I find it really hard to believe that, according to last.fm, Abram Shook has fewer than 500 plays, with only 171 people (including myself) having scrobbled at least one of his tracks. His album “Sun Marquee” is full of laid back, sunny tunes that any listener would find impossible to resist. With his laid back delivery and lush production this is the kind of album that deserves to be in heavy rotation, and might even help to quell the depression that usually sets in this deep into the winter.
Saying that his delivery is laid back might be somewhat misleading, as his delivery isn’t anything less than earnest, but one can be earnest and delicate at the same time, can’t they? The delicate delivery, and the precision of the guitar line, not to mention the production on tracks like “Taken” bring to mind Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sound-world. But in there, amongst the swirl of guitars and the hushed vocals is a bass-groove that eases its way to the fore with flashes of grooving virtuosity. Take “Hangover,” a song that is, at least instrumentally speaking, completely driven by the bass. While the guitar and voice work together to create layers of melody and harmony until they mix together in an ethereal wash of sound, the bass envelops that entire sound and takes the lead. And “Distance,” from above, is much the same way with an effortless bass-line taking hold, sounding like Nate Brenner (tUnE-yArDs) is laying it down.
Every single track opens up new possibilities. Following “Hangover” is “Coastal,” where we find Shook’s voice moving from Washed Out territory to that of Mark Bolan. The falsetto is the same, but the overall timbre, and the doubling, bring out some previously hidden, rougher, attributes.
Throughout “Sun Marquee” a jazz influence is right out front, and when you take the mastery of an instrument that is required for playing that repertoire, combine it with a little rock and chillwave production, then the resultant sound is pretty captivating to say the least. It’s a complex collage that is impossible to pinpoint exactly. With all the comparisons listed above, we can add that “Black Submarine” adds a little Dave Longstreth to the vocals, and even to the guitar playing, with playing that takes sudden dramatic and unexpected shifts like one would expect from Dirty Projectors.
“Sun Marquee” is out now via Western Vinyl as a CD or LP that includes a digital download. Check out the tracks above and click the links below to learn more.
As is tradition for me around this time (almost) every year, I take off to Chicago to catch the Pitchfork Music Festival that has been happening every year since 2006 in Union Park. Though I didn’t have a chance to go last year, due to an expensive cross country move that I was going to be partaking a month after the festival, I am excited to return to the tradition again this year. Just as I did in 2010 I’m going to break the weekend up into 3 posts, one for each day of the fest, detailing each of the acts that I am looking forward to catching and hopefully helping you to discover some new acts even if you aren’t going to the festival. With any luck I’ll be able to update after each day of the fest to inform you as to what exactly went down, with links to any pictures and video (of at least reasonable quality) that I can find.
Friday July 13, 2012:
Tim Hecker, with the release of “Ravedeath 1972” in February 2011, blew pretty much everyone away with his expansive ambient drones. For me, as someone that doesn’t normally sit and listen to ambient music, there is something very intriguing about the sound of this album. It’s dense, complex, gritty, it may seem simple on the surface but there is a lot to dig in to. It’s an album to which I keep returning. I’m looking forward to his performance on Friday, but I’m also a little bit nervous that his brand of atmospherics may get lost to an outdoor venue. There’s a lot of subtlety to his music that may be hard to grasp in an open air venue. Typically the crowd at the festival knows (I’m making an assumption here based on my own personal feelings after years of attending) the music fairly well so I’m sure it will go as well as it can, but there is still a chance that it will end up like the disastrous (and BORING!) Panda Bear set from 2010.
Japandroids, are definitely not ones to disappoint. After the release of their first album “Post-Nothing” this Vancouver duo played the side stage of the festival in 2009. The energy of their songs and the catchiness of their hooks seemed to endear them to everyone. Every shout along chorus seemed familiar and inviting even to those in the crowd that may have only come to know the band that day. Not much has changed in the 3 years since that album was released. They have a new LP out, the aptly titled “Celebration Rock”, that is perhaps the best release of the year so far. The new one is even more exciting than the last, and that Japandroids have spent the majority of their time on the road has certainly helped. There is no question that this set will be fantastic, though I can’t hide my disappointment and frustration that Pitchfork has decided to once again relegate them to the smaller stage.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/07.-The-House-That-Heaven-Built.mp3|titles=The House That Heaven Built]
Dirty Projectors seem to be in step with Japandroids. The last time we heard from Dave Longstreth and company was the same summer that the Vancouver duo released “Post-Nothing”. Both albums fought for my attention that summer, and neither one surpassed the other in listens. I loved (and still do love) “Bitte Orca”, and being that a stream of the latest Dirty Projectors album, “Swing Lo Magellan”, was just released yesterday (and it sounds fantastic) I’m sure this will be another hard fought battle for the summer. The official release date for the album comes just before the festival (July 10 on Domino Records), and may push Japandroids around for their spot as “best release of 2012 so far”. But all that is ok. This will also be a repeat performance, as they played in support of “Rise Above” in 2009 just before the official release of “Bitte Orca”. That was my first ever introduction to the band, and now that I am more familiar with their stuff (as is everyone else) I’m sure to get a lot more out of it.
As for the rest of the performances on the first day of the festival, I have never really been the biggest fan of Feist. I found “The Reminder” quite boring and because of that I haven’t even bothered checking out her new one, “Metals”. Perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised. Though earlier in the day I am going to have to check out The Olivia Tremor Control as they have been in the back of my mind forever as a band that I definitely need to check out. All that I know about them is that they are one of the original bands in the Elephant 6 collective. That alone is enough to get my attention. I also realize that I lose about a million hipster cred points for not checking them out sooner.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from Dirty Projectors. Dave Longstreth and company gave us Bitte Orca in 2009, and toured extensively on its success. After a deafening silence on their part a new song has appeared on their site, and on their label’s soundcloud.
“Gun Has No Trigger” focuses all of its energy on a funky bass and drum reduction in combination with the beautiful, ethereal backing vocals of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. The entire track is a slow build that grows through the choruses without the aid of Longstreth’s quirky, characteristic guitar playing. I would suggest listening to this track on headphones or a good system with the bass turned up. It picks up exactly where Bitte Orca closing track “Fluorescent Half Dome” left off.
The album is apparently, hopefully, going to be coming out this coming Spring, i.e. soon. Keep an eye out for it. If it is anything like Bitte Orca, or like this track suggests it is going to make your summer. Dirty Projectors also have started booking some dates in support of the album this summer, which includes their 2nd visit to the Pitchfork Music Festival. Check out the track below.
Dirty Projectors probably have the most easily identifiable and unique sound in Indie Rock today. Dave Longstreth is the man behind the band, which now includes Angel Deradoorian, Amber Coffman and Brian McComber as principal members. Stylistically they are glitchy, jittery, cut-up and put back together rhythmically with very intricately ornamented vocal lines (as well as guitar lines, I suppose). The vocal harmonies are very tight, and I would imagine quite challenging to sing. Often it seems as though notes are picked out of nowhere. That glitchy, jittery rhythm also seems as though it is speeding up and slowing down with so much use of borrowed meter and complex tuplet structures, which is a trait rarely used at all by other bands (I actually can’t think of any that have ever done anything similar) but Dirty Projectors put to use in each of their recordings. It is almost as if Longstreth is stopping and starting time at will. There are very complex and lengthy patterns at work in his songs.
When I was in college I was part of a group for new music called Ethos. As president of the group I was responsible for scheduling guest composers and lectures to come to campus. In 2008 we had as a guest a fantastic composer named Missy Mazzoli. While driving her down to our campus in the middle of nowhere we got to talking about music. She asked me if I had ever heard of Dirty Projectors, to which I responded with something like “I have heard of them, but I don’t know any of their stuff”. This was true, and is also my stock answer when I don’t want to admit that I am completely ignorant of something. She mentioned that she is friends with the lead singer/songwriter, that they had met while studying at Yale. She said that I may like them but warned me that they were “really strange, but beautiful”. She didn’t have to say anything more. I already knew that I wanted to get to know them and be a fan.
I had the opportunity to catch them a few months later at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago (July 2008) and I was so impressed by their performance that I ran to the record tent to see what I could find and immediately bought “Rise Above” which is a “re-imagining” of the Black Flag album “Damaged” but given the Dirty Projectors treatment and apparently done from memory (Longstreth hadn’t heard the album in a long time, but managed to remember almost all the lyrics. The album is fantastic). I made a note to remember them and try to check out all of their stuff. They were the highlight of the Festial last year for me.
NPR began streaming their latest album “Bitte Orca” this week and I immediately sat down to check it out. All of the characteristic sounds of the band are in place, the jittery rhythms, frantic guitar playing and close harmonies. There is, also, the extra added bonus of catchy hooks (which I have been a fan of lately). I think the use of catchy hooks works even more for bands as unique as Dirty Projectors because it is something that is almost unexpected and they are made all the more beautiful by the unconventional structures that happen around them.
Starting off the album “Cannibal Resource” with its ethereal sounding guitar and bass interruptions the energy slowly kicks in throughout the first verse but we aren’t really off the ground until the chorus kicks in. The vocal arrangement of the opening guitar riff is a great touch and the clean guitar that comes in between the verses evokes the spectre of Frank Zappa. There is a transcendent emotion conveyed throughout this album, more so than on their previous efforts. The opening guitar line that comes back throughout is quite effective in moving the listening along. This characteristic is not just of the first track, it continues throughout the album. I think that this is what sets it apart from their earlier work. This album seems more cohesive in its construction of songs and song forms. Each track builds upon the previous. “Temecula Sunrise” will get stuck in your head and it will stay there. The wandering, overlapping guitar lines with the wavering backbeat that all comes together at exactly the right time. It’s absolutely perfect. This is as close to pop perfection as Dirty Projectors will ever be. They are still at quite a safe distance, remaining distinctive but familiar. There are even guitar “solos” on a few tracks.
“The Bride” definitely reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s “III” with the octave portamento (which really drives the song home) on what I believe sounds like a guitar in some tuning with a lot of open 5ths in it. From there the album moves right along to “Stillness is the Move” which is quite the shift in gears. The tune has the most straightforward beat and guitar parts (which sound as though they may be looped) placed behind R & B type vocal acrobatics courtesy of the female singers, with a laid back bridge that divides the song right in two. Layering comes in later in the song. Strings enter over top to sort of smear the painting as it were. Also note the bassline in this one. Punchy, pointed and downright funky.
The remainder of the album plays out much in the same way that it began. Great acoustic guitar work, string arrangements, memorable lines, a ballad? (“Two Doves”), and the constant juxtaposition of strange and expected. “Useful Chamber” fits well as a counterpart to “Stillness is the Move” with it’s looped drums (probably a drum machine) and synth sounds. At over 6 minutes though the song has many places that it can go, and before it ends we are hit with the crush of distortion and frenetics upon Longstreth’s repeated utterings of the album title.
Without belaboring it for too much longer I will conclude by saying that this album has a great shape to it. The album is put together very well as a whole, and each of the songs are interesting little pieces of the puzzle. Closing track “Fluorescent Half-Dome” is an absolutely beautiful track, and a perfect album closer.
Dirty Projectors have made a great contribution here to what is turning out to be a solid year for new music.