Musical synergy works best when you least expect it, offering a sense of surprise and inspiration all at once.
I knew the guys in Vampire Weekend were fans of hip-hop from past interviews, but I’d barely listened to the new album, let alone read the countless articles about it, before digging into Modern Vampires of the City on a vacation last week that required some road-trip material.
And that’s when “Step” stopped me dead in my tracks. The album’s third song stirred my subconscious, gently reminding me of a Souls of Mischief demo from long ago called “Step to My Girl.” The title was an obvious link, not to mention the familiar melody and chorus (you have no idea how much time I spent on the Hieroglyphics message boards back in the day). It all clicked – in one beautiful, mind-blowing moment in the car with my wife somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati. Did Vampire Weekend really dig into Souls of Mischief demos to construct this ode 20 years after the fact? Was I really this excited about it? Yes and yes.
A Google search turned up my answer (and confirmed that I need to stay on top of music news more often). Singer Ezra Koenig told NPR in May:
“Souls Of Mischief I’ve always loved. I kind of associate them with the first time that I really started become a music fan as a young teenager. This song apparently was recorded around the time of their first album, which was called 93 ’til Infinity, but it never made the record and it floated around as a bootleg for awhile. I only discovered it five or six years ago but it always really stuck with me, especially the chorus. I didn’t know where it came from but they’re kind of like scratching somebody saying, “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl.” Slowly as I listened to this song, I found myself kind of writing this alternate song based on that phrase. Later we found out that that in of itself is a sample from a rapper called YZ. We didn’t know that at the time. This was kind of the inspiration to write this other song that became ‘Step.'”
Even two months before that, in March, Koenig referred to the Souls influence on Twitter: “Who’s gonna draw out the Step family tree? Souls of Mischief (shoutout 2 those legends), of course, but then it gets a lil more complicated.”
Who's gonna draw out the Step family tree? Souls of Mischief (shoutout 2 those legends), of course, but then it gets a lil more complicated
Adding to the story line is the fact that Souls of Mischief have embarked on the “Still Infinity” tour (Aug. 14 at Club Red in Tempe) to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of 93 ’til Infinity, a favorite of mine and a downright classic. It’s clear I love when indie rock and hip-hop commingle, and twenty years later, it’s cool to see Souls’ influence at work in a most unexpected way.
But just when I’m coming to grips with this, I see this cover of “The Modern Leper” by the English folk/punk rabble-rouser Frank Turner, who tackled the song at a Record Store Day in-store performance, and I’m reminded again of just how great Midnight Organ Fight is – my favorite of 2008.
Based on name brand alone, you’d have to figure Overseas has the making of something incredible. And then all you have to do is listen to “Down Below” for confirmation that, yes, this will probably be just that.
There’s David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones, solo career). And then there’s Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), who trades singing duties with Bazan. And, oh, yeah, there’s Matt and Bubba Kadane (Bedhead and the New Year, who are freaking great). Pretty soon, people will start throwing around that “supergroup” word, though it’s hardly some glamour project. These guys share a pretty rich history.
As it is, I’m reaching obsessive levels with the song “Down Below.” I’ve already pre-ordered the album, which comes with an instant download of it, but “Down Below” is currently owning me and I really don’t want to listen to anything else. Bazan’s lyrics are gut-wrenching in ways I feel like I haven’t quite figured out yet.
The Overseas album comes out in June, or you should just pre-order it and get that instant download.
If the lack of activity over the past month wasn’t a clue, I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately. Cue a new song from the National – just in time. I won’t even pretend to be anything other than the unobjective fanboy of the band I’ve been for the past eight years.
“Demons” is the first official leak from the forthcoming album Trouble Will Find Me, due out May 21. Where 2010’s “England” – and so many National songs before it – slayed me with triumphant crescendoes, “Demons” settles into a comfortable groove from the get-go. Matt Berninger, as usual, sings a tick behind the beat, giving the song an almost unnerving flow. But his talk-sing baritone keeps it together until the knockout, insecure chorus: “But I stay down, with my demons. I stay down, with my demons”
And I’ve been harping on this for years, but I think we can all agree that drummer Bryan Devendorf is the unheralded star of this and so many National songs. His drumming is a study in restrained control. As much as I love seeing a drummer become unhinged, there’s something similarly satisfying about a drummer who makes a statement by being understated, a composed level of self-control and confidence that reigns over a song. And Devendorf has done it here. Again.
Eric, who discussed Toro y Moi in his last post, is back for more, this time discussing War on Drugs bassist Dave Hartley’s solo project called Nightlands.
One album I’ve really been getting into these days is Nightlands’ sophomore release, Oak Island. Nightlands is a band I’ve only just become familiar with in a sort of Six Degrees of Separation (or Kevin Bacon) sense. I’m a big fan of Philly low-fi singer/guitarist Kurt Vile, who is, along with Adam Granduciel, one of the founding members of The War on Drugs. These days, Kurt Vile plays solo, but Granduciel is the guitarist for Vile’s band and the frontman for The War on Drugs. Nightlands is the side project of The War on Drugs bassist Dave Hartley. Got it?
Hartley seems like quite the multi-faceted musician, which is always intriguing to me. Sure, he plays in multiple bands, but that’s not that uncommon, at least within the confines of the indie-rock world. A rabid fan of the 76ers and the NBA in general, he also moonlights as a basketball writer for two different websites: Top of the Key for Philly music blog The Key, and Death Dunk for Impose Magazine. As someone who DVRs as much NBA TV as primetime television, I really appreciate both his love for his team and the honesty with which he assesses it. I also like that he’s got a special affinity for not only the star players, but also the blue-collar role players. The “lunch pail” guys. The Todd MacCullochs of the world. The Matt Bonners. The Paul Shirleys. I’ve always been someone who loves talking and reminiscing about the random minutiae of sports, and Hartley really nails that in his posts.
He’s also a hardcore sci-fi “enthusiast” (notice I went PC in favor of the more pejorative “nerd-burger”). You could be quite literal in describing Nightlands’ work thus far as either “spacey” or “dreamy.” Spacey in the sense that his his passion for sci-fi certainly pretty obviously finds his way onto Oak Island, which Pitchfork accurately described as “a big-concept, low-budget rendering of the space age sound redolent of any of the movies that came out as an immediate result of Star Wars.” It’s dreamy in the sense that he apparently wrote his debut album, Forget the Mantra, by putting a tape recorder next to his bed in an effort to gather musical ideas conceived mid-slumber.
Both of these qualities are on display in the video for the first single, “I Fell in Love With a Feeling,” a quick blend of strummy guitar and horns that reminds me a lot of Destroyer’s last album (certainly not a bad thing in my view), and Hartley’s voice morphed into a sort of one-man robot chorus.
My first instinct was to try to view Nightlands through a War on Drugs-colored lens, but that’s pretty immediately ruled out as an option as I began to listen to Oak Island. One project seems to have little, if anything to do with another, which is pretty perfect for a multi-instrumentalist/basketball blogger/sci-fi fan – a guy who’s clearly his own person and would seem to hate being or doing what you’d expect.
I ask for forgiveness – and I also ask that the band return to play Phoenix again (we have such great memories).
Let’s start my road to redemption by posting this video for “Backyard Skulls,” a song off Pedestrian Verse, which along with Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts, has so far commanded most of my attention in 2013. Here the band performs at what appears to be the remnants of some high school dance, a seemingly innocent scene set against the sort of harsh truths for adulthood to come: “Backyard skulls / deep beneath the ground / those backyard skulls / are not deep enough to never be found.”
Eric is in Hawaii – eating exotic foods, surfing, laughing at us peons – but he was kind enough to leave me with two posts while he’s away. Here’s the first.
Toro y Moi played Crescent Ballroom on Jan. 30, for the second time in a year (bookended by Geographer at Rhythm Room the day before and Pinback at Crescent the day after, no less). I’m not sure what musical lottery we won here in Phoenix that week, but I wasn’t about to question it. His 2012 show, despite putting me in full geezer mode with the overwhelming underage section, was one of the best-sounding shows I went to all year.
Not that it’s the reason I like him so much, but it doesn’t hurt that Chazwick Bundick is also a fellow South Carolinian. I lived in “South Cackalacky” from when I was just a wee lad of 5 years old until just before my sophomore year of high school, when my dad’s job moved us to Illinois. When your home state’s musical heroes pretty much begin and end with Hootie and the Blowfish and Marshall Tucker Band, you can begin to understand how rarely I’m given the privelege of SC artists about which to get excited.
After seeing Toro y Moi this time, I found myself looking back at a short but already impressive catalogue and how it’s developed over the years. Through these past few years, Chaz Bundick has consistently explored new musical landscapes with each new album. On 2009’s Causers of This, Toro y Moi was a one-man band with a synthesyzer and mixing equipment. He was quickly lumped in with other “bedroom” recording artists such as Washed Out and Neon Indian and firmly inserted into a brand new, conventient square box of a subgenre called chillwave, the basic idea being dreamy pop as heard through a musical Instagram filter of sorts. Tracks like “Blessa” and “Talamak” had bloggers and critics abuzz, “Blessa” being of particular note for its oft-discussed, resonant line, “I found a job I do it fine/Not what I want but still I try” as being something of a mantra for young people coming to terms with a take-what-you-can-get post-college reality check in 2009.
The next iteration of TyM expanded Bundick’s reach beyond that of a solo project. He had already channeled his more electronic tendencies into his side project, Les Sins, which produced a double-sided single, “Lina,” in 2010. This was an intriguing, brief tease along the way to what I consider an essential album, his official sophomore release, 2011’s Underneath the Pine. While Pine‘s production is still largely rooted in the dreamy, spacey waves of that got him noticed with Causers, it also displayed an overtly dancier, funkier side with tracks like “Still Sound” and “New Beat.” Around the time of the release of the album, I got to see my first Toro y Moi show. The first chance was as an opener, circa-Causers of This, for the Ruby Suns at Rhythm Room, something I kicked myself for missing a hundred times over.
I’m not sure if I had been misinformed or just imagined it, but my understanding of Toro live shows pre-Pine involved Chaz, a microphone and DJ equipment. But when I saw them headline the South by Stateside showcase (including other soon-to-break-out artists Foster the People and Geographer) at the Sail Inn in March 2011, there was ol’ Chazzy on keyboard and vocals, a guitarist, a drummer and bassist. Toro y Moi had graduated to being a “band” in more traditional sense of the word. I wasn’t expecting it, and the live show admittedly felt distinctly different than the album, almost like a slightly abstract interpretation of it. All of this is not to say that it was in any way amateurish or took anything away from the sound of what’s become one of my favorite albums – it just felt like two very different animals, the live show and the album. I definitely walked away impressed and wanting more.
What’s been really consistent, though, each time I’ve seen a Toro show has been Chaz Bundick’s stage presence. For such a seemingly soft-spoken, intellectual, sheepish teddy bear of a guy, he plays with a confidence and swagger beyond his years and on-the-surface personality. The effortlessness with which he plays is really impressive to me, like I’m watching that kid destroy the Dance Dance Revolution game in the lobby of the movie theater, all the while with an “ain’t no thang” half-smirk on his face.
I saw them next in August 2011 at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, underneath a canopy of shady trees with a cold beer in my hand. By that point, having already worn out Pine as a soundtrack to almost everything in my life, this was to be one of my favorite shows. That spring and summer, and well after, I played the album pretty much everywhere. The CD was always in the car and on my iPod when walking, hiking or biking. I really enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of that particular album, and it’s just something I’ve never gotten tired of.
With January’s release of Anything in Return, Toro has ventured into some newfound sauve territory. The first two singles, “So Many Details” and “Say That,” are slow and sexy, with catchy hooks and quite a bit more bass thump than previous fare, and “Rose Quartz” exudes a healthy amount of swagger. “High Living” is similarly stretched out, allowing Bundick plenty of space to work into some deep Courvoisier-in-hand grooves.
I don’t want to say he’s “grown up” at this point (he’s still only 26, after all), and he seemed pretty self-possessed in his early 20s, but it seems that he’s hit a more adult stride with this new work. He recently moved away from home to live with his girlfriend in Berkeley, which doesn’t seem coincidental for me. As someone who’s had that moment where you decide that moving across the country is something that you are definitely all of a sudden going to go ahead and go through with, even though you’re leaving everything you know behind and have no idea what what this new place will bring, I can attest that it can be hard to look at yourself as a kid afterward.
I knew from the first listen, this album has a lot of replay potential for me, just like everything else I’ve heard from him, and I’m excited to see what I find as I peel back the layers. Hearing the new stuff after only maybe two or three times prior to the show, it wasn’t as familiar going in as I’d like for one of my favorite bands, but that happens. Although I couldn’t “feeeeel” it as much, I also have a gut reaction that Anything in Return will usher in new era for him and broaden the fan base further. Although I have a pretty personal relationship with the music, I’m happy about that. I recommend it to just about everybody and genuinely want more people to experience it.
I also feel like the live show is only becoming more integrated as Chaz goes along and adds more layers. The crowd was dancing and smiling throughout. Yeah, I was mouthing the words to about 75 percent of the songs. So what? I’m not exaggerating when I say that people were freaking out about some Toro, you guys. Deafening cheers and chants demanded an encore, and there was a palpable ecstatic buzz that filtered out into the lounge area post-show. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next time I see them.
In 2011, 10 years after debuting with the excellent United By Fate, post-hardcore outfit Rival Schools returned from a hiatus to release Pedals, a solid effort that seemed to comfortably pick up where the Walter Schreifels-fronted band left off a decade prior.
But somewhere in between there was a “lost” album – that most mythical concept. Rival Schools have their own version, and what once was lost now is Found (sorry). On April 9, the band will release Found, a remastered collection of those lost tracks originally meant to serve as the second album.
Below is a stream of one of the songs, “Indisposable Heroes” and a Q&A with Schreifels (unedited by me) that the group’s marketing firm included with the email blast about the album. It offers all the details you’d want about the unearthing of Found.
It’s been a long time – too long – since I’ve mentioned Mazarin’s name on this blog. To be exact, it’s been more than six years. That was in November 2006, when Mazarin was forced to retire its name because of a cease and desist order by an attorney hired by another band with the same name. Long story short: Mazarin retired its name and, worse, retired as a band, playing a final show in December 2006 in its hometown of Philadelphia.
It was a shame for Mazarin to endure such an abrupt ending; the 2005 album We’re Already There is a wondrous piece of pysch-pop. The Walkmen thought enough of the album to cover one of the songs, “Another One Goes By,” and include it on their 2006 album A Hundred Miles Off.
Here we are in 2013, and that synergism has come full circle. Mazarin frontman Quentin Stoltzfus has resurfaced for a new project called Light Heat, and he’s backed by Walkmen members Paul Maroon, Matt Barrick, Peter Bauer and Walter Martin. Spin premiered a new track, “The Mirror,” and instantly you can feel the influence of Barrick’s pulsating drums. This pairing is a very welcome development.
Light Heat’s self-titled debut album will be released via Ribbon Music on June 25.
Modest Mouse has an impressive track record of consistently keeping Arizona on its tour itineraries. At least since playing Boston’s in 1998 – and mostly likely even before that – Isaac Brock’s band has been a regular in the desert.
Since 2000, Charlie Levy at Stateside Presents has booked Modest Mouse at least seven times: twice at the old Nita’s Hideaway ( in in 2000 and 2001); once at the new Nita’s; twice at Mesa Amphitheatre; once at Celebrity Theatre; and, most recently (in 2009), at Marquee Theatre.
And with Modest Mouse playing the first day of both weekends at Coachella this year, it makes perfect sense to return. This time, Levy brings the band to his own venue, Crescent Ballrom, on April 14. The show will be outdoors, behind Crescent, which will allow for a capacity of 2,000, according to Levy, who used an outside stage for the first time in August for the Los Dias de la Crescent event. (The band is also playing Rialto Theatre in Tucson on April 13.)
(UPDATE: Here’s a video of Los Dias de la Crescent if you want to get idea of how the outside setup functions. The stage faces the venue with its back to Third Avenue.)
Presumably, Modest Mouse will have a new album out soon (featuring Big Boi?). But if you’re unfamiliar with the band’s catalog (what’s wrong with you?), I suggest watching this documentary on the 1997 album The Lonesome Crowded West. And then immerse yourself in the 2000 classic The Moon & Antarctica, an album that helped carry me through sometimes lonely and uncertain times in my first two years out of college in Lubbock, Texas. It’s certainly in my top 3 albums of the 2000s, if not in my top 10 favorites of all-time.
Tickets ($35-$40) for the April 14 show go on sale Friday (Feb. 22) at 10 a.m.
Below you will find footage of Modest Mouse’s soundcheck and performance at the Nita’s Hideaway show in 2000 interspersed with some B-roll of Arizona, via Nicole Nelch. Very awesome stuff. And as Nelch points out, the show happened on the same night as one of DJ Z-Trip’s weeklies at Nita’s. I’m so grateful for footage like this at a time when documenting wasn’t as simple as reaching into your pocket.