Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Track Review: "Horchata" by Vampire Weekend

The biggest non-African Afropop band of 2008 has finally made their long-awaited return, announcing their forthcoming follow up to their critically and commercially hailed debut, a little album they like to call "Contra," coming in January 2010. The first officially released track off the record, entitled "Horchata," quietly made its way onto the internet this week via the band's official website. Many have predicted that Vampire Weekend's second album will trail behind the first one on account of being more of the same. Is it humanly possible for Vampire Weekend to lose their knack for writing infectiously catchy music? Or are the best of days yet to come?

So far, it's looking like the former.

Horchata is everything I expected it to be: banal, bland, and boring. As someone who's actually not afraid to admit that I still return to the album chronically, it feels nearly tragic that the band seems to have lost their touch that so captivated audiences last year.....nearly. The fact of the matter is, the initial shock value that came from Vampire Weekend's originality has worn off by now. Unless the band makes a drastic transition a la Radiohead, the band is unfortunately doomed to suffering waves of criticism for borrowing from...well...themselves. As said before, it's all what we expected: the same ol' keys, the same ol' strings, the same ol' attitude, the same ol'....you get the idea.

The song itself runs in circles; it doesn't really have a starting point or a build, or an ending, for that matter. Perhaps the layers of marimbas or reverb-induced vocals were relied upon to rescue the track from any comparisons to the rest of the band's catalogue. Though interesting ideas, they simply did not mesh well with the tone of the track. Not to mention that frontman Ezra Koenig's lyrics have taken a turn for the worse:

"In December drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in a balaclava
Winter's cold is too much to handle
Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals"

Yeah. He wrote that.

Then again, his truism about pincher crabs has a universal appeal. Maybe.

Rating (out of 10): 5
Vampire Weekend- Hor(rible)chata

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Year in Supergroup News

2009: The year of the Merriweather Post Pavillion, the year of the summer music, the year of the noise pop band, and now, the year of the supergroup....wait, what?

Following in the footsteps of Audioslave (shudder,) the Postal Service (un-shudder,) and Velvet Revolver (shudder,) an epidemic has swept the music community in which artists have become stricken with an inexplicable boredom with their lives and present projects. Rather than stirring some excitement into already existing bands they belong to, however, many have jumped to the conclusion that the only sensible solution is to form another band entirely. Thus, the birth of a modern supergroup: an inferior product of jadedness with one album in the canon and a predestined fate of critical panning. Sometimes, however, the supergroup rises to the occasion and, though not always "super," per se, does manage to make something of value.

This year had an outpouring of supergroups First we had The Dead Weather, featuring the omnipresent Jack White, on drums behind members of the Raconteurs, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Kills' singer Alison Mosshart in what culminated in a gruff, fuzzy collection of rock songs known as "Horehound."

Then came Tinted Windows, a group most likely formed by hitting Wikipedia's Random Article button until four musicians came up, featuring members from Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Hanson, and Fountains of Wayne. I'll stop talking about them now.

Right around the middle of 2009, David Grohl made good of his word in 2005 and announced another new band, Them Crooked Vultures, in which he would be returning to form from his Nirvana days on the drum kit. Accompanied by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame and John Paul Jones of an as-of-yet unknown band named Led Zeppelin, the trio has released as little information about themselves as possible other than snipits of songs on Youtube. The group has announced a tour, however, don't plan on seeing them in the UK--tickets sold out in 12 minutes (without the band ever even releasing a song, mind you.)

Riding the wave of summer music was Discovery, comprised of Wes Miles from Ra Ra Riot and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend. Both hailing from critically acclaimed, orchestral catchy bands, the two have completely shifted their focus on their debut album from XL Recordings, "LP," experimenting with electronic, pop, and R&B influences.

Perhaps the year's best supergroup (so far,) however, has been Monsters of Folk, a pleasantly surprising union between Jim Jones of My Morning Jacket, Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and M. Ward: all three giants in the indie community. The band has released their eponymous first album to mostly positive response, incorporating mezmerizing harmony parts wrapped around technically proficient guitars and soaring choruses. Each member gets a say in each song, frequently trading off on the lead vocal parts. Already the group has been tagged as "the decade's Travelling Wilburys," riding on the success of a tour, televised performances, and above all, well-fashioned folk-rock.

But it ain't over 'till it's over. Frontman Thom Yorke of Radiohead has recently announced an as-of-yet untitled new band alongside--get this--Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. The group has already played several surprise concerts in L.A. that Yorke has referred to as "more of rehersals," highlighting the somewhat haphazard attitude of the band. In the same week, the promising nonet (that's nine members, folks) Supercluster was unveiled to the public, featuring members from Of Montreal, Pylon, Deerhunter, and a number of other acts.

Is the supergroup a bad thing? Not necessarily. Several supergroup acts proved my convictions wrong this year, namely Discovery and Monsters of Folk, while early recordings of Supercluster have me enthusiastically anticipating what's to come. At the very core of it, musicians are musicians regardless of fame or lack thereof; star power is the only distinction between a supergroup and a side project. Thus I conclude. Have a super day.

Supercluster- I Got the Answer
The Dead Weather- Hang You From the Heavens

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why Aren't You Listening: Real Estate

I give you Real Estate, ladies and gentlemen.

A four-piece, jangle-happy act from New Jersey, Real Estate has caught the attention of critics and enthusiasts alike over the past few months with a mix of clean, twangy guitars and a carefree attitude--fitting for the dog days of summer in which the band achieved notoriety.

Amidst an unprecedented wave of summery music this year, Real Estate quickly emerged as a crowd favorite; an impressive feat considering the band has yet to produce a full-length album (oh, the wonders of the information age.) However, that is set to change November 17th, when the band's eponymous debut is released to the masses through their resident label, Woodsist, home of everyone's favorite meltdown enthusiasts, Wavves!

The band evidently has no intention of detaching itself from the summer vibes responsible for their notoriety; the highly anticipated album includes tracks with titles such as "Pool Swimmers" and "Let's Rock the Beach." Perfect for when the winter blues are right around the corner (as is a mini-tour of the New York-New England area.)

All ramblings aside, Real Estate is consistently labeled as an act to watch, and with good reason. Few bands are able to output conscientiously catchy music like they can, even with their minimalistic instrumentation. They require little more than guitar, bass, drums and vocals to weave their statements regarding good times, lazy afternoons and the warm glow of the sun. Yet this manages to get the point across all the same. It's ironic attempting to analyze a band like Real Estate considering the fact that their music is not intended to be analyzed, but to be relished; essentially, to sit back and relax to. Which, I may add, is convenient, because something about Real Estate just makes you feel like you just had a great time doing something ordinary.

-Real Estate: Fake Blues