Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Learn to appreciate Heartland by Owen Pallett

Okay, so Heartland leaked a while ago, but it wasn't actually officially released until January 11th fo this year and since then the music blogs and sites have critiqued Mr. Pallett's (who recently dropped his Final Fantasy stage name) as being slightly uninspired and not all that interesting to listen to. Reviews have been mediocre all around. Well here's why I intend to fully appreciate and listen to the newest release from the Arcade Fire violinist and former member of the amazing indie group Les Mouches.

I have always seen Pallett as a composer. This word is often not attributed enough to indie bands and artists of today; in fact it seems to be reserved almost exclusively for classical composers and movie soundtrack creators. However there are many people in the music genres outside of symphonic orchestras and classic composition that deserve the label just enough. In fact, within reason, anyone who writes their own music for any number of instruments, whether it be for one guitar or ten obscure xylophones and vibraphones (we get it, Sufjan) could be considered a composer.

But let's not get carried away. Not everyone has the ability to churn out tasteful and interesting melodies and rhythms like some artists of today. I fully include Owen Pallett in this category of "composers". If you really want to get picky, he did in fact grow up with classical training and was composing by the age of 13 for the violin, his main instrument of choice. On top of brilliant melodies from his first two albums, "He Poos Clouds" and "Has A Good Home", the lyrical thought behind Pallett's work is something to be reckoned with.

"Heartland" is, in my opinion, completely on par with Pallett's previous work. While others definitely do not agree with me, I find it to be a natural and smooth progression of his work and talent. It is normal to watch an artist grow and change their style; some do it in leaps and bounds that make no sense. Others have gradual arabesque like transitions into new, more experimental and more interesting work. Pallett is the latter. "Heartland" is different to be sure; it has more in it, more strings and more noises to wrap your head around. But this is the beauty of the complicated compositions Owen has presented us with. It is clear that Pallett has steered himself towards a more experimental path; on "Heartland" he is trying out a lot of new things. And for someone who is exploring new territory, he does it with a beautiful ease, and with sounds pleasing to the ear.

Everyone critiques a musician in the first stages of their experimentalism; Stravinsky was harpooned by critics on the first showings of his "Rite of Spring" and later in his career was even more critiqued for his explorations in "Les Noces". He was even arrested for redoing the Star Spangled Banner (which is apparently illegal). I'm not comparing Stravinsky and Pallett's music, rest assured. What I am saying is: give the man a chance.

Pallett is taking new strides with "Heartland" and personally I am excited and ready to see where he takes them. I saw Owen live a couple nights ago at La Maroquinerie in Paris, France. He was quiet, reserved, but ever receptive and grateful for the audience. He let us select the encores and came back twice. The music live was impressive, grand, large, and Owen's stage presence is strong despite the fact it is only him and one other person with a couple instruments.

"Heartland" is something to listen to more than once. It's different, it's new, it's kind of weird, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. And I think you will too.

For your listening pleasure,
"Keep The Dog Quiet" track 2 from "Heartland"
"Flare Gun" track 9 from "Heartland"

Pallett at La Maroquinerie in Paris on January 24th. Photo by me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wanderlust Music Festival

A brand new festival that just finished it's first year on Sunday, the Wanderlust Music Festival took place in Squaw Valley in Tahoe over the course of three days, Friday to Sunday. I had the pleasure of attending Sunday, during which I saw The Honey Brothers, Amanda Palmer, Mates of State, Broken Social Scene, Andrew Bird, and Spoon.

The festival is a brand new idea arranged by three friends who wanted to create a new kind of festival. Indeed Wanderlust is very unique in many ways. Perhaps the main way that it differs from other festivals is the fact that it aims to combine music, yoga, nature, and enviromentalism; during the entire festival, there is music and yoga at the same time. You can go to the music stage and dance or head to the yoga stage and do some Sun Salutations. In addition to this harmonic mixture of activities, the festival takes place at the very top of a gorgeous mountain in California's Tahoe State Park. In fact you have to take a gondola to get up to where the music is, just as if you were skiing. The stage is positioned on a ski slope (the ski lifts in the summer make for an interesting atmosphere), and because of this, the back drop for all the artists playing is a gorgeous and vast veranda of mountainous valleys.

As Amanda Palmer said when she walked onstage: "What the fuck. We're on a mountain."

Probably the only festival to be located at 7000 feet, Wanderlust did an amazing job in it's first year. While the crowds were reasonably small, it was a strong turn out, and those who did come were dedicated to the cause Wanderlust presents. The bands seemed skeptical at first, but by the middle of their sets, all of them gave into the fabulous atmosphere of the crowd.

And really this crowd was fantastic. Ranging from teenagers, to college students, to old hippies, new hippies, young moms, and yuppie yoga fans, the crowd was receptive of each and every music act that came onstage, even if they didn't recognize them at all. I of course knew them all and had come for the sole purpose of hearing some fantastic music; but whether they were there for yoga or music or just the insanely beautiful scenery, all the people danced and cheered and yelled for the band onstage.

And I have to say, this was the most solid festival I have ever been to. The bands all palyed great sets. Amanda Palmer was witty and wry and even did an emotional cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", rendering it ballad style. Mates of State played a dancey and catchy set that got everyone into a good mood despite the 85 degree weather and high altitude. The entire crowd was jumping up and down for all their tunes, including "Get Better" and "Now", off of their new record.

Broken Social Scene might have been the best of the day. I heard from a source that they had been the most skeptical of playing the festival, and who can blame them? It sounds like a nutty idea. But once they were onstage, hitting songs like "Fire Eye'd Boy" and "KC Accidental", they were all into it (all eight of them that were present). They smiled when people cheered and really got into it. They even came back for an encore, exclaiming "I'm loving the vibe here."

Andrew Bird, solo onstage with nothing but a guitar, keyboard, loop pad, and violin, played a gorgeous set, despite the fact that most of his equipment had not arrived and he was borrowing from other bands that played the festival. He covered a few songs, played some of his old favorites, and generally had such a strong presence on stage that the crowd stayed silent and transfixed for the whole hour until between songs when they would scream as loudly as they could for the solo troubadour. Near the middle, Bird looked happily into the crowd of people on top of the mountain and said "This may be one of the best festivals I have ever played."

Lastly, Spoon brought the house down with a set of all their biggest hits and a Paul Simon cover thrown in. The entire crowd was moving the whole time they were playing: I was shocked at how responsive and into it the crowd was. No one was shy to show off their moves or throw their hands in the air with joy. Britt Daniel was really on top of his game as he syncopated some of the lyrics, jumped around, and joked with other band members. All seemed in the highest spirits possible. When they clapped, the whole crowd clapped. When the jumped, everyone jumped. I have never seen a better crowd in my life at a festival. Spoon played two encore songs, thanking everyone profusively and cracking a couple subtle jokes about the yoga part of the festival: "A lot of healthy people out there today!" Britt exclaimed with a great smile. "I'm thinking of changing my lifestyle."

Overall, Wanderlust was a great success. The presenters came out to talk to the crowd just before Spoon and promised to continue doing it if people were supportive. "This festival has no fences around it!" Jeff Krasno, the main presenter, exclaimed. "You can listen to music, do yoga, go hiking, go swimming..." Indeed, looking around from the stage, the landscape continued for miles and miles without any fence. The possibilities felt endless. What an amazing sensation, to be witnessing some of my favorite music in this atmosphere and scenery. Next year, I am totally swimming in the giant pond by the main stage, gazing at the sloping Tahoe mountains, while some up and coming indie band plays in the background.

Where else can you do that?

Other bands that appeared that I did not get the chance to see: Common, Kaki King, Rogue Wave, Girl Talk, Jenny Lewis, Gillian Welch, William Fitzsimmons, Rachel Godrich, Wendy Darling, Big Light, and a plethora of DJs for night sets.

Note: Michael Franti was set to headaline Saturday night, but his appendix exploded (jeez!) the day before and Common replaced him last minute.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Clues debut!

So exactly what has Alden Penner been doing since The Unicorns dramatically disbanded? Working with his new band Clues, of course (and actually playing at my college last November to a group of about 25.)

It's no surprise no one has quite heard of Clues yet: they have barely played any shows or toured at all and the record label they are signed to has just about the most cryptic and difficult website to navigate ever (perhaps this is on purpose, to keep up the mystery and whatnot). They also did not released any kind of EP before this full length, only sending their songs through the blogosphere and internet. Still, after having seen them live last term I was waiting and waiting for this full length to come out, not only because what I did hear sounded amazing, but also because I wanted to see what else they would do.

Now that the album has leaked, I am pleased to say I am thoroughly enjoying it. It's a great album, solid and strong with at least four leading tracks that are really amazing. And shocker: you can barely hear The Unicorns in it! Thank goodness someone has moved on. Obviously the people he is playing with in the band know what they are doing and are skilled in the many ways of music. They sound great.

Favorite tracks:
"Approach The Throne" - incredible danceable, head bangable medley of horns and sticks being smashed into things. Easy "la la la" lyric segment to sing along to! Woo!
"Perfect Fit" - funky and weird, just how we like Alden
"Cave Mouth" - intense and sick guitar riff.

Bonus info! Count how many times Alden sings "Who here wants to sleep in the dragon's mouth?" Recurring theme maybe?

Download here
(thank you, Flaming Milk)

Thanks for this album, Alden & co. This makes up for Mr. Penner being kind of a dick to me after the show. Oh well. Nice work.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Go go go

Grizzly Bear
the Fillmore
June 21st

Cannot wait.

Bat for Lashes
great american music hall
June 13th

You know it's going to be so good.

Warped Tour
piers 30/32
June 27th

Just go because. Cheap fun stupid.

Monday, February 9, 2009

SF cafes you should know about

So, growing up in San Francisco, I have become quite accustomed to the cafe life. It seems to be a universal feeling in the Bay Area to reject chains as much as we can and find that little independent cafe we will dedicate our patronage to. Cafes in San Francisco are usually full and busy, and it is totally normal for someone to sit in one for one or two hours working or reading. It is also normal for friends to meet at one and then actually hang out there for a while. This is so different from other major cities I have visited in the US. San Francisco's cafe life is more akin to the small restaurants on corners in Paris or the coffee houses of Italy.

Whether you have experienced this accept of San Francisco or not, I am about to make it even better through the offering of ten delicious and wonderful cafes in easy to locate areas. I have even sorted them out by neighborhood and included MUNI directions, just to make things even easier for you.

1) Cafe La Vie
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley
Address: 514 Octavia St
I really love this cafe for a lot of reasons. One is the vibe - it's in an old garage so it opens completely up on the street in front. The ceilings are high, the music is good (last time I was in, they played The Dodos), and the chairs are comfy. Another reason to really love it are the low prices - it has remained cheap in this economic crisis, where even Mels had to raise their stakes. But not here. I can get a hot chocolate and a bagel with cream cheese for $3.25. On top of it all, the people who work there are super nice and the service is quick. If you stake out there with a laptop, they will be more than happy to keep the coffee coming. Bonus: delicious iced tea with a different flavor every day. I recommend the pomegranate.
Muni: 21 Hayes to Octavia and Hayes, or any underground to Van Ness station

2) Coffee To The People
Neighborhood: The Haight
Address: 1206 Masonic Ave
This is located right as you're getting to the end of the main stretch of Haight st. It is an awesome place; they are based around a theme of organic and fair trade products, always appreciated in today's world. It's a cool and busy atmosphere, and the staff is non-judgmental (which is not quite an abundant personality in the Haight). It's perfect for coffee and free wifi or to grab something with a friend. In addition to the name being extremely catchy and witty, the cafe actually does live up to it quite nicely with a very alternative anti-industry feel to the whole place. A popular cafe for many hip youngins' in SF.
Muni: 71 Haight to Haight st, or N Judah to Carl & Cole, or 43 to Masonic and Haight

3) Tart To Tart
Neighborhood: Inner Sunset
Address: 641 Irving Street
Okay so it doesn't have the cutest decor or homiest atmosphere, but their cookies and pastries are amazing, as are the coffee drinks they can mix up for you. The cakes they sell are also delicious. And of course, the tarts are a favorite. Tart To Tart also boasts a large selection of San Francisco native Double Rainbow Ice Cream, which seems to be getting used less and less (damn shame, it's delicious). It is reasonably priced too, and in a good location: there's a lot to do around there, from the de Young museum to the Botanical Gardens. I choose Tart To Tart over the Starbucks on block down any day.
Muni: N Judah to 9th and Irving

4) Cafe Cole
Neighborhood: The Haight
Address: 609 Cole Street
I adore the location of this cafe, and love their vibe and set up. The people who work there are really cool, and they still make the best mochas I have tasted to date. Cookies could be better, but the specialty apple cider (amazing) and bagels totally make up for it. Plus they always seem to a really good selection of pastries. When you're in there, look at the paintings of scenes from Wind of the Willows on the wall. They're very old and were there even before Cafe Cole was; however, no one seems to know where they came from or what they were there for.
Muni: 71 Haight to Haight, or 37 Corbett to Cole, or N Judah to Carl and Cole

5) Tartine Bakery
Neighborhood: Mission
Address: 600 Guerrero St
Okay, so it's more a bakery. Whatever. You can still sit and have coffee and something to eat. This place is incredible. The food is delicious and the location is perfect. The only downside I can find to it is that everyone loves it so much that it's always crowded. However, if you do grab a bite and a delicious coffee, then manage to get a spot, it is perfect. On a sunny day, outside spots can be tough but it's possible. Nothing like people watching with a yummy croissant. This place is also a real neighborhood cafe, big for gatherings of people or meeting up. The busy aspect is kinda cool.
Muni: 49 to Mission and 18th, or 31 to Guerrero

6) Java Beach
Neighborhood: Outer Sunset
Address: 1396 La Playa St
It's a long trek via the N all the way to Ocean Beach and The Great Highway, but once you're there and the ocean is gorgeous and Java Beach makes you feel like you live on a tiny island...you'll love it. Good food and drinks, outdoor seating, and a unique set up inside. The ceiling is low and arches ornament different parts of the cafe. Very intimate feeling. Even if it's raining, there's something about Java Beach that makes it seem so cozy. You really want the indie cafe vibe, go here. And ocean beach is literally 20, maybe 30, steps away, just across the Great Highway.
Muni: N Judah all the way to the end

7) Cafe Corbas
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley
Address: 364 Hayes St
I've been going here since I was born practically. My mom is a regular there, like so many Symphony employees (the symphony is just a block away), and has been popping in there for many years. I remember many a hot chocolate. I still like to go here now. It's a tad expensive, yes...but the coffee drinks are delicious (amazing latte, voted best in SF) and Nadi, the owner, uses really good products. If you become a regular here, or even just pop in once a week or so, the staff and Nadi are great to you and super welcoming and kind. He also gets to know your preferences very fast. Every time I walk in, it's "English breakfast tea, two tea bags, with milk?" Word. Sidenote: great sandwiches made with care.
Muni: Any underground to Van Ness, or 21 Hayes to Hayes

8) Caffe Trieste
Neighborhood: North Beach
Address: 601 Vallejo Street
SF classic, famed through the Beat Poets. I just really love being in here, not only for the historical significance, but also because since it's in North Beach, it has that awesome Italian cafe feeling. It opens up onto the street really freely and is bustling and alive. Amazing coffee. Bring a book or a conversational friend and soak it all in.
Muni: 30 to Stockton and Columbus, or 9 to Columbus and Broadway, or 20 to Columbus and Broadway

9) Peet's Coffee
all over
Address: word
Even if it is a chain, it's a local one, and their food/coffee/settings are still great. Plus support anything but Starbucks, right? Try and locate your favorite SF Peet's; they're all really different when you feel 'em. I love the one on Fillmore the most just for it's cozy seats and couches. I had my first mocha ever at a Peet's (8th grade) and thought it was the most amazing thing I have ever tasted.
A little story on Peet's of Berkeley

10) Cole Valley Cafe
Neighborhood: Cole Valley
Address: 701 Cole Street
It's just a block up from Cafe Cole, but they are totally unique and different. Cole Valley Cafe feels more yuppie compared to Cafe Cole, but that is not a bad thing! It's warm inside, friendly and inviting, and I love their hot chocolate. Make sure to get whipped cream on it because the whipped cream is hand made right there on location. It is delicious. They have a very wide selection of sandwiches and bagels to choose from, plus free wifi and plenty of seats. The bagels I recommend strongly, especially cream cheese and lox. They don't skimp on the fixings like so many cafes do.
Muni: N Judah to Carl and Cole, or 37 to Cole, or 6 to Parnassus and Cole

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Manipulator Alligator

I just believe strongly that you should know about this guy:
Manipulator Alligator.
His album has been on repeat in my itunes many a past night now.

The simplicity of his melodies and the straight forwardness of the lyrics is pleasing to the ear and also makes the music totally accessible to anyone. The words stick out in his songs more than I have heard in a long time, and you feel more like you're listening to a story teller who uses a guitar instead of a picture book.

Wonderful work.

Official site with free downloads


Full album "We Raised Them" for download

"I wish that everything were so simple."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Merriweather! Merry indeed

Okay, just admit it. You have downloaded the Animal Collective leak of their new album "Merriweather Post Pavilion." It was a wonderful Christmas gift for the entire blog community. Hm. You haven't downloaded it you say? Well my friend, as much as I love to spread the good word of support the artists, this album cannot, and I mean absolutely cannot, wait till January 20th. It's just too good.

Upon first listen, I was already blown away. The sounds and melodies are blended together beautifully and there is already more to each song than ever before. They feel bigger and bolder and stronger; Panda Bear said this was the best album Animal Collective have recorded, and I have to agree with him. It rivals all their past ones (and mostly certainly out does the mess of "Strawberry Jam").

My personal favorite on the album? "Summertime Clothes" would have to be chosen, but "Lion in a Coma" ("lion vs lying?" come on, they're just messing with us) has to be extremely close behind because it is incredible in it's break out moments and just all around.

To be played in enormous stadiums, dance parties, small clubs, or even just a gathering of fine high times with your friends...it really does feel like a universal piece. Epic.

Congratulations Animal Collective. This is amazing. On top of it all, your album cover is an optical illusion. Oh god that is sweet. Let's get summer tour dates going here.

To my dear readers: seriously, go buy it when it comes out though. If you're city is hosting a listening party, head to it, because it's about to be amazing and awesome. Bay kids: San Francisco has one! 21+ plus we have one nonetheless.

Animal Collective website

San Francisco listening party

Eargasms here!
First track on album - In The Flowers
Last track on album - Brothersport

For the full album!
The amazing Flaming Milk blog has the album up
Click here