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06/24/09 4:00am

In case you missed it, here’s what iconic Matador Records (home at
times over the years, need I remind you, to a few artists you may have
heard of: Pavement, Guided By Voices, Liz Phair, Belle and Sebastian,
Mission of Burma and, now, Sonic Youth) had to say about the recent
signing of Kurt Vile to a multi-album deal: “We are really pleased to
announce, perhaps more than ever in label history, an addition to the
label roster that we consider to be one of the more important figures
in American music circa 2009.” That’s some kinda praise — and
it’s been well earned, via years of lo-fi home recordings, the best of
which was compiled into Vile’s acclaimed 2008 Constant Hitmaker, the
record that made so many, Matador included, sit up and take notice.
They’ll release his already long-completed next album Childish Prodigy
in autumn 2009. Equally adept at raucous noise rock and shimmering
folk-pop, Vile seems to be getting the attention he so richly deserves.
I managed to get a few minutes with the Philly prodigy before his
late-night Northside set with his band, the Violators.

The L Magazine: It was a few weeks ago that I first heard the
Matador announcement of your signing and the level of praise they gave
you…

Kurt Vile: That was nice.

The L: Between calling you one of the most important
musicians around and saying this was their proudest signing in the
history of the label!

KV: Yeah, but they were just being nice.

The L: I remember reading that there was some sort of bidding
war with them and Domino and Sub Pop?

KV: Well, all those labels were interested. Sub Pop was the
first of the big labels to reach out, and the head of A&R there
flew here last summer, and Domino was interested. Matador at first
wanted to sign me to a subsidiary, but I was like, “No, I’ve been
sitting on this record. I am waiting for the best.” We had been sending
stuff to Matador and we knew they were aware of us, but I really wanted
to know what they thought, because for me they were the coolest one. I
grew up listening to that stuff, like Pavement, so I feel like I can
relate most to Matador, and they’re right up here in New York.

The L: And all of a sudden they have Sonic Youth too —
not too bad sharing a label with them.

KV: Yeah, that’s incredible.

The L: Is it nice to kind of have a home?

KV: Totally nice. Dude, it’s like music was always my thing and it
took me a really long time. I mean, I’m 29, which is still pretty
young. But I’m glad, really, because some people make it earlier and it
can be too much too soon. But I’ve done all the blue collar shit, you
know? So I am pretty grateful and I’m serious about the music.

The L: The too much, too soon thing is what some people say
happened with Wavves.

KV: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking about. I mean
the music buzz world is pretty cruel, and I’m psyched to get good
reviews and stuff, but I don’t take ’em too seriously. I take the music
seriously. And I’m not trying to be super hip or something, I just love
music.

06/15/09 9:06am

If you live in, as they say, the tri-state area, and you have not yet seen Ponytail live, I have a question:
What is wrong with you? Why do you deny yourself pleasure? Do you not like to have fun? Really not to be all Dr. Phil about it but there are few enough chances to experience the unmitigated joy that this foursome brings every time it takes the stage, to not experience it is to be masochistic. More gushing in a minute.

First though, I gotta say it was disappointing to find Studio B, which previously during this weekend’s Northside Festival played host to big crowds for Sunset Rubdown and Bishop Allen, poorly attended on the final night. Maybe because folks were worn out, maybe because it was a Sunday, maybe they had their fill at Todd P.’s all-day acoustic beach party—whatever the reason, early on, for openers Thank You, the crowd was, putting it kindly, sparse.

Nevertheless the Baltimore trio turned in a fine performance—jagged shards of guitar, syncopated clanging drums, punctuated by layers of synths. Add to that screamo vocal chants and the occasional sleighbell—it all made for trancelike silvery sheets of sound that, particularly as the set drew to a close, were captivating.

If Thank You are silver, Ponytail are undeniably, fantastically candy colored. The over used descriptives are tired by now: sugar rush, pixie stick, hyperactive yada yada—enough. I defy you to find another Ponytail because how could there be? Even to look at them is to smile—moptopped Jeremy Hyman and his gut busting backbeat, the guitar shred-off between Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno—the Asian prodigy, the Pennsylvania noodler—is stunning, and then at the center of it all, clad tonight in her Baltimore Ravens jersey, is that pint sized banshee with a language all her own, Molly Siegel.

Her whoops and shrieks and brrrrr-yeah!s, her contortions like a woman possessed are a drug—who needs ecstasy when you’ve got Molly? In fact one of my favorite pastimes at Ponytail shows (and I’ve seen em five times in a year) are watching the newbies in the crowd discover something like they have never seen, and give themselves over to joyous abandon. Molly told me that she’s recently been going through a period of stage nerves (and you can read my full conversation with Ponytail soon right here) but you would never know it on this night — she waded onto the Studio B floor, by now about a third full, giving the bouncing souls an added thrill. Highlights were, as ever, the crashing “Beg Waves,” the mania of “Late For School” (with Ken’s big six words of the night: “Oh no. I’m late for school.”) and the gloriously epic “Celebrate the Body Electric” with its several movements: the chant of “Away We Go Now”! the chill out trancey middle that explodes into Wong and Seeno wail — and finally that glorious arms-in-the-air finish, “Ahh Ah Ahh Ah Ahh Ah Ahh Ah!”

The world’s a better place because of Ponytail. Listen to me or don’t—I don’t care. But if you don’t go see them at their next New York appearance, on July 12th with Mission of Burma and Fucked Up, well, then you don’t deserve to smile.

06/14/09 10:34am

Less Artists, More Condos, More Sweat, and even more noisy, fuzzy lo-fi pop weirdness—that was the menu at The Shank on Saturday night. A damn fine bill of musical innovators, artists from no-frills imprints like Siltbreeze, Shrimper, Woodsist and Death By Audio were represented, but at the top of the bill was a super gifted gent who made news in the past month as the latest and greatest signing to a little label called Matador: Mr. Kurt Vile.

“Thanks for being patient. The other half of our band is one the way. They’re just around the corner.” That was the Philly phenom’s announcement to the crowd around 1:45am. Fifty per cent of Kurt’s band the Violators were playing at Union Pool with The War on Drugs, and well, double bookings, things can run late.

Never mind—at 2:20am the full band took the stage in blistering fashion. Thunderous noise, heavy riffs and Vile’s reverb soaked vocals—all worth the wait. The Violators are Kurt’s rocking outlet — anyone familiar with the crazy good 2008 compilation Constant Hitmaker (the record that, let’s face it, got him the Matador deal) knows he has a multitude of pop sounds in him as well. A rousing response from the Shank crowd greeted the best known of those songs—the gem of a track, “Freeway”, here delivered in especially muscular form. Keep an eye out for my interview with Vile soon here on The L.

It was a different noise—the keyboard-driven variety—that preceded Kurt. The synth noise duo Blues Control—representing for Queens, Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho offered the most hypnotic set of the night, generating waves of alternately droning and driving sounds that ebbed and flowed and veered into electro-cacophony.

Earlier on, it must be said, bands got, ‘shanked’ with some sound issues. Grooms’ first song was done with no vocals on the mic, a speaker was beset with problems, and there were serious monitor cut outs for Woods.

That however, did not keep Woods—a band that’s become synonymous with the term ‘psych-folk’ (they are that and more) with their fourth album Songs Of Shame—from turning in a typically mesmerizing show. Woods play especially low—low drum kit, close to the crowd, guys aren’t that tall, and G. Lucas Crane and his cassette contraption are actually on the ground. Which I think is a shame only because I want people more than two rows back to be able to see the band responsible for this transcendent sound. Jeremy Earl’s falsetto vocal, Kevin Morby and Jarvis Taveniere on the drums-guitar trade off, and songs that just get better on every listen, including, obviously, the winner “Rain On”, which closed out the Shank set and had at least a dozen people singing along. I got the chance to talk to Woods before the show, and you’ll be seeing that conversation soon right here.

Following Woods was a band people might not have known by name, Grooms, but if they had been going to Brooklyn shows in the past five years, they knew the faces and the sound. Grooms, you see, is the recently adopted new name for Muggabears. Frontman Travis Johnson explained to me that the band had finally had enough of people expecting to getting something warm and fuzzy and cute with a name like Muggabears, while in fact they were way noisier. Now, ‘Grooms’ may not be the noisiest name around, but guess what? Grooms sound a lot like Muggabear, if not harder—and that’s a good thing. Frantic, piledriving fuzz pop like fans have come to expect from them, and which can be found in the aptly titled new album Rejoicer — whose first single “Dreamsucker” is flat out excellent. Oh yeah—and Travis also began things by announcing “This entire set goes out to John Norris.” Thanks dude. As though I didn’t have enough people wondering wtf I was doing at The Shank. In any case, I am happy to report that a Muggabear by any other name sounds just as sweet.

06/13/09 12:56pm

The Real Estate market is definitely improving. At least, the market for the New Jersey band with the dreamy- reverb laden pop called Real Estate. Since the beginning of ’09 they’ve won loads of admirers, local and beyond — something which figures to only continue with the release of their first full-length later in the year. A couple of hours before their show at Death By Audio on Friday, I caught up with vocalist-guitarist Martin Courtney and drummer Etienne Pierre Duguay (who splits his time with the psych rock outfit Predator Vision).

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John Norris: Guys so it’s the first ever Northside Festival — does it feel like a festival yet?

Etienn Pierre Duguay: Last night it did — there were a lot of people out and we got free beer and free shoes at the festival office.

JN: Does it seem like an idea whose time has come — our own answer to South By Southwest here in Brooklyn?

EPD: Yeah, for us South by Southwest is just like show to show, from one house party to another, so to have something similar in Brooklyn, where a lot of us live, that’s a great thing.

Martin Courtney: It does makes sense. So many bands are living here already — why not?

JN: A few weeks ago The L Magazine published its 2009 “Eight Bands You Need to Hear” and I guess as a measure of respect they put you guys toward the end as a band that’s already kind of on its way. Does it feel that way to you?

MC: I don’t know, it would be nice to think but it’s a hard thing to gauge. You read a lot on the internet but it’s hard to know where those people are coming from and you don’t know how many people read those sites — but it’s all definitely nice.

JN: One thing people have latched onto is the Galaxie 500 comparison. Were they a legitimate influence on you musically?

MC: Um, no. I had listened to them but not enough to be a real influence. But now, because of the comparisons, I’ve listened to them more. Honestly, I don’t really hear it, but they’re awesome and it’s flattering.

JN: Well, one band that definitely does cite Galaxie 500 as influential are your friends Titus Andronicus. You guys go a long way back with them…

MC: Yeah, they’re from Glen Rock, we’re from Ridgewood, and we kind of met in high school. When I was in high school I met Patrick and Andrew, who’s no longer in the band, and started writing songs with them. We were pretty serious with that for a while, but then we all kind of went off to college. Soon after that Patrick started Titus Andronicus, which has worked out pretty well.

JN: Patrick likes to fly the Jersey flag on stage — and I’ve noticed you too like to mention on stage that you’re from New Jersey. A lot of Garden State pride?

MC: Definitely. You can’t help but rep for Jersey when you’re from there, just because it gets so much shit.

EPD: I mean we’ll be on tour and be at a gas station and some guy walks up and is like (southern accent) “Where y’all from?” We’ll be like “uh, up north.” He’ll say “I see you’re from Jersey.” We’ll kinda say “yeah,” and he’ll be like “I’m sorry” — just ripping.

JN: Do you sense more and more people coming to the shows, knowing the songs?

MC: I think so. We’re definitely playing shows that I am more excited about, playing with more exciting bands. And some more people seem to be coming to see us, and sing along, which is cool. To the easy parts, like the “Budweiser, Sprite” thing (“Suburban Beverage”).

JN: Because some of the vocals are pretty buried, and with all that reverb, kind of hard to figure out. Do you like it that way?

MC: I definitely do because I just don’t put too much emphasis on lyrics. I like words that are sort of like a mantra, that you can chant — but I don’t always put too much thought into them.

EPD: They mean something to me — like “Fake Blues” (a song about, basically, how your life doesn’t really suck all that bad) — because I once had a job doing telemarketing for Lincoln Center. That was awful, just getting yelled at all day long by people on the phone. I am so happy to be playing drums.

JN: Do you still have a day job?

EPD: Not a steady one, but I save money. I live at Market Hotel.

MC: I have a real estate job, which has nothing to do with the name of the band…

EPD: Yes it does.

MC: Well it sort of does, but it’s not like we named the band after me being a real estate agent. I’m not an agent ,I just work there.

JN: Speaking of the name. I guess it never occurred to me how much lingering affection there is out there for Sunny Day Real Estate, but some have had this visceral reaction feeling like you guys have co-opted that name.

MC: Which is weird; I never listened to Sunny Day Real Estate — I guess they’re sort of emo or something?

EPD: A better form of emo.

MC: Anyway, that was completely unintentional — it’s just one of those things that people latch onto but it doesn’t really mean anything.

JN: Well from “Beach Combers” to “Let’s Rock the Beach” to “Pool Swimmers” to “Black Lake” — there’s a lot of water references going on. Now, you’re from Jersey but not from the Shore, so why…

EPD: We love the beach!

MC: No, that really comes from just writing a lot of the songs last summer in a span of like two months, and it was the summertime, we were just out of college and were thinking what’s a good vibe for the band. And we wanted to write songs about the most chill things you possibly can, and that’s like, swimming. Who doesn’t like water?

JN: You haven’t done an official national tour yet — is one planned?

MC: We’re talking about doing a couple of week in California in August — but we don’t have anything official fully nationwide yet.

JN: Any bands you especially like playing with?

EPD: Yeah, Woods, we’ve played with them a bunch — The Beets, Vivian Girls, and Girls, who I think are great.

JN: And another band that so many people seem to be talking about. You can really see waves of interest building for one band after another, and then certain bands — the more outspoken ones, often — seem to incite the haters. It’s happened to Vivian Girls, and it’s definitely recently happened to Wavves, who you guys are playing with soon (July 15th, Bowery).

MC: Yeah and we’ve played with Wavves before — we’re super psyched about that. They’re great — and that’s just a shitty situation for him.

EPD: I’m all done with the hating. I’ve hated a lot in my life and now I’m like whatever man, just chill vibes.

JN: And finally, the status of the full length — is it coming along?

MC: Yeah, it definitely is. But we’re recording with our friend Sarim (ex-Titus) and he just went on tour with his punk band Liquor Store. He’s awesome. We’re almost at the point where we’re ready to mix it; it should be done in the next few weeks and it should be out in September on Woodsist. That’ll be self titled. And we’re also almost done with a six- or seven-song 12” for this kind of boutique label Mexican Summer. It might be called “Easy Listening”.

EPD: I’m hoping for a record release party on my birthday: September 4th at Market Hotel. Worldwide tour to start the next day! We’ll see.

JN: Thanks guys, good luck.

06/13/09 9:48am

7388/1244900871-flyer.jpgNo place I would rather be on Friday night of the Northside Fest than the venerable (Can we call it venerable yet? Why yes, I think we can) Death By Audio. Not because it was a chance to see bands that rarely play Brooklyn – as a matter of fact every few weeks it seems you can catch at least one of them around town. But because it was a showcase of some of the most exciting, modern left-field pop our fine locale has to offer. Free Williamsburg organized the lineup and created the poster which featured a multi-scoop ice cream cone—and they delivered: In the back there was in fact free ice cream, to go with your beer. And on stage plenty of different flavors—and not a single one vanilla. (More after the jump)

Air Waves singer and guitarist Nicole Schneit even gave shout out the ice cream — but spent the rest of her time on stage serving up the sweets herself. Along with bandmates Carlos Clark and Daoud Tyler-Ameen, Nicole brought the jangle rock, with “Keys”, the folk-pop wistful with “Lightning”, and finally the utterly charming bounce of “Shine On”. I haven’t met Nicole, but I think the punk in her might hate the word ‘enchanting’. But that’s kind of what she is—and as “Shine On” wound down, there were smiles all around. Or maybe it was the ice cream.

Next up was Real Estate – as anticipated as any young band at the Northside Festival—the Jersey quartet with the hazy, waterlogged pop sound that seems to be winning disciples by the month. I have to say though the much-discussed ‘haze’ in their recorded music clears a bit in the live setting—songs like “Black Lake” and “Suburban Beverage” with its “Budweiser, Sprite” singalong have an added punch. But the mood is still intact on standouts “Fake Blues” and “Beach Comber” — really stunning tunes and the sort of thing that gives pop a good name. Real Estate are playing a variety of special shows in the next few weeks: a Woodsist festival in Bushwick on the 4th, the Whitney Museum with Titus Andronicus, and Bowery with Wavves and Woods (talk about a triple bill). Do yourself a favor and see them.

A beer run meant I lost my spot near the front to much taller people barreling to get close, ready to get their dance on to the funk-from-the fringe of Javelin. It had to be Providence—meaning the city, as well as good fortune—that delivered up to Brooklyn the irony-drenched duo Javelin, electronic eccentrics on the order of Dan Deacon and Future Islands, only more retro-camp: witness the spoken word intro of “Andean Ocean Tape”, the geniusly titled “Lindsay Brohan” and its biker dude sample, the fedora, the stacks of busted boom boxes they use as a backdrop. They definitely managed to get a hipster hop going, especially with set closer, the funky “Vibrationz”, on which they asked the room to imagine they were at a middle school dance. Only I guess, with ice cream and PBR’s.

But where was the popcorn? That’s what we needed because what was to follow was a screening. These Are Powers took the stage to introduce, projected on a sheet held across the stage, their new video, for the jagged, driving, primal “Easy Answers” — and what a video it is: Anna, Bill and Pat in druid drag out in the forest somehere. There seems to be a pagan ritual of some sort going on. There’s fire, boom boxes (again?) Sunkist orange soda, and little candles set off on paper boats. Just go find it, you won’t disappointed. Then came the set — what a band, and what a front woman in Anna Barie — sexy and wry and funny, first in a gold sequined number saying she was there to present an MTV Movie Award to ‘Twilight’ then stripping down to a catsuit and urging the crowd to disrobe as well, to imagine they were in a ‘horror musical’. These Are Powers are headed to China soon (!) God knows what they will make of them over there. Dance rock like it ought to be. And people ask me ‘what’s so great about Brooklyn’? Um, this is.

06/12/09 11:57am

So, as we speak thousands of people are congregating on a farm in Manchester, TN, listening to music into the wee hours of the night. And??? We’ve got a damn fine music festival happening right here in our own backyard, one that includes some of my favorite artists: Sunset Rubdown, Ponytail, The Dodos, Anamanaguchi, Kurt Vile, Woods, Real Estate and many many more. So I’m good. Plus — we get to sleep in our own beds, and we’ve got showers. (Details after the jump.)

Actually on day #1 of the first ever Northside Festival, Brooklyn had a lot of showers, as in the inclement-weather variety. That London kind of foggy drizzle. Through that soup, I made it over to North 6th to pick up my badge at festival headquarters, where only seconds after arriving in the Heineken-sponsored lounge I was offered a beer to help me pass the time. Um, OK. Also met a Northside volunteer named Christopher, a drummer looking for a gig. Cdepomp1@yahoo.com. Gotta help a brother out.

The trusty B61 bus runs up to Greenpoint no matter the weather, and that was a good thing since my first port of call was Coco 66, in hopes of catching the LA tribal-jazz-dance collective known as the Pleasure Circus Band. Problem was, Coco was oddly quiet. “Oh, Pleasure Circus Band?”, says the helpful volunteer at the door, “yeah, they cancelled.” Right. Flying start. I got the full story when bassist and bandleader Oliwa approached, to explain to me that because their drummer was delayed on a cross country move from Cali to New York, they were drummer-less and could not go on. Alas, Christopher was nowhere to be found.

I did manage to catch Brooklyn’s Bonnie Baxter, however. Wearing fishnets, with a white feather boa tied to the mic, Bonnie worked with Coco 66’s cabaret-like setting. Musically though, she and the band delivered dreamy reverb-soaked atmospheric soundscapes (as one of her songs is called) that were mesmerizing and trippy.

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Not half as trippy as what was in store next, down on Bedford in the much more packed Spike Hill. Local psych rockers stalwarts Himalaya curated the night’s show, and turned in a solid set of sweaty drone-y throwback gaze — some of it stoner, some more sweet, and in their more Floyd-like moments, like the entrancing “15 A Day” or “31”, damn if my thoughts didn’t turn to the hallucinogens on offer right now down at Bonnaroo’s Shakedown Street. Visually, a Himalaya show is all shadows and geometric projections, including their trademark Rising Sun — sonically, I thought they might blow the windows off of little Spike Hill, with a serious wall of sound finish that would have made Kevin Shields proud.

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After that a little lightening up was called for, and we got it by maybe 50%, in the form of the urgent, insistent indie rock of Gigantic Hand. Like Himalaya, these guys have been at it a few years, but as the show revealed, the songs on their recent album Permanent Skin (Triple Down Records) are something special. Tracks like “Glass Son” and “11 to 40 Miles” recall the jagged, yelping sound of Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse, and in other, moodier moments, the baritone of Matt Berninger and The National. And yet, live, the band sears and soars to a place all its own, to create one uniquely Gigantic Handprint. A pretty thrilling way to wind up night number one. The music inside may not have been sunny, but hey, it matched the weather.

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