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02/01/12 4:00am

Surprises are nice, especially in the internet age, with its spoilers and fevered reportage and races to be first. So in anticipation of something memorable, and hopefully personal, it’s a relief to turn off your phone and rely on the Instagram that is your brain. Such has been the thinking of Jeff Mangum and his coterie: no video, no photography. When the extremely private singer-songwriter made his first billed concert appearance in years in May 2010, at a benefit concert for stroke-stricken New Zealand punk rocker Chris Knox, cameras were forbidden—though a few grainy videos showed up online. Since then Mangum has played a handful of shows: from a Bushwick loft to Zuccotti Park and large theaters like BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, where on Friday, January 20, he played the middle show of a three-night run with the Music Tapes, a twee-folk combo led by Julian Koster, formerly of Mangum’s Neutral Milk Hotel. In March, Mangum is curating the UK edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival. For the next few months he’ll be touring the country, and he’s just released a limited edition vinyl box set that collects a lot of material that’s long been out of print.

An air of nervous anticipation set in at BAM not long before the lights went down. Now, Mangum is far from the Maharishi, but plenty of fans had traveled from afar to “touch the hem of his garment,” to echo Shelley Duvall’s rock journalist in Annie Hall. Even Stephen Colbert was reportedly in attendance, having left his well-publicized “campaign” in South Carolina on the day of the Republican presidential primary.

Mangum appeared gracious and grateful as he walked onstage, dressed in a green work shirt and workman’s cap covering chin-length hair. He later spoke of some queasiness, but “that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here,” he said, shyly. I wondered how it felt for him to leave behind the coffeehouses and mid-sized rock venues of his band’s heyday, and a decade later perform in a space like the Beaux Arts Gilman, which so acutely accentuates every last warble. Mangum opened with “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2,” a quiet and romantic song about grasping for personal connection and keeping the past present. It closes In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, capped by Mangum unplugging his guitar and walking away. Here, it’s a jarring hello, but a kind one, which seems to say, “Ahem, where were we?”

It’s strange, he remarked, “Putting little messages in a bottle and ten years later…” you get an audience like this one. Among his most angst-ridden, “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone,” from 1996’s On Avery Island, has an emotional release that’s nailed to the wall by his surrealist imagery: “Our love bleeds through.” Catharsis—whether through bleeding, or fumbling bodies, or falling or seeking escape—is a prominent theme in his songwriting. Colored by Koster’s singing saw, “Engine,” with its talking tigers on cafeteria trays imagery, is comforting like only a children’s song can be, whatever your age.

He was playful throughout, responding to a chorus of well-wishes and requests. At one point someone yelled, “Play whatever you want,” to applause. (As a wise man once said, a band is not a jukebox.) As he was drawing on a relatively small repertoire (two albums and a handful of singles), it’s doubtful anyone went home disappointed. Instead, there were treats like the howling tip of “Oh Comely,” the long, simply strummed centerpiece of Aeroplane, which closes with Salvation Army brass. The song’s high notes might’ve found their way into BAM’s cinema, next door. And there are those lines like “I will take you and leave you alone,” from “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2,” which remind the listener what a privilege it is to remain in the moment. For an encore, the audience spilled into the aisles during the rollicking “Song Against Sex.” Surprisingly shy about singing along, even when prodded by Mangum, the crowd happily obliged for “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” a curio that’s transcended these past dozen years and become a signature. There were handshakes and waves and, again, a goodbye. As Mangum sings in “Oh Comely,” “I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine.” In the end, all we have are our memories.

01/24/12 12:02pm

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Friday night’s show at ISSUE Project Room marked several passages. First and foremost, it was the final concert in the experimental venue’s space of four years, the Old American Can Factory, in Gowanus, before it moves to 110 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn. And so it’s also the last time that many will trek up three flights of stairs in a sparse, gray studio building on an industrial corner of Third Avenue. Originally intended as a three-month stint, its tenure ushered in a wave of development in music and performance, not only near the Gowanus Canal, but across the borough.

ISSUE Project Room, which was established in 2003 on the Lower East Side by artist Suzanne Fiol, who passed away from cancer in 2009, at age 49, won a 20-year rent-free lease at Livingston Street. The 1926 Beaux Arts-style building was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, and formerly housed the New York City Board of Education. Described by Fiol as a “Carnegie Hall for the avant-garde,” the space’s jewel box theater, once fully renovated, will be truly one of a kind. Speaking by phone last week, ISSUE Executive Director Ed Patuto shared: “There is no other European-style music chamber hall in all of New York. We don’t know of any others in the country, though we assume there have to be some others. And so the sound in there is really remarkable; it’s incredibly rich.” When work is complete, the theater will be the only space in New York with the ability to display 360° visuals and multi-channel sound.

For now the crew will undergo a “test run” in the space. “We won’t start construction to do all the renovations for at least another year,” Patuto said. “Before we finish all of the architectural and engineering drawings and work that needs to be done to plan the renovation—the usual construction work—we want to learn as much as we can, in terms of how to treat the room acoustically, so that we don’t over-engineer it.” Performances kick off January 25 with Gaudeamus Muziekweek New York, a satellite of the Dutch performance festival. In planning the new venue, ISSUE personnel studied various venues in Europe, where many modern performance spaces are housed in historic buildings. “We studied spaces in Holland,” Patuto added, “Various Dutch spaces in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, as well as other places around the world to see what they had done and how they did it: How they would accommodate both the architecture of the past and provide contemporary artists with the tools that they need to perform. And so it seems fitting that we would do what will be an annual festival, Gaudeamus Muziekweek New York, as our soft opening in this space.”

Back at the Old American Can Factory, ISSUE celebrated the release of a live recording by Jonathan Kane’s February, the first on its new imprint, ISSUE Project Room Editions. The six-song set is culled from two nights at the Can Factory in February 2010. And “Factory” is somewhat apt, here, as the quintet play a loud, propulsive strain of the blues, anchored by the former Swans member’s motorik beat. Add in projections of colorful portraiture on the white brick, including a large eyeball with a hypnotic swirling pattern, and there are deep shades of the Velvet Underground.

Calling themselves a “no-school” rap duo, Kevin Shea and Matt Mottel of Talibam! affected Midnight Vultures-era Beck in sunglasses, vintage sport jackets and popped collars — or, maybe, the Beastie Boys when they work in hardcore guitar crunch. Their Reagan-era Casanova boasts (“Pump up the volume / I’m out to win”) were pumped as much by the crowd as the no wave noise and synth beats backing them. Party vibe aside, Talibam! have pushed boundaries with releases on ESP Disk and stints with Rhys Chatham. Mottel was an ISSUE Artist-in-Residence in 2010.

Jonathan Kane also rattled the packed crowd with plenty of volume. “We’re closing it out with a big, fucking bang,” the drummer yelled from behind his kit. Kane dedicated the night to Fiol, to rapturous applause. Dressed in black, the band thundered through instrumental numbers, taking advantage of the airy space and its thick concrete walls. They have a song called “Blissed Out Rag,” found on the live recording, just to give you some idea. As the room heated up, and the crowd danced and got amorous, I retreated to the narrow waiting area, which was as packed as it was earlier in the evening, before the doors opened.

01/23/12 12:05pm

Oh look, thisphoto again.

  • Oh look, thisphoto again.

Surprises are nice, especially in the Internet age, with its spoilers and fevered reportage and races to be first. So in anticipation of something memorable, and hopefully personal, it’s a relief to turn off your phone and rely on the Instagram that is your brain. Such has been the thinking of Wordless Music, along with Jeff Mangum and his coterie: no video, no photography. When the extremely private singer-songwriter made his first billed concert appearance in years in May 2010, at a benefit concert for Chris Knox held at (Le) Poisson Rouge, cameras were forbidden — though a few grainy videos showed up online. Since then Mangum has played a handful of shows: from a Bushwick loft to Zuccotti Park and large theaters like BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, where on Friday night he concluded a three-night run with the Music Tapes, the twee-folk combo led by former Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster. In March, Mangum is curating the U.K. edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival. For the next few months he’ll be touring the country, and he’s just released a limited edition vinyl box set which collects a lot of material that’s long been out of print.

An air of nervous anticipation set in not long before the lights went down. Now, Mangum is far from the Maharishi, but plenty of fans have travelled from afar to “touch the hem of his garment,” to echo Shelley Duvall’s rock journalist in Annie Hall. Even Stephen Colbert was reportedly in attendance, having left his well-publicized “campaign” in South Carolina on the day of the primary.

Mangum appeared gracious and grateful as he walked onstage, dressed in a green work shirt and workman’s cap covering chin-length hair. He later spoke of some queasiness, but “that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here,” he added, shyly. I wondered how it felt for him to leave behind the coffeehouses and mid-sized rock venues of his band’s heyday, and a decade later perform in a space like the Beaux Arts Gilman, which so acutely accentuate every last warble. Mangum opened with “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2,” a quiet and romantic song about grasping for personal connection and keeping the past present. It closes In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; capped by Mangum unplugging his guitar and walking away. Here, it’s a jarring hello, but a kind one, which seems to say, “Ahem, where were we?

It’s strange, he remarked, “Putting little messages in a bottle and 10 years later…” you get an audience like this one. Among his most angst-ridden, “Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone,” from 1996’s On Avery Island has an emotional release that’s nailed to the wall of his more surrealist imagery: “Our love bleeds through.” Catharsis—whether through bleeding, or fumbling bodies, or falling or seeking escape—is a prominent theme in his songwriting. Colored by Koster’s singing saw, “Engine,” with its imagistic talking tigers on cafeteria trays, comforted like only a children’s song can, whatever your age.

He was playful throughout, responding to a chorus of well-wishes and requests. At one point someone yelled, “Play whatever you want,” to applause. (A wise man once said, a band is not a jukebox.) Drawing on a relatively small repertoire (two albums and a handful of singles), it’s doubtful anyone went home disappointed. Instead, there were treats like the howling tip of “Oh Comely,” the long, simply strummed centerpiece of Aeroplane, which closes with Salvation Army brass. The song’s high notes might’ve found their way into BAM’s cinema, next door. And there are those lines like “I will take you and leave you alone,” from “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2,” which remind the listener what a privilege it is to remain in the moment. For an encore, the audience spilled into the aisles during the rollicking “Song Against Sex.” Surprisingly shy about singing along, even when prodded by Mangum, the crowd happily obliged for “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” a curio that’s transcended these past dozen years and become a signature. There were handshakes and waves, and again, a goodbye. As Mangum sings in “Oh Comely,” “I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine.” In the end, all we have are our memories.

01/12/12 3:41pm

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Saddling your band with a youthful sounding name might seem like a good idea when you’re actually youthful, but how does it feel to be a member of Teenage Fanclub when you have a teenager of your own? As indie rock goes gray, we recognize a few artists who’ve managed to hold onto the energy and vitality their names hinted at all those years ago.

Imperial Teen
Perhaps it’s the hobbyist spirit that makes a career band. Considering Imperial Teen’s latest release, Feel the Sound (out January 31 on Merge) is only their fifth since 1996, it’s safe to say the San Francisco four-piece knows when to let life get in the way of rock stardom. (And with, among them, members of Faith No More, the Dicks and the Wrecks, imagine the stories they tell their children!) Imperial Teen hasn’t strayed far from the ageless power-pop of On and Seasick, colored by Roddy Bottum’s cheeky yet endearing songwriting and sustained synth grooves. If only they got together more often.
Key Late-Period Track:Impossibly prolific since 1977, Childish creates and regularly refurbishes a catalog of three-chord punk, blues and folk songs with nods as disparate as the Sex Pistols (Pop Rivets), early Beatles (the Milkshakes) and WWI infantrymen (the Buff Medways). His current group, the Musicians of the British Empire, offer a similarly nostalgic spin, with Childish’s singular vision leading the charge. Occasionally the artist leaves his native Chatham for gallery shows. His most recent exhibition of paintings, on view at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery through January 21, has received rave reviews.
Key Late-Period Track: “Again and Again” (Thatcher’s Children, 2008)

Sonic Youth
While Kim and Thurston’s 2011 separation has put the long-running experimental band on hiatus, there’s no denying that Sonic Youth’s eminence is preserved in amber—or whatever the next amber may be. After all, they’re the band that introduced you (and maybe your parents) to both Glenn Branca and Be Your Own Pet. Straddling noise, free jazz, minimalism and pop, Sonic Youth has continued to innovate through their 16th studio record, 2009’s The Eternal, and a crackling, could-be last call at the Williamsburg Waterfront this past summer. In the meantime its members keep busy with solo projects, gallery shows, film scores, a poetry journal and a fashion line, making Sonic Youth as much a brand as a band.
Key Late-Period Track: “Pink Steam” (Rather Ripped, 2006)

Teenage Fanclub
Like Merge label-mates Imperial Teen, Teenage Fanclub have been taking their sweet time in recent years, releasing the pastoral Shadows in 2010 with a shrug, and supporting Belle & Sebastian — which likely introduced the Scottish indie-pop quartet to a new generation of sweater-tuggers. To the delight of us old guard, the Fanclub’s ’91 chestnut “The Concept” played a pivotal role in Young Adult as that mix-tape song Mavis (Charlize Theron) couldn’t get past. We’ve all been there.
Key Late-Period Track: “Baby Lee” (Shadows, 2010)

Young Fresh Fellows
Led by the colorful personality Scott McCaughey, the Young Fresh Fellows have been casually releasing records since 1981, along with its spinoff, the Minus Five—even splitting album sides, to the confusion and delight of pop fans. Whether covering the Kinks, slagging on Amy Grant, or backing Robyn Hitchcock, McCaughey and his men are something of a Seattle rock house band. Their most recent release, 2009’s I Think It Is, bears the chop that attracts members of the Long Winters and Death Cab for Cutie to their shows. And with several choice anecdotes in the recent grunge oral history Everybody Loves Our Town, McCaughey shows he still has a sense of humor about it all.
Key Late-Period Track: “Never Turning Back Again” (I Think This Is, 2009)

And the Next Generation: Will they fair as well?
The Babies: No tantrums from this Vivian Girls side project, only spirited pop-punk.
Cold War Kids: These guys might not remember the Berlin Wall coming down, but they know their way around a catchy chorus.
The Teenagers: Begun on a lark, this French synth-pop band is clever and juvenile.
Young the Giant: This Cali band recorded their first record while two of its members were still in high school.

01/09/12 11:44am

frankie.jpg

As you probably already know, Frankie Rose has a notable startup track record. With a hand in Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls, the Brooklyn-based songwriter/drummer is something of a lucky charm in indie-pop. (Maybe she deserves a spot at TechStars.) “I don’t want to be married to any project ever,” Rose told the New York Press of her tendency to move on. “It could happen where I quit my own band with my own name.”

She hasn’t done that just yet, and in fact she’s putting even more focus on her name. Her new album, Interstellar (due out 2/21 on Slumberland Records), is credited solely to Frankie Rose, rather than her previous outing as Frankie Rose and the Outs. Next week she will release the album’s first single, “Know Me.” With Johnny Marr-style guitar riffs and crisp stick work, it’s a chilly and nostalgic welcome to the New Year, and occasion to spin through Frankie Rose’s brief but impressive back catalog. Below, some highlights…


Frankie Rose and the Outs, “Little Brown Haired Girls” (Frankie Rose and the Outs, 2010)
With slow builds and shimmery crescendos, Rose and her band of possible brunettes sing of being alone and away from home. Like much of the Outs’ debut there’s a wistful undercurrent, suggesting all the raucous fun had on the road sometimes doesn’t compare to strumming your guitar in an empty bedroom. In the meantime, those endless sing-alongs and walls of reverb provide plenty of comfort.


Dum Dum Girls, “Jail La La” (I Will Be, 2010)
With the West Coast neo-girl-group, led by fellow pop polymath Dee Dee, Rose —a Cali transplant — alternates needlepoint precision with gleeful thrash, making her a perfect foil for this catchy, and slightly perverse, tale of teenage rebellion.


Crystal Stilts, “Love Is a Wave” (single, 2009)
Crystal Stilts shed the gloom like wooly winter layers with this surf-riding single. Rose’s bashing backbeat is a good match for the band’s rhythm-heavy guitar and Brad Hargett’s echo-chamber vocals. It’s a curious flavor of bubblegum, but one that never loses its sweetness.


Vivian Girls, “Where Do You Run To” (Vivian Girls, 2008)
A highlight of the trio’s punky debut, this soft smasher gathers the girls’ harmonies under a laundry pile of reverb. Wherever love is running, the Vivian Girls can’t help but enjoy their reverie. Heartbreak? Never heard of it.

And here’s a stream of “Know Me” while we’re at it.
Frankie Rose – Know Me by Slumberland Records

Follow Kate Silver on Twitter @KateSilver