Thursday, January 31, 2008


Vampire Weekend, heard of ‘em? They’re everywhere. And for every positive write-up the New York City band has received, there has been a call-to-arms to ignore them (Tom Breihan even wrote a column about the current love-hate state of affairs). I can understand the apprehension – the quartet looks like they’d enjoy a weekend of yachting at Martha’s Vineyard more than, say, a sold-out show at Philadelphia’s sweat-friendly First Unitarian Church (where they will be a week from today, actually). Many VW detractors cite the group’s seemingly obnoxious resume as the problem. The band members met at Columbia (ugh, educated musicians!), wear boat shoes (the horror!) and name-drop Louis Vuitton (I only like when Pharrell does that!). To top it off, Vampire Weekend’s music is influenced by black people. Afropop, to be specific. Who do these guys think they are?

As far as I can tell, they’re four members of a quaint indie rock band who just released one of the best records of the young year thus far. The self-titled Vampire Weekend album is quick, concise and defies ennui. The “Afropop meets Benetton” formula is simple: clean guitars (like starched-collars clean) are matched with crisp drums and keyboards that act as brisk pacesetters. Vocalist Ezra Koenig is rather straight forward in his delivery but is unafraid to use quick, high-pitched vocal inflictions to his advantage. I’ve only had the whole record since Tuesday morning, but it has nearly been on repeat since its unwrapping. And it’s not because of the hype. It’s because of the songs.

As of right now, my favorite song on Vampire Weekend is “Campus.” Blame it on my surroundings, but it’s difficult not to feel a collegiate connection to Koenig’s depiction of higher learning (and the women who come with the territory). Sure, there’s tongue-in-cheek humor like some of VW’s songs (“Spilled kefir on your keffiyah”) but there’s also a sincere sense of yearning when Koenig sings the chorus: “Then I see you / you’re walking cross the campus / Cruel professor, studying romances / How am I supposed to pretend / I never want to see you again?” The song’s protagonist never speaks to his love interest directly, but only from a distance. So as the song ends with the lines, “In the afternoon / you’re out on the stone and grass / and I’m sleeping on the balcony after class,” there’s a happily-ever-after void never filled but that’s OK. The song, like the album and the band that wrote it, is charming in its uncomplicated veracity. I do my best not to get sucked in to the blogcentric hype involving young buzz bands, but for now, Vampire Weekend is an anomaly. They’re actually pretty good.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


ATTN: Advertisers

Commerce isn't a bad thing and I'm sure Leslie doesn't mind the checks, but keep your hands off this one. It's fine how it is.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Before discussion, it must be said: the new Panic at the Disco single (“Nine in the Afternoon,” which is now streaming at the band’s MySpace profile) is not targeted to me. In fact, the Las Vegas group (and everything it has done) is more for ’90s babies. The type of person you might see at the mall walking toward Zumiez with an Auntie Anne’s pretzel in hand and Sidekick on hip. This is not surprising, nor should it be held against the band (I am older than all of the members, anyway). It’s all too easy to forget this and want to immediately attack the group (the fact that Panic first contacted Pete Wentz, the man who would later sign them to his Decaydance label, through the tell-all Web site LiveJournal has soured some faces).

And while I was not a fan of its overwrought, tongue-twisting debut record (2005’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out), I will admit that the group’s primary songwriter, Ryan Ross, and vocalist Brendon Urie are capable of writing memorable songs. I’ve gone days with the song “But It’s Better If You Do” in my head, unable to escape. But with the group’s debut filled to its brim with ostentatious stabs at pop culture (song titles reference the emotional car-wreck film “Closer” and Chuck Palahniuk), A Fever was too large of a pill to swallow.

So now we have “Nine in the Afternoon.” Ross and Urie talked about getting high and listening to Beatles records while writing the single. It is then no coincidence that the band is currently mixing its sophomore record (Pretty. Odd.) at the Beatles’ Abbey Road Studios in London. Panic is not taking a cue from its Big Brothers in Fall Out Boy, who are clearly attempting to perfect its crossover pop-punk anthems, but are rather looking to the past for inspiration. Or make that their parents’ past. Either way, it could be worse. The new song is adequately enjoyable with its Sgt. Pepper aping – horns, a bright snare drum and march-inducing piano. The boys add their own adolescent touch with lofty lyrics like, “Your eyes are the size of the moon / You could 'cause you can, so you do / We're feeling so good / Just the way that we do / When it's nine in the afternoon.” It’s all cheeky and fun. Look at this way: this is not meaty material. But what if a group of young emo kids can shed the absurd circus act and embrace something with a little more substance? Does that then rub off on its audience? Is that that bad?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


From a critical standpoint, it’s a smart rule to properly ingest and digest new songs, albums, videos, etc. before taking any sort of definitive stance. I’ve been burned plenty of times by not letting things grow on me; only to be dripping in yolk later. So no grand proclamations (yet), but a couple of new songs have surfaced (on the Internet, of course) and they’re certainly worth a few repeated listens. Tolerate, abhor, shrug off, whatever – just give these a chance. Might as well, January is a pretty dull month for music.

The supposed first single from the forthcoming N.3.R.D. album from Pharrell and co. leaked today. Like many N.E.R.D. songs, “Everyone Nose” does not sound like anything currently on the radio. It’s also a pleasant surprise – busy, sexy and very funny. Any pop act making music about “all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom” and the cocaine they’re about to snort gets a pass from me. The sultry breakdown at the end of the song’s first minute is quintessential Pharrell the Crooner, but the “Atchoooooo! Atchooooo!” on top is pure comedy. If coke wasn’t the new Red Bull yet, this song isn’t helping. Oh well. Did you hear those drums? (Spotted at The Fader)

Sean Fennessey posted “Black Hole,” a new Be Your Own Pet song from its album, Get Awkward, due in mid-March. If you’ve never heard them, here is a warning: the band is young (the drummer’s birth certificate reads 1990). Here is a warning to the warning: it doesn’t matter. “Black Hole” is fierce - snotty even - in a way only pissed-off youth can produce. The band’s frantic delivery (picture an angst-driven garage band angry at how bored they are) comes straight from vocalist Jemina Pearl Abegg and her deliciously bratty attitude. Read the lyrics for proof (sample: “Eating pizza is really great / So is destroying everything you hate”). (Spotted at Brokedown Palace)

I like these songs. More updates to come.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


One of my favorite bands, Hot Chip, is releasing a new album on Feb. 4 in the UK and a day later in the United States. It's titled Made in the Dark. The year is barely crawling -- not even walking, yet -- but this record has me by my ears, eyes and, most importantly, heart. In a word: affecting. I'm not ready to write about the record yet but I do want to mention 2006's The Warning. Some writers seem surprised by vocalists Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard's turn as balladeers on the new record, but I am not.

"Look After Me" comes in the middle of The Warning. The track’s backdrop is minimalist. Synthesizer blip here, warm guitar picks there. It’s a trance, and a trip – remember, this is the same band known for its dance beats and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Those elements are absent here, but the song’s emotional core fills the space exceptionally.

The chorus sounds like a deflated, and defeated, plead: “Look after me and I’ll look after you / That’s something we both forgot to do.” With the damage done, the song breaks down with the song’s most vulnerable couplet (“Every time I see your face I break down and cry / I see it in your family as they walk on by”). Cue the strings and it’s the beginning of the end, but should we be surprised? The final lyrics, which trail off sheepishly, make a case for this story being over before the drums were even programmed – “Come back to me and I’ll come back to you / That something we both can now not do.”

I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach when I listen to this song, and a lot of the songs on Made in the Dark. Part melancholy, part loss, part endearment, part ambivalence. That’s a lot of parts and it makes sense – these are complex compositions.