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Who is Bradford Cox?

What in the hell am I getting myself into?

It’s what I pondered silently as I walked up 6th Avenue from Union Square on a brisk evening a few weeks ago. I was on my way to Flatiron’s Ace Hotel, where I’d be interviewing one of my favorite musicians, Bradford Cox, as part of a pseudo-press conference to help promote Deerhunter’s incredible fifth LP,Monomania.

For me, few contemporary musicians match Cox, the enigmatic genius behind one of the best bands our time, the ambient punk band Deerhunter and an incredibly diverse solo project, Atlas Sound. I was excited to meet him. I was very familiar with the caricature of Cox; loud, opinionated and prone to outbursts and meltdowns. His interviews are anything but interviews, but instead one-sided rants and takedowns, sometimes directed at the media. I felt privileged to be afforded the opportunity to learn who Bradford Cox really was, but the whole thing seemed a bit strange.

This wasn’t going to be an e-mail exchange, a phoner or even a face-to-face interview, it’d be myself and several other journalists and bloggers surrounding him in a swanky Manhattan hotel, rattling off questions and taking notes. The forum was odd and the subject notoriously intimidating and completely unpredictable.

Needless to say, I had no fucking clue what to expect, but I was excited as hell. I arrived and checked in at the front desk and was asked to wait near the elevator with my fellow reporters. They all seemed to express similar sentiments about our task at hand. We were lead upstairs to a large, nicely-adorned room where Cox was reclined on a therapists’ couch. We positioned ourselves around him.

And he started talking. And he kept talking, for two straight hours, a full hour longer than his agents had scheduled for what ultimately amounted to a captivating, if not somewhat frustrating therapy session. He cracked jokes. I laughed at one, early on, and he told me he wanted me out of the interview. It was hard to tell if he was serious or not. He asked me if I interviewed him once for Pitchfork.tv. I assured him that I hadn’t, and placated him by saying it must have been “some other bearded dude in plaid.” And I was in.

Cox came as advertised. We weren’t afforded the opportunity to ask too many questions. He didn’t talk about Monomania all that much. He preferred to talk about Law and Order SVU’s producer, Speed Weed, Spring Breakers,marriage equality and giant rats in a Queens Payless Shoe Source.

It’s difficult to know what motivates Cox amidst such attention-defecit-laden artistic chicanery, but it’s what I had hoped to get out of the experience. Several other outlets have written about this evening; many of them have focused on the outlandish quotes Cox spewed in the 120+ minutes we spent with him as we awkwardly sipped on Modelo and clutched our iPhones recorders. There were no shortage of those.

Did you know Lagwagon had an album called Double Platinum that Lockett Pundt used to play in his Acura Legend? Did you know that Bradford Cox is a virgin? That he once contemplated starting an ambient hardcore band hailing from Tampa, Florida called Brian Emo? Did you know that his alter-ego Connie Lungpin was created by Ryan Schreiber?

He thinks Gucci Mane is a dick, and actually digs Vampire Weekend.

“I think they’re very honest with themselves,” he said.  ”If you think I’d criticize them for being bourgeois, or that they’d be my enemy for being clean-looking and good-looking and wealthy-looking… well so are the Talking Heads, and they’re one of my favorite bands. I think Vampire Weekend is very honest and probably the closest thing we have to a B-52s, Talking Heads… like that quirky art-pop, college-y and still aesthetically pleasing. They’re part of the winning team.”

His quotes were interesting, and at times hilarious. It was hard to hold back laughter. I was on the edge of my seat, even as I began to tire, along with his band, in the second hour. Cox is an incredible showman, and his two hour rant was one of the better shows I’ve been to this year. At times he tried to appear uninterested in the process, dismissing questions and advising us, repeatedly that he only had a few minutes of talking left, only to follow that sentiment with a thirty-five minute tangent about something as inane as post-Victorian lighting fixtures or an anecdote about a pharmacy employee finding humor in his name, “BJ Cox.” He was loving every minute of it.

I felt somewhat dissatisfied, however. Here he was, as I had seen him many times before; Cox the performer. Who was Cox the person?

His true character seemed to shine through briefly in a few moments of self-contemplation. It first struck me when he asked a girl with a laptop to “fact-check” him on his oversized rat in a Payless anecdote and someone spouted out the Stephen Malkmus quote “fact-checking cuz.”

“That’s weird that Stephen Malkmus could say something like ‘fact checking cuz’ and it’s ingrained in all of us,” Cox responded. He stared at nothing for a good thirty seconds, contemplating the power of the Pavement frontman’s words. He almost seemed jealous. “That’s fucking talent. Good for Stephen Malkmus.”

It was a rare moment of clarity and vulnerability in the interview. For the first time, I saw Cox not as a showman, and not as someone who was “above” all the bullshit he often derides, but rather as someone who is incredibly self-aware and concerned with his place in rock’s history, something he has an incredible respect for.

Monomania is a singular affair, as the title alludes; a more traditional garage-rock record, recorded here in Brooklyn, a conscious choice. Cox made his band “say a silent prayer and kiss the ground at the John Varvatos where CBGB used to be,” when they got to town. He’s ditched the space rock on the record, and told us that  he thinks of his band as “an American traditional rock group,” and he wants to continue a “folk tradition” with all respect to his elders.

It was in moments like these where Cox seemed human; almost down to earth. The tone of his voice seemed to change. It softened a bit. I wondered how many people knew this side of him. He said that the members of his band are his best friends, but his best friends all seemed disinterested in his act, at least that evening, as they slept on a crecent-shaped couch behind him. When they were awake, they seemed to wear expressions that said “ugh, here we go again.”

Perhaps he prefers it this way. At one point, he told us that his favorite song on Monomania is The Missing, the only track on the album penned by Lockett Pundt.

“I usually like Lockett’s songs the best, ‘cause you know, they’re not mine. You know, you get tired of yourself, and your own ideas.”

It seemed like an odd admission in the context of an interview centered on an album called Monomania, which is very much a Bradford Cox record. This was actually a DEERHUNTER interview, but Cox did about 90% of the talking.

If I derived anything from my time with Cox, it’s that his art comes from a very private, emotional place. He did not wish to disclose where that place was.

“There’s a lot of stuff I won’t be talking about in interviews that would be very interesting to all of you. It would explain everything and enlighten you to the entire concept of the record that is actually very structurally strong and would let you know why this is more or less the greatest rock album that your generation will ever have the privilege to review. But I won’t be able to explain that to you.”

He maintains his mystery with a bizarrely impersonal and excessively outlandish extroverted demeanor, but you have to wonder how many people he’s really “let in.” He’s known Lockett Pundt for years, but added that “even Lockett hasn’t met the Cox family.” It’s difficult to imagine him even having a family.

One journalist asked him what the toughest and most emotional question was that he was asked. He wouldn’t even tell us what the question was.

“It’s like asking me to re-live it.”

By several accounts, Cox has had several close relationships with other artists. I’d guess that those select few are the ones who really know who Bradford Cox is. I asked him if he looked to anyone for inspiration on this record, as he had with Broadcast’s late frontwoman Trish Keenan on Parallax. He didn’t wish to delve into it, dismissing the question as fishing for name-dropping.

I left the interview tired and dazed. My peers seemed to feel the same way, as we traded notes on an elevator ride back down to reality together. No one knew what to make of any of it. It’s hard to personify larger-than-life figures, which is precisely what Bradford Cox is. He’s a true artist and a visionary genius, and those are tough to know, though it seemed clear to me that he is hyper-emotional and acutely aware of (and concerned with) his place in rock history. His life, or his public persona, at least, is a significant part of his art. He’s a contradiction; an outspoken savant who we know little about. He’s a punk, an anti-rock star, but with the mystique, aura and imposing figure of a rock god. He’s one of the few remaining rock stars in an era where we seem to know everything about our favorite bands. But I still don’t have a fucking clue who he really is.

Monomania is out now and you can catch Deerhunter at Governor’s Ball on Sunday, June 9.

Originally published May 8, 2013 on My Social List

285 Kent Was Perfect in its Imperfection

Photo and Video by Maks Suski

I was half-drunk, half-hungover and exhausted at 3 a.m. this past Saturday night at 285 Kent. My ears were ringing loudly from the post-industrial drone of Wolf Eyes, who had stepped off the stage an hour prior. On the stage in front of me, stood a visibly agitated Deafheaven, the San Francisco black metal band responsible for my favorite album of 2013. They were the special guest on the second-to-last night ever at 285 Kent, and things weren’t going their way.

“We have a special guest tonight, Deafheaven… and someone stole their tuner. So if anyone has a tuner, bring it up to the front and we’ll hook you up with free drinks and dancing, and stuff… or whatever,” a voice announced over the venue’s PA.

Frontman George Clarke stood behind the stage, chain smoking. Lead guitarist Kerry McCoy bounded about the stage, frustrated, eventually accepting that he’d have to share a tuner with his bassist that evening. They sound checked, and the sound guy couldn’t get signal from their sampler. Then the vocals weren’t registering. Nothing was going right. Most of the sold-out crowd had dispersed, their patience tried. I began to wonder if I should hang around. I’m a trooper, and I really wanted to see Deafheaven again, but it seemed increasingly likely that they wouldn’t be able to play.

Fortunately, after some tinkering, things were good to go, and those who toughed it out were rewarded. McCoy shredded into the familiar opening riff of “Dreamhouse,” the opening track from last year’s masterwork Sunbather, and all was forgotten. The sound was sort of off, but it didn’t matter to the small group of early twenty-somethings who were raging at the lip of the stage. It didn’t matter to me either. Deafheaven put on a spirited performance in spite of considerable logistical roadblocks.

I scanned the near-empty room as the track reached its closing crescendo, and saw a bunch of familiar faces, outside of the small-ish group of kids moshing and grabbing all over Clarke, whose microphone had become a phallic extension of sorts. Todd P. Ric Leichtung. Travis Egedy, aka Pictureplane. Devin Perez and Zachary Cole Smith from DIIV. Maks Suski. Bloggers. Journalists. Regulars. Like me, they had labored through frustrating delays to watch a talented band at their creative peak, ungodly hour be damned. As the track reached its apex, that mysterious, warm and fuzzy feeling ran across my skin. It was a perfect moment. There I was, listening to one of my favorite bands play an impassioned set through a jacked up board in a dingy warehouse to maybe fifty people who were all just as enthusiastic about the music as I was. It was an intimate set that wasn’t supposed to be intimate. It was perfect in its imperfection.

Moments like that are what 285 Kent and DIY are all about. Sure, there are technical problems and the sound might not always be great. The bathrooms are disgusting and the lights never work, so everyone ends up peeing all over the place. But the experiences are unmatched. It wasn’t the first time I experienced a sort of poetic manifestation of emotion that weekend; goodbyes tend to bring on moments of philosophical crystallization, but this particular moment was euphoric.

I experienced it earlier that evening, when I arrived in the middle of Noveller’s beautiful ambient electronic set. Her understated music plays best to a quiet, respectful room who are prepared to meditate on its nuance. Unfortunately, her music seemed lost on the packed crowd who talked loudly throughout the set. I stood alongside the wall with fellow journalist Loren DiBlasi and we both agreed that most of the crowd were there just to say they had gone to one of the last shows at 285 Kent. They weren’t interested in the music, they just wanted the 285 badge of honor – the sort of substance-lacking cool capitol seeking typical of your 2014 Williamsburg resident. Another thing checked off a list, another empty Foursquare check-in. Because those folks have moved in, 285 Kent can no longer exist, and there they were, celebrating its downfall. It was bittersweet.

Some have derided the hyperbolic coverage 285 Kent’s closure has garnered in the media, and while its loss can be perceived as minor in the grand spectrum of music venue closures, especially without the benefit of temporal space, its significance as a symbol for a changing Williamsburg cannot be understated. It’s importance to those who frequented the space cannot be downplayed, though its spirit most certainly will live on. In many ways, the spirit of 285 Kent was an extension of the spirit of past Todd P spaces; most notably Market Hotel. It will live on when that space re-opens and in spaces like Trans Pecos, The Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, Glasslands and Death By Audio, though no space will ever occupy the same post-gentrified Williamsburg waterfront space with a cap to match a mid-level Bowery venue.

The bills were peppered with artists who frequented Todd P spaces throughout the years; Dan Deacon, Laurel Halo, Wolf Eyes, and the last band to play 285 Kent, Fucked Up. The venue’s primary curator, Ad Hoc’s Ric Leichtung teamed up with Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy to book the closing events, and they expertly captured the essence of 285′s curatorial spirit with their bills. DIY venues usually have a “thing.” Shea Stadium books lots of punk and garage. Death By Audio’s a bit more art house and experimental. Glasslands’ booking is varied, though it probably skews a bit more electro and indie-pop these days. 285 Kent’s booking was more eclectic. You never knew what you’d get, and each evening was loosely themed and representative of the wide array of genres you’d hear on its stage. There was an experimental electro night. There was a dance night. There was a noise night. And, true to its DIY roots, 285 Kent closed its doors with a punk and hardcore night.

Socioeconomic ideograms aside, 285 Kent’s spirit mostly manifested in positive ways that weekend. I felt it when Dan Deacon, whose innovative performance experiments work best in DIY spaces, called Todd P out to start his set with a dance-off with anyone of his choosing. Of course, he challenged Deacon himself, so we were all treated to the surreal sight of Todd P and Dan Deacon dancing and wrestling in the middle of a pit of kneeling fans.

The best part of writing about music in Brooklyn is watching bands evolve. DIIV is probably the most recent Brooklyn band to ascend from humble, bedroom-project beginnings to fairly large-scale success. It wasn’t long ago that they spelled their name more conventionally and were playing lofts and basements with friends (who were all on hand that night, of course.)

I felt 285′s spirit again when DIIV, once a Beach Fossils side-project, and now the second-to-last band to ever play 285 Kent, played an impressive new, expansive untitled song. Oshin was a triumph, but it sounds like their new record will blow it out of the water.

285 Kent’s crowds can get pretty wild. The freedom DIY spaces afford people gets them a bit more amped up than they would for a regular show. And some bands just have an energy about them that’s contagious. I felt 285 Kent’s spirit when White Lung powered through the speedy two-minute energy shots they call songs. I felt it when Greg Fox improbably pounded away at his drum kit at warp speed for twenty minutes straight during Guardian Alien’s set. I felt it when I danced along, uninhibited, with my friends to Pictureplane (and to Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, unabashedly, in between sets on the final night.)

I felt it when a shirtless (and slimmed-down) Damian Abraham bull-charged directly into me mid-way through Fucked Up’s closing set. The Toronto hardcore band were the perfect act to conclude the 285 Kent chapter of New York City DIY; intense, raucous and humorous. In between his usual disjointed (and brilliant) stage banter, Abraham reminded us all that his band, like 285 Kent, was proof that “anyone could do this,” the true spirit of “DIY.” Its ethos is the lifeblood of hardcore and the framework upon which Brooklyn’s independent music venues are constructed. Its egalitarianism is the core ideal of punk rock, which popular history tells us began in New York City, with The Ramones. So despite some muted groans, Fucked Up’s encore selection, the last song ever played live at 285 Kent, “Blitzkrieg Bop” was a more than appropriate sing-a-long sendoff.

And just like that, it was over. Everyone shuffled out the door as they stepped off the stage. Regulars hung around late, dancing and setting off firecrackers one last time. As I exited the venue, I glanced to the left at the Domino Sugar factory, surrounded by wooden barricades and scaffolding. Heavily made-up women and suit-and-tie men you’d typically see in the Meatpacking District stood outside arthouse theater-cum-dance club Indiescreen smoking cigarettes, across the street from the pending condo development. The end was all too real.

Originally published on January 21, 2014 on My Social List

My Social List’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

2013 was one of the best years for music in recent memory, but also one of its most quizzical. Stadium-packing acts like Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails and Arcade Fire released some of the best albums of their respective careers. Indie icons like Vampire Weekend and Phoenix cemented their names at the top of the alternative mainstream mountain. Metal, disco and funk each had something of a renaissance with game-changing releases from the likes of Deafheaven, Daft Punk and Blood Orange. Electronic music continued its stranglehold on the college market with quality records from Disclosure and The Field. Hip-hop had a banner year up and down, sparked by a challenge from Kendrick Lamar and strong releases from Chance The Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown and more. Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX proved that pop singers could have indie cred. And hey, My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie dropped new albums!

Things got a bit weird too. If 1991 was the year that punk broke, then 2013 was the year it was re-assembled, but like a car after a ghastly head-on collision… it just wasn’t the same. There were scores of great punk records, but the genre’s philosophical ideals seemed redundant in the egalitarian marketplace of streaming audio and big art shows at The MetHipsters encroached on metalhead territory. The VMAs brought tween culture to Brooklyn and its new queen soared to new heights of popularity by poorly appropriating hip-hop culture. Or not?

In any event, 2013 brought us a ton of great records. Here’s the twenty-five best albums of 2013 (we counted Parquet Courts as a 2012 record, or it’d have charted pretty high) as hand-picked by the expert staff at My Social List:

25) Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

“A star is born,” is the easy narrative to apply to Dev Hynes’ impressive sophomore album as Blood OrangeCupid Deluxe, which was released after lending stock-raising production to indie hits from Solange Knowles and Sky Ferreira. Hynes made the best disco and funk record of the year, an impressive feat when you consider that 2013 also brought us Daft Punk’s insanely hyped Random Access Memories. Like RAM, Cupid Deluxe is the work of an audio auteur. Just as Daft Punk’s production often takes a backseat to collaborators like Pharrell, Nile Rogers and Julian Casablancas, Hynes uses the record as a platform for his collaborators, from his girlfriend Samantha Urbani (of Friends) to Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth and Queens rapper Despot. It’s not fair to call this a producer’s album – Hynes’ voice shines too, soft and soulful – but this album is as much about his incredible musical direction and vision as his own instrumentation and vocalization.
- Peter Rittweger

24) California X – California X

While fellow Western Massers Speedy Ortiz and Potty Mouth occupied the majority of music headlines this year, California X’s sublimely sludgy debut was just as good and, from a 90s revival standpoint, just as important. Whether shredding all over biker bar ragers like “Spider X” or wading through the melancholic Swamp Thing mire of mid-tempo earworms such as “Pond Rotting”, the Don Giovanni-backed J. Mascis Jr.’s crafted one of the most enjoyable—and underrated—albums of the year. And if some of the new material we got a chance to hear at Shea Stadium earlier this month is any indication, you can rest easy knowing that these glorious blankets of fuzz are here to stay.
- Coleman Bentley

23) Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

As I said when nearing the completion of our relatively amicable but occasionally heartbreaking Top 25 selection process, Laura Marling has the talent (and, ok, fine, the looks) to be the biggest star on the planet if she wants to be. Think Adele (ok, fine, with looks) circa 2010. Will she achieve that with shape-shifting, blues-folk double albums that brood just as often as they Bron-Y-Aur Stomp? Absolutely not, but, man, let us thank the powers that be that she’s writing them anyway. In yet another year where light-core dub-step and One Direction topped global music charts, Once I Was An Eagle—a full-blooded blend of Nick Drake intimacy and Neko Case snarl—was a revelation. So Laura, moving forward, do whatever you want. We are all already along for the ride anyway.
- Coleman Bentley

22) The Field – Cupid’s Head

Axel Willner’s hypnotizing record Cupid’s Head is an album of contradiction. Its layered, perpetually looping, pitch-shifted samples make this one of the most danceable records of the year, but its tone lulls the listener into a zone of somber contemplation, embodied visually in its darkly minimal album art. Each track slowly unravels and reveals subtle rewards along the way. Willner understands the power of IDM’s mesmerizing repetition. He draws listeners into his world of sonic dissension and then alters the mood ever so slightly with basic addition or subtraction. It’s a late-night album, which can be enjoyed passively pulsating out of a club’s PA system or in a dimly lit bedroom through a good pair of headphones, absorbing its intense, complex arrangements. Few albums this year possess such striking duality.
- Peter Rittweger

21) Yvette – Process

Even though 2013 brought us the remarkably solid return of Nine Inch Nails, we here at MSL still couldn’t shake the debut salvo from our borough’s very own DIY NIN, Yvette. With taped-down loop pedals and surging percussion crashing up against frontman Noah Kardos-Fein’s composed croon, Process, especially standout tracks like “Pure Pleasure” and “Cuts Me In Half”, took the concept of noise to new places this year, grabbing NYC warehouse-wave by the throat and shaking it limp. If you want an in-depth sample of everything mentioned above and more, make sure to check out our Yvette Artist To Watch, which should leave little question as to how a reclusive Brooklyn duo’s unabashedly impenetrable debut landed on a list like this.
- Coleman Bentley

20) Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

If chillwave began to flatline in 2012, then it was DOA in 2013, replaced instead by a new a generation of synth-centric songwriters—such as Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers—who cut the reverb with some actual melodic structure and chugged a stiff cup of lyrical coffee. Of these artist’s, Devon Walsh—the gloriously piped frontman of Montreal duo Majical Cloudz—is the most immediately interesting and their newest album, Impersonator, due to Walsh’s willingness to tear open his chest with each and every stanza, the most genre’s most creatively substantive export of the year. Impersonator’s earnestness, to say nothing of its sparse arrangements and economic melodies, is its greatest strength, and thus when Walsh howls “If this song is the last thing I do/I’ll feel so good”, we can’t help but second the sentiment.
- Coleman Bentley

19) Inter Arma – Sky Burial

Sometimes it is more difficult to do something everyone is else is doing better than they are doing it than it is to do something altogether different. There is competition, expectation, and precedent and that’s why exactly why you see so many bands suspended upside down from the rafters of a circus tent wearing zebra masks and playing slide guitar with glow-in-the-dark dildos. Thankfully the Richmond metal chameleons weren’t interested in rebranding, rebadging, or shocking anyone into blog debate>merch sales>cult stardom. They were simply focused on writing one of the best American metal records in the recent canon. Throughout the album’s 68 all-obliterating minutes, elements of death (“The Survial Fires), doom (“Destroyer), sludge (“‘sblood”), and, yep, even Pink Floyd (“The Long Road Home”), fight for time/space/intergalactic domination, crafting in, the process, one of the most seamless, engrossing heavy listens of the year.
- Coleman Bentley

18) Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

Few contemporary musicians are capable of creating such gargantuan sounds, and hitting such breathtaking emotional highs, without the benefit of lyrics asFuck Buttons are. Apocalyptic is the first descriptor that comes to mind when I think of the astonishing noise experiments this Bristol duo have constructed over the past five years, but they take a break from the uncompromising dissonance which embodies most of their songs halfway through Slow Focuswith the album’s single “The Red Wing”, a funky, alcohol-slurred dance track which has more of a hip-hop vibe to it than anything they’ve ever done. The diversion, and the wondrous feelings of discovery and awe evoked by “Stalker” make Slow Focus Fuck Buttons’ most diverse and satisfying work to date. Of course, there’s still plenty of “judgement day” vibes to be had here, and just as in any other year Fuck Buttons release a record, they’ve crafted the most impenetrable walls of noise caught on tape.
- Peter Rittweger

17) Danny Brown – Old

Old is the perfect title for Danny Brown’s new, forward-thinking, magnum opus of a record. He’s shed some of the goofy persona which dominated XXX for more serious, contemplative jams which comprised much of his work before that tape’s release. Sure, there’s still plenty of pussy jokes, party anthems and some turnt-up tracks delivered in his high, nitrious-oxide imbibed vocal register, but he’s refined his story-telling abilities, particularly onthe first half of the record, where he confronts his years in dystopian Detroit at great length. Never before has Brown sounded so conflicted by past. Old is his way of dealing with the “old” Danny Brownit’s both his therapy and his artistic triumph, a risk-taking record which explores and unearths his lows and celebrates his considerable highs. It’s an album of multiple personalities and each captivating stage of his life gets its proper voice on the record.
- Peter Rittweger

16) My Bloody Valentine – mbv

My Bloody Valentine did enough to silence naysayers this year simply by releasing a friggin’ album, but they did everyone one better and exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations for the proverbial wolf that is a Lovelessfollow-up. While mbv isn’t quite its equal, it’s pretty goddamn close, and making a record that’s “pretty goddamn close” to as good as their iconic 1991 release would be a career-making record for any band. The formula hasn’t been updated much, despite two decades full of imitators of varying quality, though Kevin Shields had little reason to fuck with perfection. The album is a journey, a textural classic peppered with beautifully shimmering moments throughout, from the wistful opening track “She Found Now” to the speedy closer “Wonder 2.”
- Peter Rittweger

15) Death Grips – Government Plates

I have to admit, I’d had it with Death Grips. With free porn everywhere, penises aren’t scary. Post Guns n’ Roses, no-shows aren’t surprising. Oh, and guess what? The new press release is not releasing one. The DIY rap duos’ once-shocking stunts began to feel contrived and wholly unthreatening (I see scarier shit everyday on the subway), but then came Government Plates and suddenly we had no choice but to shut the fuck up and listen. “You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat” was the most disorienting opening track of the year, setting the stage for one of hip hop’s best beats on “Birds” and even some plain, old-fashioned fun on “Big House”. Ultimately, Government Plates could turn out to be more grating than ingratiating with repeated listens, but for now it is a truly a singular artistic statement that (almost) makes me forget about all the extra-curricular posturing.
- Coleman Bentley

14) Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Reflektor is an impenetrable, bloated, narcissistic mess. The marketing hype-train ran clear off the tracks, leveling a small Midwestern town or two before plunging off the proverbial PR cliff. Even James Murphy’s master screams “Don’t you remember me, guys? I’m James Murphy!” And yet, because there had to be a yet, Reflektor, much like Kanye West’s Yeezus, is purposefully imperfect. It is an album written by a band who has attained perfection and quickly grew bored with it. As listeners, and therefore critics, we can complain—too long, too hyped, too disco—but in reality we don’t need to hear Funeral 2anymore than Arcade Fire needed to make it. Freed by past success, Arcade Fire closed their eyes, pointed to spot on the map, and said “let’s go there.” And Fuck if they didn’t make it, minus a frostbitten toe or two. Is Reflektor—outside of “Porno”, which may well go down as the band’s finest moment—everything everyone wanted? No. But at this point, they don’t owe us anything.
- Coleman Bentley

13) Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

2013 was a big, big year for Western Mass bands, a literate, northeastern enclave of DIY collegians schooled by Stephen Malkmus and Lou Barlow. The best record to come out of the region was Speedy Ortiz’ masterwork, Major Arcana; perhaps my most listened-to album this past year. Sadie Dupuis’ bizarrely poetic lyrics take center stage here. They sound a bit academically laborious on paper, but they sound economical delivered in her gorgeously melodic voice. No surprise; Speedy began as a self-recorded solo bedroom projectDespite fleshing things out with a proper band, Major Arcana (and preceding EP, Sports) retains the same earnest, lo-fi charm, but with the volume cranked all the way up. It doesn’t hurt that guitarist Matt Robidoux is capable of hanging with 90′s indie guitar gods like J. Mascis, of course. It’s the best “authentic indie” album of the year.
- Peter Rittweger

12) Mikal Cronin – MCII

The year was 1972. Though only months removed from the summer of peace and love, optimism felt like a relic of a lost age as a young Bay Area songwriter stepped out from under the wing of his mentor—a music icon in his own right—and set to work on a collection buoyant, AM-radio ready songs that, as disco took over headlines and jukeboxes alike, would come to serve as rock n’ roll’s last stand. Wait, what’s that? You mean MC II came out in 2013? Wow, apologies everyone. I just didn’t think they made stuff like this anymore.
- Coleman Bentley

11) Disclosure – Settle

The most impressive thing about Disclosure’s debut LP Settle is the brotherly duo’s ability to craft a set of songs which expertly sample from the high-water marks of all of the major UK dance movements. While I’d categorize Settle as a garage album, there’s elements of grime, dubstep and deep house spattered about. This isn’t just a crate-diggers classic, there’s high profile collaborations from the likes of Jessie Ware, AlunaGeorge and Jamie Woon which give the record a real “album” feel as opposed to just another great DJ mix. UK garage was always a singles-driven genre, though this might just be the most cohesive record the sub-genre has seen yet. Every track has top-40 single potential, though the clear standouts are “When A Fire Starts To Burn”and “White Noise.” They’re just pure hedonistic fun.
-Peter Rittweger

10) Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

Perhaps the most unexpectedly great album of the year, Weird Sister, the beautiful-but-jagged debut from Cardiff noise-pop outfit Joanna Gruesome—who cheekily adopt the Ramones-patented band surname—was also one of my most-listened-to. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, Weird Sister is an ADHD-addled barrage of hooks, riffs, noise, and jump-the-fuck-around fun that wears it’s imperfections like a Medal of Honor. Sure, the ambition isn’t onRelektor/Yeezus wavelengths—the Gruesomes seem mostly uninterested in the existence of God and/or professing themselves one—but I challenge you to find a better two minutes and forty six seconds of music this year than “Sugarcrush”, the album’s from-concentrate mission statement that, as I wrote in the band’s Artist to Watch back in October, sounds something like the shared orgasm of METZ and Veronica Falls.
- Coleman Bentley

9) Darkside – Psychic

If you name your prog-electro band Darkside, comparisons to Pink Floyd’s art-rock landmark Darkside of the Moon are inevitable. After listening to Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s masterful debut long player, you’d find that your assumptive comparative analysis wouldn’t be too far off base. It’s a huge record, but it avoids the cheesy pitfalls of excess and overt-pretentiousness that would plague Britain’s most famous art-rockers, especially in their later years. It’s a high-concept record, but it’s cold and minimal; purely a modern affair. The opening track, “Golden Arrow”brings “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to mind (which of course, is on Wish You Were Here, but that’s beside the point), and there’s some post-disco guitar grooves interspersed throughout the record which sound like Wall-era Floyd. I’m being a bit reductive here; this record isn’t meant as an homage to Pink Floyd, but few records have created such though-provoking soundscapes since that first ping on the sprawling Meddle highlight “Echoes.”
- Peter Rittweger

8) Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

Indie is back and the Crutchfield twins, in a just world, are destined for Tegan & Sara levels of fame and fortune. If Cerulean Salt, the fragile, affecting, and truly enthralling breakthrough from Katie Crutchfield’s solo project Waxahatcheetaught us anything, it was that. Bulking up her usually waif-thin sonic palette with surging electric guitars (see “Hollow Bedroom” and “Waiting”), Cerulean Salt unfolds like a confessional biopic scripted by a poetry MFA, with Crutchfield’s unminced words gnashing and gnawing throughout, trading the melodramatic tropes of the singer/songwriter genre for something far more lasting: Reality. Admittedly, this one was more refresh than reinvention, but the conviction with which Crutchfield delivers each syllable and every chord, elevates it far beyond that of its genre contemporaries.
- Coleman Bentley

7) Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

The hip-hop bromance that is El-P and Killer Mike’s Run The Jewels is unquestionably the most fun record of the year. 2013 was about pushing the boundaries of hip-hop: there was the punk-fueled aggression of Government Plates, the acid-house of Yeezus, the jazz-rap flow of Acid Rap and the Soundcloud file-digging of Leaf House. El-P and Killer Mike never re-invent the wheel on Run The Jewels, but they didn’t need to. They’re both capable rappers, effortlessly spitting bars at light-speed. The record succeeds on two levels: the emcee’s unmatched chemistry (they’re so well aligned that you can blink and miss Big Boi’s verse on “Banana Clipper”and their ability to write memorable hooks. It’s a non-stop ride, a shotgun blast of high-energy anthems from opener “Run The Jewels” right through “A Christmas Fucking Miracle.”
- Peter Rittweger

6) Deerhunter – Monomania

On Monomania, the self-described “dream punks” Deerhunter shed much of the “dream” part in favor of more straightforward garage rock. The record is Bradford Cox’s surreal attempt at a normal guitar rock album, an outsider’s devious attempt to “fit in,” (or so he wants you to think) while subtly mocking the absurd contradictions of rock and roll. Connie Lungpin is “just a poor boy from a poor family” who sings songs called “Leather Jacket II” after all. Cox’s bizarre, high-concept homage to rock’s conflicting traditions (he told me in an interview that he had his bandmates “kiss the ground” in front of the John Varvatos store in SoHo which occupies the former CBGB space) can be enjoyed on a passive level for its hooks and guitar crunch, but can also be poured over obsessively as a great text from a brilliant artist. Monomania is Johnny Rotten wearing a “fuck Pink Floyd” t-shirt, if you look at it with the right set of eyes. I was a little surprised that we had it ranked so high at first blush, but now I remember why I loved this record so much in the first half of the year: no other album this year managed to be so catchy and accessible while also being so conceptually interesting. Oh, and totally arbitrary award here, but my “favorite four songs in a row” on a record this year is undoubtedly THM/Sleepwalking/Back To The Middle/Monomania. It’s the kind of late-album apex that leaves a lasting impression on you.
- Peter Rittweger

5) Iceage – You’re Nothing

Iceage further refined the cold, unforgiving aesthetic they developed on their ground-breaking debut record, New Brigade on this year’s instant classic of a punk album, You’re Nothing. The songs on their sophomore effort (and big indie debut on Matador) are even more economical and delivered with even more of a punch than we heard on their debut record, which had already solidified the Danish four-piece as the most exciting punk band on the planet. The record somehow manages to sound darker anything they’ve ever done, though it also contains their most powerful and memorable hooks. “Burning Hand,” “Morals” and the shouts on opening track “Ecstacy” are easily the catchiest songs in the Iceage discography,despite pressing the pseudo-fascist goth button harder than ever before. The guitar and bass riffs are loud and heavy, clearly indebted to classic punk and hardcore, but frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is the band’s great equalizer. His stoic, take no bullshit delivery and dead-eyed gaze are what gives Iceage their, well… icy personality. He cloaks the band in a pitch-black haze. There’s nothing cuddly here, just cold and calculated aggression. Possibly the most powerful record of the year.
- Peter Rittweger

4) Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap

In a lot of ways, Chance the Rapper was this year’s Kendrick Lamar: A young,über-talented MC whose breakthrough album sheds light on the troubled neighborhood (in this case Chicago’s south side) from which they escaped. What many of us forget about Acid Rap, however, is that unlike good kid,m.A.A.d cityas well as the multi-million budget LPs it trumped this year—Rick Ross’s Teflon Don, Drake’s Nothing Was The Same, et. al—is that it wasn’t even an official album. Instead Acid Rap dropped on the unsuspecting internet masses this spring as a free mixtape, animating the Windy City’s rampant bloodshed on tracks like “Pusha Man” (“They be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot/Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot”) while also introducing the world to his manic scatting and whip-smart word-play. Unquestionably the year’s best debut, Acid Rap is also, very nearly, its best hip hop album.
- Coleman Bentley

3) Kanye West – Yeezus

Most truly great works are divisive, and Yeezus just might be Kanye West’smost polarizing effort yet. It’s probably his most socially-conscious record. It’s also probably the most sociopathic album ever released. The lines between Kanye West as an artist, brand, performer and real person have never been so blurred. He recently told Rolling Stone that his entire career is a “giant art project” and it’s not difficult to imagine every one of his moves as being meticulously calculated. Could his baffling, surreal relationship with TMZ-wave celebrity Kim Kardashian just be part of his grander artistic vision? It seems absurd, but Kanye West is basically a conceptual human being, so it warrants discussion, at the very least. He’s elevated his visibility by literally bedding down with reality TV plastic, but instead of dropping a pop album to appease the masses, he’s dropped arguably his most experimental, and certainly his most abrasive record to date.

The production is sparse after a brief detour into maximalism on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Yeezus’ turnt-down electro is rooted in darkest recesses of industrial, acid-house and dub. There’s heavy drums and primal screams. Yes, there’s lots of punchline non-sequitur; that’s just Kanye’s flow. And yes, there are plenty of pitched-up and down vocal samples, but never before have they sounded so demonic and distant. Kanye’s not doing anything that hasn’t been done on the hip-hop underground, but he’s doing them better than anyone else. He’s blended sonic trends together into an cohesive product of unmatched quality. He’s bringing fresh sounds to the stale pop landscape, while criticizing the same landscape he’s become so firmly and willingly entrenched in. It’s an anti-consumerist record by and for the consumer class. One of the prevailing themes is racial inversion – see the confederate flag merch and the ”Bound 2″ video for visual representations of the concept – but he’s also celebrating his race’s triumph, with himself at the helm, over the music industry. Not that those triumphs aren’t without its pitfalls. It’s both self-depreciating and celebratory. Kanye West always has something to say about where he stands and where he’s been, and he had the entire world’s attention in 2013. He seized that opportunity and released arguably his most provocative album yet.
- Peter Rittweger

2) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Maybe you aren’t into the Lacoste and Sperry kitsch. Maybe you find the higher-ed grammar grabs a little to glib. One thing you can’t argue with, the one thing that Modern Vampires of the City’smelodic genius and Russian nesting doll arrangements champion above all else, however, is that beneath all the bourgeoisie bullshit is one of the most talented bands in modern pop music. The rhythm section, anchored by Chris Baio (who moonlights as a club DJ), is watertight and totally move-your-ass-able , but throughout the album’s 12 tracks its frontman Ezra Koenig’s unflappable catchiness (and pitch-perfect delivery) that take center stage, carrying otherwise unassuming cuts such as “Unbelievers” and “Ya Hey” into the indie stratosphere. The album itself isn’t the quantum leap that some have suggested (don’t forget, these guys were already pretty damn good), but the smoothed-in updates—EDM beats/disguising nearly all guitar tones beyond recognition—make this one a watershed moment for one of the best bands going and contemporary pop music alike.
- Coleman Bentley

1) Deafheaven – Sunbather

The best pieces of art spark discussion. They have willful enthusiasts and ardent detractors. It’s no surprise that the authenticity of the three albums which top our list – YeezusModern Vampires of the City and Deafheaven’spopulist black metal masterpiece, Sunbather – is still questioned in heated debates on dive bar stools and across social media feeds even as months have passed since each album was released. While each record has its obvious merits, no album was as emotionally affecting as Sunbather. Everyone has those precious few albums which make the hairs on your neck stand straight up, that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling rushing up your neck to your head, flush with blood-red euphoria. Forget about genre. It doesn’t matter if you think this is a black metal album, or a “hipster metal” album, or a shoegaze album or a post-rock album. This wasn’t an academic choice, though there is much to be said about the album’s eclectic guitar riffs, its post-rock atmospherics, its pummeling, cathartic crescendos and George Clarke’s high-pitched, blood-curddling scream. This was a pick made on pure emotion, because no other record made me FEEL things quite like Sunbather did in 2013. There are so many moments on Sunbather which achieve those seemingly impossible highs, that remind me of how beautiful music can actually be. It’s blissful. It’s like a dream. I want to dream.
- Peter Rittweger

It’s actually funny how scared of a pink-covered metal LP so many ordinarily stone-faced, Satan worshippers were when Bay Area black metal outfit Deafheaven dropped Sunbather this summer. What they missed while slinking back to their shadowy, Darkthrone-wallpapered lairs—and what everyone else wrote off as “metal, ew”—however, was not only one of the best metal albums of the year, but the best albums, period. It easily the year’s most polarizing, engrossing, and headline commanding release, so say what you will about it being too soft or too heavy, when George Clarke’s Oslo-approved shriek rips into Sunbather’s final tortured lyric, “It’s in my blooodddd”, just admit that it’s impossible not to feel it in yours too.
- Coleman Bentley

Each staffer who contributed to the list had tons of records that didn’t make it. I thought I’d highlight the one record each writer fought hardest for to no avail:

Peter Rittweger: DJ Rashad, “Double Cup” 
Coleman Bentley: Diarrhea Planet, “I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams”
Blake Schernekau: Kurt Vile, “Waking On A Pretty Daze”
Carly McAlpine: Sky Ferreira, “Night Time, My Time”

Originally posted December 16, 2013 on My Social List

Five Ways The New York City Music Scene Changed in 2013

Photo by Edwina Hay

2013 was a year of crystallization for the greatest music scene in the world. The final waves of gentrification crashed down on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg this year, and we felt its tremors with some big changes in the landscape of New York City’s music scene. Most of these changes have happened slowly over time, but 2013 represented an interesting apex in the evolution of New York’s most recent geographic cultural movement. Here’s five ways things changed in 2013:

1) DIY went legit

Brooklyn has been known for its vibrant music scene since the turn of the century, and its backbone has always been a plethora of homegrown all-ages venues. These DIY spaces place a greater emphasis on intimacy, innovation and community than your typical concert hall. Culture grows around them, and an early adoptive creative class moves in. They’re always followed by a second-wave of more financially stable gentrifiers, and with them comes all of gentrification’s unwanted side effects: rising rents, skyscraping condo developments and an increased police presence.

As I examined in my piece on Todd P’s Trans Pecos, former DIY venues like Market Hotel, Silent Barn and Glasslands are increasingly seeking proper licensing and permits, and the original, under-the-radar vibe of North Brooklyn is fading. Curators like Todd P, Joseph Ahern from Silent Barn and PopGun Booking and more have learned to play by new rules with an eye on sustainability. 2013 is the year of homegrown venues with the look and feel of DIY, operating within the letter of the law.

2) Williamsburg venues got more upscale

On the flip-side, larger, more polished spaces also opened up in Williamsburg in 2013 to operate alongside similar, corporately-organized spaces like Music Hall of Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bowl. Rough TradeBaby’s All Right andBrooklyn Night Bazaar all opened their plush Northside doors this year, backed by well-thought-out business plans, strong PR campaigns, expert booking and pristine sound systems. The new breed of Williamsburg music venues in 2013 aren’t controlled by artists and musicians, but rather by well-oiled machines capable of pandering to the surrounding population’s consumer needs.

3) Dance music took over

Electronic music has cast a large shadow over the entire music industry. The genre’s biggest stars command upwards of a quarter million dollars per DJ set. Blips and bloops can be heard on every major hip-hop album. Every generation has its scene, and every scene has its drugs. Raves are back and MDMA is the drug of choice.

Things have been trending this way for some time now, but this year, a number of dance-oriented venues opened their doors to mirror prevailing trends. They experience each one provides is representative of the wide spectrum of electronic music: Output (for more of a mainstream, club atmopshere), Bossa Nova Civic Club (for forward-thinking, cool-cache acts) and Steel Drums (for your warehouse rave vibes.) Dance parties like Rinsed, Bunker and Mutual Dreaming soared to new heights of popularity with all-hours ragers at spots like 285 Kent and Body Actualized. In 2013, if you wanted to go where “shit was poppin,” you probably hit up one of these spots.

4) Randall’s Island cemented its spot as NYC’s de facto festival grounds

It’s an adage as tired as “not counting your chickens” or “birds in the bush” or some other fowl-wave turn of phrase: New York City is incapable of hosting a major-scaled music festival. That changed in 2013, lead by Founders Entertainment’s elevation of their previously well-organized, if not underwhelming festival Governors Ball at Randall’s Island. The festival boasted a lineup on a par with Coachella and Bonnaroo this year, centered on Kanye West’s headlining performance which included the public’s first tastes of Yeezus. Electric Zoo, one of the industry’s premiere electronic festivals, also brought an expanded, three-day event to Randall’s Island this year which broke attendance records.

Of course, Governors Ball suffered through in-climate weather this year which lead to an ecological nightmare, and Electric Zoo was under the media’s microscope because of MDMA-related deaths, but both fests committed to Randall’s Island for the foreseeable future and both should be looked assuccess stories. 2013 was the year where both fests proved big festivals could make it in the city.

5) Scores of venues opened, but with a caveat?

Most of what I’ve written so far is good news. Venues are opening in record numbers in the city. Every night, there’s dozens and dozens of shows to attend all over the metropolis. But maybe there’s too many. In 2013, a bunch of places shut their doors: Public AssemblyBig Snow Buffalo LodgeThe Living RoomSullivan HallMaxwells and many more. It’s possible that there are just too many rooms in New York City these days and in 2013, we may have reached a point of over-saturation. Next year, one of the city’s oldest concert halls, The Roseland Ballroom will close, and I’d be bummed, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it started a domino effect of closures around the city.

Originally posted December 19, 2013 on My Social List

Todd P on Trans Pecos, Market Hotel and the Future of 285 Kent

Todd Patrick took a step back, relatively speaking, from booking shows in New York over the last year or so, but he’s shifted his focus back to Brooklyn of late with the opening of Trans Pecos in the old Silent Barn space, and the pending re-opening of DIY cornerstone Market Hotel.

The crown jewel of Todd P-related venues in the post-Market Hotel era has been 285 Kent, but Patrick advised us yesterday in an e-mail chain that its future is “tbd.” 285 Kent’s lease is set to expire shortly, so he said “its days are obviously numbered.”

It’s remarkable that a homegrown DIY space like 285 Kent has been able to operate for as long as it has in the luxury condominium community that is Bedford Avenue Williamsburg (consider the issues that a corporate venture like Rough Trade, which is backed by NYC uber-promoters Bowery Presents, is having with residents) and its eventual closure, in the shadow of the looming Domino Sugary factory condo complex, may well mark the final phase of the neighborhood’s evolution from artist enclave into a yuppie playground.

Like most of New York’s creative types, Patrick is moving things further out on the L and M trains with an eye on creating “spots with a more long time sustainable viability.” This means more venues with proper licensing and permits, part of a marked shift in Brooklyn’s cultural landscape. Gentrification has brought Brooklyn scores of new residents, and with them an influx of cash, rising rents, aggressive condo developers and heightened police interest in daily affairs.

DIY spaces are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in legal grey-areas in this “New Brooklyn,” and the folks who curate the spaces have taken notice. Chiefly among them are the folks behind The Silent Barn, which re-opened last year as a legitimate, non-profit space with a liquor license in a new location at 603 Bushwick Avenue. PopGun Booking have pumped considerable resources into Glasslands Gallery to bring it up to code, and may have found a winning formula for the Williamsburg waterfront; an underground vibe with more of a corporate infrastructure. Legitimate spaces with an “all-ages, DIY-feel” seem to be the wave of the future here in this post-Giuliani and Bloomberg New Brooklyn.

The old Silent Barn space at 915 Wyckoff Avenue, a classic “all-ages” space, has lied dormant for the past couple of years, save for a surprise, secret showhere and there. Patrick has revitalized the space as Trans Pecos, named after the Western-most region of Texas, which is notable for its natural beauty and sparse population. Bushwick’s (or Ridgewood’s, depending on who you ask) Trans Pecos, to many, may represent the “final frontier” of North Brooklyn (it’s past Myrtle-Wyckoff!!!) mirroring the geographic remote-ness of Trans-Pecos, Texas. Its music and art will also mirror the region’s natural beauty.

“I feel that the market for venues catering to the indie rawk buzz cycle is more than covered, and the players there are battling each other in a dead heat that doesn’t really interest me,” Patrick said. “There’s demand out there for something different, and less bullshit.”

Northern Spy, a Brooklyn-based label whose roster consists largely of avant-garde and noise acts (their offices are also  located in the space), will curate a series of shows over the next few weeks (including another Northern Spy-related show with Pop. 1280 you should check out tomorrow) as the venue continues its preview events. The label opened the venue last week with a Northern Spy-curated showcase featuring Gnaw, Notekillers and Psalm Zero.

The forward-thinking sounds put out by Northern Spy align perfectly with Patrick’s vision for the space, which he says will have an emphasis on experimental sounds.

“Trans-Pecos sees our mission a continuation of the tradition of places like Zebulon, Tonic, and the original Knitting Factory – as a home for awide variety of “new” music genres, whose commonality is quality and deep knowledge of the cannon of intelligent music,” he said.

“Trans-Pecos is not a space for buzz bands, but nor is it a recital hall – we see the space as a showcase for great performances, as much as meeting place for tasteful lovers of music, where it’s also ok to socialize and have a good time. An “out” venue you might bring a date too, if you will;
with its heart in the right place but putting taste before good intentions.”

To help him realize his vision, he’s enlisted Sam Hillmer, known for his solo project Diamond Terrifier and his avant-garde band Zs (both on Northern Spy) as his “ impresario of the booking at Trans-Pecos.” Hillmer will be heavily involved in the venue’s calendar, similar to Ric Leichtung’s (Ad Hoc) involvement in 285 Kent the past couple of years. He also advised us that techno party Bunker, boutique tape label Words + Dreams, post-industrial party Chaos Bodies and many more will contribute their curatorial touch to the space.

Patrick has always been able to get the right players in place when it came to curation, but it would appear he has a plan for economic sustainability as well in his new ventures.

“The great news is we’ve managed to structure the expenses both in build-out and in our monthly operation, so that Trans-Pecos doesn’t have to be overly profitable every month out of the gate,” he said. “We have the financial freedom (not through funding, but through structure and diversifying the space) to run this the way we believe in, and to follow it through until it works, without pandering. I made a promise to myself when I agreed to take this place on, that it didn’t have to make money but it also wouldn’t lose any, haha. I’ve had 3 years now to figure out how to make that work… we’ll see.”

Patrick has put considerable work into Trans Pecos, including resolving the space’s legal issues which lead to its closure  two years ago. Most of the improvements address safety concerns (fire doors, panic bars, exit signs, emergency lighting and the like), but he’s also gutted the drop ceilings, exposing “the beautiful, dark-wood joists and vaulted ceilings that were always hidden.” Patrick says it has improved the acoustics of the venue. He’s also added windows to increase the venue’s neighborhood visibility, fixed the heat and rented a side-lot to serve as the venue’s backyard.

“The new backyard (which is located just out the backdoor of the main venue space, on the other side of a longstanding cinderbock wall) will mean an outdoor place to hangout (and also, smoke) during shows, plus outdoor seating for the cafe, and we have plans for a second stage for outdoor shows in the summer. We will be constructing outdoor tables as well as planters to fill the place with green – all on wheels to make the spot easy to clear out for those summer outdoor concerts.”

“We’re also looking forward to the opening of a new espresso cafe to operate out of what was once the front bedroom – helmed by Bradford Sill and Collin Crockett of Red Lantern cafe and Fresh ’Til Death Cafeteria. The cafe will operate both as a walk-in counter espresso bar, and as a sidewalk service counter out the window; and the venue room in the back will double as cafe seating by day.”

The venue’s calendar is beginning to fill up, but Patrick is continuing to work to improve the space. He told us that he has plans to re-finish the hardwood floors, improve the sound system, add a modest stage and install a full-service bar outside of the main space which will operate on nights even when there aren’t shows, in addition to beautifying the space in general.

Trans Pecos has come to fruition  largely outside of the eye of Brooklyn’s tight-knit music community. When most people think Todd P, they think Market Hotel, which is currently undergoing renovations and should open at some point in 2014 as a legal space at 1142 Myrtle Avenue. Patrick said, “the process of reopening Market Hotel is continuing concurrently while Trans-Pecos opens, and Market will be hosting shows again in the new year as well.”

It’s an exciting time to be in Bushwick. The sun may be setting, if it hasn’t already, on Williamsburg as New York City’s cultural mecca, but the folks that helped create it have learned to play by different rules. Pioneers like Todd P seem poised to take things to new, exciting, and perhaps most importantly, sustainable places.

Originally posted December 11, 2013 on My Social List

Macaulay Culkin is a Renaissance Man

Child stars almost always peak when they’re young, and then gradually spiral downward into a depressing, drug-addicted adulthood, suckling at VH1′s reality TV teet to eek by if they don’t end up as Vice disaster-porn fodder. Macaulay Culkin is having none of that. Sure, there are people out there who would argue that he peaked in the early 90′s as the star of family films like Richie RichThe Pagemaster, and oh yeah, a certain holiday blockbuster that remains one of the highest-grossing films of all-time.

Well fuck that. This is an indie blog. I can’t really confirm or deny the “drug-addicted” part, but I can make a really good argument for the transcendence of Culkin’s later, more “independently-minded” body of work. And this comes from a guy who knows all of the dialogue from Home Alone (and Home Alone 2)by heart, AND knows all of the words to the commercials on the VHS tape.There’s that American Airlines ad, the Fern Gully trailer and the coup de grace: the Pepsi commercial starring some kid who may or may not have grown up to be Cash Money’s Mannie Fresh. Seriously, fast forward to 1:23 in that video and tell me that’s not Mannie Fresh.

I digress. We’re here to talk post-puberty Culkin. After Richie Rich was kinda-sorta derided (I had the VHS of that too though) he took an almost decade-long hiatus from film, only to return with some indie flicks in the early aughts. I mean, Party Monster seems pretty good! I almost watched it a few times when it scrolled by the “Gay and Lesbian Movies” category on Netflix. He also starred in another movie called Sex and Breakfast that I didn’t see, but I like to think started the whole brunch phenomenon. After that, he got sick of the “silver screen” and moved onto performance art.

Remember when he did all of those iPod DJ sets last year? Those were probably pretty awesome. Dunno, I never made it out to one, but he’s clearly got a good handle on tech and the internet. If he didn’t he wouldn’t have released some movie recorded completely on an iPhone in 2011. Then there’s his 3M art collective, which had an art show at (le) Poisson Rouge last fall. And now he’s formed a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band.

That’s right, A PIZZA-THEMED VELVET UNDERGROUND COVER BAND.

Macaulay Culkin has resisted the considerable allure of a young adulthood of TMZ backpages and middle-American water-cooler discussions, for a kazoo, which he plays in what is now easily New York’s BEST cover band. You can hear their The Pizza Underground EP here, which features standout tracks like Papa John SaysI’m Beginning To Eat The Slice, All The Pizza Parties and more:

Remarkably, they’ve only played a couple of shows on the intimate stage at Avenue B’s Sidewalk Cafe (they have a pretty good happy hour, BTW), but I’m convinced they’re ready for the big time. It’s only a matter of time before Bowery Presents comes a’knockin. I’m sure Roberta’s will want to be involved.

It’s clear to me that Macaulay Culkin’s star continues to burn, and it burns bright. Amanda Bynes could stand to learn a thing or two here.

Originally published December 9, 2013 on My Social List

Must See Film: The Punk Singer

Kathleen Hanna, the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julia Ruin is one of the most significant figures in music history. Her feminist ideas and artistic statements pioneered the riot grrrl movement, and her fascinating life is the subject of a new documentary, The Punk Singerdirected by Sini Anderson. The film is essential viewing for anyone with even a remote interest in punk rock, feminism, riot grrrl, or really, just music documentaries in general.

I caught the film this weekend at Nitehawk and found myself fully engrossed in the story for the duration of its eighty-minute run-time. I was pretty familiar with Hanna’s story going in, but you only need a cursory understanding of the political temperature and landscape of the music industry around the year that punk broke to appreciate the film. The first half of the documentary highlights Hanna’s contribution to the riot grrrl scene as Bikini Kill’s lead singer. She’s depicted as an unstoppable, uncompromising, idealistic force through old clips and concert footage interwoven with new interviews with Hanna and musicians like Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and Corin Tucker.

It was easy to get wrapped up in the progressive excitement surrounding Hanna’s early work, but the film takes a hard left turn around the mid-point. The second half of the documentary humanizes a powerful and seemingly infallible figurehead. Bikini Kill would break up, not too long after Hanna “fell in love with the guy who made the song Girls in the 80s,” the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz. Her music lost its biting aggression, as she formed the more pop-minded electro outfit Le Tigre. She’d ultimately cease performing due to medical issues which she kept private until the documentary’s release.

The film began with Hanna performing a feminist spoken word piece she had penned. She then recanted a story of a friend telling her that if she wanted to reach people, she’d need to form a band, because no one goes to see spoken word. The film’s tail end documents her struggles with late-stage Lyme’s disease, which saps her of much of her energy and lead to her baffling “retirement” from performing in 2005. She had told her fans that she chose to stop playing music because “it felt better than facing the reality of not being able to do what I love more than anything in the world.”

Hanna’s degeneration is at first somewhat demoralizing and disappointing but her human element is what makes her all the more intriguing. She was a former stripper who pioneered a feminist movement and married a rapper. She was an unstoppable force who was taken down by a disease many think can be cured with a bout of antibiotics. The Punk Singer is a captivating unveiling of Hanna’s duality; an unshakable and influential feminist symbol who happens to be a very real and flawed person like the rest of us.

The Punk Singer is screening at Nitehawk Cinema and the IFC Center for a limited time.

Originally published December 3, 2013 on My Social List

Self-Actualization Or: How I Learned to Stop Bitching and Love The Men

I’ve written quite a bit lately about my teenage music tastes, thanks to post-hardcore and emotive rock’s recent resurgence. I have a much better understanding and appreciation of music as a man in his late twenties, but it just isn’t as fun anymore. I’ve seen and heard it all, and it’s pretty rare that something really blows my mind and makes me loose my shit. It sorta happens to us all.

Most people stop listening to new shit and fall back on their old favorites, but I still have an intense love for new music; a deeper and more complex love of it than I did in the old days, but its a love without the cheap and fleeting thrills that came with falling hard for a record at the age of sixteen. Young love of music is just like any young love, it hits hard and fast, and it’s over in a flash. Oh, and odds are you probably made some stupid decisions and loved something, or someone you’d look back on with equal parts scorn and self-ridicule.

Back to the “cheap and fleeting thrills,” for a second. Teenagers are drawn to instant gratification; it’s part of being ignorant to your own mortality. So it makes sense that teens are drawn to moments that are satisfying on a primal level. Today’s teens wait for “the drop.” I waited for the crescendos and the catharsis that came with the loud parts of the trademark dynamics of emo and post-hardcore.

As the calendar that once took back Sunday and marked every Thursday with two big “x’s” moved towards the end of the aughts, such dynamics and aggression took a backseat to icier electronic-infused glitch; the shadow cast by Kid A engulfing the whole of rock and roll’s spectrum.

The Men were having none of that.Their debut release, Leave Home hit the blog-o-sphere with all of the power and speed and aggression of a DC hardcore record from the mid-80s. The compositions were more angular and clearly had some roots in the blues (as is evident in the seven minute opening track, If You Leave…), but the most memorable part of the record came on the brutal, distortion-heavy track L.A.D.O.C.H. when singer Chris Hansell coughs loudly on top of the mix. It felt like I had been waiting a long time for a record like Leave Home. It quenched a thirst that I forgot I had. I wanted more.

Everyone knows what happened next. Less than a year passed, and The Men followed the record up with a traditional rock and roll record, Open You Heart.They would travel even further down convention’s rabbit-hole with this year’s New Moon. I was a huge fan of both records (even placing Open Your Heart in my top 5 last year), but I was somewhat dismissive of their progression. Descriptors like “dad rock” usually accompanied my assessment of the records. There were lots of bands churning out heavy rock records. I missed the band that had so keenly channeled the old SST days.

In spite of my (unwarranted) aversion to The Men’s progression, I remained a big fan of their work. I made sure I saw them each time they played a show. It didn’t really hit me until I saw them a couple of weeks ago at Music Hall of Williamsburg, but I finally understood that I wasn’t a fan of The Men because they were hardcore masters, I was a fan of them because they’re an incredibly talented band capable of both unhinged and controlled aggression.

Even Ian MacKay grew up at some point (Fugazi), and as The Men powered through tracks in a set comprised of tracks from their more complex records,New Moon and Open Your Heart, it all began to make sense to me. The Men have become… well, men. They’ve come of age, and while I was similarly blown away by their show from earlier this year with Parquet Courts and Nude Beach at Bowery, this set, which seemed centered around the sprawling, Neil Young-esque New Moon highlight I Saw Her Face was all the more captivating.

The Men are musicians first and punks second, a realization that coalesced thanks in part to a discussion I had with Ben Greenberg, who replaced Chris Hansell in the band. His classically-trained touch cannot be ignored. Greenberg studied classical music and free jazz in his youth, which is evident in The Men’s live performances. Their set at Music Hall of Williamsburg, like a free jazz set, seemed more jammy and improvised than aggressive, though Greenberg is easily the most animated presence on stage. He’s tall and lanky with his bass guitar hanging low, and he spends the duration of the set headbanging and jumping around with the fervor of a punk.

The Men aren’t poets or philosophical obsessives, but they clearly have a mission statement. They returned to the stage for an encore with one of Pampers’ members on lead vocals. I couldn’t really tell what song it was they were playing because it was sort of a hodge-podge and the singer didn’t really know the lyrics, but it resembled Leave Home‘s Batallie a bit – one of the more aggressive tracks on the record.

In any event, it was one of the most hardcore-indebted numbers they played that night. The performance seemed a bit tongue in cheek. The band played the song with huge smiles on their faces. It was evident that they were just fucking around, it had the vibe of a nostalgic basement jam session with old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while and were playing an old song they only enjoyed ironically anymore, because they had moved onto bigger and better things. The song ended with The Men smashing their instruments, a comically self-aware gesture which seemed to poke fun at the most ridiculous and over-the-top of punk traditions. It seemed to suggest a level of self-awareness, yes, there are some out there who still yearn for the hardcore sneer from Leave Home, but there’s way more to music than that (let’s not forget that this show was promoting an ACOUSTIC EP), and they’re the best band around to take you for the ride.

Originally posted November 22, 2013 on My Social List

Five Essential Emo Records

Last week, I drew the ire of some with my post 5 Emo Bands That Always Sucked. Some readers suggested that the bands I chose to focus on aren’t actually emo. I must respectfully disagree. Even though bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco are certainly POP acts, they’re still emo in the same way that 2 Chainz and MC Hammer are still hip-hop or Poison and Night Ranger are still metal. They may not be quality representations of the genre at large… but that’s why they’re on the list.

There’s a reason why the post wasn’t about Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring or even Thursday… those bands made good emo records. Every genre is eventually corrupted and watered-down by the corporate machine. Emo is no different, and is an easier target than most because of the thematic content of the music. But that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of amazing emo records out there. Here’s five of my favorite emo records that any music fan should be familiar with. Let me know your favorites in the comments.

Cap’n Jazz – Analphabetapolothology

I decided I was going to limit this list to one Kinsella album, so Cap’n Jazz’s landmark double-disc retrospective Analphabetapolothology makes a lot of sense. It spans the brief career of a band who, along with Sunny Day Real Estate, created the blueprint for the golden days of emo, the mid to late 90s. Much of that has to do with Mike and Tim Kinsella’s prolific post Cap’n Jazz output and innumerable side projects, which include the jazzy Joan of Arc, the understated jive of American Football, the math-rock experimentation of Owls and the singer-songwriter blues of Owen. The Kinsellas are at their rawest on choice cuts Olerud and Scary Kids Scaring Kids which are archetypes for the genre’s trademark loud/soft dynamic.

Jets To Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary

Blake Schwarzenbach’s old band, Jawbreaker was certainly more influential and successful, but his best songwriting is heard on the Jets To Brazil records. Or at least it seems that way, as his vocals are positioned at the forefront of  the records, eschewing punk and hardcore noise for more straight-foward and thoughtful indie-minded emo. The album was met with mixed reviews from fans, which is to be expected from any major departure in sound, but the years have been kind to Orange Rhyming Dictionary, which is centered around the sprawling Chinatown, where Schwarzenbach plays the part of an unrequited lover, “I’m just a question, knowing my answers, I hope I’m wrong.”

The Appleseed Cast – Low Level Owl I & II

I’m cheating here a bit as Low Level Owl was actually released as two separate albums, though it is intended to be heard as one long, cohesive piece, so I’m hoping you’ll forgive the inclusion. The Appleseed Cast took their Sunny Day Real Estate-indebted emo to new and exciting places onthese records, which sound as much like Mogwai as they do Promise Ring. The tracks are largely instrumental. Vocals find their way into many of the tracks, but they’re shrouded in reverb and buried in layers of post-rock guitar epics and the drums man… the fucking drums on these albums are unbelievable. The icy sounds of Rooms and Gardens, On Reflection and Steps and Numbers have long been my sonambulant winter soundtrack, best listened to stoned, half-asleep in the dark as snow falls gently from the sky.

Brand New – Deja Entendu

Early aughts emo draws the ire of music critics on the same level as arena rock and hair metal, but the entire movement can’t be dismissed. Tons of great records came out of New Jersey and Long Island from 2000 to 2004 or so, and Deja Entedu is a cut above all of the others. I’ve always elevated Brand New above the other acts from that time and place; their songs were just better. Their lyrics were more biting (thanks to listening to lots of Morrissey records, no doubt.) They were incredibly self-aware; just listen to Okay, I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t, a tongue in cheek track which takes aim at both the giant egos a lot of these bands had at the time and the absurdly long, pop-culture appropriating song titles that were “en vogue.” The album’s highlights, for me, are Guernica, which deals with the pain of finding out a loved one has cancer, and the emotionally affecting closing track, Play Crack The Sky, an ode to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Thursday – Full Collapse

Thursday are probably one of the easiest targets from the mall-core days. They had the asymmetrical haircuts, Geoff Rickley’s atonal vocals and what could be read as overly self-indulgent lyrics. They were from New Brunswick and wore their Jersey pride on their sleeves (possibly even as part of a sleeve tattoo. PS – I have a friend who has both a tattoo of the Thursday dove AND a New Jersey outline, but I digress.) It’s precisely why I loved them. Full Collapse came out in 2002, when I was 16 years old and living a few miles north of New Brunswick. I was predestined to fall in love with this record. It was hard. It was loud. It was dark. It compared broken hearts to car crashes. It adjusted apertures and stood on the edge of summer. It crossed out eyes, it smashed street signs, it erased maps, it rained, it rained and good god it never ended.

Perhaps no record better sums up that time and place; what it was like to be a teenager tooling down the parkway in a beat up old Pontiac with a broken strobed headlamp en route to some dingy basement show or to some shithole venue with a saggy ceiling in Sayreville. It was diners and dive bars and late night sing alongs and bad drugs and cheap beer and mosh pits and young love and awkward makeout sessions and the Skate and Surf festival. It was the quintessential aughts-era emo record. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, but it fucking slays.

Originally published November 13, 2013 on My Social List

Five Emo Bands That Always Sucked

One of the prevailing narratives on the internet right now is that emo is once again en vogue. A bunch of bands have popped up, or have become increasingly visible, who are hitting the high-hats, jamming three-chord riffs on stratocasters and wailing both melodically and dissonantly about their feelings instead of broader social issues and scene politics like their punk breatheren.

Ian Cohen wrote that it’s hard to peg down what the hell the term “emo revival” means. Emo has no real defining apex to point to, though I feel that there are three basic “waves” of emo: the first wave, lead by genre pioneers Rites of Spring, the second wave, characterized by midwestern, Kinsella-type 90s vibes and the third wave, which, for better or worse, most people are familiar with; your Jersey pop-punk/Long Island Hardcore/Hot Topic mall-core.

Regardless of your “definition” of emo, it’s suddenly fashionable to profess your love for Deja Entendu (Balance and Composure)and Full Collapse (Touche Amore) and to point to bands like Blink 182 (FIDLAR) and Jimmy Eat World (all of these new bands, basically) as major influences. Saves The Day just playeda secret show at St. Vitus, for fucks sake.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, as a self-professed and unabashed former emo kid from Northern New Jersey, who wore out more than a few burnt copies of The Photo Album, The Room’s Too Cold and a whole bunch of Drive-Thru and Equal Vision EPs I’d hate to rattle off now, in the interest of maintaining my reputation. It’s great to listen to these sounds again, and it’s nice to wear my roots on my sleeves. These bands are what got me obsessively hunting for new music every day of my life and attending shows regularly. Emo, in many ways, is the monster that made me, and basically everyone else from New Jersey, Long Island or Florida born between 1982 and 1990 or so.

The problem with emo, as with any genre, is that it was loaded with unlistenable and even laughable garbage, and I want to make sure none of this shit is celebrated, as it was all those years ago. Some of this stuff shouldn’t be dusted off, it should be forgotten. Left behind in an old CD case in the truck of a car somewhere back home. Here’s five emo bands that always sucked, in my own humble opinion.

Fall Out Boy

Somehow, Fall Out Boy figured out how to ruin the only good part of their band, their name. The year was 2001 and Pete Wentz and Co. had only played a couple of shows. They had yet to settle on a name for their tween-pop outfit, so they left it up to the crowd. One bro out there yelled out “Fall Out Boy.” The band was attracted to it because they thought it sounded kitchy and cute and could be easily spelled out in initials. They had no idea that it was a reference to a prominent character on The Simpsons. What 22 year old dudes in 2001 didn’t watch The Simpsons? The same 22 year-old dudes responsible for becoming the most iconic and derided MySpace band of the past two decades, that’s who.

Panic! At The Disco

The only thing worse than Fall Out Boy is a diet coke version of them, with some terrible synth riffs thrown in and anthems about weddings, or whatever the hell this song is about. Like Fall Out Boy, they’re attempting a comeback of sorts to capitalize on nostalgic listening trends. Fortunately, we have folks like Fiona Apple to put these characters in their place.

My Chemical Romance

I never understood how this band got so big. They were always this mediocre Finch-type band whose recordings were as forgettable as From Autumn To Ashes or A Static Lullaby. Do you even know who either of those bands are? Anyway, they must have made some sort of deal with a dark deity of sorts, because all of the sudden the awful Nothing Feels Good companion piece I’m Not Okay (I Promise) was the soundtrack to every suburban teens’ wrist-cutting woes. It inspired god knows how much bad Livejournal poetry (I had Xanga, which was WAY better.)

The Starting Line

What’s that old cliche? A picture is worth 1000 words? Well fuck, this one might be worth 10,000, because that photo really says it all. Perhaps no band represents all that was wrong with aughts-era emo as perfectly as the frosted-riffed aesthetic of Drive-Thru’s softest band, The Starting Line. To paraphrase Ghostface Killah, these dudes weren’t born, they were blossomed. Lead singer Kenny Vasoli’s heart’s got a ponytail. While emo bands aren’t generally characterized by their machismo, The Starting Line took their cutesy pop-punk to unparalleled heights of cheese with incredibly vanilla songs about ex-girlfriends, beach vacations and playing shows in New Jersey. They signed to Geffen in 2005, a bizarre anti-thesis of Sonic Youth signing to Geffen for Dirty. By that point, emo had been bastardized and commercialized thanks in no small part to cookie-cutter acts like this one. “Attack Dog,” lol.

Taking Back Sunday (except Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want To Be)

OK LISTEN JUST A SECOND! I LOVE TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS! But lets not fool each other here, folks. That’s basically it. After they signed to a major label, the tires got deflated a bit and Taking Back Sunday never truly captured the energy and raw emotion of their first, ICONIC third-wave emo record, and, to a MUCH lesser extent, their second (and first without John Nolan.) Everything that followed those two records feels like a poor, third-rate photocopy of their hook-heavy anthemic debut and their basically mediocre follow-up. Their inclusion here isn’t so much about Taking Back Sunday sucking, because they don’t. It’s about celebrating their legacy correctly.

Originally published November 6, 2013 on My Social List