Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Pipettes


For anyone who thought the Go Team! weren't exuberant enough, consider, if you will, The Pipette's. The recent toast of South by Southwest, this Brit indie band are an anachronistic shot of sixties-style girl group pop and make out party dance rock. Their debut, We Are the Pipettes, is laced with hand-claps, swelling strings, gorgeous three part harmonies and chant-along tales of teenage romance repurposed for a modern Motown sensibility. If this doesn't make you want to dance, then it's time to retire. They perform on Monday at Great Scott. 9p.m. 18+ Tickets $12. Great Scott 1222 Comm. Ave., Allston. 617-566-9014. thepipettes.co.uk

Monday, May 28, 2007

Guitly Pleasures: Schadenfreude


Schadenfreude, as you probably know, means taking pleasure from someone else's pain. I'd like to remain objective here, but as a radical, leftist Democrat (a.k.a. Cambridge pinko with marching orders from George Soros), my intense pleasure in watching these arrogant, hypocritical Republican jerks take a few on the chin lately is like Christmas in the spring. Evil Christmas. As I write, Monica Goodling is testifying about her role in the US Attorney General firings scandal. The Senate is moving toward a vote of no-confidence on Alberto Gonzales. World Bank president and architect of the disaster in Iraq Paul Wolfowitz is going down for corruption. And the "Reverend" Jerry Falwell has passed on to that feminist-blaming, gay-bashing pulpit in the sky. Not to mention wiretapping, torture, war-profiteering, and perhaps the best of all, values Republicans like Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, and Ted Klaudt getting caught pants-down in the very vice they railed against. Hate to say I told you so, but. . . Of course, as a good (lapsed) Catholic, I feel guilty about this insidious pleasure. Wouldn't the Christian thing here be to turn the other cheek? To let go of my anger? (That sermon might've been from Darth Vader, actually.)
Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Kooks


Brighton’s The Kooks released their debut album Inside In/Inside Out last year in the UK and met immediate success, going on to sell over a million records. Their feisty guitar party rock shifts on the fly from poppy garage to Police-style reggae and acoustic, bluesy soul. Throughout it all there’s a genuine sense of fun and good, soulful song craft. Metro spoke with bassist Max Rafferty on the phone from Toronto, tucked away in a hidden room at the night’s venue. The 23 year old made up in self-deprecating enthusiasm what he lacked in long-windedness.

I’ve heard you wrote over a hundred songs before settling for the ones on the album. What percentage of those are actually any good?

It’s difficult to say since we wrote it. Judging your own work is the hardest thing ever isn’t it? We write what we enjoy. I like all the old classics, Dylan, Neil Young, John Martin, old blues stuff, Hendrix, Marley. I just really like reggae-music. It should be an influence for everyone. It’s great music, and universal. If a song has good soul and a solid groove you can go see a band play it and enjoy it even if you’ve never heard the songs before.

Those sorts of reggae rhythms are pretty prominent in some of your songs. Does that come first in the writing process?
We do it all in one go. It’s not really that thought out. We just put it down as we go. The songs are written on an acoustic, then brought in and worked out.

The Metro is largely a commuter paper. Ever spent time at a job commuting by train everyday?
Just playing in this band while rehearsing in London. That’s not really a job though. I can’t imagine. I think I’d rather butt my head against a wall and drown myself in urine. I don’t know myself though, it’s just from what people tell me. I shouldn’t slag it off till I’ve tried it myself.

What do you think it is that makes you stand out from your peers?
Would you say that we do?

[Awkward Pause] Um, I want to know what you think first.
I think there’s a lot of shit out there right now. Someone like Bloc Party will come along, then you’ll have 12 toss-off bands copying that sound. But all of our stuff is written first, then we come up with the sound. Not the other way around.

Where is your favorite place to play?
Boston.

Have you even played here yet?
Not once.

What specific musical angle of the band do you think you’ve brought in yourself?
That’s a hard question. I don’t know. That’s like saying write down why you’re good.

You’re a pretty humble guy.
Until I’m drunk.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.




Monday, May 21, 2007

Klaxons


“Golden Skans”
You ever get lost in a slow-motion daydream where anthropomorphic trees with sunglasses hold hands and guitar-playing bluebirds alight on your shoulder? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, the falsetto and keyboard fantasies of these UK neo-raver hotshots almost make the requisite drug accompaniment moot. Almost. Stream it here.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

FROM AUTUMN TO ASHES

Holding a Wolf by the Ears
***1/2
Schizophremo
The marketing genius of bands like New York’s From Autumn to Ashes comes in their ability to be everything to everyone at once. Scorched-earth screams and machine gun bass drum stabs anchor the sound in a hardcore chaos, climactic high speed guitar heroics varnish the songs with a gleaming metal edge and the histrionics of their heartbreak poetry and emo-pop crooning make it all safe for wider consumption. Little has changed musically on the band’s fourth full length despite the fact that drummer Francis Mark has taken over lead vocal duties. Songs like “On the Offensive” walk the narrow ledge between harsh and beautiful with expert footing, and as on previous records, Mark’s pleading vocals steal the show. Maybe it’s a symptom of the ADD/ MTV multi-tasking culture they’re part of, but bands shouldn’t be able to do so many things well at once.
(Vagrant; www.vagrant.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

AUTOMATIC AUTOMATIC

Not Accepted Anywhere
Outback Disco Screamers
***
Bummer, another dance punk record, right? Not so fast. Like most things the Brits invent, Americans popularize, then the Brits improve on, this record from Welsh four piece Automatic Automatic makes it sound like you’re hearing something familiar for the first time. At it’s best -- like on the pounding rocket-blast ride of “Monster”, a big hit in the UK -- it puts the good times back into something that had lost it‘s fun. Crazy rock n roll screams, gang harmonies straight out of a Freddie Mercury opera fantasy, oddball sci-fi sound effects, huge beats and ripping high hats hit all the usual marks, but on this album there’s a strange sense of the pastoral opening up the cracks in what’s usually an urban genre. What would a banging dance party throw-down in the fertile hills of Wales sound like? Now you know. (Columbia Records; www.columbiarecords.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Scott & Aimee

Sitting In A Tree
Punk pot luck
**½
You’ll want to recheck the liner notes on the debut from Unwritten Law front man Scott Russo and girlfriend/punk rock muse Aimee Allen to make sure what you‘re listening to. That’s especially true on opener “Good Times,” a chugging, eyeliner-drama-club anthem that could be an Evanescence b-side. Sitting also makes stops in UL-style pub sing-along territory before shifts into reggae-lite bounce and blistering rock -- oftentimes in the same song. The title track is another could-be cover, a California ska jam pulled straight from No Doubt’s well-worn playbook. “Girl With Issues” blazes over a spooky Dre-style piano sample, and “Miss America” spits and screams like a vicious punk rock nightmare. It’s a cool, schizophrenic listen, but like most stories from two people newly in love, a little goes a long way. (Side Tracked Records; www.scottandaimee.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Friday, May 18, 2007

World's Strongest Man competitors

Kevin Nee and Jesse Marunde give the bench press a run for its money at Focus Fitness in Fort Point

By Luke O'Neil

Don't be surprised if, when meeting a couple of professional strongmen, you find yourself standing up a little straighter. Your posture won't make any difference, though, if the men in question are Kevin Nee and Jesse Marunde, two athletes with handshakes that could dislocate a shoulder. And don't be surprised if any ideas you have about mixing it up with them on the bench press start to seem ridiculous. You'd be better off taking batting practice with David Ortiz.

Nee, a Hopedale native and Arizona State University student, was in town recently to promote a World's Strongest Man competition at Mohegan Sun (he placed second). You've probably seen competitions like it on TV. Giant men lifting cars, stacking boulders, and hurling kegs like children playing with blocks. Really, really big blocks. At 21, Nee (6-foot-1, 278 pounds) is one of the youngest competitors in the sport. To give you an idea of just how strong these guys are, Nee recently bench-pressed a 365-pound log 16 times in the 2007 All American Strongman challenge. That was good enough for second place. Only 16 times? Slacker.

Nee's friend Jesse Marunde (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), a 27-year-old fellow strongman competitor from Washington state, joined him at the Fort Point gym Focus Fitness for a light workout and some comic relief. A bright, well-appointed gym with a row of TV-mounted treadmills overlooking the water, it's decidedly different from the dungeons they normally work out in. For one thing, there was a conspicuous lack of tires on chains and stone slabs with handles. One other small problem: There literally weren't enough weights for them to have a serious workout.

A normal day preparing for a competition like this, said Nee, consists mostly of eating, napping, training, and more eating. But the styles of training vary. "We're almost at the opposite ends of the spectrum in the way we train," Nee said, eyeballing the room for potential lifts the two could demonstrate for the camera.
"Right. I train like a man, and he trains like a woman," added Marunde. But it all adds up to an ability to perform creative, and sometimes bizarre, feats of strength. "Kevin is especially dominant at any pulling event, dead lifting," Marunde said, stacking plates on either side of an inclined bench press bar. Marunde's best event is something called "fingle fingers." Sounds gross. "Picture a huge telephone poll laying on the ground. You pick up one end of it and flip it over."

Strongman competitions are a lot more creative than regular lifting, they said. "People love to watch it," said Nee. "You can see someone bench-pressing every day in the gym, but you're not gonna see people lifting stones or pulling cars. People want to see feats of strength." A simple bench press would have to do for now, though.
Playing for the camera, Marunde took off his shirt and practiced a few poses in the wall-length mirrors lining the gym. "I'd take off my shirt too," said Nee, "but I don't want to embarrass anyone."

All joking stopped as he laid back on the bench. The two proceeded to lift an increasingly impressive stack of weight, inching their way up to about 440 pounds. There was intense method to their preparation before each set. It's a sudden stillness -- a moment's pause, a noticeable absence of energy before the explosion. Do they think of anything particular in the process? Not really, said Marunde, who finds a similar level of patience and dedication necessary for the dog-training he does on the side. Nee's poker habit works well for that, too. "It's the same as with any other sport, like a golfer," said Marunde. Perhaps. If golfers hit bowling balls with parking meters.

Eventually Marunde chided Nee into taking his shirt off as well. A round of Will Ferrell "Anchorman"-like zingers followed. "Don't act like you're not impressed," they said, laughing. Surprisingly, there was nothing strange about this. A few more sets and it was time to go nap. Or maybe catch "Blades of Glory." All Nee's work for the competition was already behind him. Next came the mental part. "I'm not going to get any stronger in the next two days," he said. "Now I have to calm myself down."

"It's good to be nervous," Marunde said as the two stacked the plates neatly back on the rack.

It is good to be nervous, even if it's just from hanging around with two scary -- albeit affable -- half-men half-machines. But don't be surprised if you find yourself heading straight to your own gym immediately afterward. You've got a lot of catching up to do.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Cinematics


Deep into the third or fourth generation of any rock sub-genre -- arty Interpol-style disco-rock for example -- the repurposed interpretations of the style become exponentially watered down. But there's also usually a late-coming band that manages to put out a record better than almost everything else that's come before. In this case, it's a Scottish four-piece called The Cinematics. Guitarist Ramsay Miller spoke to us from a Walmart parking lot in Texas where the band’s van had just hit a skunk. Ah, the glamorous life!

You grew up in a pretty rural area of the Scottish Highlands. Were you exposed to much music growing up?

You get exposed to the same music as elsewhere in the UK, but there's just not as many outlets for performing. We grew up listening to our parents' music. But eventually that led to us relocating to Glasgow. My family was very musical, but I didn't pick up a guitar until about 14 or 15. I had been listening to bands like Oasis and Nirvana. Prior to that you had bands like Stone Roses. It's not very easy to play like John Squire, but with Noel Gallagher or Kurt Cobain you could pick up the guitar and within 15 minutes be playing one of their songs. I wouldn't say Nirvana or Oasis are a big influence, but they certainly opened up the door. As a guitarist…Jeff Buckley gets a lot of praise for his voice, but it was [he] and his guitarist Michael Tighe. Tighe is in a band called AM right now, and I saw them in Glasgow three years ago. I've never been so inspired by a musician playing live.

Do you think Scotland produces a disproportionate number of good bands for its size?

We get asked that a lot, and I've never come up with a plausible answer. If you're ever in Glasgow there's a street called Sauchiehall Street where there's a lot going on. It's a vibrant social scene. Nothing like 6th Street in Austin, but every fifth or sixth bar you pass along will be a music venue, or have a cover band or something. It's got the same fascination with music as London but without the pretentiousness. I honestly don't know though. The scenes in London and Manchester have all been similar. [In Scotland] you have had Del Amitri, and Simple Minds and the Jesus and Mary Chain! It must be something in the water.

Doesn't playing in a band, spending so much time in clubs ruin music for you?

You're right. We were just in New York coming off 13 gigs in a row, and we got on the list for the Mew show, one of my favorite bands. And as much as I love them, the thought of standing watching music…I couldn't do it. So I just went and got drunk in a bar instead. It does temper your enthusiasm, but only in the throes of it. When you have a day off you want to do anything else. It comes and goes. You can get saturated with anything. The enthusiasm is still there somewhere though!

Ok, I'm going mention some bands, you say the first thing that comes to mind.

OK.

Muse. Crazy time signatures.

Editors. Style. Really stylish bastards. Us? We're the least stylish, we're from the highlands of Scotland, we don't know what style is.

Kaiser Chiefs. Happy. They're always smiling and their music is quite jolly.

The Cribs. Injuries. At the NME awards a couple years ago the singer came off stage and jumped on a table full of glasses. He had to go to the hospital.

The Bravery. Keyboard. That's the first thought that comes to my head. We're about to go on tour with them and to be honest I haven't listened to much of their music. Sounds Killers-like. That kind of synth pop that came about two years ago.

Wouldn't you put yourself in that category as well?

We use some keyboards in the studio, but it's not something prominent. We fall into that kind of scene more so than, say, nu-metal. But it's difficult to say because it's difficult to listen to your own music. People say we sound like Editors, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, but not to me. If enough people say it though, it must be true. There are similarities, but I don't think it's necessarily about the music.

I was hoping you were gonna have something bad to say about those bands.

No. My parents taught me at a young age if you don't have anything nice to say… To be honest, you hear and read so much about bands in the press, you think "these guys are going to be a--holes." But they never are. That kind of spin is necessary for magazines like NME to have things to write about all the time. No one has ever been rude out of all the bands we've played with.

Maybe it's you that's the a--hole!?

Ha. That could be it. We'll know by the end of the Bravery tour.


Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Taxis


Time for a little psychology experiment here. I'm going to say a word, and I want you to say the first things that come to mind. Ready? Taxis. . . . OK, let me guess: smelly, expensive, rude, smelly, dangerous, insufferably loud, windows that don't work, smelly, hot, and a menace to public safety. Bet I got them all right. (I'm also something of an amateur magician in my spare time. And by amateur magician I mean certified genius of science). Granted, all of those things are often true about our city's fair livery drivers, but if you are, say, I don't know, an insane person like myself, none of that matters. For me, taxis are that rare breed of transportation in which the drawbacks take a (smelly) backseat to the advantages. How many other public services can you get by simply walking outside and waving your arms around like an idiot? How many save your life by providing you a relatively (OK, remotely) safe trip home from a night at the bar? And that's not even taking into account our local cab drivers' dedication to exposing us to the multicultural ravings of angry French radio presenters the world over. For a lot of people the exorbitant price is prohibitive, but if you're gonna get taken for a ride, at least taxi drivers have the courtesy to drop you off at home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Cribs


"Men's Needs"

The Cribs strike the perfect balance of artfully posed indifference and passionate intensity in these three giddy minutes of bratty rock ’n’ roll from their upcoming release, ‘‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever.’’ After dozens of tries, the UK may have finally found a legitimate Strokes-worthy contender. Listen, and watch the video, at thecribs.net

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Guilty Pleasures: Birthday parties


Birthday parties are pretty stupid. Why celebrate me? I didn't do anything special that day except crawl out of my long-suffering mother. Fortunately for me, they're also rare. The last two I remember involve friends pouring pepper in my eyes during a junior-high sleepover and my college roommate throwing a party attended by people who brought their textbooks to study. Rock 'n' roll. Since then I have moped around every May 5, assuring people
I don't want any attention. But secretly I hope they'll do something special for me. I know it's immature to want people to get together and sing a song for you and eat cake and stand around looking at you. It's selfish, too. People have TV shows they could be watching. Though now that I'm turning 30 (oof!) I think I'm going to go all out. I want all my friends there. I want them to get me thoughtful gifts (a new laptop, or at the very least a case of Red Bull,) and to toast what a great friend I am. No, a great human. A humanitarian, I guess. A hero of sorts. I want streamers and hats and secret guests from the past. Maybe even my favorite band. Anyone got Morrissey's phone number? Getting old is troublesome, but this year I want everyone I've ever known to band together to send me off into the horrible decline toward middle age. Oh, and ice cream cake. That's not too much to ask now, is it?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Grant Lee Phillips


The prolific, LA-based singer songwriter Grant Lee Phillips has been releasing one gorgeous collection of fractured gems after another for years. His latest, Strangelet, is a blend of warm acoustic instrumentation, forlorn lyrics and the startling beauty of Phillips’ aching voice.

Your recent covers record, nineteeneighties was basically my exact eighties mix tape. Did you find yourself looking back to those songs you’d just gotten so familiar with when writing the new record?
It did me a world of good to record the covers record prior to this. It allowed me to tinker around in the studio with the sound of things and arrangements. It let me explore for a while without the added pressure of the focus being on my song and my lyric. It freed me up, and I learned some things I was able to apply to by own record.

Like the ukulele? Which you’ve got a good amount of on Strangelet.
I used it on the cover of a Smiths song before. I’ve used folk instruments like the banjo and the mandolin, but I have to credit (musician/producer) Jon Brion for turning me onto that. Peter Buck (REM) played an eight string ukulele on the record. He happened to show up at the studio one day with this instrument he picked up somewhere on the road and said “How about this?” I said “Perfect.” He’s one of my all time guitar gods for sure.

Talking about playing live, you’ve said “You’ve got one shot to say your piece. There’s no take 2.” So what’s the worst disaster you’ve had on stage?
[Laughs] Oh goodness! There have been a few. Most are relegated to the old days. One time a very drunk Dubliner decided to throw himself into the drum set. Also in Ireland, actually, we had a nice electrical storm the second song into the set that took out the power. That’s one of those things I’ve realized about this business. There is only so much you can control. I thrive on those moments though. They wake you up.

Your songs have been featured on a lot of TV shows, like Six Feet Under, Roswell and Grey’s Anatomy. Do you have a favorite scene?
Now and then I’ll hear a song is in a TV show. I only watch so much TV. I haven’t seen them all though. There are a few I’ve gotten involved with like Gilmore Girl’s. I’ve been on the show thirty something times in a small recurring part. I play a musician, but I’d much rather play a forensic psychologist or something! I think TV has filled a void for musicians where radio has been more difficult.

Are you of the suffering for my art mindset or, everything is great this is all a privilege? Being able to spend my life making music and singing to people that come to hear it, that’s a blessing. There’s a lot of travel and uncertainty, but all jobs have their level of frustration for sure. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do this for so long. But I feel like I’m just finding my feet. We’ll see where it goes.

Isn’t that one of the biggest catch-22s? That once you figure out how to do it right, you’re not a young man anymore?
Rock and roll has always been connected to youth culture, an expression of rebellion. Yet I’ve always looked to artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan or REM who basically had it written into their contracts that they were going to be able to mature and sing about life and death and the things that affect all of us. That is a kind of guiding light for me and it allows me to write about whatever I’m going through. That’s part of being a songwriter and not a guitar slinger I guess. If it was a matter of just squeezing into a pair of skinny pants every night, rock and roll would have a lot less to offer me

Originally published in the Boston Metro.