Archive for May, 2008


Restoring the balance

May 30, 2008

So it occurred to me, re-reading the last post, that it was awfully scholarly in tone (my day job is leaking through). To compensate, I present this:


OMG kittehs!!!!1!!!1 OMG Guitar Hero!!!!1!!!! [thanks, ICHC!]

We now return you to your regularly scheduled zed equals zee programming.

Previously: Play local: Harmonix


Read: Empire of Dirt

May 29, 2008

Wendy Fonarow is an anthropologist and lecturer at UCLA, and in Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, she turns her professional eye to the indie music subculture. It’s a scholarly work, and the nature and tone of the writing reflects that, but it’s nevertheless surprisingly readable. If ‘culture’ can be loosely defined as ‘all the things that you do that you don’t think about doing,’ part of the fun in reading this book is developing a self-awareness of indie culture by viewing it through the eyes of an ethnographer. For example, she talks about the central role of live music, and describes the existence of distinct ‘zones’, with zone 1 closest to the stage, zone 2 the intermediate region, and zone 3 near the back of the venue:

For the majority of zone one (the exception being the very front rows) participatory spectatorship is embodied in demonstrative physicality coordinated with the music and in following the proper etiquette associated with being near the stage. For zone two, participatory spectatorship is embodied in mental concentration on the music and a prolonged visual focus on performers onstage.

She goes on to describe the ‘proper etiquette’ for both regions (as well as for zone 3, the music industry zone), the demographics of the different zones, and how participants choose zones and transition between them.

Fonarow also makes an excellent case for using Puritanism as an analogy to understand indie culture: she contrasts indie music against the major labels (ie Catholicism), describes its ethos of simplicity, and compares their common emphasis on an unmediated experience of the ‘divine’:

I see a lot of the religious narrative of Puritanism in the indie music scene; the idea that, to have the pure divine experience, it has to be direct and unmediated. So the smaller and more intimate a show is, the ‘truer’ fans believe their experience was, compared to someone who saw them later on in a bigger venue. That’s why so many people claim to have seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.

While Fonarow’s fieldwork was mostly in the British scene in 1993 and 1994, many of her observations still apply today, and to indie rock culture on both sides of the Atlantic. One exception is that she describes indie rock as defining itself in opposition to dance music (‘technophilia/technophobia; electronic drums/electric guitar; synthetic/organic; faceless/charismatic artists’). But this was before artists like Dan Deacon and Girl Talk, and the many other crossovers between indie and dance/electronica.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably immersed in indie rock culture to a greater or lesser extent. Empire of Dirt is a fascinating guide to thinking more deeply about what this culture is and what it means.

Popmatters review

More excerpts

website amazon


Buy a Freezepop synth, for charity

May 27, 2008

Nord 1 Synth

Kasson Crooker, of Freezepop, is selling a synth. The impetus for the sale is sad (our sympathies to his family):

i’m selling my nord lead 1 synth and donating the proceeds to charity. my dad has cancer and my grandmother died of it so i’m donating the money from this auction to the american cancer society. i’ve had this synth now for 8 years and it’s been through some amazing times with me. … i’ve used this synth on tons of recordings from splashdown to freezepop to symbion project. i’m leaving all my presets in it for you to use and you’ll probably recognize many from splashdown recordings. [more]

He’s throwing in a bunch of Splashdown, Freezepop, and Symbion Project goodies too. The auction ends on the evening of June 3rd. This is your chance to own a bit of music history, and it’s for a great cause  – bid high!

eBay link

[thanks, Erich!]


For Those Who Tried to Rock

May 26, 2008

If I post about a band here on zed equals zee, they have, in some sense, made it – they’ve gone beyond their circle of friends, and their high school Battle of the Bands, and are getting listening to by at least some members of the general (or at least indie-rock-obsessed) public. But for all the bands we listen to, there are scores of bands that never really got off the ground and are lost in obscurity – until now. For Those Who Tried to Rock is a blog-based project to document bands formed by every high-school student who dreamed of being a rock star. The photos and stories are funny, sure, but there also is a romance and poignancy to be found in these tales of enthusiasm (and if you’d like to see your high-school band immortalized, click here).

[via Boing Boing]


Threesome: mister mister

May 25, 2008

male icon

Three terrific songs with “Mr.” in the title. Liars and Clinic, from opposite sides of the Atlantic, are both a little more experimental but still compelling and listenable. The Liars track here, “Mr Your on Fire Mr” is from their first full-length, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (2001). “Mr. Moonlight” is from Clinic’s brilliant second album, Walking With Thee (2001). In contrast, The National forgo experimentalism in favour of lyricism and emotion, although “Mr. November”, with its chorus of “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November” is one of the rawest and most intense National songs. The version here is from the Black Sessions, recorded in front of a live audience for a French radio station.

MP3: Liars – Mr Your On Fire Mr (more Liars)

MP3: Clinic – Mr. Moonlight (more Clinic)

MP3: The National – Mr. November (Black Sessions version) (more National)

Upcoming: Stay tuned for the XX version, of course.


Neophile: The First Time

May 24, 2008

Toronto-based The First Time are making a splash with their cover of “Sundown,” a mega-hit by iconic Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. This song, released in 1974, hit number one on the Billboard charts and cemented Lightfoot’s status as a major musician. I grew up listening to it, but it was always in the background – the kind of boring music your parents listened to. It wasn’t until I heard The First Time’s version that the song cracked open for me, and I realized that it was about infidelity, lust, addiction, and other decidedly grown-up themes. Like all great covers, it made me hear the original anew.

It’s late notice, but if you happen to be in Toronto, The First Time has a gig tonight at the Bovine Sex Club.

MP3: The First Time – Sundown [Gordon Lightfoot original here]

[I stole the image from TFT’s MySpace page, since I wasn’t enthusiastic about doing a Google Image search on the phrase ‘the first time’.]


Coverage: Emm Gryner, “For What Reason”

May 22, 2008

Emm Gryner

Guest blogger Scott says:

I’d call Emm Gryner the Canadian Tori Amos, except that Amos’s covers almost universally terrify me. Sure, it’s nice to have her there so you can actually understand the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for a change, but her affectless approach to Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” or The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” leaves me expecting her head to spin around and start vomiting cherries. Anyway, Gryner does a better job with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” than with this. But you asked for indie, so indie you get.

[ed: Ozzy is cool with us, and we love the cover – stay tuned!]

Three fun facts about Emm Gryner: She toured with David Bowie (backup vocals and keyboards), including playing Glastonbury. She started her own record label, Dead Daisy, and signed In-Flight Safety. She was on the Mayor’s Honour List [pdf] of her hometown, Sarnia, in 2004.

MP3: Emm Gryner – For What Reason (Death Cab for Cutie cover)

More Emm Gryner: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)“; Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”; Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”


Video: KT Tunstall, “Little Favours”

May 19, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

While the life of this blog has been fairly brief, it has not escaped my attention that both my love of pop music and my fundamental geekiness shine through. Here, therefore, is the new KT Tunstall video, which brilliantly combines them both (together with anorak-clad obsessive fandom, which, um, I’m not going to admit to, okay?)

[via Boing Boing]


Threesome: Language matters

May 18, 2008

Threesome is a new feature on this blog. As its name suggests, it’s a trio of songs that are related by a common theme (okay, wait, I know that’s not what its name suggests to most of you…). Today’s theme is language, and this post features songs about the Oxford comma, the word ‘underwhelmed’ (which is, in fact, in the OED), and some general linguistic playfulness from UW-Madison via The Box Social.

MP3: Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma (more Vampire Weekend)

MP3: Sloan – Underwhelmed (more Sloan)

MP3: The Box Social – Why Oh Why (more The Box Social)

Previously: The logical outcome of OCD ticket purchasing; Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film); Neophile: The Box Social

Image: grammar by Flickr user katiekrueger, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


The logical outcome of OCD ticket purchasing

May 16, 2008

I’ll freely admit to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and their manifestation in my ticket purchasing habits are only further enabled by Tourfilter and my proximity to music venues in Central Square, Cambridge, like TT the Bear’s Place and the Middle East. But I seem to have taken them to their logical extreme when I went to buy Sloan tickets for their June 18th show – check out the numbers in the upper-right corners.

Sloan: website myspace

MP3: Sloan – Who Taught You to Live Like That?


Listen local: Bishop Allen

May 14, 2008

click for larger version

Okay, so ‘local’ is stretching it a bit. Bishop Allen are named after the street in Central Square where the founding members lived while at school in Cambridge (and which is half a block from zed equals zee mission control). As seems to be the case for many musical Cantabrigians, the hipster ‘hood down I-95 beckoned, and Bishop Allen relocated to make their quirky, charming indie-pop in Brooklyn. The song below, “Click Click Click Click”, is a wonderfully infectious soundtrack to these late spring/early summer days. Check them out at the Middle East tomorrow (Thursday, May 15); more tourdates here.

website myspace emusic

MP3: Bishop Allen – Click Click Click Click


Best Music Poll Boston: Freezepop, whoo!

May 13, 2008

Longtime zed equals zee fave Freezepop get the recognition they deserve, nabbing Best Act, Best Live Act, and Best Album (for Futurefuturefutureperfect) in the Boston Phoenix’s 2008 Best Music Poll. Archived copy of the print article here [pdf].

MP3: Freezepop – Less Talk More Rokk

Previously: Listen local: Freezepop; Play local: Harmonix; Coverage, Liz Enthusiasm and Gordon Merrick, “Space Age Love Song”


Neophile: I Am Kloot

May 10, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

How to listen to the new I Am Kloot album, I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge:

  1. Wait for a rainy afternoon, so the sky is grey and the drops are pattering against your windows.
  2. Pour yourself a glass of whisky.
  3. Put the CD (or your iPod, or the vinyl, or whatever) on your stereo. Ideally, listen to it on a pair of headphones (not white earbuds; proper headphones that look like earmuffs from the Gernsback continuum).
  4. Lie on the floor of your living room.
  5. Let John Bramwell’s voice wash over you.
  6. Repeat.

Failing that, just listen to I Am Kloot any way you can.

More inducement: From The Independent’s review of I Am Kloot’s April concert in London: “I Am Kloot, formed 10 years ago, offer a little more grit than [The Decemberists], and in their endearing frontman and presiding spirit Johnny Bramwell they boast a songwriter of seemingly effortless grace.”

Above, the video for “Proof” (starring the inimitable Christopher Eccleston).

website myspace emusic

MP3: I Am Kloot – Someone Like You


Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)”

May 8, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

Yet another example of “literate, geeky bands with overeducated lead singers.” Vampire Weekend isn’t the sort of sound I normally like, but any band that writes a song that starts off “Who gives a fuck about the Oxford comma?” is okay in my book. I have an idea for a project in which I develop a CD of music for each stage and process of a typical audit process [ed: Scott’s day job] that comes entirely out of my blasting “Oxford Comma” into my headphones for most of a week while I dealt with our copyeditors back in February.

So I wanted to include Vampire Weekend on this, but wasn’t aware of any covers that they had done. Fortunately, they made it comparatively easy to find by contributing to a tribute to OK Computer. Radiohead, like Vampire Weekend, is a band that, based on how I generally think of my musical preferences, I shouldn’t (and initially didn’t) like. Given their joint residence in the “music I don’t understand why I like” zone, a Vampire Weekend cover of Radiohead just seems right. Add to that the fact that the original comes from the closing credits to a film that, for all its flaws as Shakespearean theatre, still managed to be a solid cover movie, as it were, and I think this fits in very nicely.

MP3: Vampire Weekend – Exit Music (for a Film) (Radiohead cover)

Vampire Weekend: website myspace emusic

Previously: Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”, Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”, Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”


Mayfair: Harvard Square, May 11

May 6, 2008

Harvard Square’s Mayfair was delayed to this Sunday, May 11th, because of the nasty weather in Cambridge last weekend. So you didn’t miss your chance to see Hallelujah the Hills or Girls Guns and Glory (4 pm and 3 pm, respectively, on the main stage). Lots more music (Action Verbs gets the z=z ‘best name’ prize) as well as dance, film, kids’ stuff, and other goodies. Full details, including set times, here.


Ticket giveaway: The Teenagers, Paradise, May 8

May 5, 2008

The Teenagers are three Parisiens who write danceable synthpop, overlaid with spoken and sung lyrics that are irreverent (and controversial). Interested in checking them out for yourself? I have a pair of spots on the guestlist for their Boston show at the Paradise, this Thursday, May 8th. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail at debcha [at] gmail [dot] com. Please put ‘Teenagers’ in the subject line and include your full name and town in the e-mail, and get it to me by 9 am EDT on Thursday morning. I’ll pick one lucky winner (+1) then, and send an e-mail out shortly thereafter. Note that it’s an 18+ show, so at least some actual teenagers can attend.

MP3: The Teenagers – Starlett Johansson

myspace website emusic


The top five beards in indie rock

May 3, 2008

A few weeks ago, WMBR had a column in The Tech that included a list of the ‘Top 5 Beards in Indie Rock.’ The top spot was held by perpetually clean-shaven Stephen Malkmus, in honour of the Jicks’ sold-out show at the Paradise on April 3rd. While I totally agree with their inclusion of Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine) and Devendra Banhart, and Doug Martsch of Built to Spill definitely deserves an honourable mention, I’m going to suggest a different top 3:

3. Dan Deacon

2. Dan Bejar

But the number one spot, unquestionably, goes collectively to Ladyhawk, pictured above. They are currently on tour, which means you’ll have a chance to check out the beardage in person.

MP3: Ladyhawk – S.T.H.D.

Got a favourite beard that I missed? Feel free to suggest it in the comments.


When worlds collide

May 1, 2008

John Darnielle (yes, again) upbraids Roland and Yamaha for not providing gear for the live version of Model 500, Juan Atkins’s band:

You need to get right, Roland and Yamaha. You need to get right. Juan Atkins is in this band. Without guys like Juan Atkins figuring out how to work your machines and making great sounds with them, they’d be useless crates. You don’t actually think people made tracks like this just by reading your impenetrable manuals, right?

Full post here, at Last Plane to Jakarta.

Resident Advisor article on Model 500, here.


Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”

May 1, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

There are so many things that ought to be wrong with this song. Peter Schilling wrote a conspicuously 80s new wave song that wasn’t so much a cover as an, I don’t know, elaborate retelling of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. In the U.S., at least, he was a one-hit wonder with this song. And, let’s face it, “Space Oddity” is a musically interesting Bowie song, but the lyrics don’t have enough of a story to really merit retelling them with different words. It’s not a good songwriting technique.

I Hate Kate seems like more of a Creed/Korn-esque pseudo-punk band than indie rock. Checking on some of their original songs would support that assessment, but the consensus seems to be that this makes their genre “alternative rock I don’t care for,” not “other than alternative rock.” Regardless, not my cup of tea. But apparently, poorly-written new wave synth-pop + screechy-voiced “goes to eleven” frat boys = something that evens out reasonably well in the middle. It’s the new math.

MP3: I Hate Kate – Major Tom

More I Hate Kate (if you must): myspace

Previously: Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”, Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”