February 23, 2010

Live at By:Larm - Serena-Maneesh

Serena-Maneesh frontman/vocalist/songwriter Emil Nikolaisen has several times personally declared to be one of Norway's biggest My Bloody Valentine fans. He shares Kevin Shield's big love for beautiful, haunting melodies hidden in layer upon layer of intense noise, and the Norwegian band's acclaimed 2005 self-titled debut album was clearly influenced by MBV's 1991 masterpiece Loveless.

Far from being just another one of the endless amount of MBV clones out there, however, Serena-Maneesh stands on its own, with Nikolaisen's impressive songwriting and guitar play impressing everyone from Pitchfork to Oasis, the Dandy Warhols and Nine Inch Nails. Not a small feat for a band from Oslo, Norway! Serena-Maneesh acted as openers for the three aforementioned three bands in 2005-2007 tours of theirs, following their debut album's huge success. It's been somewhat quiet around the band since then, but they are now set to finally release their sophomore album next month.

The band's By:Larm show was an opportunity for the band to showcase to anticipating journalists, fans and music industry representatives exactly what they have been working on for the past five years. Despite this however, and the relatively short time allocated to their show (with an 1.15 AM start ...), Nikolaisen walked on stage exclaiming "I know this is a party for the music industry, but looks like we've got some music fans here too! Good." and proceeded to play several old fan favorites to please the crowd. And judging by this night's performance, Nikolaisen and his bandmates are shoegazers only by genre - the charismatic and energetic frontman never once stared down at his chucks, but instead played with intense passion and rocked the audience like a true rockstar.

The new material that eventually was played sounded promising. Less experimental, less introverted and less Loveless, and more accessible, straightforward pop songs. Coated with just the appropriate amount of noise and guitar solos, these new tracks worked well. You can listen to one of them, called Reprobate, right here – or watch a video of the band performing it live on a Norwegian TV show.

SM2 – Abyss in B Minor is out on March 23 in the U.S., and the day before in Europe. In less than two weeks, the band leaves the cold winter snow of Oslo, Norway for a one-month tour all across North America - check out the tour dates and catch Nikolaisen and friends just as they bless the world with their first record in five years!

(photos courtesy of Eskil V)
February 22, 2010

Live at By:Larm - Jóhann Jóhannsson

Next up in my coverage of By:Larm is experimental artist Jóhann Jóhannsson from Iceland. Jóhannsson is classically trained and works as a composer of movie and play soundtracks, producer, and experimental electronic/ambient music artist.

His live show at By:Larm was one of the most unique concert experiences I've had in a long time. His hypnotizing electronic ambient music, played in near-darkness, was supported by a live string quartet, and the result was an overwhelming and moving experience, and a truly beautiful show.

Having the string quartet with him on stage allowed Jóhannsson to include some of the lush string-based tracks from his 2006 album IBM 1401, A User's Manual, which are rarely performed live. Check out the track Part 2/IBM1403 Printer to get an impression of how this album manages to combine long stretches of cold, low-volume machine bleeps and bloops and obscure snippets of an audio manual to an old IBM computer with sections of warm and intense strings, and turn it into something truly beautiful. It all fades into each other in a unique way that just works. It took me a while after this concert to realize that I was indeed back on planet earth, and no longer floating around space, or perhaps (as during the more intense sections) trapped in the spaceship of 2001: A Space Oddissey.

For something more easily accessible, try Efripídes Og Neðripídel from Jóhannssons more upbeat album Dís (2004). On this track, the electronic soundscape is supported by live drums and guitars for a more energetic and cheerful instrumental track.

(photo courtesy of Eskil V)
February 21, 2010

The Clapping playlist

ClapClapClap Playlist Download me!
This playlist is comprised of 10 songs (and one remix) that feature clapping as a pivotal and showcased instrument. I chose these songs from a list of about 50 that featured clapping as an instrument, and chose these 10 as the best modern examples. If you don't want to download all the songs you can download each song individually by clicking the linked song titles.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
’s Shuffle Your Feet
On Howl
This is the intro track from BRMC’s third album, Howl, and gives an immediate impression of the album. The gospel, blues, and country influences within the modern rockers is quite apparent as they use a chorus of hands as the percussion during the song. Start clapping.

Architecture In Helsinki’s Do The Whirlwind
On In Case We Die
This song is similarly marked by atypical instrumentation. You probably remember the wooden agogo from elementary school, and you will hear a myriad of other instruments in the song, all driven by the steady, soft clap.

Feist’s Mushaboom / Mushaboom (Mocky Mix)
On Let It Die and Open Season
Included is the original Mushaboom, released on Let It Die, and the remix by Mocky on the album Open Season. What do we hear on these tracks? Something cute, soft, subtle- the clapping. And Leslie, of course. There is a reason there are at least 5 different album released mixes of this song, and it is because it is so soft and soothing, with a definite groove.

Le Tigre's Deceptacon
On Le Tigre
The clapping in this song is a little different, which serves as a nice break. Punctuating the simple lo-fi guitar and simple synth percussion are rapid four part claps. They’ve been called dance punk, and that description seems to work well for this song. It will be hard to not clap in unison with the three punk ladies.

The Mountain Goats' This Year
On The Sunset Tree
A metronome, followed by piano and bass. In comes clapping and guitar and the memorable voice of John Darnielle. It's a very rhythmic song full of determined and optimistic lyrics with lively instruments. There will be feasting, and dancing, in Jerusalem next year!

Arcade Fire's Woodlands National Anthem
On Arcade Fire EP
Although not entirely making sense, the lyrics in this song are delivered in wailing, haunting voices. The occasional clap, which receives more attention as the song develops, is accompanied by a tambourine. This is one of the few songs that have been able to maintain an upbeat and yet dark mood, largely due to the use of clapping and tambourine to interrupt the somber tone of the vocalists and stringed instruments.

Shout Out Louds' Hurry Up Let’s Go
On Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
You can’t miss the claps in this song. They’re the first things you hear, and are the dominant instrument of the song. Finally, right? Hailing from Stockholm, the Shout Out Louds deliver a fast-paced dash of lyrics and guitar driven by the constant, loud hand clapping.

Pinback's Penelope
On Blue Screen Life
You can’t listen to this song and miss the consistent percussion hand clapping. The rhythm is constant, and works well with the bass tones to give a firm base for the airy voice and lyrics.

Most Serene Republic's Proposition 61
On Underwater Cinematographer
This is probably the most artful use of clapping on the playlist. MSR alternates beats and pitch of the claps and through other quirky instruments like the accordion and the voice of Adrian Jewett.

Broken Social Scene's Stars And Sons
On You Forgot It In People
It’s hard to visit this blog and not feel the influences and love of this band, and this playlist will pay its dues. This might actually be the best song from the list. The vocalist for this song is actually Brendan Canning, not the typical Kevin Drew, and structurally, this song bears quite a bit of resemblance to “Hurry Up Let’s Go”. You hear a driving, fast and loud clap through much of the song, usually during times without vocals, and midway through the song is the same slowing down and re-introduction of clapping. The song is filled with rich instrumentation, brilliant and simple guitar and drum work, with heavy machine and synth overlays and subtle, memorable lyrics.

February 20, 2010

Live at By:Larm - The New Wine

(click mp3 links to listen. Right-click to save)

This week, I attended the By:Larm festival in Oslo, Norway, which ran from Thursday through Saturday. By:Larm is mainly an event for music industry insiders, being a conference at daytime and a festival with mini-concerts by night. The latter is however open to the general public, and gives music fans like me a unique chance to experience a ton of shows by interesting artists that are on the verge of success, either in their homelands or internationally (to quote By:Larm's website). In the next few days, I'll try to write about some of the great Nordic bands (Norwegian and Icelandic) that I saw!

In my opinion, one of the definite highlights of the festival was Thursday night's performance by the Bergen synthpop quartet The New Wine. I wrote about these guys (more or less) exactly a year ago, and was excited to finally see this promising new band live. In the course of 30 minutes (that's all the time they were allocated), they managed to make the whole crowd dance in unison to their addictive and funky synth- and guitar based dance music. Bridge, from their EP with the same name, was especially memorable.

The band is said to be inspired by Nintendo composer Koji Kondo and fellow Bergen musician Erlend Øye's band The Whitest Boy Alive, and the result is a very catchy and playful blend of lush guitars and geeky retro/chipcore-esque bleeps and bloops. Their music also reminds me a lot of the early days of French indie stars Phoenix, more specifically their very funk and dance influenced debut United. Listen to Phoenix' classic If I Ever Feel Better and see if you agree.

Similarly to The Whitest Boy Alive, the main quest of The New Wine at any concert is to make the crowd have fun and dance, and covering very digital house tunes with analogue instruments is one way of reaching that goal. At their 08-09 tour, The New Wine did an awesome cover version of one my favorite house tracks from recent years, Fred Falke's amazing remix of The Whitest Boy Alive's Golden Cage. Check out this very cool Youtube video, where Mr. Øye (vocalist of the Whitest Boy Alive) himself joined the boys on stage and did the vocals for the cover version of the remix of his own song (I know, confusing).

I expect these young and talented musicians to very soon fill dancefloors around the world in the same way their (ten year older) idols in Phoenix and Whitest Boy Alive are doing now, and I for one will continue to follow The New Wine closely - gentlemen, please release a debut album NOW!

Download: Broken Social Scene - World Sick

Broken Social Scene's first new record in five years (not counting the "BSS Presents" spinoff series) is set to be released on May 4. The band is finally reuniting properly, as all regular members are making contributions again, even the ones who have been immensely busy with their side (main?) projects for the past few years

I'm especially excited about all the three girls being back aboard the Broken Social Scene ship again - the three of them are all incredibly talented, and although they've had great success outside BSS recently – Emily with Metric, Amy with Stars and Feist with her solo career – they've now been kind enough to come back to enhance the BSS core guys' new album Forgiveness Rock Record with their creative talents.

The album name, cover artwork (see above) and the album's first new song (download above) were all presented to the world just a few minutes ago. It's all very promising (what an epic and very BSS-esque cover illustration!) and I'm quite excited for May now. Let the hype begin – and I hope the indie legends' new effort will live up to it.
February 18, 2010

Taylor Swift

That’s right. Her.

The name probably calls to mind images of Kanye West or Beyonce, and rightly so. We all know how Kanye West dicked over our young starlet at the 2009 VMAs. Why did Kanye do this, exactly?

Well, Taylor had just won the award for best female video of the year for her song “You Belong With Me”, a popular single from her 2008 album titled “Fearless”.

The video is actually quite cute and funny.

Taylor plays a high school loner girl (autobiographical, actually!) pursuing a close friend who is enamored by a more popular, but distant cheerleader. The lyrics are highly clichéd, but extremely approachable and memorable. The true power of Taylor Swift is both in the simplicity and cadence of the lyrics she chooses, and her twangy, youthful voice influenced by artists like Dolly Parton and Shania Twain.

Her lyrics are often very simply composed. Simple rhyme schemes (aba, cdcd, etc), with very obvious metaphors. Taylor sings “she wears short skirts. I wear t-shirts.
She's cheer captain, and I'm on the bleachers” in the song “You Belong With me” calling to mind experiences almost all listeners have had or have. A simple dichotomy is created between a popular, materialistic, fashionable and a more authentic, approachable individual. One can see the lyrics as an expression of possible internal conflict in maintaining a down-to-earth appeal while being so overwhelmingly successful. Her grace and social tact, however, make it seem quite easy.

She began her career by rejecting RCA Records when they offered her a development deal. Part of the appeal in this young lady is in her authenticity and self-made attitude. The lyrics are extremely specific, personal, and through this openness and transparency the audience and listener is drawn in and is able to empathize and appreciate the lovely voice.

I hope the future of Taylor Swift is as bright as her beginnings. Her style reminds me of other female singers I happen to really enjoy. The country and folk influence definitely harkens thought of an acoustic Tegan & Sara or Jenny Lewis with a vocal talent able to garner Grammys and mass appeal.

Check out "Forever and Always" if you want to hear what I mean by resemblances to other, more independent and less popular female artists.
February 15, 2010

Broken Bells

Broken Bells is the new project of Danger Mouse (of The Grey Album and Gnarls Barkley fame) and James Mercer (the vocalist of The Shins). The two 00s pop heavyweights became friends when they met at the 2004 Roskilde festival in Denmark, and have since been working on plans to record some music together. These plans resulted in the project Broken Bells, who after a long waiting time are finally blessing the world with their debut album next month.

Danger Mouse and Mercer both have a rare talent for creating incredibly catchy pop songs – who has never been addicted to Crazy or New Slang? – and the first two Broken Bells track I've heard so far indicate that they have managed to very successfully put their creative talents together. Danger Mouse has already proven himself as a fantastic producer for alternative rock with the job he did on Beck's Modern Guilt (2008), so I'm very glad he and Mercer found each other. I've marked March 9 in my calender, and am looking forward to the album's release with great anticipation!

Listen to the full length versions of the first two tracks from the album, "The High Road" and "Vaporize", over at Broken Bell's official homepage.