Category Archives: Review

Photos: Future Islands, Double Dagger, and Lower Dens at Death By Audio

Nights like last night will save rock and roll.  One obviously unique thing about rock music right now is that there have to be more bands than ever before.  Even in 1998, you couldn’t just pour your musical heart out into a computer like you can today.  Fans only heard music if the band had a record or cd, and logistically, not as many bands could record an actual, physical record as can make MP3s.  Either way, rock music is a lowbrow art form.  You don’t need to be a virtuoso to write a great rock song.  It’s a lot more about having the guts or the groin to make something worthwhile (which is probably more difficult than only being virtuosic anyways).  The nature of the form and our current state of affairs obviously means that a lot more people can buy a $100 guitar and start making music now.  A lot of the bands I write about on here fall into that category.  They certainly don’t have big (or most likely, any) record deals now and probably wouldn’t have ten, twenty, thirty years ago.  They probably wouldn’t have existed at all.  And I really, truly like a lot of these bands.  I love garage rock, and so I spend a lot of my time going to those shows and writing about those bands, bands that never had the chance to exist before.  I love them.  I love the semblance of a miscreant life they allow me to lead.  They will be important to the history of rock and roll in their own right.  But as bands in the larger scheme of things, it’s important to admit that they’re not truly doing too much on an individual level.  They’re treading, or re-treading, water, as the case may be.  They’re almost all good, but almost none of them are extraordinary.

Why am I saying this?  I want to make it absolutely clear that Future Islands and Double Dagger were different last night.  Not in the same league of smaller bands that I usually post about in this form.  “If your band sounds like another band, break up your band,” Nolen Strals, lead singer of Double Dagger, admonished.  Yes, that’s pretentious and actually impossible (art doesn’t and can’t come out of a blank chasm, plus there’s about twenty bands I could name who sound like Double Dagger, though in deference to the band I will refrain).  But he was strikingly right.  We should all be fucking trying harder.  The musicians and the fans.  Don’t you want more than danceably good songs?  Double Dagger doesn’t always succeed, but they constantly and irrepressibly strive for the creative.  They’re not the only band to use just drums and bass (what up, JEFF the Brotherhood), but bass player Bruce Willen uses those four strings and beats them into a cretinous rock orchestra with extremely clever and economical use of effects pedals.  Another type of electronic machine, a different version of my much-loathed “button-pushing,” but a damn original and creative use of them.  Future Islands also rely heavily on bass, with an actual synth player.

Both groups also have the most important element of their band in common- frontmen who actually really truly sincerely to the bottom of their Baltimore hearts care about what they’re doing.  Double Dagger’s Stras doesn’t merely obliterate the line between audience and performer with his long mic cord, he plays with it, pushing it back and forth, like where sand meets the ocean.  Taking a microphone into an audience isn’t anything new, but the way he flits between crowd surfing and performing onstage and being in the crowd transforms the space.  And isn’t that what the whole point of art is?  To transform this little DIY rock space into something unrecognizable to our daily dulled ears and eyes, even for a few songs.

In 2007, I saw Future Islands play at my college (for my hilarious Facebook album of the show, including pictures of Matt & Kim and Boogie Boarder, click here), and I remember thinking how strange and rough and unlike my friends the guys and the music were, and how much I liked what they were doing.  Three years later, it seems that their sound has found itself, grown into that special place where it all really works.  Front man, Samuel Herring, is phenomenal, special.  He’s the Bruce Springsteen of electronic rock.  He has a deep, growling voice that shouldn’t make sense, but once it grabs you it will not let you go or surrender.  His guttural growls and groans incite heart-lurching and emotional introspection and celebration all at once.  He shines on the band’s new single, “Tin Man.”  It’s less of a song and more of a striving for something.  With the steel drums woven in hypnotically throughout the bass-heavy track, the band is making a thoroughly modern music.  “Tin Man” has an incredible emotional output that’s supported by the synth, rather than the hooks themselves providing the ineffable quality that makes you addicted to a particular song.  Plus, you can tell Herring is the nicest guy in the world- completely sincere while still actually very good at what he does.  He also gives away a lot of information.  Behind the strikingly low voice and booming, exploding stage presence, there’s just the tiniest bit of fear in his friendly, sweaty face.  “This is a song about someone looking for his heart,” he says before “Tin Man.”  I think everyone watching thinks, “I know what he means.”

There’s no hidden messages in Double Dagger or Future Islands.  The songs and the performances lay it all out before us.  I love that these two bands give the kids something to really fall in love with.  Not just moshing, or dancing, or catchy melodies, or anger.  Instead, new-sounding, exciting music, thoughtful but still edgy players, with the good old fashioned rock and roll courage to put it all in front of us.  Every last bit.

Lower Dens:

Double Dagger:

Future Islands:

MP3: “Virgo Distracts (live at DubLab)” – Future Islands

MP3: “Future Islands” – Tin Man



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Quick Review: Deer Tick at Prospect Park Bandshell


There’s something innately unlikable about Deer Tick.  Maybe it’s the photos on their myspace page of girls in bikinis holding guns that aren’t quite tongue-and-cheek enough.  Maybe it’s John McCauley’s voice.  Maybe it’s because they truly don’t give a fuck about what you think of them (of course, all these could be plusses for the band, too).  Whatever it is, something about their latest album, Born On Flag Day rubbed many reviewers the wrong way.  This defiant quality definitely makes them more appealing in some ways.  Personally, I thought their performance a few months ago at Olde Club was pretty darn good.  Even though they’re from Rhode Island, they’re a pretty sweet rockin’, drinkin’, swaggerin’ Southern rock band.  I didn’t really get where all the reviewers were coming from.

Their performance at Prospect Park on Friday, however, made me change my mind.  It makes sense now that they would seem great in a hundred person venue full of college students slurping down PBRs.  That drunken, fun quality they had at the Olde Club show did not translate at all to Prospect Park’s bandshell.  Instead, they came off as a sloppy, boring, rock band with mediocre songs that sound like Lynrd Skynrd knockoffs.  They didn’t play tightly and did gimmicky things that seemed pointless.  At one point John McCauley started playing drums (poorly) for absolutely no reason.  It just seemed that the band was either sharing a bad private joke with each other or they were trying to hard to be interesting.  McCauley even proposed to his girlfriend from Those Darlins’ on stage and managed to come off bumbling and insincere.  He awkwardly made her take her boot off and gave her a toe ring.  It could have been cute, but it just came off as poorly conceived.  The bottom line was that this band does not yet have the stage presence to play that large of a venue.  Maybe they were nervous, but Friday was not Deer Tick’s night.

MP3: “Smith Hill” – Deer Tick

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Photos: Woods and The Vaselines at Bowery Ballroom


The Vaselines are a Scottish band that formed in 1986, the year I was born.  I admit I’m not terribly well-versed in what happened between now and then; I found about the show from another music blog.  Regardless, I am very glad that 23 years later I was able to go to the Bowery Ballroom on a cold spring Sunday night to watch them rip through one killer set.  This is a band that just oozes cool.  They were fairly under the radar back in the day, except for the fact that Curt Cobain was in love with them, covering their songs and even naming his daughter Frances after the lead singer (you can’t get a much cooler endorsement than that).  Even though time has passed, it seems that not too much has changed.  The band still has prodigious post-punk pop tunes, and even though they may have a few more gray hairs, they haven’t lost an inch of that cool.  As often happens when many popular bands reunite, it didn’t seem like they were past their glory days.  They shredded through all of their old songs and even played some new ones with a mature excellence that left everyone happy.  

They’re also simultaneously the most adorable and totally badass band I’ve ever seen.  Maybe it was the accents, but I didn’t know it was so possible to be so darned cute, even while discussing masturbation and blow jobs between almost every song.  At one point, France McKee stated that she drank the blood of virgin boys after every show, and all I could think was, “Aw, she is adorable!”  I think that perfectly encapsulates their music: completely accessible but with a very sharp edge.

Another reason I left my nice, cozy apartment on a cold Sunday night was to catch openers, Woods.  I love their new album, and was expecting quite a lot from their live show.  I was immediately excited to see that I recognized one of the band members wailing away into headphones, holding court over a pedal board ruled by a tape deck.  It was none other than one half of Noise Nomads, who I saw at Silent Barn a few months back.  I didn’t realize that the projects were related, but I now see how the whole tape-deck thing fits into Woods’ freak folk style of music.  Totally cool.

I thought the band put on a very good performance.  Their songs are complicated mixtures of sixties beach guitar sounds with seventies southern rock with 80s new wave synth.  I know this sounds crazy, but they’re almost a cross between Cream and Devo.  Listen to the guitar riff in the beginning of “Rain On.”  If that doesn’t sound exactly like “Gut Feeling” by Devo, I’ll never blog again.

This mish-mash of guitar sounds made for a very cool set, especially when Woods really started to rock out.  In fact, I would like to have seen a little more exploration of these riffs in the live setting- all the songs seemed too short to me (I guess better too short than too long).  Also, one of the reasons I love their new album so much is that all of these older sounds make it feel like a secret portal into another time, a relic of a rock and roll past that I get to relive anew.  It’s an intimate record.  Watching the band perform live took away some of the intimacy and mystery.  Much like that recent Here We Go Magic show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, I liked Woods’ set, but I think I might prefer them recorded.  Still, a great night out.  Rarely does a bill give you so much bang for your buck.





The Vaselines:








MP3: “Rain On” – Woods

MP3: “Son of a Gun” – The Vaselines

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Photos: Pretty & Nice and Middle Distance Runner at Union Hall

P5144540This show seems like so long ago now.  I just got back home from Cymbals Eat Guitars at the Rooftop Films opening, which was one of the nicest evenings I’ve ever had in NYC.  I’ll post on that tomorrow, but for now, a few quick notes on Thursday’s Union Hall show.  I wasn’t expecting too much from Middle Distance Runner, but I was pleasantly surprised.  They played a tight, enjoyable set of straight-up rock with a little bit of the South thrown in.  I have to say, though, what is up with this week and dudes in bands wearing hats?  A note to all men in bands: it’s midnight and you’re in a basement.  Why are you wearing a hat???  Unless it’s a baseball hat or your friends just shaved half of your head, I don’t care, take off your damned hat.  They make you look dumb.  Six out of six of my co-workers agree with me (I took a very scientific poll, and they should know because they’re music professionals).  But really, Middle Distance Runner has a solid live show, all hats aside.  I particularly enjoyed the rhythmic drumming on “Brother John,” which you can download below.

I love Pretty & Nice.  They’re a lot of fun to watch, and they play really fun music.  The foursome straddles the line between emo and indie.  They produce songs that are almost guilty pleasures, but are supported with enough twisting and turning in the songwriting to make them legitimately good.  I love the combination of the two fantastic male voices- the falsettos are almost ridiculous, but fit in perfectly over the frenetically paced guitars.  They’re deliciously weird, too, yelling strange, funny little things between songs.  I just like this band.  I like ’em a lot.

Middle Distance Runner:





Pretty & Nice:








MP3: “Brother John” – Middle Distance Runner

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Photos: Action Painters and XYZ Affair at Pianos

P5114262Last night, I was happy my way to make my over to Pianos for an Oh My Rockness sponsored show.  OMR is probably my favorite website; I use it at least once a day and have a very high regard for their taste.  I was also excited to see that Pianos had replaced their outdated backdrop with something new (and much better to take pictures in front of).  All in all, it was shaping up to be a great night.

It turned out to be the Tale of Two Bands.  One I wanted to hate, and one I wanted to like.  Neither turned out how I expected, so much of it having to do with band image.  I’ll start with the latter.  Even though I hadn’t seen XYZ Affair live until last night, I felt like I had a long history with the band.  I tried to book them as an opener my senior year at Olde Club, but it didn’t work out.  I’ve been in several concert situations where I either got there too late to see them or had to leave too early.  They played at Swarthmore this year, so many of my friends saw them and talked to me about it, giving both good and bad reviews.  One of my friends even said, “They’re at best vaguely talented pretty boys.”  By this point, I was pretty interested to see what they were actually like.

To an extent, my friend was right.  I don’t really know how to properly describe the show last night.  I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t really like it either.  All of the musicians in the band are incredibly talented, and they have great stage presence, but it didn’t all add up for me.  The best way I can describe it was that instead of playing a show, it seemed like they were playing an elaborate game of guitar hero.  They were all so good at their instruments, the lead guitarist fingering solos with such effortless adeptness, that I somehow expected more out of the songs.  Instead, it just seemed like they were play-acting through a well practiced routine.  I also really disliked the lead’s dancing.  I know it’s a minor thing, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I think that this band will actually be very successful if they keep at it because of their wide appeal, but their live show is not for me.

If I tried hard to like XYZ Affair and failed, the opposite was true of Action Painters.  From the moment they took the stage, I wanted to hate them.  Their second guitarist was wearing a really, really bad hat.  I hate it when people in bands wear hats.  I know that’s ridiculous, but one bad hat can ruin a whole band for me (sorry to the guitarist wearing the hat if you end up reading this, you’re very talented, I just question your hat fashion sense).  The lead singer looked irritating, too, very typically Los Angeles with tight black jeans and a blazer.  The keyboardist looked nothing like an indie rocker ought to. Do I sound like Holden Caulfield here?  For some reason, the visual cues this band was giving off made me want to dislike them.

But I couldn’t.  I enjoyed their set.  They have some very solid standard indie rock tunes.  They’re at their best when everyone in the band is jamming on a theme, crescendoing into one of those familiar but still exciting swells.  They adeptly covered of one of my favorite songs of all time, “See No Evil” by Television.  One thing I will say, and I hate to make this suggestion because she seemed like a great bandmate, but I’d like to hear the band without the keyboards.  The sound was stuck between one of those synthy rock bands, like the Killers, and a more standard four piece.  I’d like to hear Action Painters without the layer of synth and instead stripped down to just two guitars, bass, and drums.  It seems like they might tend toward a sound more like The Soft Pack or Oxford Collapse, and I think that sound would suit their strengths well.  Maybe they could keep the keyboards, but use a more typical piano sound.  Either way, Action Painters tentatively won me over by the end of their set, and I’d at least go check them out again.

Action Painters:





XYZ Affair:









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Photos: These United States and Papercuts at The Bell House

P5074036I don’t know if I say it enough, but the owners of Union Hall have done a fine job with the Bell House.  It’s a truly special space and I think everyone knows it.  Every band I’ve seen play there without fail says how nice everyone there has been to them and what a cool place it is.  How often do you hear that happen at Bowery Ballroom?  Never.   

I went to this show mainly to see These United States.  I didn’t stay for the main act, Vetiver, because I’m feeling pretty sick and their performance I saw at SXSW was mediocre at best.  I’ve also decided I find their latest album boring, so I didn’t feel the need to stay.  I was glad, however, that I managed to stick it out for Papercuts.  I’d listened to their new album a couple of times and generally liked it, and was surprised to find that their live show had much more energy and oomph than their album might let on.  I was expecting frontman and main songwriter, Jason Quaver, to be some shy, reclusive record nerd for whom it was obviously painful to perform in front of an audience.  What I got instead was an a-typical indie rocker, a self-assured, poorly dressed guitar player with an angelic voice.  I admit I didn’t stay around for the whole set (forgive me, I really do feel like my sinuses are about to explode), but what I heard was good.  I also apologize for the crappy photos of these guys.  The pictures are way too noisy and I didn’t realize it when I was taking them.

Now, These United States.  Their latest album came out to mediocre reviews, and while I liked some of the faster songs, I wasn’t completely sold on it, either.  But, I saw them give a slam-bang performance at SXSW, and that was enough to get me out of my apartment tonight.  Holy crap is this a good live band.  I might even go as far to say I love their live show.  These United States’ rambling Americana rock has an excitement and buzz when performed live that can’t be captured on a recording.  Jesse Elliott is the perfect frontman: charismatic, beautiful, and just a little bit crazy.  As sweat begins to drip down his long hair  throughout the set, the band gets tighter and tighter, the two guitars, bass, slide guitar, and drums perfectly in sync.  There’s something special about these guys, and you have to see them to understand it.  

These United States:













MP3: “Honor Amongst Thieves” – These United States


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Extremely Notable New Band: Micachu and the Shapes


There’s been A LOT of new visitors to the blog recently, mostly because of the Blake Miller track I recently posted.  It’s a great song, and I’m glad that so many people have found their way here because of it.  If you’re a first time visitor, welcome.  I hope you like what you see and decide to come back.  Since it’s fairly clear that my visitors are going to spike in volume at least for the next few days while that track stays on Hype Machine, I thought I’d give some lip service to Micachu and the Shapes, even though it seems like I’m late to jump on the boat.

Micachu’s debut album, Jewellry, came out a few weeks ago.  I didn’t write anything about it then because it seemed like other blogs had it covered.  They were the talk of SXSW and their Pianos show on the way back to their native England was quite the event.  I figured if I wrote about them, it would seem like I was merely jumping on the bandwagon. 

Then, Pitchfork gave the album a 7.9.  Usually a very respectable score, especially for a new artist.  But they didn’t get Best New Music.  The same Best New Music that was awarded to Wavves for an 8.1.  I’m usually on Pitchfork’s side.  Sure, they can be snarky and annoying, but I tend to think that usually they’re right.  It’s not good to let them be your only source of music news and reviews, but they’re certainly part of a well-balanced diet.  This instance, though, is one that shows the absolute absurdity of the power that Pitchfork wields, and the upsetting results its misuse can have.  If Wavves got that amount of hype, Micachu deserves twice that.

Jewellry is an incredible album.  It’s possibly one of the most interesting and original pieces of current work that I’ve heard in years. The band creates sounds with home-made guitars and electronic bleats that I’ve never heard anything like before.  The first time I listened to the album all the way through I thought to myself, “Wow.  So rock and roll isn’t dead.  There are unexplored places it can go as a genre.”  Seriously.  It’s one of those kind of break through albums.  I was trying to think of the perfect way to describe Micachu.  The best I could come up with was David Bowie mixed with Disney World mixed with Nightmare Before Christmas.  Maybe a little Man Man/Tom Waits thrown in there for good measure.  Just take the song titled “Curly Teeth,” for example.  Curly Teeth.  That is great imagery.

Maybe one of the reasons Micachu doesn’t have quite the buzz that a Best New Music band might have is simply because they’re in the UK right now.  No US tour dates to publicize (although they are playing the Siren Festival on Coney Island this July).  Maybe it’s an accessibility issue.  Micachu’s music is legitimately strange.  It doesn’t parade around as lo-fi for the sake of lo-fi, as is the trend these days.  It’s weird and foreign, and that’s what makes it good.  So, these two tracks might not be for everyone, but I urge you to give them a chance.  Download them and listen to them a couple of times, and then go over to Pitchfork and check out the streaming album.  It’s good.  It’s Merriweather Post Pavilion good.  And I really hope that people start talking about it that way soon.  

MP3: “Vulture” – Micachu and the Shapes

MP3: “Calculator” – Micachu and the Shapes

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