Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Magnet-ic Yields, fall 07

Reviews today from the fall issue of Magnet, which also contains my feature on Battles.

Most of these appear in the print edition; Bishop Allen is online only; Siouxie got nixed for a Q&A article in the print edition.

Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Authenticity is such a bore. Where is the real Devendra Banhart? Here, he’s Elvis Presley one minute, Iggy Pop the next, and Caetano Veloso most of the time. Often it’s not even clear if that’s still him on lead vocals, during the doo-wop or Nu Yorican soul excursions. Devendra likes playing dress-up, and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Witness the reaction when he emerged from two near-perfect finger-pickin’, flamenco-tinged freaky folk albums as a self-described “White Reggae Troll” whose touring band stunk too much of patchouli for most horrified hipsters.

His last fuller-than-full-length, the sprawling Cripple Creek, was a schizoid, cringe-worthy mess of the good, the bad and the goofy. He’s no less of a ham here, but this time it’s actually funny—never more so than on “Shabop Shalom” where he rhymes “foul mood” with “Talmud” and asks in a doo-wop voice, “Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” The 70s boogie of “Lover” and full-on gospel of “Saved” are equally joyous and ridiculous. In between, he’s still spins the type of delicate, fragile folk that captivated us in the first place, though now he’s more likely to layer psychedelic atmospherics or link it directly to Brazilian tropicalia. Even his reggae tendencies are redeemed, on the haunting, dubbed-out and minimally percussive “The Other Woman.”

The more he pushes these various personas, the less sense we expect him to make, and the more rewarding he becomes. “I’m scared of ever being born again/ in this form again,” he sings, but what form he’s referring to is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t sound like he’s scared of anything at all. (XL;

The Broken String

Two Harvard grads open up their second album expressing trepidation about the dubious business of playing pop music for a living: “You’d think I’d understand that a rock’n’roll band doesn’t mean a blessed thing.” What could be cause for resignation instead emboldens songwriters Justin Rice and Christian Rudder to settle for nothing less than excellence.

Since their graduation from 2003’s Charm School, Bishop Allen spent the ensuing years on a writing spree, writing 56 songs for 12 EPs released in 2006; most of this material is re-recorded from that productive period. In that time, they matured into everything you’d ever want in a joyous pop band: neither twee nor tough, smart but not sarcastic, ornamental without being overbearing and epic when they wanna be. Toy pianos and ukuleles manage to avoid cutesy trappings, as do subtle mariachi moments. Lyrically, the Bishop has an acute eye for observational detail, as on the Zelig-like “Click Click Click Click” or the character studies of “The News From Your Bed” and “Flight 180,” populated by lonely souls crying out for emotional connections.

Coupled with their classic pop smarts, these details give the distinct impression that ten years ago Bishop Allen were carefully studying Wilco’s Being There and Ben Folds Five’s debut album; The Broken String easily takes its place alongside those classics.
(Dead Oceans;

Isle Of

In her day job as singer/guitarist in Erase Errata, Jenny Hoyston practically takes a back seat to her monstrous rhythm section, content to yelp and add scratchy guitar patterns to the no wave groove being thrown down behind her. Yet hiding behind that detached exterior is an artist who actually does know her way around a melody, and on her debut disc under her own name Hoyston proves to be remarkably diverse. No wonder she leaves us dangling with the album title: Isle Of… what? Opening with a Mary Timony-style rocker and a bluesy punk stomp that could be cut from The Gossip’s songbook, Hoyston then moves through acoustic country territory and what sounds like an 80s bedroom collaboration between Anna Domino and ESG. Though this shares some traits with her lo-fi—and comparatively unremarkable—Paradise Island project that preceded this, Isle Of is a full realization of the somewhat timid and tentative moves heard there. “Everyone’s alone,” sings Hoyston, and here she proves that with or without her band, her creative well runs deeper than one might think.

The Shepherd’s Dog

When we first met Sam Beam, it was kind of obvious from his hushed, solitary bedroom recordings that he didn’t get out of the house much. Three young children in the family will do that to you. But after the success of 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Beam found himself on the road with a full band—and sometimes much more than that, as witnessed on a carnivalesque tour with Calexico where upwards of a dozen people might be on stage at any given time.

The Shepherd’s Dog finds the normally clean and lean Beam pigging out at the sonic candy store, with vocals run through Leslie speakers, harmoniums blended with slide steel guitars, hand drums and sitars, and backwards tape underscoring pedal steel swells. One track (“Wolves”) sounds like he hired both Bill Laswell and Daniel Lanois and all of their favourite session players for some dub excursions.

It sounds like a lot, yet thankfully in this case more is more, thanks to the ability of returning producer Brian Deck (Califone) to weave these psychedelic layers around Beam’s bluesy song structures, and keeping his harmonies with sister Sarah front and centre. Beam’s lyrics are more imagistic and cryptic than ever (“If Christ came back he would find us in a poker game”), yet that only seems appropriate, considering the beautifully disorienting aural backdrop behind them.

To help avoid this from becoming a total rock redux incarnation of Iron & Wine, Deck also leaves drum kits out of the picture, preferring subtle percussion to ensure that conventional anchors don’t weigh down the explorations. By maintaining his intimacy while armed with the palette full of colours found here, Beam sets himself far apart from the rest of the hush-and-shush crowd. (Sub Pop,

Dropping the Writ

Cass McCombs doesn’t sit still very often. He’s the kind of troubadour who rides the Greyhound with a few 20-dollar bills in his pocket and little else. He dodges muggers and probing interviewers and anyone else that wants a piece of him. He hears divine voices (“infinity whispers in my ear”) that urge him “onward, Christian songwriter.” But for a guy who spends most of his time on the road reading Gideon’s and auditioning new bandmates, Dropping The Writ is remarkably consistent.

McCombs had an extended stay in London recently, and one wonders if, while there, he was tossed into a time machine set to 1987, recorded during a week of rain and fog with 4AD musicians, and came back home with the master tapes. Unlike, say, The Clientele—a modern band with a direct line to melancholic, pastoral pop of the 60s—McCombs sounds thrice removed: like the Shins interpreting a Robyn Hitchcock cover of the Zombies. Spacious arrangements leave plenty of room for lush layers of vocal harmonies, and—unlike many cloying crooners—McCombs is at his most endearing when he stretches his tenor with minimal effort.

The propulsive opening track “Lionkiller,” with its rolling triplet guitar line, is itching to be mashed up with Battles’ “Atlas.” That’s one of the only immediate thrills found on this album of subdued and subtle pleasures, where the pervasive weightless atmosphere is a deceptive distraction from McCombs’ songwriting strengths. (Domino)


If you’ve heard the opening track and first single “Into a Swan,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the transformation Siouxsie is singing about has something to do with becoming Shirley Manson’s doppelganger. The song sounds like Garbage, literally—and isn’t half-bad, if for whatever inexplicable reason you happen to be jonesing for some radio-friendly 90s alt-rock.

Once that’s over with, the 50-year old punk and new wave legend makes the kind of transformation you’d always hoped she would: into a sultry Euro chanteuse with more than a few shades of Shirley Bassey, though she’ll always be Siouxsie Sioux. “Here Comes That Day” sounds like something off her own classic Peepshow album, with its stuttering staccato saxophones, rumbling tympani and vampy vocals. That song opens a mid-album hat trick that continues with “Loveless,” driven by chugging metallic guitars, a Bonham beat, malleted percussion, sawing cellos and Massive Attack-style atmospherics.

“If It Doesn’t Kill You” finds Siouxsie chanelling the pathos of a wartime torch singer, counseling her listeners, “Don’t be bitter/ don’t be gloomy”—words that sound more than a tad ironic from the godmother of goth. The rest of the record won’t convert any recovering Evanescence fans, but it sure sounds better than anything Robert Smith has done in the last 15 years. (W14;

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 07 review round-up

Reviews today from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and Guelph Mercury, mainstream daily newspapers where I do a weekly consumer guide review column.

In alphabetical order, we have: Federation, Jay-Z, Kevin Michaels, Ghislain Poirier, Prefuse 73, Seal, Sigur Ros, Spiral Beach, Wintersleep, Neil Young.

Not appearing here, but that ran in the paper are: Band of Horses, Bishop Allen, Buck 65, Duran Duran, the Inhabitants, the Most Serene Republic, Sadies, Shaggy, Siouxie, and Peanut Butter Wolf. Different reviews of Buck 65, Bishop Allen, Duran Duran and Siouxie ran in either Eye Weekly or Magnet; those will be posted here shortly. If you work with any of these artists and need a clipping, let me know.

Federation – It’s Whateva (Reprise/Warner)

Now that Timbaland, the Neptunes and Kanye West are all firmly entrenched in the mainstream—where they walk a fine line between gleeful subversion and tired old tricks for the highest pop bidder—there’s a void waiting to be filled by the next great American hip-hop producer who can take things to the next level. So far the safe money should be on Rick Rock, the architect of San Francisco’s hyphy scene and the puppetmaster behind Federation.

The three MCs here are entirely disposable jokers who are too stupid to be offensive; thankfully, that also means they’re easy to ignore, leaving the listener to instead focus on the fat synths, rubbery bass and ominous beats that signify the hyphy sound. Rock only stumbles when he tries to be commercial, like on the sappy Snoop Dogg track “Happy I Met You”; he does, however, pull off some solid electro soul balladry on “When I Was Your Man” and even some shockingly convincing metal crossover on “Black Roses,” featuring Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker.

Rock is the true star here; as for the Federation themselves—well, whateva. (November 1, 2007)

Jay-Z – American Gangster (Roc-a-fella/Universal)

Now that he’s the richest man in hip-hop—as well as president and CEO of DefJam Records—Jay-Z is nothing if not a shrewd marketer. Linking himself to the streetwise story of Harlem heroin kingpin Frank Lucas is undoubtedly a bid to bolster the gangster persona of this now-respectable mainstream MC. This is not the soundtrack to the new star-studded Lucas biopic of the same title, though Jay-Z claims that each song is based on a scene from the film; snippets of dialogue can be heard throughout.

The story of Lucas—much like most of the less cartoonish aspects of gangsta rap—argues that criminal culture is one of the only options for impoverished African-Americans to buy into the American dream. Whether this is still relevant 50 years after the beginning of desegregation is subject for debate. But in an era when corporate cronyism and outright deception are government policy, the glorification of gangster culture as a metaphor for American life—found everywhere from The Sopranos and The Wire to The Clipse and 50 Cent—is more timely than ever.

In returning to this subject matter, Jay-Z pens some of his more memorable lines in years, particularly when he gets into the “genesis of the nemesis,” recalling his broken home and Brooklyn youth. But he also embodies the nihilism inherent in Bush-era America, where every criminal is quick to absolve himself of responsibility. Everything can be rationalized as being a product of the environment.

For starters, Jay-Z is not ready to be a scapegoat in the ghetto language debates sparked by the Don Imus incident earlier this year. He’s unrepentant for the self-loathing that his language reflects back to his own community—and others, as the Imus confusion pointed out. “I missed that part/ Where it stopped being about Imus/ What do my lyrics got to do with this sh*t?” he asks, like an innocent bystander, not the cultural icon he is. “Are you saying what I’m spittin’/ is worse than these celebutantes showing they kitten? You kiddin’… / Let’s stop the bullsh*tting/ ‘til we all without sin/ let’s quit the pulpit-ing.”

Right—so unless everyone is without sin, we all might as well go on sinning. It’s a thought echoed by MC David Banner, who has openly attacked America’s black leadership—especially Al Sharpton—for not solving every problem that faces black youth today, essentially arguing that the persistence of racism in America is the fault of the previous generation. Banner wrote in a statement: “This life we are continuing to live was handed to us by the people before us who didn’t do much to clean it up.” Ghetto life is what it is—it’s not the kids’ fault. Blame it on the parents.

Jay-Z takes this and runs with it: “We ain’t thugs for the sake of being thugs/ nobody do that where we grew up, nigga, duh… / You ain’t gimme forty acres and a mule/ so I got my Glock 40, now I’m cool/ And if Al Sharpton is speakin’ for me/ somebody get him the word/ and tell him I remove the curses/ if he can tell me our schools gon’ be perfect/ When Jena Six don’t exist/ tell him that’s when I’ll stop sayin’ ‘bitch.’”

When trying to tie in his own story with that of Lucas, Jay-Z backfires a bit when he goes on an anti-snitching screed on “No Hook”; after all, Lucas only served 12 years of his 70-year sentence—many believe it’s because Lucas himself started talking to police. Just like any gangster, Jay-Z doesn’t have any trouble stretching the truth to his own ends. (November 8, 2007)

Kevin Michaels – s/t (Downtown/Warner)

This might sound familiar: a cocksure Italian/African-American who plays a mean guitar and wants to mix up his rock and R&B with a spine-tingling falsetto. For young Philadelphia singer Kevin Michael, the comparisons with Prince stop there: instead of being a one-man show, he employs a small army of co-writers and collaborators, and much of this debut album doesn’t rise above pedestrian songs along the lines of “Liquid Lava Love” and “Hood Buzzin’,” despite guests such as Q-Tip and Lupe Fiasco. Michaels’ lyrics are at times downright embarrassing: “Rent is racked up and my toilet is backed up/ Damn, wish I could flush the drama away.”

Yet he does show plenty of promise, mainly because of his elastic voice, which shows all of the range of his labelmate Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley. And he also boasts two great singles, “We All Want the Same Thing” and “It Don’t Make Any Difference To Me”; each of them appears here twice, once in highly produced pop version with a guest MC, and then again as a low-key acoustic number. It’s too bad all his talent goes into those two songs. Next time out we’ll be expecting a lot more. (November 1, 2007)

Ghislain Poirier – No Ground Under (Ninja Tune/Outside)

The term “urban music” has always been a bizarre, unnecessary code word for hip-hop and R&B. Other than the weird racial politics behind this, it’s a waste of a perfectly good descriptor. Montreal’s Ghislain Poirier makes music that speaks directly to the multicultural urban experience, where harsh electronics punctuate the daily rhythm, where speaker-rattling bass is the one sound that unites all. Poirier’s vision of urban paradise is where Brazilian baile funk meets UK “grime” hip-hop meets Jamaican dancehall with Arabic and East Asian melodies on top.

Poirier has never had a problem concocting compelling instrumental narratives, but as a safeguard here he lines up a wealth of obscure MCs to toast on top, including Toronto’s nerdcore Abdominal, Quebec’s joual jokers Omnikrom and Chicago dancehall king Zulu.

No Ground Under is his first release on a reputable international label—a chance for him to give back to the globalized beats he borrows. Soon enough, however, the world will be borrowing from him. (November 15, 2007)

Prefuse 73 – Preparations (Warp/Fusion 3)

In his work as Prefuse 73, Guillermo Scott Herren always came across like an ADD kid who took meticulous delight in splicing up hip-hop and jazz samples, re-arranging them into itchy and glitchy compositions that gave you the jitters. In his considerably more pastoral alterego of Savath + Savalas, Herren makes ambient Spanish folk music that fades into the background all too easily.

On Preparations, however, Herren happily marries the lush arrangements of his other project onto the sliced and diced beats that are the trademark of Prefuse 73. This results in a captivating tension, where beauty proves eternally elusive as Herren continually pulls a bait-and-swith with the rhythm, yanking the carpet out from underneath. It’s no coincidence that tracks are given titles like “Aborted Hug” and “Spaced + Dissonant.” There are times when it sounds like someone turning a radio dial in rhythm—is that necessarily a bad thing?

While his earlier recordings were certainly innovative, this is the first time Herren sounds like he’s finding his own voice as a composer.

And as a bonus to fans, instead of recycling the leftovers into separately sold EPs—as he usually does—they’re included here on a bonus disc devoid of any beats at all, which is a lovely, light dessert after such a dense main course. (November 15, 2007)

Seal – System (Warner)

This suave Grammy magnet clings to the 90s formula that made him a global superstar: Euro pop with techno underpinnings elevated by the occasional folk flourish and Seal’s soulful voice, which promises assurance and salvation in a cold, heartless world. You can’t argue with his System, which even at its most maudlin still stands tall over anything else you’re going to hear in the drugstore aisles. Celebrity watchers will delight in the “Wedding Day” duet with his supermodel wife Heidi Klum, but nothing here tops the opening track, “If It’s In My Mind It’s On My Face,” where the eternally glum and scarfaced singer takes the weight of the world off Bono’s back and carries it himself. It’s overwrought and heavy-handed and has the cheap disco pulse of a World Cup anthem, but only a singer of Seal’s depth could begin to pull it off. (November 22, 2007)

Sigur Ros – Hvarf/Heim (XL)

Icelandic band Sigur Ros never do things normally—like sing in a language they didn’t make up themselves, for starters. Chock it up to their contrarian nature that these two EPs are not the soundtrack to their new concert film, which bears the similar title Heima. The movie was shot during their first-ever full tour of Iceland, where every show was free: from a crowd of 25,000 in Reykjavik to small community halls in remote outposts. During that tour, Sigur Ros played acoustically for the first time ever, which led to the decision to release an EP of that material, accompanied by an electric EP of b-sides and re-recordings of early material.

While the film sounds fascinating, the not-quite-a-soundtrack isn’t exactly essential for anyone but hardcore fans. Sigur Ros music is already sparse, haunting and gorgeous—playing it acoustically doesn’t prove to be revelatory. Likewise, the b-sides—which date from 1995 to 2002—slipped through the quality filter of their full-length albums for a reason; some of this is the most heavy-handed material the normally delicate band has ever made. Save your money for a movie ticket. (November 22, 2007)

Spiral Beach – Ball (Sparks Music)

As we all know, graduating from adolescence is daunting and scary. Toronto’s Spiral Beach hadn’t finished high school when they recorded the exuberant pop of their first album; now that they’re a bit older, the world isn’t as colourful and joyous as it first appeared. The carefree, almost cartoonish nature of early material is replaced with ghosts, black eyes and beasts; the sci-fi vibe remains, and each member’s instrumental prowess gives even the weaker material inventive twists. Despite their talent, Ball falls short of their considerable potential. No worries, though—there’s lots of time. (November 15, 2007)

Wintersleep – Welcome to the Night Sky (Labwork/Sonic Unyon)

Are the 90s over yet? Wintersleep don’t seem to think so. Thankfully, the Halifax quintet have moved on from being moodier Pearl Jam disciples and have started to mine Radiohead’s The Bends—while vocalist Paul Murphy is bearing a remarkable resemblance to Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, with shades of Peter Gabriel on the slightly Celtic alt-rock of “Weighty Ghost.” Thankfully, Wintersleep are more melodic than other crass imitators, and the rhythm section of Loel Campbell and Mike Bigelow—both can often be found moonlighting in Holy Fuck—are several steps above many of their peers. There’s a great band in here somewhere with a voice of its own, though that’s still at least one album away. (November 8, 2007)

Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II (Warner)

It’s hard to believe that someone as prolific as Neil Young still has hours of unreleased material in his vaults—especially considering the dubious quality of many of his official releases. This album is somewhere in between.

Though it features mostly new material—much of which is instantly forgettable—the title is a nod to a 1977 album that Young recorded and scrapped, releasing some salvaged tracks (“Like a Hurricane” and “Pocahontas” among them) on other albums. Don’t bother looking for any kind of thematic thread, however—the title is merely a red herring for geeky fans.

The single reason most of his disciples are excited about this is the presence of “Ordinary People,” a song that dates back to 1988. It’s notable only because it led Young out of the wilderness of much of his 80s output, acting as a bridge into the career renaissance that was 1989’s Freedom.

The 18-minute song is a by-the-numbers portrait of a crumbling consumerist American dream, but Young’s scorching guitar solos—there’s one after each of the nine verses—speak more about paranoia, collapse and frustration than anything he expresses in the actual lyrics. They also explain why he would shortly embark on a mutual love affair with Sonic Youth and the grunge generation.

But even this song is a mixed success: the structure is monotonous, the groove is plodding, and the horn section is a wasteful distraction. No wonder he kept it in the vaults; there are several similar tracks on Freedom—both lyrically and musically—that are far superior.

You have to be a major Neil Young geek to appreciate Chrome Dreams II. Anyone else with the strange urge to buy a new Neil Young album should stick with the 1971 Massey Hall concert released earlier this year. (November 1, 2007)

Sunday, November 18, 2007


This week's Eye has an article of mine on Tinariwen, a group of Touareg guitarists whose rebel rocker cred shames that of M.I.A. any day. Founded in the Libyan refugee camps in the early 80s, Tinariwen play traditional Touareg music inspired by Western rock'n'roll, with lyrics of resistance and rebellion that led to their early cassettes to be considered agitprop by the governments of Mali, Algeria and Niger. Several members took part in armed resistance fighting for Touareg autonomy; when a peace treaty was reached in the early 90s, they put down their guns and focused on their guitars.

I first reviewed their record for Eye back in March, when I had this to say in a four-star review:

"You think you got the blues? Try wandering the desert for 27 years as part of a perpetually oppressed population, serving in rebel armies and learning to play guitar with bicycle brake wire. These southern Saharan guitar slingers have every reason to play the blues, but these call-and-response melodies are much too joyful to be mired in the pain of the past. There are obvious stylistic comparisons here to the late Ali Farka Toure, but Tinariwen are rock’n’rollers who love a good wah pedal and Echoplex when the situation requires. One chord is all you need, and sometimes even less: these guitarists have that rare ability to make you feel more with one note than any intricate solo. By the time the backing vocalists start their ecstatic ululating, it’s hard not to join in."

More info can be found here. You should definitely listen to some music here.

Aman Iman is their third proper studio album, and it's reached many ears beyond the usual world music ghettoes. The link to Western music is one reason; the fact that it has better distribution is another. And while the exotic backstory helps inform the music, the music stands alone just fine without it.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this e-mail interview in advance of Tinariwen's first Canadian dates, but I was pleasantly surprised.

They play Toronto's Mod Club on Tuesday, November 20; they're in Sherbrooke, QC on the 21st, Montreal on the 23rd at Club Soda, and Quebec City on the 24th. More tour dates here.

November 9, 2007
Email interview with Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni

What sort of gigs did you play for the first 15 years?

I only started playing with Tinariwen in the mid 1980s. The group had already been going for about five years. In those days many of our concerts were just very small gatherings with our friends, either in the camp, or out in the bush. They were very basic affairs: not much equipment, no big PA system or lights—just intimate gatherings. After the end of the rebellion, in about 1991 or 1992, we started playing some bigger concerts for the Touareg communities in Bamako, or southern Algeria, and even in Abidjan, which we visited in 1992. But they were very different from the gigs we play now. There were much longer pauses between the songs, and the stage was always full of friends, dancing or singing with us. It almost as if the band wasn't just the musicians on the stage, but the whole audience as well! Some of the fireside singing sessions out in the bush during the rebellion were pretty intense.

Why and when were your cassettes illegal? In which countries were they illegal? Was this because of the political content of the lyrics, or because you were in the rebel army?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tinariwen was already known as a group that was singing about revolt and self-determination for the Touareg people. This didn't make the group very popular with the authorities in Algeria, Mali and Niger. All these countries had a big problem with their Touareg populations at the time, and they didn't like the idea of this revolutionary message being distributed via cassette copies throughout the desert. So if you were caught with a Tinariwen cassette on your person at the time, it made you suspect in the eyes of the authorities and could lead to interrogation or arrest.

What was your first experience playing in Europe like?

It was great actually. The first time we came over was in 1998, at the invitation of the French group Lo'Jo. I came with Hassan, Foy Foy and others. We called ourselves “Azawad” because since [founding member] Ibrahim wasn't with us, we didn't feel it was quite right to call ourselves Tinariwen. We only did a few concerts, in the west of France. It was very friendly, because Lo'Jo and the people around them are so generous and open. So we loved it. And it felt like a triumph to be performing in Europe at last. We'd been dreaming of it for a long, long time.

I know that some people in the band won't be able to come to Canada. How many people are in the core band? Are there members of Tinariwen that you could not play without?

Tinariwen is a very flexible band. Even if one member of the group were to come along and perform a set of songs, it could still be called a Tinariwen concert. This is because we've always been like a collective of singer-songwriters, with a support group of friends and brothers. Even if just one of these singer-songwriters is present, then you're in front of Tinariwen.

Ibrahim, the founder of the group and its main songwriter, decided not to come on this North American tour simply because he had some serious health problems this summer, including a severe recurrence of malaria, and he felt exhausted. He need time at home in the desert to rest.

By the end of the year the group will have performed 136 concerts in 12 months. That's crazy really. It's been very hard for us, and we'd like to do things differently in the future. We need more time at home to rest, to be with friends and family, and to be inspired so that we can create new music. That's essential. This flexibility that Tinariwen has is one of the secrets of the group's survival. It has allowed it to continue existing, even when its members were dispersed all over the desert.

What is the average age of the band? How many are original members?

There are two generations in Tinariwen. There are the founders like Ibrahim and Hassan who are in their mid to late 40s. Then there are people like me, who joined in the mid 1980s. I'm in my late 30s. Then there are the younger generation, like Said, Eyadou and Intidao, who were all children at the time of rebellion in the early 1990s, and who are now in the 20s. There are two original members who are still with the band, Ibrahim and Hassan.

What kind of direction did [Robert Plant guitarist and Tinariwen producer] Justin Adams give in the studio? How do you think Tinariwen's studio recordings have evolved?

Justin is an old collaborator of ours. He produced our first CD The Radio Tisdas Session with Jean-Paul Romann, who is Lo'Jo's sound engineer. He also really loves and understands West African and desert music. In the studio he made sure that the songs were well arranged, and were the right length. He also picked out little motifs that we needed to develop or emphasize. Then he just tried to get good performances from us. You should also mention Ben Findlay, who was the engineer on the sessions. He's very effective, and knows how to work discreetly but get just the right sound.

Tinariwen's recordings have certainly evolved. Our first album Radio Tisdas was like a snapshot of what we do, raw and unprocessed. Amassakoul was our first attempt to master the studio, but in the end it was a bit of compromise, thanks to our inexperience. Aman Iman was a more mature process, and I think it shows.

How much of the material on Aman Iman is new? How much is based on traditional material? How much has been in your repertoire for years?

The songs on Aman Iman were written throughout the last 25 years. Songs like “63” and “Tamatant Tilay” are very old, from the early 1980s. Others like “Cler Achel” are only a few years old. There's a traditional core to all our music, but none of the tunes are specifically based on traditional music.

What were some early Western musical influences, other than Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin? Why do you think you connected with those artists, and did you hear any African influence in their music?

Basically, we're all individuals and we all like different music. For example, my taste is for quieter acoustic music. I'm a big fan of country and western, and of artists like Don Williams or Johnny Cash. Others in the band like heavy rock or hip-hop. It's a big soup of different musical influences really. There are some bands like Santana or Dire Straits that were almost universally popular amongst all of us young Touaregs living in exile in the 1980s. We owe a lot to Santana, for example. He taught us a lot about what you can do with a guitar. It seems to me that all rock music has an African gene in there somewhere. Don't you think?

How was your experience at the WOMAD Summer Camp this year in the UK? How easy is it, really, to teach others to play in the Tuareg style?

It was strange because I've never done anything like that before. Basically it was just myself and Andy Morgan, our manager, in a room with about 20 guitarists of different abilities for a whole day. I tried to teach them the principals of how we tune the guitar, and how one string is always the drone, whilst the melody is played on the upper strings. It was very interesting, and it even taught me something about my own music!!

How would you say the Tuareg guitar style differs from other Mali musicians like Ali Farka Toure? Does guitar even figure into traditional Tuareg music, or is it mostly played on ngonis and other instruments?

I think the difference between the Touareg guitar style, and that of other non-Touareg musicians like Ali Farka or Afel Bocoum, is that our style has a very strong element of traditional Touareg music in it, and also plenty of Arabic and Berber music too. This gives it a different shade. But to the uneducated ear it might sound very similar. There's nothing strange about this, because the Touareg and the Songhai have always shared the same geographical space. We're neighbours and culturally we're quite close too. But you have to realize that the guitar is a very new instrument, not only for the Touareg, but for all the people of Mali. It was really Ali Farka Touré who pioneered the idea of playing traditional melodies, which had always been performed on the ngoni or the kora or whatever, on the guitar. We all owe a lot to him.

How many other groups in Mali/Niger/Libya do something similar to yourself? Do you know Group Inerane, who just got a North American release [on Sublime Frequencies]? What do you think the differences between the two of you are?

Oof, there are hundreds of groups now. The Touareg guitar style was invented by Ibrahim and Inteyeden essentially, but now it's played all over the desert. All the young Touareg who play songs on the guitar owe something to them. But this is great, and all of these groups have their own particular approach and style. I haven't heard Inerane's CD so I can't really talk about it. But there are other great groups from Niger and Mali, like Tarbiat, Toumast, Etran Finatawa and the young Tamekrist from Kidal. Hopefully there will be room for all of us in the end.

Is this the first Tinariwen album to feature translated lyrics? If so, why?

Our manager Andy felt it was very important to translate the lyrics this time round, to give people a sense of what we're singing about. Communicating our message is a constant obsession for us, and it's not always easy to do. Even translating the lyrics was very difficult, because there are poetic riches in the original that just can't be conveyed in a translation. We did our best. There were lyric translations on Amassakoul, but this time round we devoted a lot more time to getting it right. But there's still a lot of work to do. It's almost like a project in itself.

Do you think the current rebellion will last as long as the one you took part in? What are the core issues? Do you think they will be easier or more difficult to resolve?

This outbreak is very different from the one that we were involved in, in the early 1990s. Back then Mali was ruled by a very corrupt military dictatorship, and the Touareg had absolutely no voice in government whatsoever. Our home region, around Kidal, was a military no-go zone at the time, abandoned and discarded by the central power in Bamako. So we had everything to fight for, and very little to lose.

This time the conflict is much more complex, with different opinions and different points of view even inside the Touareg community. The basic aims are the same: to get the government to respect the promises that were made in the 1994 National Pact, which are all to do with treating the Touareg fairly, respecting our culture and our specific lifestyle, and investing in our region, especially in terms of education and water infrastructure. The new rebel movement, the ADC, really just wanted to focus the government's mind on the task in hand, and they felt that they needed to do something quite dramatic in order to achieve this.

But now that the new Algiers Accords have been signed, there is a path to peace. The fact that some people are still out there taking hostages and attacking military outposts is all part of this complex situation. But most of us want peace, so that we can concentrate on development.

Do you think a Tuareg homeland is ever possible, or at least autonomy from Mali and Niger? How do you think uranium and oil development will effect this?

I don't think a Touareg homeland is possible at the moment. The central governments are too strong, and they have too much backing from outside. Also, the Touareg themselves don't have enough unity for an independent state to work. But no one knows what the future holds. It's in our interest to be strong and united, because the mineral wealth of the desert will make it a more and more attractive place to external powers, both political and commercial. We don't want to end up like the Ogoni people in the Niger delta. We have to defend our birthright, but it's not easy.

Do you anticipate any problems entering the U.S. after Tuareg rebels attacked a U.S. aircraft in Tinzaouaten last September?

Strangely enough, we've never had any problem getting entry into the USA. I don't know why. I think that the US is trying to be friends with Mali, which it sees as one of the rare Islamic countries that isn't particularly hostile. But the little incident at Tinzaouaten hasn't changed things.

What do you miss most about the desert while you are on tour?

Everything: friends, family, the peace, the solitude, the quiet. When we arrive back in the desert, we're like fish finally being thrown back into the sea. We can breathe again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

October 07 review round-up

More files from the mainstream daily papers the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Guelph Mercury today.

In alphabetical order: Baby Eagle, Devendra Banhart, Jully Black, Broken Social Scene (Kevin Drew), Chris Brown/Kate Fenner, Chamillionaire, The Go! Team, Joe Henry, Iron & Wine, Joni Mitchell, the Rizdales.

Not appearing here, but that did run in the paper:, Stacey Kent, James Blunt, the Acorn, San Serac, Sally Shapiro. If you work for any of these people and need a clipping, let me know.

Baby Eagle – No Blues (Outside)

The Constantines’ Steve Lambke branches out on his second album as Baby Eagle, expanding on the sparse settings that marked his first foray into solo acoustic material. This time, he traveled to to Sackville, NB, to team up with Julie Doiron, members of Shotgun and Jaybird and Feist’s touring band, all of whom provide eerie accompaniment to Lambke’s haunting lyrics. His thin, reedy voice is the litmus test for listeners, especially in such a stripped-down context as opposed to the Constantines’ rock onslaught. It isn’t ideally suited for this material, yet when it cracks—which it does often—it creates an intriguing sense of desperation to songs like "Driving Blind" and the title track. (October 18, 2007)

Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL/Beggars)

One must be wary of the artist who thinks they can do everything. Here, Banhart tries on a closet full of new clothes: a young Elvis, a Haight-Ashbury hippie, a snarling psychedelic punk, a Brazilian troubadour, a gospel preacher, a singer in Santana, a spaced-out reggae singer who has lost his drummer.

There is great danger for this to descend into a schizophrenic mess, the work of an egomaniac who doesn’t know when to say no—which, truth be told, was the fate that awaited Banhart’s last album, Cripple Creek. But Thunder Canyon revels in its diversity, and Banhart never takes any of it too seriously. After all, anyone who writes a Jewish doo-wop song called “My Shabop Shalom Baby” can’t be all bad.

Not that he’s always goofing off. The chameleonic Banhart clearly loves all these musical genres without irony, and his songwriting adapts no matter what corner of the world he finds himself in. His spine-tingling vocals are always the focus—even if you’re not always sure that it’s still him on lead vocals. (October 4, 2007; a different review runs in this month's Magnet)

Jully Black – Revival (Universal)

Jully Black has been a star in the making since she was a Toronto high school student guesting on some of that city's hottest hip-hop singles. Her vocal talents have never been questioned, but until now she never had the right material to truly shine on her own—despite the fact that she's written for Destiny's Child and Nas. That changes starting now.

After touring with the Black Eyed Peas several years back, she bonded with their drummer Keith Harris, who produced this, her second major label release and a surefire breakthrough. With Harris at the helm, Black finds the enviable middle ground between neo-soul revivalists like Amy Winehouse and mainstream R&B like Mary J. Blige. Skittering beats, rock guitars, punchy piano riffs and gospel backing vocals all help strike a fine balance between big soul numbers—like the lead single, a cover of Etta James' “Seven Day Fool”—and contemplative ballads such as the socially conscious “Just a Moment” or the tribute to her late sister, “Catch Me When I Fall.”

It's hard to top the opening four songs—which include the feminist reggae anthem Queen and the party-starter DJ Play My Song—but Revival never sags. Soon enough Jully Black will be known for much more for her music rather than being a celebrity correspondent for E-talk Daily. (October 25, 2007)

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew – Spirit If… (Arts and Crafts/EMI)

The overwhelming amount of talent in Broken Social Scene—which of course includes Feist, Jason Collett, Stars and Apostle of Hustle—threatened to crush the band entirely on their 2005 self-titled album, where an avalanche of sound overwhelmed any sense of direction or solid songwriting.

Co-founder Kevin Drew adopts a much more subtle approach here, allowing tiny details to colour a series of songs that outline his own personal turmoil (read: divorce) of recent years. It’s just as dense as any other Broken Social Scene album, yet everything breathes much easier. Drew doesn’t want to hit you over the head this time out; many of this album’s greatest pleasures are all but inaudible if you’re expecting the epic art rock he’s built his reputation on. It even appears deceptively slight upon initial listens.

Guests include all the usual BSS suspects—including Feist, Stars’ Amy Millan, most of Metric—as well as some personal heroes of Drew’s: Pavement’s Spiral Stairs, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis—and, uh, Tom Cochrane. (Skeptics alert: forget “Life is a Highway”—go back to Red Rider, right up to the “Boy Inside the Man” days.)

Because this is (kind of) a solo album, Drew also prints his lyrics for the first time, and mixes his vocals up front. Unlike his earlier songs—where the abstraction allowed the listener to project whatever they liked onto them—these are simultaneously more direct and yet still leave plenty of room for the listener’s own imagination. He also moves effortlessly from ambient electronics, acoustic folk, propulsive pop and raging rock—and even better, sometimes he makes it all in the same song.

Best of all, Spirit If… is never predictable, even in the carte blanche world of Broken Social Scene. (October 11, 2007)

Chris Brown and the Citizens' Band – Oblivion (
Kate Fenner – Magnet (

Brown and Fenner's careers have been intertwined for over 20 years now, ever since they were high school students in the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, and then later as a duo. It used to be that Brown was the socially conscious poet and songwriter behind Fenner's rich and resonant voice; as time goes on, Fenner has become a songwriter who can stand on her own and Brown's voice gets better with age.

Now that they're charting separate paths, they still share the same backing band and Brown writes three songs on Fenner's second solo album. One of them is the majestic epic “Paris,” where Fenner delivers one of her finest vocal performances with a Cohen-esque lyric that also stands as one of Brown's best.

He saves a few more knockouts for his own album: the inspirational title track; the gripping political screed “The Gates” (which boasts the opening line, "The rapture came, and it only let them down"); and “Image of a Man,” a powerful ode to the passing of Johnny Cash that features Sarah Harmer on backing vocals. Yet for Brown, it's all or nothing. Despite his all-star Citizens' Band of New York City's finest session players, little else on Oblivion manages to match those three tracks.

Fenner's Magnet, on the other hand, steers a more even keel, from the stately opener “Autumn Trees” to the Fleetwood Mac-ish soft pop of “Leo” and “How Hard It Is,” and concluding with the torchy piano cover of Paul Simon's “Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy,” with renowned jazz player Jason Moran. (October 25, 2007)

Chamillionaire – Ultimate Victory (Universal)

Anyone who thinks Southern rap is a one-dimensional pimp-and-ho show ala Hustle and Flow should meet Chamillionaire. Granted, the Grammy-winning MC (whose smash single “Ridin’” even warranted a Weird Al parody) spends almost half of his 80 minutes here on just such material. But he also pens some pointed political material that’s practically unheard of in this corner of the genre. Rather than blinging it up, his self-consciously materialistic rhymes actually possess insight into Bush-era America’s relentless pursuit of capital. After Iraq and Katrina, Chamillionaire would argue—Soprano-style—that cashing in however you can is not only fair game, but the only way to survive while the country burns. Yet even when telling straight-up ghetto tales, his strong storytelling still packs more into a single verse than 50 Cent does in an entire album. (October 18, 2007)

The Go! Team – Proof of Youth (Secret City/Fusion 3)

Double-dutch schoolgirls rap over 70s TV show themes: it doesn’t get any deeper than that descriptive blurb on the second album by this UK act, whose 2005 debut was a delightful sugar rush that sounded like Beck DJing a 60s pop club night. Many of those tracks were built on borrowed beats—few, if any, were used with permission. Now that The Go! Team are left mostly to their own devices, the thrill is gone. Maybe legal difficulties prevented the band from using the samples they wanted. Or, more likely, maybe this one-trick pony ran out of ideas very quickly. Not a single track here provides the debut’s initial pleasure: the vocals are shrill, the fun seems forced, and the cameo by Chuck D of Public Enemy is just plain weird. The youth of which they boast proof has a lot of growing up to do. (October 11, 2007)

Joe Henry – Civilians (Anti/Epitaph)

Though he’s been a singer/songwriter for over 15 years, with a worthy discography of his own behind him, Joe Henry is better known for producing vintage-sounding comeback albums for soul artists such as Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette. Such is his reputation among musicians that the notoriously independent Ani DiFranco chose him as her first outside producer ever—a move that resulted in her best album in years.

While Henry’s recent solo work found him getting too wrapped up in ornate production, here he strips everything back to basics. His torchy vocals wrap themselves around songs about squandered goodwill and civil wars of various stripes, set to a wealth of waltzes anchored by guitarist Bill Frisell and Toronto bassist David Piltch (Holly Cole, k.d. lang). Henry is a classy guy, his aesthetic best dressed up in ragged dinner jackets and well-aged red wine, struggling to maintain poise and dignity amidst decay.

Yet such is the sustained mood that all the songs blend into each other, demarcated only by Henry’s killer one-liners particular to each narrative. He also indulges his flair for the theatrical: he’s been hanging around enough soul vocal vets to think that each line deserves maximum drama, though his own talents are much better suited to understatement.

He never misfires completely, however, and this is one of the finest singer/songwriter albums of the year. But he could take some lessons in brevity. (October 11, 2007)

Iron And Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop/Warner)

Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam was never your typical folkie in the first place. Even though his first two sleeper hit albums were acoustic affairs with hushed vocals, he managed to transcend many of the clichés that come with the genre via extremely subtle shades and sometimes surrealistic lyrics—none of which distracted from the welcoming warmth from his campfire-friendly vibe.

The Shepherd’s Dog is the kind of album that all fans of acoustic acts dread the most: the one where the artist decides to expand their sonic template and invite all sorts of friends on board, just to see what happens. So here we find electric guitars, African rhythms, sitars, harmoniums, vocals run through Leslie speakers, trippy keyboards and other treats layered into Beam’s skeletal song structures.

It’s a credit to his sense of restraint that for Iron and Wine, more actually is more. Beam’s songs lose none of their intimacy while painting with plenty of new colours. He avoids any overt rockism by eschewing drum kits and using various hand percussion instead. As a result, even the heaviest moments here are never overbearing, and his excursions into dub reggae and psychedelia possess a weightless grace that makes them all the more engaging.

Sam Beam is never going to be just another guy with an acoustic guitar. This is not only stuffed with more memorable songs than most of his peers, but the headphone-friendly production pushes this clear into classic territory. If you were entranced by Beam’s beauty in the past, The Shepherd’s Dog suggests that he’s only beginning to bloom. (October 4, 2007; a different review runs in the current issue of Magnet)

Joni Mitchell – Shine (Hear)

Joni Mitchell doesn’t thank George W. Bush in the liner notes to her new album. But if it wasn’t for the moral chaos that is Bush’s legacy, it’s unlikely the legendary songwriter would have been roused from retirement for her first album of new material in nine years.

Five years ago, Mitchell announced her retreat from the music industry. As she watched the world go to hell in a handbasket, however, the guitarist picked up her pointed pen and her long-neglected piano to write a scathing series of songs about the end of the world as we know it. Everything from holy wars to a scorched earth to “cellphone zombies” feed into her frustration, with mixed results. Often it sounds like Al Gore wrote these lyrics, rather than the subtle poet that Mitchell is at her best.

Unlike much of her work of the past two decades, Mitchell strips things down here to little more than guitar, piano, a rhythm section and some saxophones—no layers of heavy synths, treated electric guitars or jazzy passages to muck everything up. It gives the work a greater gravitas, and her apocalyptic narratives are given plenty of room to breathe—even if her reduced vocal range still shows the effects of years of smoking.

She throws a bone to old fans with a version of “Big Yellow Taxi.” While it fits right in thematically, its jaunty rhythm—subdued as it is here—is out of step with the other sombre tales of “mass murder mysteries.”

Mitchell does betray some reserved optimism in the title track and the closing “If,” which is adopted from the Rudyard Kipling poem. But the mood of the album is best summed up with the embittered line: “If I had a heart, I’d cry.”

Now how does that go down with your coffee? (October 18, 2007)

The Rizdales – Radio Country (

It's little wonder that rockabillly legend Wanda Jackson often taps London, Ontario's Rizdales to be her backing band. Not only are they well schooled in classic country, but they share her sardonic view of romance on songs like “High Heeled Homewrecker” and “I Could Tell You Lies.” Husband/wife duo Tom and Tara Dunphy pen poisoned valentines to each other with subtle wit and the kind of rich character writing that the genre has always excelled at. To top it off, both are compelling vocalists and Tara is responsible for the fine fiddle licks. (October 25, 2007)


Thursday, November 15, 2007

September 07 review round-up

Today's Eye Weekly has an article I did on Tinariwen; transcript will arrive in the coming days. Note that their website has a spiffy new design. That's the good news. The bad news is that none of the links to older stories work anymore, so I'll do my best to update this here site to ensure everything is copacetic.

Because I moved house in September, I forgot to post some reviews that ran in the mainstream daily newspapers Kitchener-Waterloo Record and Guelph Mercury. October's will follow shortly, as will material from Eye Weekly as soon as the links work.

Reviewed here in alphabetical order: Baby Elephant, Blue Rodeo, 50 Cent, Hot Hot Heat, Lyle Lovett, Madlib, Carolyn Mark, Sixtoo, Weakerthans, Kanye West.

Not appearing here, but ran in the paper in September: Polaris Prize compilation, Manu Chao,
Ben Harper, Exploding Star Orchestra, Paul Anka. If you work for any of these artists and need a clipping, let me know.

Baby Elephant – Turn My Teeth Up! (GFM/Sonic Unyon)

When Prince Paul sampled Parliament on the classic De La Soul album 3 Ft. High and Risin’, he knew as well as anyone else that keyboardist Bernie Worrell was responsible for the way we have heard synths and keyboards in pop, funk and rock music since the mid-70s.

Here, Prince Paul and Worrell team up with some of the latter’s former collaborators—including George Clinton, David Byrne and Nona Hendryx—to make a pop album that’s considerably more focused than Worrell’s jam-based band the Woo Warriors. The “teeth” of the title refer to his arsenal of keyboards, which colour every corner of this futuristic funk with nary a guitar in sight. He’s just as freaky as ever, as are some of the other guests that Paul lines up—including original dancehall MC Yellowman, who sounds about 90 years old.

Worrell, on the other hand, is totally timeless, which is to be expected for such a sci-fi freak. In an era where synths are too often used as crutches for the lazy, Worrell reminds us what a difference it makes when they’re in the hands of a master. (September 13, 2007)

Blue Rodeo – Small Miracles (Warner)

Nearly every song here finds Blue Rodeo acting exactly their age, approaching failed relationships with regret and enduring occasional bad times for the greater good. These lyrical themes are exactly what you might expect from a band that has endured a series of line-up changes and solo albums from the two main songwriters. But what we really expect is a collection of songs that could hold a candle to their best work—which we don’t get here. Jim Cuddy scores the only knockout here with the small-town-small-minds ballad “This Town,” but otherwise both he and Greg Keelor seem stuck in first gear. Eleven albums and 22 years later, it might be a small miracle that Blue Rodeo are still together, but this certainly sounds like they’re phoning it in. (September 27, 2007)

50 Cent – Curtis (Aftermath/Universal)

On the laundry list of crimes against modern culture that 50 Cent is guilty of, nothing is more galling than the fact that he cops to his con and openly laughs at his own audience. “I ain’t even gotta rap now, life is made … I’m laughin’ straight to the bank with this/ ha-ha-ha-ha!”

Not that he cares about anyone but himself: not the bitches he’s bangin’ (“bring ‘em in/ kick ‘em out”), not the suckas he’s clockin’ (“I’ll Still Kill”), not any poor sod that doesn’t serve as a means to an end. Furthermore, he continually wants it both ways: to be the respected king of the ’hood while kickin’ back in the south of France and shopping for shoes in Milan.

“If I give you all of me, what you gonna give me back?” asks Mary J. Blige during a vocal cameo. It’s a fair question. What do we get out of this beyond a verbal beatdown in every single verse by this “stanky rich” gangsta narcissist?

50 Cent splits his time evenly between checking his bank account (“I Get Money”), checking his back for any perceived indignation (“Fully Loaded Clip”), and finding new ways to be the most misogynist seduction artist in the history of pop music. That is, until Eminem shows him up on the loathsome “Peep Show,” offering to defecate on the object of his affection. Good thing such harmless juvenilia is being marketed to kids. Even Justin Timberlake and Timbaland can’t sex up the lifeless “Ayo Technology.”

None of the other high profile guests, on-and-off-mic, fare much better. 50 Cent has coasted by with lame lyrics before, but this time his biggest problems are the boring beats, muddy production and lack of any serious pop hooks—a blessing in disguise for those wishing he’d just wither up and go away.

As tiresome as this is, what’s particularly hilarious is “Man Down (Censored),” where the blanked out vocals make you wonder what 50 could be possibly saying that’s worse than the cursing, cocksuckin’ and motherfuckin’ going on in the rest of the track, with 50 repeatedly boasting “I’ll murder ‘em” in the chorus.

Even funnier is his recent off-stage show of being publicly offended by a video game called Shoot the Rapper, featuring an animated character physically modeled after him. It seems that the tough guy can’t take a taste of his own medicine—even though that very recipe is what made this dumb-ass douchebag famous in the first place.

Hopefully he’s man enough to keep his rap retirement pledge should Kanye West wind up on the top of the charts this week. (September 13, 2007)

Hot Hot Heat – Happiness Ltd. (Warner)

The bombastic and theatrical title track here concludes with a lighter-in-the-air power ballad ending repeating, “It’s all over now.”

Which it could have been: after their tepid sophomore album Elevator, many were ready to write off this Victoria, BC power pop band—including founding guitarist Dante DeCaro, who defected to the much more promising Wolf Parade shortly after Elevator was released.

Noting that Hot Hot Heat have unnecessarily resurrected a track here from an earlier EP (“5 Times Out Of 100”) isn’t a good indicator of new ideas, either.

And yet Happiness Ltd. finds them rediscovering exuberant the pop hooks that they used to excel at, while maintaining a variety of moods. Singer Steve Bays has toned down some of his more annoying vocal tics without entirely surrendering his personality as a singer. The rest of the band continue to be inspired by the 80s, but this time there is less influence from the skinny tie post-punk crowd than by the stadium/radio pop that the Killers are trying to resurrect—and there at least three or four anthemic tracks here that would put the latter jokers to shame, especially with drummer Paul Hawley and bassist Dustin Hawthorne injecting some badly needed vitality into this type of material. (September 20, 2007)

Lyle Lovett – It’s Not Big, It’s Large (Lost Highway/ Universal)

If the album title sounds a bit defensive, it’s because Lovett is still crawling back into the third phase of his career, following a seven-year lapse that found one of the most refreshing songwriting voices of the 80s oddly silent.

His last album, 2004’s My Baby Don’t Tolerate, was his most conventional Nashville album, with little of the sardonic storytelling that always set him apart. This time out he’s still playing it straight, but he welcomes back some of the R&B and gospel influences that were his trademark in the early 90s.

Sadly, it’s a trade-off for the fact that his songs were more engaging the last time out. The best material here is the stuff that sounds like Lovett and his Large Band fooling around, like the playful “Make It Happy” and “Up in Indiana.” The strength of his band and the gospel backing singers elevate the weaker material, and Lovett himself is in fine voice.

On one chorus here he sings: “Life’s been good to me… It could be all downhill from here.” Doubtful, of course. Yet still, this is far from his finest hour. (September 20, 2007)

Madlib – Beat Konducta Vol 3-4: India (Stones Throw/Koch)

Now that all the vintage soul samples appear to have been snapped up, hip-hop producers are starting to look elsewhere. Kanye West can be heard sampling Ethiopian and German records these days, but hot underground hip-hop producer Madlib has bigger fish to fry: India, home to the biggest music and film industry outside of the U.S.

Here he has his way with hundreds of Bollywood soundtracks, slicing them into tiny two-minute hip-hop instrumentals: 34 tracks in 61 minutes. There’s plenty of funk to be found on the subcontinent, and many of the minor key string samples from this rich source material fit in perfectly with Madlib’s hazy, lazy signature sound.

For a man whose prolific output has more than its share of quality dips, he sounds genuinely inspired here. And who knows—maybe some of it will creep into the work he’s doing right now with Ghostface Killah and Erykah Badu. (September 27, 2007)

Carolyn Mark – Nothing is Free (Mint/Outside)

As anyone who has been there will tell you, Saltspring Island in B.C. is overflowing with beauty and splendour, characteristics that have always attracted a large artistic community. Carolyn Mark doesn’t live there—she hails from Victoria—but by recording her sixth album on Saltspring, the songwriter has emerged with her prettiest collection to date.

She’s always been a strong singer—after all, she holds her own with Neko Case in their duo The Corn Sisters—but she’s never sounded better than she does here. The natural reverb helps, courtesy of the community hall where this was recorded mostly live with virtuoso violinist Diona Davies (Geoff Berner, Po’Girl) and guitarists Paul Pigat and Paul Rigby. Without a drummer present, Mark doesn’t have to project at rock-band levels and every player exudes elegance on both the ballads and the bluegrass-tinged numbers.

Which is all a bit strange: despite the pristine environment, the lyrics suggest that the salty songwriter is doing some Sunday morning soul-searching, going through a mid-life crisis triggered by one too many tours. More so than ever, Mark’s songs concern the fallacy of fidelity—especially on the road—and being “Poisoned With Hope” when it comes to finding happiness in either life or one’s career. (September 20, 2007)

Sixtoo – Jackals and Vipers in Envy of Man (Ninja Tune/Outside)

Few people can make a compelling album of instrumental hip-hop, but Montreal’s Robert Squire—aka Sixtoo—is certainly one of them, and this may well be his finest work. Jackals consists of 13 unnamed tracks mixing dark beats with brooding textures of piano and guitar that sound like they’re lifted from a spy movie soundtrack.

Sixtoo has long since retired as an MC, but his short attention span ensures that he can ride a steady groove while consistently shifting all the other elements of a track to maintain interest. The moody background never gets too morose before the big beats bounce everything back to the dance floor, albeit one where jazzy excursions and druggy and dubbed-out disorientation are the norm.

Montreal scene trainspotters will note that two members of Wolf Parade show up here (drummer Arlen Thompson and electronics manipulator Hadji Bakara), though this is Sixtoo’s show from beginning to end. (September 27, 2007)

The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour (Anti/Epitaph)

Perhaps the worst writing advice ever is to “write what you know.” Because of that tired maxim, we’ve been cursed with generations upon generations of self-absorbed songwriters who think that every domestic detail is worthy of a major artistic statement.

John K. Samson of Winnipeg’s Weakerthans has proven to be a master at mapping melancholy and awkward emotions, on albums like 2000’s classic Left and Leaving—an album that announced the arrival of a major Canadian songwriter. But after battling a bad case of writer’s block in recent years, Samson returns with 11 character sketches that are far from autobiographical: a bus driver, a medical oddity, a dot-com capitalist, a legendary NHL goalie, and a guy who spotted Sasquatch. Written with his usual flair for economical prose, each song reads like a short story with maximum detail conveyed in a few short lines.

The Weakerthans’ last album, 2003’s Reconstruction Site, showed a danger of the band milking its past punk sound while offering redundant roots rock shadings as an alternative. Yet here they find inventive ways to embellish their core strengths as a 4/4 rock band, with drummer Jason Tait once again proving to be their secret weapon on vibes, percussion, keyboards and banjo. Even the track here that most recalls—or, uh, rips off—previous work (the opening anti-anthem “Civil Twilight”) sparkles with a life lacking in most of the last album.

If Left and Leaving was a perfect encapsulation of how poetic punk rockers grapple with adulthood, Reunion Tour is written with a wealth of perspective and empathy, set to a diverse musical landscape that succeeds on both the rockers and the reflective numbers.
(September 27, 2007)

Kanye West – Graduation (Roc-a-Fella/Universal)

Having the biggest ego in hip-hop takes a lot of work. Which is part of the reason why Kanye West sounds humbled on this follow-up to 2005’s pop masterstroke Late Registration.

Lyrically, he dials down the hubris—well, as much as he can—and even ends his Graduation speeches with Big Brother, a bittersweet ode to his mentor, Jay-Z. Musically, he reaches even further than usual: samples here include sensitive 70s folkie Laura Nyro, psychedelic German rock band Can, Steely Dan, and—on the album’s hands-down highlight "Stronger"—French electro-house superstars Daft Punk. Even when his borrowing is less blatant, West still has the most catholic taste of any mainstream hip-hop artist.

Most of this material is considerably more laid back than you’d expect from this attention magnet. With the exception of "Stronger," there’s little here that’s likely to light up a club. West is in a contemplative mood, which works both for and against him: the reflective "I Wonder" and "Flashing Lights" are both striking, string-laden dramas atop heavy beats, while "Everything I Am" is a sappy sag and "Drunk And Hot Girls" sounds like a stoned, late night reflection on a life of vacuous clubhopping. A few more fireworks would have helped.
(September 13, 2007)


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Battles: Beans and Prefuse 73

Auxiliary files from my Magnet piece on Battles. My conversation with the full band is here.

Guillermo Scott Herren of Prefuse 73 was the band's first big champion, who got them signed to Warp. Their first major break was a worldwide tour with Prefuse and Beans, which is why I wanted to talk to both of them for this piece. That tour was where a lot of the Mirrored material would have debuted live, and I also knew that these two men would have some insight on the interpersonal dynamics in the band.

Herren took time out from promoting his Savath + Savalas album that came out on Anti earlier this year; he's just released his best work as Prefuse 73 in ages, called Preparations, on Warp. Beans dropped the bomb that Antipop Consortium are getting back together and working on new material; his new solo album, Thorns, features collaborations with Toronto's Holy Fuck and just came out on iTunes. He's already working on the follow-up.

July 31, 2007
Locale: cell phone

How long have you known them?

I’ve known Ty[ondai Braxton] from when he used to come to Antipop shows. When things were a little slow for me and I was looking for a day gig, he helped me out with getting a job. When we went to Japan, I met the rest of Battles and we toured with Prefuse. John [Stanier], the drummer, is a big hip-hop head. I got along with the rest of Battles. I even gave one of them a pair of shoes, man, coz I had a couple of pairs on me and his shoes got fucked up and he kept borrowing my shit, so I ended up giving ‘em to him. They fucked him up—it was dope, but it was fucked up.

So was Antipop still around when Battles started?

No, this was before Battles. Years before. I’d seen him around and he told me he was starting a new band called Battles, walking around Williamsburg. That’s where I’d see him. I’d ask him about his dad and he wouldn’t talk too much and then he told me he was starting this new band. After a while we started doing shows together. The first person who had always waved the flag for Battles was Prefuse. He was like, ‘Yo, Battles, Battles.’ Scott is the one who brought them to Warp. I knew them and I knew Ty and it was all good, and then we started touring together. Battles is ill, man! Very refreshing music.

It took them a long time to put out their first proper album, but people love it and are so excited about it.

You know what it is, too? It’s the live show. It’s stimulating. The drummer is the center-piece.

For whatever reason, people want to hear this kind of music now, even though they’re not an easy band to digest right away. It’s dense music.

What’s interesting too is that part of the reason why people like it is the climate of what is considered rock right now. You need a band to fulfill the function that they do, a band that will shake the shit up every once in a while. And they definitely shake it up. I love watching them perform and the structures to their songs: really interesting intros and then a point where it all starts to make sense. As it continues to progress, it forms its own entity and you’re watching it be born.

Everything coalesces at one moment.

It was really interesting to hear. I really like the album. I think it’s one of the better ones this year.

How did they go over on that tour? Because you played first, didn’t you, and then they were on before Prefuse? And nobody knew who they were, did they?

No, but they won a lot of people over.

Why did you go on first?

It was that way because I was by myself. I wasn’t working with a DJ at the time. I think I played everything on an iPod. It was a good tour.

Most people probably didn’t show up expecting a rock band.

That’s another reason why it worked, because it wasn’t typical of anything. But honestly, in my whole touring experience, I’ve never gone out with all hip-hop acts. Maybe overseas, but in the States I’ve toured with rock acts like the Rapture and Tortoise. I’ve always toured with the more expansive and expressive collectives.

What about personal dynamics? Is there one person leading it?

From my observations, I think Battles is very collaborative. Each one adds and accentuates the others’ performances. They bring out the best in each other. Even when they’re alone and chillin’, no one person is more dominant than the other.

Because they’re all different ages and experiences.

Yeah. John—that dude is a busy dude. He’s in like three bands.

And one of them is in Australia.

Yeah, and his girlfriend was in Berlin, so he was all over the place. It’s crazy. I remember seeing him around. When I met him, I knew people that knew him. We had the same people we hung out with. I didn’t know it at the time. John is mad cool, man.

He has the big rock experience, but he seems to be the one who’s most into hip-hop and electronic music.

He’s a big hip-hop fan. And he loves Kompakt, which is one of my favourite labels.

Anything else we should know?

Have you ever heard Ty’s solo music?

Yeah, I’ve seen him perform.

It’s very much in continuity with what his father was doing in jazz. I observe that when I hear him. Seeing how his dad [Anthony Braxton] is the root of where he’s from, it definitely makes sense. It’s definitely his own thing, but he’s definitely his father’s son.

Do you think other people make those connections?

I don’t know if people are that familiar with his dad’s work. His dad is an acquired taste. His father is a genius. I met him when they played at Bowery Ballroom, and I totally geeked out. I had no idea what to say, and I just made an asshole of myself. That was the very first time that he had seen Battles perform and he was just like, ‘Yo.’ He was giving it up. He was a proud dad. I love that shit. I love Battles. They’re dope. I’d rock their shirts in photos all the time. I love that shit.

What’s new with you?

I’m trying to put out this record I just finished called Thorns. And Anti-Pop is getting back together.

How did that come about?

From years of getting older and realizing that we miss working together. It took a long time, to be honest with you. We all have to go through our things and do what we have to do.

Nothing’s started yet, though?

Naw, it’s just starting to come together now.

What about my friends in Holy Fuck?

I did some tracks with them for Thorns, and I’ve already started working on the next one, which is called End It All. That’s a bunch of collaborations. I also have a side project with the drummer from Interpol called Gotham Wolf Knights.

Guillermo Scott Herren, of Prefuse 73 and Savath + Savalas
August 1, 2007
phone interview

How and when did you become aware of them?

I wasn’t even up on Battles. Battles wasn’t in the picture. It was a normal friendship I made with Tyondai. Out of that relationship came Battles. I knew his stuff before I knew Battles. We had met and said we should do some shit together, which ended up on a Prefuse record. From my perspective, it was hard, but taking them with me all around the world so that people could see them was the most gratifying thing ever. Just to know that people are going to respond to that kind of music within the format that I play in.

Where did that tour take you?

We went to Japan, the U.S. and Europe. I have my stubborn side, and I decided that I was going to take these guys on tour with me until they don’t go away and Warp will have to sign them. I had a plan, like, how the fuck is this going to work? How can I put this in Warp’s face that this band is 1) dope and 2) has the potential to do much bigger things if it was just coming through the right outlet. I’ve learned that in the past year, that the outlet and the exposure you’re put through creates a whole different perspective on what you do. What Battles does isn’t stereotypically Warp, but if they came out on some indie rock label it might not do them as much for their mystique, maybe. That’s a complete hypothesis, but I think it’s done them more good than bad.

It’s interesting where they sit there, because part of the appeal is the way they compose music, which seems more in line with what you’re doing, or other artists on Warp. And yet they’re doing it entirely with rock instrumentation.

Yeah, that was the line that first connected when I first saw Battles as a band. What Tyondai does on his own is completely different thing, and that’s what I saw first. But when I saw Battles as a band, I thought it was a lot like Prefuse: these sharp, individual melodies coming from odd places. You don’t know what sound is coming from which player when they’re playing live, other than the drummer. It’s all broken up and so tight around the rhythm that it does reflect a lot of stuff that I’m coming from with Prefuse.

Were you a fan of any of their other previous projects?

I knew some things about Don Caballero, but I wasn’t from that scene of music. I knew about them, totally, but I wasn’t so well-versed on that—I don’t know how to explain it—dissonant, indie rock, intelligent… (laughs) I was more from the school of seeing Helmet on MTV when I was younger, in between rap videos. I thought they were dope. It was the first metal I’d ever heard where all the cats were short-haired nerds who were just killing it. Then there was John, who turns out to be in Battles years later, and he’s a homie.

The cool component to him is that he on his own—not as a career or a personality—he makes beats too. He’s a total beat head. And I don’t mean on drums, I mean the same way I make beats. Being on tour with them for so long, I was able to bond with them in my own way, with the exception of Ty, who I knew before. Dave [Konopka] and I both have the same kind of stupid humour. With John we could talk beats. Ian [Williams] is just a complex individual who I could just hear him talk and get something out of that.

How do you see the personal dynamics in the band? Because if I’m not mistaken, it’s quite an age range. I imagine John is probably in his late 30s, and Ty seems much younger, and they all have quite different experiences.

John and Ian are more the vets, as far as age. John is the pro. He’s the one. I got mad respect for John, because I know how big Helmet was. Anybody would have to be dumb who wasn’t there and saw how big they got. And this cat went back to sleeping on people’s floors just to make this band work. That in itself says a lot for his character. That dude is pretty hardcore.

I mean, I won’t do that shit! I’ve never been a rock star, but you won’t find me on people’s floors and shit! But John’s doing that to this day. He probably got up this morning and was on somebody’s floor last night. I’m like, shit, put me up someplace nice. When I put on a show, I’m tired. One, I don’t want to intrude on someone’s home, and two… I don’t know. My point is that I got a lot of respect for him and Ian going that duration, and then Ty and Dave being younger, I don’t know how they feel about it. They’re my age, I guess.

I definitely acknowledge the difference in age and the amount of time they spent on tour. They started a decade before I ever went on tour. And Ty is just starting to tour for real. It’s impressive how he’s just gone into that hardcore. Because touring sucks. Touring is fulfilling when it comes to your fans and pleasing them, but it takes its toll on your patience and your everyday routine being the same. You’re in a dirty backstage every night with beer and shit, and you get no sleep, you play a show, and those cats are roughing it to save money or whatever they’re doing. I don’t know what their ultimate plan is. I think they’re fucking crazy, actually.

About that one tour, is that when most of the material on Mirrored came together? Listening to the EPs again, they do sound like were recorded on borrowed time in studios at 5am. Whereas this material is much more full-on rock stuff that probably comes from performing live so much. Did you see that material develop on tour?

When you’re on a tour, you are in that routine. You just rearrange the same songs you’re going to play. Both bands, when we played live, would venture out into different territories. Mirrored is pretty meticulously and oddly composed music. It definitely has its share of improvised stuff, but a lot of what Ty put in from his perspective of a composer mentality, there’s a lot that would be hard to come out of just straight improvisation rather than a composition. Which you can hear. If you ask them how they write, I know that Ty comes with a composition, for sure.

I’m surprised by the reaction to this album, where people who don’t normally like this kind of music are really excited about this, for whatever reason in this cultural moment, like it’s something they’ve been waiting to hear.

That puts it back in perspective for me, because I have gotten—and still get to this day—the same shit from rock people. Usually when I have my crowd in front of me, I have kids who want to hear beats and kids who want to hear some odd shit, the kind of stuff me and Battles have in common. That’s why that tour worked so well. A lot of people were being introduced to them, and saying, ‘Woah, this is really heavy music and complex rock shit,’ but everyone was headnodding and getting into it because it had this hip-hop execution. When you see them live, you get that. The way I stand on music, I hear hip-hop in a lot of things that aren’t hip-hop. It could be some folk shit on a guitar but I’ll be nodding my head to it while everyone else in the room is just staring. With Battles, they come with that. They have that presence, the same way you would go see a straight hip-hop show.

Were you a fan of Ty’s father before you met him?

Yeah. I’m not like a die-hard free jazz connoisseur kind of guy. I’m definitely into it. But meeting him and hearing him--philosophically a lot of his stances on music are just amazing and mind-blowing. I know this [interview] isn’t about his father and I know I shouldn’t be speaking about Ty’s family in an interview that isn’t even mine. But his philosophy is also totally different than Ty’s take on music. They’re absolutely different people. It’s really inspiring for me to hear someone say profound stuff like his father said. And I’ve had conversations with Ty just breaking down what it is to be a musician, an entertainer, all this nerdy philosophical stuff. I’m just happy that the world and the whole universe brought that whole unit of people together. It’s a really special thing to happen, because it was real random!

When are you going to work together again?

When Ty finishes what he longs to finish, which is a compositional, grandiose album of his own. And there’s a new Prefuse album [Preparations, released this week] and John is on it. As long as we’re around, we’ll work together. We’re going to grow old and be friends and make records together. I can see us working together in many forms for a long time. I don’t mean to focus on Ty, but I can’t help it. Out of all of them, I spent the most time with him outside of playing music. But all of them are amazing and cool people and great musicians and they’ll be doing shit forever.


Friday, November 09, 2007


This month's issue of Magnet magazine has my first major piece for them, which attempts to deconstruct the prog crossover appeal of Battles and their 2007 album Mirrored. As I compile my year-end lists for various publications, I'm revisiting all sorts of fascinating albums, but few of them sound so distinctly 2007 as Mirrored does.

It's so nice, I've reviewed it twice: once here and once here.

I highly recommend you pick up the Magnet to read not only this piece, but many other excellent ones--including my Eye Weekly comrade Stuart Berman's piece on Animal Collective (a band I refuse to understand).

Battles play Lee's Palace in Toronto tomorrow (Saturday) night and Montreal on Sunday. I recommend you skip the opener, White Williams, whom I saw at CMJ last month. In this article he admits his songs are little more than software experiments; enduring his set is going to make Battles sound even better than they normally do.

This interview was conducted the morning after a Toronto show that was stalled for a good ten minutes in the middle due to technical issues; Battles were also cursed a couple of days before at the Pitchfork festival. I'm sure all the kinks are worked out by this point in the tour.

What's telling in this interview--and others I've seen--is that despite the reputation their music has for being intricate and complex, Battles are extremely down-to-earth, very funny, and willing to play along with the interviewer's various projections. I really had no idea what to ask them about directly that wouldn't be a question they'd heard a thousand times before, but this was a very productive conversation nonetheless--though you, obviously, can be the judge.

Supplementary interviews with Prefuse 73 and Beans will run tomorrow.

John Stanier, Ian Williams, Tyondai Braxton, Dave Konopka
July 17, 2007
Locale: Aunties and Uncles, Lippincott & Bathurst, Toronto

People really love this record. They don’t just like it. What kind of reactions do you get from people who don’t write about music? There seems to be something in the zeitgeist right now where people really want to think about a band like this.

J: I have no idea why, but it seems like people want us to succeed. People are getting fanatical about us, because it’s something new.

T: Taking myself out of the equation—I’m not saying we’re great or not great—but I feel like it’s giving people new hope that forward-thinking music doesn’t have to be off-putting or lame. It can be exciting and fun and for everybody. I think people are embracing the fact that it’s a universal kind of music that can be celebrated.

You formed in 03?

I: The end of 02 we started playing together, maybe 03 we started to become a band.

Not to read too much into it, but even the choice of name at that point in history is kind of loaded. What’s happening culturally in general since that time is a widening divide between people who want very clear, non-complex answers: this is what it is, this is what I believe, and this is what it’s going to be. And then people who feel torn by confusion, they want more complexity, to question themselves and things that are already established.

J: It’s like the late 60s all over again.

T: God no, I hope not.

I: I think the band name is really simple and stupid and basic. That’s one reason I like it. At the same time, I think it is connected to a point in history that this band exists, both outside of music and within music.

T: I think musically speaking, it’s defined in a similar way, where the music we’re playing is based on very simple ideas, but the way these simple ideas interact with each other are seemingly complex. At least it gives that illusion. So there’s a simplistic element that you can latch on to, and for the people that are interested in being overwhelmed, there’s that there as well.

Much ado is made about how difficult or complex this band, particularly rhythmically, and yet most of it is in four or six, and it’s just a matter of how that is subdivided and syncopated.

J: It’s a trick!

T: There’s a stigma to the layering of ideas because it sounds really intense. People aren’t thinking about time; they’re listening to the amount of sound going on and they associate that with complexity. The first go-to complexity label for music is ‘math rock,’ so they associate it with that.

Do you actually see people in the audience trying to find the beat?

D: Even more than that, I’ve noticed people on this tour clapping to the beat, and then this whole other people in the audience trying to clap on off beats. Then other people do this off-beat to the off-beat, and it’s almost like they’re trying to fuck you up when you’re setting up a loop. It’s a new level of audience interaction, where they try to make the band fuck-up!

I: A guy was trying to Bluetooth my computer once, from the audience with a cell phone. He was trying to connect to it, and I was like, ‘Uh, denied.’

Is that the 21st century version of someone staring at your pedals?

(all laugh)

There are vocals on this record, which I don’t recall from the EPs. And from reactions I’ve been reading, a lot of people are trying to figure out exactly what the lyrics are. To me, it doesn’t matter because they’re textural and instrumental.

T: Good.

But do you find it funny that people need to find meaning in them?

T: First of all, on the EPs there are vocals, but they were more subdued or subliminal. On the last track on B EP a lot of people think it’s a computer but it’s all live beatboxing. To not show you’re using the voice you try to obscure it as much as you can so that it’s more of a texture, an instrument. On the new record, it’s fun to add new ways of using the voice, including more traditional voice. Dave now plays bass on the record, and sometimes he plays it like a bass and sometimes not. That’s what the voice is on this record as well: it can be a texture that is equal with the instruments, it can also be a lead vocal line. Just like a guitar can be a lead vocal line.

D: It takes us out of the element of being labeled as an instrumental band.

T: Which I never really thought of us as that anyway.

D: Between the melody lines, it always seems like little characters singing. You would read a review that says “four-piece instrumental band from New York,” which is a bummer, because we never were that.

J: Already something comes into your mind. I have nothing against instrumental bands, but at the end of the day, it’s limiting. You can only go so far. There’s a huge stamp on you.

T: As far as the lyrics, I do write with intention, but it’s not necessary to have the lyrics printed up. Having said that, maybe in the future we will print them up. It’s nice to have people stew with what they think it is and then reveal at the end what it is.

How important are those lyrics to you, if they are obscured?

T: In some ways, they are important to me. They mean something to me and they’re not jibberish. I don’t write the lyrics like I don’t give a shit. It’s all very predetermined.

J: Are you trying to tell me that your lyrics mean something? No, I’m just kidding.

T: Whether you can hear the lyrics or not, it’s about how they work in the band and how it would work to unneutralize the voice and turn it into a focal point. The way we have it in the music now it rests comfortably in the music and doesn’t pull itself out very much, by having an English voice.

How do people react differently in America as opposed to non-English speaking countries? Elsewhere, they’re used to not understanding the vocals.

I: There is an English-ization of international pop bands, though, where Swedish and German pop bands are singing in English.

J: There always has been.

I: Yeah, but there’s a new internationalization of it. For me, my favourite music tends to be African and Asian and Latin American music where I don’t know what the lyrics are, so that says something for my taste in lyrics. I actually like not knowing what they’re saying, just dealing with it as an instrument.

That also draws you further into the music. Especially for a band like this, if you were enunciating, people might expect some form of pop music, whereas this way there’s a natural disconnect with that form, and forces you to draw other connections.

T: Absolutely. It can swing both ways. People do know that there are lyrics, so it’s a puzzle that they try and figure it out. When I was younger, I was very obsessive about what people were saying in music I liked, and it drew me deeper into the music.

I’ve read you [Ty] talk about Nirvana being an entry point into many things, and it reminds me that when that song was so huge, most people really had no idea what he was saying at all, that for a song that was supposedly so important, it was really more of a visceral reaction to the riff than anything said in the lyrics.

J: You mean people didn’t know it was about deodorant?

T: The music was bigger than what the audience came to expect and was able to process. That was the appeal to a lot of people.

D: I’m not by any means comparing ourselves to Nirvana, but there is a certain lull in musical history when something happens that upsets things and people are ready to take it on. That happened with Nirvana, and I feel like now people are ready for something new.

I: Are you saying we’re the next Nirvana?

D: No, I’m saying that we’re doing something new. I think it’s impossible for anyone to be the next Nirvana. But in terms of the scope of people we can appeal to, people are ready for the next step. Post-rock 90s stuff ran its course, and Strokes-style punk revival has too. It’s another tangent that people can go down and find interest in. Nirvana were a great band, but they were also at the right place at the right time.

J: I was supposed to be in the next Nirvana, but it didn’t really work out.

And here you are again!

J: But we failed!

Is there a musical narrative to these songs?

T: When we play we have charts on the wall. I was saying before that we have all these simple lines that bounce off each other. Every line we give a character name. We feed into the persona of what these lines will be, even though they’re very neutral. They play into this character you create for yourself. In the song “Tonto” there’s a descending vocal line that sounded really creepy to me, like the Addams Family, so we called that part ‘Anjelica Huston.’ Ian has this running cyclical line that sounds like something running, so we called it ‘Brer Rabbit.’ So the charts say ‘Anjelica Huston to Brer Rabbit.’

J: Then Dave comes up with a bass line and calls it ‘Joey Buttafuoco.’

D: In “The Race,” yeah. And the reverb backing bass line in ‘Atlas’ is called “Elephant Boy.” It helped feed into how we recorded it too, we wanted this huge, cumbersome sound.

I: I do think there is a narrative. Not too literal, but a lot of the music can feel like a story: this happens then this happens. There is a sequence, a set-up and a conclusion.

There are certainly verses and choruses on many of your songs, many others are very linear, moving from parts A through F.

T: The band prides itself on form. There’s nothing so abstract that it’s formless or pointless. There is a set form for each song, and a real purpose behind what we do.

Using rock instrumentation to make this kind of music might throw people off guard. Whereas, with some of your labelmates on Warp, because they’re using non-traditional instruments that sound otherworldly and alien, that stigma is removed and they can do whatever they want. Arguably that’s also true of symphonic instruments. But when you have three guitars, bass, drums and keyboards, then people think it’s going to be a certain thing.

T: I think when people see a symphony, you contain what you’re about to experience into a box and say it can only be what these instruments are about to present. But then if someone bows a violin and you hear a gorilla, you’ll be like, ‘Holy shit!’

J: The average person, when they see a symphony orchestra, thinks: [sings Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony opening riff.] You know?

T: You’ll always have that association with instruments. It’s cool when you can take that form—keyboards, guitar, drums—and say, ‘Ok, this is a rock band.’ But when you take it out of the box, it’s cool to play with people’s perceptions.

Culturally right now, the worst insult you can throw at a band is ‘pretentious.’ Any sign of ambition automatically becomes pretentious. It’s almost a Fox News approach to arts criticism.

T: I totally hear that. We’re all very excited about music, but let’s say for a moment that we were totally pretentious. So what? What does that have to do with anything?

I: I’ve never been able to figure out what that word means anyway. It’s arbitrary, the way it’s used.

I understand it to mean being something you’re not, putting on airs. It’s linked to the concept of relatability: Do you want to see yourself reflected in art and relate to it? Or do you want to see art as a standard to aspire to?

T: It depends on your exposure to art and music. If you listen to Led Zeppelin straight on from the time you were three, and then you hear Joni Mitchell, then it might sound pretentious because it’s outside of your understanding. That’s what I have a hard time dealing with. I think it’s fun to try all these things, and it’s a genuine love of being able to play with music. So how is that pretentious?

J: But we’ve somehow managed to pull it off in, for lack of a better word, in a non-pretentious way. It’s not like we’re taking ourselves so seriously, and you should all bow down before us and no one has ever heard anything like that before. We might think that in our own personal lives—but of course we’d never tell anyone that. (all laugh). But the image we’re getting across is that it’s fun. It doesn’t have to be so highbrow brainiac. That’s where the pretentious tag comes in.

T: People can certainly be pretentious. But how can you just listen to a CD without knowing anything about it and say it’s pretentious? Yet I see journalists do that all the time. I think it’s so presumptuous.

It’s very anti-art, to assume you know where the person is coming from.

T: That’s the most pretentious thing to say to someone, is to say that they’re pretentious.

I: It’s pretentious to even worry about that. Obviously we’re serious about what we do, because we put almost all of our time into this. But I don’t think we take it that seriously. We have fun with it. That’s the balance it strikes right now.

“Atlas” seems, compared to other things you do, to be much more direct, as a way to wrap around all these other things you do.

J: That was done on purpose.

Where do you see that song fitting into your set or on the album?

J: I don’t want to go into the whole story as to why we did that song, but it is almost one-dimensional. That is a pre-meditated song that we allowed to write itself: one very simple idea that ties in with the vocal line. It was like us saying, ‘Let’s do one of THOSE songs.’

A gateway drug.

I: It’s fun to put on the Battles glasses and say, ‘Let’s write a dance song.’ It’s still going to be filtered through the four of us. That’s another reason why we added bass and voice and other things to flesh out what we had, because we were very comfortable with our own language. We thought, ‘What if Battles tried this? What if Battles did a version of this?’ That’s what made the writing process fun. You can hear on the record that there was a vibrance there because we were all really excited to try all this stuff out.

More so than the EPs, this sounds bigger. There are more big rock moves, guitar sweeps and dance rhythms. Is this much more danceable than anything you’ve done before?

All: I wouldn’t say that.

J: Now because there’s bass and vocals, and because when we did those EPs we did them at five in the morning for free in a bunch of different studios in New York when we still weren’t that comfortable playing with each other. Mirrored is a result of us touring and playing together for two years non-stop, basically. Obviously something will come out of that.

D: It’s not necessarily intentional, but it’s part of constructing Battles 2.0 and making it interesting for us. It coincides with being pigeonholed as an instrumental band. You can really fall into this chin-stroking groove. It comes down to having fun and writing playful music. All of us have been involved in projects before where not too many people moved in the audience—well, maybe at Helmet shows, but that was a different kind of moving. It’s more rewarding as a band to see audiences move in a danceable way, seeing guys and girls dance…

And girls!

D: Yeah, seeing girls, period!

I: God forbid some math rocker actually meets a girl at one of our shows and gets married.

I was watching the merch table last night, though, and aren’t you out of men’s shirts?

J: Yes, but in our own defense, that’s because the merchandise company messed up five orders and sent us 200 times more girls’ shirts.

If Mirrored is the result of the live show, I’d also say that there are tracks on the EPs that I could imagine you not ever playing live, being tailored specifically for the recorded medium.

J: I’d say that’s true.

Is that because of the 5AM nature of the EPs recording?

J: We wrote so much for Mirrored and got to record everything at exactly the same time.

I: The EPs, we were still finding our roles in the band and what we were as a band. They’re more of a sketch of things we can do and what’s possible. We were still learning from each other. Some of those songs were written in the post-production.

T: We did that with this record as well. We wrote songs before we went in to record them, and we wrote songs in the studio. I like doing that, because it keeps you fresh and keeps your perspective alive. You might find ways of doing things that you might not have been able to do live, and then re-learn it live. It’s good to work both ways.

Were there songs that were hard to learn live?

All: Oh yeah.

I: When we tour again in the fall, we’re going to do a new set, and there are still a few songs we have to figure out.

Is “Race:In” always the set ender? Because that seems to be the most physically demanding.

J: Yeah, because that’s hard. But fun.

I found an old quote of Ian’s talking about Don Caballero, saying that band’s approach to composition was akin to aerial photography of urban landscapes or topography, zooming in on one structure that’s part of a larger grid, focusing on a single object from different vantage points. And “Race:In” seems to be a great example of that.

T: I think the songs are microcosms, or mini-cities in a way. There is no shortage of ideas with this band. If anything, that’s kind of the problem. The real thing is scaling things down. Everyone tries to sneak into a nook and cranny. Behind every corner there’s a lot of detail, for better or worse.

Are you able to do that among yourselves, or is that the role of a producer or engineer?

J: We definitely do that.

I: The busy-ness confuses people, because they mistake it for improvisation. It’s all these miniature figures that get repeated in a mechanized pattern, in a metronomic landscape. Each little part is anonymous, though. There is no lead solo. The patterns create the language.

I know you [Ian] spent part of your childhood in Malawi, and I hear a lot of Afrobeat in the way things interlock here. Not that it sounds like that music at all—in the same way, I’ll hear a country lick in the middle of a Battles song, when it’s quite obviously not a country song. Does that kind of music enter into Battles at all?

I: When I was a kid, I didn’t understand it. I was still a western kid from America, and I had KISS records. I would understand tribal drumming, because I’d hear it in a village down the valley at night when they’d play drums. But when I’d hear a modern rock band over there, I wouldn’t get it at all. I didn’t understand what was going on with the guitars. But when I got older, I did, and I started getting into it about ten years ago.

What were you doing over there?

I: My family lived there. My dad worked with UNICEF.

I’m curious not so much about influences, but about teachers. Not people you knew necessarily, but records or performers that opened doors for you. When you realized that much more was possible.

D (without hesitation): For me, it was Helmet and Don Caballero.

J: No!

D: It’s true. I’d definitely attribute that.

How so?

D: I was like, ‘God, this shit sucks.’

I: ‘No matter what I do in my life, I never want it to be like this.’ (all laugh)

D: No, I mean, Helmet to me was more of a breakthrough band for me than Nirvana, because I got to them first. With Don Caballero, it was the 90s… we were all a little… you know, whatever. When I experienced Don Caballero, I thought it was some on-some-other-level shit.

Anyone else? What role did Lynx play in your musical development?

J: Probably one of the biggest musical influences I had was marching in drum corps. Which probably only other people who marched in drum corps would know what I’m talking about. Seriously, that’s a whole other world. That set me up for life, as far as playing. Just chops wise, and the way you hear and look at things, much more so than anything else. In college I was an orchestral percussion major, but drum corps rubbed off on me so much more.

T: I grew up in a household where a lot of experimental weird modern music was being played a lot. I rejected it as soon as I realized I wanted to be a musician. I don’t want to say I was bred to be a musician, but I was definitely encouraged. I always put it away because it wasn’t mine yet. When I started listening to Nirvana through the channels that were available to me, I rejected the underground first and embraced the mainstream, because I was in opposition to what my family was. Now that I’m older and looking back, of course it was my resource and I love that music. For Mirrored, I was really obsessed with large-scale orchestral pieces, because I love the way tiny parts move very fluidly. I got back into that mode again. I legitimized my music pathway through rock’n’roll because it was mine, but now I go back and realize that a lot of my interest and my heart lies in the more modern composition philosophy.

What clicked you back?

T: I think when I get too loaded in one area, I need that opposition. I’m not the kind of person who says, ‘I like rock music,’ and then just surrounds myself with one thing. I feel like Battles is more of a rock band than an orchestra, so now that I have that element, I instantly go back and need a counterbalance so it’s not one thing that’s so easily summed up. That’s more interesting to me.

D: You’re like Al Pacino in Godfather III: ‘Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!’

T: It’s true. If Battles was an orchestra, I’d think it was too one-dimensional.

I: I don’t think I had a single musical epiphany where I can say that’s when I changed…

D: [mishearing the word ‘epiphany’] Musical Tiffany?

I: Musical Tiffanies are girls who like music a lot and turn you on. No, musical epiphany. From my mom listening to Barry Manilow records when I was two or three, and I really liked those, to me discovering KISS when I was six or seven. That became my music. I think growing up in Johnstown, PA, which was working class, kids there were metalheads and hashers. A lot of that rubbed off on me and so I embraced hard rock like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. Smoking doobage at the abandoned steel mills. At the end of high school I discovered punk rock, and in a lot of ways that liberates you and separates you from other people and you think you’re special. Then you go to college and discover art music. Every year, the epiphanies kept coming, but they were less earth-shattering.

J: I can actually remember the day that I heard “Fly By Night” by Rush, which was one of the very first rock records I ever heard. It was an incredible day. At that moment, I said, ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.’

D: The first concert I ever went to was Kenny Rogers and Neil Diamond. Together. It was sick! My mom took me there. I didn’t start my musical voyage at Helmet and Don Caballero, obviously. In first grade, J. Geils Band was the shit. I had older brothers, and I listened to a lot of crap throughout my life. When you’re ready, you move on to the next crap—like Don Caballero and Helmet! I went to high school in Woucester, Massachussetts, and I was into New Order and Depeche Mode and shit.

How would this band sound different if you didn’t all live in New York?

D: Well, we do [live in New York].

J: I don’t understand the question. Whenever I get asked that, I say it’s a two-sided answer. On the one hand, it would be easy to say, ‘We’re so focused on what we’re doing that we could have made Mirrored if we were from the woods of Arkansas. We have this vision, and wrote everything on a completely blank page. This band started with no ideas and came out of nowhere.’ On the other hand, there’s no song on Mirrored called “14th Street.” There’s no direct reference to New York—maybe there is in [Ty's] cryptic lyrics, I’m not sure. But I think there is something pretty damn New York about this band, but it’s so subliminal that you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. I suppose if you hear the Eagles’ Hotel California or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, you can tell it was recorded in the 70s with tons of cocaine. There’s just that vibe.

D: Steely Dan.

J: With this band, there’s something in the record that’s very subliminal, but it’s definitely there. It might just be the fact that it’s almost impossible to exist in New York. It’s really expensive, really stressful, you take the subway everywhere with way too many people, you live in a tiny apartment, I have to go to Brooklyn all the time—all these things come up in an indirect way, which I think is kind of cool.

I: I wrestle with that question. The Cro-Mags, a hardcore band from the 80s, had this song that said something like, “New York City, the pressure of it cooks you.”

J: Yeah, you can hear New York City in the Cro-Mags’ “Age of Quarrel.”

I: At the same time, that sentiment has been so overblown with self-importance by people from New York. But I think it does influence us.

J: Maybe because it’s 2007, it’s very different from the New York bands that you grew up with. In the early 80s, on Sonic Youth records and stuff like that, that’s when New York was a really dangerous place to live, especially downtown where all that stuff was going on. There were way more clubs to play. The art and music world merged in more ways than they do now, I think. Now I think it’s a completely different city, which is why it’s not as easy to pinpoint.

D: You can also hear New York in the Strokes’ Is This It and Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights. It’s not one way or the other. In Battles music, we do encompass a certain energy of New York.

T: The bottom line is that you are a product of your environment. You’re not an un-product of your environment. There’s something you’re reacting to based on where you live and where you exist. I don’t think we’re as literal with it. It’s seeped into us.

D: On another level, how do you define your environment? A kid in Omaha, Nebraska can write songs like Battles, too.

J: It’s going to be different no matter how hard they try, though, because I’m
saying that you don’t know what it is.

T: I’m not talking about a type of music. Speaking personally, there’s something subliminal in what I project based on what I’m sucking in.

J: I lived in New York longer than any of these guys. Who’s lived here the least? You have, right? (indicates Ty)

T: Yeah, seven years.

J: Even that doesn’t matter.

How long have you been there?

J: (stops to think) Nineteen years now. Even a band who records in New York, let’s say there’s a band from Jackson, Mississippi, and they travel to New York and hang out there and write their record and live in a shitty one bedroom apartment. They technically live there; it’s their “New York record.” It’s like Bowie and Iggy going to Berlin, and they figure they have to hang out there for a couple of months before they write the record, just to be in a totally different environment.

D: So what you’re saying is that Mirrored is a true Pawtucket, Long Island record.

J: No, because to me, it’s about where you write it, not where you record it.

The Band’s self-titled album was recorded in L.A., but it definitely sounds like it was written, not where it was recorded.

I: One way New York influenced us in recent years is that it’s become such a hyped music city. New York’s favourite kind of music is "successful music." When I moved to New York, people said, ‘Why did you move there? It’s so awful for music.’ Six months later, people like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol, that whole scene blew up, and it was the coolest city in the world. At that moment, there was all this energy for hot things. That was just as we started to get our momentum. We weren’t on that radar yet. We had to bypass New York to grow up and become a band. Because we had been in bands before, we had the opportunity to start touring, and we started touring outside of New York and got labels from outside of New York to put out our records. In a certain way, I feel like we had to leave New York to grow up, and we’ve come back now.

Very early on, you did a tour of Japan opening for somebody. Who was that?

T: Mars Volta. They were our initial show in Japan, and that set off a chain reaction.

How long was your tour with Prefuse 73 and Beans?

J: That was our longest tour. We did a world tour with them in Europe and the U.S. We went everywhere with that guy.

You were the live rock band on the bill?

J: Prefuse had a whole band, and Beans had a CD player.

D: For a couple of shows, Beans had Holy Fuck backing him up, though.

J: That’s right, who are from here [Toronto].

Have any of you had musical straight jobs? Gigs that pay the bills that you aren’t as invested in?

J: You mean have any of us been session players? [all shake their heads] I’ve played on a couple of records. I mean, when I buy a house and I have a shelf of all the CDs I’ve played on, I’ll still put them up there, but I’ve certainly played on some records because I needed the money. But nothing too embarrassing.

D: You mean that Roger Whittaker album?

J: Burl Ives.

D: I do some graphic design, that’s it.

T: I’ve always done temp jobs.

I know that Ty and Ian met at one of Ian’s solo shows. What kind of material were you doing?

I: That was post-Don Cab. I’d moved from Chicago to New York in 2000. I was supporting myself playing in Storm and Stress and Don Cab, and both those bands stopped so I had to get a real job. I knew a number of people who did film production work in New York, so I started doing video editing. I’m still kind of in that, but I haven’t done that in a year and a half. This band has been busy enough and I make enough money that I don’t need to work outside of this.

You’re still in Tomahawk, John?

J: Yeah.

How does that fit into Battles’ schedule?

J: I have no idea. The other two things I’m involved with can happen whenever I want them to. There’s something else in Australia, but those guys can wait. Battles takes up 100% of my time. When it started, all three things were overlapping, but since Battles became the monster that it is, it takes precedence over everything else.

And you, Ty?

T: My solo stuff is my only other project. I play with Prefuse sometimes, and I like playing with other people. People say that I have all these projects, but I don’t. It’s Battles and my solo stuff.

What is the N.E.A.R. project?

T: I did that in college. I’ve never recorded it. It was my senior thesis for a ten-piece band, two choirs and a string ensemble with projectors—me and a friend made a movie. It was my end-of-the-year mission statement, and I wanted to write a big piece. I wanted to know how to assemble something of that size and make sure I knew how to do a score. That probably won’t ever see the light of day again. Pieces of it might trickle into some part somewhere.

J: What about that history of Frank Zappa interpretation piece you’ve been working on?

T: John, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Ty, I saw you play in New York with the loop pedals, seated on the stage. When you started composing with loops, not many people did it. Now it seems ubiquitous in several different contexts and genres. Does that process still provide challenges for you?

T: It’s true, it’s kind of been co-opted into a larger arena.

J: Remember where we ate in Orlando? We pulled into Orlando and there was nothing open, so we went to this Taco Cabana sports bar or something across the street, and there was this guy loading his djembe and acoustic guitar. No one was paying attention to him, and there were only six people there.

D: He was pretentious. He’d be like, ‘What I’m doing here is, I’m going to lay down this guitar track, then add a little shaker, and I’m recording that right now [winks].’

T: I forget his name—maybe it was Ron, and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, I just did that [winks] “Ron style.”’

D: I think it was his last name, actually, like Kelehurst, or something. ‘That was a Janis Joplin song—done Kelehurst style.’

T: The cool thing with that is, in a way it’s good. With a rock band, they get up on stage with keyboards, guitar, drums, and it’s the same shit every time. It doesn’t matter what tools you use. You’re either going somewhere with it or you’re existing on the surface. I see a lot of these pedal guys, and in the same way a lot of indie rock bands are just indie rock bands, a lot of those guys are just so fascinated with the sounds that it’s not necessarily a higher musical experience. It’s weird sonic terrain, but there is no real depth of music. Whether it’s acoustic guitar or a 40-piece orchestra, either you have a sense of direction or you don’t. I’m glad people are going that route, because it’s fun.

J: ‘They’ll never be able to do what I’m doing, but good luck!’

T: Unless you have an angle and you’re good at it, it is what it is.

Just after Don Cab wrapped up, Ian said, “Don Cab could have had more success, but only a matter of degree and nothing could be substantially different.” Do you think there was a glass ceiling for a band like Don Cab? What do you think is substantially different about the appeal of Battles?

I: I don’t really remember saying that, but I probably did.

Do you find yourself retreading some of the same territory—venues, business models—that Don Cab did, and if so, what’s changed?

I: On a certain level, we’re still on an independent label and we’re mistaken for an instrumental band. I definitely wanted to create a new thing and not be in the same place, otherwise I would have kept touring with Don Cab. It was about challenging ourselves and seeing what we can make with new ingredients. You can draw the line in the sand between those who say you should figure out what you can do and then just learn to do it really well, and then those who say you should try new things and experiment and move on. I’m more of the latter.

Finally, and only because Dave brought it up: Steely Dan, yay or nay?

D: Yay, definitely yay.

J: Oh totally, yeah.

I: Yeah.

T: Sure.

D: What about you?

I’m completely nay.

J: I have the box set!

You frighten me! Anything else I should know for the record?

D: Ty’s vocals in “Atlas?” They sound so goofy because he wrote them out with a crayon. [all laugh] I saw a “TIJ” question in there, what’s that about?

Oh, thanks for looking at my notes. I was wondering if it stood for Ty, Ian and John, and if you were even on that track.

D: Oh yeah, I never thought of that.

I: Oh, that’s a good one.

J: I never thought of that.

D: “TIJ” is a loop that I wrote.

So you’re really hurt by the fact that I didn’t think you were on it.

D: Yeah, but I’m used to standing back. I made a CD of some loops I made and gave them names. That one was short for Tijuana, because it sounded like a Mexican game show party. The names of our songs don’t really have any significance. But “B&T” from one of the EPs stands for Beth and Ty, because there was this girl Beth who was originally in the Battles. Beth and Ty were working on that song at Ian’s house. We had a couple of girl singers at one point.

Really? You had female back-up singers?

I: Yeah, not back-up singers. When Ty and I started talking about playing—this was post-Don Cab for me, and I was kind of burnt out and not sure I wanted to do a band. But I did want to do this thing with screaming girls, like 12 [female] Iggy Pops all in one band, just vicious bulldogs. That was the only inspiration I had to strap on a guitar and play music again. Bizarrely, now I’m in a band with five dudes. I don’t know how it all went so wrong.

That would have surely tipped the gender balance in the crowd as well.

D: Yeah, but we’re girly dudes.

T: I’m pretty femme.

So at the Pitchfork show you broke a string on the first song?

T: I didn’t just break a string, my friend. I broke a string, my guitar strap came undone when it was slung over my back and my guitar fell twice, I couldn’t see the LED read-out on my line selector, so I was sending my signal to a dead end, so I couldn’t start one of the songs, so there was a lull.

You had a whole Friday the 13th weekend.

T: I was cursed.

D: Last night wasn’t too much better either.

What’s the worst technical thing that’s happened to you onstage?

T: Pitchfork, for me.

I: I’d say last night.

D: I shit my pants. Technically.

Not literally?

D: Yesterday was crappy, but it happened at the right time if it was going to happen. It sucks when something weird happens with a loop, and then you try and compensate for it, then you have to stop and troubleshoot in front of 650 people.

T: And our audience isn’t stupid. They’re very analytical.

What always amazes me is that people don’t necessarily just start talking and socializing.

I: It was like that at Pitchfork, too, in front of 17,000 people. If a band I was watching had a technical problem, I’d go get a beer or take a walk or call my friend on the phone.

D: Or, ‘Kiss me!’ Can you imagine? First date at Pitchfork, the band stops: “Kiss me!”

What slot did you have?

T: 4PM on Saturday.

D: It was good. Right after Grizzly Bear, right before Mastadon. Good transition, well thought out. The festival ruled.

Who did you like there?

I: I liked Mastadon a lot. They were one of the few bands I paid a lot of attention to, mainly because they played right after us.

T: I liked Deerhunter. I’ve known that guy for a while, Bradford, the singer, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard a lot of the hype, but I thought they were really good. Clipse killed it as well, they just brought it.