Album Review: The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me”

Some cool August night in 2010, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car as we drove to another friend’s house. It was late at night and there wasn’t much traffic in our small town, so we made idle conversation and listened to the radio. The DJ was saying something about the next track being her favorite song of the summer, because she felt like it summed up how she’d felt about it, chiefly melancholic. It was by a band called The National, a band I had heard of but never seriously listened to. She introduced the song as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and then began to play it. Shortly after, we arrived at the parking lot outside our friend’s apartment. My friend turned off the car. “Turn it back on.” I said. “I want to finish that song.” I got a raised eyebrow for my remark, but he turned the radio back on and we sat in silence for the rest of the song.

To call The National “sadcore” would miss the point, although Matt Berninger’s easily-identifiable baritone does seem to perpetually reside in that state two or three weeks after a big breakup where everything begins to slowly sink in. With a rhythm section liable to give you claustrophobia and minimalist guitar crunches synced with the occasional synth hit or string section, The National occasionally come off as a Joy Division minus the suicidal tendencies.

Yet, there’s something about their body of work that is oddly entrancing, even hypnotic. From their somewhat awkward alternative country beginnings to their trio of critically acclaimed albums beginning with 2005’s Alligator and ending with 2010’s High Violet, Berninger’s earnest vocals, mixed with word salad lyrics and beautifully tragic music have made them indie darlings. In those first few albums The National struggled to find their ideal sound, but by Trouble Will Find Me, the band’s sixth album, released earlier this week, they’ve perfected it.

Realistically, there could be no real follow-up to High Violet. The duo of Alligator and 2007’s Boxer ultimately served as teasers for High Violet, the critical and commercial peak of the band. As such, any new album was always going to be measured against their last offering.

Any song on Trouble Will Find Me would sound perfectly at home wedged into High Violet. In terms of exploring new ideas, The National have done very little in the last three years to evolve their sound. Berninger’s voice is as dramatically depressed as always, and the music provided by the guitarist Dessner brothers and their rhythm section counterparts, the Devendorf brothers, is simultaneously as intimate and bombastic as always. Given the success of High Violet, it’s understandable that they’d stick to the script for the follow-up.

It’s a tad disappointing, even so. On Trouble Will Find Me, The National largely stick to their middle-register. The slower ballads don’t match emotional heavyweights like “The Geese Of Beverly Road”, and the more uptempo almost-rockers never quite match the chaotic breakdown in the chorus of “Mr. November” or the rawness of rollicking stompers like “Murder Me Rachael” and “Available”. As a retrospective of their career thus far, Trouble Will Find Me sounds less like an alternate Greatest Hits and more like an alternate universe version of High Violet that was slightly less good.

In no way is Trouble Will Find Me a bad album. It doesn’t really even have any bad songs. Early single “Don’t Swallow The Cap” and first track “I Should Live In Salt” stand among the best songs the band has ever recorded, and the rest of the album offers more than enough to satisfy hardcore fans and casual listeners alike. As far as albums go, The National could have done far, far worse than release High Violet: The Sequel. It is a bit of a missed opportunity, but it still stands as a very good album, if not the great one that its predecessor was.

Album Review: Anamanaguchi’s “Endless Fantasy”

Somewhere in the peculiar brainspace between John Hughes movies and beating your friends at Mario Kart (I suggest being Luigi, because who doesn’t like Luigi? Dirty Communists, that’s who), there exists a genre of music known as chiptune. Defined by the use of Game Boys and other old-school video game consoles as instruments,  chiptune has found a niche at geeky conventions and through the internet, but has struggled to break into more mainstream outlets. You’re unlikely to find anything by Disasterpeace or Sabrepulse in a record store. Elements of chiptune have crept into pop and hip hop songs (Go listen to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” for evidence), but chiptune bands themselves haven’t made the same impact.

With luck, that’s about to change. Anamanaguchi, one of the most celebrated bands of the genre, released their new album, Endless Fantasy, earlier this week. Funded through Kickstarter (where it has earned over 175,000 dollars, far from the 50,000 dollar goal), the album will be released on CD and vinyl and is expected to hit record store shelves in the near future if all goes as planned. A music video for the first single, “Meow” was released in January and further videos are planned.

In many ways, Anamanaguchi are apt flag-bearers for the entire genre. Releasing music since 2006 (beginning with their EP Power Supply, followed by their 2009 full length debut Dawn Metropolis, and a handful of non-album singles in 2010), the band’s “big break” came in 2010 when they scored the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World video game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The soundtrack hit number 3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and was highly acclaimed. However, it epitomized the biggest hurdle for chiptune music as a whole; it sounds too much like a video game.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Even on old consoles like the NES, the music in video games was top-notch, and the music in some modern games is so thoughtfully composed, it could belong in a film. However, the type of chip-based, glitchy beep boops of Anamanguchi and their contemporaries made them a “sometimes” band. When jumping perilously over a puddle as if it were a set of spikes in Mega Man, or when day dreaming about beating up an endless horde of muscle dudes a la Final Fight or Double Dragon, listening to chiptune makes you feel like a serious badass. Other times, it felt out of place. Since their beginning, Anamanaguchi has leaned towards dance music. Early songs like “Helix Nebula” and “Flora/Fauna” had a kind of danceable groove, but other songs sounded abrasive, or too minimalist to really work as alternative pop music.

These problems disappear on Endless Fantasy, which sounds like Koji Kondo DJ-ing at a sick rave. It’s eminently danceable and nothing short of a dance pop rock chip masterpiece. Chiptune music with vocals usually sounds gimmicky and Anamanaguchi have traditionally stayed away from it unless remixing someone else’s music. On Endless Fantasy, guest vocals by Bianca Raquel and Meesh add a dimension to the album and make tracks like “Prom Night” and “Japan Air” stand out as some of the album’s gems. Although video game sounds are still at the forefront of the music, the guitars have been moved further and the songcraft perfected. These aren’t gimmicks; they’re legitimately great songs. Many of them tend towards up-tempo dance stompers with great beats, but the band also shows their softer side with a couple shorter songs, including a bizarre (though very good) chip cover of the classical piece Gymnopedie No. 1.

Endless Fantasy is a true modern masterpiece in its field. It’s chaotic and jumbled and straight-up weird, but it creates beautiful art inside the mess. If you’ve never listened to music made on a Nintendo, start with Endless Fantasy.


Watch the delightfully weird music video for “Meow” here!

[youtube_sc url=””]

Streetlight, Streetlight, Streetlight!!!

I have never posted on the website, but I feel the need to now. Words do not describe my excitement at the moment. For those of you who don’t know, some of the Music Directors are big (In my case BIG) fans of the Ska/Punk/Jazz amalgamation known as  Streetlight Manifesto. After years of waiting we finally have a new original album to obsess over! Excuse me if this announcement/review/gushing session lacks any semblance of literary value, as I’m writing this I am also listening to this album for the second time. Oh by the way, the album entitled The Hands That Thieve and it rocks.

For the time being, this is my favorite song from the album is “With any Sort of Certainty.”

So for those who don’t know why us crazed ska fans love Streetlight, we all have our own reasons. For me, it starts with the fact that they play THE best live show that I have ever seen. Hands down, no contest, end of conversation. All of Streetlight’s members are amazing musicians and they simply bring an energy to their jazzy melodies which no other group I’ve ever seen can match. As a group  they are as loud as a ska band, with the sound quality of big band jazz and the energy of a great punk band.

Though there are not yet well recorded live versions of Streetlight’s new release, I will be going out of my way to see them this summer and I expect it to be awesome.


P.S. Though Streetlight is selling the album, they have actually gone on record suggesting that their fans download it illegally. So, if you are so inclined it won’t cost you a thing.

(DISCLAIMER: WDCV, Dickinson College and this author do not condone these practices as they are illegal)


Track Review: Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”

I went through a period when I was in eighth and ninth grade where I had messy long hair, a variety of black band t-shirts advertising bands like Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses, and a perpetual scowl. This was before I embraced most of my favorite bands of today, like Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel, but it was also before I saw the value in pop music. I didn’t see the musical value in pop stars like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, and even less in dance artists and DJs like David Guetta and Deadmau5. I spent most of my music time listening to killer guitar solos and howling metal vocals and deriding things that weren’t hard enough as pop garbage spoon-fed to the mainstream masses.

“One More Time” by Daft Punk was one of the first dance tracks I really got into. From there, I started listening to all of Discovery, and then Homework and Human After All. All three albums had something of a different vibe (Homework’s street sound, Discovery’s slick, funk groove, Human After All’s hard rock guitars), but carried the same extreme professionalism and production values. Even though Human After All had its detractors, it was still pretty well received, and it seemed like Daft Punk was about to go on a creation spree. They released a remix album for Human After All in 2006, followed by a great live album in 2007.

Then nothing. No word on a new album or singles or anything. Eventually, it came out that Daft Punk would be doing the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy. It wasn’t a new studio album, but it was something. Still, after it came out, it didn’t FEEL like a Daft Punk album. It was good, solid score and had some great tracks like “Derezzed”, “Solar Sailor” and “End Of Line”, but it felt too much like a film tie-in. The Daft Punk staples weren’t there and all it did for me was make me more excited for something new.

Enter Random Access Memories and “Get Lucky”. Weird viral marketing with Saturday Night Live promos, a teaser at Coachella, and a series of fifteen minute videos called The Collaborators, interviewing artists who worked with Daft Punk for Random Access Memories. Dozens of “leaks” that consisted of fifteen second loops recut and remixed into something passing itself off as a Daft Punk track.

The moment has passed and “Get Lucky”, the first single from the first true Daft Punk album in over eight years, is out. It features guitar work from Nile Rodgers of Chic and vocals from Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. and production duo The Neptunes. Rodgers absolutely destroys the guitar line, creating one of the funkiest and most danceable guitar hooks in recent memory, while Williams croons his way through the verses, nearly creeping into a falsetto in the chorus.

“Get Lucky” isn’t the best Daft Punk song ever made. It also doesn’t have much in common with the traditional Daft Punk singles, like “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” or “Human After All”, instead opting more for a sound like Discovery’s “Face To Face”. It may be a curious choice for a lead single from an incredibly hyped album, but when it comes down to it, “Get Lucky” is an extremely catchy, danceable track that doesn’t sacrifice artistic integrity. If this is a preview to the “new” Daft Punk, I can safely say that I’m excited to see what they have in store for the rest of the album.

Random Access Memories comes out May 21st.

Album Review: “Barncat Sees All” by Barncat


Sometimes, the right group of people come together and without any thought, planning, or warning, they create something awesome. This is the best way to describe Barncat, a 5 piece group out of West Chester, PA that serves up tunes fatter than a barbacoa with extra pinto beans. Members Kenny Miller (vocals/guitar), Alex Stern (guitar), Kyle West (vocals/keys), Ryan Mastrangelo (bass), and Kyle Stambaugh (drums) found each other while working at Chipotle, and after beginning to jam together as friends a little over a year ago, the band released their debut EP, Barncat Sees All, last month. The album’s six songs showcase the individual talents of each band member while at the same time establishing a unique sound for the band. Perhaps the best thing about Barncat is its seemingly infinite audience; whether you’re a fan of Led Zeppelin, The Sheepdogs, Thrice, or anything in between, I guarantee Barncat Sees All will resemble something familiar while simultaneously introducing you to new sounds.

The EP opens with “Big Kitty and the Protection Agency,” beginning and building up almost like a post-rock track. West’s keys provide an ambient background as the other instruments slowly build around it. By the time the drums enter the picture, a full blown ballad is in effect with a sound that seems like it should be played while Morgan Freeman is longingly looking into the horizon. Miller’s lyrical introduction is bold, giving listeners a taste of the grungy, abrasive vocals that will be prevalent throughout the album. The opening track is a calm, yet anticipatory tease of what’s to come.

The next few tracks really give definition to the album. “15 Minutes or Less,” the first single off the EP, opens fast and stays faster. It’s pretty easy to point out the garage rock influences as the track’s opening breaks into a free-style shredding by Stern as the others build harmony and rhythm around him. The entire track is up tempo and loud, mixing in some classic blues riffs with a bit of a 70s rock n roll. “The Smoke Temple” is where Barncat’s heavier side is revealed. The track opens with a slow, grounding ring of bass by Mastrangelo backed by a simple note progression on keys. The drums build up slowly, but immediately break off and become a dominant sound in the introduction as the guitars mix feedback with low octave notes. Until the vocals kick in, it almost feels Barncat has suddenly become a 70s metal band, along the lines of an early Black Sabbath. While the track does remain heavy throughout, especially when Miller utilizes his screaming vocals for the first time, the keys and bluesy guitar combine once again to prevent Barncat from being too unipolar. This track is easily my favorite on the EP, as it builds up perfectly and retains momentum until the very end.

The album doesn’t stay heavy for long. “8 Simple Questions” is an up tempo, light track that I at first felt was out of place based on the way the album had progressed. However, having listened to the album multiple times, I think “8 Simple Questions” is the perfect track for its spot in the record. It’s fun, experimental, and different, featuring a heavy dose of West on vocals as well as some creative guitar work from both Miller and Stern. Even Stambaugh gets into the creative mix with some brief drum licks built around the song. It seems to me that the next track, “Parallel Man,” could have easily been written as a hardcore song. Its ambient intro and subsequent guitar rhythm make it seem the song will breakdown into a furious verse at first. What occurs instead is a vocal duet mixed in with some fun yet sobering jams by the entire band. Mastrangelo’s bass in particular remains low and steady, and the guitar seems haunting at times. The funnest part of the song is by far the way it ends. After a series of teases, the whole band breaks down into a furious verse. Miller’s screaming vocals almost seem to be fighting against Sterns guitar as the band’s hardcore influence comes on full display.

The EP’s final track, “I’m Coming Back,” starts very upbeat, similar to “8 Simple Questions,” except it’s obvious from the start the band has a big ending in store. The song doesn’t bother building up until halfway through, when the current verse progression halts and changes to an epic final announcement by the band. During the final progression of the album, the entire band comes together, following the progression of Miller’s vocals from a soft, easy line to an abrasive, bold chant. When the vocals break down, so too does the rest of the band. Stern gives one last jam for the listener while the other instruments provide a pounding rhythm and the vocals scream in patterned chaos. A great ending to a great album.

Barncat is a band I personally have my eye on. They are an active group of musicians passionate about what they are creating, but more so passionate about the art of music. It can be hard to make an impact in today’s ever shifting music scene; trends come and go, as do fans and opportunities for success, but Barncat is proving that in the end, music is a unifying force meant to bring enjoyment to both listeners and performers. They truly are the definition of things just falling into place. With one EP in the books and a summer tour on the way, I look forward to seeing where Barncat goes from here.

You can download Barncat Sees All at as a pay what you want mp3 file, or order a $5 CD with album art and lyrics. Keep up with Barncat at In addition, Barncat runs a basement venue in West Chester called The New Button. Like their page at to find out what shows are coming up.


Recently the Music Directors added Wild Belle’s album Isles to the featured artist lineup. If you haven’t given it a listen yet, you should. The sibling duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman has mixed up the standard Indie Rock formula with reggae, soul, and slight Jazz influences and in doing so they have created a tantalizingly brighter sound that stands out from the ranks of the Indie Rock genre. If you’re a big fan of the Indie sound, Isles should provide you with something a little new and exciting to sink your teeth into. If you’re not a huge fan, the album is still worth checking out. Its clever genre blending may surprise you and win you over. If you find yourself really taken by the band and want to see them in concert you’re in luck. While most of their tour dates are out in California they do have one stop in Pittsburgh on May 31st

As for me, I highly recommend the album, with It’s Too Late, Twisted, and When It’s Over being particular standouts. Its mix of reggae back beats, soulful female lead, and rock percussion is exquisitely fitting for these first warm days of spring. We don’t get a lot of perfect days like we will this week at Dickinson. Do yourself a favor, bring some speakers out on Morgan Field, lay out a blanket and set this blasting. I can’t think of a better soundtrack.


Link to their website:
Image belongs to them, from their website.

David Bowie’s The Next Day

I was 15 or 16 when my father bought us tickets to see Aerosmith. At the time, my music tastes leaned more towards hard rock and heavy metal than indie and alternative, and I was ecstatic to go. After KISS, Aerosmith was probably my favorite hard rock band. I had a vinyl sleeve of Toys in the Attic mounted on my bedroom wall and I owned their first four albums (from Aerosmith to Rocks) on CD. As a budding rock guitarist, Joe Perry was one of my all-time idols, and Steven Tyler was a hell-raising, cocaine-snorting rock n’ roll demon who probably should have died half a dozen times in his heyday.

With that in mind, it was pretty absurd to think that he’d fall off a stage and break his shoulder. My 93 year old great-grandmother falls down and breaks things, not Steven Tyler. The idea that this golden god (to borrow a term from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous) could break his shoulder and cancel the rest of the tour was unthinkable. To compensate for our mutual disappointment in the concert being canceled, my father bought us tickets to see Heaven and Hell that summer instead. That show was excellent, but not a year after we crowded in the small WaMu Theater in Seattle, Ronnie James Dio had succumbed to cancer.

In that year, I realized that rock stars are people too. They get old. They go gray. Their shoulders break and their voices rot, turning iconic rasps and croons into shadows of what they once were. Even if the parts still work, the spirit feels a little gone. Something just feels off listening to Alice Cooper sing “I’m Eighteen” at the age of 60, and while Paul Stanley may have been a hot, androgynous sex symbol in 1975, I don’t want anywhere near his Love Gun in 2013. Even new material feels a little stale. AC/DC is pretty obviously running out of ideas, given the number of songs that have some variation on “Rock And Roll” in the title off of Black Ice.

All of this buildup means that when ”Where Are We Now”, the lead single off of David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, was released without any warning or buildup last month, I was cautious. Although I was mostly a metalhead in junior high, I always had an affinity for David Bowie, so much so that I wrote a play about his music once, a la Mama Mia or that once Billy Joel musical. It’s been a decade since Bowie last released an album, with 2003’s Reality. “Where Are We Now” sounded like it could have been recorded during the Reality sessions. It’s a slower, contemplative song, with Boiwe’s distinctive croon in full swing.

I still had my doubts. I had resigned myself to the notion that Bowie would never put out another album. I own every Bowie album from 1969’s Space Oddity to 1980’s Scary Monsters, as well as 1995’s Outside, Reality, and the live album Live from Santa Monica, 1973. When I read that longtime Bowie collaborators Tony Visconti and Earl Slick featured prominently on the record, I worried that The Next Day would be an attempt at recapturing the spirit of Ziggy Stardust or Low. Even the cover art, a white square with the words “The Next Day” scrawled in it, pasted over the cover art for “Heroes” seemed like a ploy conjure up nostalgia for Bowie’s old work.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have worried. After a few missteps in the late 80s and early 90s (Tin Machine, anyone?), Bowie got his career back on track and released some great albums like Reality and Heathen. Reality, especially, showed that Bowie knows how to grow old gracefully. He mixed the modern with the retro, merging the avant-garde with the mainstream. The disparate influences (folk, industrial, hard rock, funk, etc) that pepper his work may change from album to album, but the telltale signs of a Bowie album remain.

The Next Day continues the legacy of Heathen and Reality. We are officially in the era of Modern Bowie, after moving through the decades with Folk Bowie, Glam Bowie, Funk Bowie, Avant-Garde Bowie, Disco Bowie, and perhaps half a dozen more. Many Bowie albums can be grouped into trilogies. Most famously is Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger, so-named for their place of recording. Less often grouped together are Bowie’s Glam Trilogy of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs, each a concept album with glam rock influences, or the Comeback Trilogy of Black Tie, White Noise, Outside, and Earthling, that established Bowie’s continued relevance by embracing techno, drum n’ bass, and industrial music styles.

Now we have the Modern Trilogy. Musically, there’s a little of column A, a little of column Z, and everything in between. The Next Day’s second single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is pure modern Bowie, an up-tempo rocker with acoustic guitar, piano, and synthesizers all dancing around a standard rock tune. “If You Can See Me”, with frenzied drums, paranoid vocals, and claustrophobic production wouldn’t be out of place on Outside, while “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” could have been cut from one of Bowie’s early 70’s albums. “Valentine’s Day” and “Love Is Lost” are darker, more sinister songs in the style of Station to Station or Diamond Dogs.

The Next Day serves almost as a career retrospective for Bowie. It hits a lot of the same themes that Bowie has written about for forty years, from war and politics to the tragedy of the human condition, not to mention liberal use of historical and artistic references. It incorporates broad sweeping genres and styles that Bowie has moved through in his career. It is a classic David Bowie album, only released in 2013 instead of the 1970s.

And yet, The Next Day never reaches for the low-hanging fruit. Despite borrowing subject matter or even musical cues (the outro of “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” uses the unmistakable drum beat of “Five Years”, the opening track of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust), it never feels trite or gimmicky. The Next Day doesn’t indulge in nostalgia. Unlike some aging rockers who rely on rewriting mediocre versions of their own past hits, Bowie uses his history as a stepping stone. The sounds of Ziggy Stardust and “Heroes” and Scary Monsters don’t appear on The Next Day to deceive the listene into a sense of nostalgia. Instead, they serve as roadmaps to the new, exciting direction that modern Bowie has taken. For what it does, for how it’s able to bridge the new and the old, the comforting and the edgy, The Next Day is an exceptional example of a legendary star growing old gracefully.

Biscuits & Gravy Y’all


This week I tuned in to the awesomeness that is Biscuits & Gravy. They are a hip-hop / R&B duo with a very refreshing soul vibe that has a an old school grove. Their recent record is titled “Hello Weekend” and the title track of the same name is definitely worth checking out. The track 20 years even features a kicking guitar solo (yay!), displaying the groups diversity. Biscuits & Gravy kind of reminds me of late 80’s early 90’s hip-hop / R&B collaborations that really put mainstream rap in the spotlight. It sure is reassuring that the style of that era still lives, but with a new twist. From my first impressions the main difference is that Biscuits & Gravy goes through the process of arranging original audio tracks for their songs instead of sampling. This group is quite original and definitely worth a listen.

You can find the group at:

Show Review: Jeff Mangum at the Strand Capitol 2/6/2013

First off, let me establish my cred.

I began listening to Neutral Milk Hotel about 8 years ago  (I can hear you saying “pffffft”) when I was in 9th grade and finally learning about good music. Cut me some slack!  So I bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, talked endlessly about how it was the greatest thing, and was heartbroken when I realized that Jeff Mangum no longer tours.  I resigned myself to listening to him on album and acting like, if I ever did see him, he would probably suck.

Neutral Milk Hotel started in the 1990s and released a full length album,  On Avery Island, in 1994.  The band released its second full album in 1998, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, to high acclaim for Mangum’s creative lyrics and the unique instrumentation.  Throughout the album the character of Anne Frank is present along with provocative characters such as the Two-Headed Boy matched with equally provocative lyrics.  After the release of the album and the subsequent touring, Neutral Milk Hotel started turning down show opportunities and officially went on an indefinite hiatus in 1999.  Mangum began playing solo shows again in 2010 and scheduled touring dates in 2011.  I was reluctant to see him the first time he came my way.  I loved Aeroplane’s unique sound of horns and woodwinds, I was afraid an acoustic set would make his stories flat.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.
Dan and I walked into the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center in York and could immediately feel the static of excitement in the room (or maybe it was from the crazy amount of beards, flannel, and wool on my fellow concert goers.)  The opening act Tall Firs was decent and I have to give it to them.  They knew no one was there to see them, still they put on a great set.  Their music was very soothing, kind of like if whales and Mogwai produced an offspring and peppered it with Peter and the Wolf.  I would check them out if you have insomnia.

Around 9pm Jeff Mangum walked on stage.  He was wearing a red wool sweater, cords, and an army cap.  Honestly he could have been sitting next to you in this crowd and, without a second look, you wouldn’t have realized who he was.  Also he had an epic beard.  (It has been growing it since May, he said)

He sat down on a plush beat-up chair, picked up a guitar, strummed a note and started playing the first chords of “Oh Comely”  When he sang the first note it was like being pulled under by a wave.  It was loud, it was powerful, it was raw, it was beautiful, it was real.  The sheer volume he produced with his voice just rolled through the crowd and everyone sat in stunned silence.  His nasally pitched singing sounded better than on the recordings.

After, the crowd burst into cheers and applause and he began to play “Two-Headed Boy Pt 1.”  It was quieter, more restrained, but still so powerful.  With a quick “thanks” and a “This is called ‘Gardenhead’,” he continued.  There was this impression of shyness melting away with every song, every note.  Everyone in that room loved him and it was as if he was making sure of that before he engaged directly with us.  After “Ferris Wheel on Fire” and a cover of Rocky Erickson’s “I Love the Living You”  he encouraged the crowd to sing along because he could “tell you want to.”  And with that he went into “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, followed by part two and three.  As the room echoed with a thousand mouths proclaiming “i love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you,” it was absolute magic.

“Holland 1945” and “Oh Sister” followed.  I have to say “Oh Sister” is much more disturbing when played live.  He followed with “Two-Headed Boy Pt Two,” “Song Against Sex,” and “Ghost”.  During “Ghost” the whole crowd flocked to the front of the theatre (we had been sitting in seats)  and sang with him.  It was beautiful.

However the enthusiasm was nothing compared to the whole crowd singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” as his encore.

This show was filled with emotion. You could feel the love from the crowd for Jeff and his music, his lyrics and his voice, his poetry.  I was told it would be awkward, watching someone who doesn’t want to perform play live.  It was anything but.  He was personable, he bantered with the crowd and told some short anecdotes.  He was reserved but he didn’t come off like an asshole, just someone who is really shy.  Irregardless of his persona on stage, he is one of the most amazing musicians  I have seen.  The power in his voice and the feeling he projects into the lyrics make the characters in his songs come to life and gives you chills to be present in the wake of it all.

As we know from Oh Comely “soft, silly music is meaningful, magical”  and that was never more true than at this show.

Link to Neutral Milk Hotel’s website:

Tall Firs:

Here are some links to photos of the show:

Here is a link to The Strand’s website:




Show Review: Underoath Says Goodbye

So I’ve decided to inject some life into this very outdated music section and write some bi-monthly reviews of various shows, gigs, and jigs (is jigs a thing? It is now). I want to mostly cover the smaller, DIY shows around the Philadelphia and Cumberland Valley area, to give what I believe to be a very talented and diverse scene of musicians some great exposure. But for this first review, I’ve decided to relive a show I went to 2 weeks ago at the Union Transfer Station in Philadelphia.

Back in October, Underoath announced they were breaking up after 16 years, 7 studio albums, and as many lineup changes as Spinal Tap. They did not plan to go out quietly however, as plans were quickly made for a farewell tour with MewithoutYou, As Cities Burn, and Letlive as supporting acts. The lineup for this show greatly intrigued me when I first saw it. Underoath has been one of the largest, most well-received bands in the post-hardcore scene ever since 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety, and their following albums, including my own favorite Define the Great Line, blended elements of hardcore, ambient electronica, and post-metal. Each of their albums has always brought something distinct, enjoyable, and new to the table, one of the reasons they have been so successful. Pairing them with the unique sound of MewithoutYou seemed eerily appropriate, as the band is known for being pioneers in the post-hardcore and indie rock genres for their spoken word vocals and free-ranging instrumentals. For me, the icing on the cake was As Cities Burn, a personnel favorite of mine who had been touring around the country for the past year after breaking up in 2009, and whose debut album, 2005’s Son I Loved You at Your Darkest, remains one of my favorite hardcore albums of all time. From the minute this lineup was announced in October, I knew I had to be a part of this tour. So I contacted a friend, bought a ticket for the show in Philly, and waited patiently for the day to come.

2 months after I had already bought my ticket, the day of the show arrived. I rolled into Union Transfer with 4 other friends around 8:30, just as Letlive had finished their set. I was a little disappointed that we had missed the first act, mostly because I had never really listened to Letlive before, but with As Cities Burn setting up I didn’t have much time to lament. We found a place to stand near the middle of the crowd and waited for the band to come out. As Cities Burn has three albums, all with a distinctly different sound. Their debut, Son I Loved You at Your Darkest, is the only hardcore album and would make up the majority of their set, but they opened with a few songs from their other 2 albums, ambient and progressive Come Now, Sleep and indie rock Hell or High Water. I picked up instantly that the band would be modifying their sound this evening to appease the hardcore-loving Underoath crowd, applying distortion and bass to their non-hardcore songs that didn’t feel very right. Even when they started to play their heavier songs, there appeared to be some aggressive modifications to their style that didn’t sit well with me as an avid fan of the band’s studio work. I witnessed something similar when I saw them in Dallas a year ago, during their first reunion show. Despite coming to the conclusion that As Cities Burn is just not as good a live band as they are on record, they played an incredibly energetic and lively set that set the mood for the night perfectly. Lead singer TJ Bonette was very interactive with the crowd, and the rest of the band was constantly moving and having fun on stage. Everyone seemed to react to them well, as evidenced by the first mosh pit of the night forming quickly within the first 10 minutes of their set. Overall, As Cities Burn played a lively, fun, but I still feel they had underachieved compared to what kind of sound the band is capable of.

Among my friends and I, MewithoutYou was the band we were most looking forward to seeing. The Philadelphia-based band is one of the most innovative group of musicians in the post-hardcore and indie genres today. Lead singer Aaron Weiss is considered one of the better spoken-word lyricists, in the same company as La Dispute’s Jordan Dreyer or Listener’s Dan Smith. We scoped out some spots right in the front in anticipation of their set. Their 5th studio album, Ten Stories, had been released a few months prior, but they played a set filled with songs from across all their albums. The band has a pleasant awkwardness to them; Weiss sounds like a nervous toddler in between songs and the rest of the band partakes in some unorthodox theatrics throughout their sets (I caught the drummer licking his sticks at one point. Licking.) This stage presence just contributed to their sound, which was uncompromised and beautifully performed. By far the highlight of the set was when the band pulled out fan favorite song Torches Together. At the end of MewithoutYou’s set, my friends and I felt that we had already gotten our money’s worth.

Finally, after a lengthy delay, Underoath took the stage amidst thunderous applause and approval. My friends and I had at this point re-located to the balcony/bar, giving us a full view of the crowd and stage. Underoath came out strong, playing a myriad of songs from across many albums, and didn’t slow down until the 4 song encore. There was certainly a lot of passion and energy on the stage; lead singer Spencer Chamberlain was constantly interacting with the crowd as the band played vigorously on stage. It was an emotional set; Underoath has always been widely popular, and their exit was bound to not go unnoticed. It was good, though, to see the band play songs that they enjoyed a lot with the fan favorites. It’s hard to forget that for these musicians, leaving the life of touring and recording can be a big shift. Undoubtedly some of the members will remain active in music, but for most of them, this tour is it. In the end, Underoath played like they would never be playing Philly again, capping off a great show with an emotional nail in the coffin.

Outside of house shows, this was my first show of 2013, and it was definitely one of the better ones I’ve attended in the past year. As Cities Burn played with intensity, MewithoutYou was as phenomenal and artistic as always, and Underoath provided the emotional icing on the cake. It truly was a night to remember.

If you are interested in learning more about the bands in this show, or the Union Transfer Station in Philadelphia, check out the links below.