The Roots are high on the list of artists I’ve seen live the most times. My first time was in high school at Drew University during the Things Fall Apart tour, and most recently I had the pleasure of catching one of The Roots Jam shows at Highline Ballroom this past summer. The realization that these shows were well over ten years apart was a bit disconcerting (via feeling old), but I took comfort in the fact that I was out past 2 on a weeknight!
The Highline show was the day before the new album, How I Got Over, came out and it was killer. They played very little of the new stuff, which is always fine by me, and gave me my jamming fix after a particularly poor Phish show at Saratoga a few days earlier. The Roots have been called the best live band in hip-hop for years, and rightfully so, but their live show is on a whole other level these days. If you’ve seen them once or twice, or at a festival, and are thinking “been there, done that,” do yourself a favor and get to a show.
I’ve had a little time with the new album, and it’s quite good, but one track really stands out, “Right On” which features and samples Joanna Newsom. Newsom’s appearance, along with Monsters of Folk and Dirty Projectors, have led many to point to the influence of their new indie rock friends from the Fallon show, but “Right On” is straight classic 90s hip-hop. Heck, it sounds more 90s underground than The Roots actually sounded during that time. I think it’s telling of the profound influence the late J Dilla’s work has had on them that last few albums, as the beat reminds me of Dilla’s production on Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia.
Give it a listen over on Famous Sounding Words
If you’ve read a music magazine any time in the last two years, you’re probably aware that Drake is the hottest new rapper in the game right now. If you’ve read a music blog any time in that period, you may also be aware that the man pictured above, the elusive Jay Electronica, is the hottest new emcee in the game, and depending on who you ask, he just might be the savior of hip-hop.
You can read about his curious methods on Wikipedia, but here’s a few key details. He’s from New Orleans. He likes to rap over movie scores. He’s released most of his material via posts in random web forums and his mysteriously disappearing and reappearing MySpace and Twitter accounts. He just had a baby with Erykah Badu. He has produced for and toured with Nas. There is intense speculation as to when, if ever, he will release a proper debut album. And oh yeah, he can rap his ass off.
Continue reading “Jay Electronica Channels Biggie Smalls”
Back in November 2001, hip-hop was still my genre of choice and I was a little too engrossed by the Jay-Z/Nas beef to check out a rock artist screaming about “partying hard.” Being unfamiliar with Andrew WK’s work, I wasn’t that intrigued when I kept reading about Fang Island, an up-and-coming group that shares his penchant for genuinely unpretentious, in your face rock and roll; heavy on the handclaps, heavier on the hooks, and even heavier on the guitars. But after hearing “Daisy,” and the rest of Fang Island’s excellent self-titled debut, I’m thinking it might be time to revisit his work.
Fang Island take their name from Donald Rumsfeld’s fictional hideout in an article by The Onion, and they have such a happy disposition that the chorus to “Daisy” goes “hey that’s alright, yeah that’s ok, hey that’s alright, whoa whoa,” or something along those lines. In a recent interview they described their sound as “everyone high-fiving each other,” and that’s actually a pretty good description. The riffs on Fang Island wouldn’t sound out of place on a Rush album, and at times, it’s even reminiscent of (gulp) hair metal, yet it contains no trace of irony. It’s sort of amazing they haven’t sold a billion records already.
Fang Island does not fit the conventional definition of “indie rock,” to put it mildly, so it’s odd seeing them endorsed on so many blogs. It’s as if they slipped through the cracks and now it’s the web’s job to put them on mainstream media’s radar. So here I am doing my part, pick yourself up a copy of Fang Island, and prepare to do the happy dance.
Delorean is an alternative dance band from Barcelona and the most recent signee to True Panther Sounds, the NYC-based indie label that was purchased by Matador Records late last year. True Panther is best known for putting out Album by Girls, one of last year’s most critically acclaimed indie records. If you want a cheap laugh, check out their ultra low budget / intentionally tacky website. Last year while in Spain for the Primavera Sound music festival, the team at True Panther discovered that Delorean, only known to American fans for their remix work, were an actual band with two studio albums and plenty of homegrown fans. “Stay Close,” which was recently released as a free download, is the first single from Subiza, their third LP and first to get a proper release in America. It won’t officially be available until June 8, but Subiza is already getting buzz as a potential album of the year contender. If the rest of the album sounds like “Stay Close,” the hype may be well justified. Give it a listen below.
Delorean – Stay Close
It’s pretty much obligatory when writing about The Soft Pack that you mention that the band’s former name was The Muslims. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about music. Between their two 7” releases and the ubiquity of “Parasites” on mixtapes, I feel like I’ve been hearing about The Soft Pack forever, but their new LP, The Soft Pack, is their proper debut album. I haven’t heard the whole thing yet because there are simply too many good albums to keep up with these days, but “Answer to Yourself” has been in heavy rotation on Sirius XMU the last couple months and it’s quite a catchy little number. Nothing fancy here, just straight up rock and roll. Download it below, courtesy of RCRD-LBL.
The Soft Pack – Answer To Yourself
It’s going to take a few days to fully digest this, but the first single from the third and possibly final LCD Soundsystem LP just hit the web a few hours ago. I don’t really expect the as-yet-unnamed album to be as good as their last album, 2007’s Sound of Silver, which was my #1 album of the last decade, so I’m tempering my expectations and just trying to enjoy this for what it is. But what it seems to be so far is a whole lot of fun.
There are lots of great bands with new records coming out this year, in fact it’s getting harder every day to name one that isn’t and it’s only March. Another addition to the list is The National who recently announced the release of their new album, High Violet, which will be out in May. That’s the same month as new releases by The Black Keys, New Pornographers, Band of Horses, and Broken Social Scene. Hell, there’s even a Stone Temple Pilots album coming out! With all due respect to the bands I just mentioned, all of whom I am a fan of, I am definitely most psyched about The National. Their last album, 2007’s Boxer, which made my Top 50 albums of the decade, is one of the most gorgeous albums I’ve ever heard. If you don’t own it you need to get it immediately. No, I’m serious, stop whatever you are doing right this second and go buy it, you’ll thank me later.
“Bloodbuzz Ohio” is the first song released off the new album, that’s the cover art above, and it was posted on the band’s website just yesterday. Check it out below.
The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio
They are also currently on tour and will be playing Boston’s House of Blues on June 2nd and 3rd.
Punk rock and the indie movement it spawned are historically seen as an adverse reaction to the 1970’s easygoing brand of hippie rock and its prevalence on American radio. The popularity of this music hasn’t waned a bit as classic rock is still one of the go-to radio formats, but for new artists making this style of music the going has been anything but easy. Most have jumped on the Grateful Dead bandwagon and become a part of the jam band scene, and while many have built a healthy touring business, they are often dismissed as nostalgia acts and their new releases are largely dismissed by mainstream and indie publications.
By the end of the 90’s, the indie scene had grown softer (Belle & Sebastian, Death Cab for Cutie), so maybe it was only a matter of time before the 70’s sound found some acceptance in indie circles, and over the last five years or so many of its younger disciples have actually managed to cross over. Now these aren’t jam bands per se, they’re usually labeled southern rock, country rock, or folk rock, but they clearly take their cues from artists like the Dead, CSNY, Allman Brothers, Eagles, et al. The most successful has been My Morning Jacket, but other notable acts include Fleet Foxes, Midlake, The Avett Brothers, and Blitzen Trapper.
Blitzen Trapper just announced a new album and tour yesterday and released a new song, “Heaven and Earth” as a free download, which you can check out below. It’s a ballad, which makes sense since their biggest successes so far have been the singles “Black River Killer” and “Furr” (just about my favorite song of 2008), but don’t be fooled, these guys can rock too. Both of their last two albums, 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation and 2008’s Furr, are worth checking out if you’re craving that old school vibe.
Blitzen Trapper – Heaven and Earth
Most music blogs aren’t written for everybody, they’re written for people like me. These blogs are like A&R people scouting their local scenes to discover new acts and introduce them to their readers, many of whom are also bloggers. Consequently, the music blogs, and in turn the indie rock world, tend to revolve around “flavor of the month” artists. Occasionally there might be an Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend that comes along, but in general, most of these artists aren’t a must listen for most music fans.
L.A.’s Local Natives was a popular flavor last year, and as it turns out, the hype was justified. Their first full-length album Gorilla Manor, released in the UK late last year, finally came out here in February and it’s one of the better debuts I’ve heard in awhile. It even earned the coveted Best New Music blessing from Pitchfork. It’s almost too good, like you could easily see it being played ad nauseum in Gossip Girl or at Starbucks. One song, “Airplanes,” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Maroon 5 album, or at least what I imagine a Maroon 5 album would sound like.
These guys could easily be this year’s Grizzly Bear or Dirty Projectors, two acts they’ve been accused of ripping off, and while I see what some of their critics are saying, their talent is undeniable and their songwriting abilities are more than just the sum of their influences. Unlike other new artists to recently make a splash (The xx, Surfer Blood, Real Estate), their sound is less raw and much further developed. A great example is “Sun Hands,” which was released to the web last summer, and is one of the best songs on the album. You can download it free below courtesy of NME (the last minute and a half rips BTW).
Local Natives – Sun Hands
The roots of dance-punk can be traced to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and acts like Talking Heads and New Order, but its current incarnation, centered around The DFA, is an animal all its own and one of the most exciting things to happen in music in the last decade. The DFA is a production team and indie record label based in New York that was co-founded by Tim Goldsworthy, whose former group (UNKLE) and label (Mo’ Wax) were very influential in the ‘90s British electronic scene, and James Murphy. The DFA, and modern dance-punk, first came to prominence with The Rapture and “House of Jealous Lovers,” but their most popular artist is Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem, of whom I am a huge fan. The label is also home to great acts like Hot Chip and Hercules & Love Affair.
YACHT is one of the newest acts on the label and See Mystery Lights, their first album on DFA, but fourth overall, was released in July 2009. The album received very positive reviews, even Rolling Stone said it “might be their breakthrough,” but failed to make them an indie music staple like several of their label mates. Personally, I didn’t think much of them when I first heard this single, “Psychic City,” last summer, but recently they’ve been playing it a ton on Sirius XMU and I just can’t get it out of my head. Now I’ve downloaded the album, and I’m quite impressed. As you can tell from this track, YACHT spent a lot of time listening to Talking Heads growing up, but that’s quite alright with me, because so did I. If you did too, you just might like this quirky little number. You can download below, courtesy of Stereogum.
YACHT – Psychic City