Thursday, December 6, 2012

McQ's Favorite Tracks Of 2012 (for now)

Hey Everyone,

Mix collections are still two months away, but thought I jump into the December year end playlist sweepstakes anyways.

As of today, December 5, no particular order, these are my fifty favorite songs, limited to one per artist, of the year.

Lots that should be familiar to anyone who's been tracking the year end best lists (Japandroids, Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Grimes, Tame Impala),  many who've done equally exceptional work this year but seem to be getting overlooked in the final tally (Dr. John, Allo' Darlin, Anais Mitchell, Low Cut Connie, Liars, Swans, Death Grips), and just some old-fashioned personal favorites (Menomena, Jimmy Cliff, Mark Lanegan).

But no matter how you break it down, there is much here to feast on.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M HERE - Emeralds (2010)

One of the more celebrated electronic releases of 2010, this ambitious effort from Cleveland noise /art-rock stalwarts Emeralds is notable for its meticulous recreation of the classic sounds and textures of early avant-garde electro-pop and ambient music, particularly those mid-to-late 70s works of pioneering electronic artists like Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Robert Fripp, and Brian Eno.  

Especially Brian Eno.

Truth be told, half these songs would almost feel right at home on Eno's  masterpiece Another Green World, and those that don't could flow effortlessly in a mix with tracks from other Fripp/Eno efforts like No Pussyfooting, 801 Live, Exposure, Music For Airports and Music For Films.

For me though, the mere spot-on recreation of these sounds was not enough.

Though the music is expertly done, sometimes with interesting twists, Emeralds fail to recognize the primary differentiator of Eno's genius: For all of Eno's conceptual innovation, it was his ability to marry his abstractions with a retained sense of primal, human emotion that set him apart.

Eno's efforts from this era weren't just groundbreaking...they could also be profoundly moving.

Here, aside from one beautiful track (Goes By), Emeralds fail to deliver on the emotional half of that equation, leading to a record that comes off - to borrow a phrase from the presidential debate parlance of the moment - as quite wonky: occasionally fascinating reworkings of forgotten sonic motifs, conveying little to no heart. 

There are tracks that impress.  The aforementioned Goes By, the fine, building opener Candy Shoppe, the explosive title track (which reminded me some of Tim Hecker's work on Ravedeath, 1972), and the shifting, over-the top but at times glorious Genetic are all well worth a listen.  

But the rest of the material, while still decent, floats by in a bit of a bloopy, hard-to-connect-with, undifferentiated haze that is best left to fervent fans of the band, genre and era.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Candy Shoppe, Genetic, Goes By, Does It Look Like I'm Here?

Track Listing:
1. Candy Shoppe - 8
2. The Cycle Of Abuse - 6
3. Double Helix - 7
4. Science Center - 7
5. Genetic - 7
6. Goes By - 8
7. Does It Look Like I'm Here - 8
8. Summerdata -7
9. Shade - 6
10. It Doesn't Arrive - 7
11. Now You See Me - 7
12. Access Granted - 7
Intangibles - average to slightly low.
Spotify / iTunes / Amazon

Here's a live performance from last year of album opener Candy Shoppe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

RED BARKED TREE - Wire (2011)

Though loathe to admit it, for even the most ardent rock 'n' roll completists, there are bands...sometimes great bands...that escape one's grasp the first go around.  For me, Gil Scott Heron, whom I just discovered two years ago on his final solo release I'm New Here,  was one.  Wire is another.

So unlike most other reviews, I will not be examining late career recording Red Barked Tree in the context of how it relates to Wire's early lauded classics like Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, or A Bell Is A Cup...Until It Is Struck, for the simple truth that I have yet to hear them.

This review instead assesses Red Barked Tree as my point of entry into the band's body of work.

And taken in that context, it's clear I do need to start listening to those other albums, because Red Barked Tree isn't doing a whole lot for me.

There are a few things I like.  For one, the album sports an engaging rhythmic simplicity.  Musically, these are uncomplicated songs, but the instrumentation and song structures have a clarity of intent I find appealing.

There are also two genuinely excellent tracks...the raised-middle-finger opener Please Take, which is a textbook case-study in ironic understatement, and the album's feistiest number, the acidic punker Moreover.

But after that, the pickings are mighty slim.

Taken as a whole, this is an art-punk record with very little musical bite.

I'm tempted to reach and make thematic links between the album's title/cover, which seem to suggest an exploration of alcoholism as an emotional defense mechanism - and the actual music, which does have a similarly detached, protective but unassertive feel, as if conceived by a nasty drunk whose motor control has slipped too much to be a physical challenge, but who still sober enough to throw out a cutting zinger or two.

But in the end, such analysis lends more weight to this work than it probably deserves.

Red Barked Tree is a decent sounding, lackluster record with some fine, wry lyrics, but a number of flat, only mildly engaging songs.

It gets a mild recommend on the strength of its sound and those two fine tracks, and is probably a worthwhile addition for lifelong fans of the band.

But for others like me, who are just getting started in exploring what is reportedly one of the richest discographies in all of punk, I sense, from my limited perspective, that Red Barked Tree is probably not the place to start.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Please Take, Two Minutes, Moreover, Red Barked Trees.

Track Listing:
1. Please Take - 9
2. Now Was - 6
3. Adapt - 6
4. Two Minutes - 7
5. Clay - 6
6. Bad Worn Thing - 7
7. Moreover - 9
8. A Flat Tent - 5
9. Smash - 6
10. Down To This - 7
11. Red Barked Trees - 7
Intangibles - Low
Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon

Here's a music only video for Please Take.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

WHO'S NEXT - The Who (1970)

From today's perspective, Who's Next is as classic rock as classic rock gets.

Hell, with it's ginormous, arena-sized thump, all-time iconic bookends in Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, and arguably the most famous scream in all of recorded music, Who's Next might be the classic rock album.

All of which blurs the historical truth that at the time of its release, Who's Next was something undeniably new.

Born from the failed, nervous-breakdown-inducing ashes of Lifehouse, an SF rock opera Townsend had envisioned as the band's follow up to Tommy, Who's Next captured the band at a moment when it was ready to sever all ties with its past, and these scattered shards of Lifehouse that survived, though no longer thematically linked, presented the group at their most emotionally confrontational.

Not that it's an album full of anger.

To the contrary, there is a vibrant eclecticism on display, from gorgeous, heartbreaking ballads (The Song Is Over, Behind Blue Eyes), to declarations of love both ferocious (Bargain) and charmingly elemental (Love Ain't For Keeping), from the acerbically comic (Entwistle's My Wife), to the joyously silly (Going Mobile).

But when push came to shove, it was the band's growing disdain for the behavior and ideology of their peers that fueled the album's best material.

Never fans or active supporters of the 60s flower-power movement, the band is downright disdainful of the protest-minded here, both lyrically (Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss - It's only a teenage wasteland), and visually (where album title and cover encouraged all to piss on a monolith - the mystical evolutionary metaphor from every acid-dropping hippie's favorite 60's movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey).

However, as fed up as the Who were with the conventional wisdom of the day, it was instrumentally, not thematically, where Who's Next would have its biggest impact.

One of the first albums to fully incorporate the synthesizer, Townsend's work with sequenced tape loops on those famous bookends is now a permanent strand of rock 'n' roll DNA, but at the time, the effect was revelatory.

For some odd reason...or maybe because Who's Next is so associated with classic rock - today's top electronica artists rarely cite the album as an influence...but make no mistake, Who's Next was one of the very first "electronic" albums...a huge step forward.

Bottom line - whether recognized or unrecognized for its breakthroughs, it's hard to consider Who's Next today as anything other than a career high for one of the 60s top acts, and one of the greatest rock albums ever made.

A must own, and one final thought, the 1995 Geffen 16 track re-release of the album contains some of the best CD bonus tracks I've ever heard.

I don't list those tracks here, but it's well worth seeking this expanded version out.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Baba O'Riley, Getting In Tune, Behind Blue Eyes, Won't Get Fooled Again.

Track Listing:
1. Baba O'Riley - 10
2. Bargain - 9
3. Love Ain't For Keeping - 9
4. My Wife - 8
5. The Song Is Over - 8
6. Getting In Tune - 9
7. Going Mobile - 9
8. Behind Blue Eyes - 10
9. Won't Get Fooled Again - 10
Intangibles: High
Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon

Here's one of the final performances of opener Baba O'Riley from the band's original line-up, captured just months before Keith Moon's death in 1978.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NOSEBLEED EP - Betty White (2010)

Not to be confused in any way with either the persona or upbeat disposition of the venerated television actress from whom this upstart LA-based band takes their name, the music on Betty White's promising, surly, self-released debut EP hearkens back to the classic days of early British punk...those formative years when the bass was rock bottom, the mixes gritty but clear, the vocals delivered with a helium snarl rather than a guttural scream, and the urge to express anger and rage was in no way justification for ignoring the hooks.

Hitting forcefully with six swift, engaging, left-of-center bursts, the whole band acquits itself well, but the clear star is lead singer/principal songwriter/intimidating live presence Robert James, who ferociously combines Johnny Rotten's bullying whine with the demented unpredictability of Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington.

Well worth checking out, both live and on record. 

Status: Solid Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Nosebleed, Middleman, Bathroom Mat.

Track Listing:
1. Nosebleed - 8
2. Middleman - 8
3. Flesh & Spit - 7
4. Old Son - 7
5. Bathroom Mat - 9
6. The Form - 7
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Bathroom Mat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

WILD FLAG (2011)

When it was first released back last September, this rousing self-titled debut from all-female supergroup Wild Flag had several prominent critics clamoring to declare it the best album of 2011.

Well folks, I got news for you.

In a year that gave us Tuneyard's vibrant Whokill, Destroyer's Kaputt, and especially PJ Harvey's masterful Let England Shake, Wild Flag ain't quite that good.

But there remains a ton to like.

The band...comprised of indie superstars Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, the Minders' Rebecca Cole, and Helium's Mary Timony...pulls from all four members past efforts, but it's the high-powered psych-rock feel of Sleater-Kinney's final two albums that looms largest.

If anything, the album feels like the poppier, slightly less confident kid sister to SK's '05 masterpiece The Woods...not quite as assertive, not quite as attractive, not quite as daring or adventurous, but still plenty damn hot.

Brownstein, stepping out from monster-voiced SK teammate Corin Tucker's shadow, handles most of the vocals here, and her spirited, punky yelps do the album proud.  Weiss's thunderous drumming is, as always, exceptional, and Cole provides all manner of engaging keys.

Timony's vocals are another matter.  With a delivery style similar to Brownstein's, but much weaker in presence, they're one of the albums two chief drawbacks.

Luckily, just when Timony seems positioned to sing a song into oblivion, the band's fabulous group harmonies and bad-ass instrumentation swoop in to save the day.  A number of the songs here, particularly Glass Tambourine, Short Version, and Black Tiles, start out good to just okay, but then explode into swaggering awesomeness on their back halves.

And it's that swagger, whether on more playful efforts like jaunty opener Romance, or in the album's highpoint, the jammy, cut-it-loose throwaway Racehorse, that one takes away most from Wild Flag.

My only other complaint: some of the material here, especially on the album's much weaker front half, feels hastily assembled.

The band started generating heat from public performances far before this record was released, and  it feels as if weaker tracks like Boom, Endless Talk and the clumsy opening half of Glass Tambourine weren't given the proper amount of time to gestate in the rush to capitalize on the band's growing live buzz.

But that said, it's impressive how cohesive, ballsy, and fun much of the rest of the material is.

Like I said, it ain't the best album of 2011.

But it definitely deserves some consideration for runner up.

Status: Strong Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Romance, Short Version, Racehorse, Black Tiles.

Track Listing:
1. Romance - 9
2. Something Came Over Me - 8
3. Boom - 6
4. Glass Tambourine - 7
5. Endless Talk - 7
6. Short Version - 9
7. Electric Band - 8
8. Future Crimes - 8
9. Racehorse - 10
10. Black Tiles - 8
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Romance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BAND OF JOY - Robert Plant (2010)

An engaging and logical follow-up to Plant and Alison Krauss' hit 2007 album Raising Sand, Band Of Joy is a return to roots both musical and personal.

Musically, this album of exclusively covers is a natural continuation of the country-tinged Americana Plant so effectively laid-out on Raising Sand.

But in reclaiming the name Band Of Joy, Plant is also drawing links to his own past, to his mid-60s, pre-Led Zeppelin days, to the British blues-rock outfit he helmed with cohort John Bonham before Jimmy Page became a principal driver in their musical careers.

The result is an album that pulls strongly from both prior influences.  Raising Sand participant  Buddy Miller doubles as guitarist and producer here, taking over production duties from T-Bone Burnett, and the glorious Patty Griffin steps into the Alison Krauss role, but otherwise, the song selection feels similarly structured.

What has changed, however, is the attitude and tone.

Gone is Sand's and T-Bone Burnett's hi-fidelity, faux-dated gloss.

Band Of Joy is grittier, moodier, with a much more naturalistic, lived-in feel to its nostalgic vibe. In fact, I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb here to say the real star of Band Of Joy is neither Plant or Griffin, but Miller, whose swampy guitar tones and production dominate the album.

Griffin, sadly, is criminally underutilized.

Unlike on Raising Sand, where Plant and Krauss alternated leads, Plant doesn't share any lead work this time out; Patty serves here solely as a harmonist.  But one can hope - especially given that Plant and Griffin have since eloped - that Patty will be provided a greater opportunity to shine on the second go round. After all, Plant may be one of the greatest Rock 'n' Roll singers of all time, but he's now only the second best singer in his immediate family.

But back to the songs themselves.

There are a number of standouts here, and part of the fun is how different Plant and Miller's takes are from the originals, while still preserving a clear sense of the originals.

Among my personal favorites are the Beatle-esque rendition of You Can't Buy My Love, the dirty, bluesy flow to Even This Shall Pass Away, and a superlative cover of Los Lobos' Angel Dance, but irony of ironies, two of the album's best tracks are also its two most disappointing.

Both songs, Silver Rider and Monkey, are covers pulled from Minnesota indie act Low's 2005 release The Great Destroyer.

Miller does a marvelous job recasting those originally soaring numbers as haunting, swampy brooders, and it's on these tracks that his killer guitar work really shines, but for some reason, Plant and Griffin's vocals, which would seem perfect for these songs, don't come close to matching the spine-tingling harmonies exhibited by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker in the originals.  Silver Rider's massive wordless chorus, in particular, seems to have been unnecessarily simplified here.

But those quibbles aside, I actually found Band Of Joy to be straight up a better album than Raising Sand. 

I doubt fans of Plant's hard-rocking Led Zeppelin days will be wowed, but enthusiasts of Plant's more recent country-oriented work are well-advised to check this out.

Status: Solid Recommend

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Angel Dance, You Can't Buy My Love, Silver Rider, Monkey.

Track Listing:
1. Angel Dance - 8
2. House Of Cards - 7
3. Central Two-O-Nine - 6
4. Silver Rider - 9
5. You Can't Buy My Love - 9
6. Falling In Love Again - 7
7. The Only Sound That Matters - 8
8. Monkey - 8
9. Cindy (I'll Marry You Someday) - 7
10. Harm's Swift Way - 7
11. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down - 7
12. Even This Shall Pass Away - 8
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Band Of Joy's cover of Los Lobos' Angel Dance.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Six New Tracks For Your Summer Weekend - July 5, 2012 Edition

Hey Everyone,

Here are this week's additions to my regularly updated, rotating Spotify playlists What I'm Digging Right Now and Forgotten Little Gems.

For this week's contemporary selections we have...

1) Turn It Around, the opening track to one of the year's better straight-up rock album's, The Men's Open Your Heart.

2) Oblivion by Grimes from her latest release Visions, the first effort in the "witchhouse" dance sub-genre I genuinely enjoy.  Several strong, odd tracks on this album.

3) Wily Kataso, a cross-continental Afro-pop collaboration between Tunde Adebimpe and Kip Malone of TV On The Radio and Amadou & Miriam from A&M's most recent release, Folila.

4) In honor of my brother's upcoming wedding, I Believe In Love from little known UK act Suedehead and their 2011 The Constant EP.  Saw these guys at Coachella, put on a great show, and talk about sonic dead ringers for early Elvis Costello. Sorry, no video for this one.

5) We Are Fine from singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten's latest, Tramp, which features a winning supporting vocal from Beirut's Zach Condon.

And for this week's Forgotten Little Gem, another love song in honor of my brother and his fiance, possibly the most effecting earnest little love song I've ever heard, Big Star's I'm In Love With A Girl. Way to go Mike and Nadine!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Six Fine Songs For Your Pre-4th Of July 2012 Weekend

Hey Rock 'n' Roll fans, just a couple of days 'til another Fourth and all the family, friends and nation-wide fun that this week's track list spotlights a few songs to help you get in the mood.

For some recent tracks...

Start with Neil Young and Crazy Horse's cover of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land from their latest, Americana.

Then, a celebration of some of the past century's greatest American country artists by way of Sweden, Emmylou, from the charming sister duo First Aid Kit off of their second LP The Lion's Roar.

Then for those dissatisfied with our presidential choices in the upcoming election, Ry Cooder offers an alternative with John Lee Hooker For President from his excellent 2011 protest album, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down.

After that, another celebration of American musical greats, this time focused on the African-American side of the spectrum, with Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music from his fantastic, serious-minded El-P produced release of the same name.

And finally, to keep us focused on what ties us all together, Mr. America, Bruce Springsteen, with We Take Care Of Our Own from his 2012 LP Wrecking Ball.

For this week's forgotten little gem...

Dozens of songs I could have gone with...from the earnest (Neil Diamonds America), to the comical (Randy Newman's Political Science).  From protest songs (Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers), to the devastating (John Mellencamp's Jackie Brown) to the obvious (Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock performance of The Star-Spangled Banner).  But, despite all our nation's problems, I'm proud of my country, damn proud of my country, crazy proud of my country!

So there was only one real choice.

America, F--- Yeah! from the Team America: World Police Soundtrack.

As always, all these tracks and previous weeks' recommendations can be found on my two rotating Spotify playlists What I'm Digging Right Now, and Forgotten Little Gems. Be sure to subscribe.

And until next weekend, have a great Fourth everybody!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Six Great Songs For Your Summer Weekend - June 22, 2012 Edition

Greetings Rock 'n' Roll fans,

Another summer weekend, time to dive into six more excellent songs.

As always, Spotify links to all tracks and mentioned albums are provided, but you can also catch all the tracks listed here and in past weeks by linking to, or better yet, subscribing to, my two rotating playlists What I'm Digging Right Now and Forgotten Little Gems.

On the contemporary front, going a little edgier this week.

For those longing for the guitar glory of past decades, we start with New Jersey's Screaming Females, and the blistering opening track It All Means Nothing to their latest release Ugly.  Lead singer Marisa Paternoster's vocals take some getting used to, but if you've found yourself digging through your old Dinosaur Jr. or Sleater-Kinney discs as of late, you'll definitely want to check this band out.  Here's a look.

Next, for those looking for a Kid A-styled fix, No.1 Against The Rush from Liar's latest, WIXIW, for me one of the best releases so far this year.

Then, an absolute gem that's just dropped, Still Young from Allo Darlin's Europe, which may be the most immediately endearing album of 2012.  If you're a fan of Belle & Sebastian's lilting jangle-pop, especially those tracks fronted by Isobel Campbell, you will love Europe.

From super accessible pop to downright nasty rap, with Request Denied from El-P's 2012 release Cancer 4 Cure.  The beats on this album are really something, hearkening back to the experimental menace of El-P's mid-90s band Company Flow.  For those digging on Death Grips The Money Store, Cancer 4 Cure makes for an excellent accompaniment.

And for our last contemporary track, a song I haven't been able to stop playing since attending this year's Coachella festival, the title track to The Sheepdogs Learn & Burn. A wonderful Woodstock flavored jam, it sounds just like one of those harder-rocking Greg Rollie-penned numbers from the early Santana albums.

Finally, for this weeks Forgotten Little Gem, Paul McCartney's Smile Away from his just reissued Ram, a record which was absolutely derided at the time of its release, but which is now often regarded as his best and most playfully adventurous post-Beatles album.

And that's it for this week's installment.

Until next Friday, enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nine Tracks For The Weekend - June 15, 2012 - Expanded Father's Day Edition.

Greetings Rock 'n' Roll fans, and to our Dads out there, Happy Father's Day!

In this week's expanded edition, here are five excellent contemporary tracks and four oldies to get you in the Father's Day mood.

Individual links are provided, but you can access all these tracks in one fell swoop by checking out the top of my two rotating Spotify playlists, What I'm Digging Right Now, and Forgotten Little Gems.

Now, for this weeks contemporary tracks...

For your Sunday night barbecue - two of the most festive songs of 2012...Japandroid's The House That Heaven Built from party rock album of the summer Celebration Rock, and The Shin's oh-so-breezey Bait And Switch (my favorite pop song of 2012 so far) from their latest Port Of Morrow.

Then, in celebration of all the willing sacrifices Dad's made on our behalf, Hot Chip's These Chains from their just released joyous look at familial commitment In Our Heads.

Then, for those that still feel aggrieved over some perceived slight of parenting, let it go...  with the help of Anais Mitchell's beautiful You Are Forgiven from her new folk release Young Man In America.

And finally, Dad, feel free to take that golf outing and Getaway...with Dr. John, whose 2012 Locked Down, all apologies to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen, is the best geezer-rock release of the year.

And for some Father's Day-themed oldies.

Start with Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely from his 1976 double album classic Songs In The Key Of Life, to remind you of that moment this journey all started.

Then, as a cautionary warning to workaholic dads everywhere, Harry Chapin's cheesy but effective mid-seventies single Cats In The Cradle.

Then, though admittedly actually a sad break-up song, Mott The Hoople's I Wish I Was Your Mother, from their early seventies glam-rock masterpiece Mott, which within contains this beautiful kernel of a thought...that in most people's lives, there are only two individuals fortunate enough to witness a youngster's full childhood journey...Mom and don't overlook those little moments, Dad.

And finally, for those individuals who sadly no longer have their father with them and for whom this is a difficult day, the most cathartic and touching look at a father lost and remembered I have ever heard, Rosanne Cash's The World Unseen, from her deeply, deeply moving 2006 release Black Cadillac.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Six Tracks For The Weekend - June 8, 2012 - Inaugural Edition

Hey Rock 'n' Roll fans, thought I'd try something new for the summer (or at least until I hit the road for my brother's wedding July 13), and profile 6 songs for your perusal at the start of each weekend, five from worthwhile new releases, and one Forgotten Little Gem.

For this inaugural are this week's contemporary track recommendations.

1) Destiny Feat. Pional - Jon Talabot: This ridiculously catchy number from Spanish house producer Talabot's debut album Fin is probably my favorite dance/electronic track of 2012 to date.

2) The Obituaries - The Menzingers: Gritty, lean punk with a warm late 70s bar band tone seems to be where rock's head is at at this moment, but one very, very good album in this vein few are talking about is this Philadelphia roots-punk outfit's third offering On The Impossible Past. This track here is the most immediate on an album full of immediate numbers.

3) Normal Song - Perfume Genius: My favorite track from one of my favorite singer-songwriter albums of 2012 (Put Your Back N 2 It). The sound of Simon & Garfunkel at their most delicate given a subversive gay spin.

4) Stay Useless - Cloud Nothings: I haven't had much chance to check out Japandroids' Celebration Rock yet, so for now, the youthful, slightly Nirvana-esque Attack On Memory remains my favorite straight-up rock album of 2012.  This track, though maybe not the album's best, is definitely its poppiest.

5) I've Seen Footage - Death Grips: Death Grips' The Money Store may not go down as the year's best album (though it's a serious, serious contender), but it's hard to imagine, even just five months in, a more important release for 2012.  Blending the most aggressive elements of rap and industrial into a radically fresh full force sonic's an album that will turn many off at first...but stay with it, repeated listens reveal it to be a remarkably hooky affair.  This track is without question the gentlest entry point...not that that means much where The Money Store is concerned.

All five tracks have been moved up to the front of my What I'm Digging Right Now Spotify playlist.  Check it out and be sure to subscribe!

For this week's Forgotten Little Gem, I've gone to The Zombie's classic 60s album Odessey And Oracle for Care Of Cell 44, which nearly fifty years since its release remains the happiest love letter to a con ever put to vinyl.

Catch this song, and other great oldies, on my Forgotten Little Gems Spotify playlist

Friday, May 11, 2012

STRANGE MERCY - St. Vincent (2011)

For three albums now, St. Vincent's Annie Clark, the one-time Polyphonic Spree/Sufjan Stevens band member, has been slowly honing in on a singular sound, a bizarre stylistic combination that pairs her love of old orchestral Disney songs with what she calls "gnarly guitar."

It's a seemingly impossible marriage of styles, a diametrically opposed merge of beauty and noise, and to date, I feel she's only intermittently succeeded at pulling it off.

But if anyone can bring this blend to fruition, it's Clark.

Armed with an angel's voice, exceptional talent as an ironic lyricist, and master level chops on multiple instruments...she doesn't always hit the mark, but when she does, watch out.

In her first two flawed but fascinating releases, Marry Me and Actor, the juxtaposition of styles worked more side by side, song to song...a primarily orchestral number here, followed by a clear rocker there, followed by a breezy jazz number with deceptively dark lyrics.  But with Actor, especially on tracks like Marrow, you could feel Clark coming to terms with how she wanted to marry these elements within a single song.

With Strange Mercy, the stylistic marriage feels complete.

The orchestral and jazzy arrangements and those vicious guitar runs feel compressed onto each other tighter than ever, striking harsher and crazier, struggling to find a way to co-exist at every turn.

The end result is a dynamic, combustible, exceptionally bold album that has earned many high ranking inclusions on a number of 2011 year end best lists.

But however perfected this stylistic juxtaposition may now be for Clark, it's still only works in fits and starts for me, and I feel the frustration more on Strange Mercy than either of St. Vincent's prior two releases.

For every number like Cruel or Strange Mercy that hypnotically pulls me in, there's a twisting, slicing track like Dilettante or Chloe In The Afternoon or Cheerleader that I respect but just can't bring myself to love.

So color me confused by Strange Mercy.

It's an ambitious, highly intelligent album that will give aggressive listeners plenty to absorb, but for me, though I'm impressed by all of it, I have to admit I only enjoy about half of it.

Status: Solid Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Cruel, Surgeon, Northern Lights, Strange Mercy.

Here's the official video for Cruel.

Component Breakdown:
1. Chloe In The Afternoon - 7
2. Cruel - 9
3. Cheerleader - 7
4. Surgeon - 8
5. Northern Lights - 8
6. Strange Mercy - 8
7. Neutered Fruit - 7
8. Champagne Year - 8
9. Dilettante - 6
10. Hysterical Strength - 7
11. Year Of The Tiger - 7
Intangibles - Average
Listen on Spotify/Purchase on I-Tunes

What are your thoughts on St. Vincent's Strange Mercy? Let readers know!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


2012 Week One was my fifth consecutive Coachella, so I'm reaching a point where memories of the different events start to blur into each other, but on a whole, these would be my general comparative impressions.

2012 boasted the best collectiion of headliner performances I've seen since the 2008 double whammy of Prince/Roger Waters.  The Black Keys were excellent if a bit monochromatic, Radiohead up-and-down but jaw droppingly good in their best moments, and Snoop, Dre, Enimen, Whiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, and yes, that Tupac Shakur hologram were just an event - not the weekend's top musical highlight (that distinction belongs to Bon Iver), but without question a show for the ages rating right there with the best the festival has ever offered.

Logistically, this was as good as the festival has ever been...all those kinks they hit in 2010 now seem a distant memory, and a brilliant ergonomic decision to break the day parking lot up into fenced-off units of 200-300 cars worked wonders at cutting down bottle-necking and speeding up the exit process...I stayed all three nights to the end and it never took me more than 5 minutes to get out of the lot and free and clear of traffic.  Additionally, from a stage management standpoint, very few delays...Justice had some technical difficulties, and Bon Iver was 10 minutes late, but otherwise, every set started on time...even Snoop and Dre.

Of course, one of the things people will remember most about 2012 week one was the weather.  While I'm sure nothing compared to what our brethren at Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza have been through, Friday brought rain, cold, and most significantly, some brutal winds to the festival grounds.  Several of the fests major artworks didn't go up until Sunday as a result, and some midday Friday artists, especially Yuck, Neon Indian, James and Jimmy Cliff had to bring it under some very tough conditions (which James and Jimmy Cliff were able to do impressively, Yuck and Neon Indian not so much), and Radiohead's Saturday night crowd was seriously dampened by the cold.

Which brings us finally, to the music.

As always there were a number of great sets, with two genuinely exceptional sets from Bon Iver and Snoop & Dre that top anything I saw in 2010 or 2011, and fantastic performances from a surprising number of the weekend's many reunion acts...but top to bottom, I'd have to say 2012 had less of a wow factor than any other Coachella's I've attended.

To start, the under-undercard is much, much weaker this year, with only Saturday's gem of an 11-2 stretch ranking with the awesomeness Goldenvoice has compiled in these time periods the previous two years.

And many of 2011's top critical darlings (Destroyer, Wild Flag, Tune-Yards, Yuck, Laura Marling, Florence & The Machine) while not bad, came nowhere near meeting or exceeding expectations the way the likes of Foals, Elbow, Robyn, Cut Copy, Black Joe Lewis, PJ Harvey, Phosphorescent, Twin Shadow and others did last year.

The more I think about it, the harder it is to deny, that taken a pure music performance perspective...2012 is probably the weakest of the five Coachella's I've attended.

But it was still freakin' awesome.

Here quickly are brush strokes on my favorite sets and songs of the festival...then we'll get into each day in specific later this week.

McQ's Top Coachella Sets of 2012 Weekend 1

1a. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dog - No other way to describe it, this was an event...will go down as one of the legendary Coachella sets...right there with Daft Punk, Prince, Portishead, McCartney.
1b. Bon Iver - Shockingly, shockingly good - the best set I've seen from a purely musical perspective since McCartney in 2009. Justin Timberlake's Saturday Night Live impression couldn't have been farther from the truth Saturday night...this was emotionally potent music delivered with overwhelming force and power. Weekend two-ers, think long and hard about skipping this one. A tour-de-force.
3. The Buzzcocks - Reunion, older acts are going to dominate this best sets lists, and Sex Pistols/Clash brothers in arms were the best of the bunch.  A riotous, blazing set...I think the played almost everything off of Singles Going Steady.
4. Refused - Tremendous emotion, humility and graciousness from this band, not things you'd associate with a 90s hardcore punk outfit.  Incredible how tight they were after such a long layoff.
5. The Rapture - No other way to put it, a "rapturous" set. This New York dance punk act was just on.
6. Death Grips - You don't need to see all of this assaulting Rap-Punk act's set, a little goes a long way, but this was without question "the breakout set" of this year's festival.
7. The Saturday Undercard - The artists that make up Saturday's 11-2 stretch are just a collective joy.  Heavy on the brit-rock side, favorites were the super sexy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Elvis-Costello-like Suedehead, Pulp-like Spector, Frightened Rabbits-y We Were Promised, Jetpacks, the passionate We Are Augustines, and the excellent garage act The Vaccines.  Weekend two-ers control your partying...this is one of 2012s best stretches.
9. The Hives - For humorous chatter between songs, Pulp and Spector came close, but otherwise, no one is in the ball park of this reliably fantastic live act.
10. Jimmy Cliff - The reggae master had the irony of performing his sun-drenched hits during the worst weather of the festival.  He couldn't entirely pull the crowd out of their frozen, shivering state, but he did his damnedest, and his 69 year old voice has lost none of its appeal.  This one should be even better in the sun on week two.
11. Gary Clark, Jr. - Austin-based guitar virtuoso delivered this year's top blues set.  Not as much fun as last year's Black Joe Lewis romp, but some incredible pyrotechnics.
12. WU LYF - They need to get some stronger songs, but the charisma and arena-sized potential for this unusual Manchester act are highly evident.  Opener was phenomenal.
13. Squeeze - They took a bit of time to warm up, but final 25 minutes of this set were pure joy.
14. First Aid Kit - The most charming set of the entire weekend, a pair of Swedish sisters delivering gorgeous folk and alt-country ballads.
15. EMA - Intensity, cooler-than-shit sonics, and tons of charisma from this Goth leaning singer-songwriter whose edginess reminds a lot of PJ Harvey.
16. Radiohead.

McQ's Top Individual Tracks Of Coachella 2012 Week One

1. Vomit - Girls - A remarkable song on record as well, I lucked into catching this closer to Girls set after leaving Death Grips a few minutes early.  As on record, the transitions from slow, intense brooder to bristling  jam, to "reaching for the heavens" Great Gig In The Sky-styled gospel blowout were extraordinary...Death Grips was one of the weeks most impacting sets, but I urge everyone attending Week Two to try to catch the last fifteen minutes of Girls set to take this number in.
2. The Wolves Part 1 & 2 - Bon Iver - The youtube video on the Coachella website does a pretty decent job of conveying the force with which this closing number hit.  The most emotionally powerful song of the festival.
3. Common People - Pulp - It was Common People, nothing else needs to be said.
4. LYF - WU LYF - Intoxicating, slow-building opener to one of the weekend's best sets.
5. The tUne-YaRdS Construction Method - While no one song rated among my top festival favs, watching Merril build these songs out of the most miniscule of parts was fascinating - if only it hadn't pulled her attention away from her voice.

For a more detailed breakdown of each day and rankings of each day's sets, click on the links below.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coachella 2012 Week One Day Three - Sunday April 15

Compared to the two days that had just transpired, Sunday was, as I told a friend, weak sauce.

Over-stocked with electronic acts, who took over significant portions of the day in the Mojave and Gobi along with the Sahara, not to mention Justice's and Girl Talk's Coachella Stage and Outdoor Theatre appearances, the rock 'n' roll segment of Coachella 2012 effectively ended at 6:55 with the conclusion of The Hives excellent set save for the exception of At The Drive-In's pre-Dre burst, and a few scattered soft-indie shows (Gotye, Beirut, Florence & The Machine).

Worse, three of the days top performers...Santigold, Seun Kuti, and Wild Beasts...we're all scheduled head to head in "pick one of the three fashion," and other acts I had hoped would deliver top flight sets didn't quite hit the mark (Wild Flag, Fitz & The Tantrums, Florence).

A couple endearing surprises...First Aid Kid was an absolute charmer, Lissie, now backed by a full band, was much more engaging than when I saw her opening for Ray LaMontagne a year ago, and The Weekend delivered a solid if unspectacular set, but overall, one of the weakest day's in the five years I've attended...not as bad as the over-progged Muse headlining Saturday 2010, which is easily my least favorite Coachella day of all time, but not far off pace.

At least until Snoop and Dre.  That changed everything.

Here's a look at the Sunday acts I was able to see.


1. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dog - 10:35 to Festival End - The Coachella Stage: The undeniable "biggest moment" of the festival.  Though I knew I would catch this set, I hadn't built up expectations for it like I had some other shows on the lineup, but the moment Snoop and Dre took the stage in a slight cheesy Golden Globes MC like Manner, and those beats started flying, I, along with what seemed like every other individual left on the fields, was hooked. Honestly, I've never seen the Coachella crowd so uniformly anchored around one performance, like they were here...not even for Prince or McCartney...and of those three sets, this was the one that had providing a straight up good time most on it's mind.  This was a party rap set for the history books...great before the parade of all-stars came on...with a sharp live band and wonderful, projection-oriented set design full of vibrant colors...but then something epic when they did...Whiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, later Eminem, and then, of course, the moment everyone has been talking about...Tupac.  I had heard the rumors, but I have to admit to being completely duped the first few moments the hologram came on...rising out of the floor with its head lowered, I actually thought it was a shirtless Kanye for a few seconds before coming to grips with what I was actually seeing.  The hologram looked remarkably believable from my fairly distant vantage point...drifting right or left a few times and emitting a soft, white glow, but otherwise seeming very natural and solid  And when Snoop joined in for a rap duet, well, there's been a lot of opinions expressed on this matter,  but I found the whole thing hugely entertaining.  Glad I was lucky enough to catch this new technology the first time act before it becomes a cliche concert gimmick in the years to come.  Anyway, while not my top purely musical set of the weekend (I'd have to give Bon Iver, Buzzcocks, Refused, The Rapture and Death Grips a higher nod in that department), this was without question my favorite set overall, and ranks right up there the greatest performances to ever grace the polo fields.

Here's the full week one show.


2. The Hives - 6:05 to 6:55 - The Coachella Stage: I missed the opening ten minutes of this set catching the end of Wild Flag, but caught the rest, and it was just great, hammy fun.  For those who haven't seen The Hives before, it's a comedy routine as much as a rock 'n' roll show, with lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist pulling out all sorts of crowd interaction tricks and killing as much time ranting like a Bapist preacher as the band does playing...but Almqvist's theatrics work perfectly for this band, elevating a very energetic but hardly memorable song catalog (save for '08 garage masterpiece Tick Tick Boom, with which they closed, and a few earlier classics).  For sheer fun, this was the second most entertaining set of the weekend after Dr. Dre and Snoop. 

Here's Tick Tick Boom.

3. First Aid Kit - 2:15 to 3:00 - The Mojave Tent: After Death Grips, I would probably rank First Aid Kit's set as the biggest breakout performance of the festival...but the two acts couldn't have been more perfectly aligned polar opposites.  Where Death Grips was all testosterone and violence and brutal imagery, this set was all gentle feminine sweetness and charm.  Two cute as a button, chipmunk-voiced Swedish sisters (one a dead ringer for Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) and a able drummer decked out in flower-power garb and delivering their earnest take on classic folk and Americana.  I missed the first half of the show catching Metronomy and Band of Skulls, but walked in just as they were starting one of my favorites, Emmylou, which they delivered beautifully, and from there the set just continued to get better, concluding with the joyous King Of The World...which very well may open next year's Coachella starters mix. I hope every 16 year old girl at the fest that weekend got a chance to see this set...there was something very empowering about what these very young women pulled off.

Here's Emmylou.

4. Wild Beasts - 3:25 to 4:10 - The Mojave Tent: 3 pm Sunday was in my opinion the festival's second worst clusterfuck after the Black Keys/M83/Explosions In The Sky logjam on Friday night.  As with that Friday Night scenario, there was no win-win option here, so I opted for Wild Beasts, who I felt were the more accomplished album act of last three years over Santigold, and squeezed in a few minutes of Greg Ginn and Seun Kuti before the start.  Sound was an issue throughout this set...sometimes excellent, sometimes awful...but the jazzy flow and 80s textures of the bands smooth but sensual songs play far better than I expected them to live.  Surprisingly, it's bassist and second lead vocalist Tom Flemming, with his deep baritone, who makes the more charismatic impression live over the far more unique and idiosyncratic Hayden Thorpe, who sang wonderfully, but just wasn't quite as strong a presence...and boy does he look a lot like Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe when he shaves and dons his specs. But in the end, what really helped this set differentiate itself is in a weekend that saw a lot of excellent performers doing their best to enliven mediocre songs (Fitz & The Tantrums, The Hive, Wild Flag, Florence & The Machine's, Band of Skulls, and Justice all come immediately to mind, and that's just Sunday) Wild Beasts were working with some genuinely great material to start with, and it was the strength of their song craft that ultimately shone through.  None one song stood high above the others, though Hooting & Howling's brilliant opening 90 seconds had every bit the pull it does on record, and Flemming's spastic singing on Two Dancers was also memorable.

Here's the official Coachella coverage of Hooting & Howling.

5. Thundercat - 5:20 to 5:55 - The Gobi Tent: I can't claim to be a huge fan of these ridiculously talented bassists debut album, finding it too soft and mushy for my tastes in a 1970s Jean Luc Ponte jazz/fusion sort of way, but the ten or so minutes I caught of this set before heading over to Wild Flag were a gas.  Felt like I was in the presence of some monster musicians, and the outlandish costumes, right out of a P-Funk show, only helped to amp the cool groove of the show.

Here's one of his mellower numbers.

6. Company Flow - 8:20 to 9:10 - The Gobi Tent: Up against uber-popular DJ acts Girl Talk and Justice and fan favorite indie act Beirut, this El-P fronted mid-90s experimental rap act...reunited for the express purpose of revisiting tracks from their highly influential debut Funcrusher Plus...had no chance of drawing a large crowd, but the 300 or so acolytes who crowded the front of the stage brought as much energy and enthusiasm for the rap trio as most full capacity crowds.  Spinning wickedly eerie beat and highly literate raps, this was an artier, more intimate rap warm-up for the juggernaut that was to fall two hours later.

Here's a couple of tracks.

7. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - 3:10 to 3:55 - The Outdoor Theatre: I only caught the long opening number before heading over to the Mojave for Wild Beasts, but from what I saw, this set was exactly what one would expect...excellent afro-pop, delivered with great energy from the son and aged original band of the genre's master of masters, and perfectly scheduled mid-afternoon on the warmest, sunniest day of the festival. A different kind of dance fest from what was going down in the Sahara, this was one of the festival's most joyous shows.

Here's a sample!

8. Housse De Racket - 12:55 to 1:30 - The Gobi Tent: This drums and guitar duo sounds a lot more like countrymen Phoenix on record...but in person they brought the "racket" like American stars The White Stripes, transforming several of their dance-oriented tunes into thundering rockers in what was easily the best of Sunday's pre-2pm sets.

Here's a good example of the set's heavier guitar lean.


9. Greg Ginn And The Royal We - 3:00 to 3:45 - The Gobi Tent:  I've probably got this show rated 100 spots higher than anyone else, for what the Black Flag's original guitarist brought here was nothing less than a classic, old school experimental rock intentional room-clearer reminiscent of 70s efforts like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp's No Pussy Footing or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Playing to track while manning two instruments simultaneously, his guitar and a theremin, one of which I am assuming was the "Royal We," as Ginn was alone on stage, Ginn pounded out one crunchy oddball groove to the next in front of the smallest crowd I have ever seen at a Coachella show.  Even heard rumors the tent was completely empty later in the set after I had moved on to see Wild Beasts.  The interesting thing though, is the music wasn't that difficult, just avant-garde and from another age.  Had this festival been stage in 1974, my guess is the proggier audience of that era would have eaten this stuff up, and in all honesty, of the twenty or so albums I picked up during the weekend from the festival's lower billed acts, I like Greg's the best.  So breathe easier, Greg, it wasn't a complete waste of may have played for stretches of your set to an audience of zero, but know at least one passer-by bought and has enjoyed your merch.

Here's a long sample of the prog-slaught.

10. The Weeknd - 6:55 to 7:45 - The Outdoor Theatre: Prior to the festival, a lot of fans were pinning this set as most likely to be a train wreck.  This was the edgy, mysterious R&B artist's first ever show in the states, and rumors of Goldenvoice's concerns over the acts reliability ran rampant.  Fans sensed the potential for another Sly Stone / Ariel Pink-styled meltdown, but the show they ultimately got couldn't have been more professional.  I can't say I loved this show...the band's energy wasn't particular high, and so much of what makes this act's music so interesting is best processed in the most intimate of settings, which The Outdoor Theatre definitely is not...but the band sounded fine, and I loved the closing acoustic version of House Of Balloons' Wicked Game.

Here's the full show.

11. Florence & The Machine - 9:45 to 10:35 - The Outdoor Theatre: If push came to shove, I would still claim Florence's mid-afternoon 2010 Gobi set as my favorite show of that year's festival. Having just broken in the states, young and eager, she threw her out-sized voice and personality into her killer debut album Lungs' best songs with everything she had. It wasn't the most professional of performances...Florence can be quick to fall off key live...but it was overpowering nonetheless.  Unfortunately, a lot has changed for Florence over the last two years, and much of it not for the better.  Having toured relentlessly and now approaching Whitney Houston/Madonna-esque diva status, she's stopped consistently singing out, saving her pipes for a few select moments each show like the road-hardened veteran she now is.  Worse, she's at present committed to performing the far less interesting songs from her disappointing sophomore effort Ceremonials. Combined with a more bloated, stain glass window stage design, and backup singers to stay in harmony with that further prevented Flo from singing out, this show, though still highly entertaining in spots, lacked the fire, spontaneity, momentum and sheer vocal explosion that made that 2010 set so extraordinary. Of the individual songs, Dog Days proved the ever reliable crowd pleaser, but her closing performance of Cermonials's No Light No Light was the night's standout, the one number that matched the peaks of her previous Coachella performance. Let's all hope album number three sees Florence returning to the level of song quality and variety that made Lungs one of 2009's best albums, because a near-future headlining spot seems almost inevitable.

Here's a fan captured video of that closing number.

12. Fitz & The Tantrums - 4:45 to 5:35 - The Coachella Stage: Caught most of this set, and it brought the booty-shaking fun as any good midday retro-soul set should, but having sat through some other genuinely transcendent Soul/Funk/R&B knockouts at Coachella in recent years...most notably Gary Clark Jr this year, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears and some wonderful snippets of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu in '11, Gil Scott Heron in '10, and especially Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings crusher in ' was hard not to feel a touch underwhelmed by this slightly cheesier, Hall & Oates-y act.

Here's L.O.V.

13. At The Drive In - 9:10 to 10:00 - The Coachella Stage: I've never been a huge fan of this band specifically, or the rap-rock genre as a whole, but I've got to admit, I caught the opening twenty minutes of this set, and rather enjoyed it.  Good energy, some solid riffage, and great snark from lead singer Cedric Bixler mocking some of the Hollywood hipster stars cushing in the VIP section by name.  Fans of the band I spoke to later felt the band was sort of mailing it in, and didn't seem like they wanted to be there, but I didn't sense that at all.

But I'll let you be the judge. Here's the full show.

14. Fanfarlo - 12:00 to 12:35 - The Gobi Tent: I wasn't expecting much from this UK indie-pop act, whose latest release, Rooms Filled With Light, sits on Metacritic with a composite score in the low 60s, but they were actually quite good.  Boasting a rich, contemporary sound best described as a 50/50 cross between the Arcade Fire's orchestrated anthems and Beirut's twee, Balkanized pop, the band sounded very well-rehearsed, and lead singer Simon Balthazar had an impressive croony voice.

A nice, warm, ebullient set to kick off the's the only fan capture video of their Coachella performances I could find.

15. Lissie - 12:50 to 1:30 - The Outdoor Theatre: Another pleasant surprise! I had seen Lissie once before, opening for Ray LaMontagne at the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater in a solo-acoustic show.  She wasn't bad that night (to be honest, she was better than La Montagne), but what I saw that night didn't lead me to believe she would make much of an impression at Coachella.  But this was an entirely different affair.  Backed by a full band this time out, she came on like a younger, slightly less raspy Lucinda Williams, and her opening few numbers before I skittered off to catch some of Housse de Racket, packed some real punch. Sleepy Ray should take notes.

Here's a fan video that captures the spirit of the show.

16. Sleeper Agent - 12:00 to 12:30 - The Outdoor Theatre: Up-and-coming Cage The Elephant pals Sleeper Agent and their energetic, overstuffed pop-rock ditties were a fine way to open the Outdoor Theatre on day three. Nothing spectacular, but a very lively, at times infectiously catchy show.

Here's Bottomed Out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Coachella 2012 Week One Day Two - Saturday April 14

Saturday of Coachella 2012 Week One was my favorite - launched by a fabulous undercard of garage, punk and UK acts, propelled  through the late afternoon/early evening by fantastic reunion sets from The Buzzcocks, Squeeze, and fIREHOSE, and the capped by a much better than expected performance from The Shins and a "for the ages" performance from Bon Iver, Saturday felt like an embarrassment of much so that Radiohead's relatively sedate headlining set felt more like a cool, chill wind down than the main event.

Here's a look at the acts I managed to catch on this excellent day.


1. Bon Iver - 9:30 to 10:20 - The Coachella Stage: Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm huge fan of today's top Yacht-rocker, and I had heard tremendous things from other friends who had seen Bon Iver recently...but even with those sky-high expectations, this show was shockingly, shockingly good. Better than I could have ever imagined.  Putting all those Justin Timberlake/Saturday Night Live parodies to rest, Justin Vernon and company took a page out of The National's playbook and turned songs that are mellow and reflective on record in to potent, explosive anthem's on stage.  It's hard to describe just how huge songs like Perth, Calgary, Blood Bank, Skinny Love, and The Wolves Pt 1 & 2 played live, but words like huge, epic, and massive are the only words that adequately describe the in person impact. Additionally, all those confusing twists and turns on the second album seemed to make far more sense, as it became clear the album was conceived as a live symphony, constantly evolving...and none of this was lost even though the set list was pepper with selections from the earlier records. An absolute powerhouse, was my favorite Coachella set since McCartney's 2009 show until Tupac Part Deux arrived a night later to soften Bon Iver's soft rock thunder.

Here's the set's closer, which gives a good sense of how much Vernon's 9-piece band is adding to the impact of Bon Iver's songs.


2. The Buzzcocks - 5;15 to 6:05 - The Gobi Tent: The Gobi seemed to be the epicenter of a greater percentage of the week's best sets than in past years, and this Gobi set from punk elder statesmen The Buzzcocks was the best Gobi set of 2012. Tearing through virtually every track from 1979's Singles Going Steady with rapid-fire efficiency and fantastic energy that belied the band's advancing years, this was one of my favorite punk sets of all catchy and funny as it was fiery.  It was my first time seeing the band, but others I know who have seen them on multiple occasions said it was as good as they've ever seen the band.  Lucky Week One Coachellans.

Here's the official Coachella video of Ever Fallen In Love!


3. Squeeze - 7:15 to 8:05 - The Mojave Tent: Rod and I got a great forward spot for this set after making the difficult call to skip Jeff Mangum outright, and at first, it felt like we had made a mistake. Opener Bang Bang hardly generated chills, and then after a very effective Take Me I'm Yours, the set really sloughed off for a span as the older band continued to warm up. But then, around the twenty minute mark, everything came together, and the final stretch of Goodbye Girl / Hourglass / Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) / Slap And Tickle / Tempted / Black Coffee In Bed was as good as any stretch I was lucky to witness all weekend outside of Snoop Dre or Bon Iver,  once again confirming my Coachella truism that the old timers almost never disappoint.

Here's a fan video of the slowed down version of Tempted.

4. Radiohead - 11:05 to 1:00 AM - The Coachella Stage: This was my third time seeing Radiohead, the first being their killer Grant Park, Chicago show back on the Amnesiac tour, the second being at the Hollywood Bowl during the In Rainbows tour.  Both shows were significantly better than this poorly paced effort. I've always felt the band's Achilles heal was sequencing...whether on album or on stage, they kinda suck at it, it's just tough to notice because so many of their songs are so good...but on this night, deciding to anchor around King Of Limbs with other songs that had a similar feel, those sequencing limitations really hurt, leading to a set with little sense of momentum. That complaint aside, this was still a show with stunning highlights...I liked their live take on a couple of KOL's numbers...Lotus Flower had a serious groove going, Magpie morphed into a much more assertive rocker, and Give Up The Ghost was every bit as haunting as when Thom whipped it out in his otherwise forgettable 2010 Coachella set with Atoms For Peace...but as with their Hollywood Bowl show, it was the In Rainbows tracks that played best.  Weird Fishes, 15 Steps, Reckoner, and especially set best Bodysnatchers all killed. Older tracks fared more unevenly...Karma Police, Lucky and Paranoid Android from OK Computer all came off well, but There There again failed to match it's on record power (had the same thought previous time I saw them), Idioteque, Pyramid Song and Everything In Their Right Place failed to match the impact  of previous performances, and why the band hasn't permanently dropped Hail To The Thief lamos Myxomatosis and The Gloaming from their concert setlists, I'll never know. But all and all, a very cool couple hours.  Set design was awesome, with hanging diamond projection screens that hovered and shifted over the bands head, and Thom offset the cold lighting design with dare I say, almost warm, even hammy banter. And as always, their live sound was phenomenal.

Here's Bodysnatchers.

5. St. Vincent - 7:45 to 8:35 - The Gobi Tent: Squeezed, literally and figuratively, between sets by Squeeze and The Shins, whom Rod had a strong interest in seeing, I only managed to take in two and half songs from this set, Actor's Marrow and then Cruel and the front half of Year Of The Tiger from Strange Mercy, but they were all winners. Annie Clark's voice is as clear and strong live as it is on record, and her off kilter, slightly spastic moves on the guitar were oddly entertaining as a counterbalance to her "heroin chic" model looks.  She has yet to nail down that home run album (though she seems to get closer with each release), but based on the little I caught this night, I don't think we're done hearing from her anytime soon...again, literally and figuratively, this girl has legs.

Here's Cruel.

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - 11:40 to 12:10 - The Gobi Tent: My favorite early morning set of the festival came by total surprise from this local LA act. Rod and I stepped in planning to catch just one number, and ended up staying the full set. Musically, they're hitting a strange niche, halfway between X-styled garage punk and very mainstream 80s hard  rock (especially that of Pat Benatar, for whom lead singer/major league beauty Devon Dunsmoor is a vocal dead ringer), but the stylistic combo works. The band, especially guitarist Kenny Wessell and bassist John Carlucci, displayed some serious, jam-oriented chops in the brief instrumental bridges, and as I've already suggested, Dunsmoor, a working fashion model, brings some monster heat in addition to her arena sized-voice.  They were on really early, so haven't found any fan-captured videos of this set...but Little Steven's a big fan, and if he's a fan, I'm a fan, too.  Their debut album should be dropping soon.

7. tUnE-yArDs - 4:50 to 5:35 - The Outdoor Theatre: Sometimes, it's better to come to Coachella less familiar with the acts. Because rarely have I been more disappointed by a show that was by any measure an excellent, excellent set. Unfortunately, my expectations for this show were too high, assuming it had set of the festival potential...and what Merrill Garbus delivered just wasn't quite that. On the positive side, it was a gentler show than I expected, Merrill coming of much sweeter in person than the "devil may care" impression she gives on record. It was also fascinating, initially, to watch how expertly she constructs these songs through a series of vocal and percussion loops, not to mention how all the guitar-ish sounds are generated through a tiny ukulele with a home-made duct tape pickup.  But with each passing number, the time spent building up front constructing the loops began to feel more like a drag on the set than a point of interest, and I hope with her next album and tour, she'll consider working some straight band, zero loop material into her performances, because my biggest gripe was that all the looping business kept Merrill from focusing on the one instrument in her arsenal that tops all others...her one-of-a-kind, androgynous voice...which sounded fine, but with her attention so divided, lacked the explosive impact it has on record.  Still, despite these misgivings, this was one of the most unique sets of the weekend.

Here's the official Coachella video of my favorite song of 2011...Bizness.

8. Suedehead - 12:20 to 12:50 - The Outdoor Theatre: Continuing the early Saturday bonanza of fabulous unknowns kicked of by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tijuana Panthers was UK's Suedehead, who seemed determined to invite any and every comparison to early, vintage Elvis Costello & The Attractions.  On a general note, one sensed in the sounds of the several younger UK acts at the fest that late 70s post-ska bar band rock in the vein of Costello and Graham Parker is on the verge of making a big comeback...and if it does, don't be surprised to see this enthusiastic live act leading the charge.

Here's the only fan video I could find of the set...a note, they sounded much better in person than the poor audio quality of this recording implies.

9. Spector - 12:30 to 1:15 - The Gobi Tent: Another early Saturday winner, Rod and I saw the last twenty-five minutes immediately following Suedehead and couldn't have been more entertained.  Fronted by a doughy lead singer with a hysterical, Jarvis Cocker like wit, delivering songs that were also Pulp-like, but with a bit more of a punkish punch, we enjoyed every surprise minute.

This is the only week one video I could find, but for those looking for more, there's tons of great week two videos up on youtube.

10. The Shins - 8:10 to 9:00 - The Coachella Stage: I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about how low energy James Mercer of the Shins could be live, but having never seen the band before, and liking most of their records, Rod and definitely wanted to check them out.  We swung over about ten minutes late after grabbing a couple tracks from St. Vincent, and I have to say, on this night, the band was excellent.  Yes, Mercer was hardly going crazy up there, but the band sounded awesome, and I loved the set list from the portion of the show I caught, which included Bait & Switch, The Rifle's Spiral and Port Of Morrow from the new album, St. Simon from Chutes Too Narrow, Phantom Limb and an epic Sleeping Lessons from Wincing The Night Away, and an unexpected and absolutely fantastic cover of Pink Floyd's Breathe.

Here's a portion of that Breathe cover.


11. We Were Promised Jet Packs - 1:20 to 2:05 - The Outdoor Theatre: Yet another early Saturday  treat, this moody act out of Scotland struck a UK-pop feel that fell somewhere between Frightened Rabbits' Celtic-tinged folk-rock and The Twilight Sad's rougher-hewn, more shoegazey variation of the same.  I wasn't blown away by their songs, but the extended instrumental passages of some their numbers definitely impressed. A young band that has the potential to become much bigger as they sharpen their songwriting.

Here's It's Thunder And It's Lightning, one of those longer numbers.

12. We Are Augustines - 1:45 to 2:25 - The Coachella Stage: Rod and I only took in one number from this New York trio that sounds a bit like a stripped-down variation of The Arcade Fire or Springsteen and The E Street Band, but we both were impressed with the band's passion.

This isn't the number we saw, but it's the only weekend 1 video I could find.

13. fIREHOSE - 4:00 to 4:50 - The Gobi Tent: Easily winning "the years have not been kind physically" award would be Mike Watt and Ed Crawford of late 80s/early 90s alt-punkers fIREHOSE.  But their grizzled appearance in no way carried over to the band's still jaw dropping musicianship.  Crawford handle the bulk of the vocals, and Watt seemed, and later confirmed in press, that he was more interested in hanging with his bud's than appealing to the nostalgia driven crowd, and thus spent 90% of the show facing drummer George Hurley rather than the audience, but in a way it actually enhanced the show, making those few moments when he did step forward to knock out some quick country-punk quip or frantic bass run all the more entertaining.  Crawford's voice was, like his face, a bit ragged, but like Refused the night before, the long layoff in no way seemed to be impacting the band's sharpness.  This wasn't quite on the level of the other great punk reunions of 2012, but still a very entertaining set.

Here's Honey Please!

14. The Black Lips - 2:15 to 3:00 - The Mojave Tent: The last time I saw the Black Lips and their raucous, sloppy, sometimes endearingly amateurish take on flower punk was at Coachella '08, in an 11 pm set on this same stage.  They were beyond drunk that night, as is often their M.O., but rather than going with it on that evening, I felt the musicianship had just taken to big a hit.  This year's 2 pm show was much better, at least musically.  I only saw the first three or four songs before heading over to Destroyer, but in that span managed to get in Raw Meat, Oh Katrina, and a knock-out rendition of Arabia Mountain's Family Tree. Rod stayed for the whole set, and didn't bond with it as much as I did in my shortened viewing, but true to Black Lips form, there was supposedly a Jim Morrison prank towards the end, with guitarist Cole Alexander deciding to drop trou and  strum a few chords with his own God-provided pick.

Not going to show that moment here, please accept this fan captured video of Oh Katrina in it's place.

15. Destroyer - 2:30 to 3:15 - The Outdoor Theatre: If there is one thing I've come to learn over the last five years attending this festival, it's that success on record is in no way a guarantee of success on stage. Some bands take their recorded material to a whole new level, some deliver it exactly as it sounds on album, and some artists are just better appreciated over the car stereo. For example, TV On The Radio, a great, great recording act, is a band I've always felt suffers on stage...they're lively, but I've never seen them come close to delivering their dense drone/funk sound live .  After this weekend's appearance, I'm going to add Dan Bejar's Destroyer to this list, for the exact opposite reason.  Destroyer came to the fest armed with material from what I felt was the second best album of 2012, Kaputt, and truth be told, the strength and beauty of the band's mellow, 80s flavored yacht rock came through just fine.  But Bejar's world weary persona, which can work so well on record, made the whole experience feel too static live, taking already mellow music and pulling the energy level down to the floor...if there was a more disinterested individual performer at Coachella, I didn't see him/her (though for full band apathy, no one touched Yuck). Goldenvoice didn't do the band any favors with this set time...a more intimate, late night setting in the Gobi or Mojave tent would have better matched the feel of the bands music...but the set list was awesome, hitting most of Kaputt's highlights (Chinatown, Blue Eyes, Suicide Demo For Kara Walker, Kaputt, Bay of Pigs), with one very nice sojourn into Rubies' territory for Painter In Your Pocket. Whenever Bejar stepped aside and the saxophone took over, this show took flight, but it wasn't enough to convince me I ever need to see Destroyer live again.

Here's a sample of Bejar's adrenalized performance in set opener Chinatown.

16. The Vaccines - 1:40 to 2:25 - The Gobi Tent: For an indie-rock band that goes out of their way lyrical to sound above-it-all and non-committal on record, this was a fiery, passionate performance. Only caught about fifteen minutes from 2:00 to 2:15 before hitting the Black Lips, but there's a good chance that had we seen more, I'd have the set ranked significantly higher.

Here's one of the Brit act's catchiest tunes, If You Wanna.

17. Tijuana Panthers - 11:25 to 11:55 - The Mojave Tent: A young garage act based out of the LA area, they were raw, but some of their songs were quite catchy. A much stronger opening act salvo for the day than either Friday or Sunday delivered, and worth checking out at future festivals if you schedule permits.

For some reason, most of the fan videos from this set got caught up in the dancers in the crowd. Here's one of them.

18. Godspeed You! Black Emporer - 10:00 to 11:00 - The Mojave Tent: This ranking is a personal one for me and based entirely upon scheduling circumstance, not caliber of performance. As with Friday, The 9 to 11 stretch Saturday evening was rife with tough conflicts, and on this night, I personally had to go with Bon Iver.  As such, I didn't arrive at Godspeed until they were already 30 plus minutes into their hour long set, and after the emotive powerhouse Bon Iver had just thrown down, I could not get myself to switch gears and dive in to an avant garde, unlit, orchestral post-rock experience.  Had I not had the schedule conflict, and been able to jump in on this from the beginning, I'm sure I, like many who did see the whole apocalyptic set, would have ranked it among my favorites of the entire weekend.

Anyway, here's a portion of Gathering Storm.


19. Manchester Orchestra - 5:55 to 6:45 - The Mojave Tent: I'm not sure it's fair to label this set a disappointment so much as one I just wasn't all that interested in seeing in the first place.  Though hard-rocking emo-glam of the My Chemical Romance variety can have its moments, it's never been one of my favorite genres, but Rod was a fan, and looking for something at little harder edged at this point in the day, so I tagged along, having already seen Andrew Bird before. The band played well and with solid energy, so I'm sure fans came away satisfied, but for me, not really in the mood to be there in the first place and relegated to the far back of the tent at this very crowded show, nothing in the 25 minutes or so we caught had much of an impact.

Here's a fan video of Shake It Out, which seems to have been shot from almost as far back as I was standing.

20. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 6:30 to 7:20 - The Coachella Stage: In the annals of Rock 'n' Roll, when one asks who's the most overrated act of all-time, one usually hears something like The Doors, or The Grateful Dead, but for my money, it's Oasis.  To my relief, Rod felt exactly the same way.  Still, with a fairly light 6-7 stretch in the schedule, we did see a bit of this show from the North Beer Garden as we wolfed down some food.  Wasn't terrible, but nothing so impressive as to change our overall meh opinion of either Oasis or the combative bros Gallagher.

Here's Don't Look Back In Anger.

21. Laura Marling - 6:30 to 7:20 - The Gobi Tent: Some artists just aren't meant for the competitive bloodbath that is today's summer festival circuit, and this years poster child for that truism is young British folkie and Mumford & Sons pal Laura Marling.  Marling has some really good songs, and a lot of slow, drab ones, but virtually none of them, good or bad, have much spring in their step.  This show, while competent in the opening ten or so minutes Rod and I caught, was in no way captivating.  From the  fairly rigid, wallflower demeanor of her backing band, to the way Marling chooses to sing up into a microphone raised several inches above her mouth...everything about this set felt small and not worth our attention.  Based upon similar reviews at Bonnaroo and other festivals this summer, it seems like Marling may have done some damage to her career in taking this ill-fitting gigs. For her sake, going forward, I hope she sticks to venues that put her in the best light, which in her case, are the intimate small clubs where an audience's attention can be solely focused on her.

Anyway, here's a snippet.

22. Keep Shelly In Athens - 12:05 to 12:40 - The Mojave Tent: I was kind of excited to check out this young shoegaze/trip-hop, slightly Portishead-y act going into the festival based on the quality of a couple of tracks I had heard on youtube...but for the most part, this set was an unengaging snooze.

Here's a small ambien-ic taste.

23. The Big Pink - 3:25 to 4:10 - The Mojave Tent: A Spin Doctors / Blues Traveller-type act for this generation (just like MGMT).  They had a few indelible songs in them, which they burned a few albums back, and now it's just painfully clear they'll never produce another track of that caliber the remainder of their careers.  Delivering a sloppy mish-mash of contemporary dance-rock and older classic Brit-rock influences, I was surprised, given how bad their most recent release was, that these guys were even asked back for a second appearance, but truth be told there's a couple of baffling returns to the festival every year.

Here's Stay Gold, or a tiny fraction of it anyway.


Saturday bands that got good to great buzz that I sadly missed.

Kasabian - by every indication, this hard-charging Brit-rockers killed it.
Flying Lotus
Miike Snow - missed them twice at Coachella now, hopefully third times the charm.