Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Paramore "Misery Business"

What's so bad about cookie-cutter mall punk anyway? Consider the bouncy haircut-rock of Tennessee punters and Warped Tour upstarts Paramore a gateway drug of sorts before kids get crazy into the heavy stuff like Yellowcard. "It just feels so good," sings the spunky Hayley Williams. She's mostly right.Hear it at myspace.com/paramore.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Guilty Pleasures: Power Bars

The 1919 World Series, HDTV, the Supreme Court rigging the 2000 election, Scientology, that Nigerian e-mail guy, the continued career of Adam Sandler ... history has been full of some truly outstanding scams. Well, now you can add PowerBars to the list. The fact that they've managed to convince us that eating a chocolate candy bar for breakfast is a good idea is about as nefarious a plot as any I've come across. I'm talking evil-genius-James-Bond-villain-type scheming. The crazy part is that I don't even like chocolate. I would never do something so disgusting as purchasing a Snickers. It makes my teeth hairy just thinking about it. But let's say you took a Snickers, stripped it of all that nougat and caramel, and replaced it with a chalky amalgam of soy protein and dozens of processed chemicals that dry out the inside of your mouth and taste like tree bark. Well then, that's right up my alley. Calcium pantothenate, copper gluconaten, and evaporated cane juice? Yummo. But it's not supposed to taste good, right? It's supposed to turn you into a muscle-building machine. I mean look, it says right on the package that it's high in protein. But nothing this sugary can really be good for you. Quite the contrary. My liver and my teeth are gonna jump ship soon if I don't stop blasting them with this stuff. The jig is up, PowerBars, and you might've gotten away with it if it weren't for me. But this intrepid reporter has just cracked your scheme wide open. In the meantime, I'd better stock up on a few cases before my muckraking puts them out of business.

Originally Published in the Boston Globe.

Pho Republique

Having learned an extremely valuable lesson last week at Z Square — don’t try to sample an entire drink list on your own! — we enlisted the help of friends to tackle the creative cocktail and sake menu at the hip South End restaurant Pho Republique (1415 Washington St., 617-262-0005, phorepublique.net). We were immediately greeted with a gorgeous and crisp Japanese sangria made of Japanese plum wine, Chambord, lychee juice, and soda ($9 a glass, $20 a carafe) that bartender Sara Sweet had invented minutes before we arrived. Sometimes timing is everything.

Our next selection, the Tokyo Rose Martini ($10) offered quite a contrast. The thick cocktail — made with sake, pomegranate concentrate, and mango puree — has a bold, dark fruit taste. ‘‘Pomegranate is happening all over,’’ Sweet said, ‘‘but with the mango puree this makes it almost like a smoothie ..... but for alcoholics.’’ Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. It’s not cheap, but the rich flavors and heavy fragrance (‘‘I’d bottle this and wear it as a perfume,’’ said a companion) make for slow, contemplative sipping. Take your time with this one.

Afraid of sake? Well you’re in luck. Manager Leah Ikeda’s broad sake list offers a few good choices for beginners such as the ‘‘Honjozo’’ Funaguchi Kikusui ($12), enthusiastically described as ‘‘unpasteurized sake in a can!’’ ‘‘For people that like vodka or distilled beverages, this fermented beverage will please their palate,’’ Ikeda said. ‘‘Plus it comes in a fun can that you can take home and use for knickknacks or flowers.’’ (Ours is on the kitchen counter right now).

All that drinking barely gave us time to savor our Cherry Blossom Sake Mojito ($10) with mint and cherry essence, or the Nagarawa Sparkling sake ($33 a bottle) — ‘‘it tastes like liquid crème brulee,’’ says bartender Sweet. But with so many unique options, we’ll be back again soon.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Three New Reviews

Do You Trust Your Friends?

Remix Mix Up


Quick, name a remix in the history of music that was better than the original? Didn’t think so. Outside of dance music -- which is basically a scam anyway -- remix albums are like watching yourself jerk off in the mirror. Interesting in theory, but keep the end product to yourself. On Friends… Stars have enlisted the likes of Metric, Junior Boys, The Stills and more to put the knife to their pretty little orchestra pop. And yet there’s almost nothing here that improves upon their beloved 2004 release Set Yourself On Fire, although The Dears, in particular, do great work on “What I’m Trying to Say,” an imaginative and propulsive blast. Ultimately, remixing works best with beat-heavy tracks, or songs draped with wide open chords like low-hanging fruit, not so for the intimate, bed-sit mess-about that Stars are known for. If it aint broke... (Arts and Crafts; www.artsandcraftsrecords.com)

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Minimal Instruments, Maximal Melodies
It’s easy to forget how exciting Spoon’s 2001 masterpiece Girls Can Tell was at the time. The subsequent regularity of songwriter Britt Daniel’s originality has spoiled us. But listen afresh to Spoon now hitting all their marks: the poignancy of such instrumental minimalism, the emotional weight of Daniel’s odd phrasings, the seeming nonchalance. Only the best can make it seem this easy. Opening track “Don’t Make Me A Target” is a case in point. Its incremental tension comes in its repetitiveness, the looping piano punches and the echoing refrain of the title. “The Ghost of You Lingers” continues apace with Daniel’s signature percussive keyboards and indie piano man rhyme spitting, but the reverb-heavy vocal places him at an uncomfortable remove. New and familiar at once. Evidence enough that Spoon is capable of evoking nostalgia in both the past and future tense.
(Merge; www.mergerecords.com)

Outside Are The Vultures

Metal-Core Debauchery
On their last album, Calico System took some flack for treading into cookie-cutter screamo waters. Vultures counters that aesthetic with a mostly indistinguishable batch of brutal, riff-focused metal-core. It’s too bad, because now Mark Owens’ singing voice is mostly absent. User friendly tracks like “Running With Scissors” from They Live or “Love Will Kill All” from The Duplicated Memory (both worthy purchases) are sorely missed. Still, fans of the heavy stuff will find something to like here. “Anorsexia”, goofy title aside, is one standout, with its murderous stabs of razor sharp guitar and drums that thud like falling gallows. The band works up another good, sweaty groove on “Lick The Sun,” but it’s a rare song like “Unlocking the Maverick” or “Deceiver” where they find their memorable hooks. Those two help shape a pleasing form from the album’s mostly punishing granite heft. (Eulogy Recordings; www.eulogyrecordings.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

The Information.


Natural Language
Boston‘s favorite co-ed six-piece never really belonged in the silly new-new-wave scene they were originally lumped into. There’s always been a surprising explosive rock edge under their surface. This Paul Kolderie-produced EP continues apace with five dark bangers riddled with tension between the blazing guitars, jittery keyboards and a reluctant vocal melancholy.

Listen at www.myspace.com/411

Originally published in the Weekly Dig.

Christians and Lions

Plenty of bands in Boston do loud well. But quiet? Well, that’s not as easy as it sounds. In 2004, brothers and Mass. natives Benjamin and Samuel Potrykus, who’ve been making music together since they were kids, scrapped the punkier sounds of their formative years and became Christians & Lions. Repurposing the oldies-radio-style education they were weaned on into something charming, disarming and charged with varied influence—from folk to twee chamber pop—they give literate boys and their acoustic guitars a good name again.

What’s unique about your neighborhood, in terms of music and culture?

Ben Potrykus: Jamaica Plain has a really eclectic mix of music venues, art spaces and more. People in Allston seem to think that it’s out of the way. In that sense, maybe it becomes a place where people who know what they’re looking for can find it pretty easily without getting mobbed by a bunch of people just generally seeking entertainment. And DIY, all-ages events are still alive in JP.

What effect has that geography had on your band?

BP: The concentration of great artists and musicians and people just living life to death out here is overwhelming. The amazing things people do make us want to work harder on our own projects, and we try to use any recognition we might gain to put the spotlight on artists we know whose work we really love.

Sam Potrykus: For example, we are coming out with a 7-inch that features artwork by our friend Alice Tam. People who listen to us are already asking where they can find more of her stuff [answer: dangertam.com], and we assume a bunch of her friends that had never been exposed to our work will be because of the cover.

You say you’re at home with making your audience a little uncomfortable. How do you balance challenging an audience with giving them something they’ll appreciate?

BP: We don’t really worry about crossing any lines. Music listeners are smart, we like to give them the benefit of the doubt. We don’t go out of our way to completely alienate listeners, but we would like to reach out with some songs, grab their hands and say, "This is a little scary for us, too, but let’s give it a try."

Best band to come out of Boston ever? Best band right now?

BP: The Remains probably get our vote for best ever. As far as contemporaries, we’re really excited by Neptune. We just think they’re doing everything right.

SP: But there are so many good bands playing in the area right now, why choose one? We want to play with and go see them all, all the time.


Originally published in the Weekly Dig.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Putting the tea in mojito at Z Square

There’s really not much difference between the way trends work in the cocktail world and the way they do in say, music or film. Some inspired bartender muddles mint and sugar into rum with a distinctive flourish, much like a creative guitarist tweaking the sound of his guitar, and it’s a revelation. Of course before long, everyone else starts doing it, and it’s a cliché. And, as in music or movies, a lot of bartenders seem content to ride it out in the shallows of the popular wave. Consider mojitos the ‘‘American Idol’’ of the drink world, then.

Putting your own spin on an established drink trend is the hard part, but sometimes inspiration strikes when you least expect it. Consider the Mo-Tea-To ($9) at Z Square (14 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-576-0101. z-square.com) a case in point. Slipping into a bit of generic PR-speak, general manager Dan McGuire calls his original creation (made with fresh lemon, sugar, and mint muddled and mixed with Barcardi Limon and Twisted Tea) ‘‘a mojito martini with a kick — refreshing enough to be sipped in the sun but bold enough to be savored with dinner.’’

He’s right. Probably the worst part about a regular mojito — aside from the latecomer to the bandwagon aspect of ordering one — is the presentation: the unappealing highball glass, with clumps of sugar and mint clogging up the straw. It makes for unpredictable sipping: one strawful of sugar, one strawful of booze. Problem solved at Z Square, where bartenders blend their ingredients seamlessly in a martini glass. But the real treat comes with the switch from soda to tea, a slight but game-changing alteration. It’s a melancholoy martini, sweet and bitter at once. If it were a song, I’d say people are going to have it caught in their heads all summer.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Silversun Pickups

Waiting. In many ways, it’s the natural state of a rock band. The chatter of the press and the roar of the blogosphere might make bands like L.A.’s Silversun Pickups seem like overnight sensations, but that’s only because a band’s impressive patience and the minutiae of their day-to-day dealings don’t make for great stories. As for the Pickups, even in the midst of their skyrocketing popularity, most of their time is spent simply getting to the next gig. This time, it’s a show in Manchester. Bassist Nikki Monninger calls me from a boisterous street while she and drummer Christopher Guanlao hunt down Smiths landmarks.

The concept of waiting colors the Pickups’ music thoroughly. Take their breakout single, "Lazy Eye": "I’ve been waiting," sings guitarist Brian Aubert, "I’ve been waiting for this moment, all my life …" Like the best songs on the band’s debut album, Carnavas, there is always present a sense of delayed gratification, with slow builds to climaxes and entropy in the form of noisy denouements. It’s an album characterized by the comings and goings of its various layers, particularly Monninger’s bass. There’s a moment in the first few bars where she withholds her entrance until the absolute breaking point, and when it all comes together it’s … well, it’s what music is supposed to feel like: all of the parts clicking together at once into a fulfilled whole.

"I think a lot of our songs are built around highs and lows," Monninger says, dodging traffic. "Building to a greater high, then coming back. It keeps driving and cutting back, and you’re waiting for the climax, then it erupts into chaos." That pervasive sense of chaos is well matched to the simplistic tunefulness of Monninger’s bass, a grounding amidst the reaching of Aubert’s guitars and screams and the squiggly dissonance of keyboardist Joe Lester’s twiddling.

With record sales approaching 160,000—no small feat for an "overnight" success on the rising-but-tiny indie Dangerbird—and increasingly higher-profile gigs, like their recent appearance at Coachella, it seems the very thing the band has been anticipating for seven years has finally arrived. It certainly helps that their honchos at Dangerbird have so willingly given things time to develop.

"I’ve worked at bigger labels," Monninger says. "[For] so many bands, their record gets put aside after a few months. Our album has been out in the States for a year now, and Dangerbird has taken the time to stick with us." The only pity is how little time they have to enjoy it.

"We haven’t thought about how quickly things are moving," she says. But despite how big things ever get, "we’ll always take the time to come back and play small clubs.” That’ll have to wait until fall, though, as the Pickups are on a festival kick until the end of August—so catch them tonight in the middle of Lansdowne Street, lest it be your turn to wait.

Originally published in the Weekly Dig.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Air conditioning

Comes a week each year when the smell of lilacs colors the air, the sun shines warm, and a cool breeze comes off the ocean. It's earth's poetry, really. But believe me, the whole routine gets old real fast when the humidity sets in. The only reason there are so many classic poems about sitting beneath a tree in the summer or whatever is because no one had invented air conditioning yet (I suspect in a hundred years students will be memorizing "Shall I Compare Thee to a 8,000-BTU Window Unit on a Humid Day"). This whole heat thing is just really out of line. So starting today I'm putting in the AC. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer the feeling of cold air more than rolling through puddles of my own sweat at night. I crank that machine up to 11 and put another fan on while I sleep. I like to blast it with the windows down in the car, too. The beach? No thanks, too hot. The park? Maybe for 10 minutes, but then we're heading to the mall. As for sitting outside at a restaurant, that's some insane masochism. Give me a table inside, preferably in the walk-in freezer. I'd fasten shoulder straps to my AC and wear it around like a jet pack if I could. Outside and I have had our brief little romance. It was nice while it lasted, but I'll smell you next year, nature. Don't wait by the phone. Now it's time to start shooting chlorofluorocarbons back into the atmosphere where they belong.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.