Saturday, May 30, 2009

The week ahead, 5/31-6/6

This week has been a great one, folks, and next week should be pretty good, too. I spent the first couple days quietly catching up on sleep and work, both of which I'd fallen behind on thanks to my DC sojourn. By Wednesday, things got a bit more lively, with a solid I Was A King performance at the Beachland and then on Thursday with a highly productive day of work (can't ever underestimate the restorative power of that) and a fun night on Coventry first at the Grog to see Crocodiles and then at the Winking Lizard to watch the Cavs snatch one back from the Magic. Yesterday was a quintessentially wonderful Cleveland spring/summer day, and today promises to be the same, with volunteer action on Waterloo in the early afternoon, a film at the CIA Cinematheque, and then catching the Cavs game with friends in Tremont.
If you didn't have a very exciting week and are hoping to improve things next week (or, better yet, if you did have a good week and are greedy enough to hope for another one), I am here, once again, to let you know about the stuff that popped up on my radar.

Sunday, 5/31 - Go see the Friedlander exhibit at the CMA. Trust me, this is the last day you can do so and you will regret it if you don't. Be the sophisticated toast of your friends as opposed to the rube that didn't see it. And if your friends don't really care about going to see solid modern art, get new friends.

Monday, June 1 - I don't know what you'll be doing today, but I'll be going to the dentist (boo) and then driving to Illinois to rescue Smelly Ellie, my wonderful, beautiful dogder, from the clutches of my parents, who've been caring for her lately as work has taken me all over the country. Because of this, I haven't spent much time paying attention to goings on in town on Monday or Tuesday. Sorry.

Oh wait, I do have something. After tonight's win (fingers crossed), the Cavs will be battling the Magic in a crazy Game 7 fight. Tip off should be around 8:30, as usual. If you can't score tix to the game, get together at a local watering hole and cheer on the wine and gold.

Tuesday, June 2 - See above.

Wednesday, June 3
- Big day if you live on or are unafraid to travel to the east side. At 6:30, local writer-hero Michael Ruhlman is hosting a screening of the apparently riveting new documentary, Food Fight, at the CMA. I've met Ruhlman a couple of times and he's a dryly hilarious dude and, better yet, a top-notch wordsmith.

Afterward, there are a pair of interesting-sounding shows at the Beachland, with Chicago indie-supergroup (of sorts) Disappears in the Tavern (featuring members of The Ponys and 90 Day Men) in the Tavern and a promising line-up in the Ballroom with local-guy head-liner Craig Ramsey being opened for by acts including Cleveland's own Uno Lady and a pair of Miami, FL acts, Van*Gloria and Bridget & Luke.

Thursday, June 4 - For you lazy west-siders, here's a bone for you: Check out the screening of Gus van Zant's Paranoid Park at bela dubby on Madison in Lakewood, where you can also get nice beers, good coffee, and if memory serves an incredibly decadent slice of chocolate cake.

For those of you only on the west-side for a visit, you might want to take this opportunity to get yourself a sandwich at Melt while you are at it. Or, better yet, if you dress nice and promise not to act a fool, stop in for a Rangpur Gimlet at Velvet Tango Room.

Friday, June 5 - Friday, oh god, where do I begin? Well, you have your pick of gallery openings, including really good ones at Asterisk and William Rupnik, and the one at MOCA looks to be somewhat more ambitious than usual.

Of course, be sure to hit Waterloo Road for this month's iteration of Music Saves Alley Cat Friday. And if your politics are right and your wallet isn't super tight, check out the 30 Something Celebration for a trio of laudable women's non-profits (Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Hard-Hatted Women, and Preterm) at the College Club (be sure to wear 70s attire if fitting in is your bag). Call 216-619-6194 or 216-472-3221 for more information on the event, to get tickets, or figure out exactly where in the hell the College Club is. Somewhere on Overlook Road, I believe.

Saturday, June 6
- Again, lots to choose from tonight. The Meat Puppets are coming to the Grog Shop, with equally interesting openers Mystery of Two and Retribution Gospel Choir (a side-project of one of the dudes from Low). The Cedar-Lee cult film series will be screening the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space at 9:30 and midnight, too. And, if you end up choosing the Rupnik opening over the Asterisk event, fear not, because Dana Depew has an even more awesome event on top for Saturday night: the Drawn & Quartered Draw-Off. As Dana notes, an event like this has never been tried but at 7pm on Saturday, June 6, 2009 at the Asterisk Gallery in Tremont, four established figure and drawing groups will meet up and draw against time and each other for the amusement of an engaged audience. Trying to capture the “magic of an honest drawing,” costumed models and dancers will be drawn live by competitive artists vying for praise and prizes. The disciplines will range from quick gestures to a 90-minute portrait (run concurrently.)

I'm sure there are many more meritoriously awesome events going on that I forgot (especially on Tuesday!), so as usual, feel free to leave your suggestions as a comment or shoot me an email at and I'll do my best to put something up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I love living in Cleveland

As the title of this post indicates, I love living in this fine city. Today I had a nice little day o' culture that perfectly encapsulates why this place makes me so happy.

It was a day off, so I was able to sleep in, then after I woke to a perfectly temperate morning I sat with the windows open and did some work. Then it was off to the CMA to check out the Friedlander exhibit before it closes on Sunday (more on this below). After that, I hit up Music Saves for some serious scores, including EPs by Suckers, Trouble Books, and Unsparing Sea, used copies of the last Black Diamond Heavies album and the new Jason Lytle solo album (already), a Black Moth Super Rainbow re-release (to whet my appetite for their live show here later in the summer), and a special order treat the Team was kind enough to get in for me, The Shackeltons' eponymous album. I spent a lot more time there than I expected, in part because there was a constant flow of interesting and good-natured folks that all had interesting things to say.

After that, I crossed town for a lunch at Melt to try out this month's specialty, The Godfather, before it leaves the menu, and then came back eastward in time to catch the new Jim Jarmusch flick at the Cedar-Lee. Now I'm home, and the weather is still terrific, and the day is winding down as it started, with me typing at my dining room table, the windows open, and an acute awareness of how much I like living here.

Before I close out, let me offer you, once again, some unsolicited advice: Go see the Lee Friedlander exhibit before it closes down on Sunday. Friedlander is an eminently interesting photographer, and the exhibit was both well curated and well designed. I'm not an art historian by any stretch, so this'll sound amateurish as hell, but Friedlander's work is at once an ironic and empathetic chronicle of urban and industrial life, capturing phenomena both in the moment and consistently showing decay - something incredible considering the time-bound nature of the photographic medium. In my humble opinion, the best aspects of the exhibit are the "Factory Valleys" and "New Camera" selections. The latter showcases several interesting parallels between key rectangular shots Friedlander took in the 70s with his 35mm camera and again in the 90s with his newly adopted Hasselblad superwide. The photos possess an interesting social commentary, from the constancy of family relations showing the same man, photographed over a twenty year gap, holding first his son and then his grandson, to the dynamics of community and commerce with some moving shots of a surprising subject: paid parking lots.

Some aspects are far more interesting than others. Personally, I found the naturalistic photos (i.e., cherry blossoms, desert scapes, stems in a vase) in the exhibit less stimulating simply because they didn't possess the human interest and humor of his social and personal subjects (though I should note the nature photos in which his "shadow" work appears are a clear exception to this criticism).

Do good, get a tan, and score free donuts ... ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

It is sorta late notice for this, but if you are looking for something to do tomorrow, consider coming out to Waterloo Road from 12-4 PM to do a little art and yard work. The first installation in the is taking place, on the exterior of Shoparooni, and they need some helping hands for the painting. If you don't dig that idea, you can a plant some flowers generously donated by the Holden Arboretum, fill empty storefront windows with funky decals, or just wrap otherwise unappealing shit in brightly colored saran wrap. Seriously. Plus, you can score some allegedly awesomely delicious donuts gratis at Music Saves.

All you cool folks out there interested in helping out should check in at either Shoparooni or Arts Collinwood to get pointed in the direction where you can help out.

And if you are interested, below is the mock-up of the first mural. To help put it in context, the wall it will be painted upon is located mere feet from where infamous Cleveland gangster Danny Greene was almost assassinated by a car bomb.

This sounds really cool

So I just got a mass email from SPACES gallery announcing a new program they are offering. Usually I just delete these sorts of things, but this is actually pretty interesting. I don't know if I'll end up doing any of the "invasions" but I might - especially the July trip to the Modern Art wing of the CMA. Anyway, check it out:

Have you ever visited a museum or gallery and found some of the work hard to grasp? Has a painting or piece of installation art ever approached you on the beach and kicked sand in your face, just to run off with your girlfriend? If at least one of these scenarios applies to you, then Space Invaders is the series for you. Join SPACES as we invade Cleveland's art venues in search of challenging work to tackle and discuss. Participants will learn how to fearlessly analyze and talk about contemporary art.

Think of the invasions as open critiques and evaluations of what you see—an opportunity to hash out what is (or isn't) successful. Discover the best ways to approach and talk about different media and concepts. You will then be equipped to stride into any contemporary museum or gallery with confidence.


As in life and Costco, things are cheaper in bulk. You may register for a single invasion, but if you register for a package of all 4, then you save money. Membership also has its rewards. SPACES Members can purchase a package deal of all 4 events for $15, or they can pay $5 per single event. Non-members can purchase a package deal of all 4 events for $27, or they can pay $8 per single event. As you can see, being a member can save you $12 for a package or $3 for each single event, so consider becoming a member today. Click here for more details, including individual event registration options.

Pre-registration is required. Space is limited to 15 participants per invasion.

Mini-Show Review: Crocodiles at Grog Shop, 5/28

I call this a mini-show review because, in full disclosure, I came late and left early (which I suppose is better than coming early and never leaving ... oh, entendre, you devil). I got hung up at work in a gleeful fit of crossing things of lists and failed to catch the opening act, a failure so complete that I don't even recall the name of the band I didn't see play.

I showed up at the Grog just as they were unplugging their gear and clearing off stage. After a momentary glitch with the door guy (seriously, if you are supposed to be on a guest list, ALWAYS bring a copy of the email that says so, as in my experience bands forget to put your name down at least 60% of the time), I was able to walk straight up to the stage. The crowd here was pretty young, which meant that the vast majority of them headed outside to smoke between bands, thus vacating the good spots.

(Side note: One of the things that makes me love the Beachland Tavern a lot more than the Grog Shop is that you can be in several different places in the room and still get a good view, whereas if a Grog show is even modestly popular you are either right up in front - which I don't like to be - or shit out of luck.)

(Another side note: Can someone tell me why 90% of the time door guys aren't pleasant? I mean, it isn't a terribly difficult job, sitting there and collecting money. Why don't they ever say hello back when you say it to them? Why do they talk to you like you are an idiot and/or a criminal? For example, at first I showed this door dude my email from the band's guitarist and without looking at it, he said: "That could easily have been faked." Like I'm going to go to all the trouble of creating false email addresses and then corresponding back and forth, just to save $10 one time. Perhaps venue owners could remind their staff that in a recession and a time when gas prices are making tours less viable and Live Nation is buying up most of the money-making acts, the last thing you need is for folks to stop coming to your club because they don't like being treated like shit. Anyway, rant/sidenote over.)

Watching Crocodiles set up was pretty interesting. For a lo-fi, two-man outfit, they had a lot of gear to tape here and there - the vocalist alone had a handful of effects pedals just for his singing. After working things out with the sound guy and a last minute break so the singer could go to the bathroom, they emerged onstage with the backing tracks from their recent album's intro track, "Screaming Chrome," playing from an ipod. In fact, a lot of the coolest music played during the show was courtesy of that little ipod, something which I'm torn about.

On one hand, I'm a realist, and two dudes can only play so much music live, and all that other sound has to come from somewhere else. On the other hand, there is something about bands that bring ipods or laptops on stage that makes me think they are cheating a bit. What is the solution, you might ask? I don't know, thus I'm guilty of breaking my own golden rule: don't criticize unless you are going to provide constructive advice as well. Perhaps they could tour with a full band, though that would be more expensive and potentially less true to the original sound. Perhaps they could play stripped down sets that reflected the onstage realities while staying true to the essence of the tunes, though that might be really challenging and potentially turn off audiences that want it to sound just like the album. And this performance largely did sound just like the album (which I previously reviewed as quite good), though as a friend later in the evening pointed out, it isn't hard to sound just like the album when the majority of the tracks are coming out of the ipod and not the guitar actually being played live.

Beyond this quibble, the show was pretty good, if super brief (like 25 minutes long). I'd probably be pissed if I dropped $12 to hear Crocodiles play, but I didn't and since the Cavs game was on, I actually slightly appreciated the early curtain on their set, as it allowed me to walk down to the Winking Lizard and catch the fourth quarter.

(One last side note: Has anyone ever seen LeBron's face look quite as serious for such a prolonged period of time as last night? Perhaps so, but I hope he continues to bring that attitude the next two games - though his playoff performance has been awesome so far.)

The songs they did cram in to those 25 minutes were the ones you expected, and they all sounded grand, especially when both dudes strapped on guitars. Unlike the Dreadful Yawns performance the night before, the fellas in Crocodiles were quite animated.

At first the singer - Brandon Welchez, who looks like a Highway 61 Revisited Dylan - was doing some silly little cock thrusts, but eventually settled into a less staged yet still active act, while the guitar player, Charles Rowland, jammed and jammed and jammed but wore shades indoors, in a dark room no less!!! I so hate it when musicians do that - it is like the Fonz but infinitely less cool. They played top-notch (and, as I mentioned previously, album-true) renditions of "Summer of Hate" and "Soft Skull (In My Room), and closed with a fantastic "I Wanna Kill" that could only have been better if the Welchez's mic hadn't been cutting in and out.

I left pretty much immediately after the set ended, as I was brain-tired from work and not very interested in seeing Holy Fuck (though I will say their song "Lovely Allen" is one of my top tunes of 2009 so far) and wondering what the score of the Cavs-Magic game was. I was also tired of this old fat dude in a baseball cap walking around the crowd, shoulder bumping everyone into an abortive mosh pit. Old fat man was quite the sharp contrast from the rest of the crowd, filled with young appeciative yet reserved nodders who only wanted to listen to the band and then go grab another stylish cig before the last band. And besides, who moshes to San Diego lo-fi being mostly played off an ipod, anyway? Go home, old fat man in a baseball cap.

As I mentioned, I headed down to the Lizard, found my pal Roger and his roommate at the bar, and watched as the Cavaliers held off the Magic to climb back within one game in the series. Six more wins in a row and a lot of us are going to be feeling foolish for all our sports gnashing of teeth this week as we wait for the team parade to the championship trophy ceremony. Of course, I'm a lifelong Cubs fan, so take my reality with as much salt as you can afford to buy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Show Review: I Was A King at Beachland Tavern, 5/27

If you haven't gotten enough Norwegian pop commentary from me over the last couple weeks, get ready 'cause this one here is gonna be the last post devoted to the topic for a while.

Last night, the folks from Norway's power-pop sensation, I Was A King, successfully drove over to Clevo from Chicago (no small task considering this is only the second stop on their first-ever US tour and they are making the trek without the benefit of domestic tour support travelling alongside). A man of my word (usually), I showed up at the Beachland Tavern just in time to catch the start of the opening act, Kong Sauce. I'd heard about Kong Sauce before and liked what I listened to when I briefly checked out their myspace page the other day, so my hopes were high.

They were also dashed.

I don't want to be a negative person, especially when there is a Cleveland angle involved, but I also don't want to be a NEO homer without any critical perspective, so I try to call it as I see it. Kong Sauce has a lot of potential as a band, I think, but to achieve it they gotta make some key changes. If I were them, I'd start with the singer. The guy was just awful, looking like Trey Anastasio in sunglasses (inside, natch), singing quietly while striking vague rock poses. The entire band (except for the keyboardist, who I'd make a small wager is his girlfriend, simply because of this observation) seemed slightly embarrased of him. Playing amateur psychologist, I'd venture to guess this means he's either the song-writer or owns all the gear. Otherwise, I don't know why they'd stick with him. Who they should stick with is the multi-instrumental female singer, Krissy Brannan. She played guitar, keys, and even violin (though the latter clashed with the band's overall sound in a not-great way), and her voice is really rich and interesting (in a pretty-great way).

Kong Sauce brought some pop songs that were catchy enough and a handful of grunge tunes that were far too muddled and messy as is. If I were them, I'd hone the pop tune and maybe figure out how to bring that grunge guitar in on some of the songs. I couldn't give it much more thought than that, though, since the male singer made me want to go kill time elsewhere till the next band came on. Which I did.

Eventually I came back, when my friends arrived and greeted me with the following wonderful text message: "We are here - text me what u want to drink!" Seriously, is there a better text message one could receive? Well, of course there are plenty of better options, but that's a pretty darn good one.

We met up and had a few moments to chat before act number 2, The Dreadful Yawns, went on stage. Once they were onstage, we had several more minutes as they conducted one of the longest tuning sessions I've seen a local band go through in recent memory. Had that tuning session paved the way for an awesome set, it probably wouldn't have been worth mentioning, but as it was it just led to an 0 for 2 feeling preceding I Was A King's turn up.

Without really trying, I think I've seen The Dreadful Yawns live more times than any other local band since I moved up here a couple years ago. When I moved here, they were arguably the most name-dropped band in local circles, along with Coffinberry. (For various reasons, I've still not seen Coffinberry play out.) In the last two years, the band has evolved quite a bit, though not necessarily for the better. With respect to last night, for all the time spent tweaking and tuning, they played the set with something (or someone) set to a terrible high frequency that totally killed my eardrums, despite the fact that the volume wasn't that loud. Maybe it was all the extra echo a couple of the band members requested, maybe something wasn't plugged in right, maybe the sound guy messed something up. I don't know. But the effect was punishing. And so, to be honest, was the set. As my friend said, the performance was "not worth the destruction done to my eardrums."

I concur with that sentiment entirely, though I can't pinpoint what exactly was most disappointing. Perhaps it was the absolutely boring nature of their set - it was like sitting at a wax museum and listening to a record play. The music was a bit different than previous outings, with new songs that have a bit more thump to them than usual. The poor stage show could've been due to intense concentration on these new tunes, or maybe just the band's own ambivalence about playing in front of a hometown crowd yet again. Who knows? Really, who cares. Unfortunately, the band seems to be regressing since the first time I saw them and since I first bought their CDs. As I'm playing amateur music consultant today, the best advice I could give these guys would be (1) to try harder on stage, (2) stop letting the Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joe Armstrong two-toned hair drummer dude sing and play guitar half the time, and (3) shift the balance of the vocals duty further onto the female keyboardist, Elizabeth Kelly, whose voice is grand. Ben Gmetro is a good song-writer and a fine guitar player, but the band seems best when he's just playing guitar and providing background vocals.

I'm starting to feel guilty about all this criticism, so I'll keep the rest positive. And, really, it isn't hard to do this, since I Was A King really brought their stuff last night. The had a good sound (with none of the frequency difficulties that the Yawns had) with GREAT guitar work, especially but not only by my newest indie rock crush, Anne Lise Frøkedal.

Providing a complete counterpoint to the Dreadful Yawns, I Was A King got down on stage and, bonus, did so without appearing insincere. All four members were into their instruments and, it must be mentioned, these were some cool looking folks. Between the skinny head-bands, Lenin caps, rocker jeans, and vintage shirts, they looked exactly like one would expect a European power-pop outfit to be, well, outfitted, up to the stylishly funky retro glasses the lead singer was sporting. Anne Lise was more conservatively attired, though she made her own mark with darling little close-hipped Jagger-style dancing. I also realized just how solid her vocals were when the band played "California," a tune I didn't dig all that much on the album but loved live. They totally took things down a few sonic notches for that number and it really, really worked. In fact, a dude sitting at the table next to ours quietly uttered "wow" when the song concluded, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

Another great factor from their live show was that it seemed like they had greater "ownership" of their material. On the record, as I mentioned in my review last week, they often seem held captive by some pretty clear influences, to the point of occasionally seeming unoriginal. This wasn't the case live, as I often couldn't remember who the recorded version of the various songs had reminded me of so strongly in the first place.

The band finished up their set in a bit less than an hour, and by midnight I was ready to head back to my car, a welcome early (relatively) evening on a mid-week night. In all, just as I expected, I Was A King brought their A-game to the Beachland Tavern stage. This time it was the local support that was disappointing, something that has been pretty rare in my time here as a Clevelander and something I don't anticipate will happen all that often in the future. The live music scene is rich and solid in NEO, and both bands that played this particular set have many better shows in them in the future.

Move Over Alexandra

I hate to say it, but as creepy as I may be, that creepiness is ultimately fickle. I've decided to move on from my previous indie rock crush, Ra Ra Riot's Alexandra Lawn, to a new one: I Was A King's Anne Lise Frøkedal.

Anne Lise, welcome to an elite group that previously included not only Miss Lawn, but also Carrie Brownstein and Anya Marina. Fortunately for you, I've not ever met any of these crushes and don't ever plan to, so you can tell your stomach to stop churning now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Album of the Week: Lo Moda "Replica Watches"

This week's album of the week selection is something of a happy accident. When my calendar was first booked for a work trip to DC last week, the first thing I did was look to see what bands were playing in the various DC live music venues I've long wanted to visit (i.e., the 9:30 Club, the Rock & Roll Hotel, and the Black Cat). Nothing I was familiar with was on tap at the Rock & Roll Hotel, and though The National were playing three shows in two days at the 9:30 Club, it wasn't going to work out for various reasons. What did catch my eye most, though, was a St Vincent show at the Black Cat. For various reasons, I've long been following Annie Clark's career and had heard good things about her newest album, Actor. I figured out who was opening and went to the band's page to learn a little more about their sound. It was here that I got hooked.

The opening band, Lo Moda, is a foundational act in the art-rock Baltimore scene and their music immediately turned me on. A few song listens and I was all set to see them and St Vincent.

When the show date finally came, I took the train to the U-street stop and after paying homage at the African-American Civil War memorial, headed toward Ben's Chili Bowl, home of the Cosby half-smoke and the site of President Obama's first public meal post-inauguration. The joint was crowded and filled with photos of famous patrons. It was also a proud establishment, with signs boasting of 58 years of black ownership and perhaps the awesomest dining soundtrack ever, with the very best 70s soul selection I've ever had the pleasure of chewing a chili dog to.

After dining, it was off to the Black Cat, which immediately reminded me of our Grog Shop, both in size and scope (though to its credit, the Black Cat is A LOT cleaner). I was a bit early, so I scooted over to a bar and ordered a beer to nurse while I waited for the show to start.

While sitting there, I started chatting with a guy who occasionally writes for the blog, BrightestYoungThings. Then an awesome song came over the sound system that I couldn't place but was just too good to ignore. The bartender didn't know it, nor did the bar manager, though she said her sound guy might. I went over to the sound booth, but it was vacant. There were, however, a couple guys with laptops hooked into the sound booth and I asked one of them. Immediately upon speaking, I recognized the voice, and the speaker confirmed, he was indeed Bob Boilen from the NPR podcast All Songs Considered. I probably totally creeped him out when I tried to explain I go to sleep each night to his voice, and then definitely did when I hit him up for a photo. Nonetheless, he was totally cool and the chance interaction became the highlight of my week in the nation's capital.

Eventually, the real music started, and I returned to my seat at the bar. After a couple songs, the band started to reel me in, and I stood and walked a few steps toward the stage. A few more songs and I was at the back of the crowd. A few more and I was at the front of the crowd, hands in the air, totally digging the Lo Moda sound. Lead man Peter Quinn's live vocal performance was surprising, as it was not nearly so restrained as the recorded material I'd found online. In fact, were it not for the middle-manager Morrisey appearance tying the two together, I would probably have some difficulty believing that the man I saw howling on stage was the same one I heard crooning on the album.

If I can say anything about this band, it is that they finish strong. The last few songs of their opening set were as well-executed as anything I've seen live in a few months, probably since the encore of the Thao set and before that, the awesome Phosphorescent show at the Tavern this winter. In my mind, it totally overwhelmed the St Vincent show that, well, was quite boring. (The cool Washington Post post-rock blog has a nice little bit about the boredom factor here.) It feels to me like Annie Clark is just treading water until she is old enough to appeal to the PBS crowd, which is a shame as she's a tremendous rock guitar player. I'd love to see her get back into a band and amp up her sound a bit, but for the time being, the success she's received as of late all but guarantee she'll continue the complex adult contemporary sound she's grown in to on her own.

As a result, on my drive back from DC to Cleveland, I was a lot more excited to listen to my new copy of the recent Lo Moda release, Replica Watches, than I was to listen to St Vincent's Actor. Replica Watches is blissfully and darkly redundant, experimental yet simplistic. Elsewhere the band has been characterized as art-school dropout rock, and I totally envy the dude that came up with that description, as it is as cool as it is true. The artiness of the band is comprehensive, identifiable not only in their sound but also in their album art and the extra-curricular activities of the band members, particularly Quinn, who also works with anti-label Creative Capitalism, perhaps best known for releasing Ponytail's first album (before Ice Cream Spiritual), but which does a whole lot more cool stuff than that.

A couple of "little" things about albums that I really like. First, the album art is worth the purchase itself. Second, the album clocks in at over 57 minutes long, making this an LP worthy of the acronym. More important, of course, than these little things, however, is the big picture question itself: does the album rock? Yes, it does. Like their live show, Lo Moda recorded features a strong finish, with most of the album's best songs coming at the very end of the album, including my favorite track "Simple Geographies" and other killer tunes such as "The Serial" and "Paris Now." Things are good in the beginning and middle, too, including the stellar track "Real Real" and the divinely repititive "C.O.N.T.R.O.L." There are a bunch of other good tracks ("Robespierre," "Anonymous Cats," and "Paper Bombs") and admittedly some forgettable ones ("Independent Dance Party" and "Blank Society") -- like I said, this is a lengthy LP.

On each track, the one thing I really love about this band is that they are always doing something interesting, but not too many interesting things at once. There are so many music school graduates out there right now trying to convince us of how smart they are that, in the end, all those layers and layers of smartness only yield dissonance. Lo Moda is disciplined, laying down a simple backdrop time and time again, and putting one or two cool effects on top, whether affecting a pipe organ or a harrowingly sharp violin attack. Quinn's vocals consistently work well and in tandem with one instrument or another - this is a man and a band that know what sound they are going for and are patient in getting after it. Their execution reminds me that talent lies not just in being able to play a bunch of different instruments, but in knowing what to do with all that ability.

All in all, the great outweighs the good on this album and the good outweighs the not-so, so returning once again to my homemade rating system, I score this one a "buy it new" - though you'll probably have to find somewhere other than a record store to buy it. My best guess is through the Creative Capitalism site, as it isn't likely the folks from Lo Moda will be making their way up here to NEO any time soon.

Goodbye, Jay

As many, if not most, of you know by now, the eminently talented musician and producer Jay Bennett has passed away. For years I have been a big fan of Bennett, both in terms of what he brought to Wilco and what he did before and after his tenure with the band. I also appreciated, as a fellow Son of Illinois, the role he played in the music community around the University of Illinois, especially with his recording studio in Urbana.

Jay's death saddened me, though after a few moments of thinking about it, I guess I wasn't absolutely shocked. Everything I knew about the guy's recent past indicated he was in a difficult position, from health problems to money needs (related to the health problems), culminating in his recent decision to sue Wilco/Jeff Tweedy for unpaid sums related to the documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which many have acknowledged portrayed Jay in an unflattering light.

A close watching of that film, however, shows that while Jay might've been high-strung and sometimes obnoxious, he was truly the talent behind that band at that moment. Over the last several years, I have had a dynamic relationship with Wilco, but most of the dynamics the last few years have gone steadily downhill. It has been well known for quite some time that Jeff Tweedy is a diva, but only recently have I realized his most important characteristic: dude is a vampire.

Seriously, lets think about this. I started off as an Uncle Tupelo fan way back when, and at first when they broke up I was semi-excited, as I got two similar sounding bands for the price of one: Son Volt and Wilco. Son Volt stayed the same, sound-wise, over time, and when they broke up, Jay Farrar stayed the same for a while longer. Wilco, however, evolved. At first they kept up with a Farrar-esque style, minus the barroom drawling and lyrics, of course, but when Bennett came into the band they became immediately more complex, sophisticated, and excellent. This was the band I came to love, with Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Eventually, after Tweedy had sucked the musical soul out of Bennett (like he had with Farrar) and got all he needed, he kicked him out and continued to make Jay Bennett style music, sans Jay (again, like he had with Farrar). After a while, Wilco lost their steam, and Tweedy brought in the also awesome Nels Cline. I hope someone in Cline's family watched the documentary and warned the dude, as my bet is it is only a matter of time before Tweedy leeches all he can get from him and "changes musical direction" again.

I've known since the first time I attended a Wilco show that Tweedy was a whiny dick, having to listen to his rants about the audience talking and his passive-aggressive stage banter for many shows and several years before I finally made up my mind not to go to any more Wilco shows. Now, after reading Tweedy's asshole-ish comment about Bennett's death (which was delayed because the band was touring in Spain and "could not be reached" - what there are no fucking cell phones and laptops in Spain?), I'm totally done with the dude and anything related to him. Tweedy's statement (italics are mine) reads:

"We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him -- as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."

Accuse me of over-reading the document, but seriously, Tweedy, did you need to passive-aggressively diss Bennett after he died, too? I mean, what is this "as we remember him" nonsense - a barely-subtle way of saying he wasn't really that way, or at least not all the time? Why not just say "Jay was a truly unique and gifted human being," and leave out all the double-speak? And giving Jay credit for "significant contributions" to the band's evolution -- why, that's mighty big of you, Jeff. By significant contributions, I assume you mean reinventing the band for you, and by evolution I assume you are referring to the fact that you kicked him out when you couldn't stand to be the second-most talented guy in your own band any longer.

But this post shouldn't be about Tweedy, it should be about Jay. Goodbye, Jay - you were an unbelievable artist and your work and spirit will be missed.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Week ahead, 5/24-5/30

I wasn't here for you much last week, dear readers. At all, really. And I'm sorry for that. I was in the nation's capital, doing what one does in the nation's capital (i.e., checking out the monuments, visiting Capitol Hill, marveling at the absence of talking and presence of newspapers on the commuter trains, etc.), and doing other fun stuff like enjoying chili dogs at Ben's Chili Bowl, eating Ethiopian and Moroccan food, and watching the Lo Moda/St Vincent show at the Black Cat (which is the equivalent of our Grog Shop). I'll post more about this stuff throughout the week, but for now let us dispatch with the important and cool stuff going on this week.

Sunday, 5/24 - Today! If you don't have something already planned, I can't help you. I wasn't planning on coming back till tomorrow. Are the Indians in town? It is beautiful - go to the park.

Monday, 5/25 - Memorial Day. If you don't have a grill or friends and family with a grill, take a trip out to Lake View Cemetery, where you can check out the Garfield Monument, the Elliot Ness Monument, the memorial to the victims of the 1908 Collinwood School Fire, and the Tiffany-designed window at Wade Chapel, as well as the final resting place of numerous important and influential folks, from Carl Stokes to John Hay. Plus, you'll burn LOTS of calories.

Tuesday, 5/26 - The Lake County Captains are playing at home versus the infamous Greensboro Grasshoppers. Plus, it is Kraft singles night, which means you can get buy one-get one ticket deals. OR you could opt for a super cool (and totally indulgent) option, since it is Feed Your Face Tuesday, and for $15 you get a ticket and all-you-can-eat burgers, dogs, mini corn dogs, peanuts, and popcorn!

Wednesday, 5/27 - Catch a pretty solid psych/power pop lineup at the Beachland: Kong Sauce, The Dreadful Yawns, and I Was A King. I'll be there, for sure - check out my review of the latest I Was A King album here.

Thursday, 5/28
- Another solid live show on tap today, with Crocodiles and Holy Fuck playing at the Grog. This pairing is an interesting choice, with Crocodiles lo-fi sound not very similar to Holy Fuck's instrumental, near-electronica jam, but the discrepancy will only make the show more enjoyable for a more diverse audience. Check out my review of the latest Crocodiles album here.

Friday, 5/29 - Tonight is the Beachland Prom. I went last year and it was a lot of fun, hipsters wearing their ironic best, and local indie rock bands playing prom-appropriate covers. This year includes performances by Living Stereo, Helper T-Cells, Saint Ohio, and Good Morning Valentine. Grab a $10 prom-appropriate dinner either at the Beachland or a few blocks away at the Grovewood. Dinner will be served at the Beachland about 7, with the prom festivities kicking off around 9.

Saturday, 5/30 - After a week of indie rock and cuisine, make it a Saturday of Culture. Check out the Lee Friedlander photography exhibit at the Museum of Art before it closes on May 31st, have an early dinner somewhere quaint in Little Italy, and then catch a double feature at the CIA Cinematheque, where Katyn will screen at 7, followed by Two Lovers at 9:15.

Album of the Week: I Was A King

For those of you who like things like "details" and "accuracy," you'll note that I'm posting my 5/20 review on 5/23. Whatever - I was out of town, stuck in Bethesda in a
"luxury" apartment for the week that didn't have internet. Or nearly enough working lightbulbs. And free wireless is amazingly difficult to find in DC! So, here I am, busting ass to post this thing now that I've returned triumphantly to Clevo. Without further delay, I give you my thoughts on the self-titled 2009 I Was A King release.

This is the album to listen to if you like your guitar served with a side of slurry male vocals with that sweet-cute northern European accent. Lest you misunderstand me, let me be clear: both the aforementioned guitar and singing are great, working together well, like a Nordic J Mascis, split into two bodies and genders. In this case, the bodies (and, I guess, gender representatives) are vocalist Frode Strømstad and axe-woman Anne Lise Frøkeda, who serve as the core components of Norweigian psych-pop rockers I Was A King. (Production and musical assistance also came from a veritable who’s who of gentle indie rockers, including Daniel Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Ladybug Transistor (who also provided the studio space). Between these esteemed assistants and the various seminal bands that are often name-dropped in I Was A King reviews – including Teenage Fanclub, The Electric Prunes, Apples in Stereo, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Dinosaur Jr, and even Jimi Hendrix – and you get a pretty decent idea of what you are in for: something fuzzy, loud, quirky, and cool, but still some semblance of traditional song structure underneath.

Their newly released self-titled second LP, which follows 2007’s debut Losing Something Good For Something Better, is a brief ditty of an album, appropriately filled with fifteen mostly short tracks, with only one song longer than 3 minutes and six tunes clocking in at 2 minutes or less.

Perhaps because of the length limits, much of this album seems like the record equivalent of a rough draft. I wouldn’t call this a demo, as there are a few too many songs and most of them are, while imperfect, far more polished than the word would indicate. Still, the songs where the band fills out there songs beyond the 2 minute mark are indisputably the best on the album, particularly “Golden Years” and their cover of Larry Norman’s “Hard Luck Bad News,” but also the group’s version of an extended jam, the three-minute, forty-three-second long “It’s All You.”

The album opens with “Still” – a poor opening choice, as it resembles the sound of opening a half-dozen different myspace pages of individually cool bands, then closing them one at a time, moving slowly from awful dissonance to something cool enough to motivate you to open that last band’s site in the first place. 45 seconds into this track, all the misfitting pieces merge together into some power pop glory, then quickly lead in to track number 2, “Step Aside.” This one is best described as J Mascis-pop with occasional Meat Puppet-y vocals. Sound nice? It actually is.

It also is an apt precursor for the rest of the songs on the album, nearly all of which are drenched in sonic influence, like “A Name That Hurts To Say” and its recollection of Brian Jonestown Massacre and Neil Young or the much-mentioned “Norman Bleik” which affects Mark Linkous rescoring Godspell. In some cases the inspiration is more general (and generational), with “Extra Number” and album-closer “Fading Summer” both harkening back to my youth with their mid-90s alt-rock flair and “Golden Years” with its generic 60s psych-rock sound.

There are some really great songs on this record, too, in case the description here seems too negative. The aforementioned “Golden Years,” “A Name That Hurts To Say,” and the “Hard Luck Bad News” cover completely jam, with the latter song providing the indie rock equivalent of weaving back and forth across the center line in the road, with the guitar and vocals occasionally leading then following then catching before losing the rhthym section. I absolutely love it – this one will without a doubt be on my “Best of Summer 2009” mix.

The track that follows this one, “Stay Warm” is as awesome as it is different from its precursor. In this one, the band sounds very sweet, almost a like a 60s girl group (as they also do on “California”) while simultaneously betraying their Norwegian roots the most of any song on the album. It is this song that makes me most want to make the lazy Peter, Bjorn, and John comparison, which I suppose I just did in a passive-aggressive way. They follow “Stay Warm” with a return to the not-as-ear-splitting Euro-version of Dinosaur Jr style that initially drew me to the group’s work – it is this sound that should go over GREAT live. So should the next one, “It’s All You,” Their big ballad, steady, slow, and eventually switching a bit more than a minute in to layered power that is a long way from the solo piano intro.

All in all, there is a lot to like about this album, and even more reason to keep an eye out for future I Was A King releases. Nevertheless, the incomplete, unfinished nature of this album outweights the brief several moments of brilliance. Because of this, continuing with my new ranking format introduced in last week’s Crocodiles review, I rate this as a “buy it used next time you see it in the salvage bin” album. Somebody oughta get some money out of you for this one, but not $13.99. And given the overwhelming obviousness of the influences in some of the songs, perhaps Frode and Anne Lise should be the ones that lose out on the cut.

Nevertheless, this is a band that merits your handful of singles when they come through town to play a live set, which, incidentally, will be soon. Quite soon. Wednesday, in fact. They’ll be at the Beachland, with opening duties falling to NEO local acts The Dreadful Yawns and Kong Sauce. My honest recommendation is for you to definitely check this show out. If you dig the band, grab a copy from them at the merch table after the show.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Week ahead, 5/17-5/23

My attempts to chronicle the upcoming events for all you dudes out there in the virtual ether has fallen off, but I'm trying to get things more consistent here again. This one is gonna be short and sweet, since (a) I'm STILL suffering at 8:57 PM from a righteous hangover and (b) I'm gonna be out of town in DC all next week and, as a result, have not paid much attention to stuff going down around Clevo while I'll be gone. There are some cool things, though, so without further ado, here is your week, should you elect to enjoy yourself.

Sunday, 5/17 is Day 2 of Hessler Fest, so get your tie-dye out of the closet and go eat some ethnic food and listen to local jam bands. And when that gets boring, go down and drink beers at the Euclid Tavern. Last time I was there, they had some bacon buffalo wings on special - how could that not be worth a sample. If it is no longer on the menu, please accept my apologies.

Monday, 5/18
Atmosphere is playing at the Beachland. Stop on down and have a bite before the show at the newly-opened Waterloo Cafe. Get the chicken melt on pita wedges dish - awesome.

Tuesday, 5/19, is Album Release Day, so hit up Music Saves (or your other preferred local indie record store) and grab some new releases (or other releases that are not as immediately new). I'll be hitting the stores in DC in eager anticipation of the new Jason Lytle (formerly of solo album. He's one of my all-time favorite male vocalists, after Tim DeLaughter, Daniel Johnston, and Wayne Coyne (sense a pattern?). Other good ones include the long-awaited Passion Pit LP, the new Au Revoir Simone, the new Clues album (featuring members of Arcarde Fire and the Unicorns), and a new one from White Rabbits. Tell them I sent you and maybe that'll earn me some nice record store karma. Or don't, you selfish jerk.

Wednesday, 5/20, check out a Roberto Rossellini classic, The Rise of Louis XIV, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Make a night of it and pick up some Hot Sauce Williams fried chicken on the way home - the best in America. Seriously!

Thursday 5/21 - I got nothing for you. Sorry.

Friday 5/22 Attend the Friends of the Cleveland Kennel 5th Annual Art for Animals benefit and auction. Seriously, folks, this is important! And it is only $15. Please please please go to this. I have a much more compelling argument, with all the pertinent details, posted here. If you hate animals, but still want to do something cool, you could also check out another film at the CMA, Medicine for Melancholy, which is my second biggest regret about not being in town this week (after the benefit).

Saturday, 5/23 Check out the Joe Grand & Leonard Trawick opening at Pentagon Gallery on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. I actually own a piece by Grand and dig his work. I don't know Trawick's work nearly as well, but the two pieces I've laid eyes on are pretty impressive. There are also a couple interesting films back-to-back at the CIA Cinematheque, The Red & the White (a 1967 Hungarian take on the Russian Civil War) and Serbis (a Filipino/French movie described as "a raw, rambunctious drama set in and around a dilapidated, X-rated Philippine movie house owned - and occupied - by a three-generation family").

There you go - I'll try to post another update next weekend, but travel may prevent me. If not, I'll be back to this on a regular basis the week after. In the meantime, keep the following dates/events in mind as you play out your late May/early June calendars:

- Norweigian pop awesomers I Was A King at the Beachland on May 27
- San Diego fuzzy awesomers Crocodiles (with Holy Fuck, one of the greatest band names I've heard in a while) at the Grog on May 28
- The Beachland Prom on May 29
- An Awesome three-fer at the CIA (Silence & Cry, Katyn, and Two Lovers) on May 30
- The last day to catch the Friedlander photo exhibit at the CMA on May 31
- The long-awaited reunification of my doggie and me on June 1
- Screening of the documentary "Food Fight" hosted by local author extraordinaire Micheal Ruhlman at the Museum of Art on June 3
- Art gallery openings everywhere, including Asterisk, MOCA, and William Rupnik (formerly Artchitecture) AND the next Music Saves Alley Cat Friday on June 5
- The Waterloo Walls mural #1 opening and a Meat Puppets/Mystery of Two show at the Grog on June 6
- The incredibly promising "This Is Cleveland" photo exhibit at Low Life Gallery AND a show down the block at the Beachland featuring The Phoebe Cates & Party of Helicopters on June 12
- and much, much more!

Vivo Clevo!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just a reminder about tonight...

If you are plan-less, why don't you stop by Waterloo Road? Snag a bite at the newly-opened Waterloo Cafe before you check out the new releases at Music Saves and the masked one-man-band that is Bob Log, while having a beer FOR FREE ON ME at Arts Collinwood between 6-9 PM.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Costner: Part Three of a Trilogy of Posts

For those of you wondering if I will ever again post about anything other than Kevin Costner, yes, I promise you, I will. Besides, I just posted an album review that has nothing at all to do with the greatest actor in the land.

Last night, as I had initially pondered here and announced here, I attended the Kevin Costner & Modern West show at the House of Blues, accompanied by my handsome friend Matt. It was, I believe, our second man-date, and I for one think it went pretty well.

We met in the lobby, picked up our tickets at will call, and entered the House of Blues venue, when I immediately remembered all the flack veterans of the live music scene give this room. Personally, I take a different tack. I'm a huge outsider/southern art enthusiast, and the House of Blues curators do an especially good job at collecting this stuff. So when I go to a House of Blues show, it feels like I'm hearing a band inside a (big) museum exhibit hall filled with the kind of stuff I like to look at and own.

The main knock on the Cleveland House of Blues venue is two-fold: bad acoustics and obnoxious middle-aged drunks. I'll touch on the latter criticism later, but the first one I think is unfair. There isn't a room in this town that has GREAT acoustics, and as long as you aren't standing in the back near the bar area and behind the sound engineer's booth, the acoustics are just fine, comparable to the Beachland Ballroom and certainly better than the Agora or the Jigsaw (though I don't know why I'm bothering to bring Parma into this).

The acoustics served Mr. Costner well enough on this night, as well. After standing through a pretty matter-of-fact opening set by some forgetable East Coast quasi-country outfit, the stage cleared, a screen descended, and the roadies went to work setting up. Eventually the stage lifted and a man with his head down and Costnerian hair walked out. The crowd went wild, in a conspicuously high-pitched way, to which Matt commented, "Dude, this place is filled with girls. Imagine that." More on that later, too.

Turns out, the dude wasn't Costner at all, but his doppleganger. Or at least his doppleganger plus 20 years. He kind of looked like Costner's dad, or more likely his big brother, as Kevin looks a lot younger than his actual age (54!) would indicate. Eventually the real deal strolled on stage, smiling and waving, and he was dressed IDENTICALLY to the aged doppleganger! Wearing jeans and a button-up dark shirt with sleeves tastefully rolled to approximate what a workin' man would do, he greeted the audience, thanking the ladies for coming and the men for allowing themselves to be dragged along. Again, high-pitched squeals and waving of numerous "I love you, Kevin" signs (including a woman who clearly forgot to make one at home and scrawled the message on a manila envelope). It was then that a realized the truth behind Matt's aforementioned joke: Kevin Costner's target audience is married women.

It never occurred to me before, but now I feel like I'm the only one in America not in on this. Costner certainly was, as he openly acknowledged it and played up to it throughout his performance, with banter and song topics designed to make the ladies melt and apologies for the cartoonish buffoonery of all men, everywhere.

His banter, actually, was pretty good, though he did seem uncomfortable and unnatural behind a guitar and a mic. Matt commented that it seemed like all the banter was pre-planned and taken from screenplays that had been rejected in Hollywood. I agree, but I still looked forward to it between every song.

One of my favorite examples was after the second or third song, when the lights dimmed considerably, and Costner says, "This is how we've always met, these last 20 years." No one got it at first, so he explains, "you know, in the movies." Awkward giggling, and then KC says, "Seriously, thank you for coming to my movies." Later, as he proceeds to introduce a song about men struggling to find a way to fix the situation with their woman after screwing it up, he tells the story of how common it is for a man to find himself in a cheap motel room on the outskirts of town, with a broken ceiling fan in the 105 degree heat, tossing and turning all night.

It was then that I learned a valuable lesson: Kevin Costner is a liar. Seriously, KC - when was the last time you stayed at a motel like that? You rich bastard.

He did, however, give me and all the other men permission not to participate during a sing-a-long. He taught the words to the audience, but then said, "Now ladies, don't go trying to make your men sing. Just cause you brought 'em don't mean they have to sing shit." That is why I love Kevin Costner. Everyone wins.

Another sincerely great moment was when he talked about the sometimes skeptical response he has received to his choice to pursue a musical career, to which he responded that, in essence, in life we have to do what we feel we need to do to make us happy. I've always (pretty much) lived that way, figuring life is for living, so when KC closed with the phrase, "If you want to play, just play," I took it as sage career advice that, even in the depths of this recession, is good to heed.

At this moment, the middle-aged, drunk, live music tourists turned on me. First came chants of "If you play it, we will come!" - a phrase that I'm entirely certain the chanters had no idea could be interpreted multiple ways. These folks are the kind that think "entendre" sounds French and that will tell you, without irony, they prefer their fries with Freedom. And preferably from somewhere in the Warehouse District.

Then it was the drunk middle-aged women who I am certain have no voice today, as they were screeching at one another to be heard over the din of the music they'd paid money to hear, while their husbands stood next to them, grimacing in their button-up shirts and staring at the floor. There was this one women behind me for a while that I wanted to fight, but instead I spied an opening a few people in front, pointed it out to Matt, and we made the move. But now we were surrounded by three women, on the left, right and in front of us, that were just as bad, making the situation at large even worse. I started to look around and realized that the only thing that out-numbered the chattering middle-aged women in the audience were men in Hawaiian shirts. It dawned on me: This is Jimmy Buffet's crowd. And then I wondered, what have I done to get myself in the same audience as these people? Immediately, flashbacks to the B-52s show I hit up at the same venue for all of 25 minutes last year, which I left because of the same middle-aged drunks, excited only to be out on a weeknight. I started to scan the room for the cliches, and didn't have to look far before I could find people talking on the phone (including a stupid girl behind me who kept calling people to tell them that she couldn't talk because she was at a concert, at a CON-CERT), wives showing off their just-bought $45 tour t-shirts, and dudes two-fisting Miller Lites. These folks make the worst kinds of crowds. Say what you want about the hipsters that come out for Pitchfork-hyped scene bands, at least they tend to listen. I'd put the middle-aged drunk female crowd just ahead of the slick-haired rockabilly dudes and the guys who like to go to Hold Steady and Black Lips shows and throw beer at the band as my least favorite people to be in a venue with. And that's really saying something.

The show was a fun experience to see an actor I've long stood up for against mean critics and film snobs (though I admit I often, if not usually, can be classified in both categories), but more than that it gave me an opportunity to think through my position on the House of Blues venue. The House of Blues doesn't often book bands I want to see, but when they do I'm usually willing to go. And now I have a philosophy: Go see shows there when you are willing to make a night of it, financially speaking. From now on, if I'm gonna see a show there, I'll go have dinner at the House of Blues first, which is smart on two grounds: (1) I dig their new-southern cuisine and (2) if you tell your server you are going to the show, they'll let you in a back entrance that gets access to the venue before anyone else. This means no standing at the back of the venue, which is where the worse middle-aged drunk talkers take up residence. The other part of my philosophy is that from now on I'll think through the likely crowd, and if it seems like a show where Buffet-type live music tourists will show up en masse, I'll bow out.

Album of the Week: Crocodiles "Summer of Hate"

I have an atrocious memory. To the point where I frequently regret my extra-curricular college activities. I can't ever remember names and usually not faces. I often forget what I'm saying mid-sentence and have to write every single idea I have down, for not doing so will result in losing it to the unreachable ether of my subconscious.

However, I almost always remember where I bought every single cd in my collection. Weird, huh. Some are boring memories, some are funny, like the time in high school
when my then-best friend and I drove up to Chicago to buy the just released Weezer (Blue) album, but since there was no cd player in his car, we pretended to put it to our ears and listen to it.

The Crocodiles Summer of Hate album is another story I'll remember. For weeks I'd been barging into Music Saves, demanding to know if they'd received the new Crocodiles album, but since it wasn't to come out until April 28th, the answer was always, "No." Then it was "Dude ... no." Then, "DUDE." As in, quit asking us in such a ridiculous way.

And then one day, I walked in and the nice lady behind the counter says, "Oh, you ... here" and hands me a copy. I don't often smile in public (it makes me feel stupid and also wonder if I have anything stuck in my teeth or if they are really yellow or something), but I couldn't help it.

I've been listening to it ever since, and only the recent acquisition of the new Cheval Sombre album has broken it from its go-to status as default cd to grab when starting my car. I plan to make a mass album purchase this weekend, though, so it will probably lose my attention until the dust clears, which is why I'm writing about it here, today, in the inaugural "Album of the Week" post.

Crocodiles is (are?) a San Diego-based duo, a pair of fellows with the prestigious names of Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell. According to my internet sleuthing, one of them is a private special needs school substitute teacher and the other a baker, and together they have made a grand album. Though Summer of Hate is the first LP under the Crocodiles tag, the pair have been making music together for about a decade, something they consider the perfect antidote to the otherwise boring SD lifestyle.

Summer of Hate was ripped in a pretty mean-spirited, junior high kind of way by Pitchfork writer Joe Colly, a hypocritical savaging of such note that it started a minor skirmish between bloggers and the Pitchfork colossus (again, as if much kindling is ever needed to start that blaze anew). In a nutshell, Colly's beef was that the record ripped off and only ripped off Jesus & Mary Chain and that, since other blogs "broke" the band, this was not good. I don't think the band "photocopied" JAMC, as Colly suggests, and the rest is kneecapping nonsense.

Needless to say, I disagree with the tone of the P4K review, as well as the overall score, but everyone has the right to write what they feel, right? Even still, Colly's dickish douchery was such that I almost want to start name-checking review authors and skipping the ones he pens. Un/Fortunately, I have the aforementioned memory problem and will like forget the dude's name, if not the entire incident, before lunch today.

The album, though, will stay with me. It begins with "Screaming Chrome," a brief interlude that sounds like Abe Vigoda playing a church organ tithing processional, and leads directly into "I Wanna Kill," the poppiest track on the album, and the one I think is the second-best (after the title track). It introduces that characteristic second-hand, fuzz-laden vocals that will accompany you throughout the rest of the album. The song's chorus, "I-I wanna kill tonight, I wanna kill toni-ight" is the most uplifting promise of homicide since Warren Zevon's "Dance or I'll kill ya!" epithet at his famous concert back forever ago. (RIP, by the way, Warren.)

Next up is "Soft Skull," a Casbahian funk, followed by "Here Comes the Sky," where the band slows things down considerably, with the feedback overlaying a great girl-group doo-wop ballad, and "Refuse Angels," a quick, muddled, and ultimately unremarkable track buried in the middle of the disc.

Things take a dramatic turn, however, with "Flash of Light," a track totally different, one that somehow makes me think of grungy zydeco and Tom Waits, though neither are probably influences. Still, this is a song I'd love to cover, slowing it down, muddying it up, fucking with the vocals. If plagiarism is a form of flattery, I'd flatter the shit out of this song. The last 1:15 of it I might not, though, as it is reminiscent of end-of-show live guitar tomfoolery, when the lead just leaves his guitar laying face down, buzzing and tweaking till the tech comes out to shut it off.

Next up is "Sleeping with the Lord," another slow one, with lazy vocals that are difficult to hear. So much so, it reminds me of other recent releases by bands such as Vivian Girls and Wavves, where the fuzz is such a pre-planned part of the act that it makes me wonder what it would all sound like without the distortion. This is not a good thought. However, unlike most of the tracks of both those bands' recent efforts, there is a lot of "there" there on this one - Welchez & Rowell are good hook-masters and would sound fine (I think) without the distortion, but just seem to dig the gazery of it all. That's cool. I can dig it, too.

Which brings us to the high point of the record ... the title track. "Summer of Hate" deserves the honor, for sure. This is the most patient, best structured song on the album, with driving drums that manage not to get in the way or steal the forefront, simple repititive guitar, and nicely laid down vocal tracks. This song has Echo and the Bunnymen all over it (maybe even some Beta Band, too), which makes sense given the band's name, even if they swear it wasn't the namesake.

The album is finished off by the longest song of the record, Young Drugs, which clocks in at 7 minutes and 12 seconds. As the time would seem to suggest, the track is indulgent, but in a good way. Crocodiles really get into their jam, slowing things down and exploring the lyrics and structure of the song and ending it in a way that has you listening and waiting for the next one, which doesn't come. There is LOTS of JAMC influence in this one (influence, not photocopying - you hear me Colly?), and it is lovely. And then it is done.

So, how do I score this? Unless an aggregation of multiple reviews or anchored in some other clearly stipulated logic, I find the numerical method a bit ridiculous. I mean, what is the rubric? And my default scoring mechanism (i.e., A,B,C,D,F) would just be contrived. Hoping to avoid Colly-esque allegations of photocopying myself, I don't just want to "borrow" the Sound Opinions "Buy It/Burn It/Trash It" ranking system, though I like it. So ... I'll tweak it. Which is flattery, right? Anyway, from here on out, I'll rank my albums as one of the following four catagories:

- Get your ass to the fucking record store immediately and buy this shit before the Smithsonian requisitions all copies as cultural artifacts of awesomeness.
- Buy it new next time you hit up the record store.
- Buy it used next time you see it in the salvage bin.
- Steal it. From the internet, from your friends, from the big box retailers, whatever. Just don't pay for it.
- Forget it. Erase that sonic shit from your mind.
- Fuck you for making this, band to be named later.

You probably get the rank-ordering of quality in this method, right? Good.

Given all that, I gotta say the Crocodiles debut LP is a "Buy it new" album. I dig it, I think it is among the catchiest and most dynamic of the buzz-receiving lo-fi releases thus far in the 2009 cohort, and it comes from a good label doing interesting things (Fat Possum). Will it make my next Quarterly Music Report, come late June? Who knows? But I'll tell you this, I don't have any plans on trading it in any time soon.

What I DO have plans for, though, is catching Crocodiles live this summer. And fortunately, they'll be in Clevo at least twice, including an upcoming show with Holy Fuck at the Grog Shop on May 28th. This show ... I cannot wait. See you there! In the meantime, have your appetite whetted with the video below, borrowed from a youtubed performance last month.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some new CB features

I've been thinking about this little blog of mine lately, wondering what to do with it. It has gotten away from the original direction, which was a boring list of what I'd been up to, day after day, as I discovered the city I'd recently moved to. I'm glad it has gotten away from that, but now I'm searching for a central point, a pat response to the second-most frequently asked question I get about this blog, which is "So why do you do it?" (The first most often asked question concerns the ridiculous name of this here blog and how drunk/lame/stupid I am for choosing it.)

I do know I really dig Cleveland, and I like using my blog to draw attention to the great things I see around town. And it provides me an outlet to chronicle the sublime ridiculousness of my life when necessary. And it offers me a semi-formal forum to do some culture writing. But I like structure in my life, and since I don't have a Cleveland Bachelor boss, I guess I'm going to have to create it myself.

For now, I have four ideas of how to make this thing more real.

1) Return to my "What to do next week" posts, which note all the cool shit, in my opinion, that is going down in the coming week. I plan to post one of these every Sunday.

2) A new Album of the week post. This likely won't be a feature concerning albums coming out that particular week, but rather reasonably recent releases that I've come to dig or that have gotten the typical fawning internet-hipster praise that I don't quite get. I'll plan on posting these every Wednesday, possibly beginning today. I'll be in DC next week, so this might not happen consistently at first, but it'll eventually get that way.

3) A NEO Proper Noun of the Week post. What, you ask? Well, I love doing casual, idiosyncratic interviews with folks, and there are TONS of interesting people around town that deserve more attention than they receive. Of the many things I dig about Cleveland, one thing I detest is the groupthink that characterizes the cultural media establishment here. Certain individuals and places are deemed to be great in advance, often long before they ever open their doors, while many more folks toil in obscurity. Part of this is because we don't have much media competition in this town, part of it is because the few ground-level culture elites we have our territorial homers, part of it is because some are more concerned with being liked and getting a free drink than being smart, part of it is because of the obnoxiously stupid east-west divide that lifetime residents fall into, and part of it is because the few establishment culture writers we have are (a) terrible at their jobs, (b) lazy, (c) underfunded, or (d) all of the above. I'd like to do my small part to help change some of that ethic. I also prefer to conduct my conversations in person, over a beer or cup of coffee, and want to get a handful saved in reserve before I start posting them, so this might not happen right away, but keep your eyes peeled for an eventual each-Thursday offering.

4) Some more active involvement in the community, perhaps through event sponsorships. I have a couple ideas I'm kicking around to start things off this month and next, but like the other stuff, this is all in progress. One thing I'd like to do is organize some day-trips to cool places, like the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh or zip-lining in Columbus or alco-pop tastings at art galleries (seriously).

Feel free to weigh in on any of the above, or suggest something entirely different. There are lots of things being done in other cities that are cool, too, so if you know of something from somewhere else and think a Cleveland version would be useful, I'm always down for a little copy-cat action. Post a comment or send me a note.

Take it easy,


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arts Collinwood this weekend

If you are among the unfortunate few still yet to darken the Arts Collinwood doorway, this weekend is your best opportunity yet. Currently, the gallery is hosting an design competition exhibition, with some really impressive design work on di (as would be expected).

Better yet, there are a couple cool events scheduled for the gallery this weekend that'll further sweeten the pot. On Friday night, there is free beer courtesty of moi night. Come on in, check out the work, and enjoy a courtesy can of cheap brew (assuming you are 21+, of course), and afterwards stroll next door to the newly opened Waterloo Cafe where you can get a much nicer beer for not much more.

Saturday is the Arts Collinwood birthday party, where there will be live music, food, and again the opportunity to grab great drinks next door. Also, if you are a cookie lover, try the Waterloo cookie. I PROMISE you it is delicious.

Both nights the events are going down from 6-9, though there are plenty of other places on the street that'll be open later.