1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
With significant rainfall in the forecast, this year's 4 Knots Festival seemed like an iffy proposition at best, but this was one day where I applaud the ineptitude of the world's meteorologists. Gorgeous day, maybe just a little warm, and picture perfect for enjoying a free festival with a solid lineup, just like this one.
J to Chambers (no service to Fulton? WTF?), and as I was running late, I heard Marnie Stern's music get increasingly louder as I approached. Marnie and her band were playing the "second" stage, and I walked up during the middle of personal fave "The Crippled Jazzer."
Of course, I'm a big fan of Marnie Stern's music, having just recently caught (and enjoyed) the tail end of her live set at Music Hall a couple months ago. Unfortunately, today her voice was totally blown out, transforming what would normally be spirited upper register yelps into tortured screams (check the video above, if you dare). I didn't stick around for terribly long, only seeing "The Crippled Jazzer," "Nothing Is Easy" and part of "Year of the Glad" before heading over to the main stage. Highlight for me was the kinda awesome instrumental coda to "The Crippled Jazzer," which gave former Parts and Labor drummer extraordinaire Joe Wong (Marnie's touring drummer) plenty of room to flex his chops while Marnie hammered her signature kamikaze leads over the top.
By the time I arrived at the main stage, The Men were already set up. It's possible I missed the first song or two of their set... I walked up just as they began their krauty C&W track "Country Song." That segued into my favorite song in their catalog, "Oscillation," which I'd never seen them perform live before. (See directly above this paragraph for my crappy iPhone video of "Oscillation," starring the backs of a lot of dudes' heads.)
As familiar as I am with their material (very), The Men are a band that manages to surprise me each time I see them. During their set at Don Pedro's on the eve of Hurricane Sandy, they eschewed the more contemplative aspects in their catalog, instead opting almost exclusively for straight-ahead grungy-ass punk. At the Sandy benefit at Vitus in December, they unexpectedly opened their set with several acoustic songs, and when they finally plugged in they played practically all new material. Their Bowery show in March found the band stretching out and playing a robust 70 minute set, while incorporating horns into several songs. And their show at Union Pool early last month featured such an energetic performance that I gained new appreciation for several of the songs from New Moon which I'd previously been iffy on. Anyway, the surprises at today's set were: 1.) said aforementioned "Oscillation" performance; 2.) Ben Greenberg spent the whole set on bass, after having migrated over to lead guitar for the last couple shows; and 3.) they actually played a cover, ending the set with an excellent horn-augmented version of The Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (see directly below for video).
The Men's set drew heavily from New Moon and Open Your Heart, with a couple new ones thrown in. As per ushe, the energy level onstage was incredible, and a small pit of kids opened up towards the front, featuring the occasional crowd surfer. Fuck yeah, awesome set, and you can bet your sweet patootie that I'll be keeping my ear to the ground re: any upcoming news from these guys. Here's an incomplete setlist:
? (not sure if they played anything before I showed up) "Country Song"> "Oscillation" "Turn It Around" "Open Your Heart" uhhhh not sure... "I Saw Her Face" new song - rockin and punky "Ex-Dreams" "I Wanna Be Your Dog" [Stooges cover]
The next band on the bill was Reigning Sound, who I'd never heard / heard of before today. I took this opportunity to find a bathroom and a reasonably uncrowded beer merchant, eventually making it back to the stage area midway through the band's set. These cats reminded me of a good bar band, with familiar-sounding American rock and roll tunes by the bushel load.
Kurt Vile and the Violators were the afternoon / early evening's final act, taking the stage a few hairs past 7. I was really looking forward to this set, having not seen Mr. Vile live since his January '10 set opening for Dinosaur Jr. at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I was disappointed to have missed out on him the last time he came through town in May in support of his solid new joint, Wakin on a Pretty Daze.
Fittingly, Vile opened his set with the title track (give or take a letter or two) from the newest album, immersing the assembled crowd in his undeniably chill vibes. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. The crowd took notice, and for the first time in the afternoon I began to smell pot smoke liberally wafting through the air. Vile and his Violators ambled their way through "Jesus Fever," "Was All Talk" and "KV Crimes" next.
A half hour or so into the set, decided to wander around the Seaport for a bit before opting to beat the crowd by heading back to the J early, back home before sundown. Not too shabby of a day, right there.
Desperate Ground does *EXACTLY* what The Thermals do well - catchy, fist-pumpin', poppy punk tunes, and it's jampacked with some of the finest vocal melodies Hutch has ever come up with. The critical backlash against this album is unfortunate, but not necessarily unexpected; if you're the type of shithead who's pretending garbage like The Knife, Grimes, or Autre Ne Veut is all that, then you shouldn't be expected to enjoy good things in the first place. And getting all cunty because the Thermals have *gasp!* put out an album that successfully follows the Thermals' formula is just plain confusing. Expecting anything other than rockin', tuneful jams from The Thermals at this point is like moving to Harlem and complaining that "this neighborhood would sure be great without all the black people."
In that same interview, she reveals that her songwriting process is painstakingly based around accumulating fragmented pieces and cobbling them together later into coherent songs. Again, on Marnia this is painfully obvious, in that unlike her eponymous album, there's really only one truly "great" song (the anthemic "Year of the Glad"), but several great "fragments" (the choruses to "Immortals" and "Nothing Is Easy", notably). It's still highly listenable, but a bit of a regression nonetheless.
Thalia Zedek Band - Via
Thalia Zedek Band has a style that's all their own. Theirs is a catalog full of despondent, melancholy songs characterized by rich, patient chording, with tasteful virtuosity from the viola and the piano keeping things from getting too 'Lilith Fair' on ya. Unfortunately, after solid album opener "Walk Away," the next few songs on this album have a kind of "been there, done that," rehashed feel. Things pick up over the album's second half, where the strident rhythms of "Straight and Strong" and the relatively hopeful "Want You to Know" stand out.
With 2013 1/3 over, it's list time. The title of this post is a tad misleading; if this list comprised all of my favorite songs from this year, it would have more GbV / Thermals / Hendrix / The Men / etc. songs. Instead it's more like "one good song from each of the albums / EPs I've enjoyed most this year, plus the Roomrunner single." So, presented in no particular order, here's that.
So I was in a rush to catch as much of Marnie Stern's set as I could, hurrying back to Williamsburg at the midpoint of the evening's earlier King Khan & BBQ show at Santos. I wound up getting inside MHOW about halfway through Marnie's set, enjoying her trademark guitar histrionics and hilarious between-song banter, which humorously detailed life on the road with the two dudes in her band and her tiny dog, and cajoling her drummer (former Parts and Labor skinsman Joe Wong) to strip naked. (He eventually got down to his skivvies.)
Sad to see the room about half full, but I guess Marnie's hyperkinetic guitar playing and high pitched vocals are a "love 'em or hate 'em" type proposition. It happens. I'm generally in the former category, natch, but I should say that I'm not loving her newest album, The Chronicles of Marnia, quite as much as her previous self-titled record (which was awesome), but what the hell do I know.
Marnie and her band (and dog) are on tour throughout the states right now, so peep her tour dates here and check that shit out if you're interested.
Although there haven't really been any essential albums thus far in '13 (sorry, I'm not drinking the mbv Kool Aid just yet), that could change shortly. Each of the next several Tuesdays has at least one album by a me-approved artist scheduled to drop. Let's talk about that, shall we?
Feb 26 (that's tomorrow!) - Atoms for Peace, Amok
This is the first album by Thom Yorke's "other" act (pictured above). Basically it's pretty much widely accepted that Atoms for Peace is the full-band representation of Yorke's 2006 solo album, Eraser. Eraser was OK, but when I saw Atoms for Peace live in April '10, they really improved on the skeletal Eraser tracks, filling them out with melody, feeling, and (perhaps most importantly) a capable rhythm section.
According to the reviews I've read, Amok is closer to Eraser than an album with full instrumentation should be, which is a shame. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that Amok will be a snoozer, but I'd love for Mr. Yorke and company to prove me wrong.
also out February 26: Mogwai, Les Revenants
The good: last time Mogwai did a full soundtrack for a film was 2006, when their music accompanied the movie about French soccer legend Zidane, and that album featured some decent tracks. This time around, Mogwai is soundtracking a French TV series about zombies, which one would think would be the perfect source material for the band's fuzzed out post rock.
The bad: late last year, Mogwai put out a teaser EP featuring a couple of tracks from the album, and it was the worst non-remix-centric release of the band's career. Hmmmm.
On their fifth studio effort, the men of BOAT will forge ahead in their makeshift, self-styled "sloppy pop" watercraft, bringing hooky, GbV-influenced tunes to the masses. Huzzah! For pre-album release promotional purposes, they asked a bunch of their friends / favorite bands to cover songs from Pretend to Be Brave, and you'll find those songs, as well as first single "Inside an Aquarium" at their Soundcloud page.
March 19 - Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
While Marnie Stern's hyper-caffeinated guitar histrionics have always been highly entertaining, I felt that her most recent album, 2010's Marnie Stern, was the first thing she's done where the songwriting matched her obvious talents. In the past, Marnie has relied upon drummer extraordinaire Zach Hill for help with song arrangement (not to mention street cred), but he's got his hands full with his dangerously overrated Death Grips project for now. But fear not, you can't do much better for a substitute than Oneida's Kid Millions, who handles The Chronicles of Marnia's beats.
March 19 - Thalia Zedek Band, Via
This is a big year for Ms. Zedek, as Matador recently announced that they will be reiussing the long out of print debut album from her highly influential '90s project, Come. But before that happens in early May, Zedek's solo act will release their new joint, Via, on Thrill Jockey. I've enjoyed each of her previous solo outings, and I'd expect that this one would be as textured and melodically mournful as her previous work.