Novillero

Accumulating a solid rock band from the ruins of a "lounge pop" band from Winnipeg might not always be as easy as it sounds, but Novillero seem to have done so without losing an ounce of their clever delivery. "Hypothesist," a glossy garage rock number, outshines "Ceremony" slightly though both sound reminiscent of a scene rejuvenated. "Aptitude" reminds me of something along the lines of a seductive "Ben Folds-like sound" (but thankfully, lacking the actual "Ben Folds sound"). I must add that the hint of horn used in these tracks honestly wins me over; because when not ska-ing, and not done "right" their inclusion can sound dreadful. The band seems to have found solace in what could be deemed a moderate rock minimalist's wall of sound, which they commendably pull off.

Best Buy Devalues Music, Undercuts Indies


There is a really interesting discussion between a gentleman at Merge Records (Spoon, The Arcade Fire, yada yada) regarding a recent sale at Best Buy of independent albums. Before I continue, please check the "sale" out here, just to see what all the fuss is about, and the discussion here. I have my own views on the situation, and given that this forum is mine, let's roll. Currently I attend school in a SMALL town where the only music retailer is Wal-Mart. With that being said, I am from and have always lived (with my time here as the only exemption from that) in a Metropolitan area (Calgary, Minneapolis) and am familiar with a variety of independent music stores. I have also done research as a management/entrepreneurship major into beginning an independent record store. With that as a brief history, I find something very valuable that was mentioned by the guy, Mac, from Merge. He mentioned that moves like these "devalue" the music. What a powerful statement! There are other issues that are vital such as the blatant undercutting of CDs in order of reeling in customers with hopes that other products in the store with a higher profit margins will sell that need to be addressed, but I want to focus on the music (keepin' it real, man). Essentially, there is an indie vs. corporate battle because of the music (as the music is the reason for the commerce), thus I feel it's vital...so back to the devaluation of this powerful music (I lied, I'm talking about business too).

No matter how much it pains me, I've never exclusively purchased music from independent retailers. In the past, I've made most of my purchases from used record stores or online from places like Amazon or ebay (with the big, evil corporations taking their share). Justly, I can't back up any statements condemning Best Buy, because if this were a few years ago, given the current sale, I'd probably make a purchase. It is counterproductive, however, for them to make this decision to undercut the independent retailers that have justly supported these artists as there is an odd give-take relationship between the two. Those independent retailers, at one point in time...probably stocked (wincing in pain) Fallout Boy (or a similar act) before Best Buy helped them sell their however umpteen million albums (1?), so by taking away some of these stores' sales, you are taking away the buzz that will fuel possible future revenue. It's more costly to hire people to do research and study trends than to simply check out who's hot in the local indie shop, and throw some Cat Power on the rack. If there's no more indie retailers, it becomes far harder for Matador to have a place to put Cat Power (to use her as an example) before Best Buy finds it profitable enough to shelve the album. If there are no more indie retailers, it becomes far harder for Matador to support Cat Power and have her on the label. If there are no more retailers it becomes harder for Matador to make a profit. And if you can't make a profit, you're not going to be maintaining a business for too long.

Mac addresses a question which I find key: what happens when someone looks at the $7.99 (which he later mentions was supposed to be $9.99) CD they just bought, goes to an indie store to check more Cat Power out (because, duh, they liked it) and finds that all the albums there are $13 or $15 or so? They justly say, "Forget it, I can get two CDs for this price." The music becomes worth less (not worthless) to the customer.

The allure isn't lost, and will probably pay off for Best Buy in the short term as it's easily understandable how one can go into a Best Buy looking for a $7.99 CD and come out with not only that CD, but another CD, a DVD or even an entire new home theater system. I don't know if it's healthy, however, because what happens to Best Buy when they experience a similar instance where their $7.99 CD is compared to their $14 CD? That $14 CD (which is probably pretty good and a worthwhile listen) simply doesn't look as good as downloading the music for free from some filesharing program online. It's counterproductive in my opinion. So, in terms of the ongoing struggle that the RIAA is having (trying to find new ways to cure the hemorrhaging), maybe they should look at not merely the declining quality of corporate music, but the declining ethics and prices of corporate retailers.

Mates of State

This husband-wife duo hailing from California have some of the most infectious drum & keyboard driven rock that you might hear this year (or ever...). Their simplistic pop style is one that easily shifts from an ambient rock (in "Think Long") to something along the lines of a broader, well rounded Atom and His Package (in "Fraud In The '80s"). By examining their song writing schedule (four to six hour shifts, every day, year round) it's amazing just how prolific they've been and reflects how Mates of State are truly finding a connection between professionalism, love and art.

Nic Armstrong & The Thieves

Rolling Stone recently remarked that "He looks like Gary Oldhamand writes battered love-songs like Bob Dylan with a case of Badfinger." I don't know that I fully agree with that statement. There are exceptions such as Armstrong's Beatles-esque track "The Finishing Track." On the other hand, "Broken Mouth Blues" makes me reconsider that statement with its distorted beat and upbeat rhythm. With an amplitude of recent buzz, a spot on last years Coachella and this year's SXSW, Armstrong & The Thieves are definitely a band you need to know about in 2006.

NOMO

NOMO offers a unique insight into the genre of free form, Spanish funk with African tribal-like syncopation; if such a genre does in fact exist. With a blend of those tribal beats, horns, keyboards and more, this eight-piece brings their act to the pinnacle of new wave jazz. Their unprocessed, multi-layered sound leaves me dreaming what kind of beautiful, wondrous music would have surfaced if Pangaea hadn't shifted. The band is slated to release a new album Spring 2006 via Ubiquity Records.

Moving Units

Christian Death is as sexy as anything Marvin Gaye did...or so says Moving Units' singer/guitarist Blake Miller. Falling into fashion isn't always planned, sometimes it's just right place, right group, right time. Miller relates to the band's similarities to the recent "dance-punk" trend in rock, "The truth of the matter is, what we did at the time was a really honest emotional expression." Miller continues, "It just happened to coincide with a sort of musical zeitgeist." After two grueling years the band finished recording the album Dangerous Dreams and followed its release with a hand-picked opening spot for Blur and a tour with Hot Hot Heat. With a spot at this years SXSW, three years of hard work, and a great sound, Moving Units looks to be on the verge of something big.

Division Day "The Mean Way In" Review

Just like a solid mix tape, it's hard to determine the audience, their tastes and preferences and willingness to listen to whatever it is that you think is good. If you start with a song too rigid, or hard, you risk the chance of quickly alienating your listener. On the opposite end of the spectrum, attempting to build a foundation with a powerless song can have quite the opposite effect. In that case the mix can easily be categorized as something essentially useless; unless used as a sleep inducing opiate. None the less, The Mean Way In avoids this conflict altogether with its opening track "Bad Black Moon;" offering up a truly solid opener. The Mean Way In offers a series of well polished rock songs which characterize just what I thought rock was missing in 2004. My only interjection of criticism would be that the final song “Wings and Bones” completely wipes the slate clean of all things rocking. None the less when reading into the band's history I had to ask myself, "Self? What exactly is the intended outcome of a band who claims both Deerhoof and The Beach Boys as influences?” Furthermore, this bastard child of seemingly all things hip has played with now-defunct rockers Mclusky. Sufficed to say, until Mclusky, Deerhoof and Brian Wilson presume metaphysical form and spawn a non-screamo EP circa 2004…The Mean Way In will do.

DJ Shadow "Preemptive Strike" Review


DJ Shadow makes me thing of what I would want to play at a social gathering, a party, a get together. Maybe I'd have some overpriced under-appreciated fine alcohols, or some wines which I can't stand but flaunt anyhow. Maybe I'd accompany the drinks with some costly appetizers or cheeses; something which I wouldn't be appreciate because the taste would be identical to my unpracticed palate as a bold cheddar purchased from the dairy section at the local grocer would. I’d invite only the most suave and engrossing people and we would sit and discuss the inequities of modern global economics and our latest trip to any number of museums. Contrasting the sounds playing at the party would be further discussion of any number of commonly unread books, unheard music and unwatched movies; all classics by our standards.

Unfortunately at parties I tend to find myself sitting around a table of some sort, playing any number of cards games; all of which I have yet to successfully cheat at. This accompanied by drinking the most over-appreciated, underpriced drinks with no appetizers or cheeses to be found anywhere. The closest any conversation comes in terms of classic media is an argument as to why people can seemingly be huge Led Zeppelin fans without having a similar taste in Black Sabbath.

None the less, the first is the mental image I get in my head when considering DJ Shadow's Preemptive Strike. Essentially, created to fill the holes for listeners unfamiliar with Shadow, but startled by Entroducing, Preemptive Strike offers a look at the releases that aren’t as slick, unique and entertaining. The multiple part "What Does Your Soul Look Like" series sounds like something that could have easily be abstracted and put on an EP, released under a different context and enjoyed completely. But by introducing an excellent (12 minute) track "In/Flux" at the start of the album, its introduction completely calms the flow down far too much. I can't say that in all honesty, as Part 2, despite being 13 minutes in length, is the only consistent calm song in the set. Part 3 has a shorter length, increased pace, and a far faster beat; a very crucial track given its predecessor’s prolonged tone and length.

Part 4 takes me back to memories of my initial encounters with Entroducing. It's slow, without sounding slow. Smooth, while it includes a beat that would question some modern funk artists. As saxophone is introduced and slight scratches are heard, this is what I think of when I think of hip. It's at this point that I fall back to earth and remember just what I'm listening to. This is essentially from Entroducing, simply unmixed version. Part 4 is hip all the same.

Part 1, again from Entroducing, and again unmixed (and again following suit, as 4 is played before 1), has a different affect on me as the sound's context has changed now. I'm reminded of Dave Chappelle's skit with John Mayer and ?uestlove where different styles of music are played for different races to get the greatest reaction possible. I can envision Dave kicking Mayer out of the scene, pulling a sheet off of something, revealing a saxophonist and ?uestlove, who begins to lay down a slow beat. The scene is no longer a barber shop, but a trendy coffee house in the most fashionable of communities, circa the mid to late 1990s. The place doesn't erupt, but a wave oh muted "ah"s can be heard over the gentle sounds of the band.

"High Noon" though out of place on this album, is a terrific song. Taken as an A-side from a 1997 single, a guitar introduction allows the tone of this album to change in an instant. No longer does 2002’s The Private Press come as such a surprise, as I can now see that transitional tracks were there all along; all I had to do was find them. With an ever-evolving transition between instruments, the track flirts with neo-progressive rock while slowly dying out and muting its idiosyncrasies. Ending the album is a mix of Entroducing’s Organ Donor.

By far one of the best tracks ever completed by Shadow is this. Though inferior to its original, this mix still completes what has now become Entroducing 2.1. Not an improvement, but simply a supplemental addition for those that have grown too comfortable with the original and are looking to find more. As its purpose is different than the work known of the artist at the time, so to is the sound of the album. The flow isn't as consistent, the tracks aren't as listener friendly, and the general quality of the songs isn't the same; but then again, it's hard to duplicate what is essentially perfection in its genre.

stellastarr*

Now after hearing the band, I don't know why I haven't heard them before. It could be my ever-declining brain stamina which led me to believe that they were the same band as the lackluster Starsailor, but stellastarr* really plays a mean tune (the other difference between the two...well, that and they're not from England). I was blessed with some videos from last summer's performance at the Bowery Ballroom, check them out:

New York City, NY


Photos taken around New York City, NY in January 2006.