Friday · Southgate House
Six years ago, Harvey Danger vocalist Sean Nelson and guitarist John Roderick decided to take a busman's holiday from the band to create a recording project where the pair would each contribute half of the songs. Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla offered his newly opened Hall of Justice studio and his services, and the duo assembled a group of friends -- including Fountains of Wayne's Brian Young, Sky Cries Mary's Joe Bass and Death Cab's Ben Gibbard -- and began recording.
Eventually the project came to be comprised of Roderick's songs alone, which led to a string of solo shows in New York. During his East Coast residency, Roderick signed with Seattle's Barsuk Records on the condition that he would tour to promote the project, necessitating the formation of an actual band -- he christened them The Long Winters -- to support his 2002 debut release, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm. After that, the lineup for The Long Winters changed on a fairly regular basis, through the recording of the band's sophomore album, 2003's When I Pretend to Fall, and on their subsequent tours, culminating with Nelson's departure in early 2004 to revive the long dormant Harvey Danger.
Roderick soldiered on with a still fluctuating membership -- during this period, the band was actually a trio -- and landed high-profile opening gigs for The Pernice Brothers and The Decemberists on extensive tours of the U.S. and Europe. In 2005, The Long Winters' lineup stabilized with drummer Nabil Ayers joining Roderick and bassist Eric Corson as the band released their heralded EP Ultimatum and toured with Keane. Last year saw the release of their third and perhaps best album to date, Putting the Days to Bed, which welcomed keyboardist Jonathan Rothman to the band.
With a well-deserved reputation as a scintillating and well-traveled live act, The Long Winters are ready to write another chapter in their voluminous tour journal and, counter to the implications inherent in their name, raise the Indie Rock temperature in town more than a couple of degrees.
Saturday · alchemize
Five years ago, Pittsburgh native Gregg Gillis decided to rebel against the passive artist-with-a-laptop idea and conceived a double-barrelled approach to the mixtape genre, combining an outrageously energetic live presentation with a cleverly executed mash-up style. Dubbing his project Girl Talk, Gillis created a soundtrack comprised of deconstructing mainstream Pop music, reordering it into an art noise pastiche and then appointing the reconstructed music with synced-up dance squads, multiple outfit changes and an active symbiosis with the audience.
Gillis' first Girl Talk album, 2002's Secret Diary, was an underground sensation, particularly among tech geeks who appreciated his use of digital signal processing to unravel and reconstruct songs to create his own unique sound. For his second album, 2004's Unstoppable, Gillis moved away from his DSP chop-sonic technique and focused instead on stringing together melodically linked samples and beats with razor-sharp editing and an infallible sense of what sounds right together. At the same time, he amped up his live presentation even further and began winning over audiences in a broad variety of settings, from keggers to concert halls.
With last year's Night Ripper, Gillis perfected his schizophrenic, sample-per-second style with an ear for the dance mix to create a thumping mash-up classic. From the beginning -- outside of a 12-inch, a 7-inch and a handful of compilations -- he's been associated with the Illegal Art label/Web site which, sensing legal troubles because of the amount of samples in Night Ripper, prepared a Fair Use defense before releasing the album. They haven't had to use it ... so far.
This year has brought even more acclaim for Gillis, as The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne nominated Night Ripper for the Shortlist Music Prize and Gillis won the Plug Award for DJ Album of the Year (which he decried, considering himself a sonic collagist more than a DJ). Gillis also started a remix and production group with Frank Musarra (aka Hearts of Darknesses) called Trey Told 'Em, starred in a documentary about copyright titled The Basement Tapes and posed for Playgirl Magazine. Later this month, he'll take his Girl Talk revue to the Coachella Festival and a high school prom in the same week. And he'll kill in both places. (BB)
Parenthetical Girls with Captain Werewolf
Sunday · Skull Lab
On the surface, the terms "Experimental" and "Pop" seem like oxymoronic bedfellows. But the traditionalism and uniformity of Pop music song structures has been tweaked to restructure the very definition of the term over the years. From Phil Spector and The Beatles to Xiu Xiu and Animal Collective, many artists have reconfigured expectations by using Pop as a base for wild experimentation.
Portland's Parenthetical Girls are one of the best modern-day redefiners of Pop music, deconstructing songs to their essential melodies and then turning it all inside out like a skinned deer. Not to say it isn't often movingly beautiful. On the band's most recent release, Safe As Houses, frontman/multi-instrumentalist Zac Pennington (and a score of guests) concoct music that seems to shoot straight out of emotion. With a swirl of xylophone, churning guitars, synth puzzles, strange, anxious ambience and atypical, edgy rhythms underneath, Pennington unravels a string of vocal personas, sounding at varying times like Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Conor Oberst (at least in the cracked, quivering intensity).
Like the bizarre poetry of Pennington's lyrics (there are tales of menstruation and "coming of age," seemingly from a female point of view), there's an unmistakable androgyny in Pennington's impressively dynamic vocal personality and timbre. If you put a song like "Love Connection Pt. 2" next to the oboe-and-string-laden "Keyholes and Curtains" on a mixtape, it would be easier to convince someone that it was two different bands than it would be to persuade them that both songs came from the same brain.
Musically, Safe As Houses is a ghostly mirage of hovering atmospherics and sparse beats that appear almost randomly. "I Was the Dancer" is a noisy highlight -- floating on a bed of airy, white-noise distortion, an organ pumps out a nervous melody that Pennington shadows with his vocals, as Skeleton Key-like pots-and-pans percussion and lacerating horror-show strings intermittently join the black-out-the-windows uneasiness. The gauzy "Oh Daughter/Disaster" is another highpoint, a mesmerizing slow burn of a ballad that showcases Pennington's vocal versatility (this is the one reminiscent of Antony) and his deft ability to add holes to his compositions in just the right spots. Safe As Houses is the sound of uncertainty and agitation, a soundtrack for your low-key "Eve of Armageddon" party, which might be coming sooner than you think.
Parenthetical Girls are endlessly compared to Xiu Xiu (that band's Jamie Stewart has worked with the PGs, making it an even easier leap to make). But if you dislike that Art Pop group or love them but don't want to hear a cheap imitation, don't let the comparisons scare you away. Parenthetical Girls are intrinsically poignant, challenging and absorbing in their own right. (Mike Breen)
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