Wednesday, March 9, 2011

REVIEW: Childish Gambino - EP

Alright. Before you start reading this review, go ahead and download the EP we're talking about here. You're welcome.

Childish Gambino is the rapper alias of Donald Glover. Glover is best known for playing Troy on the TV show Community, but his previous jobs include DJ, stand up comedian, and Emmy winning writer for 30 Rock. So, he's only got a little bit of creative talent.

EP is more polished than his previous album, Culdesac, but it's no less witty or incisive than its predecessors. Glover's vocal style is a little rigid, which lends an urgency to his words, like he almost can't say them fast enough. His verses are littered with pop culture references ("You my stand in Cameron / Let me be your A-Rod," "I'm the boss / Michael Scott / Y'all is just Phyllises") and references to his own life ("You ever made out with a Gap ad?" "Couldn't see me as Spider Man / now I'm spittin' venom"). In fact, a good portion of the lyrics revolve around the trajectory of Glover's career and his quest to be taken seriously. This is a theme that is carried over from Culdesac. Glover feels looked down on by both black and white communities and he has no qualms with taking people to task about it.

Glover does a fair amount of singing on EP as well, including some falsetto. I think he's better off sticking to straight rapping, but his singing sets the tone for the songs by giving them a bit of a haunting feel. There's a sense of grasping for a foothold that is just at the edges of the songs. There's also more than a fair amount of cursing and foul language (NOT a work safe album for sure) that at first felt out of place. Soon though, I realized that it felt out of place because Glover himself was looking for his place in all of it. The imagery of high end bars and crowds of women feels thrown upon the listener, much the way a sudden rise in fame might throw them upon a celebrity.

All of this is not to say this album is a down-tempo downer. To the contrary, in fact. It's one of those albums that you keep turning up as you move through it. It gets your blood pumping and makes you want to get up, get a drink, and dance. Immediately. Glover's passion, creativity, wit, and urgency are completely infectious. I've got my tickets for the Childish Gambino show in my town this spring, and it absolutely can't come fast enough. I'm sure it will be overrun by local hipsters, but it's virtually guaranteed to be better than the Fred Armisen show everyone was so amped for last month. I'm so excited to see these songs live, not to mention Glover will be doing stand up as his own opening act. This guy has a huge and varied career in front of him, and it will be wonderful to watch it all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Something Corporate 8/11/10

Something Corporate 8/11/10, 9:30 Club

Sooo I was pretty much more stoked for this show than almost anything ever. It's been five (?) years since Something Corporate called it quits and various members went solo. I never really got to see them before that happened, and I was never able to make it to any of their recent festival reunion shows, so I snatched up tickets for this tour as soon as it was announced.

This was the second of a two night run at the 9:30 Club in DC. A legendary venue for a legendary band. The other notable aspect of the night was that SoCo had NO opening bands. Just two solid hours of nostalgia. The club was at full capacity - people were leaning against the back wall of the venue it was so full.

The band came onstage to "Reunited and It Feels So Good," as well as huge screams from the crowd. I do have to say that there were more men there than I was expecting, though the front row was almost entirely female.

Apparently the band had technical issues during the first night's show, but that was all taken care of by the second night. Everything sounded great, no instrument or vocal was too loud or too quiet. There were a few moments where Andrew McMahon seemed to strain to recall lyrics - just pausing a beat too long and laughing before beginning a verse. He never really had to worry though, the audience was singing louder than him on some songs.

The set list was as follows (I think this is the right order, please correct me if I'm wrong):

I Woke Up In A Car
21 and Invincible
Watch the Sky
Drunk Girl
Me and the Moon
Walking By
Cavanaugh Park
I Want To Save You
Only Ashes
The Astronaut
Straw Dog
She Paints Me Blue
If You C Jordan
Forget December
As You Sleep
Punk Rock Princess

This set is pretty much a SoCo fan's dream. The only favorite of mine that wasn't played was "Good News," but I wasn't really expecting to hear it. McMahon made a long speech about playing "Konstantine," and how its infrequency doesn't mean he dislikes playing it, but rather that it just takes up too much set time. Perhaps this was part of the impetus behind having no openers.

The set as a whole was energetic and filled with love. That sounds corny, but it's the only way I can describe the atmosphere of the place. Love, and respect between band and audience. Not to mention some nice guitar solos from Josh Partington, and plenty of piano gymnastics from McMahon. (On a band member side note - as we were waiting to be let into the venue, Bobby Anderson got out of the bus, milled around on the sidewalk for a moment, and then proceeded into the club...all with no one noticing him. Have people really forgotten that this band is a group effort?)

The crowd was enthused but not obnoxious. Even the younger fans weren't of the screeching, elbowing variety that I so often see these days. It was refreshing, actually. Overall, the show was pleasant, entertaining, energetic, and just plain happy. I sincerely hope they put out more records and continue to tour, at least for a little while longer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: 3OH!3, Cobra Starship, Travie McCoy, & I Fight Dragons

3OH!3, Cobra Starship, Travie McCoy, & I Fight Dragons at the 9:30 Club, 5.11.10.

Well, if you can't tell by now, Cobra Starship is definitely my guilty pleasure. I went into this show expecting plenty of skinny jeans, neon clothes, and semi-ironic headbands, and I got exactly that, plus a fun show to boot. After getting my ID looked at extra hard by the doorman (apparently I still look under 21), I headed up to grab a place on the balcony in order to see the show better and to endure less pushing and shoving from the high schoolers in the crowd. Quite a few parents were in the crowd as well, all of whom looked suitably shocked at the bands' banter and the music playing between the sets ("I'm On A Boat" in particular got a good reaction).

I'd never heard of I Fight Dragons before, and it turns out they're a Nintendo-core band. I find that this "genre" is fun in theory; it's a neat nostalgia trip. However, watching people prance around the stage while clicking away on a Super Nintendo controller is pretty boring and anticlimactic. The songs themselves were pretty standard pop-punk and the lyrics weren't very clever. I will say I giggled a little to see one of them wailing away on a Guitar Hero guitar, but I found myself watching the flat screen TVs that were displaying video game graphics and clips of retro cartoons.

I've been a big Gym Class Heroes fan for a long time, but to be honest, I didn't know Travis was doing a solo album until I heard "Billionaire" on the radio the other day. So, I was excited to see what he was doing as Travie McCoy. Turns out, it's pretty awesome. As far as I'm aware, McCoy had a lot of artistic freedom in GCH, but he's really spun that out in different directions for his new work. Imagine the emotional weight of The Papercut Chronicles plus the musical breadth of The Quilt. McCoy was mixing reggae, rap, '50s pop, hardcore, etc., etc.

world's tallest mic stand.

McCoy came on stage holding a handful of balloons with lights in them - a whimsical way to start the show. He still runs around the entire stage during his performance, but he doesn't pull faces the way he did when playing with GCH. He easily engaged an audience that had never heard any of these songs before, he kept things rolling for the whole set. I will definitely be buying Lazarus when it is released.

Cobra Starship took the next time slot. It was a pretty standard Cobra show, but I was surprised that the crowd didn't really seem that into it. I guess the place had mostly 3OH!3 fans in it. However, that didn't stop Cobra from bursting out on stage and doing their best to whip up a dance party. The had big grids of lights hanging as a backdrop and covering 3OH!3's gear. I think that's the biggest setup I've ever seen them have on a tour.

they say that kid, he's got soul.

The set list was fun, but there were some big holes - mostly that the only song they played from their first album was "Snakes On A Plane." They played two songs that McCoy has a rap on, but he didn't come on stage for either of them. He was clearly waiting off stage to come up for "Snakes On A Plane," but the boy they pulled from the crowd took up too much time flubbing the rap that McCoy didn't get to make an appearance. Which is sad, because that's something I was really looking forward to. I'd also love to hear songs like "The Ballad of Big Poppa and Diamond Girl" or "The Church of Hot Addiction" again. Mark DeJesus did have a cameo playing maracas on "Smile For The Paparazzi." It makes me smile to see bands continue to bring along the people who have been there with them from the start. Also, I don't think I mentioned it above, but Matt McGinley was playing drums for McCoy.

The City Is At War
Pete Wentz Is The Only Reason We're Famous
Kiss My Sass
My Moves Are White (White Hot, That Is)
Wet Hot American Summer
Smile For The Paparazzi
Snakes on a Plane
Living In The Sky With Diamonds
Hot Mess
Guilty Pleasure
Good Girls Go Bad

the beat is pumping, now she's blowing up.

I didn't stick around for 3OH!3 because I only know the song "Don't Trust Me," and I didn't want to have to stay through the encore to hear it. Also, I'm turning into an old lady and I was tired. Overall, it wasn't the best Cobra Starship show I've seen, but it was still decent and I got some good dance time in. | | |

Monday, May 10, 2010

Interview - Rooney

I had the opportunity to speak with Rooney recently. Read on below to hear from frontman Robert Schwartzman about music, fame, and keeping true to yourself.

PPJ: Tell us about what went into creating your new album Eureka. Did you do anything differently for this album than you did for any previous ones?

Robert: Making Eureka was a new experience for us. It's the first record we've done completely in house....literally in house. We used my home studio, which was an old two car garage that's been converted into a small studio. It's got great sunlight and a good vibe...not a sterile ambiance. Although we've always been hands on with previous albums, we produced and engineered the entire album ourselves. It was tough to pick songs, since there's no one with us to be the bad guy, so it made for a more fragile experience. But in the end, we made it through all the drama and picked the best stuff. Even pushed ourselves to go back to the writing process and improve the songs we set out to record. Overall, we pushed ourselves to get away from the old model in the music industry and to bring down our overhead. We're not on Interscope anymore and we're looking forward to working this album with ILG. Musically, we wanted to keep the album organic, but also keep the Rooney sound that our fans and our inner fans like.

PPJ: When you put out The Wild One, you were label-less. How is the process and experience of producing and releasing a record different (or the same) when you aren't on a label versus when you are on a label?

Robert: We're feeling the difference now that we're a month away from releasing Eureka. It's hard to call Wild One a release, since we didn't promote it in anyway. We used TuneCore to get it up on online retail sites and blogged about it. It was really just a way to keep our core fans happy till the new albums hits the streets...the online streets. There's a lot more work when you self-release. Luckily, we're not alone and we have great people working with us at ILG to help get the message out that Rooney is back! Or, that Rooney is still here! I like to get my hands dirty and we have a long way to go on our new journey.

PPJ: You've toured with some pretty high profile bands. What's been your favorite or most memorable tour so far, and why?

Robert: It's been cool to have such a diverse touring history. I like all the tours for different reasons. There are always ups and downs, no matter how big the tour or how credible the opportunity. I would say touring in Europe was very memorable and playing on international tv shows was very exciting for us. I remember playing on this French TV music/talk show and looking at my band mates thinking, "this is nuts!" In a good way.

PPJ: When you were working with Rick Ocasek, what kind of input were you willing to take from him? What did you learn from working with him?

Robert: Well, we never actually got to make an album with Ric, but we was super cool to me and we hung out a bunch. We flew out to NYC to play for him, did a show at CBGB's with my brother old band Phantom Planet. I asked Ric if I could use his Pink Jazzmaster, which he lent me...I held on to it for a few years! He really liked the "demos" he got, If It Were Up To Me, Pop Stars, and Losing All Control. He said we should just use those on the album and record the rest. Having his stamp of approval was cool and led us back to Keith Forsey and Brian Reeves, who recorded the "demos." We did a rehearsal that Ric attended and he gave me some notes, like, for the song Simply Because, "change the word simply because of the drugs, to simply because of the trust." Which I ended up changing.

PPJ: Looking back on your past albums, is there anything you would change? Why?

Robert:'s hard to say. There's always something to change, but nothing major that's been bothering me all these years. It was a bummer to make 3 albums and only release one, Calling The World, but we made the better album in the end.

PPJ: What is your favorite thing about your new album?

Robert: I think it sounds really good and the songs are some of my favorite Rooney songs. It's got different sides, so it's always hard to pick one song to play for someone.

PPJ: Do you find you get recognized more for being in Rooney or for your famous relatives? Has that changed over time?

Robert: I think it would be weird to be recognized for having famous why would that happen? I get recognized for having acted in a few movies, but I get recognized for being in Rooney too.

PPJ: Matt is leaving the band after this record. Are there plans for him to stay peripherally involved with the band?

Robert: Matt left the band already, but he made Eureka with us. He played great bass on the album and we had a good run together. He's now becoming a veterinarian, so he's off to a new life. We have a great new bass player with us named Brandon Quinn and he's really a great fit.

PPJ: How much say do you have in the movies and TV shows your music plays in?

Robert: We have full say and approval. Actually, I heard a song in a movie without approving it, but those were the Interscope days. Ned found a Chuckie Cheese that was playing I'm Shakin'...the robotic rat was singing our song! But I like when TV shows or movies or commercials use our music.

PPJ: What are your plans after the album release?

Robert: Well, I'd like to make a new Rooney album and I'd like to put out some music on the side. I've been producing and writing for different projects and I'm enjoying all of it. Also, I wanna make a X-Mas album!

Thanks again to Robert for answering our questions, and thanks to Mary Thayer from the Independent Label Group for arranging the interview. Be sure to pick up their new album Eureka, and see if their tour is stopping near you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview - Seabear

In case you missed it, which you probably did since I completely forgot to post it here, I did an interview with Seabear for Corduroy Magazine's blog. You can read it here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 End of the Year List

I feel almost unqualified to make a year-end list for 2009. I've been slowly working my way back into music, and I barely scratched the surface of what was released this year. So, consider this a partial list, and please feel free to tell me about someone I'm missing, or leave your own lists in the comments.

01. As Tall As Lions - You Can't Take It With You
As Tall As Lions have long been branded "the American Radiohead," and with this album they have taken that title and run with it. YCTIWY is highly atmospheric, deeply introspective, and extraordinarily beautiful. They've expanded their sound to create a world of their own, and this album invites you along for the trip.

02. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything To Nothing
To be honest, it took a long time for me to like this album. I am so attached to I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child that it was difficult to let new MO songs in. Once I got it, I got it though. Careening between calm and rabid, METN is a dirty, messy rock album about things that shake your core. I am so excited to watch these guys get better and better.

03. fun. - Aim & Ignite
I'm pretty much on board with anything that former Format members are up to, but fun's debut album also makes my list on its own accord. Though not musically that far removed from Dog Problems, this album is clearly a separate entity. The creative instrumentation and the way Nate Ruess deftly guides the listener through his wide range of emotions is what makes this album great.

04. Brand New - Daisy
Continuing in the vein of The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, Brand New gives us a darker album, full of ruminations on marriage, death, and learning how to grow up. Jesse Lacey does less and less actual singing with each album, but it works here. His raw emotion is what carries this album, and you can't help but feel like you're falling down the rabbit hole with him.

05. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
In the past, I've always liked what I heard from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but never enough to latch onto a whole album. With It's Blitz!, Karen O gives us a few of the ragged songs she is known for, but she also shows us a more focused side of herself. The band easily could have gotten stuck in a rut, but instead they tried some new things and polished older ideas into something new and exciting. This album isn't perfect, but it sets the stage for something great.

06. Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
This band came way out of left field, at least for me. I'm a relative newcomer to the stripped down, folky sound, and the Avett Brothers show everyone how it's done with this album. So many songs on the record are just completely heartbreaking, and that's a good thing.

07. Thrice - Beggars
Thrice could have continued in a thousand directions after The Alchemy Index, but they chose to start anew. The band is working as a tight, cohesive unit, while opening up to a broader rock sound. Thrice have always pushed their limits to make themselves better, and Beggars is no exception.

08. Sherwood - Qu
Listening to Qu feels like hugging an old friend. Sherwood took everything that worked for them in the past and dropped everything that didn't (cough "Alley Cat" cough). It's clearly crafted with love, and sounds just like an evening bonfire on a California beach - warm and inviting.

09. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
I think Wilco finally stopped trying to find a niche, and instead just decided this is who they are and they're sticking to it. Wilco recalls the pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot days, but this time the band appears to actually be enjoying it. Sure, everyone's saying But It's Not Perfect...but who cares? It's a good album with good songs, and as long as Jeff Tweedy's happy, so am I.

10. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist
I wasn't thrilled with last year's Censored Colors, but this album restored my faith in this band. Intricately wrought instrumentation combined with John Gourley's vocal acrobatics create P.TM's trademark acid trip of a style. Their winding, erratic songs make this album easy to get lost in.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brand New, Thrice, & Crime In Stereo 11/14/09

Brand New, Thrice, and Crime In Stereo at the Electric Factory, 11/14/09.

This was night one of two sold out shows at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. It was also Thrice's last night on the tour (Glassjaw joined the following night). I knew it was going to be a great show at a great venue, and I was not disappointed.

Crime In Stereo was the opening band. I'd heard good things about them, so I was interested to see them. While they had a lot of energy, none of it translated to the crowd - everyone stood stock still while they played. Their singer had a great raw voice, but he just couldn't get the crowd into it. Maybe the crowd was just saving themselves for the headliners. They did note that they were from Long Island, which is probably why they were on the tour. Unfortunately, it's not the first time I've been less than impressed with Brand New's opening act - I actually fell asleep during Colour Revolt's set a few years ago. CIS' set list was:

*new song*
Small Skeletal
XXXX (The First Thousand Years Of Solitude)
Third Atlantic
But You Are Vast
*new instrumental*
Almost Ghostless/Above The Gathering Oceans

I was very excited for Thrice since I've never seen them before (gasp!) and I have been listening to them for a long time. They came barreling out of the gate and hardly stopped at all. Dustin Kensrue sounded great, and their set was efficient, for lack of a better term. This band clearly knows what they're doing. I was a little disappointed that they didn't play "The Artist In The Ambulance," but I wouldn't want to play one song every night of my life either.

Of Dust and Nations
All The World Is Mad
The Weight
Helter Skelter (Beatles cover)
In Exile
A Song For Milly Michaelson
The Arsonist

After pushing the break between sets as far as they could, Brand New finally came on stage. It was every bit as good as it always is. Jesse Lacey's voice sounds more raw every time I see them - I'm not sure if it's for effect, or if his voice is just that torn up. They used almost exclusively their own lighting setup - white spotlights from the ceiling, the tops of their amps, and on the floor behind them, plus warmer yellow lights behind them on the side. It created a welcoming but eerie feel. About halfway through the set during "Vices," a projection screen kicked in and began showing disjointed black and white images. I'm not sure if they meant it to begin during that song, or whether that was a technical malfunction. Can anyone comment on that? However, I did this it funny that they used Lyndon Johnson's 1964 "Daisy" campaign ad during the song of the same name. They also appeared to be filming for a live DVD or something - there was one guy running around with a video camera and another with a handcranked camera.

Welcome To Bangkok
You Won't Know
Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't
Sic Transit Gloria
Jude Law And A Semester Abroad
Seventy Times 7
Sowing Season
You Stole
Jesus Christ
Bought A Bride
At The Bottom
Play Crack The Sky

I think they did a great job of pulling from all their albums, especially Your Favorite Weapon. The crowd of course FREAKED OUT when we were presented with "Jude Law And A Semester Abroad" and "Seventy Times 7" back to back. I thought it interesting that they opened with "Welcome to Bangkok" since they had taken to closing with it. And while they did have a second drummer on stage with them, notably missing was the group jams with a dozen or more people. That is not to say that the show suffered because of it, but it was just different. There was still force and passion behind the songs - very much so. I felt that all the songs across all their albums flowed well with each other, despite the older songs being so different from the new songs. Brand New has learned not only to work a crowd, but how to have them eating out of the palm of their hand. As for me, Brand New shows are always a bit of an emotional experience - sometimes for just remembering what a song used to mean to me, and sometimes just for the sheer force of the music. Because of that, I will never miss a tour, even if I have to go to Philadelphia to catch it.