All posts by Stacey K. Anderson

Coachella 2006

Yeah Yeah YeahsI was somewhere around Indio, in the apex of the desert, when Tommy Lee kicked in. As I walked through the manicured grass, happily eating corn on the cob, the thin and dust-caked Motley Crue drummer ran up to me, weaving his arms and torso in a spastic model of the Axl Rose snake dance. I continued gnawing on the corn, and flicked my eyes upward in annoyance. He chuckled and regrouped with his bleached-blonde entourage to continue down the field, toward the throbbing bass of Daft Punk.

Even without the icky hair-metal run-ins, this year’s Coachella Festival still would have been the strangest one yet. The cultural oasis of the Colorado Desert (held May 29-30) featured a predictably strong lineup of eclectic indie artists but, pivotally, an additional interest in capturing the mainstream crowd. From Kanye West’s shining ego on Saturday to Madonna’s short-and-skanky dance tent appearance Sunday, the indie snob’s once-safe haven was taken over by squealing strangers – and two sold-out days later, it’s hard to tell whether Coachella will continue down the beaten pop path.

Whatever. For the most part, Coachella still retained its joyous communal atmosphere, a kaleidoscopic place where alternative art reigns and nobody knows your name. (And there are celebrities under every rock.) For me, it was The End: the final fling before graduation, the last irresponsible trip with my best friends. But it was also the beginning, as I discovered thanks to some artists, some new opportunities, and a chance meeting with my very own Yoda, though taller and with some ketchup in his beard.

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Foo Fighters – In Your Honor

Foo FightersIn Your Honor [Copy Protected “to protect the artist rights“] (RCA)

In Your Honor, the fifth release by the Foo Fighters, is a double-album recipe of the band’s familiar rock – a collection that Dave Grohl primed for the band’s tenth anniversary. The first disc is up-tempo and electric, and features both the first single (“Best of You”) and an unrelenting wall of distorted guitar. The second is a gentler, more acoustic ride of whispering, finger-picking, and Norah Jones; waifish piano pixies aside, these conflicting elements are what make the band’s best tunes so enchanting (and Grohl’s suavely self-deprecating media sound bytes so forgivable).

But In Your Honor contains no new showstoppers – each disc seems to only contain one very long song. The splitting-atoms approach is a novel one, but it’s hardly as ambitious as Foo crew wishes, because it obliterates their ability to write catchy hooks. Without the soft, Side One is a scream-happy parade of resentment and vaguely Buddhist generalities, sped along with smoking guitars that never simmer and choruses that are indistinguishable from the verses. Guitars don’t pause for those soaring, Zeppelin-worshipping melodic lines, and Grohl’s shredded screams lose their impact because they never recede. The instruments lose their duality as additional vocal presences and settle for being a barrage of 4-4 noise, not unlike a certain rambunctious side project of Grohl’s – but devoid of the self-deprecation. Call it “Breakfast at Tenacious D’s.”

Side Two is immediately a little more welcoming, as it experiments more with tempo and even gives drummer/bleach ad Taylor Hawkins a turn at the microphone (“Cold Day in the Sun”). Still, the collective seems content to blend together in one sweetess-and-tenderness supermedley, a long bout of brushed drums and singsong vocals that lack any engaging urgency. The Jones/Grohl duet “Virginia Moon” creeps along as an eerie “Girl From Ipanema” rip-off, one sadly reminiscent of the elevator-muzak “Big Me” parody the Foos used in their “Monkey Wrench” video. But again, they’re serious, and it’s 40-plus minutes of their Art. (It’s a big A now.) And as with its guns-blazing counterpart, the second disc relies on monotonously broad lyrics that never gain footing.

For such a long musical offering, In Your Honor still manages to say little – and as double punishment, this comes from a group with an amazing back catalogue of affecting hits (though “Times Like These,” if I never hear you again…). The self-aware simplicity proves that the Foo Fighters reign when their elements unified and the sour is allowed to provide sweet. Grohl would sound gorgeous singing the phone book, but boring instrumentation and vocals leave him as just another talking head. And that’s nothing worth fighting for.

Coachella 2005

Desert StormIt’s the Coachella Curse, and it strikes every year. But we should all be lucky enough to have it.

Last year, halfway to the forsaken strand of cacti called Indio, California (where the arts and music festival is held), two of my travelmates realized they had left their tickets at home. Two panicked hours later, we were also lost in West Hollywood, eventually adding about five hours to our drive time. This year, my Amtrak to the pre-concert press party ran maddeningly late, a train experiment with hot soup resulted in second-degree burns, and I had a wild incident at the aforementioned gathering (at the Viper Room in Los Angeles) that resulted in bruises to my nose, lips, and legs. And no, I’m not committing it to print, because I wasn’t even legally supposed to be there.

But details, details. The sixth annual Coachella celebration was the hottest thing to hit the Southern California desert in ages. Held April 30 and May 1, it delivered musicians of big names and big promise, art with a purpose, some serious partying, and a few realized dreams thrown in for fun.

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Steve Burns – Songs for Dust Mites

Steve BurnsSongs for Dust Mites (Pias America)

When he asked, he got answers. The defining elements of Nickelodeon’s wildly popular “Blue’s Clues” were the expectant pauses of host Steve Burns, stretches of still screen and silent air when he offered a striped-shirt Mona Lisa smile after posing a question to his audience. As he waited patiently, a flurry of activity would erupt in living rooms the world over as his young viewers triumphantly reported that they’d found it – Blue’s clue was in the left corner! On the table! The answer was always within arm’s reach.

And then it wasn’t – for Burns, anyway. After five years of gamboling with singing eating utensils and entrancing children in 60 countries, he walked away from the show in 2001 (or “went to college,” in the show’s typical educational prodding to its devotees). Released from the technicolor pup’s leash, he disappeared into the real-world playground – and surfaced years later with an admirable, sweeping rock album.

Songs for Dustmites is a space-case of an indie album. Softly orchestrated with ambrosial strings and techy effects, it kicks up the dust that settled after Yoshimi battled the pink robots – and not coincidentally, as the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins played a part in the album’s creation (with production and bass, respectively). The mostly mid-tempo, progressive tracks saunter along with folk and americana leanings, often turning to single piano and guitar lines before transitioning entirely to vocal emphasis. The resulting sound is an intimate, if sometimes melodically fragmented, pattern that binds the entire album together well and pulls attentive ears towards Burns’s arresting, gently serrated croon.

Always the costar, Burns’s strong presence cedes to his pacific self-doubt. The roaring opening track, “Mighty Little Man,” (ram, asx) sounds less an acceptance of the juicebox icon’s slight stature than a conscious, not-quite-smiling nod to his internal shortcomings. “What I Do On Saturday,” (ram, asx) possibly the catchiest track and also the best example of the singer’s distinctive warble, repeats resolutely and nonchalantly, “I’m just a boring example of everybody else.” The other songs follow a similar self-deprecating bent, though they snap back upright before the moaning reaches crescendo, and flow fluidly with nary a glaring weak spot.

Songs for Dustmites is a solid soundtrack for the grown-up that isn’t done growing. It inspires a sort of maternal pride in the knowledge that Burns, after years of waiting for answers, found his own musical talent to fill the silence. God knows he looked around enough.

Coachella 2004

Pixies on the screen at CoachellaNever start a road trip by questioning the existence of God. With just a handful of miles traveled, the innocent road trip of five freshly-scrubbed college students had already exploded into a fervent religious debate and an assortment of problems that would steadily snowball into a true-life illustration of Murphy’s Law. The anticipated five-hour drive to Indio, California, and its long-awaited Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was dotted with wrong turns, lost Frappuccinos, unintentional drives through seedy Los Angeles neighborhoods, and the individual realizations that two pairs of tickets had been left in bedrooms 200 miles away. Eleven hours after crying a jubilant farewell to coed drudgery, we arrived at our destination surly and sleepy. Did God hate us? Or did God hate our pilgrimage towards Radiohead?

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Early May – Stay Off Your Heels

Early MayStay Off Your Heels (Mother West)

In an effort to rise from the brimstone Manhattan club scene that spawned them, Early May has instead mired themselves in an album of morose lethargy and familiar arrangements. Their down-tempo rock debut, Stay Off Your Heels, alternates between rumbling incantations of vanished love and violin-driven eulogies to hope delivered beneath the glaring streetlights – and through it all, everyone’s 6th Avenue heartache increases a little.

Early May (not to be confused with whimpering calendar peers The Early

November) delivers an anguish in every deceptively autumnal track that is attractively arranged but slightly overstated. Major chords lead logically to successors that offer slight comfort in their familiarity and stir the placid undertones of their oft-utilized string accents (especially in “The Commuter” and the title track) and vocalist Brad Peterson’s ragged wail. Rolling and elegant, the progressions are sensible but indistinguishable from their overstuffed rock peers – especially “Plummet,” a gaunt ballad that switches tempos gracelessly and swipes the introduction to Metallica’s “The Unforgiven.”

Still, Stay Off Your Heels delivers moments of pleasant catchiness marred by lyrical repetitiveness and chorus dependency. “Come Around” is a symphony of desperation that relies on its chorus of “Until you come around / let me be the answer” to carry the song from midway to end. “What You Wanted” and “Hesitate” find their hooks and claim ‘game over,’ chanting them eagerly like Boy Scouts who’ve just earned their merit badges.

Early May has a knack for finding likeable bits of their songs and expanding them into overblown productions. Until they find a deeper voice, though, it will be a very cold spring indeed.

See for yourself: listen to MP3s of “Stay Off Your Heels” and “Radiant” via their label.

Audio Outsend – …Or Does it Explode?

Audio Outsend – …Or Does it Explode? (Flashcard)

“His bare feet were blue and ivory. It was all right somehow, his

being dead. So it goes.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

When the apocalypse comes, Audio Outsend will stare at us all. They will gaze blankly upon us as we scream and pray, wondering why we’re upset about the inevitable—they’re not. As they expound insistently in their music, all change leads to the same end, so why not accept the rapture? In the end, we’re all just rolling heads – and no one will care if God saves the queen.

The placid quartet’s first full album, …Or Does It Explode?, delivers leisurly electronica folk pop with stoic passiveness. The Oakland, California, group (formerly named Lazy Bones) dances around medium-to-slow tempos with concentrated transition, offering a soothing meld of acoustic and electronic sounds. Gentle melodies allow their sound to stay mild and familiar as the vocals lightly offer cryptic commentary that ultimately falls flat and glacial.

Audio Outsend seems determined to try for clean synthesis but still get in some art-school oddity without reason. The band’s musical structure is a familiar step from Radiohead, Lake Trout, and even the acoustic leanings of Bon Jovi. “Rolling Heads” features pretty finger-picking, hissing bottle rocket sound effects, and what seems to be a bewitching pan pipe solo – it’s a fluid song until the middle break, when a garbled male speaker rambles on without any clear purpose (a similar problem to the interlude in “Calling On the Girl”).

“Imagining Things?” opens the album and ends with the unsettling jangling of either jingle bells or metallic rain, an effect so loud it ends in a roar.

“Steereo” sounds unevenly mixed; the distorted vocals can barely be heard over the loud backing guitars and drums – but in contast, “A Racket of My Spine” is balanced delicately with a clever scale pattern that ends in quickly-resolved dissonance.

Most of the album lacks variance. It froths in the same general tempo, with the vocals repeating their own patterns. The vocals are dispassionate musings and generalities, ambivalent in meaning and impersonal in direction.

Ben Jenning’s lyrics, sleepily content to “let the glory of the quiet fill my day” (“Stand Tall Little Wall”), seem randomly compiled and lack genuine insight. In the most arresting song of …Or Does it Explode?, “The Great Lawn Competition,” he muses “so it goes” with the clear resignation and heavy-lidded view of the Vonnegut novel the phrase originated in; the sad understanding of the sigh speaks for how much Audio Outsend takes in and how little they wish to interpret. The words, so general and emotionless, paraphrase the entire album.

…Or Does it Explode? contains moments of loose, flowing beauty that suggest interesting directions for Audio Outsend but no defining element. If they really start caring, it might all go their way.

Radio Saviors

Vintage KCPR t-shirt wave designTwo college radio Music Directors trudge through endless CDRs, sleazy promoters, and an indifferent student body to deliver one of the last, best radio stations in America.

Reduced to cold statistics, Mark MacEwan and Carina Zercher initially seem indistinguishable from the rest of the Prozac Nation youth. Mark, 22, studies computer engineering and philosophy at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, and embodies total punk rock rebellion in his attire, musical preferences, and everything but his irrepressible smile. Carina, 24, is a philosophy and film double major at nearby Cuesta College, a self-described Anglophile who traveled through Europe in the great quest to find herself come hell or hackneyed cliché. They are outgoing, intelligent, and enthusiastic for the future.

They also answer to their on-air handles, Mark Uranus from Planet Slitoris and DJ Red, at Cal Poly’s celebrated independent radio station, KCPR (91.3 fm). There, they raze the airwaves as volunteer DJs, two among the loyal legion of university students able to drop Fugazi bon mots and bicker on-air about frozen chicken prices. They also serve as the exclusive music directors; the presiding eyes and ears to the world of underground music for San Luis Obispo’s 45,000 residents. Their weekly director duties consume upwards of 15 hours and involve sifting through 150-200 received CDs to select less than 20 for addition to the station airwaves, running new-music meetings for fellow DJs, running the popular New Releases show, charting played albums, and dealing with record promoters with varying degrees of patience and outrage. They juggle their studies with the godlike power/eternal headaches of their roles – and while adults, students, and prison inmates appreciate their work, they still don’t get paid.

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Raveonettes – Chain Gang of Love

RaveonettesChain Gang of Love (Sony)

B flat major! Major! Raveonettes fans, take note – gone are your days of bobbing about in the effervescent surf melancholy of Whip It On. Since their 2002 EP, the photogenic duo has industriously acquired two new band members, a spotty full album, and a whole new (related) key to compose all their songs in. Leather has also been distributed liberally.

Chain Gang of Love still relies on the most celebrated gimmick of their first release. The “whiplash rock ‘n’ roll” promised on the CD cover is written and performed entirely in the aforementioned musical key, a major step (no pun intended) from Whip It On‘s entirely B minor landscape. The main difference is how its comparatively upbeat ringing allows singer/songwriter/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner to try a little tenderness; he’s the horniest, most exultant Danish boy in eyeliner since the creepy bald dude from Aqua. He uses almost every track to indulge his libido with first-person lyrics of prostitutes, sex, love, whips, sex, and somewhat uncoolly name-checking himself (“Let’s Rave On”).

At 33 minutes, though, the repetition of chords and nookie eventually becomes catatonic. The dogged theoretical consistency of B major gives the album the same languid flow of their past work but is just too much of the same; everything 20 minutes on dissolves into a sluggish Jesus and Mary Chain/Dick Dale/Vicodin super-medley. Singer/bassist Sharon Foo still matches with Rose Wagner note for note but offers nothing beyond the familiar Everly Brothers harmonizing; what worked for the short party furor of the EP just drags here. Even the coarse sexuality of “Little Animal” loses its shock value and seems familiar when sandwiched between similar items, and many of the songs (“Dirty Eyes,” “The Truth About Johnny,” “New York Was Great”) lose momentum without catchy hooks and choruses.

Problematic also is the group’s hesitant foray into efx backgrounds. “Love Can Destroy Everything” delivers an epileptic beeping of such head-smashing annoyance that it ruins the beautiful Santo and Johnny-inspired guitar swells below it. We’re never given a chance to ease into the slinking surf behind it; the prominent beeping marches on like a bomb that should just explode already. It stands in sad contrast to the varied clicking and sleigh bells of the album’s title track, which builds beautifully on its contrasting backgrounds and plays off the title with its clanking. The song shows a maturity in songwriting and positive expansion in their newcomers, guitarist Manoj Ramdas and drummer Jakob Hoyer.

With the distinct sound the Raveonettes often produce, it’s disappointing they don’t try to say more. Rose Wagner often sings like John Lennon caught in mid-sigh but offers lyrics that stay in a light, flirtatious realm and don’t extend past, which is not uniquely negative to the group but limits the variance and replay power of the songs. Only the tracks as darkly singsong as Whip It On stand out, as does the oddly angelic distortion in “Noisy Summer” and the sparsely cold “Remember.”

With Chain Gang of Love, the Raveonettes have found some lighter calling to life than the seething emotion of their first EP. Their gain is our loss.

Riviera – Broken Hearted Dreams

RivieraBroken Hearted Dreams

[Full disclosure: Riviera’s Derek Phillips is Glorious Noise’s co-founder. The reviewer, Stacey K. Anderson, doesn’t personally know any of us. – Ed.]

Forget what Clarence said – every time a bell rings, California gets a lyrical thrashing. Bands from the Eagles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have denounced the Golden State as a slum of exquisitely painted media chimps, a cracked bed of abandoned dreams, and a Venus fly trap with an appetite for decency. A whole lot of stabs have been taken at the once-hallowed microcosm, and most made with the same whiny blade.

At least Riviera sees it differently. In Broken Hearted Dreams, the sonic philosophers pause in their earthy prose to take a jab at the state and temper it with optimism. They question the lure of the land in a way that sounds fresh; when Derek Phillips sings about hanging around “just time enough to get our blood clean” (“Friends in California”), he sounds wiser to the balance of state and psyche than most other wanna-be geographers.

The rest of the EP plays out similarly and is enunciated with wry humor. Riviera’s variance is the strength that many of their folk peers lack. They keep modest progressions, alternately mellow and distorted instruments, and unpretentious lyrics. The title track, a standout, plays out as a gorgeous symphony of layered instruments and atmospheric effects. “Democratic Déjà Vu” boasts scale-ascending guitars straight out of the British Invasion – if only the Yardbirds had cracked some good jokes!

The midtempo “Such Sweet Sorrow” is a lush stunner as saccharine as its name. A little Lou Reed rasp goes a long way to make the discussed relationship pulse with life and promise. The track blossoms with the best gradual, natural dynamics build since Live’s “Lightning Crashes.”

While Riviera’s diverse musical inputs make for interesting product, they do foray into jittery electronic effects and stay there for an uncomfortable bout. The effects immediately following “Left Behind” are a jarring departure from the tranquil acoustic ballad and seem unwelcome and alienated in such a cohesive package. More would be a curious path traveled; less would be an unsteady tic lost.

Riviera holds promise in their mature hooks and an overtone of sadness that never suffocates. With open eyes and searching ears, they run out smiling into the spring showers on their waterfront.