When Maps & Atlases dropped Perch Patchwork, their 2010 debut full-length and first album for Barsuk Records, the Chicago-based quartet was just beginning to explore the intersection of their adoration of Post-Punk Math heroes like Don Caballero and their father-tilted love of ’70s Prog avatars like Jethro Tull and Mahavishnu Orchestra. M&A’s introductory EPs — 2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain — found the band pursuing a more Folk-tinged flavor, but Perch Patchwork was an expansive yet subtle attempt to utilize the totality of the band’s creative building blocks. That exploration paid huge dividends as critics and fans alike were drawn to M&A’s lo-fi sonic constructions and hi-fi orchestral ambitions.
Maps & Atlases’ sophomore full length, Beware and Be Grateful, expands and refines the musical trail blazed on Perch Patchwork. In the album’s formative stages, the band employed a collection of secondhand battery-powered keyboards to blueprint their textural arrangements and, although the keyboard sounds were largely excised for the final recording, they were vitally important in forcing M&A to rethink their creative process.
As a result, Beware and Be Grateful doesn’t stray impossibly far from Perch Patchwork but it definitely advances the band’s flag a little further up the hill, exhibiting a forceful Math Pop sound that shimmers and shakes with an exuberant authority. The album’s opening track, “Old & Gray,” begins like Talking Heads tributing Paul Simon’s Graceland and finishes like Brian Eno producing Spoon. Similarly unexpected juxtapositions crash and meld into one another throughout the duration of Beware and Be Grateful.
Tribal choral melodies float above while the band skips and skates around a soundtrack that is equal measures of quirky Indie Rock (“Vampires”) and blippy Electro Pop (“Silver Self”). There are still plenty of remnants of the band’s organic approach to song construction but there are also many more examples of Maps & Atlases pushing themselves to think well beyond the natural box they fashioned on their earlier releases, blending their influences and experiences and evolving in fascinating new directions.
(Maps & Atlases perform July 15 at the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival along Cincinnati's riverfront.)
What a strange winter it’s been so far. As I formulate this intro, there is less than an inch of snow on the ground, which raises our total for this season to not quite 3 inches. That’s unbelievable. I grew up in Michigan. You know what we called 6 inches of snow? The first day of spring. Last February, we’d had so much snow at this point in the school year that the district had used all of its calamity days and they called off the Presidents’ Day holiday, which forced me and my daughter to cancel our annual long weekend north to visit family and friends. With this year’s mild winter, her four-day Presidents’ Weekend is intact, so we're headed to the Winter Wonderland as you read this. Michigan isn’t very wondery itself this winter; they’ve had more snow than us, but it disappeared within a day or two. Of course, there’s nothing like scheduling a mid-February trip to tempt the gods of precipitation. Back when I was doing the drive to Michigan on a monthly basis to see my then-young son, my grandmother used to say, “Brian, you bring the weather with you,” and it certainly seemed true. Once, when Josh was 7 or 8, I ran into 6 inches of snow in the late afternoon in Ann Arbor that was on its way to being over a foot of the white stuff by morning. They’d had a long snowless stretch back then, too, as I recall. You never know.
In any event, we’ll have a blast. In the meantime, there are these piles of CDs to keep me and you all busy and warm, so put another snow shovel on the fire and curl up with these current and late-but-great reviews.
Just like his famously troubled father, Justin Townes Earle has often generated as much press for his substance-fueled escapades as his musical prowess. Thankfully, that genetic predeliction has been tempered with a similarly potent gift for songcraft and creative evolution, two elements that have distinguished Earle’s catalog to date, particularly his last album, the sacred-meets-secular traditional modernism of 2010’s Harlem River Blues.
With his fifth and latest album, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, Earle once again expands his musical parameters and explores the wide range of music that has defined Memphis, from lushly arranged horn-and-sweat Soul (the rousing Dr. Johnesque boogie Blues of “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea”) to spartan singer/songwriter folk (the dry Country balladeering of “Won’t Be the Last Time”) to varying combinations of it all (the sorry-baby sway of the title track). On the album’s mournful opener, “Am I That Lonely Tonight,” Earle seems to address his acorn-oak issues with touches of Van Morrison and Jeff Tweedy (“Hear my father on the radio, singing, ‘Take me home again’/300 miles from the Carolina coast, I’m skin and bones again/Sometimes I wish that I could get away, sometimes I wish that he’d just call/Am I that lonely tonight, I don’t know”).
There is an air of immediacy on Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, a direct result of the whirlwind four-day, all-live/no-overdub sessions that produced the album, but that recording frenzy is perfectly counterbalanced by Earle’s laconic delivery, even on the album’s most energetic songs.
Nothing’s Gonna Change is yet another dusty jewel in Justin Towne Earle’s beautiful and slightly askew crown.
The crowd at Southgate House surely went home with sore throats last night. With every song David Bazan sang, his fans sang along. From a guy near the back who did an animated and fairly accurate imitation of Alex Westcoat’s happy-go-lucky drumming to the hundred or so feet that tapped along, all signs pointed to a happy house. Then again, what wasn’t to enjoy (other than SGH’s less-than-stellar sound system)?
I love music festivals. Like, love. The crowds, the music, the excitement in the air. MidPoint Music Festival is special for all of these reasons, but also because it’s essentially in my backyard. I don’t have to find a hotel, or crash on a friend of a friend of a friend’s couch (see: Lollapalooza 2011) or worry about parking (see: no car) or getting lost (see: backyard). I can wander around the streets of Over the Rhine and downtown Cincinnati with lots of other like-minded people, basking in the glow emanating from each venue, where musicians and fans are creating those magical, collaborative moments I love.
It’s never easy for a band to follow up a hugely successful album, but The Cribs had a doubly tough task after the overwhelming response to 2009’s Ignore the Ignorant, which was the group’s first Top 10 U.K. hit, outselling 11 of the 13 Beatles reissues that were released the same week. At least part of Ignorant’s success was attributable to the presence of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, who joined the Cribs after a chance 2008 meeting with bassist Gary Jarman. Marr’s departure in 2011 returned the Cribs to its original band-of-Jarman-brothers lineup for its fifth album, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull.
In many ways, Brazen Bull hearkens back to the Cribs’ early energy while tapping into the creative evolution that’s been percolating within the trio/quartet over the past decade. The Cribs’ raw conviction is all over the Nirvana-channels-the-Pixies-like ring-and-roar of the album’s first single, “Come On, Be a No-One,” two-and-a-half minutes of barely constrained Punk howl, an ethic that resurfaces on “Anna” and “Chi-Town.” At the same time, the newly reinstated trio displays plenty of Pop maturity on gems like “Jaded Youth” and “Confident Men,” where the Jarmans’ love of all things Cobain is leavened with a healthy respect for The Beatles’ melodic gifts.
The Cribs effectively demonstrate that the ultimate commercial success of In the Belly of the Brazen Bull isn’t nearly as important as the brothers’ ability to translate all of their influences without the taint of compromise.
While waiting in line for 45 minutes for the sold-out Wavves show at The Basement in Columbus, Ohio, I begin to notice a much longer line accumulating outside the substantially bigger and more extravagant venue directly across from me, The LC Pavilion.
Then, just as I’m about to ask the stoned kid next to me who is playing at The LC tonight, an older couple with leather jackets – the woman with pink highlights in her beach blonde hair – grabs my attention.
“Excuse me, sir. Is this the line for Garbage?” she asks.
“Well, that depends on your definition of Garbage, ma'am.” I reply.
After this smartass comment, I quickly apologize and assure them that this is the line for the Wavves show and that ’90s Alt-rockers, Garbage, are playing next door. During this short conversation, I realize something.
There are only two basic differences between those fans going to see Garbage at The LC and the fans going to see Wavves at The Basement — the generational gap and the smells permeating from the separate lines (their line smelled of liquor, while most on our side reeked of weed and unwashed clothes).
It was as if the people in the Wavves line were getting a glimpse into the future (mirror, mirror, on the wall, is THAT what I’m going to look like in 2033?) while the Garbage fans were getting a taste of their younger years (mirror, mirror, on the wall, did I look THAT bad in 1993?)
After the wait, the doors finally open and as I walk inside The Basement, I notice immediately that it lives up to its name. It is dark, cold, and even has that musty smell that basements do. It was like going into my Grandma’s basement as a kid, except this one had a fully stocked bar, a small stage, and a 20-by-20 pit that was filled as soon as the doors opened. (Step up your game, Grandma!)
The show finally kicks off around 8 p.m. as the group Cheatahs takes the stage. Although they have a decent 30-minute set, their slower, Pop-infused Grunge style seems ill-fitting for both the ambiance of the venue but also the acts that follow them. During their last song, I wonder if perhaps Cheatahs would have been better received as an opener for Garbage across the corridor rather than opening for the Punk/Surf rockers Wavves.
After Cheatahs finish, the second act, FIDLAR (an acronym for “Fuck it, dawg, life’s a risk”), comes on and the intensity of the show is taken to a whole new level. Although some critics have called this band Skate Punk, for me, that term seems to coincide with terrible Pop Punk and Tony Hawk Pro Skater games (which were amazing), so I’d like to deem them “Party Punk” for the sheer fact that most their lyrics deal with the fact that they like to get high and drunk off of shitty weed, cocaine and alcohol.
Their blistering opener, “Cheap Beer”, starts the set with a burst of energy that never falters during the next 40 or so minutes. By the time they finish, vocalist/guitarist Zac Carper is crowd surfing and ending their final song dangling from the sprinkler system that hangs above the pit full of exhausted but excited fans.
As FIDLAR exited and Wavves starts setting up, most of the patrons come out of the pit looking so tired it didn’t seem like they were going to make it through to the headlining act. Some of the concertgoers leave after FIDLAR’s explosive and energetic set, partially because, as I said before, they were too debilitated to go on.
I personally believe, though, that some left because The Basement has acquired the stench of a 16-year-old boy’s room (for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this distinctive smell, it’s basically a combination between musk, sweat, weed and alcohol) from all the jumping, moshing and mashing going on in the crowd.
The people that pushed through, however, are treated with the opportunity to see a very special and intimate Wavves performance. Nathan Williams opens up the set with the unflinching Surf Rock anthem “Idiot”, which not only is a fan favorite of the night (along with “Green Eyes” and “Super Soaker”), but also keeps that intensity set up by FIDLAR’s performance and takes it higher.
Wavves' set-list isn’t just comprised of songs off older LPs, as they accomplish a pretty choice mix of the earlier material and new, catchy, sing-a-long tracks like “Demon to Lean On”, “Sail to the Sun” and “Afraid of Heights,” off their latest album of the same name.
A pretty flawless musical performance and Williams’ witty, in-between song banter with the crowd (my personal favorite is when he almost chipped his tooth adjusting the microphone and said he was going to look like rapper Danny Brown by the end of the show) coupled with guitarist Stephen Pope’s bedazzled, purple tights and outlandish behavior give fans more than their money’s worth.
As previously stated, for those fans that stuck around for Wavves (which was most of the people there), we witnessed a truly special night. Not because this will be the last opportunity to ever see this band perform live again, but more because, with Wavves' new album, Afraid of Heights, getting the accolades it deserves and the band's following growing greater everyday, we will most likely never see them in this small of a setting again. In fact, I’d bet good money (if I had any) that the next time Wavves visits Columbus, they won’t be headlining The Basement but the venue across corridor, The LC Pavilion — even if Garbage is in town that night.
Since the 2005 release of their impressive Pikul EP, L.A.’s Brian Aubert and Silversun Pickups have gone from strength to strength with barely a hitch in their stride. The band’s 2006 full-length debut Carnavas was a bona fide smash, artfully blending Shoegaze crackle and fuzz with frenetic Indie Rock verve to create the Pickups’ singular sonic fingerprint.
As it turned out, Pikul and Carnavas were just appetizers for the meaty and moody main course of 2009’s Swoon, which established the Pickups as one of the major musical forces of the year and earned them spots on an overwhelming number of year-end lists. In the face of Swoon’s ecstatic reception, the question of what the Pickups will do for an encore has been casting rather a long shadow over the past three years.
Neck of the Woods asks and answers the query with howling authority. The band blazes through an 11-song set that buzzes like a swarm of electric bees while still managing to fold in plenty of subtlety and nuance for counterpoint. The album’s lead-off track, “Skin Graph,” is a six minute case in point; deftly flitting from delicate electric Folk hymn to epic Grunge anthem and back again, surfing the tension that roils in the stylistic gap between extremes.
In less creative hands, “Make Believe” and “Busy Bees” would likely amble along like standard Emo mopefests, but stuttering drum beats and off kilter rhythm methodology give the songs a compelling presence, while “Here We Are (Chancer)” drops all the way back into a quiet Synth Pop groove that builds toward the explosive movie cop theme of “Mean Spirits” and the aptly titled slowburn of “Simmer.”
In many ways, Neck of the Woods is not nearly as immediate as its predecessors, but Aubert and Silversun Pickups are smart enough to realize that the best music grows like a garden, with patience, care and attention, and that’s where the album succeeds in pushing the Pickups’ already expansive boundaries.