Reinventing Spaceland: Monotonix, The Mae Shi, and Anavan, 4/10

5 05 2009

Things have been busy around Songs About Radios these days. In the last few weeks, I’ve been to Boston, L A, Coachella, and Chicago twice. The longest I’ve been in one place at a time since February has been two and a half weeks, and I spent a good portion of that time with a surprise visitor from out of town. Plus my computer recently exploded, and I’ve only just finished setting up my new laptop. Fortunately no data was lost (I think), but all of this amounts to an explanation of why the posts have been a little light over the past month or so. Songs About Radios isn’t going anywhere – we’ve just been experiencing some technical difficulties…

Anyway, with a guest in town earlier this month, what better to do than catch a show? While the week’s concert schedule offered a variety of interesting options, not the least of which was the dear to my heart Marissa Nadler, we decided to choose spectacle over sentiment and check out Monotonix, the Mae Shi, and Anavan at Spaceland. I had seen Monotonix’s at this past summer’s Hideout Block Party, and had a sense of what I was in for, but the indoor dynamics of the Spaceland show was more intense than I could have anticipated. The Mae Shi, who I had been meaning to check out live for a while now, also made use of the venue in interesting ways, and the entirely off my radar Anavan delivered an energetic set with a commanding stage presence.

Monotonix – Body Language (Download) (Buy It)″

The Mae Shi – Power to the Power. Bite 2 (Download) (Buy It)″

Anavan – Boom (Download) (Buy It)″

The key to this show was performance as transformation of space. Anavan’s spastic frontman got things started by running through the crowd and cozying up with individual members of the audience. At one point, I think he grabbed my friend and ordered her, “Talk to someone you don’t know.” The Mae Shi brought a similar level of enthusiasm to their set. They also brought a parachute:

The parachute created an insular little world within the larger venue. Nearly, but not entirely, covering the area in front of the stage, it divided the space underneath from the space outside, delimiting a central mass of fan joined by a shared experience unavailable to the rest of the crowd. Cut off from a view of the stage for two to three songs, all we could see instead was each other, the sea of bewildered faces and arms raised to the air to keep the parachute from collapsing on our heads.

For the Mae Shi’s set, this sort of spectacle enhanced the musical performance, but the music and the stage remained the center of focus. For Monotonix, however, the music and the stage became mere elements of an eccentric performance that moved through the crowd and off into the peripheries of the venue.

The show began on stage, with Monotonix’s frontman slowly walking towards the crowd, spying back and forth as if about to embark upon a journey out into the amorphous and mysterious territory of the venue. Leading his guitarist by the arm, he stepped from the stage, walking forward, lying down, his feet finally emerging, held upside down by whoever was nearby. Drums were passed over the heads of the audience, and the drummer began playing from the middle of the floor. The crowd pack in densely and moved as an unstable mass as the frontman climbed up on the drums to crowd surf. Nothing unites a crowd like trying to keep a hairy, sweaty Israeli man in short shorts afloat while avoiding an accidental handful of ball sweat…

As the show progressed, the crowd surfing got more intense, as audience members got involved and the frontman began hanging from the rafters. The drums were raised up above the crowd and Monotonix began to play drums while crowd surfing. At one point, still tightly packed, we were ordered to sit and then given a complex set of instructions on when to stand up, when to set back down, and when to scream. By the end of the show, the frontman had stripped down to a thong and stuffed it with his shirt. Then without warning the show moved off the main floor, towards the bar, and out the door into the tiny entry hall to the venue. In the end, we returned to the floor and ultimately to the stage, but the stage had been transformed. No longer the sacred space separating artist from audience, the stage had been taken over by the crowd.


Aiming at Nothing and Hitting Your Mark – P.O.S.’s “Never Better” [Guest Post by Eric from the Nocturnals]

1 04 2009

I haven’t said a word about my favorite album of 2009 to date yet, but you’re about to hear about it from someone much more qualified than myself. Meet my cousin Eric, aka ‘ziek, master of the obvious at the hilarious new blog, Big Breakthroughs. Eric is one of my main sources for indie hip hop. He’s about as knowledgeable on the subject as anyone I’ve met, and has introduced me to some of my favorite albums in the genre, most notably Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, which I’ll hopefully write on at some point. He’s also, and I’m not just saying this because he’s my cousin, a pretty talented rapper himself, adopting a sort of deadpan spoken word delivery that recalls Sage Francis. Last year he recorded an album called Next Time, It’s Personal under the name The Nocturnals. Here’s a highlight:

The Nocturnals – Slow 2 B Leaving (Download) (Myspace Page)″

Early this year, Eric turned me on to P.O.S.’s latest album Never Better, and I found it stunning. I asked if he would be interested in writing about the album in a guest post, and here’s what he came up with:

Nothing’s better than aiming at nothing and hitting your mark
Everyone’s famous,
Now we can just sit in the dark
and wait.

—P.O.S., “Never Better,” from Never Better (Buy It)

P.O.S. - Never BetterI always thought that “rap-rock” was definitionally bad. A lot of rock groups seems to have rap influence – Beck, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Coughing – and a lot of rap groups have rock influence – Rage Against the Machine, Saul Williams, El-P – but the music media never seems to refer to any of these groups as rap-rockers. Instead “rap-rock” is a term generally reserved for especially bad “rap-rock,” for the Kid Rocks, Limp Bizkits, and Linkin Parks of the world. Even Faith No More is too good to be called rap-rock.

P.O.S. is thus quite an anomaly. Especially after his luke-warmly received second album, Audition, critics, accurately, labeled P.O.S. as a rap-rocker. His recent release “Never Better” may be the first great, or, for that matter, the first even half-decent, rap-rock album.

P.O.S, who started as a punk rocker in Minneapolis, has released his last three albums as part of the tightly knit Twin Cities hip hop collective, Doomtree Records (His latest album was picked up by Indierap giant, Rhymesayers Records, who represents the likes of Atmosphere and Brother Ali). Doomtree is made up of a seemingly indefinite number of MC’s, including P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Dessa Darling, Sims, Mictlan, Mel Gibson & the Pants, and Yoni, to name a few. Doomtree has released a number of albums as a group: while last year’s self-titled album was somewhat disappointing, the False Hopes and False Hopes (Warped Tour) albums are indie rap standouts. Doomtree is no by no means flawless. Their MC’s are not the most talented, but they up there with the most original. From P.O.S.’s punk-rap to Cecil Otter’s melancholy folk-rap (“My name is Cecil Fucking Otter/Not Dylan goes electric”) to Dessa Darling’s spoken word, Doomtree has effectively reinvented the rap-hyphen.

On Never Better, P.O.S. shines as both a rapper and a punk-rocker. He stays away from the rap-rock cliches like screaming rap bravado over heavy metal guitar, mediocrely speaking rock songs over unnecessary scratching, tacking a rock chorus onto a rap verse, doing it all for the nookie, etc. Instead, P.O.S. pulls from his experience as a rapper and a punk-rocker to subtly merge the two genres, and he pull beats and rhymes structures out that don’t quite belong in either camp.

Notice the wordplay, punk rock hook, and purposefully awkward beat culminating in a beautiful round on “Never Better”:

P.O.S. – Never Better (Download)″

Demonstrating the eclecticism of the album, check out the intense drive of “Drumroll”:

P.O.S. – Drumroll (Download)″

What the songs have in common, and how they effectively merge genres, is by blending rap stylings with the raw passion of early punk rock.

I saw P.O.S. play in Champaign, IL not long ago. It was a small venue, with maybe about 25 people in the audience, most of them gathered in a circle around P.O.S., as he, Sims, and Mictlan played from the floor. It was just what you would expect from Doomtree: intimate, non-pretentious; and hard-at-work to keep their few fans coming back.

He Speaks in Tongues #3/Aborted Concert Review: Juana Molina – Micael

9 03 2009

Juana Molina - SonAfter two years of being in love with Son, the third album from Argentine ex-soap star turned electronic-music pioneer Juana Molina, I finally found a chance to see her live: she would be passing through the Detroit Bar, one of the few decent music venues in Orange County. We got our tickets, and showed up early, in time to catch the tail end of the first opener, Laura Gibson, a pleasant singer-songwriter from Portland, who pulled off an enjoyable set despite the absence of one of the three members of her ensemble.

But things started going south as soon as Gibson left the stage. While I chatted with some people from my department who I had run into at the show, the second opener, Free Moral Agents, had begun to set up their equipment. Suddenly, our conversation was interrupted by a loud shouting match, apparently between one of the band members of Free Moral Agents and, well, everyone around him, but especially some sort of a manager who the band member accused of being sent by the label to “babysit him.” It sounded like he probably needed a babysitter. He threatened violence, of the “meet me across the street after the show” variety. Things eventually calmed down and Free Moral Agents finally took the stage, only to play one of the most unbearable sets I’ve ever heard.

Finally, we were ready to hear Juana Molina. The venue was fairly empty, so we were able to stand comfortably right in front of the stage. But after we had stood there for a few minutes, a representative of the Detroit Bar came on stage to make an announcement: due to unforseen circumstances, Juana Molina would not be performing that night. No explanation given. We were promised refunds. I back got the ticket price, but not the $2.50 ticketing fee.

Oh well, the tail end of Laura Gibson’s performance, plus a good story, were well worth my $2.50…

So, in lieu of a real concert review, here’s one of my favorite songs on Son, along with a brief translation:

Juana Molina – Micael (Download) (Buy It)″

Micael, seres luminosos, haznos ser
Valerosos, arcangel Micael.

Michael, luminous beings, make us
Brave, archangel Michael.

There is No Need to Fear: High Places & Zombie Public Speaking

23 01 2009

Tuesday night, I had an unexpected break in my hectic tutoring schedule, so my friend Milo Cantos and I took the opportunity to check out a show on campus.

Zombie Public SpeakingFirst things first, let me introduce Milo Cantos and his new blog, Zombie Public Speaking. Milo has been writing and recording music with a variety of projects over the years, his latest project being a little band called the Heaps in which I happen to play keyboard (more on that later). Zombie Public Speaking is a new space for Milo to share his work. He’s currently featuring a solo cover of Destroyer’s “School and the Girls Who Go There,” a tribute to the Muffs by the original Heaps lineup (before I joined), and a pair of hip hop tracks recorded under the moniker The Beat Conflicts. I’ll let you know as soon as anything from the current Heaps lineup goes up.

Anyway, Milo and I decided at the last minute to check out the most recent show from Acrobatics Everyday, a student organization “working to bring rad musicians and artists to the UC Irvine campus, filling the void and closing the gaps.” Last year, I caught Dan Deacon at Acrobatics Everyday’s inaugural show. Since then, they’ve brought a number of artists to campus, including the Mae Shi, Mount Eerie, Parenthetical Girls, Parts & Labor, Ponytail, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and even Ian MacKaye (for a Q & A session, though, not a performance).

High Places celebrate Acrobatics Everyday's first birthday

High Places celebrate Acrobatics Everyday's first birthday

This time, we went to see High Places, a charming electronic duo that uses a variety of loop effects, lots of reverb, and polyrhythms reminiscent of calypso to create chill, graceful, danceable beats with a sort of childlike sweetness drawn from singer Mary Pearson’s layered vocals. When I saw them at Pitchfork Music Festival this past summer, it felt as if the quietness of their approach allowed some of the subtlety of their sound to get lost in the open air. Here, in the intimacy of a small room in UC Irvine’s student center, in front of a much smaller crowd (maybe 30-50 people? I’m bad at estimating crowds), it was much easier to appreciate. One of the nice things about these Acrobatics Everyday events is that the crowd generally seems rather unabashed about dancing, and I couldn’t help but follow suit.

High Places - 03/07 - 09/07Anyway, here’s one of my favorite High Places songs, most easily found on their collection 03/07 – 09/07:

High Places – Shared Islands (Download) (Buy It)″