Posts Tagged ‘Sleigh Bells’

Best of 2010

December 19, 2010

It wouldn’t be a music blog if I didn’t do some sort of end of year wrapup.  Problem is, while I listen to a lot of music, new music isn’t always on the menu.  I’m not sure I could even come up with a top ten albums released in 2010 since I’m not sure I listened to 10 entire albums that were made this year.  So, instead I wanted to highlight some good stuff I found this year regardless of its age (I thought this was an ingenious idea until I saw that AVCLUB had already done the same thing, oh well).

  • LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (album, 2010).  A terrific album from beginning to end.  The album opener, Dance Yrself Clean, is also one of my favorite songs of the year.  Lyrically, James Murphy is at his wittiest and musically he continues to evolve from just floor-burning dance tunes to really nuanced, but still danceable, songs.  And seeing them live was a revelation.  It was one of the best shows I’ve been to in quite awhile.
  • Black Keys – Brothers (album, 2010).  I’ve been a huge fan of the Keys since their first album, but I think on this album they took it to another level.  For their first couple albums it was straightforward blues-based rock, but here they are spreading their wings, with some definite glam-rock influences and adding other instrumentation beyond that bruising drum and guitar.  Another band I finally got to see live this year and they didn’t disappoint either.
  • Broken Bells – The High Road (single, 2010).  Pairing the sonic tapestries of Dangermouse with the crystal clear voice of Shins lead singer James Mercer sounds like a good idea to me, and this song is proof it was.  The song begins with playful electronic noises and then gets a more orchestral bent as the music and Mercer’s vocals soar.  This song really has a positive and inspiring vibe; it’s a great pick-me-up.
  • Gang Starr – Obviously this was going back to one of early 90s rap’s signature groups.  With the passing of MC Guru this year, I spent some time revisiting their music.  I had never realized how many of their songs I really liked.  Everyone knows Mass Appeal, but there are a bunch of other songs they have that are just a notch below that masterpiece.  Premier’s beats are almost always exquisite and Guru’s gravelly delivery worked so well with those beats.  RIP Guru.
  • White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights (album and documentary, 2010).  I have never gotten to see the White Stripes live, but this album and the documentary which I saw do a pretty great job of making you feel like you’ve been to a show.  Even harder and louder than in the studio, these are great foot-stomping rock n’ roll songs.   The documentary bares the painful shyness of Meg White, leaving one to wonder how many more times we’ll get to hear these two play together.
  • Taj Mahal and Vampire Weekend – Why do I mention these two artists together.  Because whenever I hear one of their songs, I feel happy and upbeat.  Both are artists I know only marginally, and I’m trying to get up to speed on both.  Taj is nominally a blues artist, but he puts a lot of other musical styles into his songs, including reggae and Caribbean rhythms.  Vampire Weekend also is nominally a rock band, but they also let their other influences show, including various Afro styles.
  • Sleigh Bells – Treats (album, 2010) – When I went to see them at this year’s VirginFest I wondered why they only were given a half hour set, but then realized their debut album was only a couple minutes longer.  But boy do they pack a lot of sound into that 32 minutes.  While some see the loud guitar/beats with the bubble-gummy lyrics as a gimmick, I don’t see it any more of a gimmick than a lot of other bands in 2010 (and before) doing similar things.  Sleigh Bells just does it more over the top than anyone else.  For me, the beats are what keep me coming back.
  • Scott Down and DJ Cutler – Ultimate Breaks and Beatles (album, 2010).  Found about this interesting project via Soulsides, this is not an attempt to create another Grey Album.  Instead, they blend all kinds of Beatles music (including covers by Jimi Hendrix and others) with famous hip-hop breaks.  While there are some misses, when it all locks together it’s pretty amazing stuff.  Also, trying to identify what song a break is from is fun too.
  • KMD – Boy Who Cried Wolf (from Mr. Hood, 1991).  Sometimes a song just clicks for you.  I’d finally gotten a copy of KMD’s Mr. Hood and it’s a really good album.  But when I heard this song, I was mesmerized.  I could listen to the beat all day long, loping and laid-back but with a bite.  The chorus “he’s a woolllfff, and you a sheep” his super-catchy and the verses pop along with the snare in the beat.

I didn’t include Kanye’s new album, which I have but haven’t had a chance to really listen to yet, though I’ve heard nothing but good things.  Same goes for the new Walkmen album and Sharon Jones’ latest.  Enjoy the holidays and looking forward to another new year of music.

Free Stuff

September 27, 2010

Everyone loves free stuff right?  Judging from the lines getting to the parking lots yesterday at Merriwether Post Pavilion, the answer is most decidedly yes.  Having snagged a pair of the free tickets to the Virgin FreeFest music festival, me and a few friends headed to Maryland to soak up some unseasonably warm weather and enjoy that free music.  Uninspired by the first few hours of the lineup we opted to head up later in the afternoon.  Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea.

The lines to the overflow parking made us miss Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros entirely and we got to listen to parts of Yeasayer when we rolled down our windows as we sat in traffic and again as we walked towards the entrance.  Once inside, we headed to the west stage just to see Yeasayer end their set.  Next, after a pitstop at a water spigot (it was nice that they didn’t force you to buy the $4 waters they were selling) to fill up our water bottles, we headed to the pavilion stage to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

I could only name one Joan Jett song (I Love Rock n’ Roll) and would recognize only one other if I heard it (I Hate Myself for Loving You), but I was eager to see her play.  We situated ourselves on the hill and laid back and enjoyed the straightforward rock tunes Jett and the Blackhearts played.  After playing some rather pedestrian stuff, she got to the songs everyone had come to see her play.  The crowd got into it, one lady near us definitely was well-versed in all the lyrics to I Hate Myself, belting out the song along with Jett.  Jett sounded very good and we were speculating whether she over 50 (she is, born in 1958), which made it an even more impressive performance.  A cover of Crimson & Clover was also very good.

Next up was Matt & Kim.  I’ve seen the Brooklyn-based duo twice and was really looking forward to their performance.  I was also wondering whether their high-energy approach would get lost in the bigger stage of a festival setting.  Nope.  Matt gives off the vibe he’s an eternal optimist (he told how they were operating on no sleep due to getting stuck in Denver with a smile and in upbeat way that gave no indication of sleep deprivation).  Kim wails on the drum (see the picture) and Matt works the keyboards and sings.  The crowd was jumping and dancing along to the bouncy music coming from the duo.  Racing through a bunch of songs in their hour set, I think this was head and shoulders above all the other performances I saw.  Matt even did brief between-song interludes of hip-hop classics like ODB’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya, DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat, and Biz Markie’s Just A Friend (which he extended for a crowd singalong).

With the sun set, the first night act of the pavilion stage was Pavement.  I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Pavement when they were active.  I enjoyed their songs, but I didn’t have the fanatical love for them a lot of people have.  Though they sported a bloated stage presence in comparison to Matt & Kim (with an extra percussionist and things like guitars and basses), their sound was lean and casual.  A couple of us were planning to cut out of Pavement early to check out Sleigh Bells in the “dance forest” nearby the pavilion.  While I enjoyed Pavement, it wasn’t so good that I felt like I was missing something special, so off I went.  I was glad that I got to hear the instrumental Heckler Spray as I walked away from the pavilion.

In contrast to Pavement’s easy, laconic sound the Sleigh Bells were frenetic and loud.  Very loud.  One member of our group had fingers in the ears for a good bit of the set, but even so I think she enjoyed it.  With only one album under their belt coming in at a brief 32 minutes, the group played most of the material in their half hour set.  Crowd pleasers like Crown on the Ground cranked up the sonic distortion, and the crowd responded positively.  The pleasant Rill Rill was by far the most toned down and was a good break from the more raucous numbers.  Like Matt & Kim, they seemed happy to be there and it showed in their set.

On the other hand, the lady who signed Sleigh Bells to her N.E.E.T. label, M.I.A., came out with the energy of Derrick Coleman after signing an extension.  I wanted to see her set because I thought it had the most potential of any set to be either fabulous or terrible.  It was terrible.  A large crowd was waiting in anticipation at the west stage.  What I thought was going to be a quick intro of some electronic noise, beats, and coordinated light show, turned into an intermidable drone as M.I.A. stood over a laptop.  One person nearby derisively shouted “Do something!”  I agreed.  She was joined on stage by backup “singers” who appeared to have walked off the set of Dune.  I put singers in quotations because I’m not sure they ever actually used their microphones (were they on?).  Finally after she finished checking her email, M.I.A. took the microphone.  She must have been playing stuff from her new album (I recognized one Arular song) which I’m not that familiar with, and now I don’t really have a desire to get to know.  The whole set just seemed lazily put together.  Was she mad that she was not headlining on the main stage (she seems to not take criticism well) and decided to take it out on the crowd?  We decided to cut our losses and headed back to the main pavilion to see LCD Soundsystem.  Not sure whether she even played Paper Planes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did not.

I’m going to see LCD in October at the Hollywood Bowl, so I didn’t feel the need to see their own set.  I enjoyed the parts we saw, including a raw version of Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.  I’m definitely looking foward to hearing a full set.  We cut out a little early to beat the traffic, which wasn’t anything like it was coming in.  Overall, it was a very good experience.  Merriweather is definitely a better venue than the Nissan/Jiffy Lube Pavilion in Virginia and I liked that the organizers were able to keep the stages close enough together to make walking between them manageable and still not have too much sound bleed.  And of course the price was right.