Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How is a mushroom like a jangly guitar riff?

Sounds like the start to a bad joke with a groan-inducing punchline, but it's meant to be an honest rhetorical question. The thing about mushrooms is: When I was a kid, I hated them. They were slimy and tasted weird, and I couldn't get over my loathing enough to even give them another shot until I was well into my teens. Wouldn't you know that when I tried a mushroom again later in life, it wasn't too bad. Within a year, I was eating them willingly, and now, as an adult, I literally go out of my way to occasionally order mushrooms in restaurants and buy them in stores. All this is really just a long-winded way of saying that I used to hate something, and now I enjoy it.

No matter what methodology of thought you subscribe to, there's no denying that our tastes change as we move through this thing we call our life. I've heard it said, nay insisted on, that one's tastes for food change about every seven years (interesting correlation to the idea of the Seven Year Itch, don'tchathink?). There may be something to that, I'm no expert--though that would be a scientific paper I wouldn't mind reading, if only because the idea of how arbitrary it seems strikes me as a bit absurd, but I digress. The simplest answer being usually correct, I generally tend to think that the reason for tastes changing results from nothing more than changes in people as a rule, both physical and mental. Meaning that the reason you like something when you're young is the same reason you may dislike it when you're older, or vice versa. (It's splitting hairs, the difference in these two ideas--the only difference is in the assignment of a length of time to these internal and biochemical changes--and in the end none of it matters, it's just a tale of two ideas, as it were.) When we're young and growing into adulthood, and we really don't know ourselves all that well yet, changes of this nature can seem at the least mysterious and occasionally downright inexplicable. But they happen...oh-bla-di, oh-bla-dah.

Again, back to myself as a youngster. I had appetites for swirling guitars and stadium-filling drums that led to an addiction to deep, ass-rocking basslines and star-reaching synth melodies; this, in turn, led me to blood-curdling needs for cinematic and orchestral mellowness, music-as-movement-as-music, and on and on and on. These different techniques and sounds led me through hundreds of genres and sub-genres over the course of nearly twenty years. And the reason any of this means anything with regard to the opening of this piece is that after all that, when I thought that, to some degree, I had heard it all (or most of it, anyway), I'm finding that my tastes are changing again.

I've been more drawn to vocals as a rule over the past year or two. I was always into lyrics and vocals, but never as pulled by them as I have been of late. Even more remarkably, there are a couple of vocal approaches that have really resonated in that time, and they are each very well encapsulated by a release from the past spring and summer. So, y'know, I thought we could talk about the approaches...and the records. Is, uh--is that cool?

The Group Vocal

With all the technology out there in recording today, it's easy to multi-track vocals to make it sound like several people are singing at once. Don't be fooled. There's only one way to do a true group vocal: several to many people singing, yelling, screaming the exact same words at one time, all recorded together. Accept no substitutes. You have to look no further than good ol' punk rock to find lots of examples of this, and there's no other way to make something anthemic than to have lots of people say it (power in numbers, right?). But there are some great examples in indie over the past decade also, see "Breakin' the Law" off The New Pornographers' first album, or "Cardinal Rules" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.

Now, we could probably have the chicken-and-the-egg argument all day about how The Group Vocal relates to a choir. I choose not to. Surely one begat the other, but I don't care which. For me, a choir is really just the culmination of The Group Vocal--the only natural and logical ending point for the practice. The only thing better than a choir, is a choir full of children. The only thing better than a choir full of children is a choir full of children singing indie songs for a great cause and selling it dirt cheap on Bandcamp. Can you see where I'm going with this?

Stream or download it here:

These kids wring all the emotion out of each one of these songs, and cement themselves in as one of the greatest choir performances ever put on tape because of the novelty of the songs they're performing, all indie and folk pieces by such Pacific Northwest stalwarts as Grand Hallway and Damian Jurado. It's an ispired idea, and it works every bit as well as you think it should, not least because of the amazing use of The Group Vocal. I've been listening to this through the summer in fits and spurts, and loving a bit more each time. Hearing kids this young give all the weight and heft you can handle to a song as epic as "The Commander Thinks Aloud" (originally by The Long Winters) will make you stop short every time. Highly recommended, especially if you're into The Group Vocal to the degree that I am.

The Falsetto

Not to take anything away from some amazing releases in the past few months that prominently feature some of the best falsettos in the business (James Blake and Peter Silberman, I'm looking at you), I think one towers over them in its sheer scope and willingness to veer into new and unexpected territory: "Bon Iver, Bon Iver".

This thing is majestic, and there's literally nothing I can say about it that hasn't been said or won't be said for the rest of the year before it ends up at or near the top of every Top 10 list that matters. So I won't expend a lot of effort here trying to explain it in any real way. Just a couple of points for me personally: 1) I always have an immediate and (usually) irrevocable aversion to anything that comes along with the hype that Bon Iver hit with upon the first release, "For Emma...", a few years ago. Credit to my little sister for making me listen to it and appreciate it, for making me see past the endless hype, which, as it happens, turns out is pretty much warranted. 2) This album is above being good or bad. I know how that sounds, but the listening experience is all viscera and cerebrum--there's no room to judge the songs for their own sake, no id or ego in the equation. It is not above being liked or disliked, mind you (nothing is), but it is above notions of whether a phrase is placed correctly, or whether a bridge is unnecessary. The songs aren't good or bad: the songs serve the album, and the album is too primitive an experience to be viewed in that light. My humble opinion, of course, but spend a couple of weeks with this thing and then tell me I'm wrong.

But back to The Falsetto. Interestingly, these vocals are almost all multi-tracked. Normally, this would serve to give the illusion of The Group Vocal (see above), but in this case, the layers of Falsetto only give more and more complexity to a voice that is, by itself, without equal in the realm of heart-wrenching falsettos. So, what we have here is kind of a perfect storm of the perfect falsetto voice being given the layered treatment to simulate what would, in theory, be a near-perfect Group Vocal. The reason it can't ever be that perfect storm is that, say it with me, the only way to make a true Group Vocal would be several Justin Vernons singing the same thing at the same time. Until science can deliver us disposable human clones, that particular perfect storm of awesome will never materialize. It's OK, though. I'll be happy just listening to this one for a few years.

So, mushrooms, jangly guitars, high voices...what does it all mean? Nothing significant, I guess. It's just another way music keeps giving. As we grow and change, all of our tastes and preferences are at the mercy of our chemistry. If we grow to dislike a kind of food or drink, we kind of have to be done with it, unless we like masochism (that's a whole other essay). But music isn't that easy to shake. No matter which direction our tendencies begin to lean, music can accommodate. We can re-set the types of music we enjoy, but we can't outgrow music as long as we stay engaged in it. So stay engaged, question yourself, question music. Find what you like. It's out there. And if you're not sure, just stick it in your mouth...er--ears...and see what happens.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This is the sound of not settling...

Man, it's been a while. I mean, really, how long am I going to keep this thing going? I don't have an answer to that, but I know for certain that I am addicted to having a place to vent...a place to write words--even if no one reads them or knows to look for them. Besides that, I really like some of the stuff that exists on this blog; it would be a shame for me personally to delete it all and act like it didn't exist. So, even if only once every 4, 5, 6 months or more, I will continue to post here. And it's OK if no one knows. It's OK if no one reads. The important thing for me is that the words are there--that I wrote them and they exist.

I think I've had a breakthrough recently. A breakthrough facilitated by my beautiful wife finally telling me that I need to shit or get off the pot (although her phrasing was much more motivational and somewhat less crass). I am not getting younger. We now live in the performing/arts/entertainment capital of the free world. The time is now. It's not yesterday or tomorrow, but now--today. Today (August 27, '11) can be the day I look back on as the day I decided to turn my life back toward something meaningful. The day I finally forgave myself for not being able to make the record store work, and set my sights on the next big dream. Today can be the day I quit living days just to get through them, and started making them work for me--the day I started using my time the right way. It's taken the better part of a year, but I am done grieving for the loss of Tyrannosaurus Records, and I can begin seeing it as a valid learning experience to build on (more wisdom from Samantha--and, you know, until she said it that way it honestly hadn't occured to me).

I never had a better time than running TRx and feeling like it was actually building something. Now, I can take some of the most amazing parts and use them to build something else--and this time, it can work.

I have a new goal. The cynic in me cries out that it's much too Tony Robbins to ever really mean anything, but I don't care. The goal from here on out is to do something every day that helps me realize my dream. It could be something as simple as thoroughly and critically listening to an album, or writing a blog on this thing that no one reads, or practicing some cuts on the tables... It doesn't matter what--just do one thing every day that I can use, however indirectly, to get myself one millimeter closer to feeling like I want to feel and doing what I know I can do. And if I can take those steps every day, then today I will have taken the most important step--the first.

I am realizing that I've been conditioned to believe that you get exactly one shot at doing what you want, you can take it or leave it, and in the end it'll probably just leave you broken. I can see now that there's no way that's correct. Everything that happens in life keeps piling on skills, memories, and experiences that you keep using to achieve ever-changing and ever-growing goals. You don't ever have to be defeated. This whole time...I've been choosing defeat. Choosing it because I didn't think I deserved more. It stops now.

Music, I'm coming back to you. I've been gone for a while now, and it'll be a while before I return, but I am going to need you to set out my slippers and get my smoking jacket pressed. I'm coming back home to you--I'm going to woo you again. I can't make you love me, I can't make you give me everything I'm asking. But you may as well plan on giving me at least enough to keep me occupied, because I'm not going away. Can you hear me knocking? Music...dreams...Los Angeles...I'm coming for you all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One possible "Desert Island" entry, or a permutation thereof...

We've all heard it. "What are the _______'s that you would take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?" This query has a lot of logistical issues (such as, "If I knew I were going to be stranded, why would I get on the boat?"), but it also has its merits--if we were faced with the possibility of nothing besides these choices, what would these choices be? I am by no means on a desert island (though there is sand here), but I similarly had to prepare to be without my records for a length of time. Knowing that, I had to choose a finite number to bring with me. Knowing, also, how difficult such choices would be, I purposely didn't put much thought into it--otherwise I'd still be in my spare room choosing records. Now I am away from the bulk of them, with only a few to get me through. What did I choose? What kind of gut-level non-thinking went into each decision? The Walkmen - Lisbon :: I chose this record basically because I haven't cracked it yet. I have listened several times, and thoroughly enjoyed it each time, but I still don't have the feeling that I have reached its emotional core. Therefore, maybe some time with it as one of only a few choices will facilitate the breakthrough. Elliot Smith - Roman Candle :: "No Name #2" and "No Name #3". What else could I possibly need to say? Not this album doesn't have other great songs, but these two are the two I always have to repeat every time I hear them. Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak :: This album is so good, whether you want some fist-pumping familiarity ("The Boys are Back in Town"), or some introspective beauty ("Fight or Fall"). One of my favorite 'Classic Rock' albums, hands-down. Descendents - Somery :: This is the musical equivalent of a 5-Hour Energy, but it won't make you feel dirty afterwards, or like the victim of the worst advertising since "Winston tastes good...like a cigarette should!". Besides that, I have a lot of great associations with the music herein. It's a no-brainer for this list. Avi Buffalo - S/T :: Every time I listen to this thing, I feel like I'm missing parts of it--not in the same way as The Walkmen (above), but in the way that new things reveal themselves with each listen. What could be better on a desert island than something that is consistently engaging on an intellectual level? The Good Ones - Kigali Y' Izahabu :: Heart-achingly beautiful, nowhere moreso than on the opener, "Sara". There's something relaxing, almost meditative, about listening to songs when you have no idea what the words are. It's about the closest I get to prayer these days. Tom Waits - Small Change :: This is in case I somehow find a case of rum on my desert island. There is no better music for tying one on... Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road :: I can't think of a more kindred soul for being away from home and somewhat disillusioned by both your old home and your new surroundings than Sir Elton, circa 1973. The better copy is still at home... Paul Simon - Greatest Hits, Etc. :: Even better than the greatest hits here ("Kodachrome", "50 Ways...") is the "Etc."--chiefly "Duncan", which makes my throat tight every time I hear it and doesn't even have a vocal refrain, replacing it with an otherwordly flute melody. This is definitely one I would want if I really were on a desert island. Mimicking Birds - S/T :: Often, I turn on vinyl when I want some layered background music to provide a soundtrack to any extra-musical tasks or conversations that may be going on in the meantime. This is a perfect record for just that purpose. Every once in a while, a melody or lyric will tug at your ear and make you stop short, but mostly it is perfect for relaxing with. Pixies - Come On Pilgrim :: For someone in my age range, with my tastes, this is such a classic that I am pretty sure I don't need to explain it here. The Stranglers - La Folie :: A concept record about love (But...aren't they all?) has never sounded like such a good idea. You get rockers like "Non-stop" and "Pin Up" mixed in with more mellow numbers like "Golden Brown" (one of my all-time favorites) and the title track, which sounds like an overture in a David Lynch-helmed Valentine's Day multimedia project. Pavement - Quarantine the Past :: It's newness aside, if you want a broad swath of Pavement tracks and you have limited space, it's the only way to go. A really decent (expecting more than "decent" is nigh-unreasonable) compilation of one of my favorite band's best songs. So...that's what I have for a while. Bring on the desert island.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Half-assery, and it's cousin, Lack of Motivation.

I keep re-reading the first words of that last entry: 'I don't do anything half-assed.' Turns out, the one thing I have been WAY half-assed about is keeping this blog up. Like everyone, I have a lot of things cooking right now--it gets easy to put 'ROOOOAAAARRRR!!!' on the backburner for weeks at a time. Now I am sitting around with some Toasted Sesame Wisecrackers (where have these been all my life?!), ruminating on how I've been totally undisciplined about posting here. Luckily, the situation is easily remedied; so, y'know, in case you were wondering what I've been getting into lately, here are the most recent and notable additions to the music gallery I call my life.

1. Pictureplane - Dark Rift : This album is blowing my mind lately. I had it in my DJ book forever and I used it for sweet bass/drum loops that I could adjust the timing on because they sounded good at any speed/pitch. Now that I've been listening to it for its own sake, I am loving it. Equal parts Crystal Castles' iconoclasm and NIN's psuedo-Goth, the beats are heavy and the vox hauting.

2. Avi Buffalo - Avi Buffalo : I had an idea of this album as a bunch of young kids making rock music, which is kind of how it's treated in the press, but there are such examples of layer and subtlety in these songs, it belies the image of a bunch of shaggy kids. I dig this--it sounds as "Pacific NW" as anything coming out of Seattle/Portland right now, even though the band is from California.

3. Ride - Nowhere : Yes, the P4K review led me to get this re-issue on vinyl--not so much because of the strength of the opinion or the review (which were both very high), but because it pointed out that I have very little music I can appropriately characterize as "shoegaze" and it seemed like a good addition, if only academically. I have been floored by this thing--the drums are cavernous, the guitars extremely melodic, the voices hushed and fluid. The album art almost perfectly encapsulates the quality of the sound. What I thought was more of an "academic" purchase has turned out to be one of my favorite finds of the past few months. God, I love surprises.

4. Decendants - Somery : This is the culmination of a years-long search for me. Ever since I moved to Seattle 6.5 years ago I have been looking for this album. I didn't care which format I got it on, or where I could find it, or what condition it was in. Many, many times I have made a bee-line to the "D" section of any one of several local record stores hoping each time was the time I would find this 80's punk classic. Never did. Until a couple of days ago. And in a testament to the often truly serendipitous nature of finding music (which is why I will NEVER give up record stores), I wasn't even looking for it. I was just casually flipping through vinyl, and there it was, smiling at me (don't ask me how)--brand new on vinyl for 12.99. Cue the sigh of relief. This album means so much to me. Part of the reason is that my very first concert ever, at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS on the night before my 16th birthday was Descendants headlining with The Suicide Machines opening. It was, I believe (?), their first tour after Milo came back, and it was everything I had ever dreamed a punk show, or any show, could be. That memory still is one of my Top 10 ever, several boots to my head notwithstanding.

5. British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall : I know what you're thinking, "Finally, something new on this list..." Well, I'm sorry. For me, it's just as fun to write about things that affect you differently over time as it is to write about brand new work. Anyway. Speaking of how things affect one over a time, it is hard to tell where this will rank in the pantheon of BSP's work. Their debut album, "The Decline of British Sea Power", is, I am pretty sure, my favorite record of the previous decade. It is a true album, a masterpiece of shifting tempos and atmospherics. "Open Season", the second album, may be one of the biggest sophomore slumps ever committed--if it were any band other than the band who had recently made "The Decline of...", it would probably be seen as a really passable effort, but given the circumstances it is sort of a monstrous letdown (That said, I do still enjoy it from time to time--as I said, it's not altogether bad.). "Do You Like Rock Music?" is the nearly-epic third album, and it shifts away from "Open Season", lending itself to a messiness found on the first work, but reaching for much greater heights--and at times, reaching them. So where will "Valhalla" squeeze in. Ask me for an official answer in about 3 months, after it's gestated long enough. For right now, I am calling it very near the quality of "Rock Music", and time could push it above. Another "Decline", it is not. But that's OK--part of what I love about "Decline" is the palpable sense of catching lightning in a bottle, the feeling that no one could ever replicate it, even the same people who originally birthed it. The greatest albums all seem like they could never be made again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

3 Albums, 3 Words

I don't do anything half-assed. At least I try not to. That is why I am still buying music from 2010, still hearing stuff from last year for the first time. I don't want to move too far into 2011 until I am sure I've heard as much of the best stuff as I can from 2010. To that end, here we go with 3 records I just bought and feel the immediate need to talk about. I decided to assign one word to each album to give myself a jumping-off point for discussion. It is the word I think most encapsulates the overall tone of the work. At the end of the day, what more could you want out of a music review than the conciseness of one word? And if you choose to continue to read my thoughts, so much the better...for me.

The National -- High Violet : SERIOUS

I can hear you out there in the interwebs saying, "C'mon, Nich--that's a cop-out. You could describe every one of their albums with that word." You make a startlingly good point--ouch. But I am not reviewing this in the context of their catalog, but rather in the context of all the other music I've been listening to over the last year or so. Why? Because I am under-educated on this band...I feel like I shouldn't tell you this because I'm not sure we know each other that well, but this is the very first National album I've ever listened to all the way through--the first one I've ever owned. I have heard enough samples of the previous work to know vaguely what to expect from their newest opus, but I finally decided to buy this one after seeing so much good press written about it over the past six months and its inclusion in so many "Best of 2010" lists. And the absolute best word I can come up with to describe it is "serious". This is a serious album. Is there humor? Sure, but it's all in a blank-faced, deadpan style--as in the title and chorus of the closer, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks". Mostly, this is a serious-sounding record for people who have the ability to laugh at sorrow and joylessness, beginning with its title--doesn't "High Violet" sound like a disease, or some color-coded terrorist threat warning?
Lest you go thinking I am not into that, let me assure you that I freaking love this thing. The rhythms are so constantly propulsive and uplifting. Matt Berninger's voice and lyrics are so sage-like and pained. The over-arching ideas here are so lovelorn, so weary and broken-down--but the music, as it often does, has such an amazing curative effect: it's as if the protagonist of each song is hypnotized into a reasonable facsimile of happiness solely by the cathartic experience of putting his thoughts into the world. As serious as it is, this album is all about creating a fantasy in which all things can be explained, and therefore gotten-over.
Song worth repeating: "Anyone's Ghost" - Berninger channels a heart-broken Justin Townes Earle who is in-turn channeling a gut-punched Buddy Holly in this song. The hook is tragically beautiful, complete with an amazing guitar/cello melody that begs to be repeated at high volumes.

Local Natives -- Gorilla Manor : HONEST

It is easy to sit here and say that a band's sound or lyrics contain the abject quality of honesty, but two songs into this album, I was kind of uncomfortable. "Airplanes", if I am not mistaken, is a soul-wrenching ode to a lost family member (grandparent?) that is as sad as it is beautiful. That kind of honesty is always appealing--it is the one thing that a piece of music cannot have too much of: there can be such a thing as being "too accomplished" or "too cool"...there is no such thing as being "too honest"--and the honesty here permeates every note, every word, every drumbeat. I kept finding elements this band used that reminded me somewhat of an album I have been unofficially saying might be my favorite of 2010, Foals' Total Life Forever: the multi-layered vocals, the dense musicality, the overall 'big'-ness of it. One thing that sets it apart from Foals, though, is that where Foals had a somewhat muffled effect on much of their production on TLF, Local Natives keep it splashy--every instrument and vocal is at the forefront of the mix, every single element recorded is in your face as though it were somehow recorded in audio 3-D. The other obvious distinction is that Foals hail from Great Britain, while these guys are 100% California. I could not be more impressed with a debut than I am with this one.
I have to say here that I heard a lot about this album when it was released early last year. I kind of thought the reviews were too complimentary, and that's part of why I didn't check it out before. I have to give respect to everyone who kept recommending it to me. I never would have bought it without all your collective thumbs-up's. The lesson here is, as much as I try to stay on-top of what is new and good, things still slip by me--and, as inevitably happens, I end up feeling like a pig-headed philistine when I realize everyone was right. Better late than never, I guess.
Song worth repeating: "Shape Shifter" - I could have easily put something here like "Um...all of them?", but if I have to pick one (and I do!), I will take this one. From its immediately uplifting bassline/piano and drumwork to the amazing chorus, this song is...ugh...it's so damn good. Regarding the chorus: I want so badly to reprint it here (copyright laws be damned!) because it's beautiful, but instead, I am going to go ahead and demand that you go find this song and listen to it, if only to hear the chorus. I don't make a lot of demands, but this is one I feel good about. Please--listen to this song, if you haven't. If you have, listen again. I insist.

Belle and Sebastian -- Write About Love : SOULFUL

Unlike the previous two entries here, I knew what to expect from this--or at least I thought I did. I have been a fan of B&S since when it was only somewhat cool to be, which is to say, I have a passing knowledge of all their work, and an intimate relationship with some of it. The album I have heard the least of was the one previous to this, The Life Pursuit, and I find myself wondering if I might have been more prepared for this new-fangled Belle and Sebastian if that were not the case. This new version features a Stuart who is just this side of angst-y, drums that are just that side of dynamic, certifiably off-the-charts production, and multiple instruments that are fully electric. Who are these people? Intact, however, are the Golden-Era-of-Pop-Music songwriting and the lyrically erudite sensibilities--turns out it's not so different, after all.
You have to love the title of this work. Writing about love is exactly what this band has been doing for nearly two decades. It's only held together by that theme as much as any of their records is held together by the exact same theme. But there is a feeling here that they have never captured before, a stripped-down soulfulness in every vocal. This is such an accomplished album--a band who is thoroughly satisfying every time out, at the height of its powers but still not afraid to try out some new (to them) sonic techniques.
Song worth repeating: "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John" - And I can't believe I'm saying it--this song features Norah Jones, who I've never been impressed by. But, damn it, she and Stuart Murdoch trading verses just sound so good together. This is a duet in the spirit of old Motown R&B/Soul music. It's pillow talk for wistful one-time lovers, and it is an absolute gas.

It occurs to me that I never write bad reviews--er, that is to say I don't review music harshly. Perhaps I will get there someday, but here's the thing about that: I have only ever wanted to point people toward great music they may not have heard otherwise. Therefore, I choose to write about music that I like. I think writing about music you don't like is something you do when it's your job (meaning you have to write about music at a constant rate, so at some point you are bound to have to write about something you don't care for), or when you are so moved by its awfulness that you are compelled to tell people. Rest assured there is plenty of stuff I don't like, but why clog up this blog (Ha! "Clog the Blog"! Get it?) with writing about it? If I don't like it, I just won't say anything about it. And that's why you probably won't see bad reviews here in the near future, unless (heaven forbid) I get suckered into buying and listening to something so bad that I feel like you need to hear about its badness, or you want to hire me to write reviews at the aforementioned constant rate. Otherwise, let's just keep it positive. What do you say?
That is all. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Head and The Heart: Live @ Neumo's 1/14/11

Don't read this. Seriously. Many other Seattle-based music observers will have much better accounts of this show, replete with pictures and set-lists and name-dropping. Go read one of those. May I suggest http://www.soundonthesound.com/? They'll probably have one-on-one interviews with all the band members and professional video you can download to your smartphone... All in all, it's probably a much better use of your time. Trust me.

Me? I just got home from this show, and I still have no idea what I'm going to say... I don't know which angle I am going to try and tackle this from.

First, the openers.

Lemolo is hands-down amazing. That is all I can say. I don't know how many more times I'll get to see these ladies, but each time I've been lucky enough to do so I have been blown away. Meagan's voice has always been superb, but it is beginning to take on a life of its own. She is developing a sultriness that invokes Beth Gibbons of Portishead, and it suits her well. Kendra is not only a bad-ass drummer, but conquers the difficult task (for someone behind a drumkit) of being fun to watch--her levity brings a great contrast to Lemolo's music, which can be intense. It's nice to have the balance. If you scroll down this blog a ways, you'll find me marvelling at how much these girls don't seem like twentysomethings, but rather like a well-oiled songmaking machine that has been churning out rock-solid music for years. Seeing them do it live only re-affirms that sentiment.

Curtains For You may be the most musically talented band in Seattle. If you don't believe me, name another group who could bust out a sousaphone at the drop of a hat. These songs are marvelous: they sparkle with 60's multi-part melodies and shine with 21st century wit. Matt Gervais has an enviable range, and a penchant for making really difficult vocal parts seem effortless; and the entire band has a penchant for making really complicated music extremely catchy and danceable. Do yourself a favor and see them. Soon.

The Head and The Heart. Does one talk about how genuine this band is? How do you articulate that? I could talk about the goosebumps I get when they play. But goosebumps are so trite and played-out. Everyone talks about goosebumps. I'd like to think I might be a bit more creative than that. Do I talk about the harmonies? Everyone goes on and on about The Head and The Heart's harmonies. Sure, it's safe, and nigh-indisputable...but why retread well-worn ground?

Let's talk about how they came out to a rousing Jay-Z number. I can't imagine anything more awesomely contradictory than a band like this hitting the stage for one of their first headlining gigs in their hometown with the PA blaring "Bounce wit' me, bounce wit' me...". At the time, I wasn't sure if it was staged that way or if it was just a joke played by the sound guy: I mean, the band was droppin' 'bows all over the place like they expected it, but then again, who doesn't love that song?

I could talk about how they owned the stage... I get the feeling that this band could make Carnegie Hall feel like your living room. They bring a warmth and authenticity to any venue that breaks barriers. Anytime a Seattle hipster crowd can raise its collective fists and sing along without any hint of irony or sarcasm, it is a victory.

But here I go, back to the word "Genuine". That's the best word to describe it. These songs are not altogether unheard-of. They are made of familiar parts: Beatles-esque piano melodies, a rhythm section worthy of Crazy Horse, Charity's vocal parts channeling Alela Diane or Laura Gibson, the ability to concentrate and synthesize the downhome folksiness of any number of classic rock torchbearers, etc., etc. But many bands who have easily-noticeable influences merely sound like they are mimicking those they admire. This band uses those elements as stepping stones to create a feeling and a sound that only belongs to them. No other act I've seen can make something so universal, so visceral, out of parts so seemingly anachronistic. While they are on stage, each member of the crowd--if properly invested emotionally--gets a feeling of being loved, simply for their presence and their willingness to participate. The foot-stomping and hand-clapping becomes contagious; the lyrics become salvos of all the things we are thinking in our heads and then censoring because they ring too true.

Even though they only recently got their record deal, this band is huge. And somehow, many of us are only now noticing that they always have been. From the grandiose road-tripping of "Down in the Valley" to the stately tenderness of "Winter Song", they've been simply being--not becoming--larger than life. All this time they've been saying, "We're well on our way...", and it has been true, in ways we couldn't even begin to conceptualize.

That will never be more obvious than it was tonight.