Archive for the Music Category

All in the Akron/Family

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 2, 2009 by Adam
via flickr user Taylor T-Sides

via flickr user Taylor T-Sides

Sometimes an hour and a half of jumping and chanting and sweating and otherwise acting like a crazed tribal epileptic can leave on impression on you. I had seen Akron/Family once before this past Sunday evening at Union Pool, but I can’t remember exactly when (probably about four years ago) or for whom or they were opening (Danielson Famile?) or many other of the circumstantial details. While I believe I enjoyed that performance, it obviously was not one that has stuck with me to a great extent. Ah, but Sunday.  Just wild.

It would seem that these guys have been holed up in some kind of magical mountainside cave since 2007’s Love is Simple was released. The chemistry between the three core members and brass section that accompanied them–a chemistry that I do believe was somewhat apparent last time around–was the kind that makes you wonder if these people actually learned to play music together. The set also exhibited a nearly perfect structure. After starting off with a few more mid-tempo songs, the band ended up building their way to an absolutely face-melting climax, centered around the new song “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon”. At moments when both the guitars and the brass were at their loudest and fiercest, I could have sworn that I was seeing sound. All of my pores seemed to be bleeding out the sonic ferocity. As the set drew to a close, the band took full advantage of the extra musicians, who added a deconstructed jazz fuzz to the slowly retreating final songs.

Really, the new songs are something special. One of them, “River”, will absolutely end up being my favorite song of the year. Note that I promised myself before writing this that I would avoid hyperbole. I stand by that. Akron/Family have managed to tap into the country’s collective state of mind, with the new songs demonstrating equal parts fear, naturalism, and most of all, a sense of anticipation for some kind of release, some kind of freedom. Their idiosyncracies as a band–shifting roles, a lingering communal primitivism, occasional unabashed bigness–are themselves beautifully American. When Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is released on May 5, it may not get as much press as some of the year’s other widely-anticipated albums. But rest assured that it will capture the wild spirit of our country and our species in a way that may serve as a quiet revolution.


Katie Couric’s Heart of Darkness

Posted in Music, Television with tags , , , on February 5, 2009 by Adam

The above interview of Lil’ Wayne by Katie Couric has been hitting the Internet pretty hard since last night, and the general reaction seems to be giddy amusement. Now I am not above this (see bottom of post), but I would feel odd if I weren’t to point out the King Kong-like overtones of sociological fascination and sexual curiosity that shine through. At numerous points in the video, you can see Couric take on the role of wide-eyed colonialist who has landed on foreign shores and tries to figure out the secrets of the strange culture upon which she has come:

“What does that mean when you say, ‘I’m a gangster.’?”

“Can you take me through a little journey of your face?” (Notice how we don’t hear about the teardrops.)

“And by the way, do I call you Wayne, Weezy, Lil’?”

“Tell me about this drink, Wayne, that you like…called syrup.”

And then there is bowling scene. The hand-holding, arm-grabbing bowling scene. Without making any declarative statements about the hormonal influence on this portion of the interview, I do think it’s undeniable that, when combined with the above bits of outside-looking-in curiosity, these moments reveal something about Couric’s approach to her subject. As does this.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed this interview. At times, Couric and Wayne had a very real, respectful rapport, and Weezy comes off as very likable. But, still, there is something patronizing about Couric’s voice, about the glow in her eyes, about the way she reverts back to softening things up. Best case scenario, it’s a testament to the fact that rappers, much like pierced punk rockers, are still seen as cultural oddities that are there to be studied. Worst case scenario, it’s a bit of Bamboozled.

Either way, as I said, I am not above any of this. When Lil’ Wayne talks, I am enthralled; I cannot stop listening. And for that reason, I am also curious to know what your favorite line or scene was. Comment below…


Posted in Music with tags , on January 20, 2009 by Adam

I’ve been sitting on Merriweather Post Pavilion for two weeks now, trying to separate my experience from those of the thousands of others who have chimed in. Yet I cannot, and I will recount two recent conversations I overheard and/or took part in during that same amount of time:

1.) In Connecticut, at a friend’s house, as we were sitting around listening to MPP, one of the people in the room: “I’m really glad our generation has this band.”

2.) On a public bus in Brooklyn: A minor debate, between myself and my roommate, as to whether 50% of American college students have heard of Animal Collective.

Now, let me make it clear that the friend quoted is one who does not generally subscribe to cliches; she was expressing a very honest belief that, in witnessing this band move from album to album, we of a certain age are in on some kind of shared experiential growth process. Namely, that we are witnessing an artistic career worth remembering.

Yet this shared experience she hinted at seems to take root in a countless number of very personal emotions and reactions that, while potentially easy to relate to, make it very hard to come to any definitive conclusions about the impact of the band. While this can be said for a good deal of art, for those who have a particularly vested interest in Animal Collective, objective separation exists at a distinct level of impossibility, at a point where the sonic aesthetics of the music come to take a backseat to the very unique set of associations.

In the above video, we can see hints as to why this sort of possessive engagement occurs. Quite simply, this band is not comprised of distant idols whose existences lie solely in a realm to which the listener dares not imagine visiting. Especially at a young age, such as they were in 2003, these appear to be people who, through their art, are reaching up toward something beyond their own lives, which if the conversation gives any clues, have their fair share of mundaneness. The language used is plain and earthly, with attention paid to extremely tangible things like rent and geography. And these earthly notions, when one listens to the music, are being left in the dust as these four men try to escape toward something difficult to place yet obviously beyond terrestrial demands.

This sense of escape from the mundane is, I think, what lies at the center of the band’s appeal. Even as the listener enters into a world made deep by the layers of sound, there is, after enough time spent with the material, a very great sense of safety. And while I hesitate to make musical comparisons to The Grateful Dead, there is certainly something to be said for the level of possibility inherent in the words and the music. While Garcia and Co. played the role of the elder guides who were always careful not to harshen things up by providing definitives–a point brought to my attention by an interview with Devendra Banhart in which he notes the importance of American Beauty opening with the word “Maybe”–AC seem to be more like the spiritual brethren whose occasional explorations of the darker aspects of life are reined in by a gentleness that comes as much from their pop tendencies as from the overarching themes of morality that have littered their recent work, Person Pitch included. This morality, combined with the demographic similarities between band and fans, has always made it incredibly easy for listeners to move beyond any challenging aspects of the music and imagine themselves as being in on the escape.

And now comes Merriweather Post Pavilion, what seems to be the band’s ultimate push for an escape, an album with themes–family life (“My Girls,” “Also Frightened”), the desire for youthful spontaneity (“Summertime Clothes”) and the costs of constant movement (“No More Runnin'”)–that are both comforting because of their domesticity and terrifying because they are a straightfaced acknowledgment of the pains of growing up. For every sweet sentiment there is a moment of nearly unbearable tension, and the accumulated emotional taxation caused by this doesn’t see any real release until the buoyant chants of closer “Brothersport” remind the listener to “Open up your throat”, as if to serve as a reminder that yes, while we are all horrified by the passing of time, we are all in on that journey together, and we must all do everything we can to not let the process strike us silent as we plot a way out of it.

Sonically, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an album that sounds equally deconstructed and harmonious, intriguingly identifiable yet layered to the point of mystery. Emotionally, it is an album that represents the plight of all those wishing to break from the claustrophobia induced by the body’s natural progression and the demands of a world that frowns upon a life simultaneously simple and full of exuberance. And because the men in that video seem so familiar to us, we listen with the hope that, together, they and we can get to that sunny place where escape is no longer necessary.