26 May 2009

POPFEST! day three: eux autres, the secret history, pants yell!, and the radio dept.

The Secret History with The Radio Dept., Pants Yell!, and Eux Autres @ The Bell House, New York (May 16, 2009)

I used to keep a blog about live music, but the problem was always that I was months and months late with reviews. That seems to be happening here, too.

But, there also isn’t much to report about the third day of Popfest.

Eux Autres delivered a particularly sad performance, even though I am really fond of their music. Having added Yoshi from The Aislers Set, I was excited to hear some of their new material. The result was their usual brand of frantic jangly Pacific Northwest pop with boy-girl vocals, but there just wasn’t much exciting about the performance. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and attribute it to the fact that The Bell House was just too big of a venue for them. I am still excited to hear their new single, which you can order from their website.

Eux Autres

I was a little excited to see The Secret History, if only because Michael Grace, Jr. was so brilliant with My Favorite. But what happens when self-proclaimed indie pop stars get too full of themselves? Only bad things. Grace came off as an aged, pretentious idol, past his prime in more ways than one, but still living in his imagined glory days. (My Favorite wasn’t even all that popular!) Their Myspace even says that to snag their new singer, Lisa Ronson, they published a classified ad looking for “Female Voice/Tragic Cult Figure.” Please. At least their cover of The Smiths' "Reel Around the Fountain" was appropriate.

Pants Yell!, a band who delivered a really excellent debut EP, but whose previous effort, Alison Statton, was just bad, continued such a trend, giving an uninspired, completely bland performance. They come off as kind of whiny indie rock boys, not particularly endearing with pretty mediocre music.

There was no reason to stick around. My apologies to The Radio Dept., who I heard were a little better tonight from Kristine of Very Truly Yours, but there was no way it could have been worth the pain.

22 May 2009

POPFEST! day two: cats on fire, liechtenstein, the radio dept., and the tartans

Cats on Fire with Liechtenstein, The Radio Dept., and The Tartans @ Don Hill's, New York (May 15, 2009)

Late again, I walked as fast as I could across town to get to Don Hill’s (the lol home of all those infamous Misshapes parties), hoping I wouldn’t miss The Tartans. Luckily, they were just setting up when I arrived.

Hailing from LA, The Tartans have released some of my favorite songs of the past year. Outside of their hits, though, their other songs seem to fall a bit flat, but I hope that will change as they write more. “My Baby Doesn’t Care for You,” “Cats of Camerford,” and “1939” are all great songs, and all of which were played during their short set. I was glad not to have missed them, and look forward to more of their classic pop-tinged lo-fi twee, somewhere along the lines of California friends like The Aislers Set.

The Tartans

The Radio Dept. was definitely the most highly anticipated band for Popfest as far as I could tell. They sold out the Saturday show and were billed as a “secret band” for Friday’s show. Now, I’m not a HUGE Radio Dept. fan, but I was excited to see them. Sadly, I was sorely disappointed. The usually lush instrumentation seemed muddled, and they seemed to avoid any of their real sensational songs: a total letdown.

My low spirits were made lower with the over-priced spirits at the bar ($7 for a watered-down gin and tonic? a $4 PBR? I just can’t get used to those NYC prices…). Luckily, Liechtenstein was phenomenal and made me forget all my other troubles (like really sore feet). A little less fuzzed out than they sound on their recordings, they made up for it with perfect harmonies and a great preview of the new album (which I scored a copy of already!).


And then, perhaps the reason I most wanted to come to Popfest: Cats on Fire. The Province Complains was one of my favorite albums of 2006, and three years later, Our Temperance Movement did not disappoint. Unsurprisingly, Cats on Fire’s live performance was just as flawless as their recordings. Mattias seems like the perfect frontman: reserved but fascinating, delivering the most masterful set of Popfest. I am pretty sure I could be happy listening to these Fins forever, so I just hope they keep making music forever.

Left in a near euphoria, I crawled back up 8th Avenue, looking forward to yet another day of pop.

The Tartans - "The Cats of Camerford"
The Tartans - "My Baby Doesn't Care for You"

The Radio Dept. - "Freddie and the Trojan Horse"

Liechtenstein - "Postcard"

Cats on Fire - "Horoscope"

21 May 2009

POPFEST! day one: the ballet, my teenage stride, the metric mile, dream bitches, the soft city, and knight school

NYC POPFEST 2009! The Ballet @ the Cake Shop, New York (May 14, 2009)

(This is the first in a series of week-late Popfest reviews. I will try to keep them short, but it is so hard when I had such a great weekend!)

Somewhere between Chicago and New York, it was raining, delaying our flight before take-off for more than an hour. Luckily, I made it to the Cake Shop in plenty of time to catch Knight School kick-off NYC Popfest 2009! Filled with NYC bands, the first night proved to be a great start to a wonderful weekend of music.

I have long been charmed by the cover (featuring many cats) of Knight School’s CDR The Poor and Needy Need to Party released on LostMusic, but I finally ordered it a few months ago and have kept it on frequent rotation since. Buzzy and loud but full of hooks, Knight School certainly fits in with the rest of the NYC pop scene, but there is something uniquely appealing about them. They played a loud and fast set that left my ears ringing for the rest of the night.

The Soft City played a nice set, too, even if it was their first show! They just have one tiny single out on Cloudberry, so I am interested in hearing more. Some videos of their set from Popfest are up now on their Myspace, and I am really enjoying “Capital Soul,” even a week later.

The crowd was definitely into the four heavily tattooed and bobbed girls in Dream Bitches, but something about their style of pop music is a little too much for me. Snotty 90s girl pop is all well and good, but sometimes it just seems so contrived. They sounded and played great, though, so I have no complaints. And it may just have been their last show, which is too bad!

Appropriately, someone called out “The Field Mice!” during The Metric Mile’s set. Certainly, the band sounds very much like The Field Mice, but only in the best ways possible. Soft synth with lush orchestration, they may have been the band I was most pleasantly surprised by for the evening.

That would be, of course, until My Teenage Stride played. I’ve had their album forever, but I don’t listen to it that frequently. What a mistake that is!! They played an energetic set with fantastic pop songs. I guess they’ve been releasing a song a month lately, so that is something I need to check out.

And, finally, The Ballet. I think I am a relatively latecomer to this NYC band, but god knows why—a gay pop band (and there are so few!) with perfectly crafted songs should have found me immediately. They did a really great job of translating their songs live, and it’s always nice to not hear the album replayed for you. They did a great cover of “Take Ecstasy with Me,” appropriate for the NYC-themed evening, and played all of the songs I have come to love over the past few months, “Personal,” “In My Head,” and “Cheating on Your Boyfriend.” They said they are working on a new album now, which is very exciting. They didn’t have the live cello player as has surfaced during previous performances, but that was perfectly fine. They were an absolutely perfect finish to a wonderful first night of pop music.

Knight School - "Pregnant Again"
Knight School - "Crybaby"

The Soft City - The Soft City
The Soft City - "Wallflower"

The Metric Mile - "Amateurs"
The Metric Mile - "In Praise of Ski Jumpers"

My Teenage Stride - "Ears Like Golden Bats"

The Ballet - "Personal"
The Ballet - "Cheating on Your Boyfriend"

27 April 2009

liechtenstein full-length!

Liechtenstein - "Everything's For Sale" (Live in Glasgow)

It’s what we’ve been waiting for since, what, 2006? After a full two years to get Apathy, Liechtenstein quickly followed with Everything’s For Sale. But now, just a few short months later, Liechtenstein will finally release its first full-length (well, nearly full-length, since there are only 23 minutes on that 10-inch) called Survival Strategies in a Modern World on May 26 on Fraction Discs in Sweden and on Slumberland here in the US!

Liechtenstein is definitely one of the bands I am more excited to see at NYC Popfest this year (after Cats on Fire and now Suburban Kids, of course). Their 80s post-punk girl-group sound has enthralled me since I first heard “Stalking Skills,” but this new single, “Roses in the Park,” shows the band at a whole new level. Taking the three-part garage-girl harmonies of The Vivian Girls and mixing it with the catchiness and snottiness of classic girl-groups like The Mo-Dettes, they prove pop in Göteborg will never be the same!

Here’s the tracklist:
1. All At Once
2. Postcard
3. Sophistication
4. By Staying Here (We Will Slowly Disappear)
5. Wallpaper Stripes
6. Roses In The Park (Download!—a must-listen)
7. Reflections
8. White Dress
9. The End

Get excited!!

21 April 2009

on colin clary and buying music

The Smittens - Gumdrops (Live at Indietracks 2008)

Up until a few years ago, I think I spent every available dollar to my name on buying records and going to concerts. Once in college, however, I didn’t even have time to shop for records, much less want to spend the money on them, and most of the shows I go are free from WHPK or the bands themselves. There is something, though, that I will never get over about buying really well packaged records.

I first fell in love with the now defunct Asaurus Records several years ago, for their super cheap CD-Rs in charming packages with fun pop music. That was how I first heard Colin Clary’s solo material (also of The Smittens, Let's Whisper, and Colin Clary and the Magogs), after ordering his Sweater Weather or Not These are the Songs I Got in a super cute felt sweater and paper shirt packaging combination. I fell in love with all of those songs, annoying my friends by leaving the record on repeat in my car for a good two months, to only be repeated with Apocalypse Yow!, packaged in an origami fortune teller.

Recently, I’ve started buying music again, realizing how nice it is to have a collection of tangible records and CDs, not to mention how hard it is to find releases by some of my favorite bands online. I can’t help but love having WeePOP’s hand-packaged 3-inch CD-Rs or beautiful collections like Magic Marker’s new anniversary 5x7-inch collection Uncapped: Magic Marker Records 10 Years Later.

Having all these 3-inch CDs and 7-inches is both a blessing and a curse, since I don’t really have a stereo system to play them on, my turntable just broke, and my Mac refuses to accept such tiny media. But using my shitty CD player (or my DVD player hooked up to my TV), it is great to hear Colin’s new EP, Every Little Thing Counts, while holding the impossibly tiny case with hand-glued construction paper artwork. The songs are as cute and witty and catchy as ever. I particularly love “Really Rooting for Ya (And It Could Be Awesome)” and “You Tell Me Now” for their upbeat charm and for helping me finish my BA during the final hours.

Plus I’m sure everyone who ever rides in my car is grateful I can’t keep this new EP on repeat…

Colin Clary – “Phone Me, Phone Me”

20 April 2009

listen to QWEE! today

QWEE! Now every other Monday except sometimes not!

The remaining dates for this quarter are TODAY 4/20, 5/4, 5/25, and 6/1. It’s likely I will have a summer show too, but that will perhaps be the FINAL SEASON OF QWEE! EVER.

Today I will be bidding farewell to Jennifer of Colour Me Pop, who has been such an encouraging fan of my show, so I will try to make it a really really good set.

Make sure to tune in! 10am–12pm CDT on WHPK.ORG/STREAM or WHPK 88.5fm CHICAGO.

18 April 2009

god help the girl - new stuart murdoch project

God Help the Girl - An Introduction

I bought my first Belle and Sebastian record when I was in eighth grade. If You’re Feeling Sinister came to define what good pop music sounded like, even before I knew there was such a thing called “twee.” Now I listen back to all those songs from the first few Belle & Sebastian albums with such fondness, that it is impossible to imagine liking a band any more than that.

But, quite honestly, I felt a little let down with Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and downright disappointed with The Life Pursuit. It wasn’t until the recent BBC Sessions were released that I remembered why I loved B&S so much, without all the oppressive Elephant 6 style freak-outs that have characterized the last two records.

God Help the Girl is Stuart Murdoch’s new project, and from what I’ve heard so far, I am reminded of some of my favorite B&S songs of times past, of simple pop music with beautiful instrumentation and even more beautiful melodies. The songs are from three different “characters” created by Murdoch (how Stephin Merritt of him), who solicited a few female singers through an ad in the paper (and, more accurately, through friends of friends) to sing in the style of 60s girl groups and classic pop, all backed by members of B&S.

I’m very excited to hear the rest of the songs from this new project. The single for “Come Monday Night” is due out May 11, and the rest of the album is set to release on June 22.

God Help the Girl - "Come Monday Night"

08 April 2009


(This has nothing to do with the post, but my mind seems to have split—I just love the puns.)

Okay, so I totally lied about updating the blog more, but quite frankly all I can think about is my thesis. So unless you want to hear all about phenomenological experience, the production of spectacle, and the turn in presence in art after 1960, there’s not much I can do.

But to get back on track (and to procrastinate writing the last six pages): NEW YORK CITY POPFEST!!

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of music festivals—they are usually in the summer in the scorching sun as I sweat buckets and get to watch mediocre bands from a distance. I mean, at least The Pains and The Vivian Girls are playing Pitchfork here in Chicago this year, but that is barely a consolation.

New York City Popfest is definitely something I can get behind, though. Pop shows at night, scattered around New York, what could be better? Oh, the fact that Cats on Fire, Liechtenstein, The Radio Dept., The Tartans, The Smittens, Eux Autres, The Ballet, and Very Truly Yours are all playing? Well… I guess.

I must admit, San Francisco Popfest is just as tempting, maybe even more given this will be a rare stateside appearance for some of my favorite Scandinavian bands: Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, Champagne Riot, Northern Portrait, Pelle Carlberg, and Springfactory, not to mention what will possibly be TULLYCRAFT’S LAST EVER LIVE PERFORMANCE, but San Francisco is four hours away, and tickets to New York were just so cheap…

Bought my plane tickets, hotel reserved, Popfest tickets all secured, I am totally ready.

Now I just need for this stupid thesis to finish itself…

25 March 2009

LAST WEEK: one happy island with very truly yours

One Happy Island with Very Truly Yours and dancing by The Revelettes at the Darkoom (March 15, 2009)

Sorry this is such a belated post—part of having a college radio show happens to mean that I am in college and as such, I have been battling theses projects and finals. But now I am having a little break in sunny Puerto Morelos, Mexico, where I can sit by the ocean sipping white wine and finally start thinking about pop music again. (That happens to mean listening to the new Cats on Fire and Camera Obscura albums on repeat!)

First on the list, last week Sunday I had the delightful privilege to see One Happy Island with Very Truly Yours in the very last show hosted in Chicago by my friends Colour Me Pop! I will be sad to see them go, but I do think they had a lovely send-off for their voyage to London.

One Happy Island is a four-piece from Boston who has released two EPs on WeePOP! Records. They play in a classically DIY way that reminds me of a Bunnygrunt who I actually enjoy listening to. Their songs have wit and charm, great instrumentation (theremin included!) and best of all, a ton of ukulele (in which I, too, have been know to dabble). I spent a few weeks listening to “Earth’s Circumference” on repeat in my car, and probably even longer with “Anita” and “Temporary Tattoo,” which the band calls “their hit.” It’s easy to see how this band has been making the pop circuits all throughout the country for the last couple of years. They put on a show that was full of energy and incredibly engaging. I am excited to see where they go now that they seem to have picked up steam! (And Rebecca told me that they’re getting ready to put out a full-length!)

Since the past two entries have championed the wonderful Chicago locals Very Truly Yours, I will just say that they put on an even better performance than last time. I am so glad to have such a fantastic local pop band and everyone should go and catch them next time around. They’re even making their way to Boston to open for One Happy Island and The Tartans. And, although this will be the subject of the next post, NEW YORK CITY POPFEST!

Oh, and did I mention there was go-go dancing?? Chicago go-go troupe The Revelettes showed us their moves (admittedly to some strange choices, i.e. “These Boots are Made for Walking”). Although they were slotted for right after Very Truly Yours, that didn’t stop them from dancing into One Happy Island’s set, with hula-hoops and all!

I promise to be a bit better with my entries from now on, too!

12 February 2009

LAST NIGHT: the pains of being pure at heart with very truly yours

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with the Depreciation Guild and Very Truly Yours at Schuba's, Chicago, IL (February 11, 2009)
(sorry for the iPhone photos)

It’s always sad when you look forward to seeing a band for months—keeping their album on repeat, watching their videos, blogging compulsively—but then, it’s over, just like that.

Of course I’m referring to last night’s magnificent show, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Surely anyone reading this blog has heard of the Pains by now from somewhere or another, and it was no question that they were the favorites of 2008. (Both in AND out of this tiny pop circle!) But a year and a half (really!) of hype later, I was finally able to confirm first hand that this band really is great.

Sure, I love fuzzed-out pop music, and this was certainly the year of its return, but something about the way the Pains do it is so inviting, warm, and fun. Opening with “Doing All the Things That Wouldn’t Make Your Parents Proud,” (dedicated to Kip’s family in the audience), I was reminded of first hearing this song back in July of 2007, and of being so impressed by the beautiful melodies, subtle wit, and that fantastic sound! I had so much fun swaying and singing along that I hardly could believe that “two songs left” really meant the Pains were down to their final few songs (in all their repertoire, that is). There wasn't a dull moment to their set, but that just speaks to the fact that they really haven’t released a bad song after a full-length, two (kinda) EPs and three wonderful 7-inches, but I was especially glad to hear “Everything With You” and “Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan.” Closing with the aptly titled “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,” it was nice to hear “we will never die,” chanted during their final moments on stage. The band was confident, smiling, and enthusiastic, and I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. Twenty-eight minutes and no encore later, two months of waiting came to a beautiful end in a sold-out Schuba's show, just like that.

I don’t have nearly as many favorable words to say about the Depreciation Guild. I found their set to be a little tedious. Their A/V component looked like an Intro to Flash version of an Ad Reinhardt painting supplemented by some strobe lights. Their music falls somewhere along the lines of a Nintendo-spiked My Bloody Valentine, without the subtlety or sonic swells. Their album is decent (and free on their site), but it’s not the kind of thing that really gets me going.

Very Truly Yours (who I blogged about yesterday), were absolutely charming and were a perfect opener to the evening. They reminded me that pop doesn’t always have to be perfect to be fun. Certain songs seemed better live—“1 2 3 4” and their closer, “Popsong ‘91” (both off of their Cloudberry EP) seemed more refined and a bit more sophisticated than their other material. But I enjoy that one-off charm, so whatever. I am excited for this band to take Chicago by the pop-reins so they can play more shows. (They’ll be opening for One Happy Island in March!)

All in all, a most wonderful evening of pop music.