25 May, 2008

In Their Own Words: Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun - Part Two

Now that you have been exposed to who Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun are from Part One of the interview, it's time to move on to the crux of the matter: their upcoming EP Hurry Up & Wait. Cregg, Lauren, Micah, and Jeremy discussed just that, as well as a bit about the Atlanta rock scene and answered a few more personal questions. If you haven't visited their MySpace page to listen to the songs posted there yet, go to http://www.myspace.com/todaythemoontomorrowthesun now! You can also purchase tickets for their EP release show on May 31st for $6 by visiting http://www.ticketalternative.com/ and typing the band's name into the search box.

The Atlanta Rock Blog: The name of the new record is Hurry Up & Wait. Is that a tongue-in-cheek statement to your fans, or something else?
Micah: Not towards the fans. I think it's just about things in general. Somebody at work was being rushed to get prepared for something that hadn't even arrived yet, and then after they prepared they ended up just waiting and getting really frustrated. So they just said, "Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait! That's all it ever is," and that stuck with me. I mentioned it to all of them thinking it would be a stupid name for a record, but it ended up making a lot of sense.
Cregg: It's the music industry. I mean, when you talk to people and they're interested and they see you live, all they want to do is push you with things like, "I need some more recordings, I need this, I need that." It really gives you a false sense of hope and the thought that they really love you and you are the only thing in the world that matters. So you go and kill yourself to prepare this wonderful thing, and then they don't have the courtesy to call you back. And you just sit there and you wait and you wait and you wait and when they needed it, it was then, there, and now. In the end, you are left sitting there waiting on a phone call or an e-mail, and it's just a never ending cycle. So we thought that it would be awesome if we called this record Hurry Up & Wait.
Lauren: I think it is a little tongue in cheek to the fans too though, because we're always telling them "We're working on a song, we're working on a song" and then we have to say, "Well, just wait a minute, because it's not ready yet."

TARB: You recorded the album yourselves in your home studio. Is that something any of you have done before?
TARB: So how did this process make the experience better?
Cregg: Just total control. The freedom to just go downstairs and record and take your time. I mean, you want to get it done as fast as you can, but there's not the pressure of someone saying, "You've got this much time left in the studio. You're going to burn through your money. You guys only have 20 more minutes." It's great to just have total control and sit back and try something over and over again and walk away that night and maybe have recorded only one thing out of a hundred, but that one part is perfect.
Jeremy: Even if you do [hand]claps for three nights, because it's your claps and you experimented in 15 different rooms to get those claps right. In the end, you are happy with that, because you did it.

TARB: Cregg, did you also mix and master the album?
Cregg: No, I did not. I gave it a shot, but...
Jeremy: He basically recorded it.
Micah: He did a really good job with the [recording] mixes too. But no, we were under time constraints and the pressure to "Hurry up, hurry up," so we outsourced and reached out for help mixing it.
Jeremy: Kris Sampson at Nickle & Dime Studios did the mixing, and he is an absolute delight to watch work. He's phenomenal.
Cregg: I engineered most of it, but no I did not mix it or, did you say master too? Yeah, we go to Rodney Mills [for mastering]. He is genius.
Jeremy: The mastering king.
Micah: The king of masters!
Lauren: We all thought that Cregg was doing a great job, but we also reached a point where we wanted someone else's ears to hear it. I mean after you've recorded all of that, you're kind of like "Well, I don't know what sounds good anymore"
Cregg: Yeah, you'll do something where you say "Yes!" and everyone else is like "No!" And you try to explain, "Well, I wanted to do this...Oh, forget it."

TARB: What song proved to be the most difficult to get recorded in the studio?
: I think they all went pretty smoothly.
Lauren: I think the claps, well they weren't all that bad, just time consuming. I think in general the songs for us were pretty easy. The vocals were the hardest part because we don't have a real studio set up. The acoustics aren't right, and we don't have a vocal booth. And we had never recorded something like that before. We had one vocal mic that we got that was in our budget on someone's recommendation. So we had to continually experiment with different rooms, being in different corners, being on different sides, do we need to use the pop-block, do we leave it in its dynamic holder or do we take it out and put it on a regular mic stand. That was just really difficult to capture an instrument that actually comes out of somebody, not actually played.
Micah: I know it was really hard for her putting all of that emotion into every single take and then it not be right or just not gel and then have to do it over again. So I can only imagine it took a lot emotionally out of her.
Cregg: Once we got one piece of equipment, everything went a lot smoother.
Lauren: Yeah we just needed a...
Cregg: A compressor.
Lauren: Yeah, just a really nice levelling amplifier is what we got, and it worked.
Jeremy: It has to be said that we went in to record one song. We didn't go in thinking about recording an EP.
TARB: What one song were you going to record?
Jeremy: We were going to just do "Beats & Fleets" at Nickle & Dime. We were going to get the drum tracks done and all. Kris Sampson engineered the drums and got everything set up in about 45 minutes and it sounded phenomenal, so...
Lauren: He said, "Well, you guys have a home studio right? Why don't we get the drums done and maybe see how much bass we can get done, and whatever we don't finish here you can finish up at home." And we said, "Well, yeah, that's a great idea!"
Jeremy: Yeah, we went in for the one song, and I ended up recording six that night.
Cregg: Kris's famous line was "Well let's record a record!"

TARB: Which song from the record do you enjoy performing most?
: We pretty much love them all.
Jeremy: I have some I don't like to play, but we won't go into that. I mean, not that I don't like the songs, it's just that live they don't transition well for me.

TARB: How do you hope people will interpret the new record?
Jeremy: I hope they like it.
Lauren: Yeah, I hope they like our debut album. And if they like it and it's the first time they've heard us, then they can know that there are only more good things that can come.
Micah: I think a goal of ours on this album was to represent how we sound live, and I think we did a good job with that. I hope people will find the connection between our live show and the recording.
Jeremy: To be electronic and stuff, it's very raw. I mean the drums on it don't sound very [polished], it's indie raw. It's nasty.
Micah: We don't do anything on the album that we don't do live. That's something we're very proud of. We didn't want to do anything that would make it sound too structured.

TARB: What is your take on the local music scene?
Cregg: We know nothing about it.
Micah: I don't know if we're just out of the loop, or just don't know where to find the music.
Cregg: I think with our old bands we just got so tired of going out to shows to get other bands to come to our shows. And then at your show half the audience would be other bands, [so] we weren't building a fan base. I guess it was good for the scene, but we're really focusing a lot now on having a fan base instead of having 50-60% of the crowd being other bands who came just because you went to their show. So I think that kind of keeps us out of the loop. We're just more focused on the people and not just the bands. But we will still go support the bands we really like.
Lauren: I mean, we're really happy for the bands who have had some success: The Selmanaires, Deerhunter, The Black Lips, people who are doing well for themselves. But I don't know how well we fit into that, and we're definitely out of the loop.
Micah: I think there are a lot of really amazing musicians in this town, but I don't know where to find them.
Cregg: Especially in our genre. I call us indie-electronic-fuzz rock, so there's not really anybody else that can fit into that. So it's almost like we don't really fit into the scene so much as standing on our own two feet and saying listen to what we have. I think I can honestly say that we're not apart of any scene, we're just a band in a town that's trying to make our own way. But I will to some extent agree with some of the bands who have paved the way in that you have to play outside of Atlanta before you can be an Atlanta band. We are definitely finding that to be true.
Lauren: We're not really necessarily a music town.
Cregg: It's just so spread out. So we're looking forward to touring outside of here to...
Lauren: To get the attention of people who live here.
TARB: Is there another scene of which you would like to be a part or in which you feel you would be better received?
Micah: Any European city. Actually, not even European, just non-American city.
Lauren: We seem to get the best response from Europeans. Canadians, Japanese, and Europeans are usually the most appreciative.
Micah: In addition to that, minors as well. You know, younger kids who are into the music for the music. We seem to attract a lot of younger fans.
Jeremy: We have a lot of college kids come out [to our shows].
Micah: We've noticed that when we have the opportunity play a show that's not just 21+, we seem to have a good general vibe going on and we are able to feed off the crowd a lot. I'm not sure why that is.
Lauren: I think it's because younger kids aren't scared to show their appreciation. I think you get to a certain age where you think you should behave a certain way, and you get a little too cool for school.
Cregg: I think kids now have a much more open mind than they did when I was in my teens. I was still kind of a straight and narrow kind of person, but kids now are more likely to say, "I like this band, and I don't care what anyone says." That's how it all begins. They are very open minded.

TARB: What is your favourite local music venue to play?
Lauren: The EARL.
Micah and Jeremy: Star Bar
Cregg: Yeah, I would say Star Bar too. The last two times we've played that place, it's almost been people out the door. And I really like it because [the crowd] is kind of in your face. It's great when the fans are right there, because we're definitely a band that feeds off the crowd. It allows us to show our emotions. You know, the more the merrier. I guess The EARL first and then Star Bar.
Micah: And Vinyl too. It's great that it can be an 18+ venue. I feel like there aren't enough of those.
Jeremy: And it is our CD release spot. I mean, we chose it for a reason. It's big and the management there is awesome, really nice guys.

TARB: Lauren, you used to work for 99X. Do you miss the station?
Lauren: I miss the station for what it was. The way it was when I first got there was incredible. It was starting to make a big turn around and starting to take chances on the bands they would play. I mean, yeah, we still had to play the stuff that people wanted to hear because their ears had been trained to like that, but it gave us a chance to play stuff people thought we would never play. We would get calls from people saying, "I was listening, I just happened to forget my CDs today, and I heard you play Arcade Fire and I couldn't believe it. I will listen to you guys from now on." And that was really cool, especially when I got to do [Sunday School] with Jay [Herron], or when he would be sick and I would get to play all the new stuff that was coming out. Just to share stuff that people had never heard was really cool. But in general, it's a business where people make assumptions and will have preconceived notions about you. That part of it I didn't really like, because people would either hate or love you. And I mean HATE or LOVE you and not even know you. That was pretty weird. But it was fun. It was sort of the more theatrical side of me. I got to be out there and active. I don't really know how to describe it. But I do miss the station the way it used to be.
TARB: So the things they did for the local music scene, do you think there is a big void now?
Micah: Heck yeah.
Cregg: You mentioned "Zombie". It wouldn't have been anything if they didn't have the "Cover of the Day" with whoever did that.
Lauren: It was Steve [Craig] who did that, I think.
Cregg: I remember one day the guys calling me and telling me, "Dude, they just played 'Zombie' on 99X!" And so many people called in to request it that he ended up playing it another two or three times later on that week or the next week. That's powerful, very powerful. And we don't have that anymore.
Micah: I don't want to ignore the Project 9-6-1 Homegrown show for rock bands and what they do to put [more traditional] rock bands out there, but there's not an indie outlet.
Jeremy: And the [concerts] they did, I mean 99X was putting local musicians on these huge bills. Big or small, they were putting them on bills that they could have a connection with and possibly mature as a band. And you just don't have that now.
Micah: It's crazy that Atlanta, one of the biggest cities in the US, doesn't have an alternative station. But thank god they got an oldies station like six months ago.
Lauren: Yeah, it's all-over-the-place oldies too. It's really good.
Micah: It's just so weird. You go down to a place like Orlando, and they have this awesome alternative station.
Jeremy: And Birmingham. They have like three.
Cregg: But, on the flip side, this podcast, I think it's WTR, yeah Walk to Run Radio, has "Never.Always.Good." a track from our CD on it. Podcast is becoming the new radio. So with death comes life, but it still sucks to not be able to be heard on a home radio station. You know, when you're in your car, unless you've already download the podcast, you can't just pick that up.

TARB: If you couldn't be musicians, what other artistic pursuit might you like to try?
Lauren: I've always enjoyed acting. I actually majored in theatre and music business as well. I would really like to continue that, and by the end of [my courses] I really got into directing a lot. Yeah, probably that.
Jeremy: I'd like to be an interior designer.
Lauren: Who are you?!
Jeremy: I mean, I think I could do that and enjoy it.
Micah: It's funny you say that. I was thinking something like a landscape designer. I don't know, maybe I watch too much HDTV, but lately I've had a fondness for plants and botanical landscapes.
Cregg: I have three things.
Jeremy: Well, Cregg's already a hairstylist. I mean, he's probably one of the best in the Southeast.
Cregg: I don't know about that, but I'm already doing that. This all fictional right? I would probably want to be a tattoo artist or something like that. That would fit me. I'd also like to make [guitar effect] pedals, get some schematics down. I guess that's music-related though. The other thing would be work in a studio, but that's music as well.
Micah: Yeah, I was going to say elementary music teacher, but that's musical.
Cregg: So yeah, tattoo artist. That would be awesome.

TARB: What was the "eureka" moment for all of you when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Micah: Meeting Lauren.
Jeremy: Man, I have a good one. The "eureka" moment for me, well playing any large show is always phenomenal. I played big shows with Linger, and I played one with Avenge Vegas. But I was in marching band [in high school], and we played one of these huge battle of the bands festivals at Auburn University. I was fifteen years old, and I'm coming out of the tunnel [at Jordan-Hare Stadium] and it was just huge and it was packed out. And when you're on a football field, it's not like you would think. It looks like you're in a box, and it just goes straight up and there's people everywhere. And I walked out on that field and got butterflies and I thought, "Man, I've gotta play this drum part." After that moment, I've never gotten butterflies again. And you talk about a "eureka" moment, that was probably it for me as far as music.
Micah: Like I said, the moment for me was the first time I made music with Lauren, and when I just saw that connection. That was the best feeling in the world.
Lauren: You know growing up, music is very important to some people, and it was very, very important to me. I always had my daydreams about playing in a band, but I think as a girl you just weren't supposed to do that. And as a kid there were very few females in bands. So you think "Well, maybe that's a silly idea." You would talk to your parents about getting a guitar, and they would also think that's just silly. So I met Cregg and I had done a lot of work with Linger. I had booked a lot of their shows, and I sat in and was their extra opinion if they ever needed one or needed someone else's thoughts. I kind of roadied for them a little bit too as a designated guitar tech and cymbal picker-upper. And that's when [Micah] and her friend Brandy had seen me and they thought, "We have to meet this girl; maybe she's a musician." So I told them, "Yeah, I play guitar, but I've never really played with anyone else before." So Micah and I got together, and we met with a few other girls, but there was just something between us that we knew would eventually lead to us playing music together.
Cregg: I have to say if I thought back to any moment, it would have to be in the early days of Linger, like before we had even played our first show. It was just me, a guitarist, no bass player, and a drummer. I couldn't even play a guitar back then, I had never played. And that was way before Jeremy came along, but we wrote our first song altogether. The drummer, guitarist, and I wrote all the lyrics and we had this song. The chords were there, the melody was there and everything just melded and I thought, "Oh my god, I can do this." I mean, the song just came together. And when you have closeness like that with people, I mean it's one thing to sit down and have a drink with somebody, but when you write a song together, it's special, it's powerful. I think that's when [music] really had me hook-in-mouth and I was ready to go forward with it.


Once again, Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun will be playing on May 31st at their EP release party at The Vinyl Lounge in the CW Midtown Music Complex on the corner of W. Peachtree Street and 17th Street in Midtown Atlanta. Tickets are only $6 in advance (see the link above to buy). If you are interested in going, get your tickets now. Vinyl only holds a maximum of 300 people, and word is travelling fast around the city that this is the show to see that weekend. As I have mentioned before, this is one of the best live acts in Atlanta and the Southeast for that matter. Copies of their EP will be available at the show as well as t-shirts and other goodies. If you absolutely can't make the show (acceptable reasons include "I live in Poland" or "The warden won't let me out that night"), you can download Hurry Up & Wait from iTunes, Rhapsody, EMusic, or Napster beginning May 31st as well. Otherwise, you will have to catch one of their shows to purchase a copy of the CD.

21 May, 2008

Album Review - Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs"

Release Date: May 13, 2008
Label: Atlantic Records
No. of Tracks: 11

While Death Cab for Cutie are the very definition of an indie pop band in sound, very few people don't know who they are anymore. Their 2005 platinum-selling release Plans assured the band of that with its undeniable beauty and poignant songwriting. Even sales of the band's 2003 album Transatlanticism soared that year, and interest rose in the group's four other previous albums and LPs. They have had numerous songs featured in TV commercials, TV shows, and movies as well in recent years.

Now, frontman Ben Gibbard and crew have released Narrow Stairs after months of speculation and anticipation. While this is still a pop album in almost every sense of the word, the band has further expanded on their musical prowess and experimentation. Though the songwriting on this album doesn't delve to the same depths as that of Plans, it is still acceptable and has a tendency to stick in your head more due to its much simpler nature. Ben Gibbard's voice has always been the driving force behind previous Death Cab songs, but this album mutes that quality as the other band members really step it up in painting a lusher landscape around the lyrics.

The album opens with the track "Bixby Canyon Bridge". The song begins with Ben's voice and a spacey guitar effect before jumping headlong into a rock jam that highlights guitarist Chris Walla's most extreme musical experimentation on the record with louder guitars and a nice distortion-pedal squeal. The nearly nine-minute "I Will Possess Your Heart" follows and is the first single from the record. The song contains a long introduction featuring a wicked repeating bassline, piano, and a slow-building ambient guitar. Ben finally begins singing his appeal to a girl to just give him a chance to prove how great a partner he could be at the five-minute mark, and the guitars and piano are used to punctuate his lines as the bass continues to plod along underneath it all. "No Sunlight" is fairly standard within the context of this album, but it is still a pretty little ditty. "Cath..." is one of the brighter offerings about a girl with a fear of commitment who ultimately makes the wrong decision in that regard, an interesting spin on the well-worn female songwriter indictment of the opposite sex. "Talking Bird" is a slow contemplative piece dealing with that friend we all have who just can't realize the opportunites open to them right in front of their noses. "You Can Do Better Than Me" is yet another Ben Gibbard offering of a feeling of inadequacy within a relationship. "Grapevine Fires" is a first-hand account of the recent widspread California wildfires. The lyrics paint an accurate portrait of the scene ("The sky looked like the end of days"), the emotions of those caught in the midst ("I bought some wine and paper cups/Near your daughter's school when we picked her up/And drove to the cemetary on a hill"), and Ben's personal insight and hopes that the destruction can bring something better ("I couldn't think of anywhere I'd have rather been/To watch it all burn away"). "Your New Twin Sized Bed" is a witty tale of a guy who has given up on having the other side of a larger bed ever being occupied by the person on which he has been waiting. "Long Division" is a beautifully conceived break-up song that manages to not be depressing in the least. This song also displays a much louder and aggressive side of the band musically and does wonders for the flow of the album as it picks up the previous four song's gradually falling pace. The album closes with the song "The Ice Is Getting Thinner". The song slowly unfolds like a letter to a lover with whom the narrator has been with much too long. The song's content assumes closure from the words spoken, but never actually delivers a blow of finality. However, due to the music's gentle lilting quality, it still serves as an adequate closing track for the listener.

This is an overall fantastic album that will no doubt be very high on many music critic's top albums of the year lists in December. The band delicately walks the line between sticking to what got them to this point and expanding their style and changing certain elements for the sake of diversity and progression. Only time will tell how the general public accepts this balancing act. I can safely say that it is not of the same quality as Plans, but few band's can even hope to create such an intensely emotional yet unpretentious album, much less recreate it. However, this album should in my opinion cement Death Cab's place as one of the best and most important bands in the rock world today. I would say the future of this band is very bright, but it's better to simply enjoy the present and be thankful for what we already have.

Essential Tracks: "I Will Possess Your Heart", "Cath...", "Grapevine Fires", "Long Division"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 4.2

19 May, 2008

Album Review - Nine Inch Nails' Halo 27 "The Slip"

Release Date: May 5, 2008
Label: [none]
Distribution: Digital Download from theslip.nin.com
Price: FREE!
No. of Tracks: 10

Ahhh. It's good the have the old Trent Reznor back. In Nine Inch Nails' most recent releases (With Teeth, Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV), we saw a side of Trent that almost no one ever imagined that we would. The music was extroverted, funkier, and dare I say almost happy. Sure, there were still the undercurrents of angst and rebellion, especially on Year Zero with its largely political theme. Even the distribution method of Ghosts I-IV could be construed as compassionate towards the fans with its multiple-format $5 digital download of the collection and even free download of the first installment of Ghosts. Even this album is available 100% free by visiting http://theslip.nin.com/.

That's where the happy train stops. The Slip is a return for Trent and NIN to the days of Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral-type anger and disgust peppered with the same quiet sonic experimentation that made The Fragile such a disturbingly beautiful album. When present, the guitars are once again loud, fuzzy, and brutal. The drums are back to their old fast-all-the-time pace and thundering force in most offerings. Trent is even snarling from time to time in his lyrical delivery, and he avoids the temptation to overtly wax poetic. The production also focuses less on the late NIN trend of melody and more on the dissonant, Industrial sonic explosion and quiet evolution.

The album begins with a short instrumental lead-in titled "999,999". The best I can do to describe it is a cross between a bass playing the part of sonar or a radio transmission frequency hum, light repeating keyboard contractions, and a scuba diver breathing underwater. This transitions into the violent "1,000,000" that reminds the listener of songs like "March of the Pigs". "1,000,000", like many of the tracks on the album, address Trent dealing with his falling out with the record industry as a whole. He paints a very clear image of the situation with his line "Put the gun/In my mouth/Close your eyes/Blow my fucking brains out/Pretty patterns/On the floor/It's enough for you/But I still need more." He also "Don't feel anything at all." "Letting You" is another politically charged song, but much more direct than anything on Year Zero. In fact, subtleties and hidden meanings are completely absent from this recording, which is something new for Trent especially following the hidden mystery hullabaloo surrounding Year Zero. "Discipline", the first single from the release, is the most mainstream of the tracks with a funky melody, slightly more subdued guitars, and piano. In this song, Trent openly deals with his feelings of whether he is actually losing his edge and even relevance. He reasons that he needs the same discipline that his long-time fans have shown over the past 20 years and even their help in digging his way out of the mire. "Echoplex", the second single, is a statement to the record industry in general. He snarls and whispers "You chip away the old version of you/You'd be surprised what you can do/I'm safe in here/irrelevant/Just like they said/My voice just echoes off these walls." He closes the song by taunting "You will never get to me in here." "Lights in the Sky" is this album's attempt to recreate "The Fragile", only this song is exclusively vocals and piano. It does indeed deal with the same theme of undying loyalty no matter what the consequences to the girl du-jour in Trent's head. "Corona Radiata" and "The Four of Us Are Dying" are two The Fragile-like instrumentals that flow together in a 12-minute meandering voyage through quiet sonic landscapes that ebb and flow with sorrow. The album closes with the fitting song "Demon Seed" in which Trent discloses that he is nearing the end of his long battle with the "other self", stating "Now I know exactly what I am" as the music swells to embrace his proclamation.

If you were in a bind to share with someone exactly what NIN was in the first 10 years (just pretend that person exists, OK?) and didn't have time to make a representative playlist from those albums, The Slip would be a highly effective alternative. For me, it plays like a nostalgic trip through the teenage years. But despite the obvious attempts to not be so damn hopeful this time around, there is a confidence behind what Trent is doing now that translates as a sort of hope. He has not lost his relevance, and he has not lost his direction. What he has found though is acceptance with both himself and his surroundings. He's still pissed off about what he sees, but the ability to finally understand makes all the difference.

Essential Tracks: "1,000,000", "Echoplex", "Head Down", "Demon Seed"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 3.8

18 May, 2008

The Hives, Jack Oblivion @ Center Stage

Thursday, May 15, Sweden's The Hives returned to Atlanta to play Center Stage in the CW Midtown Music Complex. Surprisingly the venue was not sold out for this amazing treat of music, theatre, and humour. My best estimate would put attendance in the neighbourhood of 1,400, several hundred people shy of capacity. Those who did make the show were a motley crew of punks, indie rock kids, and even a smattering of middle-agers.

Jack Oblivion and The Tennessee Tearjerkers opened the festivities with their brand of "hillbilly punk." The band hails from Memphis and was joined by fellow Memphis guitarist John Paul Keith. Their show was very enjoyable and was punctuated by a captivating and completely unexpected cover of The Blues Brothers instrumental theme song. John Paul Keith is a very accomplished guitarist and managed to meld his style with the rest of the band beautifully. Jack O. isn't a slouch himself on the ax, and his raspy voice puts just the right touch on the band's rough and often frenetic sound. The only major detraction from their set was the keyboards. While the keys player performed with great passion, he made frequent mistakes and often responded by pounding the keyboard. This also caused the sound mix to go horribly wrong, and the keys completely drowned out the rest of the band each and every time he did it.

Jack Oblivion & The Tennessee Tearjerkers performance rating (out of 5): 2.75

After an extended intermission (almost 45 minutes), The Hives slowly took to the stage one member at a time while their instrumental interlude "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors" played over the venue speakers. Lead singer/performer Pelle Almqvist was the last to join the band onstage and did so by sprinting to the mic, grabbing it with gusto, and proceeding directly into an impressive scissor kick. There are some people that were just born to perform, and Pelle is absolutely one of those people. His stage presence is undeniable, and words like "shy" and "modest" are not in his vocabulary or constitution. As many of you undoubtably already know and can see from the above picture, The Hives are always attired in matching three-piece suits which are always black and white in colour scheme. Simply the image of five guys playing fast-and-furious punk songs while simultaneously pouring sweat and spitting at anything and everyone on stage is enough to rouse a chuckle. Then Pelle starts talking. And talking. And TALKING. It would be impossible for me to remember all of the fantasticly hilarious things he said, but I'll recap a few of the quotes that stuck with me.

"I don't know if y'all are aware of this, but you're at a rock show. And the good Lord or whoever created the concept of the rock show intended for y'all to clap your hands! So I want you to do this for me. Take one hand and put it in the air. Now take your other hand and put it next to that hand. Now make them come together in a violent collision!"

"...but God's not here right now, so I guess you'll just have to listen to me."

"Don't you just love me? Yeah, I love me too...Alright, group, play it!"

"This is a real nice venue you have here, Atlanta. It would be an awful shame if something were to happen to it. Something terrible like the crowd exploding!"

"Whenever I ask you something and you feel like saying 'Yeah', instead I want you to put your hand to head in salute and say 'Sir, yes sir!'"

Just in case you were wondering, yes, the crowd did indeed salute Pelle and recited the requested phrase repeatedly for the rest of the night. Pelle is also an accomplished microphone stand twirler. He only lost control of it once, and of course it fell into the crowd, prompting a young girl to grab it and scream into the mic before returning it to its proper owner.

As for the rest of the band, they had their one shining moment as well. During "You Dress Up for Armageddon", they brought the song to a screeching halt when all five members froze and held their poses for at least a full minute as the crowd cheered and frantically reached for their camera phones to capture the image. Lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson also has quite the performer streak in him and danced wildly around the stage while playing. He has also mastered the trick of the 360 degree guitar twirl around the neck, a feat that should only be attempted by those with sturdy, well-affixed guitar straps for obvious reasons. If there were any antics performed by Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr. Matt Destruction, or Chris Dangerous, I missed them (forgive me if I was distracted).

Just a few of the notable songs performed in the main set included "Main Offender", "Hate to Say I Told You So", "Walk Idiot Walk", "Diabolic Scheme", "Try It Again", "You Got It All....Wrong", "See Through Head", and "Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones". The band concluded the evening and encore with their latest smash single "Tick Tick Boom".

If you couldn't already deduce, The Hives put on one hell of a show. It is a highly entertaining mix of loud, raw power anthems, rock theatre, and off-kilter stand up comedy. That is a combination not often found in the modern rock scene, and one that has not been done well since Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Sure, the lead singer is a bit on the egomaniacal side and expects the audience to accept that, but it's all in good fun. All in very good fun.

The Hives performance rating (out of 5): 4.6

16 May, 2008

In Their Own Words: Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun - Part One

As you previously read here on The Atlanta Rock Blog, Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun will be releasing their debut EP on May 31st. I recently had the privilege to sit down with all four members of the band to talk about life, music, and the record. In today's entry, you will get an idea of what the band is and aspires to be, as well as a little bit about who they are and what makes them such a promising upstart band here in Atlanta.

The Atlanta Rock Blog: Thank you all for joining me today.
TTM,TTS: Thank you!

TARB: So the first question is inevitable. How did you come up with the name of the band?
Lauren: We were recording our first demo at Opium Den Studios, and we had yet to come up with a name for the band. So Micah and I were reading through the World Daily News or some other National Enquirer-esque newspaper, and there was an article about what other countries might say to top America's famous phrase when they first landed on the moon. The coolest phrase we saw in there was Poland's "Today the moon, tomorrow the sun."
Micah: We just thought that was hilarious.
Cregg: It's a really bad Pollock joke.
Micah: Well, I'm Polish, so I don't think we'll be offending anyone there.
Cregg: Yeah, we won't mention that if we ever play Poland.
Micah: In addition to that, it meant a lot of really cool things. You know, what can you conquer today, what can you conquer tomorrow, or today you're one thing and tomorrow you're another. It just had a cool general vibe to it.
Cregg: Yeah, and to think of something like landing on the moon. It seems impossible, yet, maybe it isn't. I don't know.

TARB: How did the four of you get together after the breakup of your previous bands?
Lauren: Micah and I were still playing together for a while. At the same time, Cregg, Jeremy and I were thinking about starting a side project together, and it just made sense for us to all do it together.
Cregg: Yeah, we didn't have a bass player. It was just two guitars which we thought was pretty cool, but obviously Micah was a perfect fit. She was also playng with The Libras at the time, and we didn't know how serious that was, but luckily she wanted to do it.
Micah: Lauren and I had never been able to find a drummer, and the only one we had enjoyed playing with was Jeremy. So that just made sense to us as well.

TARB: So you were constantly playing with someone; there was no real interim?
Lauren: Well, we kind of were. It would be more like rehearse on the weekend and then three weeks later we would get together again. Micah and I played together pretty steadily, but Avenge Vegas had definitely gone away.
Jeremy: After Linger broke up, I was in a car accident and I snapped two tendons in my wrist. So after that I was in physical therapy and rehab for about six months. So when I finally got back to the point were I thought I could play was when Cregg said, "Dude, you gotta come over and jam." So I came over and Lauren was there, and we just started doing that randomly.

TARB: Did any of you consider giving up music?
(Cregg and Jeremy raise their hands.)
TARB: Why? What exactly happened with Linger?
Cregg: I think we had taken the band as far as it could go and just got tired with it, I guess. We had evolved so much, and by that time I had started Linger about 7 or 8 years before. You can only evolve so many times. There are so many bands that are evolving and growing all the time, but with Linger nothing ever seemed to happen. It was just time to try to start anew. Not as Linger with a different sound again, but as a whole.
Jeremy: It was just time. If we were going to move on, we were just going to move on. Cregg and I didn't really have any regrets about it.

TARB: Cregg and Lauren, you were both previously lead singers. How did you arrive at the decision to have Lauren be the primary vocalist for this band?
Cregg: I basically wanted her to do it. I was burnt out with being the lead singer and writing tunes. There was a conversation where I told her that I was burnt out and didn't want to sing anymore, and she said, "Well, I still have things left I want to say." So she just assumed that role, and everyone's been happy with it. It seems like that's the way it should naturally be.
TARB: So you wanted the freedom to just be a guitarist?
Cregg: Yes, I wanted to completely focus on guitars. That was my main goal. You know, I do sing on one of the songs on the EP, and I'm sure there will be others coming, but she is the lead singer of this band. That's how we want it to be.

TARB: What do you feel is the goal for this band?
Jeremy: Today the moon, tomorrow the sun!
Cregg: Tour Europe.
Lauren: We just want to play everywhere.
Micah: I think there are lots of little different goals. First and foremost is to make cool music and explore our collaboration. A small goal for me personally has always been to make a music video. I hope that we can do that soon. And then, yeah, tour Europe.

TARB: Cregg and Jeremy's previous band received a little extra attention when they covered The Cranberries' song "Zombie." Have you as a band considered covering a song or two yourselves?
Jeremy: I have a Rusted Root song right now that I want to cover.
Lauren: That would be really intersting.
Jeremy: I'm not kidding!
Lauren: Oh, I know you're not kidding!
Micah: We've played two covers for the 500 Songs for Kids, but we haven't played them outside of that. If we did cover a song, it would be because we all thought it was really cool, not for any reason of putting it on an album to get some extra attention or anything like that.
TARB: So you played Veruca Salt's "Seether" and what other song for 500 Songs for Kids?
Lauren: "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" which was really cool. We hadn't even played our first show yet; all we had done was record a two-song demo. We had no idea what we wanted to do with it. We just listened to the song over and over. We did know that we wanted it to be really cool, because it was the first time anyone was going to hear us play. So we ended up changing the key and rearranging the lyrics.
Micah: Jeremy started it off with a really cool electronic drum beat, and that just kind of sparked it from there. It was a real labour of love that song. We worked on it, we struggled, it was frustrating; but it ended up being really cool. Probably one of the coolest things we've done.
Lauren: I think we've all agreed that when we don't hate that song anymore, I think we will eventually add it to the setlist because I think we did a really good job with it.
Jeremy: Yeah, it's been a little over a year now, and we still hate [playing] it.

TARB: Cregg, I often have a hard time describing your playing style. How would you describe it?
Cregg: Controlled chaos. I like to play with pedals, I like to play with noise. I've never really considered myself a lead guitarist. I mean half the time I don't really know what I'm doing. It's just experimentation, and, yeah, I guess experimental noise is the best way I can describe it.
Jeremy: If I could just add something about Cregg's style. If you could compare two things. Take Stevie Ray Vaughn, who could play a scale faster than the speed of light and the passion behind it is just awesome. Then take David Gilmour, who could just hold a note out for like 45 seconds and just sustain it and make you cry. I compare Cregg more to David Gilmour. He just does things musically where you think "What the freak did he just do?!" and it's not ridiculously [over the top].

TARB: Micah, even though all of you play multiple instruments in the band, you seem to be the full time multi-instrumentalist member. How do you view your role, and what do you feel are your responsibilities?
Micah: I think the reason why I play more instruments the most now is because it's OK if the bass drops out. A lot of the time Cregg's guitar and the effects will fill the low end just like a bass would, so that frees me up or someone else up to play the keyboard or Jeremy's drum electronics. I think the more expansive the better. I'd like to try anything and everything moving forward. I think my role is to just do whatever I can to make things more musical and better.
Jeremy: Again, let me talk about my people here. As far as Micah goes, I can't play the drums like she can play the bass, or keyboards, or guitar. I mean it's kind of ridiculous.
Lauren: Seriously, Micah can hear anything, and then she can play it. Bass, guitar, keyboards...
Cregg: Even xylophone!
Micah: You guys should know though that I can play the clarinet better than I can play anything else. I mean, I played in a Dixieland band guys!
Lauren: That's why I thought when I first met Micah, "This chick can play the clarinet! I need to play in a band with her!"

TARB: Lauren, you have a very sunny disposition and an outgoing personality, but many of your lyrics have a dark or moody tinge to them. Would you say that the songwriting process is a sort of therapy for you?
Lauren: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of times my songs will start off thinking about someone else and how they effect me, and they end up making me analyze myself. They make me think about myself and the areas where I would like to do better. A lot of times I point the finger at someone else, and then the finger ends up being pointed back at me. I am a genuinely nice person, and I am a happy person. But in the same sense, writing for me is very therapeutic and it helps me be that sunny disposition. It gets my demons out there on paper, and it helps me [understand] other things people do or what I've seen or been around. It helps me release that and not hold on to it.

TARB: Jeremy, you have a very aggressive drumming style and are the most demonstrative performer onstage. Is that you just being you, or have you been influenced by anyone in those regards?
Jeremy: Not really. I mean, I love Dave Grohl and Nine Inch Nails. I release my weekly demons when I play drums. Even in rehearsal, I'm yelling and throwing stuff and hitting hard.
Micah: He is just as passionate at every single rehearsal as he is at every single show.
Jeremy: You know, some people write songs, some people do drugs; I play drums, and that's how I get rid of my demons. And if I thought about it and told myself, "OK, you can't go crazy this show" it just wouldn't happen. I just don't have control over that, I really don't. He did it to me (pointing to Cregg). He used to turn around and yell at me, "Play harder!"

TARB: You all have day jobs at the moment, right? So what are your occupations?
Micah: Art director for a rich-media vendor. Online advertising. I do creative direction for online banner codes. It's really boring.
Lauren: I guess right now you could say assistant to hairstylists. I'm soon to be a hairstylist myself. In a few weeks I will graduate from beauty school.
Cregg: I am a hairstylist.
Jeremy: Retail Management. No further elaboration necessary.
TARB: How do you manage to balance your day jobs with the band?
Cregg: For Lauren and I, we don't have jobs that we have to take home. You know, when I cut hair and I leave, that's it. I'm done. I can't say that so much for [Micah]; she has to constantly be thinking about her job. And the stress of Jeremy's job constantly follows him around everywhere. But as far as touring, we haven't crossed that threshold yet, but I'm interested to see what happens. We are all prepared to do what it takes to make the music happen. But we work really hard on the music, and we work really hard at our jobs, and right now it's making everyone happy. Maybe not ourselves all of the time, but the music...
Jeremy: Yeah, the music makes me happy.
Micah: Yeah, we do it because the passion drives us to make music, and we're not going to stop doing that. But we also can't quit our day jobs.
Jeremy: If I wasn't in this band, I mean this band has probably saved my life. I'm not saying I'm depressed or anything like that, but without this band there's no telling what I would have done.
Cregg: Yeah, we need this. It's not just because we want to; we actually need it and feed off of it.

TARB: What do you do in your spare time to unwind?
Jeremy: Sleep. Drink.
Micah: Crossword puzzles.
Cregg: LOST [everyone clamorously agrees]
Lauren: Yeah, we're all LOSTies. We make music, we work, and we watch LOST.
Cregg: And really, just appreciating having time to unwind I guess.
Jeremy: And we all have pets that we love a lot. I think I can say that we're all into animal rights. I mean, if they could vote, I say let 'em vote!

TARB: What one thing have you learned about yourselves from your previous bands that has made you a better musician today?
Lauren: For me that was my first band, and I think it's intersting that I never thought of myself as a lead singer. But with Avenge Vegas I was the only guitarist, and I never really thought about the vocals. They just came out. I paid more attention to the dynamics of what we were doing instrument-wise. I guess it taught me how to be a multitasker, because I had never done that up to that point.
Micah: For me it's the same as Lauren, it was my first band. I never thought I could stand up on a stage and do anything. It's part of my personality; I was really shy and quiet and afraid. So I learned that I could actually do things that I never thought I could.
Cregg: I was in Linger for eight years, and it taught me a lot musically of course. But business-wise I think it taught me not to trust anybody. We had a lot of meetings with record labels and management that never really got us anywhere. I think now in the independent age and the way we can do what we do independently; I mean in this band we look forward to doing things on our own. We get some help with booking, but we can record our own stuff. You put a lot of faith in people in this industry, and it's a very jaded industry. All it does is slow you down, because while you're waiting on other people you could be doing it yourself. So I learned not to trust anybody. [laughter] And I mean that in a positive way, you know, believe in yourself and do it yourself. With the way computers are now, iTunes, MySpace, that stuff; in many ways, MySpace is kind of like a record label, and iTunes is distribution to the whole world. That really makes it quite easy.
Jeremy: As far as muscially, I went from not knowing anything about electronics to where I am now. The main thing between then and now is I learned that I can't break as much stuff now because I can't afford it anymore!


Check back later this month for Part Two of the interview in which we will cover the record, their musings on the Atlanta rock scene, and a few more insights into the band members.

10 May, 2008

Radiohead @ Lakewood Amphitheatre

Thursday, May 8, 2008, Atlanta welcomed Radiohead back to Lakewood Amphitheatre. Twenty thousand fans from the city and entire Deep South filled the venue to capacity. Radiohead crowds, I think it can be safely said, are almost as interesting as the show. First of all, there is a sense of community for the most part. Everyone there knows that you are there for the same band they are. They know that you are most likely passionate about your fanhood of the band, and they realize that they carry the same sentiments. Conversations ensue in the anticipation and through the opening act(s) set. That's not a knock on the talent or abilities of these bands, but it's very hard to open for a band with such a huge cult following. Everybody from frat boys/sorority girls to hippies to dance kids and everything in between turn out. But the way in which people enjoy the music once the show starts is purely personal. The forecast was for an 80% chance of rain, and heavy rain at that. But the showers stayed away for the most part with only a few short bursts of steady rain.

Liars, the only opening act of the night, took the stage at about 7:15 and played for about forty minutes. I have to admit I really didn't pay much attention, but I can say that the band had a fairly poor sound mix. The vocals really overtook the rest of the music, and the bass could have been louder. Their sound is a heavier rock style with a drum machine, sparse keys, and some samples. Jonny Greenwood did join the band onstage for one song and played bass.

Radiohead took to the stage at just after 8:30 when it was sufficiently dark enough to highlight their accompanying light show. The main apparatus consisted of six vertical light bars that lit in a variety of colours and styles. Behind that was a huge projection screen onto which mostly vibrating or rotating shapes were projected onto the top and bottom with a widescreen view of all five band members through individual cameras across the middle. Between each of the vertical bars were shimmering light fixtures arranged across the stage to form the points of a "M" shape. There was also a banner of lights spanning the entire top of the stage. The large permanent screens to the sides of the stage at Lakewood were not used at all, a surprising move but by no means an error as the light show proved to be more than sufficient.

The band opened with "All I Need" from their newest album In Rainbows. It was an interesting choice for an opener as it is a very melancholy and introspective song. Then again, it is Radiohead. "There There" followed to the delight of the crowd, and the pace picked up from there. The most captivating string of songs of the night began about half an hour into the show, as the band played "Nude", "Pyramid Song", "Optimistic", "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", "The National Anthem", and "Idioteque" consecutively. With the crowd whipped into a frenzy by this point, the camera focused on Thom Yorke alone as he sat at the piano and began to play "You and whose army?". Only a single view of Thom remained on the projection screen as he sang to and interacted with the crowd until the last third of the song when the rest of the band joins him in playing. The screen then slowly stretched to its full length once more with five views of Thom at the piano before slowly morphing back into a single view once more at the end of the song. Thom winked at the crowd just before the screen went black for the next song transition. The band closed their main set with "Bangers and Mash", a song the band has been playing live for three years now but only made it into the discbox version of In Rainbows' extra CD, "Bodysnatchers", and "Videotape". The band returned for a first encore that included the only two pre-OK Computer songs of the evening, "Just" and a rare track recorded after The Bends titled "Talk Show Host". After a five song first encore, the band returned again to play the highlight song of the night, "Paranoid Android". It was accompanied by an angrily flashing red, white, and blue light scheme, and was by far the hardest rocker of the night. The band then bid Atlanta adieu with "House of Cards".

All told, this show was definitely a highlight of Radiohead's more intricate and ambient works. They played nine of the ten songs on In Rainbows (only omitting "Jigsaw Falling into Place" much to my chagrin), and five of the ten songs on Kid A. Here is the full setlist:

01 All I Need
02 There There
03 Lucky
04 15 Step
05 Where I End And You Begin
06 Nude
07 Pyramid Song
08 Optimistic
09 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
10 The National Anthem
11 Idioteque
12 You and whose army
13 Reckoner
14 Everything in its right place
15 Bangers and Mash
16 Bodysnatchers
17 Videotape
encore 1
18 The Gloaming
19 Talk Show Host
20 Just
21 Faust Arp (Thom & Jonny on electric)
22 How To Disappear Completely
encore 2
23 Paranoid Android
24 House of Cards

After roughly 18 years of playing together, it's hard to argue with anything these guys do onstage. They are masters at reproducing their material live, and very effective in the little tweaks they make here and there to build continuity between the songs. Thom's voice is showing signs of aging, but only slightly as it still cuts through you like a knife. Phil Selway doesn't always get as much credit as he should, but he is a phenomenal drummer and his understated style is allowed to come more to the fore in live performances. Jonny, Colin, and Ed are all as good or better than they ever were. This was a great show that will not soon be forgotten by those in attendance, and is by far the best concert I have seen so far this year.

Radiohead performance rating (out of 5): 4.9

09 May, 2008

Album Review - Portishead's "Third"

Release Date: April 29, 2008
Label: Mercury Records
No. of Tracks: 11

Eleven years ago, when Portishead last released a studio album, they were one of the most integral bands in alternative music. Their 1994 album Dummy and 1997 self-titled release swept the alternative world by storm as grunge was dying. A plethora of bands were started trying to recreate the ghostly ambiance of their hip-hop beat driven compositions. They made the term trip-hop part of the social lexicon, even though they never truly fit into that category alongside their more dance-oriented contemporaries and detested the association.

Now, Portishead is back with their simply titled album Third. A popular slogan circulating around this album has been "Don't Call it a Comeback." And the slogan is a very apt way of describing the return: it isn't so much a reappearance by the band as it is a new incarnation of the group. They have moved away from the heavy beats and bass for the most part in favour of a more rock-tinged sound. Gone are the sweeping orchestral arrangements and long samples the group was previously known for incorporating. Only a few lone violins and a voice sample are left from the old Portishead sound. In are a lot more guitars and natural percussion instruments. The overall mood of the album is still dark, but it avoids being both angry and depressing.

Of course, Beth Gibbons still stars as the chanteuse of the band. Although her voice shows some obvious signs of aging, it still manages to retain its startling beauty. The best one word description of Ms. Gibbons' voice is fragile. It is well above average, not quite exceptional, but the emotion with which she sings forces the listener to feel the vulnerability of the lyrics, not just hear them. While Beth continues to do what she does best, Adrian Utley, the band's guitarist, has taken on a much more central role in the band's music. A jazz guitarist by trade, Mr. Utley steps it up several notches throughout the album and shows no fear in experimenting with distortion pedals and delays. The result lends a much fuller sound than the band has previously displayed, with hardly any of the haunting silence that pervaded their previous albums. Geoff Barrow, the band's producer and multi-instrumentalist, has traded in his turntables for indigenous percussion instruments and electric drum heads. He has retained the keyboard, and it as well is used to much fuller effect throughout the album. The result is an organic feel to a record that is obviously heavily produced, no small feat by any means.

The album begins with the five-minute track "Silence". While not the most complete track on the recording, it serves as a wake up call to longtime fans of the group and exhibits nearly every change the band has undergone over the past 11 years. There is an abrupt and jolting transition into the next track "Hunter", a testament of love song punctuated by deep bass drum thuds and an alternating jazz and distortion guitar. "Nylon Smile" is a song not meant for the faint of heart. It is a very challenging composition despite its relative simplicity. The lyrics deal with a sense of unworthiness ("I don't know what I've done to deserve you..."), and Ms. Gibbons really makes you feel the song to your very core. "The Rip" marks this album's real "taking off" point. The song begins with Ms. Gibbons and Mr. Utley intertwining sweet melodies before swelling into an uplifting drum beat and keyboard piece. "Plastic" is as close as this album comes to previous Portishead songs, with a helicopter-like scratch sample, copious keys, and the occasional gong blast. "We Carry On" features a tribal drum beat, alternately-tuned guitar riff, and mind-scorching although repetitive keyboard composition. "Machine Gun", the album's first single, lives up to its title and grabs the listener from the start. The song could easily be classified as industrial if it weren't for another astonishing vocal performance from Ms. Gibbons. The subject matter is a reluctance to accept responsibility even in the face of dire consequences. It features a heavily distorted electric drum beat and equally distorted guitar punctuations that also serve justice to the song title. "Small" is the album's only "ethereal" song. At nearly seven minutes in length, the song transitions from vocals, viola, and distorted guitar to '60s-themed keyboards and a wild delay-pedal guitar twice over. "Magic Doors" is a voyage into jazz with piano, cowbell (woohoo!), and a trumpet sample reminiscent of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's style. "Threads", the last song, is my only gripe with this album, as the song does little to set itself apart from the rest of the album and leaves little parting impression on the listener.

All in all, this is an extremely moving album. It goes to much greater depths in nearly every way, and has a tendency to linger in your head. Due to the more hands-on approach in songcraft, these songs will certainly translate easily into a breathtaking live performance. The band recently headlined one night of the Coachella Music & Cultural Arts Festival and toured Europe earlier this year. So far, no US tour dates have been announced, a disturbing trend amongst current British acts. But there are many rumours circulating that a US tour will be forthcoming from these three extremely talented and influential musicians, so keep your eyes peeled.

Essential Tracks: "Nylon Smile", "The Rip", "Plastic", "Machine Gun", "Magic Doors"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 4.25

04 May, 2008

One Hand Loves the Other, When Rocky Beat the Russian, Like Clockwork, and The Judies @ Vinyl

The Vinyl Lounge at the CW Midtown Music Complex welcomed around 100 people Saturday night to see four Atlanta bands do their thing and celebrate the EP releases of When Rocky Beat the Russian and Like Clockwork. There was something to please just about everyone as all four groups differ greatly from one another in sound.

One Hand Loves the Other were the first group scheduled to perform. Due to unforeseen circumstances (an apparent rift in the band), this was a solo performance by the band's creative force and vocalist Lou Rodriguez. Even though Lou had only discovered a few days before the show that he would be the only band member to attend, he refused to back out on his obligation and bravely took the stage with a microphone and a laptop. It would be unfair of me to review his performance (although it was a good one), so I will simply say that the group's sound is heavily influenced by trip-hop groups such as Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, and Kruder & Dorfmeister. However, there are more classical music influences included in OHLTO's sound than most trip-hop outfits could ever muster. Lou is currently in the painstaking process of reforming the band, a pursuit that I for one hope is successful. He has a fine voice with tremendous falsetto range and an obvious desire to pursue his dream of making music.

Next up was When Rocky Beat the Russian, who were playing in support of their brand new EP Reason Your Way Out. If you had to describe this band's sound in one word, it would be LOUD. The band fits sqaurely into the hardcore, scream rock category but manage to carry a great deal of melodic content not exhibited by other similar genre dwellers. Mike the drummer is extremely talented at carrying odd time signatures and pounds away with reckless abandon while doing so. He also provides the more soothing vocals (if one can say that) for the band, which are counterpunched by Aaron's guttural screams. Aaron also plays lead guitar. Austin plays an aggressive rhythm guitar and tore his Gibson SG's strings to shreds by the third song. Monika rounds out the band with a well played five-string bass. The band played all four songs on their EP ("Genes Is", "Nosebleed", "Circus", and the title track) as well as a few others to fill out the set. To hear more and see upcoming show dates, visit their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/whenrockybeattherussian.

When Rocky Beat the Russian performance rating (out of 5): 3.0

Like Clockwork were also on hand to perform songs from their new EP All Signs Point To Yes. I do not enjoy writing negative reviews, especially about a band celebrating a record release, but there is simply no way around it. The songs are generic at best. The lyrics are standard, driveling pop rubbish (example: "All the money in the world can't buy my passion..."). And the music is highly predictable and uninspired with no hint of a willingness to do anything but play what will appeal to the lowest common denominator of music fan. Painfully, that means they were the highlight act of the night according to the crowd assembled. To top it all, the band not only had the gall to cover The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" (poorly), but they even joked onstage that they had written the song themselves. I'm a big fan of incorporating humour into a performance, but you cross a line when you make a proclamation like that about such a legendary song, no matter how insincere you may be. The band has Atlanta roots, but have recently relocated to Los Angeles. In this case, that is a good thing, as they would be a total embarrassment to the Atlanta rock scene. There were several references to California in the band's set, so hopefully they are happy out there and will stay in Los Angeles, a city large enough to afford to carry a band of such epically craptastic proportions.

Like Clockwork performance rating (out of 5): 0.0

Although they were not considered the headlining act of the evening, The Judies (picture above) were the last band to hit the stage. Thankfully, they managed to turn the tables on the second half of the evening and rescued the night. Fronted by charismatic lead singer Warren Ullom, the band crafts interesting punkish-pop ballads that smacks more of the current British music scene than the current mainstream Atlanta sound. Warren also alternates between playing rhythm guitar and keyboards. Lead guitarist Ryan Pitchford is a quite stoic figure, which is forgiveable as all eyes are glued to Warren anyway. Michael Sprinkel also sported a five-string bass and filled his role adquately. Drummer David Miksch completes the lineup. There is nothing fancy or highly technical about the band's sound, but the songs are fun and witty and leave the listener with the impression that the band is much better than it actually is (an artform that will serve the band well in the years to come). It has to be said that the set was very disorganized, but that only served to add to the spontaneous feeling of their show and the group's intrigue. On what I am assuming was the agreed-upon last song, Ryan, Michael, and David left the stage, but Warren remained onstage and played a solo song accompanying himself on keyboards before being rejoined by Michael and David (and eventually Ryan) for one last song. According to David, the band plays whenever they are asked and often with little notice. Check their MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/thejudies) frequently for show updates. I also recommend listening to their song tiltled "The Nineties" for a good taste of what this band has to offer.

The Judies performance rating (out of 5): 3.75

Special Note: Also pictured above on the far left is former The Judies band member Ty Thompson.

03 May, 2008

Album Review: "Elephant Shell" by Tokyo Police Club

Release Date: April 22, 2008
Label: Saddle Creek Records
No. of Tracks: 11

In 2006, four precocious teenagers from the most unlikely of places, Newmarket, Ontario, recorded 16 minutes of music that shook the North American indie rock world. A Lesson in Crime was a frenetically paced EP filled with anthemic songs and tightly woven punk-influenced arangements.

Almost a year and a half later, after a long spell of touring that saw the band play everywhere from ski lodges to dive bars to Coachella and a slew of expectations, Tokyo Police Club is back with their first full-length album Elephant Shell. Now all in their early 20's, the boys have settled in to a more controlled sound, albeit still fast paced (only one song cracks the three minute mark). And the lyrical content has matured as well, moving from songs about the alienation of youth and the pending robot revolution to more traditional themes of love, personal discovery, and commentary on modern society.

As you might expect from a band that plays at such a quick pace, the rhythm section of this band proves the most essential and talented. Lead singer and bassist Dave Monks sings and plays with a confidence far beyond his years. Although a bit on the nasally side, his voice is crisp and his articulation clear which is a growing rarity in this particular subgenre. Drummer Greg Alsop has to rate as one of the best young drummers out there with his ability to quickly transition beats within a song as well as slow the tempo without being superfluous. Guitarist Josh Hook is the most improved band member over the past two years. His style is less abrasive and much more focused on creating a soaring, ambient experience to compliment the complex rhythms. Keyboardist Graham Wright rounds out the lineup and also contributes to the all-around "fullness" of the band's sound. There simply is no deadspace in a Tokyo Police Club song.

The album begins with "Centennial", a two minute statement of purpose for the album. "In a Cave" is a love song of sorts with undertones of managing ones urge to withdraw from a flawed society as age brings more wisdom and therefore more frustration. "Tessellate" is the first anthemic offering of the release, highlighting a lively piano, inobtrusive handclaps, and lyrics commenting on the growing divide between social classes. "The Harrowing Adventures Of..." is the slowest song on the album and the band's first foray into the world of balladry. "Nursery, Academy" best exemplifies Greg Alsop's technical ability and range as he makes full use of the ride cymbal and an alternating beat before sending the song out with a crash-snare-crash pattern. "Your English Is Good", the first single, is as close as the band gets to their EP roots with a steady punk drum and bass beat and background chants. The song is a scathing indictment of electoral politics with lines like "Give us your vote if you know what's good for you...Cause you don't need to change, your future's with us". "The Baskervilles" ends the compilation with a sad portrait of the lethargy thus far exhibited by Generation Y but a hopeful wish that art and culture can once again revitalize the youth.

This album is an encouraging sign of greater things yet to come from Tokyo Police Club. The growth in maturity exemplified is nothing short of breathtaking. In many ways, TPC is North America's answer to the UK's Arctic Monkeys, a very high compliment not given without reason. They may not have attained quite the same level of success or quality in their music, but at such a young age there are no limits for this band except the ones they choose to place upon themselves. The band has already begun another tour of Canada and the Northern US before heading over to the UK and Europe to play a multitude of summer festivals. And if history teaches us anything, you can expect the band to play many more North American dates in the coming year and beyond.

To find out more on Tokyo Police Club, check out their official website at http://tokyopoliceclub.com/, or their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/tokyopoliceclub.

Essential Tracks: "Centennial", "Tessellate", "Nursery, Academy", and "Your English Is Good"

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 3.5