I’ve sprained my neck.* I’m taking Vicodin and Thursday night is the first night of MidPoint Music Festival. When my editor told me my review should be first-person and to “think, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” I snorted at just how closely it might come given my current intake of prescription drugs.
No longer stoked for the experience but realizing it’s far too late to get out of going, I texted my friend, Rachel, on Wednesday night. Was she going? Could I tag along with her? The buddy system seemed like a good idea this time around. She immediately told me sure and that she had planned to see Andrew Bird, Best Coast & Dirty Projectors on Thursday.
Thursday evening, I stroll toward Washington Park. There aren’t tons of people out at 7:45, but it’s still early in the week and early in the night. There are still enough people that it’s easy to walk mindlessly at the heels of a group of scarf-donning 20-somethings and end up where I need to be to meet my friends.
I glance around, but I don’t try too hard to find Rachel. She’s one of those people you hear before you see. Instead, I find a spot near the sound booth between two relatively attractive and seemingly girlfriend-less guys, pull out my phone and begin to send texts and emails.
By 8:10, I’m bitching, though.She knows I’m jacked up on painkillers. If I wander off with some heavily bearded rapist in skinny jeans, thinking he’s Rach, it’s all her fault. Mostly importantly, I’m absolutely distraught that I shaved my legs yesterday. I’ve always had this strange idea that if I’m about to get raped, I’ll just say, “You don’t want me. It’s a hot mess down there.” I think he’ll be disgusted by my lack of feminine upkeep leave me alone. Now I’ll never know if that line works! Has anyone already tried it? I’ll have to Google it later.
It's 8:20 and I still don’t see Rachel. I do, however, see a tall, lanky shadow near the ATMs and he’s laughing. It’s Dan. I text Rach for confirmation and then head over to find him with a few other people I know. (They have names, too, but they’re really irrelevant for tonight.)
We make a few bad jokes and then Andrew Bird starts with zero fanfare. He just launches into his music, people applaud in surprise, and he carries on It’s a beautiful view. Andrew Bird has these slowly spinning art-installations that look like plumes of smoke and a very cool rotating double-Vitrolla-like thing. Above the roof of the stage glows the pretty, white flora-inspired window of Music Hall. Last time I went to Music Hall for the Opera, I was probably parked just about where my friends and I currently stood.
He’s good. His whistles have me staring at him in expectation. Where are the little animated birds fluttering toward him with ribbons for his hair and water for his face? It’s all just so pretty. I’m mesmerized.
Until my foot lands on something hard and round. Is it a sprinkler head? Yes. I know this without having to look at it. And yet, drop my head and try to find the small black circle as it hides out in the grass and my shadow. I don’t see it. But I feel it, right under my foot. It finally occurs to me that I should lift my foot and I immediately stumbled into Rachel and Dan, who shrug off my apologies. Figuring out how long I’ve known Dan requires higher math than I’m capable of, but he’s used to my stumbling into him.
The stumbling and bumping calls my attention to the fact that Andrew Bird is playing not only an entirely new song but also he’s in an entirely different spot. He’s near an upright bass, hovering over an old microphone and making music I love oh-so-much. Still, when it’s back to the usual stuff, I’m not the only one feeling the weight of his mellow music.
It’s decided that we need caffeine. Fast.
As half our group strides through back alleys and around clusters of people, Rachel tries, to no avail, to tell us that Yelp says Coffee Emporium closes at 8 p.m. She’s like one of Andrew Bird’s birds, she sounds nice in all the chaos, but she’s having a hard time rising above it. In the end, it takes standing in front of Coffee Emporium’s darkened doors for Dan and I to admit defeat.
Ira’s (Iris? I can never remember) is closed, too.
So, we do what any sensible, caffeine depraved people would do: We send Dan to his apartment to make us some while we go stand on Clay and watch Best Coast through a fence.
No one will ever convince me this isn’t the best view for their show. Sure, you can’t see their faces. But, you can still pick up on all their energy and hear things perfectly. Mostly, though, you also get to see the rest of the crowd dancing like crazy fools, singing along and having an awesome time. Standing outside that fence, I think I enjoyed the energy far more than I would if I were amidst those flying elbows and twitching hips.
Dan and, our friend, Erik are back.
They brought camp chairs and no coffee.
We utilize the chairs and this awesome see-saw for a hot minute before Dan gets a text about Bluegrass at Mr. Pitiful’s and then we’re off, again. I’m still not entirely sure what our friends were talking about at this point. They came out giddy over the .5 seconds of music they heard that sounded Bluegrass and Irish. (Despite knowing Dan for at least half my life, I’m still surprised by how absolutely stoked he is about this.) They mentioned a name that I don’t see anywhere on Mr. Pitiful’s Thursday line-up. However, on Friday we’re all meeting up at the Midway at 5p, where they are, apparently, playing again.
Despite multiple pleas of, “Are you sure we shouldn’t support our friend?” and “We could at least peak in and say ‘Hi,’” we don’t make it into Mr. Pitiful’s to say reassuring things to Young Heirloom’s Chris Rob.** For a brief second I contemplate making a stand. I’ll stand like Superman and demand we give this musician-man our dues!
Except they’re talking about caffeine, again, and if they go too far, I’ll never find them. Even not on my best of days, OTR is like that tricked out maze in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Except Lord Voldemort is played by a skinny, African American guy who comes up to Dan while we’re still on Main Street.
“Hey man, have you ever been tazed?” he asks my friend.
A bright light flashes and I’m terrified for my one-time best friend. What’s that disarmament spell? But it’s just a watch or a flash light or something and Dan, who I think I’ve only ever seen mad once (at me, of course), just shakes his head and tell the guy it’s not cool, he doesn’t even know him.
And then we’re just not there anymore. We’re in 1215 Wine Bar and Coffee Lab.
But, I don’t actually like either of those things. All I’ve wanted all this time was a pop or a chai. They have chai, though. And they’ll ice it! And, you know what else? It doesn’t taste like my coveted goodness from Fido, in Nashville, but I think it’s better than Starbucks. Holy Shit. This place needs a drive-thru.
I’m talked out of seconds by Rachel, who is bound and determined we make it to The Emery for Dirty Projector. I’m ready to give up the ghost. I just want another chai…or 10. There’s a cheese plate that looks good, too. Mm, Cheese. But, I remind myself that I’m supposed to be writing about the music. Also, I have no idea which direction I’d go to get back to my car once I’ve been properly filled with dairy products.
So, off we go, to the Emery.
It’s packed. Thank goodness Cincinnati is filled with some seriously sweet people. A bit of rearranging and the seven of us are in one long row in the balcony. We’re only forced to sit and hide yawns for a few minutes before the music starts.
I like Dirty Projectors and their quirky, disjointed Pop Rock. It makes me want to dance. Except no one in the balcony dances. I can see hints of movement and excitement below. But the people around me, the ones near the rafters, are zombie-like. No one moves, except to yawn or to leave. It’s hot, too, and I swear on anything that it smells like Skyline up there.
They should have played at Washington Park. Out in the cool air and in the open field, where there aren’t seats to lull the tired, drunken masses to sleep. That would have been better for everyone.
When I find myself trying to calculate the likelihood of my death if the balcony collapses, I know it’s time to go. It’s been a short night, but I’m done. If I stay much longer, I’ll fall asleep. Or I’ll throw up. I pop a Tums for the trip back to my car and duck out.
Once outside, I’m far less concerned than I should be about the fact that I have only a vague idea how to get to my car.
There is one thing I know for certain, though: I’m stopping for Skyline on the way home and I want extra cheese.
*Who knew that was even possible? Not me.
**That’s his name with us, whether he likes it or not.
The official MidPoint Music Festival guide, featuring preview blurbs on all 186 artists performing at this year's fest, is on the streets now to help make your MPMF.12 itinerary-planning a little easier. Yesterday, when the issue had just come out, I already had a handful of people asking me who my top picks were for the fest. Writing and/or reading and editing 186 paragraphs about 186 bands does things to your mind that I can't even explain, so I had to beg off. But I'm ready now.
Starting today, exactly two weeks before MPMF.12 kicks off in the venues of Over-the-Rhine and Downtown, we're beginning the "Daily MPMFer," a daily dose of recommendations for who to see at the festival, should you have a hole in your personal schedule. We'll post three blurbs a day — one about a bigger, more known act, one about a slightly more under-the-radar "sleeper" and one about a local band. I'll also add a song sample or music video to each to give MPMF-goers an even better sense of the artists' talents. (The blurbs were written by myself, the legendary Brian Baker and scrappy up-and-comer Deirdre Kaye, both of whom were hugely helpful compiling our beast of a guide this year.)
There are so many great performers at this year's fest, we probably won't get to all the worthy contenders, but we'll get you started (you have to do some exploring on your own). And, when in doubt, always go with the artist with "(Cincinnati, OH)" next to their name; all of our hometown MPMFers are worthy of your attention. Be sure to grab a guide (there should be plenty floating around come fest time) and start mapping out your long weekend of music.
We'll also add any MPMF updates — crucial or otherwise — in these "Daily MPMFers," to keep you abreast of the latest developments. You can also click here for our MPMF hub on citybeat.com, with feature stories, MPMF-related tweets and more.
Today's big news — three-day wristbands are selling quick and may well sell out. Be sure to grab yours immediately for the best pricing deal (limited one-day tickets will be $50 or you can pay individual cover charges which will add up quickly). Click here for more ticket info.
Hospitality (Brooklyn, NY)
Driven by the singular Pop song stylings of Amber Papini, Hospitality first caught attention with a lo-fi, untitled EP, which garnered a rare glowing review from Pitchfork. The band signed with legendary Indie Rock label Merge and released its self-titled full-length debut for the label earlier this year. At its core, Hospitality’s music has some of the primal vibe of early ’90s K Records releases, but the sophisticated arrangements wrapped around Papini’s compellingly unique voice give the album a depth those artists were rarely capable of.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Ivy, Tennis, Barbara Manning, Tiger Trap. (Mike Breen)
Hospitality performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, on the Grammer's/Dewey's Pizza stage. Check out the band's emotionally-heavy new video for the track "Eighth Avenue."
Eclectic acoustic Blues duo 46 Long is set to release its latest full-length, the dynamic Tennessee, tonight at downtown’s Arnold’s Bar & Grill. Showtime is 9 p.m. and the shindig is a freebie. The show will be a brand-new experience for fans of the duo. The group will be debuting a lot of new material and the first set will feature drumming assistance from percussionist Joe Pro. For 46 Long's second set tonight, the twosome will go "full band" with the addition of bassist Bobby Loggs and some other special guests.
Though “dynamic” and “eclectic” might not be the first words to come to mind when you think “acoustic Blues duo” — all three words suggest inherent limitations — 46 Long is both of those and more. Eschewing Blues clichés while still staying fairly faithful to the music’s rich tradition is a difficult balancing act to pull off, but Tennessee finds the twosome subtly integrating sounds from a broad spectrum of influence without losing their core, distinct sound. In the end, it’s one of the more creative Blues releases you’ll likely hear all year, yet the detours and tangents shouldn’t deter (most) purists.
On Tennessee, Blake Taylor (who primarily sings and blows a mean harmonica, though also contributes keys, percussion guitar and, uh, “crowbar” on the album) and Jonathan Reynolds (who sings and plays guitar while also providing bass and percussion) start things off with the stanky groove of “More,” then take the listeners through deft interpretations of gritty, Delta-esque Blues (like the title track), gruff Tom Waitsian eccentricity (“Lock It Up or Lose It”), full-bodied, swaggering AltCountry (a cover of the Starkweathers’ “One for Her, One For Him”), boogying Lyle Lovett-like Swing (“Don’t Drink”) and stompin’ Garage Rock (“Something Strange”).
Other standouts on Tennessee include a sparsely percussioned take on Morphine’s “Thursday,” and “The Best Revenge,” a dark, ominously atmospheric track that’ll send creepy shivers up your spine.
The recording is refreshingly natural (with only some distortion here and there to add shadowing), the perfect setting to wrap your ears around the duo’s ace musical skills. Taylor once again proves he’s one of the best Blues harmonica players in the region, playing the mouth harp like a saxophone, a vocal part, a rhythm guitar or pretty much any other instrument you can think of.
If you’ve given up on the Blues because you think you’ve heard it all before, pick up Tennessee and let 46 Long show you otherwise.
Here's a live clip of the duo performing the new LP's title track.
I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.
Friday, July 13
I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.
Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.
We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.
At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.
Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.
I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.
Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.
It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.
Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”
During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.
Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.
With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.
The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.
At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)
And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.
I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.
Now we have a festival.
Saturday, July 14
I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.
At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.
Naming your band Friends is a good way to make it very difficult for people to find you on the Internet, but the relatively new Brooklyn band of that name is worth the few extra clicks — you can and should find them. Released earlier in June, Friends' debut album Manifest! is ready to become the soundtrack to every party you attend this summer.
A few years ago after a surge in popularity, Indie Pop seemed to fade a bit as artists like New Young Pony Club and Little Boots found success with infectious dance songs. With Manifest!, Friends brings back some Indie Pop creativity and jubilation, just in time for summer. And while it's not all club beats and Electro grooves, Friends' music does have a unique danceability factor.
Manifest! opens with one of the quintet's previously released singles, “Friend Crush,” which is pretty much your invitation to jump right in and befriend Friends. Centered around Samantha Urbani’s vocals and complimented by an ESG-esque drum and bass part, the song is minimal but extremely catchy, acting as a great hook to draw listeners into the album. Like with the musical versatility, Urbani uses her voice in the most interesting ways throughout Manifest!, helping to keep each song fresh and distinct.
The contrast in sound from song to song makes Manifest! feel like you’re listening to a mixtape, spotlighting Friends' willingness to experiment and explore varying genres and ideas instead of settling for something predictable yet perhaps more "focused."
Other highlights on Manifest! include another previously released single, “I’m His Girl," a sassy relationship song that includes an unexpected breakdown involving
handclaps and spoken lyrics, while “Sorry" has a slight
Vampire Weekend feel to it.
Perhaps the best track on Manifest! is saved for last. Exuding an ’80s retro Pop feel, on closer “Mind Control," Urbani (using her voice more like an instrument) chants at the end what could very well be Friends' own “manifesto": “I don’t want the right to be rude/I just want the right to be cool/However I choose to do it, I do/Whatever I choose to be or whom.”
Friends clearly has no interest in falling in line with what fans, the industry or anyone outside of the group might expect them to be. The result is one of the coolest albums of the summer thus far.
If great reviews and the respect of your peers were tangible income, Warren Buffett would be paying 30% tax on his income as Alejandro Escovedo’s secretary.
From the start of Escovedo’s solo career — after a brief stint with the Kinman brothers in Rank and File and a turn in his own shoulda-been-huge True Believers in the ’80s — the hypertalented singer/songwriter has been long on critical acclaim and short on commercial success for a variety of reasons (label and distribution trouble, no love at radio, health issues), but he has continued to grow and evolve as an artist to the delight and amazement of his cultishly proportioned and loyal fan base.
Escovedo’s debut for Fantasy, Big Station, is the third in a de facto trilogy that began with 2008’s Real Animal and continued on 2010’s Street Songs of Love. Following those adrenalized-yet-sensitive rock albums/sonic scrapbooks, his first collaborations with fellow cult singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet and iconic producer Tony Visconti, Escovedo reassembles the dream team on Big Station, a set that rumbles with themes of home, love and a sense of place.
The album’s first single, “Man of the World,” bristles like Eddie Cochran shot through with a few thousand volts of Tom Petty; if there was any justice in the world, it would be pouring out of every car radio this summer. Like the best of Escovedo’s catalog, Big Station offers electric muscle (“Party People”), acoustic power (the title track) and heartbursting balladry (“Bottom of the World”), all of which he paints with the perfect brush and touch.
Escovedo’s exquisite gift is his ability to blend his Mexicali heritage with his unabashed love of ’60s Rock, ’70s Glam and Punk and ’80s Twang Pop and twist it into a sound that is weirdly familiar and pointedly fresh. And like everything he’s done, Big Station is his absolute best for now.
Since the dawn of Electronic music in the ’60s, one of the consistent difficulties with the genre has been that the idea of a composition or an entire record is often more interesting than the execution of the idea.
It would seem that Sigur Ros is at least tangentially aware of that circumstance because the Icelandic quartet seems to have found the proper balance of conceptual cool, ephemeral frippery and solid musicianship over the past decade and a half. This is the band, after all, that invented its own language on its debut album, 1997’s Von, and initially left all of the songs on 2002’s ( ) untitled.
That is conceptualism on a grand scale, but Sigur Ros has typically been more than equal to the task of making a soundtrack every bit as fascinating as the airy framework that underpins it.
After a brief flirtation with a slightly more tangible Pop song structure on 2008’s Meo suo i erum vio spilum endalaust, Sigur Ros returns with Valtari, which sees the band bringing strings and electronics back to their rightful place in its sonic forefront. While Valtari revisits the chilly ambient atmospherics of Sigur Ros’ early work, the band folds in dashes of Meo suo’s Pop ethic and ethereal operatics courtesy of a beautifully utilized girl’s choir.
The album’s first single, “Ekki Mukk,” takes Brian Eno’s aggressively Ambient stance while “Rembihnutur” soars with an expansive crystalline magnificence that could pass for Radiohead or U2 in an experimental moment while “Dauoalogn” swells like a contemporary hymn rising to the arched ceiling of a grand Electronic church.
If Meo suo i erum vio spilum endalaust was Sigur Ros’ Saturday night dance party, Valtari is their Sunday morning confessional.
(The following Sigur Ros video is NSFW due to nudity, including shots of Shia's LaBeouf.)