Thursday, June 30, 2011

Boston hearts the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls


Check out this piece I wrote for Stuff Magazine Boston <3s the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls about how the nineties are the new eighties in Boston, and probably everywhere else too but who cares. And while you're there go read this piece in my usual Liquid column about how being in a band and being a bartender are the exact same thing and the rest of the cool stuff in the Music Issue here.

I was walking down Boylston Street a couple of months ago, past the spot where I used to smoke cigarettes (and try to get people to notice me smoking cigarettes) back in my days at Emerson. And I realized all the kids were wearing XXL flannel shirts, cut-off corduroys, and giant socks billowing out of dirty Doc Martens. I thought to myself, "Weird, I guess we're doing this '90s nostalgia thing already." Then I got depressed about my inevitable mortality, but that's pretty standard. 

Getting a sonic high with Ringo Deathstarr

No offense to sex, but I've always been more preoccupied with the drugs and rock-and-roll part of that equation. Historically speaking, there has never been a shortage of songs about drugs (or songs written while on drugs, or of musicians taking drugs to make songs to take drugs to), but actually capturing the feeling of space angels tickling your brain stem while swimming through gently swaying fields of purple grass isn't so easy to accomplish. That's why the songs from Austin noise-pop trio Ringo Deathstarr — in particular, the devastating dopamine rush of "So High," which features a string of effects pedals marked "MBV" and "J+MC" and twitchy, whorling waves of feedback and call-and-response male/female vocals — have me pressing the play button on my computer repeatedly, like a lab monkey waiting for the cocaine pellet to pop out.

Part of the dilated pupils and elevated-heart-rate blast of that song and others on Ringo debut Colour Trip (Sonic Unyon) is the nostalgia triggered by hearing it done so well. Not only does it sound like drugs today, it sounds like drugs gone by, and the music that we took drugs to listen to back then. Be right back, got to go make a call.

The December Sound drop a sonic boom

Order out of chaos. If making music is all about conjuring brief moments of something-ness out of the void, it's no wonder that it speaks to us on such a primal, biological level. What are our lives, after all, beside sad little symphonies, one part layered on top of the next — occasionally harmonious, more often discordant. And human civilization, just a really long EP. Houses are songs and cities are, too: songs that stave off the nothingness of the lag time between tracks.

A grandiosity-minded outfit like the December Sound cut through to the core of that metaphor by digging down past a few layers of artifice and erecting walls of noise that could be the soundtrack to some creation myth. Consider the track "Massed Senses," from their still-in-production second album Beneath the Ruins of Me — with its giant vistas of celestial feedback and colliding asteroids — or the planet-sized buzzsaw of "Never" from their 2005 homonymous debut. Or, if that comparison doesn't work for you, let's leave deep space behind and try deep ocean. To wit, what does the ominous drone of an expanse of underwater mountains eroding over a millennia sound like? That's the idea they're going for.

Nightlife: the week ahead

PHASE EFFICIENCY This new night brought to you by Basstown and the newly formed electronic arts community ElecSonic, pulls together a lineup of audio and visual talents on both floors of Good Life. Techno from Ecuador’s Balian, tech-house from Colombia’s Lu Saldarriaga, and live drum and bass from Chicago’s Sigi Mueller are just the tip of the electronic iceberg. July 1, 9 p.m. Cover: $5. 21+. Good Life. 617-451-2622,

PICÓ PICANTE Organizer Sara Skolnick describes Pico Picante as “the first of a series of nightlife events that pay homage to emerging genres that celebrate staples of Latin American music through electronic reworks, such as tropical bass, Moombahton and digital cumbia.’’ DJs Pajaritos and Oxycontinental, perform, along with live electro act PC//MM. July 2, 7 p.m. No cover. Lily Pad. 617-395-1393,

Nubar still acts like a new bar

Nubar, you’ve got a lot to learn, but your heart is in the right place.
Traditionally, hotel bars are situated at either pole of a spectrum that runs from the lively and boisterous center of a neighborhood’s culture to a purgatory-like holdover for weary travelers.

Naturally, every hotelier strives for the former, particularly in the past few years, where the success of pace-setters like Eastern Standard have revitalized the concept of what a hotel bar is supposed to be. One suspects that’s what Nubar in the Sheraton Commander outside Harvard Square hopes to replicate, albeit on a more intimate scale.

There’s green in ‘Whitey’ tees

‘‘Whitey’’ Bulger’s arrest sparked the printing of dozens of ‘‘Free Whitey’’ T-shirts.

Shirt makers capitalize on fugitive’s capture

It’s hard to say how long after reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey’’ Bulger was apprehended last week that the T-shirt presses started running, but it must have been soon. Now, a simple online search turns up dozens of different “Free Whitey’’ T-shirt designs on eBay and on apparel sites like Zazzle, including one that echoes the poster for the film “The Departed’’ and others that incorporate mug shots and sports team logos.

“T-shirts are in, gangsters are in, it’s a win-win idea,’’ a Boston designer who goes by the name Megatrip wrote in an e-mail. He’s printed up shirts with a Bulger mug shot on them and is selling them for $24.94 at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not Me Dot Com

Harry Campbell for The Wall Street Journal

Want an Internet that doesn't know your pant size? A guide to regain your privacy

Those Home Improvement tools you bought on Amazon? They know about them. The vacation to Ireland you researched on Expedia, too. Not to mention the fact that you "liked" the new Taylor Swift single. (Did you? Really?)
On the Internet, nothing you say or do ever really disappears. We leave behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs everywhere we go. The fact that your behavior on the Web is being monitored by companies who want to utilize that info for their own interests isn't a big surprise, but the sheer size of the data footprint each of us accumulates may give you pause. In the end, they're using it to tailor-make a just-for-you Web experience that you're supposed to like—whether you like it or not.

The Intrigue of Chartreuse

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

French monks. Secret recipes. An otherworldly color. Belly up to a most mysterious liqueur

While we're certainly appreciative of all the efforts various sects of monks have made in the advancement of knowledge throughout history, how about their work in the time-honored tradition of throwing one back? Praise be to the Carthusians then, a French sect responsible for the distillation of Chartreuse for over 400 years. The most notable variety, Green Chartreuse, is a liqueur made from some 130 herbs and plants, the full extent of which are only known by two or three people at any given time (although the exact recipe has changed once or twice). It's kind of like "The Da Vinci Code" of drinking.

Pitcher perfect


I've done a lot of thinking about this lately, and I may have finally figured out the best part about going out to a bar: drinking. You know what the worst part is? Standing there not drinking. The latter scenario happens with surprising frequency. Maybe it's too busy and the beleaguered barkeeps are in the weeds. Or maybe they're taking their goddamned time worrying over your cocktail like a surgeon doing a delicate booze operation. 

Dive and sports bars solved this conundrum years ago by serving beer in pitchers, but they forgot to account for the fact that a giant vat of warm, watery beer is gross. Cocktails in pitchers then! It's a eureka moment that more and more bars around the city have been having of late. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Red Lantern: A beacon of hope


When is the last time you walked into a restaurant and were really impressed? Not by the food or drink, I mean, but, like, literally struck by how it looks. Been a while, right? If so, then a trip may be in order to Red Lantern, the new Asian-themed restaurant and lounge from the folks behind the stylistically similar Shrine at Foxwoods. With its distressed, exposed white brick, dozens of Buddha statues, paper bird cage lanterns and towering ceilings, it looks like an artfully crumbling temple that doubles as a sleek nightclub come sundown. You’d never know it was once a Bertucci’s chain franchise.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Death Cab’s back, mellower than ever

Codes and Keys

One of the most anticipated indie rock records of the summer is neither indie nor particularly rocking. The genre-defining band that rose to fame on the brush-stroked teardrop verses of singer Ben Gibbard’s epistolary romances has long since graduated from its humble indie origins, where deft, keenly observed albums like “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes’’ established its bona fides among the sad young literary men and women. Here on Death Cab for Cutie’s seventh record there’s little guitar to speak of, resulting in a more docile affair, even by the band’s already mellow standards. For the most part, demure keys and light atmospheric touches stand in for guitarist and sound architect Chris Walla’s traditionally vibrant (albeit measured) rock production, as on the title track and the piano meandering of “Some Boys.’’ On the latter, Gibbard offers a recurring motif, singing “some boys don’t know how to love.’’ Gibbard has proven he can lay waste to hearts sans guitar with his work in the Postal Service, but on prior Death Cab records the band’s interlocking layers of nervy riffing have undergirded his wistful lyrical sentiment and plaintive vocals with something the less swoon-inclined could sink their teeth into. The immediately engaging songs on “Codes and Keys’’ where this approach stays intact — like “Doors Unlocked and Open’’ and “You Are a Tourist’’ — are conspicuously rare. 

Cults, 'Cults'

The New York duo Cults’ short history provides a handy primer for the way this blogwave trend of bands works now. The first single from the nascent act was promoted on the taste-making Gorilla vs. Bear site in April 2010, and met with rapturous approval from the downloading cognoscenti. Fawning praise followed. To record their debut LP, they enlisted Shane Stoneback — the engineer behind the eminently bloggable forerunners Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells — and were signed to Lily Allen’s imprint of Columbia. Next stop: minor fame! Their music perfectly encapsulates the dark, ’60s-style girl pop of the current nostalgia-mining, romance-hardened zeitgeist brought on by bands like Vivian Girls and Best Coast. “You Know What I Mean’’ is a swooning waltz set to weeping strings and echoing finger-snaps — a “You Don’t Own Me’’ for the Flip-cam generation. True to the early pop blueprint, even the happiest of the crushing-out, hand-holding soundtrack stuff here — like potential Song of the Year contender “Go Outside’’ — is couched in a bitter, familiar sentiment: Love rules. Love hurts.