AF MIXTAPE: Farewell to Winter

This mix represents some of the best moments of February in terms of new releases and live shows we attended but keeps an eye on the springtime that’s just ahead of us.  You won’t find many bombastic summer jams, but hopefully that delicious first blush of warmer weather permeates these tracks.  Enjoy!

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Mi & L’au – Limouzine: I once sawthis band play in a treehouse. Technically I guess it was a roomsituated around a huge tree, with a bar situated around that. Still,there was a tree! And their songs sounded like the kind of music youmight hear in a treehouse (treehousewave?). If Beauty Is A Crimeis the first new album they’ve put out in a while and at moments itretains an isolated-in-the-woods vibe, here Mi & L’au arebranching out into lots of new territories. This track, with itspulsing, sparkling synths is a great example of those explorations.

Chairlift – I Belong In Your Arms:Caroline Polachek must be taking cues from those she’s collaboratedwith (Washed Out, Guards) in the interim between releasing Somethingand 2008’s Does You Inspire You? Or perhaps it’s just thedifference between putting some thought into making a record insteadof slapping one together because one of your tracks has been featuredin an iPod commercial and you need to capitalize on it instantly. Either way, Chairlift’s new record is a gem filled with soaring newwave declarations, but far less naïve and hokey than its predecessor.

Lapalux – Moments: On this cracklingbeat collage, female vocals (provided by Py) coo “I keep thinkingof you”; likewise, this track is just the kind of earworm thatsticks with you all day. Cascading drum machines, dissonant bells,spacey synths, and tweaked, slowed effects blend seamlessly. Itmight not get a party going, but acts as a perfect anthem for thosestill coming down after the majority of the crowd has shuffled off.

James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream:After seeing a live rendition of this at Carnegie Hall last month,I’ve been listening to this track incessantly. Its slow gorgeousbuild behind Blake’s velvety crooning is almost too much to handle. It seems so sparse on first listen, but every time it slips into therotation, I hear something new come out of it, proving its densityand depth.

School of Seven Bells – Scavenger:We’ll always wonder if this scathing track is about the departure ofhalf of SVIIB’s singing twin duo, but it could just as easily beabout an ex-lover, or an animal that feeds on carrion, I guess. They’re doing just fine without any or all of the above, as new album Ghostory and the live shows they’ve played to promote itprove.

Xiu Xiu – Smear The Queen: I amecstatic that this band is still putting out amazing albums aftertwelve years of making records. The first single from Always,entitled “Hi” is as bold a flirting anthem as they come, andalmost made it onto this mix – until I heard “Smear The Queen”and was blown away by the dual vocals, haywire beats

Hanne Hukkelberg – My Devils: Ifyou’re still confusing Hanne with her Scandinavian counterpart LykkeLi based on the extraordinary prevalence of the letter K in theirnames, please take a moment to realize that this is where thecomparison ends. Featherbrain is far more experimental, representingHukkelberg more as an artist than provocateur. Listening to thistrack is like opening a creepy haunted music-box, her vocals ayearning Pandora struggling to be free of her demons.

Frankie Rose – The Fall: I seriouslycan’t stop listening to or talking about this song. The other day Iwas walking through the park at dusk with this on my headphones,trying to decipher the ethereal layers of lyrics. Every time Ipinned down a line, the next popped up in its place, a mirageshimmering on the aural horizon, superimposed by the nexthallucination.

Grimes – Vowels = space and time:Visions is an amalgamation of everything that is awesome aboutClaire Boucher – bizzaro bedroom pop with Chippettes-esque vocals,long-lost Goth Olsen twin look, deep philosophical musings disguisedby a half-baked twitter feed, a not-so-secret obsession with divas ofthe early 90’s R&B scene. Check out my video below of Grimesperforming “Genesis” last July in an opening set for Washed Out.

Shlohmo – wen uuu: With last year’sBad Vibes, L.A. Producer Henry Laufer strayed from the staidhip-hop beats of his earlier work and live shows and began exploringmore atmospheric sounds and experimental textures. On his threetrack EP Vacation, we can hear him coming through static andinto his own with undeniable success.
Still Corners – Don’t Fall In Love:Tessa Murray has a voice like honey, making her forlorn love songs(or anti-love songs?) that much more heart-rending. This noise popslow-burner isn’t going to do much to warn me away from falling inlove with this band, no matter what the lyrics recommend.
Phèdre – In Decay: This whole albumis brilliant. You know that sexy orgy party that Tom Cruise andNicole Kidman attend in Eyes Wide Shut? Parties similar tothose actually exist, except everyone is as creepy and lonely asyou’d expect, and therefore it isn’t at all sexy. If those partieswere that sexy, but also more hip, this album would be thesoundtrack.
Tennis – My Better Self: Much likeChairlift, husband-and-wife duo Tennis have truly matured with therelease of their second album. Last year’s Cape Dory was fun,but with Young & Old, Tennis have gotten moreintrospective while retaining that carefree pop sound.
Sharon Van Etten – Magic Chords: WhenBecause I Was In Love was released in 2009, almost no one knewwho Sharon Van Etten was. Two albums later, all that has changed. It makes sense, considering that Sharon has one of the most gorgeousvoices I’ve heard in quite a while. Her songwriting skills continueto improve with each effort, though the heavier production on 2010’sEpic and her newest, Tramp,is a bit of a detriment to some of the intimacy and grittinessfrom her first record.
Tropics – Sleepless: Tropics is theproject of Chris Ward, who at 22 has been steadily self-releasing an onslaught of party-ready jams and remixes. This track is a bit moremellow than most of his offerings but it the signature lushness ofWard’s beats are still present. If most of his tunes signify summer,Sleepless unfurls just the way spring does – suddenly you look up,and there are buds in all the trees and birds are chirping.
Cate Le Bon – Put to Work: Le Bon’simpeccable new album Cyrk is exemplified by lead single “PutTo Work”; it’s lilting guitars and insistent drums perfectly anchorthe commanding mystic quality of Le Bon’s vocals. The lyrics fithandily into Le Bon’s work as well – the idea that while one can’thelp but crave human intimacy, love is a total drag that turns usinto awful drones. But the beauty of this sentiment is that she’sresigned to this fact, never chiding or bitter, and the song rolls onwith a fluid, perfect grace.
Yann Tiersen – I’m Gonna Live Anyhow:Perhaps best known for his original soundtracks to films like Amelieand Good Bye Lenin!, last year’s Skyline saw Tiersenreinventing himself once more. Ever the pioneer, these tracksfeature quirky electronic moments and unique vocal rhythmsreminiscent at times of acts like Animal Collective.
Songs of Green Pheasant – Teen Wolf:I’ve long been a fan of Songs of Green Pheasant. The somber brass inthis track really puts it over the edge for me, though I don’t knowwhat it has to do with teens, wolves, or teen wolves.
Sleigh Bells – End of the Line: WithTreats, Sleigh Bells were poised to take over the world (andpretty much did so) and on Reign of Terror, the only thing theyreally have to contend with is the curse of the sophomore slump. With their trademark fearlessness, Alexa Krauss and Derek Miller havedone something completely unexpected – they’ve scaled back thein-your-face guitar blitz and badder-than-though posturing andcrafted something that still manages to pack quite the punch. Thistrack is the perfect example of that new vision, wherein Krausss isno longer striving to remain cool or detached but is actuallyreaching out to the listener, or at least the person to whom the songis addressed, in an engaging way. Reign of Terror is studded withsimilar moments of realness, and it’s the most brave, refreshing movethey could have made.
Shhhh – Bonus TrackThis is what sheheard in the bathtub. RIP.


SHOW REVIEW: School of Seven Bells

Tuesday night School of Seven Bells played the first of two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge, and thanks to the miracle of Craigslist, the AudioFemme editors were in attendance. The date was of particular significance to the band, as it coincided with the release of their phenomenal third album, Ghostory.  

The year between Ghostory’s release and that of 2010’s Disconnect From Desire was fraught with change for SVIIB, seeing the somewhat mysterious departure of Claudia Deheza.  For a band whose sound and image hinged on the dual vocals and dramatic image of twins Alejandra and Claudia, the parting of ways carried with it many unanswered questions, and is still a sensitive topic that the band does not like to broach.  As longtime fans of SVIIB, we at AudioFemme were interested to see how the band would evolve and adapt. With little idea what to expect from the new album or subsequent live performances in support of it, we’re happy to report that on both fronts, all is well.

L: It had been a while since I’d seen SVIIB, the last time being at a CMJ showcase in 2008 at Le Poisson Rouge.  At that time, Alpinisms was coming out or had just been released and I was obsessed with it.  I begged my way into the showcase for discounted admission and was treated to one of the loudest, most psychedelic live experiences I’d had to that point.  It was my first CMJ and I remember feeling so alive and thankful to be in NYC, and nothing embodied that feeling more than SVIIB’s intoxicating set.  It is crazy to think of how many years have passed since then, and even more baffling that I’ve somehow missed every other date they’ve played in the city.

Seeing them at Mercury Lounge was a real reminder of what I’d been missing.  They’re such a solid live band.  It was about halfway through the set, after a particularly rousing tune from the new album, that Ben said “Let’s get this party started” and even though the audience was a bit reluctant to do so (it was an early show, after all) all of the set list was dance-worthy.  Their performances are imbued with this sort of mystical element.  Alley has this shamanistic sort of presence, which her style definitely lends itself to – for last night’s show she was decked in silver chains and shimmery white eye-makeup.  But it’s not just a costume. Her face and voice are so expressive, pleading, and powerful.  The songs become incantations, invitations to let everything go.  They played a nice mix of old and new jams, but it all blended together seamlessly, which speaks volumes not just about strength of the music but also the ability of the band to grow and change and transcend any challenges or hardships or confusion that may have occurred in dealing with Claudia’s absence.  Adeptly filling her shoes was keyboardist Allie Alvarado, a D.C. – based performer who has released solo material under the moniker Painted Face and has played guitar with Brooklyn-based electronica outfit Telepathe. Even on their iconic dual-vocaled hit, “Half Asleep” she stepped up to the challenge beautifully and enthusiastically. Video for the track is below, followed by Annie’s ruminations on the set.

A:Holy shit. I was truly floored by this performance. I don’t know exactly what’s changed so significantly about them in the interim months since last I saw them live (I’ve probably been to the bulk of their New York shows since Disconnect came out two years ago), but I have my suspicions. And though I’ve always loved going to see them play, there was something particularly arresting about the way they sounded last night. Perhaps it was their post album-release ebullience–especially considering Ghostory’s ubiquitously positive (fanatically positive, even?) reception in the blogosphere and beyond; perhaps it was the terrific sound mix at what is an otherwise hit-or-miss venue. Perhaps it was the addition of a keyboardist/co-vocalist, or the amazing drummer who played along like a human metronome to such rhythmically complex tunes. Perhaps performing new songs invariably re-energizes any group dynamic. I imagine it’s an amalgam of all those things.

But there was something else too. Something more difficult to pin down; but something also more indelible. What immediately comes to mind is Beethoven’s Eroica – his momentous 3rd Symphony -the two opening chords of which signify, to many, the end of the Classical era in music. You’re probably so damn confused right now, thinking “What the hell is this woman talking about? Why must she bring Beethoven into this? Why???”

Let me explain: The Eroica symphony is one of revolt and upheaval, evident in the first ten seconds of score. Beethoven defies, even flouts symphonic convention by refusing to offer up any thematic indicators in that famous first phrase, and instead opts for two sharp, abrasive, a-tonal chords in an E-flat major that hits you over the head. They sound like someone wiping their hands clean (of the Classical era?), and I imagine these few measures had the very first audience members as equally confused as they were captivated. Anyway, a ton could be said about the historical context for this gambit (Ludwig was rumored to be a big fan of Napoleon), but in terms of its musical significance, I feel it was more of a move on Beethoven’s part to begin paving his own way in the larger scheme of his creative life, not to mention the musical zeitgeist in which he lived; it seems he wished to leave the past in its proverbial dustbin, and instead look onto the unfathomable horizons that lay outstretched before him. Indeed, he dove in, and subsequently shaped for the world a whole new era that would turn out to be (in my own opinion) the antecedent to nearly every genre that you love, that you can name. Classical gave way to Romantic, which gave way to everything.

So anyway, back to SVIIB and how my Beethoven tangent is in any way relevant to this show: The opening interlude to their set was so different from what one might normally hear from them. It lasted about 30 seconds. It was loud and cohesive and joyous, rather than dreamy and introverted and (intentionally) disjointed sounding in that shoegaze-ish kind of way. And everything that followed, followed suit. It almost seemed like they were trying to send us the message that we should just put to rest our expectations and conceits about who they are and what they mean as a group. And it seemed they wanted to surprise us, too. To frame it in terms of a shameless cliche, they actually seemed, right in that moment, to have ‘arrived’, in a way.  

In any case, they played plenty of old songs, but they were all infused with a totally different kind of energy and a noticeable lack of self-consciousness. Their new songs were wonderful and made me look forward to listening more closely to Ghostory. This is a band whose longevity in this industry (whatever the “industry” really is, at this point–beats me) is as assured as their talent is obvious. But they are trailblazing as well. Toward what? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.

SVIIB play their second show tonight at Mercury Lounge, followed by a brief stint in Europe and tour throughout the US in April and May.  Ghostory is available now via Vagrant Records/Ghostly International.