Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Place To Bury Strangers - Keep Slipping Away

Directed by Brendan Bellomo and Greg Wilson. Partly filmed at Death By Audio. This video f'n rules:

A Place To Bury Strangers - Keep Slipping Away

A Place To Bury Strangers | MySpace Music Videos

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

So it's the end of the year and I feel compelled to list everything I enjoyed in the last 12 months. Music this year was all over the map genre-wise, but 7 out of the 10 artists are from Brooklyn. I guess that says something about this past year.

10. Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free

My relationship with Akron/Family is back and forth. With 2007's Love Is Simple, I fell in love with the spastic freak folk that fell in and out of chaotic improvisation. I looked into their back catalog, the phenomenal split with the Angels of Light, especially "Raising the Sparks," ignited a small obsession with this band. In 2009, I saw them at All Tomorrow's Parties as a three-piece, a big change from the 7-piece supergroup I saw at the Andy Warhol museum the year before. With Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, the group loses a lot of the magic of their previous albums. The percussive intro of "Everyone Is Guilty" shows promise, but the following tracks drift toward yawn-worthy territory. "River" has flashes of brilliance and then there are three tracks that lack any sort of surprise. Of course this album wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for tracks like "Gravelly Mountains of the Moon," almost 8 minutes of elaborate Akron/Family greatness. It begins with a crescendo of flute and french horn that builds into chaotic guitar feedback and lyrical harmony that made songs like "Raising the Sparks" so good. After this obvious centerpiece, it's hard to get excited until the final three tracks. "They Will Appear" has the contagious singalong ending that is hard to shake, followed by "Sun Will Shine" and "Last Year," the build up and the denouement ending, respectively. Though I love this band still, I feel like about half of this album could have been cut. Still, I look forward to whatever territory they're heading into next.

9. A Place To Bury Strangers - Exploding Head

Little did I know what I was getting myself into moving into Death By Audio. I had not even listened to A Place to Bury Strangers beforehand, but was instantly absorbed into the wall-of-sound lifestyle perpetuated by Oliver Ackerman and his custom-designed guitar pedals. With names like "Total Sonic Annihilation" and "Fuzz War," the pedals almost describe the feel of Ackerman's live show: epileptic lighting accentuated by massive amounts of fog, overwhelming ear-shattering guitar, projections of television static, and a pulsing drum and bass to drive each song. "Keep Slipping Away" could probably be the radio single, with its catchy riff and vocal line, but I think the best song on this album is the dark "Ego Death," loaded with enough noise to be a viable advertisement for Death By Audio guitar pedals.

8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors has one of the most unique voices and guitar styles I've ever heard. On his earlier work, he showcases these almost inaccessible time signatures and warbling that verges on annoyingly shrill. With Bitte Orca, it's hard to think he hasn't compromised for a more mainstream sound. Still, "Temecula Sunrise" doesn't subscribe to 4/4 time, and "The Bride" drifts around a steady tempo before breaking into a solid chorus, so they've stayed relatively true to form. Of course, this is before the Nico-influenced "Two Doves" ("These Days," anyone?) or the superb call-and-response of "Remade Horizon." Longstreth's trio of female vocal accompaniment has always added a refreshing alternative to his sometimes grating voice, and they show their full potential here. The stellar "Stillness Is The Move" is almost a Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera pop-diva single. Seeing it live, with Amber Coffman stealing the show away from Longstreth and showcasing an unbelievable vocal range, was jaw-dropping.

7. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I've had a long relationship with The Flaming Lips, and like a long girlfriend, we've had great times and rough patches. The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were the good old days. Psychedelic rock with catchy melodies, live shows with balloons and confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne in a giant hampster ball. It was too good to be true. Then came Zaireeka, which was a valiant attempt at something interesting. Then, as other bands entered my life, and the Lips released At War With The Mystics, I was almost certain our time together had come to an end. The hampster ball was old news, Coyne was recycling music, and they were playing "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" live, as if it were on par with "Do You Realize?"

Then came Embryonic, and like a romantic weekend together, the Lips and I were rekindled. Buried in fuzz and overprocessed drums, Coyne comes at his music from a different angle. It's like every song was recorded at max volume through iPod headphones but still retains the majesty of Coyne's voice. "Convinced of the Hex" and "See The Leaves" prod along like a 1970's Can album. Then there are spastic instrumental tracks like "Aquarius Sabotage" and "Scorpio Sword." Of course, with 18 tracks, there are a few that fall short. But by the time we get to "Watching the Planets," coupled with its shocking almost-porn music video, we know the Lips have outdone themselves yet again.

6. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

As a drummer, I was never a big fan of bands that keep the drummer subdued. I like loud, raw drumming that is in the foreground and as unprocessed as possible. Maybe that's why it took a long time for me to like Grizzly Bear. The slow tempo and mellow vocals started out as "working music" or "going to sleep music," and then I slowly, slowly started to really like this band. Veckatimest has a few really great songs. I don't think I have to talk too much about "Two Weeks" or "While You Wait For The Others," both amazing standout tracks that have received almost too much praise this year. I think the album closer "Foreground" made this album for me, a simple piano melody with a subtle bass drum. Or maybe it was the chaotic end of "I Live With You," or the bass-driven "Southern Point." If the whole album were as consistent as these tracks, this could be a viable #1 album of the year. I think there are still too many points where I just yawned and shrugged.

5. Jeff the Brotherhood - Heavy Days

"This will be your new favorite band," I was told when I moved into Death By Audio. Jeff the Brotherhood, by name and birth parents, are a guitar and drum duo from Nashville. With only three guitar strings and a three-piece drum kit, these guys manage to put on one of the most rocking live shows I've ever seen. Influenced by 1960's garage rock, Heavy Days is raw, catchy, and loud. The title track fades in with the sound of a swarm of bees and breaks down into an instrumental chorus full of crunchy guitar and syncopated drums. Sticking with the theme, "Heavy Damage" is a singalong that encourages the crowd to learn the words "I got so much to do/ Can't even talk to you/ Gotta go do a thing now baby/ We can hang out next week maybe." There's even a ballad ("The Tropics") and an instrumental complete with a metal breakdown ("Heavy Krishna"). The poppy "Bone Jam" would be almost cheesy if the lyrics weren't "I'm gonna grind your bones to make my bread." Closing the album is "Mind Ride," a slow, sludge-metal track that suddenly warps into double speed and repeats itself before catapulting into an ending smothered in wah-pedal glory. Catch this band live if you have the chance.

4. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

On the other end of the spectrum is Bill Callahan, or Smog, however you want to refer to him. He's been under the radar for quite some time. Monotone and short, he is almost talking more than he is singing. Still, he is never off-key, and he floats his baritone voice over beautiful compositions of orchestral strings and acoustic guitars. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle opens with "Jim Cain,"as Callahan states "I started out in search of ordinary things" and how he "started telling the story without knowing the end." The dark "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" starts out bitterly before morphing into a nonsensical chorus full of made-up words. "The Wind and the Dove" alters beautifully between major and minor chords while "Too Many Birds" is a simple 1-4-5-minor6 progression. Over both of these tracks, Callahan is singing about what he sees. As with much of the album, the songs are descriptive and mostly about observation of nothing in particular. The closer "Faith/Void" has a stroke of insight, as Callahan repeats, "It's time to put God away" in an atheistic anthem. If Callahan has accepted the fact that the void exists, maybe he's just become content singing about birds and trees. I'm perfectly fine with that.

3. Woods - Songs of Shame

Surprise, Brooklyn again. Woods have perfected a very specific sound: their entire folk band and creepy high-pitched vocals of frontman Jeremy Earl are recorded with super lo-fi equipment. It's to the extent that the band sings through old radio microphones when they play live. Earl sounds like he's singing into a tin can. The drums are barely audible, and occasionally a distorted guitar appears out of nowhere, strikingly louder than the rest of the instruments. It was so striking that I originally thought Death By Audio was testing out pedals the first time I played this album. Haunting melodies on "The Number" and "Down This Road" sound like eerie campfire songs, while the low fi rendition of Graham Nash's "Military Madness" bounces along like a 1940's transistor radio hit. "Rain On" is one of the best tracks on the album, a spiteful anthem showcasing the vocal range of Earl, his high-pitched melodies reminiscent of Neil Young. I think this album is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with this band.

2. Antlers - Hospice

Brooklyn's Antlers, fronted by beautiful lyricist Peter Silberman, were introduced to me by my roommate April back in February. Their third album Hospice tells the tale of a man meeting a bone cancer patient at a clinic, then falling in love with her, and eventually watching her die. "Kettering" starts the tale, as Silberman almost whispers the description of the hospital room and the hopelessness of the situation. His voice trembles as he says "I didn't believe them when they said there was no saving you." This album isn't all quiet, as "Sylvia" follows with an explosive waltz, a call for compromise, to "let me do my job." The metaphorical "Bear" is my favorite track, comparing the cancer to something that's "living inside your stomach" and has been "kicking from within." The wavering chorus alters between "We're too old" and "We're not old at all," a perfect description of facing death at an early age.

"Two" dates back to childhood, spending youth in a cancer ward and not eating. It follows Peter and Sylvia as they move to New York and are abandoned by their friends. It has the most optimistic chord progression with probably the most depressing lyrics. With Sylvia's death in "Shiva," the aftermath of "Wake" showcases Peter's depression in a depressing 8 minute anthem. As the melody from "Kettering" comes back in "Epilogue," we can feel the pain of the funeral, waking up alone, and the lasting memories of the hospital. Beautiful, depressing, almost too painful because it's true. Hospice is a masterpiece of 2009.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Surprise! This album stands miles above the rest of 2009, a landmark for Animal Collective and a culmination of their entire careers, from Brian Wilson-esque lyrics to layered samples, to insane time signatures. Combine this with live shows utilizing giant projection orbs and huge sets involving a flowing ocean with sharks and tiki heads and you have one of the most innovative and creative bands of our time. I can't say anything about Merriweather Post Pavillion that hasn't already been said. Just listen to "In The Flowers" at about 2:30 and "you'd smile and say I like this song." The album doesn't let up, either. There's the catchy chorus of "My Girls," the driving pulse of "Summertime Clothes" and the 5/4 (I think?) verse of "Daily Routine" which gives way to a draaawwwnn-out lyrical ending. When seen live, this culminates into fifteen minutes of brilliant crescendos and cymbal crashes, a majestic centerpiece to the album.

Merriweather Post Pavillion could almost be viewed as our generations' Pet Sounds, the layered instrumentation and vocal harmonies that dubbed Brian Wilson the genius of his time has been modernized. Samples, both digital and analog, combine with reverb-heavy vocals to make a beautiful, layered masterpiece. This is miles away from the low-key abstract folk of Sung Tongs that brought Animal Collective their initial acclaim, and many will say they've catered their sound to a mainstream audience, but with progression comes change. Instead of recycling this style, they've managed to build upon it with each album. Finally, everything has fallen into place with an accessible album that doesn't compromise originality. Isn't that the most important thing?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Zen and the Art of Duct Tape

Back in October, the cargo net had become such a hasty endeavor that we decided the best way to maximize our child-like sense of glee was to cut out about twenty feet of HVAC ductwork that ran through the center of the ceiling. Now that it is December, it was evident that the heating system we had removed would need to be replaced. Driven by the impending cold spell and party influenced by Brazil's seedy system of renegade Deniro ducts, we bought 100 feet of insulated octopus arms, military grade duct tape, and a few cans of expanding foam. The result? The shabbiest, but most exquisitely squalid heating system I've ever seen. We have yet to see how efficient it is.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tim Burton at the MOMA

Rarely is there an artist buried in his own niche that is able to achieve commercial success in any genre. Someone that can enchant children and terrify adults. His films range from Batman and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Nightmare Before Christmas and Mars Attacks!. He's had tear-jerkers (Big Fish), biographies (Ed Wood), and musicals (Sweeny Todd). At only 51, Tim Burton already solidified himself as one of the most visionary, imaginative, and horrifying directors of all time.

His work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art from November 18th to April 26th. In addition to half a floor dedicated to his early sketches and short films, all of Burton's films, in addition to all of his influences, are playing during that same timeframe in the MOMA theatre.

I recently visited the museum for the exhibit and was blown away by the amount of early sketches on display. There were doodles from grade school, high school poetry, and his early short films he made with his friends. There were children's books, storyboards, and even a version of Hansel and Gretel playing in its entirety. Many of the sculptures on display were of monsters he had created in some of his sketches. Some of them were smaller than action figures, while others stretched across the room. Most had multiple eyeballs and a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. Everywhere we looked were tentacles.

From his films, we saw storyboards, sketches of characters, and even props used in the film. Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands towered above the props with footlong blades for fingers. In a glass container lay the straight razors from a recent throat-slicing barber film. The headless horseman's cape from Sleepy Hollow was draped over a far wall, ten feet tall.

Though we had been in the exhibit for quite some time, I felt like I could have absorbed much more. Instead, we decided to stroll through the rest of the MOMA, stumbling upon The Persistence of Memory, The Three Musicians, Starry Night, Christina's World, and Sleeping Gypsy. I was also introduced to a few great artists like Gustav Klimt and Sol LeWitt. On the top floor, there was an exhibit called Bauhaus, centered around a German design school. I think I'll go back and revisit this one, since it was almost as enthralling as Burton.

If you plan to visit New York and are looking for something to do, the Burton exhibit is on display until April. Get tickets in advance, because it's going to be crowded. Try to pick a day that's not the weekend, I'm sure it will be easier to walk around. And hell, if you're looking for someone to go with, contact me. I'd go see this again.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brompton Bike vs Wilkes-Barre

Wow November 29th, so far this is the longest I've gone without a blog post. In some ways, I feel like this is a good thing because we've been getting a lot done here at Death By Audio. New drywall, new heating ducts, cleaning up the space a bit. In some cases, I've opened up a window here and found I had nothing to say. I've been doing a lot of writing on the side which will not be available to the public until it's in a presentable form. I've also been developing a few ideas I've had with circuitry that I may be posting if they work out. So far, nothing has.

I recently received my Brompton bicycle from my place of employment. For those of you unfamiliar with the bike, it is a 16" wheeled folding bike. This video accurately describes the bike:

I had mixed feelings about this at first, but after the Thanksgiving excursion in Wilkes-Barre, I'm sold on the idea. It is not as fast as my beloved road bike, but for travel purposes it really can't be beat. I threw it underneath the bus and rode back to Wilkes-Barre. In my hometown, the aspect of riding a bicycle long distances (like my house to Wilkes-Barre) seemed unheard of in the past. Yet, I found myself traversing this distance almost every day of my holiday. Despite objections from motorists and even a stop at 3 a.m. by the police, I was overjoyed that I was finally able to get around my hometown without a car. This was probably the first time I came back from a holiday visit to my hometown without feeling bloated and lazy. I actually managed to get some exercise. Since I doubt I'll ever be able to find a replacement for my beloved Nissan Altima, and the idea of owning a car and paying for gas and insurance is not really desirable at this point in time, a bike will be serving as my main form of transportation. I look forward to biking the shit out of other cities and traveling a lot more with this bike.

Thanksgiving with the relatives was nice. Got to catch up with cousins and aunts and uncles. There was a huge feast, as usual. Much later, I got to partake in the vegan Thanksgiving with friends. Lots of jazz and wine and good homemade food. Got to talk to a lot of old friends and meet a handful of new ones. Between Common People Wednesday night in Wilkes-Barre and Panksgiving! Thursday night in Scranton, I think I managed to cover all bases in a little under three days.

You know, though I probably wouldn't go back and live there, I like visiting northeast PA on the holidays. There will always be a place in my heart for Wilkes-Barre.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Over the last few days, my house has been turning into the set of a video shoot for A Place To Bury Strangers. Director Brendan Bellomo and Oliver have been working together to construct a sci-fi virtual reality simulation using a wall of televisions, a variety of Oliver's pedals and homemade instruments, and a metal bowl attached to some cables.

(I took the pictures down, for the courtesy of Brendan's artistic vision, but I'll post the final video when it's done editing.)

As awesome as this set looks, I'm more excited for the finished product and future endeavors by Brendan. We watched his 2009 Student Academy Award Winning film, Bohemibot, a futuristic sci-fi story about a man that loses his wife and child, as well as his hands, in a totalitarian takeover. Working in a sort of concentration camp in space, he copes with the absolute helplessness of this lifestyle and the grief of losing his family. When he meets a child prisoner sentenced to death, he works out a method of escape. Here is the trailer:

The music video will be for the song "Keep Slipping Away" off of Exploding Head. I can't wait to see the final video.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jeff The Brotherhood

This weekend in New York City was the CMJ Festival. The College Music Journal is a publication for the music industry and college radio stations, and their festival is one of the biggest industry-oriented events of the year, spanning across venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Basically, next to South By Southwest in Austin, TX, CMJ is where bands make their mark with the music industry, journalists, and record labels.

With all of the commotion going on this weekend, it was hard to pick and choose which shows were worth attending. Instead of planning out specific shows to attend, I decided to just roll with whatever was blowing through Death By Audio in a hurricane of activity. Out of Nashville, Infinity Cat Records was having a showcase on Friday night. Their headliner? Jeff The Brotherhood.

Two brothers from Nashville, Jeff plays a blend of psychedelic garage rock, similar to The Wipers or Sonic Youth. I make an effort to see them every time they come to New York, and every time it is an amazing show. This time, they played in the basement of the Charleston on Bedford Ave.

As a grungy basement with low ceilings and poor ventilation, the Charleston was the perfect venue for the Brotherhood. Packed in well past capacity, the crowd swelled with the music, almost overtaking the band. The low ceilings were attractive for crowd surfing, and almost twenty people watched the band from this vantage point, clinging to the ceiling pipes.

With all of the music happening this weekend, I'm sure there were other amazing shows and other amazing bands. In my opinion, Jeff the Brotherhood was the band to see at the 2009 CMJ festival. With 7 shows over the course of three days, I'm sure they'll get the press they deserve.