Philly’s Constant Hitmaker

Kurt Vile: Philly's Constant Hitmaker

Kurt Vile, perhaps best known as guitarist and co-songwriter behind the hazy, psychedelic roots rock of Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs, just recently signed to Matador Records and is set to release his next album, Childish Prodigy, this fall. Past works have been mostly characterized by psych-pop filtered through hushed bedroom-folk atmospherics, but the man isn’t afraid to occasionally flex his ability to write stone cold anthems. “Freeway”, album opener for his noteworthy debut Constant Hitmaker, soars like the best songs from The War on Drugs. Atop a tin-can beat and Casio hand claps, Vile’s simple guitar riffs and catchy melodies push to infectious heights as his wilting cadence carries this Bob Dylan/Tom Petty-recalling travel-jam. The sounds of a lo-fi wanderer in bloom, his next effort is definitely something to keep an eye out for.

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Download: Kurt Vile – Freeway
Buy: You can pick up Constant Hitmaker over at Woodsist (LP) or Amazon (mp3).

Crank the Treble: Clues

Clues - Clues

Today, more from the pages of Treble. Here’s my review for the debut from Clues, the latest project of Montreal indie rock heavyweight Alden Penner (ex-Unicorns). Originally published here (where it also includes, as do all Treble reviews, a short list of similar albums).

For many, the self-titled debut from Montreal’s Clues is expressly nestled in the shadow of rabidly cult-followed Canadian band The Unicorns, so let’s not beat around the bush. The excellent Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is one of the most oddly satisfying weirdo-pop gems of this decade. As the defining statement of The Unicorns’ short run, it nearly single-handedly drove interest in Nick Thorburn (aka Nick Diamonds) and Jamie Thompson’s (aka J’amie Tambourine) post-Unicorns band Islands to a fever pitch and has no doubt helped to ensure their continued success. However, the other Unicorn, Alden Penner (aka Alden Ginger), has been relatively quiet these past few years… especially for those outside of Canada’s borders. That is, until now.

Those familiar with Penner won’t have to scrutinize this record all that closely to pick out connections to his past work. His instantly recognizable voice rings out on album opener “Haarp,” alternating between explosive shouts and fragile whispers before giving way to his signature riff-packed, melancholic guitar work. But, this isn’t a hollow rehash or cheap Unicorns imitation. While the music here may be, to some degree, in the same vein, the more obvious connective threads are merely glowing accents in a larger patchwork of sounds. Gone are the chintzy keyboards, silly call-and-response, and absurd, over-the-top antics. Yet, for what Clues may sacrifice in pure charm, they make up for with greater patience and maturity. Now teamed with co-songwriter Brendan Reed (formerly of Les Angles Morts and Arcade Fire), Penner’s compositions seem tempered to fit a more grandiose musical vision that does well to set itself apart from even the sizeable weight of either’s former bands.

Still, fans can rest assured that he hasn’t grown up too much. With its playful falsetto, moments of flamboyant theatrics, and all the talk of dragon’s mouths and thrones, elements of childlike fantasy appear throughout Clues as Penner grapples with themes of regret and identity, specifically, his identity as an artist. On “Lets Get Strong,” which appears to respond to both Islands’ “Bucky Little Wing” (supposedly about Alden’s departure) and The Unicorns’ “Let’s Get Known,” he falters at the prospect of indie-fame and alternatively opts for a focus on artistic integrity: “So instead, let’s get strong / I don’t want tourists flocking to my heart / and nesting with all my things / I’ve got wings, but they aren’t meant for viewing.”

With an album like this, Clues might have to settle for both. The more I listen to their eponymous debut, the more I’m convinced by their sound and Penner’s growth as a songwriter. When bands break up, the members of those bands often make a concerted effort to distance their new projects from their old, which can sometimes lead to music that’s centered on being “different” rather than good. Here you won’t find that feeling of distance being forced between this collection of songs and any albums that may have preceded it. There are no obvious compromises or overcompensations. Instead, it all feels very singular and organic…a difficult feat indeed. And while this may not be an instant classic, Clues remains a promising foundation to build upon.

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Download: Clues – Remember Severed Head

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Download: Clues – Perfect Fit
Buy: Order Clues from the Constellation Records webstore on CD or 180-gram vinyl.
Watch: Also, check out the video for “Haarp”, shot on Super 8 by Montreal experimental filmmaker Karl Lemieux.

The Griz!

Grizzly Bear

As we officially enter the final stretch in our wait for Grizzly Bear‘s breathtaking third full-length, Veckatimest, the band has hit us with a few excellent tidbits to help make the next few days go by that much faster. Yesterday, the boys dropped by the studios of WYNC Radio to give an interview interspersed with performances of some stripped-down, acoustic versions of songs from the upcoming record. I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of Grizzly Bear’s live sessions — they’re always remarkably tight, textured, and penetrating — and this most recent foray is surely one of their finest sets. You can stream the whole session (“All We Ask”, “Two Weeks”, “Dory”, “While You Wait for the Others”, “Too Little Too Late (JoJo cover)”, “Foreground”) over at NPR.

And now the first video from Veckatimest has arrived. The fantastic lead single “Two Weeks” was the subject for prolific music video director (and member of The Directors Bureau) Patrick Daughters and not unlike Grizzly Bear’s video for “The Knife” (directed by Encyclopedia Pictura), Daughters’ take on “Two Weeks” is pretty effective at fostering some discomfort for the viewer… at least this viewer. Watch the band get their explosive ventriloquist dummy/zombie choir boy on down below.

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Download: Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
Buy: Pre-order Veckatimest from Insound on CD or vinyl and get an awesome free poster (while supplies last). You can stream the whole record at Grizzly Bear’s myspace and don’t forget about their tour (which starts in two days). Check out the dates here.

A>D>D: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Los Angeles’ trashy lords of lo-fi, were the most recent guests on Pitchfork.tv‘s newest show A>D>D, or Analog>Digital>Digital. If you haven’t seen it yet, the P4k.tv crew records short sets in unassuming locations with a Tascam four-track recorder and a VHS camera, mixes and edits the footage and audio digitally, and then presents the performances online. Featured bands have so far included Fucked Up, Vivian Girls, Ponytail, Crystal Stilts, and more.

Ariel Pink and band came through to play some of their newest songs, the surprisingly catchy metal-tinged psych-rock of “Flashback”, the melancholic lite-FM of “Can’t Hear My Eyes”, and the Nirvana/Bad Religion-circa-1981 power chord work of “22 Eyes” — all of which were highlights of their live show when I saw them open for Animal Collective back in February, even if their set didn’t quite gel with the transcendent beauty of A.C.’s. Here, Ariel flips it on Pitchfork in Dadaesque fashion, taping the tapers with a VHS camera of his own as he rocks that excellent headset mic.

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Download: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Can’t Hear My Eyes
Buy: Limited to 500 copies, this 7-inch may be hard to find. Available at these retailers or maybe on their current tour.

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Download: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Flashback
Buy: Available on the tour-only disc Cooler Cat. Go check ’em out, pick it up.
Watch: Peep “Can’t Hear My Eyes” from Pitchfork’s A>D>D series down below and watch the whole set over here.

Tiny Mix Tapes Vol. 1: Darfur

Tiny Mix Tapes Vol. 1: Darfur

One of my favorite online zines, Tiny Mix Tapes, put out their first benefit compilation last month. Titled simply Tiny Mix Tapes Vol. 1: Darfur, this comp collects exclusive tracks from a number of stellar indie artists and Tiny Mix Tapes favorites like Dan Deacon, Frog Eyes, Xiu Xiu, Mount Eerie, Jim O’Rourke, and others. Even better, 100% of the proceeds go the International Rescue Committee, an “independent, impartial, and secular aid organization” that provides aid to Sudanese refugees across the region.

Of all these choice cuts, I’m probably most excited about the new song from Oaktown’s WHY? (who just happen to be responsible for my second favorite album of last year). Hailing from experimental and weirdo-rap collective Anticon, Yoni Wolf and crew continue their foray into sweetly strange indie pop with “Eskimo Snow (Sock Hop Version)”. Not sure what makes this version especially suited for a 50’s dance party, but it’s certainly got me jonesin’ for a new WHY? record.

The compilation is great, but the cause is greater — pick up a copy.

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Download: WHY? – Eskimo Snow (Sock Hop Version)
Buy: You can order Tiny Mix Tapes Vol. 1: Darfur directly from Tiny Mix Tapes on CD or vinyl.

Animal Collective: Live on Letterman

Animal Collective performed on The Late Show with David Letterman last night. Perhaps not as great as their amazing Conan appearance due to the less-than-successful background dancers and a slightly uneven mix, but still excellent nonetheless. And props to Avey for sportin’ that “SPRING BREAK” sweatshirt. (Footage via AtEase)

In other live Animal Collective news, NPR will be streaming AC’s upcoming show in Washington, D.C. on May 11th as an All Songs Considered webcast (10:00 p.m. ET). So, keep peeled eyes glued.

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Download: Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes
Buy: You can order a physical or digital copy of the essential Merriweather Post Pavilion over at Domino Records.

Bitte Bitte Orca

The Dirty Byrne

Today marks the inception of a new, regular feature at Chickens Don’t Clap! — artwork from the Portland-based (and San Diego expat) Ilan Schraer. Ilan is a good friend and also a talented one, as you can see from his pencil + Photoshop piece “The Dirty Byrne” posted above. As the gaze of this Byrne/Longstreth hybrid bores into you, it’s worth noting that Ilan is available for designing artwork for your band’s album, t-shirt, or concert poster. He’s already got a number of sweet designs under his belt. Check out some of his other works over at his blog, A Sketch a Day… and look for more of his art here in future posts.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that 2009 is shaping up to be a big year for Dirty Projectors. Comin’ straight outta Bed-Stuy, this experimental rock outfit helmed by Dave Longstreth released one of the most acclaimed records back in 2007 — Rise Above, a reconstruction of Black Flag’s Damaged completely from memory. After people caught wind of “Knotty Pine”, their incredible collaboration with David Byrne on the Dark Was the Night compilation, and the premiere of their new material at SXSW… interests were piqued, to say the least. Then we found out that Dirty Projectors would be collaborating with Björk in a live performance of a suite composed by Dave Longstreth for five voices (Dave Longstreth, Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, Haley Dekle of the Projectors + Björk) to benefit the AIDS non-profit Housing Works. In a venue that only seats 300. And if that wasn’t enough, now another David Byrne collab has found its way onto the web. Phew.

Plucked from the Dark Was the Night sessions, “Ambulance Man” stands apart from the upbeat, fragmented pop of “Knotty Pine”, instead adopting a mournful sway as Longstreth and Byrne trade verses punctuated by a few of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian’s haunting, wordless vocal stabs. I’m just going to quietly hope this results in some larger collaboration. Y’know, like an album (please). I mean, it made sense even before I heard how awesome their songs could be. Fingers crossed.

But, let’s not allow any of these peripheral projects, as impressive as they may be, overshadow the fact that Dirty Projectors are poised to release one of the most anticipated records of 2009. I’m not going to beat around the bush, Bitte Orca is hands down one of the most incredible albums I’ve heard this year. Not unlike Animal Collective‘s paradigm-altering Merriweather Post Pavilion, Dirty Projectors have somehow struck a brilliant balance between their more experimental tendencies and a new found grasp on graceful beauty and accessibility. Longstreth’s penchant for deconstruction is still very much apparent, as elements of Led Zeppelin, Prince, Nico, Mariah Carey, and Talking Heads surface as jumping off points for a number of the songs. Yet, these assumed foundations are often reimagined in such strikingly original and absorbing contexts that one might be too enamored to even notice them on the first couple listens. The guitar work is intricate and infectious, taking a decidedly central role along with the vocal work of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. Not only are their backups crucial to the compositions on Bitte Orca, but they also take over some of the lead vocal duties. Hell, they’re also the only members of the band featured on the cover of the album. And this time around Coffman and Deradoorian’s harmonies aren’t just good… they’re earth-shattering. At certain moments, it’s almost hard to believe the sounds being made are coming out of human beings (see “Useful Chamber”).

One of those female-fronted songs happens to be the recently released lead single from Bitte Orca, the impeccable and kind of wonderfully bizarre “Stillness is the Move” (which includes an “acapella remix”, a remix from Lucky Dragons, and a couple minimal b-sides). Listen to Coffman convincingly channel her inner R&B diva on a track that demands to be listened to about ten times in a row.

Check out the album art and tracklist for Bitte Orca after the jump.

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Download: Dirty Projectors – Stillness Is the Move
Buy: Pick up the “Stillness Is the Move” single from Domino Records as mp3 or vinyl. You can also pre-order Bitte Orca from Domino as CD, cassette (!!!), or LP. Vinyl and cassette orders of the album come with a free mp3 download.

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Download: Dirty Projectors and David Byrne – Ambulance Man (via)

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Fever Sleeves Fever

Fever Sleeves - Soft Pipes, Play On (Artwork by Andy Dixon)

As a band, it’s got to be tough to be left waiting in the wings. San Diego’s Fever Sleeves have established themselves as a live mainstay of the local scene over the past few years, working hard to tighten up and push their sound to new heights of tech-pop excellence… for the most part, without the benefit of recorded music to help shore up a larger fanbase. Devotees may recall that they released their first single, “Futuristic Killings”, on 7-inch vinyl back in August of last year, but this year Fever Sleeves have decisively crossed the threshold with the release of their overdue debut record, Soft Pipes, Play On.

A churning stew of melodic indie rock, post-hardcore grit, and math rock complexities, there’s no question that this album was worth the wait. Riffs have been stockpiled, skills have been honed, and loose ends have been cut in Fever Sleeves’ deft streamlining of their sound. These songs are already very familiar to me in a live context, but here they benefit from a masterful sequencing that reveals them as a strong, well-paced, and cohesive statement that at once recalls and stands in contrast to the Sleeves’ typical overpowering burst of energy. From the onslaught of “Vampyroteuthis” to the catchy, moog-heavy “Futuristic Killings”, to the dense behemoth “Grrraldo”, Fever Sleeves pack Soft Pipes, Play On with a lot of balls and backbone, blending the overtly technical with the sublimely melodic. The relative importance of each instrument is particularly notable on this towering debut, as all three members of Fever Sleeves make impressive contributions to the record. The staggering amount of bold and unique guitar riffs is perhaps the most immediately mind-blowing element, but they revolve around an equally bold and intricate rhythm section, dexterously interwoven into monumental walls of bass and breakneck drums.

While a couple of old favorites crop up (“Cusack”, “Mangirlmonkeyhorse”), Soft Pipes, Play On features mainly the newest songs from the Sleeves. You can download a couple of the best down below. “Vampyroteuthis” is an epic opener, reverbed guitar loops bend and twist into a growing wave of percussion and bass before exploding into a crushing din of fractured, steamrolling rock. And though I’ve already posted it a few times, the excellent lead single “Futuristic Killings” bears at least one more mention. Its infectious guitar riffs and vocal melodies soar over droning moog and galloping drums; this track is all about hooks, and when hooks hit like these… well, the song is simply undeniable.

But, so is the rest of this record. The music released in the first half of 2009 has been exceptionally strong, but Soft Pipes, Play On still stands up near the top of my list so far. A few San Diego acts have been pushed into the national spotlight recently — Wavves, Crocodiles, Rafter, The Muslims/The Soft Pack — and I don’t see why Fever Sleeves shouldn’t receive some wider attention as well.

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Download: Fever Sleeves – Vampyroteuthis

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Download: Fever Sleeves – Futuristic Killings
Buy: You can pick up Soft Pipes, Play On over at CD Baby (as mp3s). They’re currently streaming the whole record on their Myspace page, if you want to hear more.
Watch: Check out the sweet video for “Futuristic Killings” with animation by David McHank and Tony Gidlund of Fever Sleeves.

The Avalanches…

The Avalanches... are clearing samples.

…are clearing samples. Yes, another short, but to the point, second album update via The Avalanches Myspace page — following the previously frenzy-inducing “putting the finishing touches on album 2 !!!!!!!!!” and “putting the finishing finishing touches on album 2”. Their classic debut full-length, Since I Left You, did have some sample issues after its release… here’s hoping things go smoothly this time around.

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Download: The Avalanches – Since I Left You
Buy: You can order Since I Left You from Amazon.

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Download: The Avalanches – Ray of Zdarlight (Wham! vs. Digitalism)