Being one of the Internet's biggest breakout acts is both a blessing and a curse.
Following aggressive attention showered on their 2005 self-titled debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could have stuck with the same winsome formula that helped sell more than 200,000 copies worldwide or veer in a different direction with their second release, Some Loud Thunder. To the dismay of some fans, CYHSY chose the latter, but it shows the band's clever staying power.
The album, produced by indie champion Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips; Mercury Rev), is both serious and whimsical. Gone is the accessible peppiness of the debut replaced by a dark and brooding yet slightly more sophisticated collection. CYHSY hold tightly to their DIY roots and continue to experiment while gathering new momentum. Some Loud Thunder only adds to the band's mystique as singer and songwriter Alec Ounsworth continues his drive to be this generation's David Byrne, with his whiny and weird yet accessible vocals and art house lyrics. The set begins with a slightly annoying fuzzy title track but picks up steam with the unrequitedly loving "Emily Jean Stock," the undulating "Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?" and the optimistically raucous "Satan Said Dance."
Where the debut came driving out of the gate, Some Loud Thunder shudders at times, but overall has the impact of an imminent storm. True music snobs may initially snub the album, but don't judge "Some Loud Thunder" on the first - or even second - listen; this is an album that gets better over time.
Hailing from northern Michigan, Mason Proper creates straight up experimental indie pop. This group of quirky hipsters has, if nothing else, a great time making guitar- and keyboard-driven angular pop, which sounds a lot more Lower East Side or Montreal than the Upper Peninsula. They've been making a name for themselves throughout the Midwest (and have played some shows in New York, where they found their label Dovecote Records) and contacted me a few months back through MySpace. I caught their show in Chicago at Double Door some time before the holidays and was definitely impressed. Lead singer Jonathan Visgr, who offstage was mellow, friendly and engaging, exploded during the live performance. Like a hipster Dieter, he bounced, writhed and caused a serious ruckus. But it all fits with the band's wild sound. They self-produced the original version of its debut, There Is a Moth in Your Chest, but worked with John O'Mahoney (Matt Pond, Emily Haines, Metric) to create a cleaner, more cohesive set for its Dovecote release on March 13. When I first checked them out on MySpace, one song, "My My (Bad Fruit)," one of the of the heavier tracks on the album, had a much more experimental noise pop aspect (think Montreal's Les Georges Leningrad or AIDS Wolf). While it's still heavy, it's cleaned up and tighter with more melody. Now it is reminiscent of early Jane's Addiction in terms of its screechy edginess while leaning toward a harder indie essence. This is contrasted by the theatrical "Chemical Dress Eliza," with its punchy lyrics and Cure-like bravado or the "Rock Lobster" like guitar riff of Mr. Charm (which also sounds, funnily enough, like the guitars in the earliest version of the MTV theme song -- think back to the astronaut landing and planting the flag in the moon on MTV commercials in the early '80s).
A friend recently turned me on to Finnish design house Tonfisk and it's gorgeously simple Warm tea set. Constructed of clean, white porcelain, the tea set is then accented by laminated, bent wood that not only insulates the tea, but acts as a buffer so you don't burn your hands. This novel design is topped off with a cork stopper so no tea will leak out of either the pot or your mug. The product has been so well-received, it was recently named by Wallpaper* as a design icon of the last decade.
Further perusing of the company's site, I discovered a number of other great finds, including the Shake salt and pepper shakers, the Kinos clean and simple sushi set and the Oma lemon squeezer, that allows you to juice a half lemon (or orange) into this handy little basin and then pour it out through a small hold in the side.
Tonfisk products can be find around the world in many retail outlets, including the MoMA Design Store and MOSS in New York, Scandinavian Details in San Francisco and Willow in Chicago.
Chicago-based furniture designer Michael Heltzer premiered his Titanium line, which includes this great lounge chair for the summer (or year-round if you live five hours south -- by plane -- from Chicago). The chair looks like any other well-designed chaise, but this has a roll-away towel attached to the backside to retract or roll down onto the chair. I like this because it solves the problem of having your towel constantly falling down whenever you move to grab your water bottle, reapply your suntan lotion or get up to jump into the pool when you get too hot. This clever design always keeps your towel (made from eucalyptus-based, earth-friendly cotton) in place and moves it out of the way whenever you don't need it, which is never as long as you're on the lounge. The towel is removable for easy cleaning or replacing and the overall design is clean, sleek and sexy -- perfect for lounging by the pool. The titanium chairs come with blue silicone-filled gel cushions that either be made more cush or firm, depending on how lax you want to be.
Heltzer pieces are only sold through interior designers and architects, but you can find out how to get them here.
While researching for an interview today, I came across yet another fantastic band from Norway. The Lionheart Brothers, whose album Dizzy Kiss, just came out in their home country on Monday, produce music that combines all things good about the scene over there: introspective, experimental psychedelia a la 120 Days; spaced-out surf rock of Low Frequency in Stereo; the progressive indie dance aspect of Annie; the witty lyrics of Sondre Lerche. Their music creates an atmosphere of happy '70s love anthems with a modern bent. These guys will be at SXSW and you can bet I'll be at their show to see how this swirly, looping catchy pop translates live.
Check out their music -- especially "50 Souls and a Discobowl" -- on MySpace.
While the official lineup is yet to be revealed, the LA Times just announced that Rage Against the Machine, which played the first Coachella in 1999, will reunite for the 3-day extravaganza April 27-29. Rage is said to be joined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork (!), Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Interpol, Willie Nelosn, the Roots, Crowded House, the Decembrists, Sonic Youth, Air, DJ Tiesto and more.
Fanning the rumormill flames that the Police will reunite at Coachella was the announcement a couple of days ago of pre-sale tickets with the password "Roxanne." Those tickets, which are currently selling for $199 (after these sell out, tickets will likely go for $250).
UPDATE: I got the official lineup this morning (been crazy with other stuff all day). While the "big 3" are confirmed headliners, it's likely the Police are not playing Coachella. However, there's still a lot of talk they're playing Bonnaroo in the middle of a 60-date tour. In any case, here's the current Coachella lineup:
Tiesto, The Arcade Fire, Interpol, Manu Chao, Willie Nelson, Air, Happy Mondays, Decemberists, Faithless, Gotan Project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Paul Van Dyk, Arctic Monkeys (more after jump...)
Music producer Nigel Godrich has gone a step further in bringing amazing musical moments to fans. By launching From the Basement, an online/digital-only program featuring the best of the best, Godrich will give fans access to intimate performances. Each show is shot in London in hi-def at the BBC's Maida Vale studios (home of John Peel's The Peel Sessions) without a host or studio audience. It's all about the musicians and their music.
The first episode features Thom Yorke solo on a piano introducing a number of songs from Radiohead's forthcoming album, a set from the White Stripes and an off-the-cuff session between Four Tet's Kieran Hebden and legendary jazz drummer Steve Reid, who has played with everyone from Miles Davis, James Brown and Sun Ra. Episode two features Beck and Jamie Lidell. While future shows have yet to be announced, you can register to stay on top of the news. Godrich told Pitchfork in a recent interview:
"We've got a lot of people that I'd like to see on the show [that] we're talking to. [But] I don't want to mention their names. Obviously, I'm really interested to capture some really iconic, bigger names-- really the whole point is to get people who are having their moment, to try and get a definitive record of what they're doing."
"And also, I've got a lot of friends in smaller bands," continued Godrich, "and there's an element of trying to promote stuff that we think is good."
A few years ago, my friends lived on Bank Street between 4th and Waverly in Greenwich Village. I loved visiting because they had a great apartment in a perfect location and I had my own room and bathroom, which is generally unheard of when staying with friends in Manhattan. Upon my first visit to this spot back in late 2002, my friends took me to a quaint little place, Ye Waverly Inn, one-half block up on the corner of Bank and Waverly. This spot, which we called Ye Olde Waverly Inn (the addition of the "Olde" just seemed appropriate), was rustic, charming, genuine and hearkened back to the Village's more Colonial era (ok, maybe more Civil War, but it definitely has a historic feeling). The building itself is a brownstone from 1844 and the restaurant/inn dates back to the 1920s.
About 1.5 years ago, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter bought the property with some others and it has caused quite a stir among the glitterati of New York. The space has unofficially been open for a couple of months, but to get in you either have to know the chef's cell phone or get through to Sir Carter at his office - not necessarily an easy task unless you're well connected. A fair number of locals have cozied up to the staff and therefore get in as well. Last week, while in New York, I had to kill time between an appointment and meeting friends for dinner in Chelsea at Trestle (which was amazing, btw) and started wandering downtown. As I walked down 7th Ave and turned on to Greenwich, I realized where I was and said, "ah, I'll check out the Waverly."
Once again, SuckUK, the London design house, has released an ingenious product: the tubemap wallet. Made of quality-grade black leather, this wallet, which retails for £35 (about $70), holds up to eight credit cards, has a fold-out see-through window for an ID and a cash sleeve. But the brilliant piece of the puzzle is the further folding out of the wallet reveals a full-color map of the London Tube (the wallet is also available for the New York City subway system). For anyone living in London or New York, this wallet allows you to carry one less item during your constant travels underground. Just don't loan your map to any suspicious-looking characters -- or you might end up losing more than your sense of direction.
Yesterday morning, I ran into director/screenwriter/consciousness-raiser Morgan Spurlock at the Tea Lounge, a chill coffeehouse in south Park Slope, Brooklyn, on my way to check out an Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum (more on that later). I didn't recognize him at first as he's currently sporting his "winter look," a big, scraggly beard. The surprisingly tall "Super Size Me" star was waiting on a couple of lattes (he goes full strength; his wife, a vegan chef, enjoys decaf) and told me that his reality series, "30 Days," just got renewed for a third season (he got the call just before New Year's Eve). While he didn't go into detail about the topics this season will cover, he was really excited that the show got the green light. As anything Spurlock does, "30 Days" gets people to take risks and think about topics that might otherwise make them uncomfortable. He encourages people to step outside their comfort zone and experience life in someone's else shoes. I think it's great that we have creative thinkers like Spurlock (and Michael Moore for that matter) who force people to really look at bigger issues and understand what ills might affects us everyday without even realizing it.