Colorful Electricity: The Naked and Famous

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In 2011, New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous released their synth-pop debut Passive Me, Aggressive You; which included the sugary electro-pop anthem “Young Blood,” which hit the radio like a runaway train carrying a cargo of starburst choruses, metallic synths, and soaring vocals. With comparisons to early MGMT floating around the blogosphere (which wasn’t fair, if you ask me), The Naked and Famous established themselves, rather quickly, as the electro-pop outfit you’d expect to hear on video game soundtracks and cable TV.

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Then something happened: Thom Powers (vocals/guitar) and Alisa Xayalith (vocals/keyboard), toured the world on some 200 blistering dates, settled down in Los Angeles (Hollywood, to be exact), and began to get a bit melancholic in the process. The overwhelming amount of tourists, the constant feeling of being trapped in a giant theme park, and the bro’d-out anthems at Hollywood nightclubs were a bit much for the artsy New Zealanders. So they packed up their bags and headed over to the Laurel Canyon, a place of rock ‘n’ roll legend, to began working on new material under the influence of raging emotions, alt-rock tendencies, and the kindred spirits of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon.

But before landing in L.A., the endless tour dates sharpened the organic elements in their sound, and allowed them to create a live show that now includes a psychedelic explosion of lights, industrial flourishes, and a loudness of sound that rivals early shoegaze pioneers like My Bloody Valentine (just the volume), and brings all the dazzling stage show of a massive touring pop machine.

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The Kate Boy Collective

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The sheer scope of vision involved in creating and executing concept art requires an incubation process that in today’s music industry, is almost impossible to accomplish. While concept albums are churned out at a feverish pace (even John Mayer dabbles in the space; which should annoy you), a group or a solo artist that symbolizes an idea (a clear artistic vision), isn’t very common in an industry that continues to value marketability over artistic merit. But every now and again, a ‘scene’ emerges in a part of the world, like grunge in Seattle or techno in Detroit, that offers the proper environment for art to develop without the controlling arms of industry, or worse, a Svengali manager in the mold of Kim Fowley. Right now, actually for the past few years, Sweden and Australia seem to be hotbeds for giving birth to synth-based electronic masters that have taken the states by storm. The Knife might have opened the floodgates in 2006 with Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, but today’s scene seems to be electrified with a diverse range of artists that include NONONO and Lykke Li (both from Sweden), Flume (from Australia), and Crystal Castles (also from Australia). So when I heard about the magnetic blend of Swedish and Australian musicians into one electro-pop ‘concept band,’ titled androgynously as KATE BOY, I knew I had to explore their sound during the incubation phase.

Having been notified the group would be coming to Los Angeles to play an under-the-radar gig at the Echoplex over the weekend, I thought I’d check them out during the genesis of their live act (which is still developing). In 2012, KATE BOY caused a bit of stir in the indie scene with singles “Northern Lights” and “In Your Eyes,” which are included in their EP Northern Lights. Not on the EP, but worth mentioning, is the tribal drum-driven ’80s-sounding, a-little-bit Peter Gabriel (on the more bouncy-side of 1982′s Security), “The Way We Are,” which happens to be my favorite track from KATE BOY. The pummeling robotic synth-bass and electric drums on the track hooked me from the start, but once I deciphered the message, “The Way We Are” stood out as KATE BOY’S breakthrough cut. “There’s been too much poison in the system / festering toxins I am in round / got to get this out of my head / out in the air” melodically whispers vocalist Kate Akhurst, who lyrically builds upon the emancipation theme of their music  over a hodgepodge of electro-pop perfection brought to life during the climatic group drumming piece (killer live, seriously), when all four members attack the drums into a climax that sends the track soaring right into the stratosphere.

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Federale: Spaghetti Western and Beyond

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Seven musicians crowd onto the stage at Mississippi Studios in north Portland–they’re dressed in cowboy hats and bolo ties, a hipster take on the wild west. The frontman, a guy with light brown hair that swoops across his face, all the way down to his chin, steps up to the mic. He looks to the ground, purses his lips, raises his slanted eyes to the crowd and unleashes a long, lonely whistle. A tragic trumpet sings. A snare drum crackles. And the band begins to play.

This is Federale, Portland’s premier spaghetti western ensemble.

The house is packed tonight. Some don corduroy vests and flat top cowboy hats; flannel shirts under beige vests with tight jeans and black leather shoes. The crowd is made up of excitable young kids and worn-out 30-somethings in groups of four–double dates or friends on the town, all here for a singular purpose: to see a good show.

And of all the shows in Portland on this particular Saturday night, this show promises to be the best. Promoted by the media powerhouse trio of The Portland Mercury, Willamette Week and The Oregonian, it’s easy to get carried away in the cyclone of hype that surrounds Federale. But who are they? Who are these weirdos playing dark, lonely cowboy songs in the 21st century Pacific Northwest?

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Otis Heat Burns Up On a Frigid Portland New Years Eve

In a sudden twist of fate, my New Year’s plans were cemented. I’ve been staying in St. Johns, in northwest Portland–a funky little neighborhood with all the weird charms you come to expect in PDX. As it happens, Otis Heat, a band I wrote about back in 2009, is playing a four-band show down the road. My friend and recent transplant, Jayson, drives up from Salem and we dive into the night.

The show is at a place called Red Sea Church. It’s a beautiful place. The walls bow in, steeply up until they nervously meet–like a great wooden arc, cut lengthwise and reassembled backwards. All the pews are cleared away. The alter is moved aside for drum kits and amps. The relics are stripped away, but a sense of awe–the kind that fills your soul with timid reverence–lingers.

Two guys amble onstage. Dude in a newsboy cap picks up a guitar. His counterpart, a sleek-looking guy with jet-black hair, sits at the drums. They take a deep breath, and they let loose a tsunami of sound. They blast the timidity into a fine sand. I look around to see if anybody else is drowning in this terrific sea; the stoney looks tell me they’re drifting somewhere in the undertow.

I look to the merchendise table for some clue of who these sirens are–it tells me they’re called Irie Idea. I don’t know what it means, but if you translate the music, you get something of a funky blues-based jam. Their songs move from a crunching grunge–appropriate for the cruel Portland winter–and upbeat jams that start to thaw the crowd’s frigid feet.

They’re a two-piece outfit, but Irie Idea manage to fill the sound almost completely. They play tight and they play furiously. It’s an intimate, manic jam session between friends, and we’re standing witness to the beautiful storm.

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Stars @ Webster Hall

Photo via Brooklyn Vegan by Amanda Hatfield

I show up and the doorman is the nicest I’ve ever encountered. I’d never been to Webster Hall before surprisingly, so I’m a little confused about where to enter. He unhooked the red velvet rope for me and said I had my own entrance; I could get used to Manhattan decorum! …Or maybe it’s the new dress. I enter the concert hall and it’s packed. A haze of smoke drifts above the crowd and it’s hard to tell if it sprung from them or if the venue is purposefully papering us in vapor. Nope, smoke machine spotted in the balcony – either way, it works.

Due to a serious of unfortunate events that include the lack of F & G service to south Brooklyn this weekend, I miss Diamond Rings. I’ve had bad luck with transport lately.

They’re setting up the stage for Stars, though, who were another early-college-idol-band for me that I’ve never seen live. The set list you ask? What can one say about a set list that seamlessly blends every old heart-knocking ballad with the new set of sparkling knife-like songs just released on their latest record The North? It was a knock-out. The show was more beautiful and regal than Lady Liberty herself, and as these songs went back to the beginning of college for me, it felt historic too.

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Band of Horses @ House of Vans

Photo via Brooklyn Vegan by David Andrako

Due to the propensity that Brooklyn has for flash rainstorms, I was late to the show, which infuriated me. A monsoon erupted right around the time I got off work, and I managed to get caught in it not once, but twice. But, I was going to see Band of Horses even if I was a bedraggled mess of a journalist, so when I showed up to House of Vans in Greenpoint a half hour after listed set time, I was pleased to discover I had only missed three songs.  Not only that, but BoH veterans went on to play 21 full songs, after months of indie band shows seeing a major band perform again felt a bit odd. I mean 21 songs counting the encores? It was almost too many, but the musicianship of Band of Horses live allowed them to carry it off.

Sadly, since I was late, I missed my absolute favorite nostalgic jam “NW Apt.” off their third full length record Infinite Arms. This track is basically a love song dedicated to what life in Seattle feels like and it reminds me of driving through those streets late at night with my sister Natalie. Band of Horses got their start in that beautiful emerald city, sparking the interest of Sub Pop, but have since relocated to South Carolina where lead singer Ben Bridewell is from. However, their stint in the Northwest inked something of that area into both their sound and their demeanor. Bridewell’s heartfelt interaction with the crowd and humility, even after all these years, was a far cry from many indie bands’ stone-faced-hipster game.

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Sweetlife Festival 2012 – The Recap

The Shins!

The Sweetlife Festival was a memorable day of great music and great grilled cheese. And, when it comes down to it, aren’t those two things what life is really all about?

I’m going to break this recap down into two parts, first reviewing the performances at the Treehouse Stage, and then talking about the headliners at the Main Stage.

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Interview with Of Monsters and Men

If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will soon enough. On Wednesday, Of Monsters and Men graced the home page of Pitchfork and Spotify with a massive banner advertisement for their debut album, My Head Is An Animal.  Animal hit as high as number two on the top-selling iTunes albums of the day, right behind the “queen of hip-hop” herself, Nicki Minaj.

So how the heck did a 6-piece band from Iceland get famous in America before even releasing a full-length album?

Even the band’s lead singer, Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, isn’t entirely sure.

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Jonquil & Keep Shelly in Athens (but mostly Jonquil) @ Glasslands

By superstar contributor Caitlin White 

[photo by Tom | GoldFlakePaint]

It seems that everything Hugo Manuel touches turns to gold. From Chad Valley to Jonquil, I am head over heels for this man’s voice, in its myriad of forms. Manuel switches effortlessly between a soft lullabye vocal and the lovable British yell singing that still sounds harmonious, and I got to see this first hand last night at Glasslands. However, Manuel’s pipes aren’t the only thing that made their performance lovely, the entire band was so talented I just stood there dumb struck for a while wondering why I’d never taken the time to really delve into this band before. They seemed to have a really good vibe as a band and worked well together, which sometimes isn’t present in a band that has other solo projects and offshoots involved or that has changed members throughout albums as Jonquil has. This collaborative spirit was even echoed in guitarist Robin McDiarmid’s red guitar in almost the exact shade as Manuel’s keyboard.

Jonquil – “Get Up” [MP3]

Glasslands wasn’t as packed when Jonquil opened, I didn’t make it in time to catch the act who played before them, New Moods, but I arrived right as Jonquil began with “Real Cold” and was surprised that I could work my way right to the front. Maybe the elite music-conscious hipsters of Williamsburg themselves are a bit behind on this Brit pop gem! I’ve never felt more sorry for the in-crowd missing the double trumpet grandeur of Jonquil on “I Know I Don’t Know”. It was truly amazing, both trumpeters switched between trumpet and another instrument, one unknown contributor on a sampler along with the horn and bassist Sam Scott switching between his bass and trumpet.

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Finn Riggins

When I moved from the D.C. music scene to Farmington, NM I expected close to nothing in the area of “good music.” I got less than that. In my most recent move to Pocatello, ID, home of Idaho State University and a handful of fantastic bars, I expected at least a little more. [...]