September 22, 2008
Originally published on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin360 22 September 2008.
Take one listen to the clockwork precision on any of Pinback’s angularly constructed indie rock albums, and it’s immediately clear that the driving forces behind the band, Rob Crow and Zach Smith, never let a beat or note fall by the wayside.
Pinback proved that their live show is no exception when they played to a tightly packed crowd on Saturday night at the outdoor stage of the Mohawk. On both upbeat numbers like the hard-driving “From Nothing to Nowhere” and more subdued ones like the melancholy “Blood’s on Fire,” the clean chords of Crow’s guitar slid and stuttered in perfect time with Smith’s bass lines, while the drums pounded out tight rhythms. For the majority of the show, Smith strummed chords on the bass, which added depth and texture to the set.
Stripped of the many vocal layers present on the band’s studio albums, Crow’s vocals in particular floated atop the mix with surprising clarity. He dashed the verses of the classic “Penelope” with graceful shouts and touches of vibrato, which showcased his vocal control.
Unfortunately, a few minor setbacks on the technical side made for a tedious wait between many songs. The band even stopped in the middle of the last song in their four-song encore, only to pick up a minute later.
A new keyboardist joined Pinback for this performance because their usual keyboardist, Terrin Durfey, is again battling cancer. Posters that featured the album artwork of their latest effort, “Autumn of the Seraphs,” were available at the merch table in exchange for donations to the Durfey family. Additional donations can be made here.
September 16, 2008
Originally published on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin360 16 September 2008.
In a city where fans of indie rock generally meet live music with little more than approving head nods, it can be hard for bands to get crowds to actually dance.
But the instrumental outfit Ratatat did just that Monday night at Stubb’s. Usually a duo, guitarist Mike Stroud and multi-instrumentalist Evan Mast were joined by a keyboardist for 15 rounds of searing prog riffs backed by face-shaking hip-hop beats that had the sold-out crowd waving their hands, jumping and moving without shame to the music.
In Ratatat fashion, the entertainment didn’t come solely from the sounds produced by the band. The visual sequences projected on a screen behind the band were genuinely bizarre — one showed Buddhist monks with iridescent blocks of light shielding their eyes while they clutched ropes between their praying hands and Hebraic texts scrolled on the walls around them.
But from the set-opener to the encore it was clear that the images were carefully chosen and flawlessly synced. The tropical sounding “Brulee” was backed by flowing waves, while more aggressive numbers featured explosions typical of action movies. In every case, the movement on the screen punctuated the hard-hitting moments in the songs.
The music alone would have made Ratatat’s performance memorable. The harmonized notes of Stroud’s solos glided through each number with grace and a sense of metal melody, while the thundering bass of the backing samples pulsed with an energy that is hard to match on a home stereo. On fan favorites like “Wildcat” and “Seventeen Years,” many audience members were too busy dancing to watch the displays anyway.
Mixing and matching musical genres and live performance techniques is disastrous for many bands, but Ratatat does it well.
November 30, 2007
Pinback sheds a few layers of sound but doesn’t sacrifice any tightness on the follow up to 2004′s “Summer in Abaddon,” “Autumn of the Seraphs.” The songs still play like clockwork, as the band hits every note in perfect time.
With the exception of the hard-driving opener “From Nothing to Nowhere,” Pinback stays true to the formula that has brought them success on past albums — clean guitars, technical beats, rhythmic singing, and a touch of electronica.
Usually when a band changes so little, I grow weary of their sound. But I guess the finely tuned machine that is Pinback isn’t broke, so why fix it?
October 3, 2007
A friend recently referred me to this public service announcement, which is sponsored by Above the Influence and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
I must say, it’s the most entertaining bit of audio I’ve listened to in a while. Consider the last few lines in which the young girl featured contrasts her new, sincere self with the acceptance-craving robot she was before:
“Now I’m not pretending to like indie rock or anything like that,” she laughs. “And people think that’s cool.” Here the announcer cuts in to sum up the moral of the ad saying, “Live above the influence. Above weed.”
Keep in mind that I’m an English Writing and Rhetoric major at St. Edward’s University, so the idea of knowing your purpose and audience when creating any sort of argument has been relentlessly pounded into my head. But for the most part that’s common sense, right? I mean, if you’re making an argument, you want to know who you’re trying to convince so you can appeal to what they value.
Apparently Above the Influence missed that memo. The assumptions inherent within this ad make me think that the writers are completely out of touch with their target demographic. It’s as if they just heard about a new and popular genre of music “indie rock,” so they checked out a couple of songs. And it wasn’t at all like the good ol’ rock’n roll of their day! Just a bunch of senseless banging on instruments. Surely kids don’t really like this crap right? They’re obviously either pretending to like it, or they’re high!
And this is how completely ineffective and ridiculous anti-drug campaigns are born.
When I was in high school, music (and in large part, indie rock) was my life. I listened to it on the way to school. I listened to it between classes. I listened to it in class. I played guitar when I got home. At night, my favorite songs lulled me to sleep. Music got me through the day. It touched my soul. It was a part of me.
If I had heard this ad, I would have felt marginalized, stereotyped, and offended. And then, as my own personal finger to the man, I would have started smoking pot.
September 24, 2007
“Heresy and the Hotel Choir,” the third full length from indie-pop quartet Maritime, deceptively begins with the simple and innocent overtones of their past albums. “You are going to have to lie to me,” quirps frontman Davey Von Bohlen to a backdrop of chiming guitars and bouncing percussion – and somehow the combined effect makes conscious deception sound as pleasant as frolicking through a field of daisies on a sunny day in spring.
But as the second track, “With Holes for Thumb Sized Birds,” ensconces the listener in an explosion of textured guitars and booming drums, it becomes clear that Maritime is here, for the first time since the band’s inception, to rock.
This departure from the mellow folk and lighthearted pop of Maritime’s past releases is, in a sense, a refreshingly energetic experience. The four harder-hitting tunes on this 12-song album exhibit a degree of musical cohesiveness never before achieved by the band, as is evidenced by the tight drumming and slick riff interplay between guitarists Von Bohlen and Dan Hinz on “Hand Over Hannover.”
Those yearning for the more restrained sound of previous albums will also not be disappointed. The remaining two-thirds of the album contain charming pop tunes such as “Aren’t We All Found Out,” and even a couple of somber folk ones, such as “Love Has Given Up.”
This combination of experimentation and previously successful formula makes “Heresy” a well-rounded and reasonably adventurous release for Maritime.