Abe Vigoda: Skeletal Tropics

Abe Vigoda

Over the past year or so, the scene surrounding downtown L.A. artist hub and D.I.Y. venue The Smell has received quite a bit of national attention. Affiliated bands, like HEALTH, The Mae Shi, Mika Miko, and No Age, have seen their names cropping up everywhere from Pitchfork to the pages of the New Yorker. And not without good reason; these punk-influenced experimental rockers run an impressive gamut of forward-thinking noise, from the seriously abrasive to the decidedly pop-leaning.

Smell-dwellers Abe Vigoda probably fit somewhere towards the middle of that spectrum, fusing their disorderly noise-pop with elements of “world music” (a currently unfolding trend I’ve mentioned before). This self-described “tropical punk” band released Skeleton back in July, an album that has garnered some glowing reviews and has persistently resurfaced in my listening rotation. While they definitely fit in with the aesthetic of other Smell bands, they also maintain their own distinctive identity and really do convey a subtle, twisted sense of tropical sounds. At certain moments, effects-laden guitar seem to transform into steel drums, flourishes of percussion project faded holograms of the Caribbean, and chant-like wails that lurk just beneath the wall-of-sound production induce waves of tribalist psychedelia.

Here’s a couple tracks from Skeleton, but it’s really an album that’s better heard in it’s entirety… pick it up so you can get sucked into it’s hypnotic calypso-punk too.

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Download: Abe Vigoda – Dead City / Waste Wilderness

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Download: Abe Vigoda – Animal Ghosts
Buy: Order Skeleton from Post Present Medium (the label founded by No Age’s Dean Spunt).
Watch: Check out Abe Vigoda’s appearance on Pitchfork.tv’s Don’t Look Down series over here.

Facing New York: Get Hot

Facing New York - Get Hot

Recently, I’ve been getting into the latest full-length from Bay Area indie-pop proggers Facing New York. Gradually cut down from a five-piece to just a three-piece, it was a bit unclear where they were headed… but, taking notes from acts as diverse as The Dismemberment Plan, Can, Steely Dan, The Police, and The Neptunes, Get Hot makes for a pretty interesting listen and solidifies constant growth as one of the main themes of FNY’s music. And with a knack for crafting pop-laden rock songs that are full of hooks, epic builds, unique rhythms, memorable melodies, bending guitar leads, and smooth keyboards, they’ve got a lot to pull you in. It may not be consistently successful, but my respect for their dedication to expanding their sound nearly outweighs any complaints I have about the album.

Check out “Cops on Bikes”, where Facing New York juxtaposes bold riffs and sporadic synth with comedic hip-hop-like swagger, and the drum-heavy, D-Plan-influenced pop of “All a’ This”.

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Download: Facing New York – Cops on Bikes

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Download: Facing New York – All a’ This
Buy: Get Hot will be available on iTunes tomorrow (Sept. 23), at the Five One Inc. webstore next month (Oct. 14), or at any one of their upcoming record release shows (check their myspace).

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It’s also never a bad time to mention Wallpaper, the novelty vocoder-electrofunk side project of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Eric Frederic (a.k.a. Ricky Reed). Definitely relevant in this Age of the Autotune, Wallpaper seeks to unite the eras of Zapp & Roger, Bel Biv Devoe, and T-Pain. Songs never exceed the 2:45 mark, the autotune is cranked up to “Johnny Five”, and his ego is a “T Rex”… YES!

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Download: Wallpaper – T Rex
Buy: Pick up the T Rex EP on iTunes.
Watch: You can also see Wallpaper goin’ big on the weekend in the “T Rex” video:

Marnie Stern: Are You Ready to Feel Alive?

Marnie Stern

Math rock… a phrase that has been used to describe a variety of styles, even more bands, and in many instances has become a catch-all for describing rock artists that play with time signatures, syncopate rhythms, employ intricate guitar play, or display excessive amounts of technical prowess. Unsurprisingly, such generalizations have produced detractors; no one likes to hear their music summed up with two-word descriptors, and no one likes a lazy writer (hey, to my credit, I only use the term within the context of other ideas). It’s probably a bit too messy to work as a cohesive genre, though you could argue that a lot of other genre classifications are just as inadequate (you mean you can’t accurately lump dozens of bands together with a couple words!?). Why don’t we all agree, here and now, to avoid that particular nomenclature and rely on adjectives instead? Please, whatever you do, don’t even utter the phrase to Tera Melos and no, the “largely 4/4″ Foals record isn’t really math rock… but maybe along its course of atmospheric indie-pop it gets into mathy territory.

Well, somewhere on this confusing front, mathy avant-shredder Marnie Stern is poised to unleash her second kaleidoscopic assault on the ears of the world. Due out Oct. 7th on Kill Rock Stars, the ambitiously-titled This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (gasp) seems to pick up right where 2007’s In Advance of the Broken Arm left off. Album opener “Prime” begins with off-the-wall spoken word intoned in time with single percussive hits before it crescendos into a flurry of guitars and drums courtesy of Stern and collaborator Zach Hill. However, as the record goes on, it becomes clear that she’s taken the elements that made her debut so strong and reworked them into an even more pop-conscious effort. It’s still technical, it’s still challenging, guitar arpeggios still shine like glorious beacons of holy light, and she still layers her vocal work in syncopated speak-singing, high-pitched wails, and cascading falsettos, but now the melodies are brighter, the tones are warmer, and the sound is fuller.

Hit up her myspace to hear a few tracks from This Is It and I Am It… after you check out “Transformer” down below, one of the many standout tracks from the album, which brilliantly showcases Marnie Stern’s ability to use astonishing technical skill in a way that fully compliments her songwriting and doesn’t alienate the listener. This girl is pure gold.

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Download: Marnie Stern – Transformer
Buy: Pre-order This Is It and I Am Itfrom Kill Rock Stars (CD or LP+Digital). All pre-orders come with a limited edition Bella Foster coloring book.

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Download: Marnie Stern – Put All Your Eggs in One Basket and Then Watch That Basket!!!
Buy: You can also order her superb debut record, In Advance of the Broken Arm, from Kill Rock Stars.

The Ruby Suns: “Palmitos Park” (El Guincho)

The Ruby Suns

The Ruby Suns, part of a seemingly ever growing movement of “world music”-oriented experimental pop artists, just recently revealed their cover of El Guincho‘s infectious “Palmitos Park”. Translated into English and slowed down from the energetic, tribalist party-jam of the original into more of a transcendent, psychedelic dub-hymn, this version recalls last year’s mind-blowing Person Pitch even more strongly than most of El Guincho’s Alegranza (perhaps with one exception). To be honest, I’m surprised at how well this stands on it’s own… their take is tranquil, mesmerizing, and successfully showcases the serious melodic strength of this track in a new light. (via GvB)

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Download: The Ruby Suns – Palmitos Park (El Guincho cover)
Buy: Order the Palmitos Park 7-inch single from Young Turks (due out Sept. 22).
Watch: Be sure you check out the recently debuted video for El Guincho’s original version of “Palmitos Park”, a surreal stop-motion animated celebration of all things danceable, geometric, and tropical, over at Pitchfork.tv.

New Justice: “Planisphère”

Justice, Photo by Eric Ulhir

French electronica duo Justice recently posted “Planisphère”, a 17 minute piece commissioned by Dior Homme for their Spring/Summer 2009 runway show, onto their myspace. Presented in four parts and centered around one basic chord progression, they demonstrate rather deftly how one can make a simple composition interesting just by manipulating effects, syncopating rhythms, and adding layers. It feels urgent and, despite its melodic cohesiveness, is somehow imbued with a sense of constant progression. I’m finding it pretty addicting… I’ve listened to it a number of times in the past couple days. My favorite segment (the utterly epic finale) is available below, but to fully appreciate it you’ll need to hear “Planisphère” in its entirety. Stream it here.

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Download: Justice – Planisphère (Final)
Buy: No word on any official availability, though it would make a nice EP.
Watch: Now seemed like a nice time to revisit the impeccably-shot video for Justice’s “Stress”, which is still as disturbing now as it was when I first saw it. At once an homage to A Clockwork Orange, Man Bites Dog, The Warriors, Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”, and Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy”, as well as a reflection on the violent unrest in France in both 2005 and 2007, it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

New Deerhoof: “Offend Maggie”

Deerhoof

To say I’m excited about the upcoming Deerhoof album would be an understatement. I’ve always liked their work, but after the incredible pop explosion of last year’s Friend Opportunity I’m extremely curious to see where their creative trajectory is propelling them. While typically the bearers of beautiful noise, the title track from Offend Maggie is devoid of cacophony and full of delicate acoustic fingerpicking, flashes of intricate guitar-play, and soaring harmonies. Between this short little ditty and the awesome live version of album opener “The Tears and Music of Love”, it seems safe to say that Deerhoof will be delving deeper into their poppier-halves. I can’t wait.

Deerhoof is also planning to donate a portion of their digital sales for Offend Maggie to an organization designated by their fans. Decide between Why Tuesday?, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), Peace Action West, Z Magazine, or Doctors Without Borders and then vote for your choice. Just one vote per person, submissions will be accepted until October 1st and the selected organization will be announced on the album’s release date (October 7th). Deerhoof: +10 cool points.

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Download: Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
Buy: Offend Maggie is available for pre-order from Kill Rock Stars. The first 500 come with sheet music (handwritten by the band) for the entire album!
Watch: Head over to Pitchfork.tv to check out the aforementioned video for “The Tears and Music of Love” (which has been on repeat for the past few days).

Some Sweet Sweaty Magic

Rafter - Sweaty Magic

Though Rafter‘s most recent full-length, Sex Death Cassette, was an album largely made up of fragile bedroom-pop, some of his works have hinted at a penchant for booty-shaking. Whether the herky-jerky beat and skonking sax of “Zzzpenchant”, the strut-inducing talkbox-pop of Stereogum exclusive “Fruit”, or the equally vocoded compilation track “Long Ago a Rodent as Big as a Bull Lurked in South America”, at times it’s felt like Rafter Roberts was harboring a secret desire to unleash the funk. So, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that his upcoming EP does just that.

Citing the likes of Tom Zé, Prince, Clipse, Zapp & Roger, Mr. Fingers, and D’Angelo as influences, Sweaty Magic isn’t your typical dance record. Keeping in line with previous releases it’s distinctly lo-fi and at times just plain weird, but here Rafter also balances songs that blend dance elements and his more familiar pop tendencies with others that are purposely disposable… think pre-programmed keyboard beats, synthesized orchestra hits, unhealthy amounts of dissonance, and layers of near-throwaway melodies. Just put on “Magic”, a noisy Casio-funk booty-bass jam that seems fit for some kind of trashy Eastern European dance club organized by an NYC diaspora, and the nature of this project will become very apparent. Or if that’s too much for you, use “Juicy” (a more logical extension of his past works) to ease yourself in. This juxtaposition of styles may yield a bit of a disjointed listen, but keep in mind that this EP is compiled of tracks from his collaborative “Art Project-a-Day” challenge (with photographer/fiancé Lizeth Santos), not to mention that as a pacing element it feeds quite nicely into the intentionally-weird qualities of the songcraft.

And speaking of collaboration, Asthmatic Kitty just recently announced an opportunity for any of you who have visual media skills to potentially join forces with Rafter by participating in a music video contest using one of three tracks (“Sweat”, “Juicy”, or “Salt”) from Sweaty Magic. The contest’s judging panel includes Dan Deacon, The Liars, the people behind Yo! Gabba Gabba, Adrian Grenier (!?), and others. Fabulous prizes are at stake. Head over to the press release for the full details.

Sweaty Magic comes out September 9th and is available for pre-order on the Asthmatic Kitty Records website.

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Download: Rafter – Magic

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Download: Rafter – Juicy

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Download: Rafter – Long Ago a Rodent as Big as a Bull Lurked in South America
From The Peppermill’s 52 Weeks project, which is available for free at their website.

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Listening to this EP has reminded me to revisit a surprisingly similar (and unfortunately far-less realized) novelty-dance project from a couple friends of mine, Fever Sleeves lead singer/bassist/sometimes guitarist/moogist Tony Gidlund and Orange Terror Field everyman Jake Gus. They were known simply as Freak Police. As I understood it, Jake laid down some music up in San Francisco and sent it via internets to Tony in San Diego where he laid down the vocals. Semi-active a few years ago, they only had a couple demos… one was based on Katamari Damacy, the other sampled Ted Leo and was centered around the ass in your pants. [Addendum: Apparently Tony was solely responsible for the execution of both of these tracks, but Jake provided a “Day is Done”-sampling beat (!!) that was never completed.]

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Download: Freak Police – Fire Alarm

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Download: Freak Police – Hearts of Ass

Shugo Tokumaru: Exit (U.S. Release)

Shugo Tokumaru, pictured here in his magical music lab.

One of the best artists hailing from Japan these days, intricate experimental pop-folker Shugo Tokumaru, has finally released his latest record in the U.S.  Last year’s Exit, another one of my favorite albums from 2007, is the first of his to see a release in the States and came out yesterday via Almost Gold Recordings.  So, for all of you who haven’t been able to check out this excellent record (or those who’ve downloaded it), lend some support and pick up a copy from your local record store or just order it online.

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Download: Shugo Tokumaru – Parachute
Buy: Order Exit from Amazon or the iTunes Store.

Shugo will also be playing a few shows in the U.S. and Canada. If you’re anywhere near these cities, I’d recommend you make a serious effort to get there… unless you plan on going to Japan, chances are you won’t get many opportunities to see him again.

Sept. 13 — Chicago, IL — Empty Bottle (Wire’s Adventures in Music Festival)*
Sept. 23 — New York, NY — Mercury Lounge (w/ Twi the Humble Feather)**
Oct. 3 — Montréal, QC — O Patro Vys (Pop Montréal Festival, w/ special guests)

*Solo (with Lau Nau, Blues Control, and Flying Lotus)
**Feat. Jon Natchez & Perrin Cloutier of Beirut & Lawson White of So Percussion