Music Blogs - Blogged Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, October 29, 2010

10/28/2010: Wallpaper. - Houston, TX

Longtime readers of the blog are well aware of my perhaps frightening obsession with the Oakland, CA funk/pop band, Wallpaper.  (As of this writing, they are the5th most-blogged about artist on Audio Overflow, just above Muse and only one post shy of Sufjan Stevens.)  However, despite my incessant hyping of the group, I had never seen them perform live until last night at Fitzgerald's in Houston, TX!

It should go without saying that I was just in love with what I saw.  Ricky Reed's stage presence is as captivating as the character requires.  Whether he's making subtle jokes, renaming songs on the fly, or just singing and dancing, the guy has got his act down!  The energy that he gives off is absolutely infecting, keeping me moving and singing along the length of the set.  In addition, I'd be remiss not to mention the talent of his P.I.C. and drummer, whose skill is just unparalleled.  It's not a Wallpaper. song without a fresh beat, and Derrick (Arjun?) is the heart of the live show!

The group played through a number of songs from their debut LP, Doodoo Face, including "I Got Soul, I'm So Wasted," "Gettin' Drip," and set-closer "It's My Birthday."  They also mixed in a few new songs as well, including the just-released summer jam "Indian Summer."  When I first heard the track a week ago, I was a little unsure of its greatness.  However, after hearing it live, I have no questions; this is a straight party jam!  I loved it!  Disappointments?  Not many aside from the lack of "Txt Me Ur Love" or "I Ain't Most Dudes," though I understand that when you're playing a 30-minute set, you sometimes have to cut the less crowd-pleasing songs. 

Wallpaper. opened for The Heavy, who are making waves right now with their similarly funky sounds.  My apologies to the band for not sticking around for the show.  Believe me, if I didn't have to work at 6am this morning, I would have been there in the front dancing my ass off!  But hey, I did get to see Wallpaper., and I got to meet the guys after the show too! 

Listen, if you have yet to listen to this awesome group, do yourself a favor and catch them on the road soon!  The band is currently touring the US with The Heavy (Austin tonight!!), and you can check out their tour dates on their Myspace page.  Come back to Houston soon, guys! 

Click to

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Sufjan Stevens: "The Age of Adz"

In 2009, Sufjan Stevens contributed a song called "You Are the Blood" to the excellent compilation album, Dark Was the Night.  At the time it was released, it was one of the first original Sufjan pieces I'd heard in years, and at 10 minutes, it seemed to signal a change in the style of music the artist was interested in creating.  It was not only the song's length that gave it away, but also the heavy emphasis on electronic instrumentation.  While the more dedicated fans out there know that electronic music is nothing new to Stevens, he had yet to really combine it with his more orchestral pieces in the way that he did in that song.  I, for one, found it to be refreshing take on his usual schtick which, like it or not, just wouldn't have been as enchanting now as it was in 2005 (if only for the fact that we've all been listening to it for five years).  With The Age of Adz, Sufjan continues to evolve his sound in a similar manner to "You Are the Blood," with almost-perfect results!

The album begins with "Futile Devices," a beautifully soft acoustic song that serves more as a palette cleanser than as a track indicative of the whole of Adz.  Sufjan's billowy vocals float lightly over his delicate guitar-picking, putting the listener at ease and giving us the chance to enjoy the wonderfully-written lyrics.  It ends abruptly, if not beautifully, running head on into the glitchy percussion of "Too Much."  This song is the real primer for  The Age of Adz.  It adds synths and electronic percussion to great effect, but simultaneously retains what was always so great about Sufjan Stevens' music - namely, a brilliant composition, lively vocal arrangements, and music that is constantly engaging.  It literally sounds like a classic 50-states era song with some newly-introduced instruments.  It's easily one of the album's catchiest tracks, and the one on which most opinions will be hitched; positive or negative.

From here, Sufjan continues to trek into new territory.  Title track, "The Age of Adz" begins with a flood of horns and flutes that make it sound more like the soundtrack to an epic battle scene than a Sufjan Stevens song.  Unfortunately, a lot of that momentum is thrown out soon after and the song reveals itself to be a bit more ho-hum than it led on - like a sheep in wolf's clothing.  "The Age of Adz" reveals pretty plainly what the album's greatest flaw is, and that is Stevens' reoccurring difficulty to write a compelling vocal melody.  The same guy who was able to make a song about a serial killer into a oddly-catchy sing-along can barely assemble a strong string of notes on a few of the songs on Adz.  Granted, on tracks like "All For Myself" or "Bad Communication," he seems more focused on creating an atmosphere than a melody, but he does so at the expense of arguably one of his greatest talents as a songwriter.

"Get Real, Get Right" picks up where "Too Much" left off, blending upbeat glitch percussion and more traditional instrumentation with a strong hook.  Surprisingly strong, in fact, considering it features Sufjan and Co. singing "Do yourself a favor and get real, get right with the Lord."  Sufjan's never been one to shy away from his faith in music, but it's rarely been so plainly written and joyfully executed.  Whether it's done in jest or in earnest is debatable, but the brilliance of the song is not.  A person with a less open mind might be quick to judge then when Sufjan proudly declares just a few songs later that he's "not fucking around" - but I personally find it to be one of The Age of Adz's most-enjoyable moments!  The moment happens in the second half of "I Want to Be Well."  On first listen, I was caught off guard by the sheer brazenness of the language.  Sufjan has always been a very delicate writer.  However, by the time he's passionately shouting the line over a chorus of vocals singing "I want to be well," I'm right there with him, cheering him on!  This is not an emotion we are used to from this guy, and it is made all the more powerful as a result.

A lot will probably be said about the way that Sufjan decided to end The Age of Adz.  Any song that clocks in at over 25 minutes is certainly a sign of overindulgence, and "Impossible Soul" is certainly not an exception to this rule.  But to its credit, the song never tires, never bores - not once in its 25 minutes!  Plus, the song gives us a featured performance from Annie Clark, a dance section, and one of the most tragic endings to a song I've heard all year.  Is it unnecessary?  It's hard to say, really.  To be sure, his use of auto-tune in one section is questionable (and perhaps unintentionally funny).  But at the same time, the technology has definitely been used to worse ends in the last few years!  And let's not forget that "Impossible Soul" is perhaps more accurately viewed as the second half to a double album or an EP within an LP.  Even without its inclusion on Adz, the album is brilliant, however its place at the end of the album gives The Age of Adz a more touching ending and an increased depth.  There is a lot to take in here that many of listeners may not appreciate until after repeated listens.

Whether people end up hating or loving The Age of Adz, one can't really fault Sufjan for wanting to try his hand at self-reinvention.  In 2005, this guy was on top of the indie music world.  It would have been easy to milk that success with a few more albums about states in the same vein as his previous critically-acclaimed albums.  Instead, he retreated into pet projects and relative obscurity, all the while crafting an album that is bold, entirely unique, and unfailingly captivating!  The Age of Adz is refreshing in ways few albums have been since Illinois was released over half a decade(!) ago.  While it won't hold a candle to some of his past albums, The Age of Adz stands entirely on its own as a brilliant work of creative genius!  Sufjan is back, and thank god, he hasn't lost it!  Not even close.

Key Tracks:
1. "Futile Devices"
2. "Too Much"
3. "I Walked"
4. "Get Real Get Right"
5. "I Want to Be Well"

8 out of 10 Stars  

Click to

Saturday, October 09, 2010

10/8/2010: LCD Soundsystem w/ Sleigh Bells - Houston, TX

Typically when ACL comes around, Houston gets a few minor residual bands who do a show on their way through the state.  But this year has been good to us.  On one night I get to see Beach House and Vampire Weekend.  On the next, I see LCD Soundsystem and Sleigh Bells.  While Vampire Weekend was certainly an excellent show to see, this one totally blew it away!

This is Sleigh Bells.  That is a moderately large wall of amps.  My ears are still ringing.
I've been a fan of Sleigh Bells from the moment I first heard "Kids" and seeing them live has been an experience I've been dying to make reality.  They do not disappoint.  Quite the opposite actually; they're freaking amazing!  I had seen a few YouTube videos of their shows, and none of them come close to matching the sheer energy that is on display!  Derek's guitar shredding is enthralling and Alexis has the stage presence of Alice Glass.  She certainly knows how to get the crowd going.  Every song they played was amazing, primarily because they left out "Rachel" (thank heavens!).  I will definitely be seeing them again!

Next up is LCD Soundsystem.  Now, I've been hearing about how awesome LCD shows are for years, but until last night I have never seen one.


This could very well be one of, if not the best live show I've ever had the pleasure of attending!  From the moment the band walked on stage, the Verizon Wireless Theatre turned into one giant party.  The band wisely eschewed some of their slower songs and kept the energy turned up with the best songs from all three albums.  This is Happening received most of the love, as expected, but it's also LCD Soundsystem's best album.  So fair trade.
It's blurry because I'm dancing.  No need to stop for a picture, really.
James Murphy.  How do you do it?  How do you take something so repetitive and easy and make it into some of the greatest music of the last decade?  How do you transform that into something that I'll not only pay to see, but pay to see again and again?  There wasn't a damn thing wrong with last night's performance.  And sure it could've been that I was a little tipsy, or that I was in the company of some very nice people; but that show was amazing, and I had the time of my life!  For real.

Click to

10/7/2010: Vampire Weekend w/ Beach House - Houston, TX

A few nights ago, two really great bands came through town.

Beach House performs "Norway." Meanwhile, iPhone takes poor pictures.
Beach House has been getting regular plays on my iPod for months now, but mostly just the song "Zebra," which I adore.  The rest of their most recent album is awesome, but it's just not going to be featured on my regular rotation.  But damn, Beach House was amazing the other night!  Hearing "Norway" live was probably the highlight of the evening, besting anything that Vampire Weekend could come up with.  The band has this sort of ethereal sound that just flies out of the speakers and hits you in the chest.  If you're going to listen to Beach House, live is the best way to do it!

And then Vampire Weekend came out and put on a hell of a show!  This was the first time the band has ever been through Houston, and I feel like we did them right!  The crowd was loving everything they were playing.  Even total balls songs like "Taxi Cab" - just a live bore, really - was treated to applause and niceties.
Vampire Weekend does their thing.
One thing the band definitely has is showmanship.  Whether it was bursting onto the stage to rap music, Ezra's undeniable stage presence, or Chris Tomson's amazing drumming, the band is absolutely captivating!  In the little over an hour they played, they hit all the highlights of their first two albums, though I was a bit disappointed that they left out "I Think Ur a Contra."  Granted, it wouldn't really have livened up the crowd, but it is a gorgeous song.  Best song of the night was easily "Oxford Comma" which remains their crowning achievement in general.

It was a wonderful evenening and I had a great time!  The only thing better than this night was the next.

Click to