Nada Surf: If I Had a Hi-Fi


RIYL: Josh Rouse, Rogue Wave, The Silver Seas

The cool thing about alt-pop band Nada Surf is that they appear to always do things their own way. For whatever reason, though, they stayed together all these years and broke through in 2005 with The Weight Is a Gift, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. The band continued some of that magic with 2008’s Lucky, and instead of lying low as they had planned, decided to release an album of cover tunes. Fast-forward to today, and If I Had a Hi-Fi. While it’s a set of songs that varies widely from the known (Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and The Moody Blues’ “Question”) to the currently hip (The Go Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Spoon’s “Agony of Lafitte”) to the mostly obscure (Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” and Macromina’s “Evolucion”), the base of this is Nada Surf’s signature sound, which is akin to Josh Rouse or Ben Folds fronting a modern version of the Beatles. And it’s that sound that is so endearing. That said, there is something about this album that, while nice enough, may leave you wanting more. That could be because Nada Surf’s original material is that good, or it could be that they just chose these songs on a whim based on what they were listening to at the moment. Surely we can’t fault them for taking chances, because they even covered Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger.” But one or two covers on a new Nada Surf record would have worked just as well. (Mardev 2010)

Nada Surf MySpace page

  

Quintessential Songs of the ’00s: #8 “The Way We Get By”

This is the first track on my Quintessential Songs playlist that doesn’t have its own wiki page or a songfacts page. Sigh.

Luckily, I interviewed Britt Daniel a while back and he had this to say about the track:

That one came really fast and it was another one of those that was sort of like, “I’ll just throw down and idea. It probably isn’t going to work.” But once I sang that chorus the first time and got it on tape, I kind of knew it was going to be a good one.

According to Last.fm, this is easily the most played song in the Spoon catalog and it’s certainly one of the catchiest. In that interview, Daniel said it was one of the most “immediate” of the band’s songs. This Kill the Moonlight track put the band on my radar, and was prelude to the brilliance on display on their next album, Gimme Fiction.

More Quintessential Songs of the ’00s.

  

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Spoon

I’d passed on Spoon’s headlining set at Stubbs to see Nas & Damian Marley, but the Austin-based indie rockers were still playing when the Emos’ show let out, so I went back in to catch the end of the set. I’ve been lukewarm on the band, although they have certain tunes I dig. I guess I just don’t understand their formula of playing two or three songs that are kinda blah, then throwing down a hard-hitting rocker, then two more blah, then another rocker. So the set was kind of up and down to this reporter’s view, as opposed to last year’s Wednesday night headliner set at Stubbs when the Decemberists captivated the crowd with a full performance of their Hazards of Love album.

spoon

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 1: It Begins

The music world converged on Austin, Texas today for what is generally viewed as the biggest, bestest music industry event in the world. The thing that makes SXSW so unique is that you not only know you’re going to see some great bands you’ve had your eye on, but you’re also going to discover some great new bands. There are so many playing all over town all day for four straight days, so you can’t help but just stumble upon some cool new sounds.

This was the case early on when the line to try and see Broken Bells’ 1:00pm Red River garage show was too long to get in. I wandered over to the Mohawk up the street and there was a band throwing down a strong sound with some Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibes, and some of that My Morning Jacket kind of vibe. It was Yukon Blonde from Vancouver BC. Good stuff.

The line at the Forcefield PR/Terrorbird Media day party at Red 7 was also way too long, so again I wandered up the street and heard some Beatles coming out of Jaime’s Spanish Village, a Mexican restaurant across the street from Stubbs BBQ. It has a small patio where The Eggmen where dishing out the Beatles tunes, which sounded great on a warm sunny afternoon. It was a rotating lineup, with seven musicians up there for great readings of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Fixing a Hole,” “From Me to You” and “All You Need is Love.”

I waited in a crazy 45-minute line to get into the Levis/Fader Fort, because I wanted to see Philadelphia band Free Energy. The band’s studio stuff sounds amazing, but it was too bad they didn’t seem able to match it live. They have great gear, great looks and a great name, but something in the musicianship seemed lacking. Maybe I’ll give them another shot on Friday. The venue was pimped out though, dubbed by one fan as “a funhouse for hipsters.”

Walking past the Independent up the street, I heard the call of a bluesy sound, the Maldives from Seattle were rocking out, also with a Crazy Horse vibe, and maybe some Ryan Adams & the Cardinals influence. The Canadian Blast tent outside by the registrants lounge closed out with Plants and Animals, who blended reverb-y vocals with a cool groove to close their set. Austin’s own Strange Boys packed Emo’s Jr for an 8:00 set of their retro ’60s-style garage rock. There were moments, but I don’t think it was really my thing.

Jonneine Zapata out of Los Angeles caught my attention first with her name and then with her powerful voice at the Red Eyed Fly. This is a great little venue with nice outdoor stage where Zapata and her band rocked the stage with a powerful bluesy sound that recalled Concrete Blonde.

Here We Go Magic packed Club Deville for a 9:00 set. The sound was excellent although the songs kept seeming like they were building up to something that never came. They were doing something right though, as the indie rock crowd seemed to dig it.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tore up the stage at Stubbs BBQ, with the great band throwing down ’60s and ’70s-influenced funk behind the soul queen. This was the first major highlight of the day.

I caught up with Broken Bells when they followed Jones at Stubbs and James Mercer of The Shins led the band through a collection of tunes that sounded pretty Shins-y, with maybe more synth and less guitar. But when they added some more guitar toward the end, it was even better.

I bailed waiting for Spoon at Stubbs to go back to Emos main for Nas & Damian Marley. Mixing the hip-hop with the reggae was a slamming formula for the really packed crowd, who loved every minute. This is the new duo to watch out for in 2010, what a great set! It was all too brief though, leaving me able to catch the end of Spoon’s set. These guys confuse me. They play three songs in a row that are kind of blah, and then just when you’re about ready to give up on them they throw down a great rocker. Then they play two or three more blah, than some dope groove. Strange formula.

Compared to last year, this first day was so-so at first, picking up toward the end. Things looked primed to pick up tomorrow though, stay tuned…

  

Spoon: Transference

3 1/2 stars
RIYL: Modest Mouse, Pixies

With an album name like Transference, generally meaning misdirected emotions or a kind of displacement, it should come as no surprise that Spoon side-step their usual M.O for their seventh studio album. For those who grew accustomed to the band’s neatness on albums like Gimme Fictionand Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference will feel unkempt, while early adopters of the band might appreciate the album’s raw qualities.

With the standard two to three years Spoon takes between records, it’s clear that a lot of planning goes into each album – but with Transference, that implication is a bit sad, because the album projects a one-off kind of attitude. Apparently the band had to work hard even to make it sound like they didn’t. The songs are rife with actions that make the writing feel half thought out – from pauses in the middle of words and sentences, to uncharacteristically long and directionless instrumentals. It would be something if this resulted in some new experimental form or sound, but it’s not wildly different – just slightly off-kilter. So mostly it reads like Spoon got into the studio with material that hadn’t quite fermented.

With its ambling feel, the tracks that bend the ear are the poppier ones, or the serious deviations in style. On “Written in Reverse,” Britt Daniel is literally screaming for your attention – and get it he does. “Who Makes Your Money,” on the other hand, stands out for its echoey, distant subtlety, and “Goodnight Laura” for its unusual display of sentiment, “When you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones.”

Transference is a classic grower, an album that will reward those with the patience -which will most likely be Spoon’s most established fans. Unfortunately for others, what lingers most may not be the songs, but questions of what might have happened if the band sat on these songs awhile longer, or what might have happened if the band actually went wild instead of just trying to sound like they did. Merge 2010

Spoon MySpace Page

  

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