Sunday, September 23, 2007

Underworld

"Crocodile"
You know the scene where the beleaguered hero, fighting to uncover the truth about his mysterious past, steals into the catacombs beneath an ancient space pyramid and finds the secret rave headquarters of an ancient tribe of evil monks? This is the song on the soundtrack.

Listen here.




Originally published in the Boston Globe.



VHS or Beta

VHS or Beta
Bring on the Comets
(Astralwerks)
Essential: "Burn It All Down"
VHS or Beta's glorious 2004 debut, ''Night on Fire,'' arrived at the tail end of the '80s dance-rock revival, but its organic blend of electronic beats, Duran Duran-style hedonistic populism, and brooding guitar introspection made it a fitting cap to the end of that era, and perhaps its crowning., if under appreciated achievement. On ''Comets,'' much of the formula remains largely intact: manic high-hat propulsion, imminently danceable beats, dripping and chiming guitars, and a playful sense of melody that's equal parts exuberant, dance-floor nihilism and woeful heartbreak. Although it would be easy to dismiss this record as yet another Killers retread, and many have, it's not that simple. Aesthetically, the band's style signifiers would indicate as much, but there's more substance here than what one expects from a disposable trend-chasing record. Singer Craig Pfunder, who summons the moping ghost of the Cure's Robert Smith throughout, lacks the charisma of many of his contemporaries, but it's that overachieving that lends charm to his reaching. These are high-flying songs in search of a place to land, and the warmth and seeming innocence of Pfunder's voice combined with all the familiar electro-disco trappings make this a record worth hearing for anyone not ready to let the past go without a fight.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Lineage

Fall, our favorite time of the year, has finally arrived. And that means it’s time to trade in summer clothes for warm sweaters, and to adjust seasonal drinking habits.

So put down the mojito for a few months, if you can. Instead, think about red apples, cinnamon, pumpkins, cranberries, ginger, even kiwi, all of which make up the autumnal flavor palate on the new Fall Drinks List at Lineage (242 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-232-0065. Lineage).

The Pumpkin Bellini (roasted sugar pumpkin puree, prosecco, $9) trades the traditional sweet peach flavor of a Bellini for the savory pumpkin. Manager Kelly Sprouse explained he uses sugar pumpkins, nutmeg, brown sugar, and cinnamon and roasts it down into a smooth puree. To top it off, there are roasted pumpkin seeds cooked in the restaurant’s wood oven.

‘‘It’s a spicy autumn drink, warm and cozy,’’ Sprouse said. ‘‘But still refreshing.’’
Feeling warmer already? On the lighter side, the Grape Basil (vodka, grapes, basil, sugar, touch of bitters, $9) muddles fresh grapes with basil, an innovative combination. It’s a beautiful drink to watch being made, and the end result is a delightfully fresh blend.

‘‘You can taste the skin,’’ said Sprouse, a big selling point for our drinking companion.

Apple Martinis are admittedly a bit overdone lately, so it’s to Sprouse’s credit that he tempted us immediately with the Apple Cinnamon Martini (Triple 8 vodka infused with Red Delicious apples and cinnamon, Calvados apple brandy rinse, $10) a drink we could smell him mixing from halfway across the bar.

The cinnamon and sugar rim and the reddish brown hue of the foamy, shaken drink make it standout from the usual artificial green of most apple liqueurs. And like most of the ingredients on the drink menu here, it’s another handmade affair: Sprouse breaks down the cinnamon sticks and red delicious apples himself and infuses them with the vodka.

At Lineage it’s the attention to the little details that make a difference.



Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ten Essential: Indie Rock Running Albums

Scientific studies show that 70-85% of indie rockers were on their high school track team. Of course 60% of them were only using it as an excuse to get to know the cute girl running the 800. Nonetheless, odds are running is in your blood now. But a history of athletics doesn't necessarily doom you to a life of Jock Rock. One of my old coaches used to have the team lay down in the gym with the lights off and force us to listen to Haggar-era Van Halen singles before games, and yet somehow I made it out with my indie cred intact. In the immortal words of the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire, "Strong men also cry."


Doves
Lost Souls
While their best running songs are from other albums (time your mid-paced stride perfectly to the relentless one-two stomp of “Black and White Town” or “Words”) Doves pack the entire story of a run into this one. Warm up with the slower, trippy instrumental “Firesuite” then slowly build your way up through mid tempo janglers like “Here it Comes” and “Sea Songs.” By the time you get to the scorching single “Catch the Sun” you’ll be cruising. Plenty of room for a nice come down at the end of the record too. It’s probably actually meant as metaphor for a drug trip, but, you know, same idea.

Explosions in the Sky
Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place
A lot of people make the mistake of using hits-only playlists for running. You get a great buzz blasting along to all your favorite sing-along jams in a row, but it usually doesn’t provide much room for speed variation, or for clearing your head. These chilling instrumental songs surge and crest and climax, then build themselves back up again, and the absence of any lyrics will help you to focus and connect you to your running environment (cheesy but true). Plus it helps if you’ve been watching the EITS scored Friday Night Lights TV show, because then you can imagine you’re one of those sweaty Texas football studs. Just saying.

Belle and Sebastian
If You’re Feeling Sinister
Is it cheating to include B&S just because they sing about running? Maybe, but this is my weird list so I’ll make the rules. You’ll have to go elsewhere for every sensitive runner’s theme song “The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner”, but “Stars of Track and Field” works great here for a little ego boost. And like most B&S songs it starts off quiet before rollicking to a riotous brassy chaos. Songs like “Me and the Major” and “Like Dylan in the Movies” are bouncy and playful enough to keep you moving, and if you shed a tear on “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” you can just say its sweat. One caveat: probably not too comfortable to run in a too-tight sweater and girl jeans, so try something looser.

From Autumn to Ashes
Holding a Wolf By the Ears
Something about furious metal riffs and machine gun bass drum punches really gets the blood flowing. And the disemboweled howling here is perfect for working up the courage you need to even get out the door sometimes. The requisite screamo half time breakdowns provide enough variety within each song to keep you interested, and the soaring pop choruses on “Daylight Slavings” and “Everything I Need” will get under your wings when you’re on a roll and make you feel like you’re flying. Just try running to this without pumping your fists in the air. Don’t worry, everyone already thinks you’re weird anyway.

The Dandy Warhols
…Come Down
People forget that running is supposed to be fun, not, you know, torture and pain. It’s hard not to smirk you’re way through cheeky organ-heavy tracks like “Boys Better” and “Cool as Kim Deal.” And if there’s a more joyous breeze-in-your-hair song than “Everyday Should be a Holiday” then I haven’t heard it. Dancey up-tempo singles aside, there’s some great droning shoegazey stuff here too. The feedback repetitions will practically hypnotize you into “the zone,” because God knows the last thing you want to be thinking about is how far you have left to run.

Muse
Origin of Symmetry
The icy chill of Muse’s operatic melodramas is the soundtrack to foot-falls on dead leaves and the paranoia of getting yourself a little lost off your comfortable path through the woods. The pulsing beats and jet-powered bass lines don’t hurt either. And since pretty much every song is tight and controlled around the verse before opening up into climactic, sweeping panoramas, you’ll find yourself compelled into sprinting about every thirty seconds. Great for interval training. Incidentally, also great for hating the world.

Band of Horses
Everything All the Time
There’s a shimmering beauty to your surroundings when you’re deep in the middle of a nice long run on a cool day. Whether it’s the quietude and solace of the woods, or the distractions of an urban obstacle course, or the monotony of a track, sometimes only the prettiest music can both distract you from all of that, and pull you in closer. The gorgeous melancholy guitar anthems on this album will help you shut out everything you’re running away from. Plus you’ll spend most of the album trying to figure out what the hell dude is whining about so there’s half your running time covered right there.

Bloc Party
Silent Alarm
No surprise that the best dance rock makes for good running music too. And this album, packed with one haunting indie disco anthem after another, is about as good as dance rock gets. Sure you can work up a sweat at your hipster photo blog parties or whatever it is you kids get up to, but it sort of ruins the point when you’re nipping out for a fag every ten minutes. The high hat and kick propulsion of “Helicopter” and “Banquet” are perfect for a speedy, short workout. The down-stroked, jagged guitar rhythms will have you struggling to keep up with the beat.

Rockethouse
Weapons of Mass Distortion
You ever get that feeling when you’re screaming down the road that you’ve got the energy of the music literally pulling you forward like an expanding and contracting rubber band? This criminally overlooked album of could-be club bangers, techno flourishes with hip hop and house beats and fuzzy shoegaze guitars will do just that. Densely produced, with layers of instrumentation you won’t hear until you’re alone on the road with your headphones, it sounds like war; you know something you really want to run away from.

The Faint
Danse Macabre
It’s not easy running with all that eyeliner sweating into your eyes, but no pain no gain, right? Of course when you’re listening to a record this cool, you’re probably not gonna sweat anyway. That 80’s style bass synth that drives all of these songs is basically what you’d have if you turned a 6 minute mile into an instrument. You will literally be picked up off your ass and pushed out the door by tracks like “Glass Danse” and “Agenda Suicide” of this dark new wave classic. Don’t bother fighting it, you’re getting some exercise today, fatty.

Originally published in Alternative Press Magazine.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rooting for the Pats


I can't believe it. My beloved New England Patriots have recently been revealed as cheaters. And for the first time in years, it doesn't feel so great to be a Pats fan. We've long patted ourselves on the back because our team not only consistently won, but also served as a sort of beacon of teamwork and integrity. With this stupid infraction, not to mention Rodney Harrison's suspension for using a banned substance, a lot of that excitement, and admitted self-righteousness, has drained away. Will their beautiful legacy forever be tarnished? I haven't felt this betrayed since that scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Lando Calrissian sold out Han Solo to the Empire, or when my president sold the public on an illegal and unnecessary war. I think I finally know what it must be like to be a Yankees fan. Sure, your team always wins, but absolutely no one else in the world wants them to. It's heartbreaking. But I have a feeling, come tomorrow, when my boys are trouncing those loudmouth San Diego Chargers (with their own set of cheaters) that all of that hometown pride is going to come rushing back. "No one cheats as well as us!" I'll cry. And all will be well. It's always been a pleasure following these Patriots, and I don't think adding a little guilt to that mix is enough to spoil the whole thing. We're the Evil Empire now? So be it. Everyone likes the villain better anyway, and I bet Brady would look great in all black.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Worst. Cover. Ever.


Have you heard Marc Ronson's cover of "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"?

I'm at a loss for words.

I'm not usually one of those people that gets upset when someone covers a beloved band, be it the Beatles, the Smiths, Zeppelin or whatever... I usually love Smiths covers in fact. But this... this is just... I can't... I'm not sure that... I just can't in good conscience let this one go. Awful horseshit. Takes everything away from a great song. Ruins it. This douche singing it? My fucking god.

75 million to play with Johnny Marr he turns down, but this? This he agrees to?


Marc Ronson's "Stop Me"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Grocery Shopping


Many years ago something called the Grocery Store was invented, the purpose of which, if you follow me here, was a centrally located place for people to purchase all of their grocery-related needs. It has every type of food you can imagine, reasonably priced, stacked high on overflowing shelves. It’s a wondrous, fluorescent-tinted cornucopia. The only problem for me is that grocery stores are usually located all the way over there. Sometimes, like, a mile away. Or more. Anyway, the point is, I’m not gonna carry bags that far. What do I look like, a Sherpa? I do not. So in the absence of the invention of some sort of laziness-curing pill (which I presume I could get at the grocery store pharmacy) I’ll continue to purchase my groceries at what is known as a Gas Station Convenience Store, which you will find on literally every other block in every part of the city. That’s right, ‘‘convenience’’ store, because here what I am paying for is not just $17 gallons of orange juice and off-brand peanut butter at caviar prices — although I am also most definitely paying for that. No, what I am paying for is called convenience, and that means, in a nutshell, walking as little as possible. You can’t put a price on that.

Aesop Rock


Aesop Rock
None Shall Pass
(Definitive Jux)
Essential:
"None Shall Pass"

Turned off by the empty flash of pop hip-hop, fans have long turned to the Def Jux label (and Aesop Rock, in particular) for a taste of the "real." Not real in the sense of "life on the streets" buffoonery but of actual human beings relating information to one another. Sounds radical. Of course, something so simple as shifting the focus of a song from bells and whistles to the lyrical can be a jarring proposition, particularly with an artist armed with so much to say. And to be sure, Aesop's verbose mike heroics take center stage here, but there's ample creativity to be found in the tasteful and striking accompaniment as well: beats distorted with guitar riffs (like "Keep off the Lawn," which quotes Kool and the Gang) or subtle keyboard atmospherics on "Getaway Car." On "None Shall Pass," a disco-era horror film soundtrack, Aesop's gruff confidence and rapid-fire rhymes rip through the tension, bringing a track that might have unmoored itself back down to earth with all of the hardships and anger that sort of crashing reality entails.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Bat for Lashes

"What's a Girl to Do"

The song itself is spooky enough: chilling harpsichord, startling drums, dreamscape sound effects, and a detached half-spoken vocal from singer Natasha Khan. But it's the video with furry animal-headed, synchronized bike riders on a desolate road that's really freaking me out.

Watch it at: myspace.com/batforlashes

Friday, September 7, 2007

Peter Bjorn & John

"It's weird that it's become so big. The movements are very simple and slow, and it looks like something from the early '70s."

Peter Morén, of the Swedish indie upstarts Peter Bjorn and John, is talking about the breakout video for his band's ubiquitous and deliriously catchy whistle-core (to coin a phrase that really shouldn't catch on) twee-pop ditty "Young Folks"; but he could have just as easily been describing his own band: a bouncing, breathing anachronism of '70s lo-fi disco-pop and bearded psych-out shambles, which has been hitting way above pop's usual potential lately.

Since its release about a year ago, the song itself (Pitchfork's #2 song of the year; NME's #5) has replicated like a voracious alien spore from the planet Cute, peeling back the lids of unsuspecting humanoids everywhere and sprinkling insidious fairy dust all over their little brains. No one is safe from that cursed-and quite frankly genius-whistling.

But it gets even weirder: Out of absolutely nowhere, "Young Folks" was recently nominated for the MTV Video Music Award for best new artist. Wait, what? Don't these things usually lead to perfect storms of schadenfreude, à la Mariah Carey and R. Kelly?

"I don't even know who else is nominated in our category," says the former library student (and current Human League and OMD fan) over the phone from his home in Stockholm. "It's fun, of course, but it's nothing you expect. I probably wouldn't watch it on TV if I wasn't nominated myself."

Morén admits (or boasts, depending on how good one is at parsing the accent of a laughing Swede), "The song is very catchy."

In any case, the video certainly wasn't meant to be much. The band got help from an artist friend who, already busy with a school project, turned it in as a rush job. But it didn't matter, really. They could play that song over a montage of Michael Vick dogfight bloopers, and it would still get heads woozy with glee. Why?

"People whistle all the time," he explains. Perhaps we've all just been roaming around in a collective haze, looking for something to whistle together in harmony. Could this song end world violence, then? I'm not suggesting it will, but it probably will. That is, until what Morén calls the "Indie Taliban" gets their hands on it.

"In the indie world, maybe there is no whistling," he says. "But the amusing thing is, we have the whistle on a loop for live shows because my voice gets really dry, and fans get annoyed. You can accept rappers with DJs and bands using all sorts of backing tracks, but this one part on a single from a rock band ... you can't fake that!?"

No. No, you can't.


Originally published in the Weekly Dig.