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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

I saw art-pop band Flotation Walls a few weeks ago at PA’s Lounge with friends St. Claire, who have known the band since their high school days in Columbus, OH.  St. Claire’s lovely lead singer had told me good things about the band, but I had already decided that I wasn’t going out to the show.  Luckily a solid text message guilt trip broke through my shownertia (See what I did there??? Brilliant.) and I made it out.  Their live show totally blew me away: you can read all about it here.

090725_Flotation_Walls_Band

I purchased their album, Nature, at the show, and haven’t stopped listening to it since.  It’s a masterfully produced, lush, layered album; it’s dynamically varied, brilliantly arranged, and totally unique.

090725_Nature_Flotation_Walls

The album opens with the life-affirming “Sperm & Egg,” which starts out as a lilting, French-café style waltz in which frontman Carlos Avendaño sings sweetly about impregnation.  The track expands to include cymbal-heavy textural drums and one of the album’s constant choral motifs.  “Sperm & Egg” segues into “Worms,” a frantic, sample-heavy electronica piece about death. The song ends with a choral track and moves into “Kids, Look at the Waves,” an elegant acoustic-guitar based love song with an unexpectedly strong bridge.  The fourth track, “The Flickering Projection” is one of my favorites on the album.  Structure-wise, it’s more straight-ahead than the preceding tracks, but the dynamics keep it totally interesting, and the backing choral tracks are expertly deployed to gorgeous effect on the catchy-as-hell chorus.

Even on tracks that are less existential in nature and more narrative, like the almost precious “Willis the Fireman” and surreal “Timmy Twofingers,” Flotation Walls exhibit a musical seriousness that gives the album real heft.  There are no throwaway tracks.  “Frozen Lake”, “Body,” and the lovely paean “I’ve Seen Death and His Tremendous Pink Eyes” are all gorgeous in scope.  The only comparisons that come to mind, at least in terms of arrangement, are the vast songscapes of Sigur Ros or Arcade Fire.  Nature is a big, ambitious album, and every track feels important.  My favorite is tension-laden track nine, “The Sky Ejaculates,” which starts softly and sweetly, breaks halfway through for a beautifully orchestrated interlude, and then cracks into a spare, powerful bridge.

The album closes tastefully with the quiet acoustic guitar and piano-based “Wet With Light.”  I was surprised, at first listen, with the subtlety of the final track, but I appreciate how calmly the album ends.  It feels complete; a beautifully conceived album from start to finish.

For purchasing information please see the Flotation Walls official site.

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There’s a wondrous place tucked away in the foothills of Boston where dreams really can come true.  It’s the town of Dedham, MA, to some, a standard strip-mall-ish suburb showcasing capitalist giants such as Costco, BJ’s and other outlets whose products require a dump truck to transport.  To others, like me (who happened to grow up in the adjacent town) the home of hidden gems such as the oldest standing timber frame building in all of North America (!) , a storefront with the name James the Tailor, and the Museum of Bad Art.

Nestled in the sticky-floored basement of the until-recently-sticky-floored (and now very cool) Dedham Community Movie Theatre, MOBA is the place where anyone – anyone – can get their shot at stardom, where wings take dream, where some dude can paint “Reef Garden” and not be arrested.   Indeed, the painting’s description says it all:  “On a silent cue, one pulsating incubator bursts, hurtling an anxious and curiously aged little merman upwards to the unknown world above the surface. ”

"The dancer stares, hypnotizing the viewer. We find ourselves forced to stay -- feel the music or drown."

"The dancer stares, hypnotizing the viewer. We find ourselves forced to stay -- feel the music or drown."

Long a fan of MOBA (yet admittedly sometimes feeling like a shower was needed after a visit), I was delighted to see that the nation – nay, the world – is finally catching on.   Kudos ABC News, for articulating what many of us in the Boston suburbs have been thinking this week: Tehran Shmehran, the real revolution starts in a basement.

ABC News Video: Museum with an Eye for Bad Art

ABC News Video: Museum with an Eye for Bad Art


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Last weekend, Van Hammersley and I went to New York City to eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money, and look at all the beautiful people.  I’m happy to report we succeeded wildly on all counts.  On our first night in town we hung out in the East Village and the Lower East Side.  We endured bad service, overly loud jazz, and wonderful French food at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s.  I had the mussels and pommes frites – predictable and tasty – and VH had hanger steak with a shallot sauce and asparagus risotto, which was also delicious.

Jules Jazz

We wandered around a bit after dinner and eventually found ourselves in the back room at Piano’s watching Wolff, slack jawed in utter amazement.  Wolff is, as best as I can describe it, an indie electronica/technorock tuba player.  He uses loops of tuba and vocal samples to create rich, layered, innovative songs that maintain a real sense of accessibility and beauty.

Wolff and Tuba

Wolff and Tuba

The lush music, combined with amazing background visuals from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (a precursor to the stunning Baraka, as well as the Planet Earth series), removed us completely from the frenetic Friday night city.  We found ourselves wrapped up in a totally visceral multimedia moment.  I could have watched for hours, but the night was still young at 1:00 a.m.

We moved on to the Back Room, a 1920s speakeasy style bar, complete with comfortable couches, fireplaces, and drinks served in teacups.  We were actually able to get into the exclusive back room of the Back Room due to VH’s little brother’s endless social connections and general awesomeness.  It was extremely exciting:

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

VH and I, used to our Boston 2:00 a.m. bedtime, headed back to Ft. Greene shortly afterwards.  We spent much of the rest of the weekend wandering around Williamsburg.  We especially enjoyed The Main Drag, a fantastic music store in which the friendly and helpful employees basically let us fuck around for well over an hour (me on keys trying to understand the intricacies of a rack synth, VH in a private practice room with an assortment of badass pedals and a beautiful guitar), and the (relatively) new riverfront park.

Play time!

Play time!

Information.

Information.

Hipster love.

Hipster love.

We had a beautiful South African dinner on Saturday night at Madiba on DeKalb in Ft. Greene after deciding to get adventurous.  VH had a mutton curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, and I had bobotie, a traditional beef meatloaf-like dish with a baked custard topping and sliced almond crust.  Both were served with an assortment of transcendent sauces, including marmalade, raita, fresh salsa, and my favorite, a creamy banana coconut.  It was easily our favorite meal of the trip.  Next time perhaps we’ll try the steak with monkey gland sauce.  Or not.

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The best part of the trip, though, was finally purchasing my dream umbrella at the Mini Mini Market on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg:

Nothing will ever be the same.

Nothing will ever be the same.

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TLOS '09 Album of the Year contender: Love. Trust. Faith. Lust.

TLOS '09 Album of the Year contender: Love. Trust. Faith. Lust.

“From the couple times I’ve seen MEandJOANCOLLINS, I’m beginning to think they might be the best band from Boston right now … M&JC has a compelling package of music and charisma that’s hard to deny.” – Rob V, Cheap Thrills Boston.

MEandJOANCOLLINS [MySpace] deliver the goods. And I’ve seen ’em do it first hand, I wanna say, 10-15 times since 2007. A few years back, they “got married” at the Abbey Lounge (RIP) – this meant a faux drag wedding between co-gtr/vocalists Bo Barringer and Jen Grygiel with bassist Jim Collins (no relation) presiding over the ceremony. After Grygiel kissed the bride, they launched into a cover of VH1’s 12th Greatest Power Ballad. (The Crüe, if used properly, can make a cheap publicity stunt look like a stroke of genius). It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen happen in Somerville. Another highlight was their 2008 WBCN Rumble performance; I was shocked and horrified to see them bounced in the first round.

They're on their way. Just set them free. Home sweet home.

They're on their way. Just set them free. Home sweet home.

They emerged from the wreckage of Barringer’s ex-band, The Collisions, several years before The New Collisions (no relation) crashed head-on into Boston’s music scene. (I apologize if my puns are sometimes too subtile). Their sound is an accessible mix of garage, glam, and British popular music (Bowie, T. Rex, Pulp, the Velvets, the Zombies, Spoon, Of Montreal – you get the idea) with hand claps, sleazy boy/girl vocals, and face-melting riffage courtesy of Barringer (his guitar work is featured even more heavily in the band’s excellent new material – a looser, more expansive crop of tunes, many written by Grygiel). I’d call the rhythm section their “secret weapon” if it weren’t for the fact that Collins (Gene Dante, The Buckners, Paula Kelley, Eddie Japan) and drummer Jason Marchionna (Fluttr Effect) are household names to many on the scene.

Love. Trust. Faith. Lust., the band’s debut album, is one of the best discs of 2009 – local, national, or anywhere. Standout tracks include the unbelievably catchy “That’s Not What I Want,” modern breakup classic “Crime of the Century (So Far…),” breezy pop gem “Typical Asshole,” and brooding set closer “Strangest Thing.” Those tracks get an A+; the rest of the album gets an A.

MEandJOANCOLLINS celebrates Grygiel’s “dirty thirty” this Saturday, June 20, 11:00 p.m., at Allston’s Great Scott. The rest of the lineup ain’t bad either: The Main Drag (9:00), Ketman (10:00), Ho-Ag (midnight). So give the blogs a rest for a night and check out this great show. You really do need to get out of the house more. (People talking behind your back). 

Also, be sure to click the link labeled “The Crüe” in the second paragraph. It’s by far the best part of this post. 

MP3: Crime of the Century (So Far…)

CD Baby: Love. Trust. Faith. Lust.

Press: The Phoenix | Adequacy.net | RSL

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Cambridge/Somerville is the AL East of New England brunch. There are titans like East Coast Grill (maybe the greatest brunch ever), the Neighborhood, the Blue Room, City Girl Cafe, Henrietta’s Table, and on and on. Not to mention the mediocre-yet-popular S&S, its jazzy sidekick, Ryles, and Brookline Lunch.

Now an expansion team has been thrown into the mix – beloved Portsmouth, NH, diner The Friendly Toast [official site, Yelp] has opened a new Cambridge location in Kendall Square. For these young upstarts, the future is uncertain – will they achieve near-instant success, or wallow for years in a constant state of epic fail? On Sunday, I went with Sophie – senior TLOS food critic / high quality baked goods expert – to find out.

The Friendly Toast has 150 seats and a full bar. Its retro-1950s-diner-meets-Spencer’s-Gifts decor (Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew book covers + Garbage Pail Kids-style novelty ads) is bit much, but it gives you plenty to look at. A sign on the door urged patience as they trained 37 new employees at once. The staff did look kind of frazzled – the place was packed and buzzing with a new restaurant hysteria. There was a 45 minute wait, so we ordered coffees and drank them outside before snatching up two seats in the first come first serve bar area.

The menu stated only two-thirds of the usual items were featured due to training issues, but we weren’t short on options. I ordered the Costa Rican (“black beans & plum tomatoes under melted smoked provolone; 2 sunny eggs and sour cream on top with homefries and homemade toast”). It was tasty, but nothing soul-shattering. The best part, unsurprisingly, was the wheat toast – two obscenely thick slices, crisp on the outside and warm on the inside. Sophie had the Belgian waffle; it was delicious, but pretty much standard fare. We had a few critiques – my eggs came sunny side up when I had specifically ordered over medium!! and the strawberries on the waffle were half frozen – but no deal breakers.

The Verdict: The Friendly Toast has no control over how biased I am, brunch-wise, towards East Coast Grill and City Girl Cafe. But non-IHOP diners serving breakfast all day are something that Boston – hell, the world – could always use more of. While we weren’t exactly blown away last Sunday, TLOS thinks the Friendly Toast has a quirky charm (and a perfect location), and that once they work out the kinks, they’ll be a player in Cambridge/Somerville breakfast scene for years to come.

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Look at these fucking hipsters.

Look at these fucking hipsters.

I like to experience new albums – at least the ones I’m particularly interested in – much in the same way I would a movie or a short book: in one sitting (listening from start to finish, usually on headphones). Then I’ll make a snap judgement and try to fit it into one of the following three categories:

a) This isn’t for me. There are lots of reasons I don’t like certain stuff. An album might be really overrated (Bon Iver, LCD Soundsystem), too precious (Death Cab for Cutie, The Wrens), too boring (No Age, Burial), too irritating (Destroyer, MIA), a combination of all these factors (Animal Collective, Panda Bear), or too much of an MC whose idea of “rapping” is telling mundane stories while speaking in a cockney accent over garage beats (The Streets). Okay, fine, all of the previously mentioned artists have a few cool tracks, but you get the point.

b) This is a work of genius! I’m going to listen to this album a 10,000 times over the next few days and talk everybody’s ear off about it … then overdose and burn out on it completely. These albums can be “pixie discs,” delivering an exciting sugar rush with little nutritional value (The Strokes, MGMT, Black Kids) – or one trick ponies (Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Clinic), bands that do one thing really well, but give you so much of that one good thing that it becomes old really fast.

c) I don’t know if I liked that or not. These are the “difficult” albums. They’re strange and alien at first, but also vaguely familiar, and there’s something (a surprising lyric/chord change/mix of influences, an oddly compelling singer, etc) that piques your interest – a thing that makes you go “hmm,” to quote our good friends at Music Factory, C&C. These usually end up being my favorite records, my desert island discs, if you will.

grizzly_bear-veckatimest-cover-betterVeckatimest, the new album from Brooklyn art rockers Grizzly Bear is a perfect example of the Type C category. Last year, I missed them open for fellow Type C-ers Radiohead, in Mansfield, MA, but I didn’t realize what I was missing. Early reviews for Veckatimest (leaked months ago) were all loaded with foaming at the mouth / NME-style praise. I’m always skeptical of (and usually disappointed with) albums that get this level of hype, but this time I was pleasantly surprised.

Two songs, “Two Weeks” and “As You Wait for the Others” – the album’s catchiest, most melodic tracks – stood out immediately. The vocal harmonies on the chorus of “As You Wait” gives me goosebumps; it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time (see video clip below). “Southern Point” opens the album on an ominous note then launches into a great little acoustic guitar riff and primal, galloping drums. Others like “Fine for Now” and “Cheerleader” develop slowly and take a bit longer to grow on you, but are worth the effort. Veckatimest closes with “Foreground,” a stark and beautiful song with a hint of dread – it sounds like something Radiohead might choose to end one of their albums (like “The Tourist” or “Motion Picture Soundtrack”).

Super highly recommended.

Oh shit – Grizzly Bear is playing at the Berklee Performance Center tonight! (it’s sold out – stop smiling). Instead you’ll have to settle for watching a crappy quality YouTube clip of their new music video for “Two Weeks,” a disturbing “Black Hole Sun” homage. Enjoy!

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I go to a lot of shows these days (probably too many) but it’s usually worth it, especially when I stumble upon a band like Hot Box. I caught this Cambridge four-piece at Great Scott recently for the release of their debut LP Four Eyes (check out some fancy photos from the gig below). If sparkly dual guitar lines are your thing, you will find a lot to like here – same goes for fans of hypnotic female vocals and hi-hat. Album opener “Busy, Busy, Busy” shows the outstanding rhythm section at the peak of its powers, driving an addictive, spiraling riff. The band’s “indie post rock” tag is apt – “Chainsmokers” sounds like late Sonic Youth, and “I’ll Tell You Later” (my favorite track) recalls Tortoise at their most epic. Great stuff. We hope you like it.

MP3: Hot Box – Busy, Busy, Busy

hotbox_rh2 hotbox_gg1
hotbox_gt2 hotbox_dr1

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