselves on the floor and were treated to an array of poetic acoustic sounds with torchy hints aplenty.
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