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Articles by

<Tobias Carroll>

06/11/12 1:22pm

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The venerable punk label Revelation turned 25 years old this year, and celebrated the occasion by putting on several nights of shows at the The Glasshouse in Pomona, CA, featuring the likes of Sensefield, Underdog, Gameface, and Gorilla Biscuits. The third night’s lineup boasted a “special guest,” which turned out to be a reunited Quicksand, whose debut EP was released on the label in 1990.

At least one report suggests that a similar set of shows may be in the works for NYC, which makes sense, given the number of New York-based bands involved in this weekend’s festivities. Does this mean that New Yorkers will soon get to hear “Thorn In My Side” and “Dine Alone” live for the first time in ages? One can only hope.

Here’s footage of them playing “How Soon Is Now”:

05/24/12 10:42am

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In the “didn’t see that one coming” department, Temporary Residence has released the complete discography of Moss Icon, the surreal punk group who deftly eluded precise classification. This follows closely on the heels of the same label’s reissue of the discography of Bitch Magnet, a group whose trio of albums has earned them admirers from Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan to Battles’ Ian Williams. Merge Records has recently announced plans to reissue the discography of Sugar, the Bob Mould-led power-pop group who released numerous blisteringly catchy songs throughout the 90s. And Numero Group will be reissuing music from the slowcore outfit Codeine. All of this comes as welcome news: while there’s no shortage of excellent new music being made, it’s also good to see worthy music from a few years before given renewed attention. With that in mind, here are five other candidates for the deluxe reissue treatment, also chosen from the strange world of 90s punk and indie rock.

05/16/12 2:00pm

Seattle’s Cave Singers have, to date, recorded a trio of albums—two for Matador, and 2011’s No Witch for Jagjaguwar. They’re equally comfortable summoning up images of everything from madness to Belmar, New Jersey.

Much of what’s made their sound interesting has been the use of spaces in their music—they’re unafraid to go stark and simply let vocalist Pete Quirk howl. Via a post on their blog today, that stark quality may be giving way to something else, as Morgan Henderson has joined the band on bass. But predicting where exactly his contributions will lead won’t be easy, given that Henderson’s resume includes time in groups ranging from Fleet Foxes to Blood Brothers…

05/11/12 10:52am

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Maybe it was when Dirty Projectors released “Stillness Is The Move;” maybe it was when Solange Knowles released her cover of the same song. Sometime around then, the influence of R&B on a certain segment of underground music became undeniable. The work of Doe Paoro, currently in the middle of a month-long residency at Williamburg’s Cameo Gallery, serves as an interesting example of where this movement—bringing together one generation’s pop sensibility with another’s fondness for DIY and underground spaces—might be headed. Some of the artists sharing bills with her during this period come from the more esoteric or experimental side of things—Thrill Jockey avant-dub artist Jason Urick, for instance. Yet Paoro herself is capable of both tapping into eccentric musical traditions and making deeply accessible pop music. Some of her recent album, Slow to Love, heads into decidedly strange territory—running her vocals through layers of distortion, for instance, or creating claustrophobic spaces around her voice on the title track. Elsewhere, she mines a more traditional vein. “Can’t Leave You” is a properly torchy ballad, structured around a piano melody and occasionally featuring swelling backing vocals.

Paoro is far from the only artist right now to marry an underground sensibility with unabashedly pop influences. Watching How to Dress Well play a DIY space last winter was a study in contradictions: on the one hand, it was iconoclastic enough to fit there, but the mood was light-years away from watching a more experimental act there. And while Tom Krell’s music has the sort of density and blissed-out tendencies that appeal to many a fan of ambient/drone music, it’s also clearly coming from an R & B tradition.

This crossover between indie and R & B isn’t exactly a new thing; just listen to Dub Narcotic Sound System’s 1996 song “Ship to Shore” (with vocals from Lois Maffeo)—it’s not intended as pastiche, but rather an as example of a style that all of the musicians involve clearly love. And I suspect that the influence of Prince, whether musical or aesthetic (or both), has also played a part in this resurgence of R&B in DIY scenes. (The music of Autre Ne Veut, in particular, comes to mind here.)

On the flip side of this crossover moment are artists who seem to be paying tribute to the genre’s most sentimental side. The Minneapolis-based Gayngs are perhaps the most self-referential of the bunch, and yet the style (mostly) works; “The Last Prom On Earth,” for instance, sounds both like a condensed version of the style and an excellent example of it. At the same time, there’s the tendency of parts of this to veer into overt emulation of the most sentimental and least (musically) interesting aspects of mid-90s pop—Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest,” I’m looking at you. For now, at least, Paoro’s songs remain memorable for both their catchier aspects and the more offbeat aspects of their production. That she’s equally at home with large-scale ballads and Future Islands covers suggests a promising sense of balance at work in her own aesthetic sensibility.

04/13/12 2:05pm

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Last week, when an unused Oneohtrix Point Never track surfaced we were reminded that Orange Mountain Music would be releasing a collection of remixes of Philip Glass’s work later this year. It’s not surprising to learn of this, the second collection of remixes of Glass’s work released on Orange Mountain following 2005’s dance-oriented Glass Cuts. The minimalist qualities inherent in Glass’s work would seem to be ideal material for someone to resculpt, and given Glass’s occasional forays into reworking existing music (his reworkings of David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes,” for instance), there’s certainly precedent for it—for Glass, his contemporaries, and their predecessors.

In 1999, Nonesuch Records released Reich Remixed, a series of ten remixed Steve Reich compositions. DJ Spooky is probably the biggest name on here, as well as the one whose name is still as likely to show up on a high-profile remix effort. The compilation as a whole is a restrained effort, tasteful and precise. At the same time, listening to it a decade after its release finds it sounding very much of its time: i.e. a remix album featuring a cross-section of the circa-1999 electronica scene. And arguably, there’s a sense of Reich looming large here, his work eluding significant reworking.

Other classical remix projects have looked further back in terms of musical history. In 2004, Cantaloupe Records released Messiah: Remix, in which eleven artists ranging from Japanese DJ Nobukazu Takemura to the avant-hip-hop group dälek reworked a very familiar piece of music from George Frideric Handel. As such, it’s a much more fragmented affair, at times embracing the original piece’s sublime qualities and at others, seeking to dynamite them. Certain sections of the compilation veer into digital stop-and-start manipulation; others zero in on specific elements of Handel’s composition and magnify the textures into something suitable for a newfound sonic focus.

The most successful of these projects seem to be those that feel most free to rework their artistic parent. One could cite as precedents the “Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel,” turning the familiar into the delirious, that shows up on Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. And Janet Cardiff’s installation The Forty Part Motet—recently on view at PS1—turned an existing recording of Thomas Tallis’s 1575 “Spem in Alium Nunquam habui” into something that expands the source’s reach while retaining its tremendously moving center.

The Oneohtrix Point Never reworking of Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi score is dreamlike; scaling down the majestic scale of Glass’s composition to something more ethereal. If this is an indication of the approach the rest of the artists on the compilation will take, it’s heartening, as is the presence of the Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson on the compilation’s roster. The more willing the artists participating in this project are to seek new sonic ground, the more likely it will be that the work that emerges will stand on its own.

04/12/12 12:16pm

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On Wednesday, the middle night of Chickfactor’s 20th birthday celebration—a mini-festival dubbed “For the Love of Pop”—found a collection of artists ranging from the charmingly shambolic to the dramatic and precise taking the stage at Brooklyn’s Bell House. After a short solo performance of True Love Always’ “Mediterranean” and an exhortation to “send some love back to the 1992 version of yourself,” artists began taking the stage for longer sets. As with the entirety of the festival, the lineup alternated long-standing artists associated with Chickfactor with appearances from bands that had previously been on hiatus; “this is our first show in x years” was a common statement heard from the stage.

LD Beghtol was the first to play a longer set, which included a fluctuating lineup, a bit of ukulele, and no small amount of crooning. Beghtol closed out his set with an a capella cover of Everything But the Girl’s “Soft Touch.” It was the first onstage allusion to Tracey Thorn, who would ultimately be invoked nearly as much as Chickfactor co-founder Gail O’Hara. Beghtol’s cover wasn’t note-perfect, but neither was it meant to be — and it set up the dynamic that endured over the course of the night. Much like the drum-loop-fueled pop of Pipas and the wry cocktail-lounge numbers played by The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, charm rather than virtuosity was at the center of Beghdol’s set — though his also featured some intentionally jarring moments, and made for one of the bill’s high points.

Another came with the appearance onstage of Bridget St. John, a contemporary of John Martyn and Nick Drake who drew from the same folk-influenced tradition. Accompanied on guitar by Mick Gaffney, St. John’s set included covers of Michael Chapman’s “Rabbit Hills” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” It didn’t hurt that her voice sounded full and wounded and hopeful throughout; she never lost the crowd’s attention.

Last to take the stage were The Aislers Set, who had last played New York City nearly a decade before. It was to tremendous applause; singer/guitarist Amy Linton’s previous band, Henry’s Dress, set the sonic template for dozens of bands that emerged a few years ago, fuzzed-out and energetic; equal parts punk and Spector. Aislers Set progressed on from there, incorporating bits of surf-rock and subdued twee over the course of three albums and numerous singles. (Based on the response they received tonight, I suspect a collection of those singles would do well; call me crazy.) The group was tight, executing harmonies perfectly and nailing both the stark “Emotional Levy” and the rapturous “Red Door.” At the end of the night, someone shouted for more music. “We just played sixteen songs!” Linton wryly replied. Still, the set and the reaction it earned served as a reminder that this band has been sorely missed, and closed out the evening on an ecstatic note.

04/09/12 2:22pm

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Nostalgia works in strange ways; sometimes, it comes to the surface in conflict with itself, yielding something other than what’s expected. The crowd gathered at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on Thursday evening had done so to see two former members (guitarist Eric Erlandson and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur) of the band Hole in conversation, with music and readings interspersed throughout the night. The age of the crowd varied wildly, from those old enough to have seen Hole live in their mid-90s heyday to those who would have been barely walking when 1995’s Live Through This came out. The crowd was a friendly one, and when onetime Hole drummer Patty Schemel (briefly discussing her documentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel) walked onstage, it was to rapturous applause. The event also took place on the eighteenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death; between that and Erlandson’s debut book, a collection of prose poems called Letters to Kurt, mortality and muses were never far from the surface.

In conversation with host Katherine Lanpher, Erlandson cited Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin as an inspiration for the structure of his own book. The three poems that he read were free-associative and at times awkward in their imagery, referencing everything from the music of Epic Soundtracks to self-help books on tape to the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide. Though some of the poems’ images were memorable: “the Melvins doing life-threatening Vivaldi,” for one. Erlandson’s demeanor was , sometimes reluctantly offering memories of his time in Hole, at others offering manifestoes and charged aphorisms. (“Everybody talks about the puppet, but no one talks about the hand!”)

Throughout the night, Auf der Maur and Erlandson teamed for a total of three songs, including a Jacques Brel cover, and “My Foggy Notion” from her solo debut. Erlandson began the night playing banjo, which prompted Erlandson to quip that Hole had been “known for its use of traditional instruments.” The mood of the night’s conversation ranged from collegial to cathartic; though their time in Hole had brought the three former members together, all three seemed much more eager to discuss their current projects than revisiting the past — even if, for two of the three present, those lines are somewhat blurred.

Lanpher made an unintentional “live through this” pun partway through the night, which led to an uneasy pause, followed by some awkward laughter. And at the end of the evening, Erlandson and Auf der Maur closed things out with

04/03/12 2:12pm

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2011 was a good year for the Montreal-based saxophonist Colin Stetson: his album New History Warfare, Vol.2: Judges earned rave reviews; he toured with Godspeed! You Black Emperor and as a member of Bon Iver, and closed out the year with the release of the EP Those Who Didn’t Run, which found him working at longer lengths than the tauter pieces heard on Judges. In anticipation of his show tonight at Glasslands, we checked in with him via email about the status of his next album, a planned collaborative work with Sweden’s Mats Gustafsson, and the effect that Those Who Didn’t Run might have on his future work.

Have you begun working on a new solo album?


Yes, Vol. 3 is currently being recorded/mixed.


Do you think the next album will feature shorter pieces, or continue in the lengthier vein of the two pieces heard on Those Who Didn’t Run?


I have been very interested in more lengthy and minimalist explorations, and the next record will certainly be inclusive of that, but by no means exclusive of shorter pieces and song forms.


I’ve heard that a collaboration with Mats Gustafson is in the works — how did that come about?


Mats and I were asked to do a duo show at the Vancouver jazz festival last year and the performance was recorded. This album is the potential release of that recording.

Does your approach to recording differ at all when in a collaborative setting?


Certainly on a on a purely technical level.  When I’m recording my solo compositions I’m constructing the entire atmosphere out of mic sends in the moment of the single take, while when I’m recording with others there’s obviously not the same amount of sonic real estate to inhabit, so I’ll not usually be so exhaustive in my mic placements. But musically speaking, it’s really all the same. We’re making music either way and the integrity of the song and the album is paramount.


Has your work as a touring musician in other bands—such as Bon Iver last summer—led to an increased awareness of your own music?

Making the Bon Iver record and now touring that music has been incredibly fun and rewarding and of course, just as anything that we spend most of our time doing, I’m sure it has an effect on my current ideas and inspirations. Though, in general, that’s kind of like asking if the way you live your life has affected how you’ve lived your life. 

03/27/12 12:01pm

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The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, the first novel by Greenpoint resident Kris D’Agostino, follows Calvin Moretti, a grad-school dropout living with his parents. As he strives to find his own space in the world, nearly every other character must also face some sort of shift in their place in the world: his teenage sister’s pregnancy and the end of his father’s career as a pilot serving as two examples. (Between this novel and Adam Wilson’s Flatscreen, it’s been a good year for smart character studies of young media-savvy men adrift in the world.) In advance of his launch reading at WORD tonight, I checked in with D’Agostino via email to discuss the Moretti family’s background, the overlap of his music with his writing, and the history of Sleepy Hollow itself.

Sleepy Hollow was, until a few years ago, known as North Tarrytown. Given the novel’s themes of reinvention, was this something that you had in mind when choosing the setting?
I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea they had been calling it North Tarrytown. The real reason I set the novel in Sleepy Hollow was simply because it was a place I had always been envious while growing up in southeastern Westchester County. I’m from a town called Pelham and I always loved the Hudson River towns. Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Irving, Ossining. All the old Victorian houses and the history of the whole area. All those towns in the valley along the water are very (for lack of a better word) “quaint.” And since I didn’t get to grow up there, I did the next best thing and set my novel there.

How much of the family history in the novel did you have charted out before starting to write it?
I had pretty much all of the family history charted out, in my brain, before starting to write. Where they wound up based on that history seemed to take shape as I wrote and as the characters dealt with everything that was happening to them. I knew where I wanted to bring the novel, what end I saw for all of them, but getting there, I tried to let that play out as naturally as possible.

Economic anxieties play a large part in driving the novel’s action; was that in place from the outset, or did contemporary events adjust how the book played out?
You know, it’s kind of funny, the economic stuff came into play later on in the course of writing the book. I actually saw that my parents (in real life) were almost certainly going to lose their house because of my Dad not being able to work. He has the same kind of cancer as the father in the novel. And as I saw this happening, I realized it needed to be part of the book, so I went back and put the house/mortgage crisis plotline in. I think it’s eerie how the financial situation the Morettis face in the book is analogous to the financial hardships that a lot of families faced/are facing in this country.

Ultimately, where do you weigh in on Cal’s decision about finding his own way in the world?
I’m not sure I know what his decision is. I think he ultimately accepts that there is no “escape” from his family, no matter what he does. It’s more about finding that balance, if at all possible, between responsibility and selfishness. I think Seinfeld called it “The Buffer Zone.”

Has your time playing in bands had any effect on the stories you’ve chosen to tell, or the way you’ve chosen to tell them?
I’m not sure the two have anything to do with one another. I’m actually strongly opposed to music writing of any kind in literature. I usually hate when authors try to “write” about music or describe music, or reference popular bands. I think it is very hard to do well. I also think music largely ruins otherwise good films. Instrumental soundtracks are fine, but this whole commingling of films and popular music and the idea of the “soundtrack” based on what’s popular or who’s popular at the time is really detrimental and distracting to the task of storytelling. I tried to insert the idea of music, and Calvin’s love of music, into the book in the least offensive way I could think of. He basically just rattles of what albums he’s listening to while he listens to them, but that’s it. He doesn’t “talk” about music. If that makes any sense. I think I just email rambled about music and films and I’m not sure it made any sense! Haha.

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And now! As a bonus, Kris D’Agostino answers our Questionnaire for Writer Types (TM):

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
The novel is a thinly veiled Roman a clef about some very strange times in my family’s recent history. After reading it my younger, metro-sexual, Republican, lawyer brother said: “All the good stuff that happens in the book you made up, all of the bad stuff actually happened to us. And how come you let Mom of the hook?”

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I just completed a 4-month crusade to finish Cormac McCarthy’s entire catalog. I had read half of it but for some reason had never gotten around to the Border Trilogy, which I had always heard was “McCarthy lite.” But actually I found it to be profoundly moving and about as inimitable as any prose I’ve ever encountered. The secret gem in the trilogy is The Crossing.

Also, A Separation might be the most morally evenhanded movie since Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
R Kelly. Without a doubt. That may seem like a really obvious and boring answer but I can’t get enough of this guy. At one point during the behind-the-scenes YouTube videos chronicling the making of the remix of his song “Echo,” he takes the time to explain, at length, what an echo is. I want to read a book where he just Benjy Compson-style free-associates all day. I don’t think I’d ever get bored of it. He’s like a mathematician who claims that 1+1 is 97 and has notebooks of theorems to prove it. He’s so wrong he might a genius.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I’ve been a fake starving artist. The fall I started my MFA (2006) I came back from a trip to California with $15 in my bank account and $6,000 in AMEX bills and started sleeping on couches for a while. But this didn’t last very long and I got a job and student loans and got back on my feet. The interlude smacked heavily of posturing and it didn’t make me a better writer. And I’m always hungry.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
They come up to me and tell me they love the book and then ask me a lot of questions about it and I get to talk about myself. I love talking about myself.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Every love note I’ve ever written to a girl. Also the two short stories I wrote when I was 21 that were published in two different lit journals back in like 2004. One can be found if you google my name. I’m pretty embarrassed by them now and the writing strikes me as cloying and naïve. But in some ways I’m grateful because at least I’m not looking back and being like, “Man, I was such a better writer in my early 20s!”

03/23/12 9:50am

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This week, the New York Times profiled Daniel Martin-McCormick’s deeply catchy dance music project Ital, following a Village Voice cover story . And while Martin-McCormick is a musician with numerous acclaimed albums to his credit, he’s also a critic, contributing regularly to the music website Dusted. (Full disclosure: I’m also a contributor there; the world of music writers is a small one, and several of the people profiled below are acquaintances or friends.) Martin-McCormick is far from the only critic to also be an active musician: As Jim DeRotagis’s biography points out, Lester Bangs recorded a proto-alt-country album with the Delinquents, called Jook Savages on the Brazos; SPIN editor Christopher Weingarten spent several years as the drummer of Parts & Labor; and Carrie Brownstein once maintained a blog about music called Monitor Mix for NPR. Between the recent attention paid to Ital and the presence in New York this weekend of the Experience Music Project’s Pop Conference (which features a number of people who straddle the critic/musician divide), it seemed appropriate to spotlight a few other critics who make music. Or, depending on how you look at it, musicians who also write criticism.

Tobi Vail
If you’re a fan of deeply vital punk rock, it’s likely that you’ve heard Tobi Vail’s drumming — either through her work with Bikini Kill, or more recently with the garage punk band The Old Haunts. Vail’s also an astute critic, essayist, and documentarian of all things DIY, and recently contributed this essay on The Who to eMusic.

Matt LeMay
Matt LeMay is a regular contributor to Pitchfork; he’s also written a book in the 33 1/3 series about Elliott Smith’s XO. He spent the better part of the last decade as the frontman of the smart pop band Get Him Eat Him, who released several albums on the fine, now-defunct Absolutely Kosher; he’s since joined the long-running indiepop band Kleenex Girl Wonder, and has begun work on a number of singles.

Franklin Bruno
Franklin Bruno, recently named the music editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, has both series academic credentials and a fine ear as a songwriter. He’s written about music for years, and has also released a number of acclaimed albums with Nothing Painted Blue, The Human Hearts, and The Extra Lens—the latter of which is a collaboration with Mountain Goats mainstay John Darnielle.

Daniel Martin-McCormick
With Ital’s Hive Mind earning rave reviews, Martin-McCormick’s lengthy and wide-ranging discography
(he’s also a current member of the duo Mi Ami, and a former member of Black Eyes.) You might also know him from his reviews in Dusted, including looks at albums from Matthew Herbert and Walter Gibbons.