Beach sports

There's a new Beach House song, but this one sounds, uh, different. "White Moon" is not as lush or as majestic as anything on Teen Dream. It's more of a run-of-the-mill pop song—more practical, even. It sounds like it was recorded on a cheaper keyboard with a cheaper drum machine with a half-asleep vocalist. It's all smaller, more intimate, and yet it doesn't feel as intensely personal as Teen Dream. Whatever, it's still good. (via The Fader or via Pitchfork or via Beach House or via Sub Pop or whatever)
Beach House - White Moon (Itunes Session) by subpop

I guess what strikes me most about it is how out of place it sounds for summer. Teen Dream is an excellent autumn album, but it carries over especially well to the summer. "White Moon," though, doesn't sound at all like anything I would want to play at a cookout.

That's where these guys come in. Husband-wife duo Tennis play the kind of boat music I can get behind. It's gentler and less pretentious than Vampire Weekend, and I joke to myself (every bit as lame as it sounds) that they're the anti-VW. Their name is a reference to the husband's days playing that stuffy sport in college—a self-referential joke.



They've been around for quite a while now, but let's just throw this in the "Kyle's an idiot for ignoring them for so long" pile and pretend like we've been hearing this all summer.



***

And just in case anyone was suspicious about Ted Leo—once the man, always the man.

Chillwave shmillwave

In all honesty, I'm not sure what we're supposed to be taking from chillwave music. I know I like it because it sounds enchanting in a gloomy way. The chillwave I like most lets me wallow around—not so much in pity or misery, rather in a sense of exploration for the sake of not sitting still all the time. Ironically, I take most chillwave while sitting down.

And in all honesty, I don't know what that means for my consumption of chillwave. Take, for instance, Small Black, who's debut EP I gobble up whole and hard. They're probably not the best chillwave band in the world—hello, Neon Indian—but they seem like the one best suited to my conception of it as an exercise in monotonous relocation.



Their new single, "Photojournalist" from their forthcoming debut LP, sounds like all the other Small Black songs, but the vocals are more reverbed, more slippery. They sound like Washed Out—which is cool, but not as cool as if they'd still just sounded like Small Black. And when he sings "Rise up again / Rise up again like a ghost" it sounds more like a precursor than the chorus they've dressed it up to be. Chillwave is an exercise in monotony, but all too often it's an exercise in frustration as well. The chorus is a launching point, and the only thing that separates those things from cliffs is a strong motor. "Photojournalist" grooves alright, and if New Chain was filled with songs exactly like this I'd probably be just fine with it. But it only bolsters the argument that chillwave is too pretentious for its own survival. Sometimes pretentiousness just means you know more than everyone else—but if that's the case then someone needs to go to the head of the class and prove it.


But we can take solace in bands like P.S. I Love You, who are finally making the dots and lines to chillwave more pronounced. P.S. I Love You is a stupid name for a band, but a good band, you see. Their song from last year's split 7" with Diamond Rings was a seemless re-capturing of what made Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary so comfortably enriching. Matter of fact, I've already blogged about it.



Earlier this month we got two new songs from them, and neither recreate the same immediacy of "Facelove." "2012" starts out appealing enough, with that slick pick-work on the guitar, and it carries it throughout. My one concern about P.S. I Love You (other than the fact that their name sucks so much) is that they don't have enough ideas to sustain the dynamic nature their songs demand. But that's not really a problem here, and it seems "2012" sounds better each new listen.

"Butterflies and Boners" has the opposite deal going on. It starts out slow and lurching—I might even call it fluttering if that guitar wasn't so heavy. It ends up picking up with a pretty rad breakdown, led by that fluttering guitar finally finding a direction and doing what ultimately sounds more like fluttering anyway. Maybe the title has it backwards.



Either way, they're both pretty sweet, and especially interesting because of the lines we can draw between them and chillwave. They're muffled and not particularly thrilled to be getting in our ears, but they show how that can manifest in a more angular sound that accredits Wolf Parade (or, shit, Pixies and Guided by Voices) more than the Beach Boys. It doesn't hide itself behind such dense reverb, and it's not too pretentious for catharsis. If the whole point of chillwave is the unwillingness to get out of bed—and I could be wrong about this; I don't think I do enough drugs to really know—then it's about time someone cook themselves some goddamn breakfast, lest we all starve.

Secret Cities

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, but, as is the case with most ideas, I forgot about it. But now I'm here some three weeks later and I'm still listening to Pink Graffiti.

Pink Graffiti is the debut album from Fargo, North Dakota's Secret Cities. It combines orchestral bombast (think Arcade Fire's "Intervention") with soft intimacy that immediately evokes the Microphones (in my mind, at least).

The thing about Pink Graffiti that grabs me most, though, is how much texture and geography they infuse into such soft-spoken medleys. For most people, I assume, Fargo may as well be the entire northern crust of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains; and Pink Graffiti feels like it covers that same distance. And when it's on, it matches the filthy honesty of such barren land. But when it's off, it tries to shy away in a sonic niche that doesn't lend many roofs to hide under.



Secret Cities are a young group, though, and it shows. The church-choir chorus on "Slacker" sounds too Hallmark-y, like it was ripped straight from the church scene in "Home Alone" (visually, at least—I know they weren't singing this song). I think what bothers me most about it is not the sympathetic predictability of the melody, rather the unsettling dichotomy between the message and the presentation. Pink Graffiti is about a lot of things (remember, sprawling geography), but mostly it covers raw, exposed wounds. It's abandoned and clawing its way out, and the religious imagery they evoke seems like a scapegoat. Confronting problems on our own is what we're here for, and it feels like we're getting rick-rolled when we're deferred to a robed choir.

Yet, there's a point in "Pink Graffiti pt. 2" when the church-choir hums along only to set the stage for the icy, direct chorus. The ascending lead sounds desperate, tarred and remote; and I think that's the whole point of this album. The sprawled arrangements and sloping arcs are all very interesting, but that kind of brutal honesty is what an album like Pink Graffiti thrives on.



Like I said, Pink Graffiti is an awesome debut (it's stuck around for over a month, remember); and those spineless confessionals are few. But they are enough to stall the pace on a record that depends so much on its ability to carry.

Indeed, much of this album sounds like it was strummed out to act as a vehicle for conversation on a late summer night. We're all among friends, and it sounds like they've got some pretty major issues eating at their skin—and in North Dakota, who doesn't? So if we're not talking about baseball, they'd better stop pussy-footing around.

Sing yr strings out

I generally have a problem with people saying inanimate objects sing. Wrong instrument, you know? And I think that's what makes it so hard for me to really appreciate post-rock. All those major breaks of suspended chorale resonate with me the same way the WNBA does. Know your role.

There's something different about Fang Island, though. Maybe it's that they actually have vocals every once in a while—but most of their songs don't. A big part of it is probably that their songs are not nearly as drawn-out or doggedly ethereal as actual post-rock bands. Fang Island play songs that sound like Andrew W.K. covering Animal Collective—arresting pop with great haste and intensity. It's just, they do most of it with their instruments, and when they do sing, it's usually in the form of group chants that drag along their guitars.



Their record, this year's self-titled debut, can drag on at times, and sometimes it lacks in fruitful ideas. But last night at the Memorial Union Terrace, their set was packed with jams, and stayed fresh—likely due to sheer force of will. They were loud, and they were awesome. For the last song of their set, they covered Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby." Maybe it's because so much of my youth was spent watching music videos on MTV, or maybe because it was such a perfectly executed dichotomy of an impossibly heavy band playing such a soft, breezy song; but one way or another it gave me overwhelming insight into what exactly people mean when they humanize guitars. "Do do doop, dum"—those guitars sang it.

Magic fossils

One album I've been giving a fair amount of attention over the last month is the Magic Kids debut, Memphis. Magic Kids shared that split 7" with Smith Westerns last year, but the commercial-grade twee that "Superball" did so well hardly captures what matters about Magic Kids: They're twee-ish alright, but there's a glossy shimmer to it that re-captures what I'm about to coin '70s chatterbox pop—it's all centered around an endless dialogue that never actually happens.



Perfect example: "Daydream Believer." It's head-in-the-clouds infatuation brought down to earth only through pop melodies. I like to think of Magic Kids as the Monkees to Smith Westerns' Beatles for basically that reason. On the surface both of their intentions are good; but while Magic Kids dream big and outwardly, Smith Westerns hardly muster the courage to think. Magic Kids buy new wardrobes for the dance; Smith Westerns buy 40s and talk about what girls they would have danced with had they not gotten so loaded. It's probably more rewarding to root for Magic Kids. I can relate better to Smith Westerns. Bingo bango.



You know what else I find myself revisiting just about every week is that self-titled Beach Fossils release. Nothing about it is spectacular—hardly any of it is even noteworthy. But its pop sensibilities are so fundamental and exact that it's usually the most natural choice to hear whenever I have a break.

Pitchfork.tv did a pretty sweet feature on this one time when they let Beach Fossils play their office party, and you can stream that whole thing on the pitchfork.tv site. I've embedded (probably) my favorite below:



They remind me quite a bit of the Drums, only they're not as eccentric (that is, gratingly poppy—more my speed) and their album is better (that is, more consistent). It's a lot more self-deprecating too, which I guess is part of it being more my speed. They get a lot of lushness out of how minimalist their instrumentation is, though, and I'm down with that.

Hello ladies

I've been down with Puro Instinct since back when they were called Pearl Harbor—how's that for some indie-cred chest-bumpin'. Puro Instinct is a stupid name, and it reminds me of those bi-lingual billboards that're poppin' up in big cities these days. It must be some study in assimilation; if you can't beat 'em, convince 'em to join your corner. And Puro Instinct are the kind of assimilation that'll put chillwave on the CW, or whatever channel "Gilmore Girls" is on these days.



I don't mean to sound too harsh, because I do dig it pretty hard. You can stream their whole EP on their bandcamp page, and it sounds good—sounds like the EP of theirs I downloaded when they had a different name. That guy got a mention on the "Lady Pop" mixtape, so you know it's good.

But we should still acknowledge it for what it is: an overmatched stab at Warpaint (who immediately followed the Peal Harbor track on "Lady Pop"). If Puro Instinct are about to be on "Gilmore Girls," Warpaint are fightin'-fit for... ugh, uh, the type of drama I would watch. I need to watch more TV.



Just learned on their Wiki page that Warpaint were formed on Valentine's Day 2004—which is rad because it's my birthday and also means they embody some sort of date or anti-date ethos. I think it adds something to the slippery anti-tension they create.

I've never watched it, but my guess is "True Blood" would air Warpaint. Not during killing scenes, though.

The Suburbs

Listen here: If you're going to try to make some grand statement at me, you need to do one of two things: 1. Tell me something I don't know; or 2. Tell me something I already knew, but more eloquently than I've heard it. Just make it the most creative, engrossing story I've heard, that's all.

So The Suburbs, the new album from the Arcade Fire—and which the BBC have claimed might be better than OK Computer—is about aging and modernity. I've read a thing or two about that. I don't think I needed to read The Suburbs.

To be fair: Lead track "The Suburbs" rules—I just didn't need to hear 14 less interesting ways of saying the same thing afterward. The track I left out is "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," because that song rules, too.



The stuttering guitar line on "Modern Man" and the fist-pumping start-stops on "City With No Children" sound like the most obvious Springsteen allusions in their catalog, and the wasted youth/backs-against-the-wall/no-restraints ethos are all the same. But whenever they show glimpses of a crescendo into the kind of wide-open chorus they threw down on so perfectly on Funeral, they throw up their hands in defeat. Probably wouldn't have sounded as good as "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" anyways.


I enjoy the echoing "The Suburbs (continued)," but I can't help but feeling like we've gotten back to the start without actually having gone anywhere. We drove in a big circle and saw a bunch of the same—not unlike a suburb. My biggest problem is that I can't tell how meta-aware they meant it to be.


The Suburbs tries really hard to be black and white. They mention "sides" over and over, as if there's a clear line between corporate and private in gentrification. And maybe that's what bothers me most about The Suburbs: how linear it is. Maybe it's a comment on the linear path to depression suburban life can create, but you're lying to yourself if you think suburbs are the only pure form of evil. Before there was "Bowling Alone" there was "The Jungle"—modernity has been a problem since we acknowledged it as a reference point, and we've been hearing this same story just as long.

So what do I think of The Suburbs? I think it's too long and too obvious. I'd rather read "Revolutionary Road" again instead.