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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Explosions in the Sky's Forthcoming Album Kills It

In a nutshell....
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is Explosions in the Sky at its best: soaringly sensuous, occasionally heartbreaking, instrumental post-rock.
What It's Missing:
Something to distinguish it from EITS's previous sensuous/heartbreaking albums
For fans of: Mogwai; Godspeed You Black Emperor

Cemeteries, one might think, have a pretty limited number of uses. In fact, cemeteries pretty exclusively serve only two groups of people: dead ones, and drug-dealers. But on 23 April, one of post-rock’s most revered groups will transform a Hollywood cemetery into an art gallery to celebrate the release of their latest triumphant studio effort.

Such a dramatic venue seems only appropriate for Explosions In The Skys intensely emotive album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Whereas other post-rock establishments like Mogwai have controversially evolved their sound in recent years, Take Care shows that EITS is sticking to what it does best: sensuously sweeping symphonic soundscapes.

Take Careweaves melodic riffs through a canvas of reverb-slathered guitars, with a narrative ebb and flow that validates the band’s description of their music as “cathartic mini-symphonies.” “Trembling Hands” covers a chaotic concoction of distortion with a delicately-crafted lullaby, while “Last Known Surroundings” is a narrative that begins with the sleepy sounds of echo-harnessed guitars, before building to a joyous crescendo saddled with excitedly thumping drums.

Let Me Back In” is a stand-out track for its melancholic layering of fuzzy female vocals that sound like spectral musings in a foreign language, which eventually dissolve into defeated guitars and the frenetic sounds of a bee-swarm. Take Care’s most stunning track, though, is “Human Qualities,” in which a gingerly fluttering guitar accompanies a pattering percussion reminiscent of the playground hand-clap games of pigtailed girls, before exploding into densely noise-shrouded drums.

With Take Care…, EITS unequivocally remains faithful to the sound that has inspired its cult following (not to mention several film and television features) since the Texas four-piece’s late-90s beginnings. Veteran fans will be satisfied that EITS’s swan-diving guitars continue to infuse post-rock with sensationally graceful anthems. Enchanting, elegant, and epic.

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care will be released 18th April in the UK, 25th April in Europe, and 26th April in the US/Canada.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

His Name Is Skrillex

The demographics of the queue stretching into Belfast’s Stiff Kitten are atypical for a dubstep gig: in addition to the usual glowstick-clutching electrophiles and hoodie-clad bass hunters, there’s also strong representation from the skinny-jeaned emo crowd. The vast amount of side-swept fringe is likely because tonight’s bass maestro Skrillex is also known as Sonny Moore, the former front-man of the post-hardcore band From First to Last. Some of this crowd are dubstep neophytes, and a night with Skrillex might be the best possible introduction to the genre that is successfully infecting the global electronica scene.

By the time Skrillex’s distinctive half-shaved head and geek-chic glasses float into view between two kaleidoscope LCD screens, many have been raving for three hours under the conduction of Skrillex’s Mau5trap label-mate Zedd. Just as some dancers’ endurance show signs of waning, Skrillex’s opener “My Name Is Skrillex” injects the club with fresh adrenaline, pumping out a trademark fusion of sweet synth-saturated vocals and unadulterated, bass-bludgeoning dubstep. A veritable no-man’s land for anyone who values their facial features, the moshpit intensifies with every violently wobbling bass drop, tangling limbs resulting in at least one gushing nosebleed. Bangers like “Rock N’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)” and “Kill Everybody” trigger choral chants from the audience, and are interspersed with Major Lazer, iSquare, and La Roux remixes.

After crowd favourite “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” closes his set, Skrillex passes the stage to a house DJ, who polishes off the night with Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name.” Eliciting an uneasy look from security as the crowd reaches a climactic level of chaos, crowd-divers catapult themselves from the stage, and moshers bark in unison, “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me!

Five hours after the gig’s beginning, hoards of the hopped-up audience members stagger out of the Stiff Kitten’s doors, with all of the exhausted satisfaction of marathon runners passing a finish line. BackstageNoise is bruised, battered, and brandishing a limping gait, but one would expect nothing less from the sonic bombardier that is Skrillex.

Sleigh Bells Invade Ulster Hall

19th February: Revolution was brewing and fist-pumping dictators were teetering just a few time zones away, when Sleigh Bells disrupted Ulster Hall with a rapid-fire barrage of pop-for-punks and a timely take-no-prisoners rendering of barbaric tunes from their debut album Treats.

Enter America’s pugnacious pop duo Sleigh Bells. Their every head-banging movement roboticized by industrial-strength strobe lights, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller wreak havoc from the get-go, unloading savage drum beats with opener “Infinity Guitars.” Alexis dons her trademark ensemble: a T-shirt depicting Madonna’s iconic Time Magazine cover, a solitary black leather glove, and a menacingly fierce facial expression beneath furiously swinging fringe. Close by, Derek pelts the audience with thrashing death metal guitar, wearing a black hoodie and a grin as wide as a Humvee.

As if the heart-palpitating distortion and electronic explosions aren’t dramatic enough, the experience is enhanced by towering panels of graffiti art, which both flank the stage and outline the audience, so that concert-goers find themselves dancing next to spray-painted images of decapitated Roman guards.

In their ear-drum popping coup d’├ętat of the Ulster Hall, Sleigh Bells fire through most of Treats, replete with their distinctive layering of Alexis’s breathy, childlike vocals over blitzkrieg guitar and synth riffs. The crowd erupts at the first screaming chords of “Crown on the Ground”, the duo’s most danceable song whose undulating phrases sound like Derek’s put a Fender in a bouncy castle.

When Alexis bends down to hiss the chorus of “Riot Rhythm” between the closely-packed heads in the front row, the fans latch onto her Madonna T-shirt, and refuse to release her until she acidly shrieks, “Let the f*** go!” With an air of frustration, she straightens to show that the torn shirt is now fully revealing an American-flag leotard underneath (arguably a wardrobe improvement).

Lasting just over thirty minutes, it has been a short but indisputably visceral set from Sleigh Bells, and well-worth the mere fiver ticket price. Post-show discussion concludes that the chaotic show has almost rivaled that of fellow co-ed noise-pop duo Crystal Castles (“If only Alexis had crowd-surfed and assaulted a fan…”). Still, the bellicose Sleigh Bells have successfully dominated Belfast with their ear-shattering weapons of sonic destruction. Ulster Hall is likely still recovering from what can best be described as the invasion of dance music for the punk crowd.

Mogwai at Mandela

Review + Photos by Jessica Capps
It is a Sunday night at Belfast’s Mandela Hall, and Mogwai has taken the stage, with glasses of wine in hand. The wine seems especially appropriate, considering that Mogwai is here tonight for a sort of atonement: “Today we were reminded that we played our worst gig ever here,” guitarist Stuart Braithwaite laments apologetically. By the end of tonight, the experimental Glaswegians will more than redeem themselves.

With the exception of a brief gaffe before opener “White Noise” (a false-start from a MacBook), the band flawlessly maneuvered through fourteen lengthy cult hits, a melange of thick reverb, meandering melody, and distortion-wailing post-rock anthems. It was a set that pleased old and new fans alike, as Mogwai delivered songs from their earliest albums alongside those from their recently released Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The audience’s equally enthusiastic reception of both this year’s “Mexican Grand Prix” and 2003′s “Hunted By A Freak” is testimony that Mogwai’s embrace of new technology has expanded their already significant cult following.

This embrace of technology was best evidenced by the giant LCD screen seen towering behind the band, emitting twirling abstract visuals throughout the set. During “How To Be A Werewolf,” the screen silhouetted the band as it rolled stunning footage of round-the-world cyclist James Bowthorpe cruising through the Norwegian countryside.

Perhaps the show’s most memorable moment, however, was during “Mogwai Fear Satan,” in which drummer Martin Bulloch assisted the gently ambling guitars of John Cummings, Barry Burns, and Dominic Aitchison in lulling the audience into a pleasant reverie for over five minutes…Only to make a jolting, reverb-drenched, mid-song gear-change, with all of the sympathetic shock of jumping into a freezing swimming pool after a stint in a hot tub.

After a two-song encore, Mogwai closed out the night with “My Father My King,” and bid goodbye to a euphoric audience still shouting song requests. If it was atonement Mogwai sought, Mandela Hall seemed happy to forgive one of post-rock’s most celebrated bands.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival: In-the-Round with Nanci Griffith

(Photography by Ariel Bodey)

Allison Krauss and Robert Plant made the Grammy-winning Raising Sand album. Hazelnut and chocolate combined forces to make the unimaginably delicious Nutella Spread. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes made the criminally adorable Suri.

Unlikely pairings often produce superb results – the most recent evidence being the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, the yearly culture swap between the two Sister Cities.

In the second night of the 7th annual festival, one of America’s most prolific songwriters,Nanci Griffith, shares the stage with local artists Wes Grierson and Janet Holmes.

Inside the jam-packed Empire Music Hall, tonight’s “in-the-round” performance (where each artist takes turns playing) is instantly recognizable as a Music City tradition. Belfast local Grierson showcases a soulful warble that belies his young age, as well as a knack for percussive guitar playing and blues-soaked harmonica rips. Fellow local artist Holmes praises Grierson’s harp chops by remarking, “I was gonna bring a harmonica . . . I’m glad I changed my mind.”

A “folkabilly” artist who has worked with the likes of
John Prine, Willie Nelson, and Jimmy Buffett, Nanci Griffith boasts around twenty albums, a Grammy, and an award from the American Civil Liberties Union. In spite of Griffith’s impossibly petite frame, she is one of country music’s undisputed heavyweights.Griffith’s first song of the evening is “Listen to the Radio,” a tribute to Loretta Lynn, who Griffith says “showed me it was okay to play guitar and write my own songs.” She is backed on vocals by The Kennedys songstress Maura Kennedy, and a guitar-saddled gentleman who looks much like the Fu Manchu’ed cowboy from The Big Lebowski. The setlist also includes “The Loving Kind,” which narrates the watershed trial of a biracial Virginian couple. At the end of the night, Griffith introduces her final song by saying, “This is a song that every generation wants to claim for themselves,” before launching into a spirited rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer.”

With an eruption of applause, the evening draws to a close, it is clear that the seemingly improbable Belfast-Nashville pairing is a uniquely entertaining match. There is, however, some room for improvement:
ya’ll bring some cheese grits next year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

British Invasion: F-Bombing Banjos

"It was not your fault, but mine

And it was your heart on the line

I really fucked it up this time,

Didn't I, my dear?"

(Mumford & Sons, "Little Lion Man")

Christian folk rockers who indiscriminately drop F-bombs are my kinda people—and their live show at Lollapalooza last Sunday was as inspired as the best of sermons.

As I learned during my sojourn in Northern Ireland, Mumford & Sons has been delighting audiences and captivating listeners worldwide, since their debut album Sigh No More (their single “Little Lion Man” was #1 on Australia's 2009 Hottest 100 List). The London-based band, however, has enjoyed merely a cult following in the States, which is why I am compelled to spread the Mumford gospel to my fellow Yanks.

Mumford & Sons is impressive for a least two reasons. The first: Sigh No More is stirring enough to restore faith in folk rock to even the most banjo-weary Nashvillians. From the cascading trumpet riffs of “Winter Winds,” the unexpectedly rousing and rollicking banjo on “Roll Away Your Stone,” to the haunting vocal harmonies on “White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons' album deserves every bit of the pandemic praise they have received.

The second reason, though, that Mumford & Sons is remarkable, is decidedly down-played in reviews. Mumford & Sons is a Christian band, which is much-evident from their lyrics. Dear reader, I am as jaded by Christian bands are you probably are—which is why it is so refreshing to find a band whose songs are not riddled with tired cliches, simplistic music, and those churchy “hot-words,” all which have long kept non-Christians from taking Christian music seriously.

Mumford & Sons, then, does everyone a huge service by not dumbing-down their music. The happy consequence of this, is that they draw fans from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. The mere fact that I saw them play at Lollapalooza (alongside the likes of Soundgarden and MGMT), rather than (insert names of Christian music festivals in Ohio that I avoid – dare I say? – like the plague), is a testimony to the band's versatility in their appeal to the greater population of music fans.

There are several instances of the British unsuccessfully appropriating American inventions. The tasteless, plastic-wrapped flapjacks sold as “American Pancakes?” Fail. The establishment of a fast-food restaurant chain that masquerades as “KFC” but does not sell biscuits?? Blasphemy. But with Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons truly does justice to the Americana music genre. A band whose enthusiasm is contagious, they now boast a reputation of being one of the best live bands in the U.K. – it would be nothing short of sinful to miss seeing them in concert.

Listen to: "Little Lion Man" (Sigh No More)

Great Video of Mumford & Sons live at the Academy (Dublin)!: