Tag Archives: Vampire Weekend

Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.


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Filed under funk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, review, video

Five from 10: top five albums from 2010

It would be so clever to have a “Ten from Ten” list of favorite albums from 2010. Unfortunately, I can only come up with a top five list. I’m sure there were at least five more killer albums that would’ve rounded out my top 10. I just didn’t find them.

I never want to say that any year was a “bad year” for music. If you don’t have enough good music to listen to, it usually means you didn’t look hard enough. I didn’t buy as much new music in 2010 as I usually do, for a number of reasons: I was broke, very busy at work, and I still wasn’t finished with 2009 (which was an unusually good year for music, in my opinion. Just to name a few: Phoenix, Daniel Knox and Grizzly Bear put out some great albums that took a while to absorb fully).

There were some 2010 albums that I really do enjoy, however, albums that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for many years to come. It’s hard to rank them, really, but I’ll take a shot:

1. Beach HouseTeen Dream

This one has probably spent more time on my stereo (and laptop, etc.) than any other album. Aptly named, it really does sound like a dream. In the past, Beach House mined shoegazer very well, capturing the atmosphere of bands like Slowdive. However, the songs I heard from them in the past didn’t really hold up that well for me in terms of melody and lyrical content. Style over substance in other words. This album definitely has both. The reverb is toned down so you can really hear Victoria LeGrand’s lovely voice. “Zebra” and “Norway” are excellent examples of indie pop. “Lover of Mine” is the best song of all, one of those songs that really tugs at the heartstrings. Every song on the album is solid. Modern dream pop.

My only complaint is the videos. I got the deluxe CD package with a video disk, and I’m just not feeling those at all. Silly, dumb, ugly, even painful to look at. All they do is detract from what is an otherwise blissful music experience.

Check this out if you haven’t heard them (avoid the official video if you know what’s good for you):

2. The Black KeysBrothers

This was one of those impulse buys at Waterloo Records. I had a stack of CDs in my hands and a certain amount I wanted to spend and they started playing songs from Brothers. “She’s Long Gone” and “Sinister Kid” hooked me completely. Had to put something back, ask the guys at the counter what it was and buy it. I played the hell out of it for weeks and I can always go back to it and still enjoy it. I was already a big fan of Attack & Release. Their music is a perfect mix of blues and indie punk. Blues, with energy and punch. The guitars just sound so rank and nasty.  Damn good songwriting too.

3. Legendary Pink DotsSeconds Late for the Brighton Line

These guys just continue to amaze me. There was a time last year when I was afraid they might be able to call it a day. Niels Van Hoorn (woodwinds) and Martin de Kleer (guitar) quit the band. Then Edward Ka Spel’s mother got sick and their planned North American tour got put on hold. But past member Erik Drost returned to play guitar and the Dots put on an amazing live show in Austin back in November. The latest album turned out to be a grower for me, but it certainly has been growing in my esteem. “Russian Roulette” and “Hauptbahnhof” are classic Dots songs, as is “God and Machines” (the last being one of the best live songs from their show.

4. CrocodilesSleep Forever

I like this album better and better every time I play it. At only 35 minutes, it’s short and sweet. It satisfies and there’s no annoying filler to skip over. There is a unifying theme – death – and the songwriting is solid. “Mirrors,” “Stoned to Death” and “All My Hate and My Hexes Are For You” are my favorites. I get a little bit of a Stone Roses vibe from some of the songs, particularly “All My Hate…” in that the tunes sound so sweet, yet the lyrics are so mean and cutting. I love juxtapositions like that.

Big thanks to Mark Whitby of Dandelion Radio for turning me onto these guys from San Diego. He played their cover of Deee Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” and I was immediately hooked. Based on comments in YouTube and 0n sites like Rate Your Music, they seem to have a dedicated group of haters as well as a nice cult following. The big gripe seems to be that they sound too much like Jesus and Mary Chain. I hear an influence, definitely, but I don’t think the criticism holds water. In fact — and this ought to piss off the haters — I got out my copy of Automatic to refresh my memory and frankly I like Sleep Forever more. Also I don’t like Psychocandy. So there.

I’m having a hell of a time deciding which song to embed, but “Stoned to Death” ought to do…

5. Vampire WeekendContra

Very enjoyable album, already mentioned on this blog. I love the way they’ve brought world music influences into the realm of indie pop/rock. I get a big Paul Simon vibe off the album, especially “White Sky” (which is in no way a put down – Graceland is a hell of an album). “Cousins,” and “Holiday” are really catchy songs.

I may be forgetting something I liked from 2010 and I’m sure I failed to discover a lot of good music. I’d like to see some other people’s top 5 lists and check them out. It might put me behind schedule for my best of 2011 list, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes 😉

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Filed under blues, indie, music, progressive rock, psych, review, rock, Uncategorized, world music

Vampire Weekend’s Contra – does it remind you of anything?

I have really been enjoying Vampire Weekend’s Contra over the last couple of weeks. It has tons of energy, great tunes and a wonderful Afrocentric sound. Songs that jumped out at me right away were “White Sky” and “Cousins,” the songs that convinced me to take that trip to Waterloo Records. The other songs are also enjoyable and growing on me. I also had an interesting thought. It really really reminds me of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. I know I’m not the first to recognize that. Compare the two videos below and see if you don’t agree.


Filed under indie, indie pop, music, video, world music

How ‘indie’ are your favorite tunes?

I guess it was around 2002 when I got bitten by the indie bug. I was pissed at the way the major labels sued consumers and cheated artists – and I had discovered the wonders of college radio. Back then I listened to KTSW from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas (then known as Southwest Texas State University), which turned me onto so many great bands & artists: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Cornelius, McLusky, Elliott Smith, Interpol…

I figured who needs the majors? I started paying really close attention to an artist’s record label and if they were on a major label, I would avoid their album or try to get it used. I wouldn’t even download it. Eventually I found out it wasn’t as simple as I thought. I knew who the major labels were, but a lot of times what seemed like a small label turned out to be a one-off, owned by a major. At some point I discovered a tool called the RIAA Radar, which will tell you if any artist or label is affiliated with the RIAA.

There was a period of more than a year when I wouldn’t buy any CD without first running it through the RIAA Radar to make sure it was truly indie. I’ve since gotten over that. Too many of my favorite artists are on major labels and one-off labels. Am I going to give up The Dandy Warhols? I don’t think so. I also don’t blame artists who sign to major labels. There are certain services a large label can provide that an artist can’t always get on a smaller indie or by going it alone, services like promotion and tour support. I totally understand why The Decemberists signed to Capitol (I still liked them better when they were on Hush Records though). It’s a risk though. A band might lose artistic control, or might find that it can never recoup the money the label puts in.

That old attitude I used to have, of “they signed to a major, they’re dead to me now” just isn’t practical or fair. Artists have to do what they have to do. It would be nice to stay in a hotel room instead of sleeping on floors while on tour. I get it.

However, it still makes sense to use the RIAA Radar. It can show you things about the music you love. Years ago when I used it, I was surprised at how many bands I thought were on indies were actually not. For example, Built to Spill used to be on Up, a true indie, but they later went to Warner, obviously one of the majors. Trail of Dead used to be on Merge, one of the big indies, but later went to Interscope, which is part of Universal Music Group.  (BTW, in the ’90s, there were six major labels. The majors currently consist of the “Big Four” – Warner, EMI, Sony, Universal. I understand EMI is having trouble, so we may be down to a “Big Three” before too long. The Wikipedia article on record labels is pretty informative if you want to learn more.)

Now when I use it, what strikes me most is how many high profile artists are self-released or on independent labels. For example, I felt a little twinge of conscience when I posted that Vampire Weekend video early on. They’re high profile enough, I was sure they must’ve been on a major, but they’re not. Totally indie. Beggars Banquet, which put out so many great postpunk albums and 4AD, which put out albums by bands like Dead Can Dance and  His Name is Alive, are RIAA safe. I kinda thought those might be sub-labels of some major label. Daptone Records (featuring Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) and Truth & Soul Records (Lee Fields) are straight up indies.

And thanks to the distribution possibilities of the internet, a lot of artists are simply doing it on their own, without even small label support. It’s pretty exciting to see that change unfold.

And BTW, if you’re interested in independent record labels and the DIY spirit, you should read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, about the American indie underground in the 1980s. I have a lot of respect for those artists and their labels, which include: SST, Sub Pop, Dischord, Touch & Go and K Records.


Filed under commentary, indie, Uncategorized