Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vampire Weekend Biggest Little Indie Band That Could

In less than 18 months, the band Vampire Weekend has gone from an unknown Columbia University band to a huge musical phenomenon, thanks in part to several hundred music blog reviews, a Spin magazine cover, and a stint as MTV's Artist of the Week .

The four-piece band is comprised of Columbia grads Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson, who look like they just stepped off the set of "Dead Poets Society", complete with button-down shirts, khaki pants and boat shoes. Their self-titled 2008 album "Vampire Weekend" on XL Recordings is an eclectic mix of Afropop and British indie-rock, with spare sing-song guitar and simple lyrics that immediately pull you in. It's an exquisite summery album that you can't help but listen to over and over again. One of my favorite songs is "Oxford Comma", a compact but tightly written song about a guy who is disgusted with his girlfriend's petty obsessions. Another favorite is "A-Punk" (see their video here), a twitchy little song with a funky drive and rhythms straight out of the African savannah.

Check out their network TV debut on The Late Show with David Letterman. They also did a fascinating cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere" while performing on Australian radio station Triple J. Hey all you Bendites - be sure and catch their show on September 5th at Portland's Crystal Ballroom.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MySpace Records Issues Re-Release of "Polysics or Die"

by All right people, summer's just about over. Put your Havaianas back in your closet. And those summertime Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and Amos Lee tunes can all go to the bottom of your iPod rotation. Fall is just a mere 32 days away, so chug that pot of coffee, buy the Polysics' new album "Polysics or Die!!! Vista", and crank the speakers up to ELEVEN. Kaja Kaja goooooo!

Polysics is a Japanese "new wave" band that has a unique Devo-esque punksynthpoprock thing going on. They call their type of music "technicolor pogo punk" which seems about right. The band is not surprisingly named after the classic Polysics Korg synthesizer. They recently signed with MySpace Records and have re-released their 2005 album, now titled "Polysics or Die!!! Vista." Polysics' lyrics are an interesting mishmash of Japanese, English and, um, jibberish. All the songs are infectious, but "Electric Surfin Go Go" is one of my favorites. If iTunes isn't your thing, you can purchase their album on their MySpace page. Be sure and keep an eye out for "They Ate The Machine" which will be released in the U.S. at the end of September.

They don't have plans for a US tour anytime soon, but those lucky Europeans get to see them at Festival Marsatac on September 27th in Marseille, France.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jarret, Peacock and DeJohnette Celebrate 25 Years of Masterful Jazz

by Lori King

When I think of Keith Jarrett, I think of avant-garde, abstract expressionist jazz. Turns out my opionion was rather narrow-minded. After listening to "Setting Standards: New York Sessions" I've come to think of Jarrett as an unpredictable yet brilliant pianist, with feet in both the abstract and conservative jazz worlds. The Setting Standards set, which EMI released this year to commemorate the fact that Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette have been around for 25 years, is a gem. This set of three albums makes the case that this jazz trio is truly one of the best in the world.

When I first looked at the CD, I recognized several well-known jazz standards. I figured Jarrett would completely reinvent these songs. Instead, he added his own spin without turning it into something completely unrecognizable. One of my favorites is the ballad "Never Let Me Go." On this song drummer Jack Dejohnette is amazing - he perfectly complements Jarrett's crisp playing with his fluid rhythms. In "God Bless The Child" bassist Gary Peacock kicks in the groove and your head just can't stop bopping to the rich bass line. Simply amazing. Catch them at New York's Stern Auditorium/Perleman Stage on October 18th.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lila Downs Transports Listeners to "La Cantina"

by Lori King

A midnight tour through Musicovery last night resulted in a great discovery - Lila Downs. Lila is an incredible singer with a deep, smoky voice that beckons you into her colorful world. Her mother was a Mixtec Indian from Oaxaca, while her father was an American art professor from Minnesota. After her father passed away, she moved to Oaxaca and was quickly steeped in her mother’s culture. You may have heard this Mexican-American singer in the movie Frida, as her song “Burn it Blue” won an Academy Award for Best Song. Her most recent 2006 album “La Cantina” has many great treasures. The ranchero songs reflect her traditional Mexican soul, but with quite a modern twist. Listen to “La Cumbia del Mole” and her dark, smoky voice will have you wishing you were at the El Estribo sipping a nice Casa Noble Anejo as the sun goes down. And here’s a bonus - the song is quite an amusing tutorial for making mole sauce. Other highlights include “Agua de Rosas,” a haunting song with subtle ska influences, while "Tu Recuerdo y Yo" takes a sharp left turn and adds a modern edge with a grinding mix of saxophone, guitar, and bass. Watch her perform this song at Womadelaide and you’ll get a sense of her power and presence on stage. For a unique mixtape, try blending "La Cantina" with Dulce Matias' "Eli Que Mhe Munde." If you're a Bendite, don't miss the chance to see her perform at Portland's Wonder Ballroom on September 24th.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monte Negro Ready To Take Center Stage

by Lori King

Monte Negro is one of those unique bands that you can’t categorize. Their music is infused with an aggressive blend of rock, world fusion, a smattering of punk, and Latin Rock. This band has been around for ten years, but they haven’t had the exposure to get them into the big leagues. Until now. The band was featured at Austin’s SXSW and also toured Puerto Rico last year and opened for none other than Gwen Stefani in San Juan. Now, with their new EP “Cicatrix”, they should finally get the recognition they deserve. Apparently they're in talks with a few major labels so keep your fingers crossed.

The band is anchored by Mexican-American brothers Kinski and Rodax Gallo. Other members included Chinese/Japanese-American guitarist Jason Li Shing, and drummer Xavier Lopez. If you listen closely, you’ll hear everything from a harp to a Japanese koto in their musical landscape. Their song “Give Me Love” deftly mixes shades of roots reggae with Dick Dale-esque surf guitar. I would dearly love to see this band perform at the Bend Amphitheatre before they get really big. Check out their web site for tour dates. They're playing at Portland's East End on September 1st.