Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys

Read the rest after the jump...

Me, Myself, and iPod 5/26/10: Legendary Scottish band, ahoy!

esd ipod

The Trashcan Sinatras – People
I love the Trashcan Sinatras. I’m not sure when they went from the Trash Can Sinatras to the Trashcan Sinatras, but oh well, but I’m guessing someone at SPINart fucked it up when putting the artwork for Weightlifting together. Anyway, they’re a fabulous bunch of guys, and God love them for sticking with it after all these years of relative obscurity. This is the first single from their new album In the Music, and it’s another smoove slice of literate jangle pop. If you like this, you should know that the rest of the album is even better.

Kathryn Calder – Slip Away
The newest member of the New Pornographers (she’s lead singer Carl Newman’s niece, and she joined during the sessions for Twin Cinema), Calder is picking a curious time to release a solo album, since she’s tied up with touring with the New Porns for the summer. But one listen to this track from the album Are You My Mother?, due out in August, shows that perhaps Carl and Dan should bring her to the writing table, because I’ll take this over anything on the last New Pornographers album any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Donn T – Look At
Two words: Female Kenna. If that doesn’t immediate ring a couple bells, then I have one word for you: Kenna.

See Green – I Can Change
Well, that didn’t take long. Courtenay Green, who’s fast becoming a regular in these parts, covered “I Can Change” from LCD Soundsystem’s new album This Is Happening. Man, is James Murphy the new Neil Young, where his songs sound infinitely better when covered by other people?

La Roux – Bulletproof (Hyper Crush remix)
Armed with a bass line that will set off car alarms, this mix of La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is totally ADD madness, but it’s cool. And I still haven’t grown tired of that Macintosh voice program.

Clubfeet – Teenage Suicide
If you’re anything like me, you saw that title and immediately sang the words ‘Don’t do it’ in your head, since that was the name of the hit song the DJ played in the movie “Heathers.” Well sure enough, immediately after the breathy male lead sings “Teenage suicide,” two girls shout, “Don’t do it!” Bonus points for reading my mind.

Shadow Shadow – Is This Tempest in the Shape of a Bell
Gotta give some love to the guitar pop set. Man, this would have been huge in 1975.


LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

RIYL: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music

James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem is the hipsterest band out there. And for that he gets a lot of backlash from hipster haters, myself included. But it’s not fair to mock an artist because his primary fan base is annoying as hell. If that was the case, I could never enjoy Nine Inch Nails. And besides, with all the v-neck shirts and ironic facial hair, it’s easy to forget that Murphy gave us one of the best albums of the decade with his group’s self-titled debut. And his debut single “Losing My Edge” remains the definitive critique of self-righteous musical-know-it-alls-by-way-of-Wikipedia (aka his biggest fans). He’s not a one-trick pony, either; 45:33 was an excellent piece of longform instrumental music, and Sound of Silver had more than its fair share of amazing tracks.

What makes Murphy’s music so enthralling isn’t the music itself, which is good in a “Hey, I really like krautrock and early New Order” kind of way; it’s the lyrics that grab you. Whether he’s attacking hipsters with “Losing My Edge” or commenting on the world view of Ugly Americans with “North American Scum,” the dude never seems to be at a loss of words and clever ways to comment on society. All while coating his clever and sometimes scathing messages with amazing retro-inspired dance beats.

That was, until This is Happening. That’s not a title, that’s a threat, forcing you to realize that this is a real record. You want to forget this record exists, but…THIS IS HAPPENING. You can’t avoid it.

First the highlights, there are three amazing tracks on This Is Happening. Thankfully they’re all in a row; “One Touch,” “All I Want” and “I Can Change” are all straight-up excellent examples of everything James Murphy does right. Witty lyrics, perfect beats and great synthesized beeps and blips. Download them now and never ever try to listen to anything else on this record. Just pretend it’s a three-track EP. Because if you don’t, then you might hear “Drunk Girls.”

Lyrically the song is pointless drivel, a haphazard rant about, well, look at the title. Musically it’s even worse, criminal even. Some have suggested that the song bares more than a passing resemblance to the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.” Those people are being polite. “Drunk Girls” cribs so blatantly from that classic tune that it’s flat-out theft. “Drunk Girls” is “White Light/White Heat,” with new, shitty lyrics and a crap synth line. If Lou Reed isn’t getting paid every time some skinny PBR-drinking hipster with a horrible beard sends this video to his skinny-jeaned Facebook friends, then he needs a better lawyer. Or maybe not. Because even though “Drunk Girls” manages to shamelessly crib from one of the greatest songs of all time it also manages to suck all the quality out of it. It is the second worst thing that Murphy has ever released to the public.

That’s right; the second. Because the worst comes later with “Pow Pow,” a track so bad that I’m almost hopeful it’s a prank. Here Murphy’s sing/talk vocals, which are usually at least serviceable, are delivered in an unlistenable whiny tone that is the vocal equivalent of a screwdriver jamming itself through through your ear down to your intestines. And it’s eight and a half minutes long! It’s like an electronic version of “Freebird” for masochists.

Thankfully, the remaining tracks are just regular bad, and not additional contenders for the worst song ever recorded. “Somebody’s Calling Me” is droning drivel, and the closer “Home” is so forgettable that by the time it’s over you’ll have forgotten the beginning.

You know how when a celebrity you love does something horrible, and it permanently ruins your view of that person? Like, no matter how hard you try you can’t watch “Lethal Weapon” the same way again because all you see is drunken anti-Semite Mel Gibson calling a female cop Sugar Tits? Well, save for those three stand-out tracks, This is Happening is so damned bad that it may very well stop me from ever enjoying “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” ever again. Damn. (DFA 2010)

LCD Soundsystem MySpace Page


Seen Your Video: LCD Soundsystem, “Drunk Girls”

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I do not for one second understand the critical and music geek slurpfest that LCD Soundsystem has basked in since its inception. And the thing is, I should understand it. They like the same bands I like. They play the kind of music I like to listen to. But I do not like LCD Soundsystem. From where I’m standing, they are quite possibly the most overrated band alive today. Indeed, this is how I ended my review of their last album, Sound of Silver:

“The band never rises above their influences, and James Murphy can’t sing. In the end, though, none of that matters. All that matters is that LCD Soundsystem is cool, and if you like them, then you’re cool, too.”

So…are you cool?

Fortunately, I gave up on being cool a few years ago, and let me tell you, that was a wonderful thing. Trying to stay hip is hard – there is a very popular blogger whose name I could cite as an example of someone bending over backwards to maintain their hipster cred, but I won’t; she’ll find out the hard way soon enough – and here’s the thing that aging, former hipsters don’t tell you: you’d be amazed to discover how much better music sounds when you stop acting so pious and elitist about it. Does that mean I’ve lowered my standards? Not at all. It simply means that I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of my musical tastes anymore. And that includes anyone tempted to use the comment section below to tell me how stupid I am, so don’t waste your time.

Now, back to LCD Soundsystem, the cool band of the moment. This is the second one-take video I’ve seen this week (Slow Club’s is the other), showing that the OK Go ripple effect is in full swing. The clip begins amusingly enough, with the aforementioned singer who can’t sing standing in front of a test pattern screen, trying to sing while guys in animal costumes (dogs? Panda bears?) pester Murphy, Al Doyle (at least I think it’s Doyle) and Nancy Whang as they try to sing along to the track. Pretty soon, the inappropriate touching gives way to truly obnoxious behavior. Nancy gets egged, but not before getting a bullhorn blasted in her ear. Doyle gets hit with fire extinguishers, stripped and has trash dumped on him. Murphy and Whang are duct taped together and written on with markers. The subtext is not hard to read: LCD Soundsystem are the drunk girls, and the guys in suits are frat boy douchebags. The video ends with everyone partying and completely defacing the set.

The clip will definitely get people talking, and while I get and appreciate the point it’s trying to make, it’s still pretty ugly. Besides, the video’s moral, as it were, will be lost on the majority of its audience anyway. Doyle is even seen drinking with the animals at the end, which sends all sorts of mixed messages. Do the drunk girls deserve what they get? Hmmmm.

Ah, but no one’s going to talk about the video’s message. All anyone cares about is that this band that is perceived as cool made a “controversial” video that got the blogosphere buzzing. Their fans will line up to tell them how wonderful they are, and the press will say that it’s the best record since their last record. And in the end, I’m aware that I’m contributing to this phenomenon, even though this piece is in dissent.

But for God’s sake, man, someone had to step up and say it – LCD Soundsystem are just not that good. They probably could be, if they tried a little harder. But this, this is just piss take music, all arch, pretend irony and posturing without an ounce of genuine emotion. If some band with a lower hipster rating released this song, everyone would say it was shit. And the song isn’t shit, per se, but it’s not awesome, or even good. It’s just music by a band lucky enough to be popular with the cool kids. Imagine how popular they’d be if they actually put some effort into it.


Pitchfork Music Festival taps Pavement, Modest Mouse, and LCD Soundsystem

2009 Pitchfork Music Festival

This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago is already shaping up nicely. Announced today, the first batch of bands includes the reunited Pavement, Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem, and many other fan favorites.


The Pitchfork Music Festival will hit Union Park in Chicago July 16-18. And this year’s lineup is seriously amazing. We’ve got the reunited Pavement! Holy shit! Not to mention indie godheads Modest Mouse, James Murphy’s dance-punk juggernaut LCD Soundsystem, Wu-Tang Clan master chef Raekwon, St. Vincent, Lightning Bolt, Cass McCombs, Sleigh Bells, and Here We Go Magic.

All that is only the beginning. This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival will feature more bands than ever before and a longer day of music on Friday.

Tickets go on sale at noon Central time today at TicketWeb. Single-day passes cost $40, and three-day passes cost $90. (There are no two-day passes this year.) Keep watching this space for more details.

Besides Coachella, this is the other music festival I’d want to attend. I’ve only been to Chicago once, but its appreciation for great music was incredibly obvious.