MGMT @ The Greek

21 07 2010

Last weekend we went to LA’s famous Greek Theatre to see MGMT. Let me start by saying, the venue is amazing. Being my first time the experience was fantastic. There is a picnic area outside where you can hangout prior to the show. If you plan accordingly you and some friends can eat and drink (and be merry) until show time. The only catch: no food or drink inside… so finish it all or, in our case, park close by so you can unload come show time. Once inside, the atmosphere is really cool. It’s one of those spaces that’s not too big but large enough to accommodate the crowds typical of big name acts. What really makes it appealing is that it’s completely open-air. Plus, the entire venue is at the foot of Griffith Park so it’s surrounded by tall trees that create a canopy along the perimeter.

As for the show itself, I must say I was completely underwhelmed. Surprisingly, despite being an ex-NYer this was actually my first time seeing MGMT (who currently reside in Brooklyn). Perhaps it was the timing but they just do not put on a good live show. After much thought I attribute it to 3 factors:

1. 80% of the audience is there to see them play their 3 HUGE singles from their first album, Oracular Spectacular. Which, they seem to want to put behind them entirely. Even with their newer material from their recent release Congratulations, the enthusiasm was lacking. In fact, when it came time to play “Kids”, they simply pressed the play button on an instrumental track and sung the vocals while the rest of the band threw random “souvenir” items (drum sticks, water bottles, towels) into the audience.  This same, barely interested, audience was quick to “beat the traffic” as soon as they heard each of the 3 songs. The attendance dropped by about 25% at the conclusion of “Kids”, which they closed the set with. They actually put on a pretty long encore and seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Which, got me thinking that maybe they use that portion of the show to connect with their more appreciative audience.

2. Their music is the type that mimics the album note by note. Because of that, it lacks that fresh feel that you supposed to get with a live performance. Although I’ve been to many other shows that do the same, this was worse than usual. It took me a while to figure out why but I think I finally determined that it’s mostly because of their instrumentation. Meaning, they have a lot of instruments/voices playing in the same or similar register occupying the same frequency or sonic space. On the album this is combated by some excellent mixing but in the live environment it doesn’t seem to translate as well.

3. This is more personal and connected to factor #1 but I think it’s valid nonetheless. To have that many concertgoers essentially sitting on their hands for everything but their favorite songs or even talking amongst themselves about seemingly everything but the show tends to heavily dilute the experience, not just for the band but for the rest of the audience. Unfortunately, crowd mentality being so effective really has a negative effect in this situation, often killing the entire momentum of the show. I understand that audiences are not always going to be 100% engaged and perhaps that’s as much the fault of the act as the individual but it nevertheless has an impact on the total experience… unfortunately for me.

Now having said that, there were some real high points. I own their new album but have had a tough time connecting to it. Perhaps it’s because it represents a large departure from their first album. I would liken the sound to more vintage electro-pop rock like David Bowie, Brian Eno/Roxy Music or even David Byrne. With this one it’s also a little more acoustic, which they blend nicely with some great surf-rock sensibilities. These two styles are a big change from their debut work but that’s not to say that they are better or worse, just different. What was nice about this show was how I was able to hear this material in a new context and it actually comes off way better than I had given it credit for. In that sense, the show was a complete success.

As a side note, they have a song called “Brian Eno”. It’s probably one of the better tunes form the new album. However as I was hearing it live, i couldn’t help but look around and think that 80% of that audience has no idea who Brian Eno is or how big a contributions he has made to the music community. Putting my snobbery aside, here is actual footage of them playing “Brian Eno” at The Greek. It’s a cool song and this video/sound quality is pretty good considering the source.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy seeing them play their biggies, “Electric Feel” and “Time To Pretend”.  Check out the footage of “Time To Pretend”:

I know many of you must be curious what this lack-luster performance of “Kids” was like… check out HERE.

References:

More info on The Greek Theatre

Official Site of The Greek Theatre

More info on MGMT

More info on Oracular Spectacular

More info on Congratulations

More info on Brian Eno





Miike Snow | Animal

20 07 2010

A friend recently introduced me to this year-old tune from Miike Snow (no, that double “i” is not a typo). This Swedish-born band is a trio made up of singer Andrew Wyatt, and the producing team of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (aka Bloodshy & Avant). Wyatt is actually an American who met his Swedish counterparts while writing a pop album for Britney Spears. The band name is an interesting one, which can be quite confusing, a-la Steely Dan. They came up with it as a spoof on a friend’s name, Mike Snow, but change the Mike to Miike as a reference to the Japanese film director Takashi Miike. “Animal” is the first single from their self-titled debut album, which includes 3 other singles to date, all of which have gained popularity by being used in various parts of pop culture like TV shows and video game soundtracks. One was even used in this year’s coverage of the FIFA World Cup. As far as I can tell the electronic world is a buzz about these guys as there are countless remixes of their material. Check out the video for “Animal” below. If you have not heard the song, you will likely become a fan.

In case you’re curious about their other stuff, you should also check out this video for “Black and Blue”. It’s a cool song and the music video is solid… I really love this bearded fella.

References:

Official Miike Snow Site

Miike Snow on MySpace

More info on Miike Snow (band)

More info on Miike Snow (album)

More info on Andrew Wyatt

More info on Bloodshy & Avant

More info on Takashi Miike





New Avalanches Album… Coming Soon

28 06 2010

According to a recent Pitchfork.com article, The Avalanches are nearly ready to release a new album. This new work would be just their second but is very highly anticipated after nearly 10 years since their initial debut, Since I Left You. For those that are not familiar, The Avalanches are an Australian band, turned DJ troupe, that has become a quiet sensation after their first official full length release. I must say, all the accolades are 100% well deserved as it was truly a masterpiece. Since I Left You is a collection of 18 tracks that were created from some 3,500 samples. It was not originally intended for wide release, which lead them to disregard any concerns about copyright restrictions and therefore paid little attention to keeping track of the samples of music they would later need to clear. Although the band started as a noise-punk outfit, they became interested in the potential of mixing and the “mash-up”. Armed with an extensive vinyl collection from artists, both popular and obscure, from all over the globe, they turned out a fluid, thoughtfully conceived and flawlessly produced album that has not lost it’s luster since the initial release in November of 2000. Essentially, what started as a concept album for a mere side project soon turned into a permanent gig. They spent the last decade touring the world, both playing their material live and performing DJ sets. During that period it has long been rumored that they have been working on a new album based around a similar premise. The rumors have wavered considerably so it’s tough to tell what is what, but many sources close to the band feel that this is finally it… the new album is on it’s way with a release date yet to be announced. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this time, it’s for real. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do as an encore to their breakthrough coming out.

Below is the official video for the title track, “Since I Left You”. It’s one of two singles from the album. They had a really tough time selecting the singles, not just because many of the tunes are so good but because the entire album flows straight through from one song to the next. It’s like one continuous piece that mimics the seamless feel of a DJ set. But, I actually would liken to something more in the realm of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon because it is cleverly more deliberate than a bunch of cut up dance tracks. You will notice the faded ending, which is not how it appears on the album but, with the help of the cinematic subtext, it works for this format.

Here is the video for the other single and perhaps the most radio friendly of all the tracks because it stands up really well out of the context of the album, it’s “Frontier Psychiatrist”. This one contains a sample from the film Polyester as well as numerous others from artists like Flip Wilson, Enoch Light, Wayne & Shuster and many, many more. One of the toughest things about releasing a project like this is that you have to get the proper approvals to use such samples. It has been said that the new album has been complete for a few  years but is still awaiting clearance. Perhaps it’s just a rumor but it sounds like typical industry red tape, which I believe to be true. They were able to get permission from artists as large as Madonna for the first one, so it’s only a matter of time before they get it all cleared and ready to roll.

The Avalanches have a pretty good website that keeps their fans up to date on the latest developments. You can find news about the new album and other mixing projects or performances. They often have info about what samples they are using so you can check them out in their original state, which is really cool. They also have a forum that has been very helpful to sort through all the release rumors and other BS. Check it out to keep on top of the status of the forthcoming album.

References:

The Avalanches Official Site

The Avalanches on MySpace

More info on The Avalanches

More info on Since I Left You

Track Listing: Since I Left You





The In Sound From Way Out!

19 05 2010

When you think of electronic music, the 1960’s doesn’t exactly come to mind. Sure, the minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich were doing things that would later influence electronic music. And, yes, guys like John Cage were playing around with experimental music, taking “found sound” and injecting it into their live performances, but what we would now think of as electronic music was just in it’s infancy at that point. It was such a new concept that few had even explored the potential. For starters, the main contributor to the genre, the synthesizer had yet to be invented… so one would think. While modern synthesizers, like the Fairlight CMI and Synthclavier, did not appear for some time, there were a few predecessors that started it all, and with that were some very innovative artists that would pioneer a whole new breed of music.

Here are a few videos of one of the earliest electronic keyboards, the Ondioline. It is a vacuum tube instrument that was invented in 1941 (!). This is one of the earliest pioneers to use such technology, Jean-Jaques Perrey, doing a demonstration of how this instrument would change the way we think of music. The first is from 1960, the second is from 1966… both are from an old show called I’ve Got A Secret.

Perrey was on the absolute forefront of such music technologies.  He traveled Europe showing what the Ondioline could do, then moved to NY where he helped develop the idea of making rhythmic loops out of cut and spliced tape. This technique would later be know as tape looping. Perrey would soon befriend Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. The Moog was an instrument that truly changed the musical landscape. In the 70’s it rose to great prominence with help from artists like Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer, Kieth Emerson and Bernie Worrell. Soon after meeting Bob Moog, Perrey became one of the first Moog synth musicians, creating “far out electronic entertainment”. In 1965 Perrey met Gershon Kingsley, a former colleague of John Cage. Together, using Ondioline and Perrey’s loops, they created two albums for Vanguard — The In Sound From Way Out (1966) and Kaleidoscopic Vibrations (1967). Both were groundbreaking pieces of work that still influence today’s musicians, like the Beastie Boys for instance, who borrowed the title and cover art from the former.

Below is “One Note Samba” (a cover) from Kaleidoscope Vibrations

This is “The Little Man From Mars” from The In Sound From Way Out

Gershon Kingsley and Jean-Jaques Perrey were perfect collaborators however, they soon parted ways to work on their own music. Interestingly, they both created some extraordinary work as individuals. Some of which still lives on today. For instance, Kingsley’s 1969 hit “Popcorn” was a huge success that is often covered by contemporary musician, both young and old. This all instrumental pop-centric tune was created after listening to the rhythm of a popcorn maker. The song was featured on his 1969 release Music To Moog By. Kingsley became famous for being the first musician ever to play the Moog in live performances. It should be no surprise that the Moog was his writing tool for this worldwide hit and would later define his style.

Here is the original video produced for “Popcorn”. You will absolutely recognize this one as it has been covered about 30 times and was featured in countless films, TV shows and commercials from decades past. It’s amazing to think this was written and recorded the same year as Woodstock.

Perrey also had great success as a solo musician. His song “EVA”, from 1970, is much like “Popcorn” in that it has been covered for decades. When you listen to it now, it sounds like something modern day musicians are doing in their home studios. It’s wild to think that the genre really hasn’t come that far in 50 years. Immediately below is the audio from the original EVA recording and just after that is a live performance of the song recorded in 2005. The live version is great to watch but has about 2 minutes of introduction. It’s crazy to see this old man up there playing the original vintage instruments on which he composed this masterpiece… and yet the music sounds like something written 5 years ago.

The thing to note about all of this music is that it was often a painstaking process to create. It was the advent of computer technology that has made it more accessible to modern players. Perhaps that is why the style has taken off. As it becomes easier and easier to create, more young artists try their hand at what was considered relatively impossible a half century ago. That combined with modern pop sensibilities means that electronic music is now one of the most popular forms world wide.

References:

More info on Perrey & Kingsley

More info on Jean-Jaques Perrey

More info on Gershon Kingsley

More info on the Ondioline

More info on Robert Moog

More info on the Moog Synth

More info on The In Sound From Way Out

More info on Kaleidoscopic Vibrations

More info on “Popcorn” and it’s covers





MGMT | Congratulations… again

13 04 2010

MGMT’s new album Congratulations came out today. It’s not really a big deal given it was leaked a few weeks ago. But, as part of the fanfare they have released a new video for the single “Flash Delirium” and are rolling out an all new website with some pretty cool features. Buy the album or just check out the new site: www.whoismgmt.com.

Previous GG posts about this “long awaited” album:

*Update: MGMT | Congratulations

Sneak Peek: MGMT | Flash Delirium





AIR

8 04 2010

AIR is the French duo consisting of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel. They play downtempo electro pop that is really laid-back and despite being mostly electronic it’s very organic sounding with real appeal to the analog snob. One thing that I particularly like about them is that they have both instrumental and vocals tunes, with the instrumentals usually being the standouts… well, in my mind. However, there are numerous exceptions to that. Some of the vocal stuff is really good like “The Vagabond” which features Beck on lead vocals. The duo is a very interesting format with a unique dynamic and these guys are no exception. Nicolas plays guitars, including bass and provides vocals too. While Jean-Benoît plays all the keyboard instruments and contributes vocals. Another thing I really like about these guys is that they are quite fond of music from the 70’s and are also very particular about using only vintage gear. Because they are just a duo, essentially everything they do is  an overdubbed studio project. It’s a lot like Walter Becker and Donald Fagan with Steely Dan. It’s that same principal but with a new electric groove and modern attitude. Their first release was a very cool little EP called Premiers Symptoms in 1997. Then the following year they released a full length album called Moon Safari that was phenomenal. They have made six other albums since then, all with a few excellent songs among them but the first two releases remain to be their best work. In addition to their own albums, they have done music for films. Director Sofia Coppola must really like them because not only did she ask them to do all the music for The Virgin Suicides, she used a song from one of their albums in Lost In Translation.

I really like this simple video for the opening track of Moon Safari, called “La Femme D’Argent”. This is probably the best song on this album and perhaps one of the best from their entire catalog.The album version is like 7 minutes long but this version is slightly abbreviated.

Below is an official video produced for a live performance. The song is “Talisman” also off Moon Safari.   Despite being just a duo, they bring around a small band for live gigs. The performances are extremely well replicated versions of the album material with some extra (but not overdone) improvisation and perhaps some fresh dynamics.

This next song is the tune used in Lost In Translation. It’s originally from their 2004 release Talkie Walkie. The song is called “Alone In Kyoto”. This is a great live video that is also of very high quality. It’s cool to see how they recreate songs like this live.

More info on AIR

AIR’s Official Site

All their music on Amazon

More on Steely Dan

A few more AIR songs to check out:

The Vagabond (featuring Beck)

Alpha Beta Gaga

Playground Love

Kelly Watch the Stars

Radian

J’ai Dormi Sous L’eau

Le Soleil Est Près De Moi





*Update: MGMT | Congratulations

23 03 2010

It turns out the new MGMT album, Congratulations, has been leaked in full. This time it was not deliberate. It was probably some insider slip that is now causing total chaos in the Columbia offices. Since it is now out there in the ether, the band wants to be the one’s to bring it you. As they say on their site, they wanted to make it available for download but the suits wouldn’t have it given their lack of understanding of the ever-evolving profit model of the music industry. So as a consolation, MGMT has posted the entire album to stream from their site instead. It’s a fair trade-off. I have only had one listen and so far, so good. They are really playing around with some different clichés on this one. Oddly, there are some surprising moments of Motown. I otherwise stand by my initial conclusion… very Bowie. That said, they do mix in some more traditional psychedelic rock elements from the 60’s psychedelia era as well as some disco-esque tendencies. There is some downtempo stuff too though. It’s kind of all over the place but not too disjointed. Purely based on titles, I wanted to really like “Brian Eno” given I’m an Eno fan, but it’s not as much of a standout as I would have hoped. It’s a decent tune (with some very interesting lyrical and musical references) but not the best on the album. So far, I’m really liking the title track “Congratulations” and “Someone’s Missing”.

Ok. So, this is how it works. Go to the MGMT site: www.whoismgmt.com. Once there, you will see the tracks listed above the fold. Just click the “play” triangle on the first track and let it rip. It’s really nice that they play continuously so you can leave it running in the background while you do other things. Enjoy!








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