Friday, March 21, 2014

NOW HEAR THIS – GUSTER (2009)


Note: Blogsolidation 2k16 marches on. NHT had hit its conversational, familiar stride. To this day, I'm not sure I can say this was good writing, but it was popular with its intended audience. As a writer, I'm not sure I can/should ever ask for more than that.


And a pony. 


Popularity with my intended audience, and a pony. Then I'm good.


Now Hear This!
Music You May Have Missed
By Jonathan “Killstring” Herzberger
Originally published in The Cauldron, 2009

Man. Education is awesome – I sure do love all this learning I’ve been doing. New ideas, new takes on old thoughts, and of course, new responsibilities, as the Now Hear This Aircraft Carrier becomes the launching point for all of our fine, bubbly Cauldron’s Arts and Entertainment news.

Okay, so that’s a rough, and stretched metaphor – but it wouldn’t be NHT without at least one absurd self-referential third-person statement, would it? Facts, you can get anywhere, but when you want useless, ponderous drivel with your hidden musical treasure why, we’re your one-stop-shop my good man/woman/hermaphrodite. And we’ve got both in ample quantity this week, cats and kittens, boy howdy.

But I’ve digressed, and it’s only the third paragraph. Education, is the word today. And we’ve spent so much time as an editorial, literary body discussing how best to address you, dear reader, that even the mighty USS Now Hear This isn’t excused from the microscope. So. What do we know about you, the avid reader of NHT?

You’re intelligent. Literate. Urbane, and discerning. Forest creatures break out in choreographed song when you approach, and there are few human beings on this planet who don’t find you attractive on at least some level.

Also, you’re a student at Cleveland State University. This is important to note, as unlike certain other Universities that your faithful writer has attended, the populace here is much more diverse, both culturally and economically. For our purposes, this means one very important thing: namely, that there’s a distinct lack of know-it-all trust fund hipsters, spouting clich├ęd references to how everything you like is So Last Year, and they liked that, when they were seventeen and had no taste, and so on.

It’s a void, and one that we aim to fill – despite lacking the inherent arrogance, and you know… the yachts and all, we do possess an encyclopedic knowledge of modern popular music. So, what does all this mean? It means, quite frankly, that we’ve neglected your education, dear reader – well, feel lost and ashamed no longer… for today, we’re going to meet an old friend of myself, and scarf-clad indie kids worldwide.

Guster, meet the readers. Readers, Guster.

A little Massachusetts College band that got their start in 1991 – yes, Freshman, I know how old you were then, calm down – the classic lineup is duel frontmen Adam Gardener and Ryan Miller on acoustic guitars and vocals, with drummer Brian Rosenworcel providing Latin and African hand percussion. If that sounds like something that hackey sack-playing hippies would like, well, yeah. Probably. It’s also pretty damn compelling pop music no matter who you are, but if you’re looking for something a bit more polished, you might want to avoid their first two albums, 1994’s Parachute, and 1997’s Goldfly. You’ll miss out on some quaint little indie folk, before we knew to call it that, but maybe that’s the point.

The real point here, is their 1999 release, Lost and Gone Forever, produced by Steve Lillywhite – you know, the guy who did all those Dave Matthews Band albums that people like for some reason – this marked the turning point in both sound, and commercial success for Guster. Sure, the first two tracks seem fairly standard fare, a little electric guitar thrown in, but otherwise, not too distinct. But when we get to the horn section in the album’s lone hit “Fa Fa,” or the atmospheric electrics on “I Spy”, the sense of composition has skyrocketed past simple folk tunes at this point.

By the time you reach the two songs that make up the disc’s climactic third act – the Peter Gabriel-esqe, mandolin-laden “Two Points for Honesty”, and the apocalyptic “Rainy Day” it’s clear that the quaint little trio has morphed into an entirely different animal, and the scope of the work is undeniable, inexorable in a sense; you just can’t help but be swept away.

For plenty of bands, that’d be it for the article. We’d say something witty, tell you to go buy the damn album, and we’d all drink imported tea, or something. But not Guster, oh no. They were just getting warmed up. You can still drink the tea though.

Between 2001 and 2003, the band was going through some serious evolution, not the least of which was Rosenworcel’s switching to kit drums – you know, the kind you play with sticks – in order to avoid nerve damage. The result was a more up-tempo, some might say more accessible sound. They also added multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia to the band, to bring the energetic, varied sound on the road. Both “Amsterdam” and “Careful” scored some rotation, and filmmakers gleefully plundered the compositions for use, the most recent being Wedding Crashers’ use of “I hope Tomorrow is Like Today.”

This album laid the groundwork for a lot of what would eventually be called ‘Indie’ Rock, by pretentious jerks like your humble narrator. But even that wasn’t enough for Guster, they just… kept going.

2006’s Ganging up on the Sun was released on Reprise Records, officially launching Guster into something like the mainstream. Ganging topped out at #25 on the Billboard charts, “Satellite” was a hit on some level, the band toured extensively, and somehow found a way to make accordions chilling, haunting, and atmospheric.

At the end of the day, Guster isn’t used as a benchmark measurement for indie bands without due cause. They are quite simply, one of the best musical acts that you can find in recent memory, regardless of your taste, or preferred genre. And with a new album slated for a non-specific 2009 release, Guster hasn’t lost its lustre.

If you hate me for that rhyme, don’t worry – I hate myself for it even more – but the band’s good enough to survive such hackneyed literary contrivances. Higher praise, I cannot think of. Stop reading and go buy all their records, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

NOW HEAR THIS! JONATHAN COULTON (2009)




Note: Originally published in The Cauldron (2009). Friend of The Cauldron JoCo was really surging in popularity among the geek set at this time, due to the popularity of Valve's quirky puzzle game, Portal, which turned out to be A Whole Thing. 

This, along with The Nightwatchman, was one of the few times where an artist was profiled due to massive request. It's still strange to think that my college newspaper column had massive requests, but there you have it.

Now Hear This!
Music You May Have Missed
By Jonathan “Killstring” Herzberger
The Cauldron Arts & Entertainment Editor

The Cake is a Lie.

There. Now that we have that particular bit of business out of the way, let’s have a chat, shall we? Jonathan Coulton is certainly no stranger to these pages – in fact, he’s been interviewed in them. But that was years ago, that is to say, more than one year ago – and we here at the Now Hear This institute for a better life are absolutely fine with your crippling, debilitating ADD.

Robots!

Still with us? Great. Jonathan Coulton: self-proclaimed code monkey turned singer-songwriter turned internet sensation. Don’t believe us? Ye of little faith. Go ahead, google him – we’ll wait.

You back? Cool. Now let’s talk music.

Doing various comedy and spoof tunes while working as a computer programmer at software company Cluen, Coulten put out a little record called Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow – a five-song gem of a record that includes a gentle ballad about being a horrible monster at the bottom of the sea (“I Crush Everything”), a love song from a mad scientist to his hapless captive (“Skullcrusher Mountain”) cyborg love vengeance (“The Future Soon”) and the Mandelbrot Set (Somewhat unsurprisingly, “Mandelbrot Set”.) Coulton recorded the songs himself, playing all the instruments, and generally being a one-man show – much as he had with his first record Smoking Monkey – a modest, but charming affair.

It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather well-received in the nerd community – math nerds, and computer nerds alike got into the quirky folky tunes, landing him the peculiar position of ‘Contributing Troubadour’ with Popular Science magazine, and resulting in the creation of the EP Ourselves, Our Bodies, Our Cybernetic Arms – which, while hardly revolutionizing the face of modern music, certainly showed that Coulton – or JoCo as his expanding fanbase was wont to call him – had more going for him than a simple Internet comedy folk act.

He was a really good Internet comedy folk act.

Good enough to quit his job, and try to make a living as a musician. Good enough to try a sort of experiment – the ambitious task of writing and recording one track per week, and posting them to his website, iTunes, and maybe making a compilation CD when all was said and done.

The ambitious project was called Thing A Week – which might not have been the most innovative of titles, but it at least got the point across. And it was here – nestled within the web 2.0, instant-access blogger culture, that Coulton really began to shine.

Fans offered suggestions. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” was rendered as a touching, heartfelt ballad, complete with banjo, and Ben Folds-esque vocal harmonies. Then-President George W. Bush got remixed, as did Sir Paul McCartney, in “W’s Duty” and “When I’m 25 or 64”, respectively.

And a funny thing happened – Coulton was finding that it was in fact, feasible to be a professional musician with no record label, no big-name band you used to be a part of, no advertising campaign, and not so much as a sniff of radio. Really, nothing but a glorified blog, and a lot of word-of-mouth.

Well, word-of-text, anyway. This was the Internet, after all.

So where are we today? The Thing A Week projects reached up to four installments – and while they yielded their fair share of duds, there’s more than a lion’s share of gems here.

And this brings us to the point – yes, there is a point, I promise. Yes, some of the songs are silly fluff, good for a laugh, and little more. Don’t download those.

But for much of his body of work, there’s a genuine, earnest quality to the performance that simply does not exist in most comedy acts. Sure, “Re: your brains” is a song about Zombies in an office setting. You might not want to hear it every day. But tracks like “I’m Your Moon,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and Coulton’s signature “Code Monkey” have bits of humor to them, but more importantly, they’re genuinely well-crafted songs, full of wit, crafted with a deft, gentle touch, haunting melodies, and a clear, earnest voice.

Pretty much everything you’d want in your folk-tinged indie pop, regardless of the subject matter. And this is what sets him apart from say, a Stephen Lynch, who’s (debatably) funny once, but subsequent listens reveal how bloody funny the singer thinks they are.

Maybe that’s the key to JoCo’s unlikely success. The songs never tell you when you should laugh – you get to decide that for yourself. You can buy them in records if you like – or you can pick and choose the MP3’s you like, it’s all the same price. Music on the terms of the listener, without pretense, or demands. The rest of the music industry would do well to follow his example – we the people want our music on our terms.

Oh. Before I forget – that opening line? If you haven’t pieced it together yet, Coulton also penned the theme song “Still Alive” for a little video game called “Portal.” It got kind of popular.

Though I never did get any cake. Ah well. Can’t have everything on your terms.

Now Hear This! Transplants



Note: this originally appeared in The Cauldron, (2008), and is included here as part of an ongoing blog consolidation project.


Now Hear This!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Staff Writer

The Supergroup. One of rock music’s most often attempted disasters, simply cut-and-pasting members of different bands together has more often than not resulted in train wrecks that were not only less than the sum of their collective parts – many were downright embarrassing. It turns out that the love of music that come from friends messing around in their basements is difficult to manufacture.

But what if a Supergroup formed accidentally, by doing exactly that?

Why then, you would have the Transplants – one of rock music’s happiest accidents. In the summer of 1999, Rancid Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Tim Armstrong had been fiddling around with some recording software on his computer, teaching himself to play the piano, and generally goofing around, making hip-hop. His friend Rob Aston added some vocals, and bit by bit ideas began to look like songs, songs began to sound like an album, and as more and more friends stopped by to add their two cents, it began to sound like a band. When Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker signed on in 2002, it became pretty clear they were on to something special.

In this case, ‘something special’ equated to Transplants, modestly and quietly released on Armstrong’s own Hellcat Records. The thought was that the disc might move a few units, maybe they’d do a tour, and that would have been a fun little diversion. However, Transplants was lightning in a bottle – its spastic, genre-leaping (and in some cases, defying) sound was immediately accessible, vital, and just plain fun. From the inner-city reggae of ‘California Babylon’ to the catchy ‘DJ DJ’, the blend of Armstrong’s mad-scientist instrumentals, Skinhead Rob’s unorthodox rapping, and Barker’s kinetic skinwork, the appeal of Transplants was immediate. With ‘Diamonds and Guns’, the band managed to blend a cautionary tale about the Columbian drug trade with a piano hook so catchy, Neutrogena now uses it to sell shampoo. The band was more successful than anybody had anticipated, and after a few singles and some successful touring, the band shook hands and parted ways from what had undoubtedly been a wonderful experiment – but it was time to get back to their ‘real’ bands.

Following his unfortunate divorce from Distillers vocalist Brody Armstrong (don’t cheat on your boyfriends when you go on tour, ladies – that’s in terribly poor taste) Armstrong recorded Indestructible with Rancid – as tasteful a post-breakup record as exists, and even brought Aston along for guest vocals on “Red Hot Moon”. Barker did some more touring with Blink, and cameos notwithstanding, Aston got back to carrying around guitar amps for AFI.

In 2004, the rumblings of a second album were forming in much the same fashion as the first – only this time, members of Cypress Hill, Dilated Peoples, and Boo Ya Tribe were lending their talents, and Atlantic Records was talking distribution. In the summer of 2005 – a mere four months after Blink 182 declared an indefinite hiatus – The Transplants released Haunted Cities, a masterful blend of punk, hip-hop, soul, reggae, and – well, pretty much everything else under the sun (and possibly a few ideas from deep space.) From the leadoff single “Gangsters & Thugs”, Armstrong & Co. set the stage for record’s inherent duality with the simple refrain “Some of my friends sell records – some of my friends sell drugs.” The album takes an unexpected twist, as the depressing gravitas of “What I can’t Describe” – an ode to despair, a weary resignation to dying alone – is delivered in some of the smoothest, most soulful R&B since Motown’s heyday. “Crash and Burn” blends a jovial calypso beat with more street-hardened tales, and “I want it All” is another toe-tapping piano-pounder, which casually weaves a story about growing up in a culture of crime, and the pratfalls of arrogance.

And that’s where the Transplants really shine the brightest – in a dichotomous blend of gritty street cred, boundless joyful optimism, and an experimental freedom to try just about anything, Transplants make music that exists in multiple worlds at once. It’s Punk, and Hip-Hop, it’s focused and freestyle, it’s aggressive and puts a smile on your face. Circa 2008, the band has no plans for the future – but the possibility remains. In the meantime, we have two absolute gems from some unlikely collaborators. There’s nothing really to compare it to – because there’s nothing really like it. This is music for the joy of music, pure and simple – and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Now Hear This! Elbow (2008)


Note: this Originally appeared in The Cauldron, (2008). It's included here as part of my ongoing blog consolidation. Blogsolidation? Anyway, here's me raving about Elbow.


Now Hear This!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Staff Writer

Emotion. Whatever the genre, tempo, or volume of the song, music seeks to elicit emotions in the listener. From the most agressive speed metal, to the corniest polka and J-Pop, music that fails to move its audience, essentially just fails. So I realize that describing any kind of music as ‘stirring up emotions in the listener’ is pretty redundant. Hell, I could be talking about anything between Yanni and Napalm Death – so I understand the grain of salt you ight be taking, but when I say that the British Indie band Elbow creates the kind of music that makes one genuinely feel things, understand that I mean it as the highest sort of praise.

Elbow has been around for a while now – their first UK EP debuted in 1998, and they debuted stateside in 2002 with their first full-length, Asleep in the back, which (like so many artists profiled in Now Hear This) was critically praised, and sold like whatever the opposite of hotcakes is – but that’s neither here nor there. We’re going to focus on their two most recent albums, as it’s actually possible to locate and obtain them with some ease here in the States.

2005’s Leaders Of The Free World saw Elbow really hitting its stride – the band’s quirky blend of traditional rock with piano, ethnic percussion, and the odd bit of pizzicato strings provided the perfect backdrop to frontman Guy Garvey’s Peter Gabriel-esque voice and awkwardly literate, disarmingly candid lyrics. Tracks like “Station Approach” find the band striding in a hesitant, yet steady groove, whereas the single “Forget Myself” opts for a slightly more bombastic and confident stand. The title track slithers along with an oily, snaky feel that manages to provide social commentary without any annoying grandstanding like so many The album is full of moments like this – where the potential of ‘indie’ rock seems limitless, and utterly free of pretension.

However, it’s in The Seldom Seen Kid (released this past march) that sees this Manchester quintet reach a plateau that is (to pardon the author’s unforgivably awful pun) seldom seen by an Indie band. Forget for a second that the Coen Brothers’ tapped the gallows-humor blues rock of “Grounds for Divorce” for the Burn After Reading trailer, forget that they just walked away with their first Mercury Prize, edging out Radiohead’s In Rainbows – Kid is that rare sort of record that gets exponentially better upon consecutive listens. Elbow focuses on their strengths on this album – and created a charming, quaint sort of masterpiece that sneaks up on you – though many won’t know what to make of Kid at first. Chock full of quiet, introspective moments, Kid’s brilliance isn’t always immediately obvious.

Starting off with “Starlings” Garvey & Co’s delicately composed dynamics ebb and flow their way through a young man’s uncertain footsteps, taking the listener through all the emotional ups and downs of an emotionally stirring film, steadily increasing in both bravado and clarity, until it blows up -climaxing in a breathtaking crescendo when our hero finally gets the bloody words out – and this is all in the first track. The aforementioned “Grounds For Divorce” and “An Audience With The Pope” that doesn’t try to sound epic, or grandiose – yet is undeniably both. “The Fix” sees Garvey team up with Richard Hawley (formerly of Pulp, and a damn fine listen in his own regard) for a delightfully snarky hustler story that packs as much charm as any of the Ocean’s films, and “On A Day Like This” the band pokes fun at its own wordiness with lyrics like “what made me behave that way/using words I never say… ‘cause holy cow, I love your eyes” – and the tongue-in-cheek feel is miles away from what you’d expect from a Coldplay, or a U2 – there’s precious little ego here.

But it’s on “Mirrorball” – a track that owes as much of its sound to Japanese composer Yasunori Mitsuda as any ballad – that Elbow shines the brightest. At its heart a simple story, Elbow employs their unique ability to make the universal intimate, and weaves a tale that is simultaneously intimate and accessible, as big as time, and close as a whisper. It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Seldom Seen Kid is an album to fall in love with, and probably to.

Essentially, Elbow makes stirring, emotional music without a hint of self-indulgence, the kind of music that can make people believe in things they never thought they would. It is powerful, dynamic, and I feel genuinely sorry for anyone missing out on it. So grab a cup of tea, set aside an hour or so, and let yourself believe in love – even if only for a moment.

Now Hear This! Shoegaze



Originally appeared in The Cauldron, (2008). Included as part of BLOGSOLIDATION 2K16.

Now hear this!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Contributing Writer

Britain. Over the years we’ve seen countless musical trends from across the pond, and the interplay between popular music in the U.S. and U.K. (Rock n’ Roll influences the British invasion, which spurs psychadelia, which punk rebels against, etc) has certainly moved musicians to create new and different approaches, and many of our current genres are a result of this exchange. Of course, with so much variety over the years, entire movements can be lost in the shuffle.

A prime example of this would be the British “Shoegaze” scene, which peaked in popularity around 1990, but never really caught on in stateside. Blending atmospheric, dreamy pop stylings with wall-of-fuzz guitars, lush atmospheric synths, and vocals that were more about melody and texture than lyrical delivery, the shy, introspective musicians in bands like Ride and Slowdive earned the “Shoegazer” moniker by playing entire concerts without looking up at the audience, and focusing more on the ground than the camera during interviews. Unsurprisingly, this was difficult to market, especially with the theatrics of Grunge beginning to captivate the musical imagination of so many. The scene didn’t just fade into the night without any sort of legacy, however – the real impact of Shoegaze would be its influence on American alt-rock; from bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, The Verve and Mazzy Star to modern groups like Blond Redhead and Silversun Pickups, the genre had no shortage of effect on this side of the Atlantic.

California’s Starflyer 59 is arguably foremost among these acts. Frontman Jason Martin has been making quirky, introspective pop records for about 13 years now, and the band’s latest, Dial M should be hitting stores by the time this article is published. From the Sonic Youth-style fuzzy art rock of Silver and Gold, to the electric jangle pop anthems of Everybody Makes Mistakes and The Fashion Focus, the band continued releasing records at a prolific rate, arguably reaching a creative zenith with 2001’s Leave Here A Stranger, a symphonic surf-rock masterpiece that sounds like nothing so much as a soundtrack to an art film that was never made, by an existential director who doesn’t exist. In tribute to the Beach Boy’s seminal Pet Sounds, the album is recorded entirely in mono. From 2003-2006, Martin & Co. released one record per year, culminating in My Island, which saw a more up-tempo feel, and the release of a single and accompanying video. True to form, the band hired actors to play them in the video, with the musicians proper only appearing briefly towards the end, staring uncomfortably at their avatars, awkwardly out of place in the rock and roll world they created.

With 2007’s The Brothers Martin (a collaboration with Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric) the punch and atmosphere of Starflyer was blended with electric synth-pop to create one of the most surprisingly good records of the year – and with Starflyer’s latest, Dial M coming out roughly the same time as this article, Starflyer’s keeping the Shoegaze ethos of complex, beautiful songwriting alive and well, while infusing it with the verve of modern indie pop.

Even if he still can’t make eye contact with interviewers.

Now Hear This! Man Factory's Street Fight

This piece was originally published in The Cauldron (2008)

Note: it's no longer 2008, and MySpace is not really A Thing anymore. As such, you can find them here

Now Hear This!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Staff Writer
When I was young, there were a plethora of adventure movies that all began with a similar premise: a lone inquisitive child interacted with some deus ex machina plot device that transported them to another time/place/dimension, wherein they had magical adventures, and learned valuable lessons about believing in yourself, etc. These films were awesome.
Around the same time, Arcades had not quite been replaced by the Playstations and Xboxes of the world, and many a precocious youth would line up for the privilege of plunking their quarters into the massive upright cabinets of yore. These arcades were also, in their own rights, awesome.
However, the year is 2008 – and the adventures of my youth have been relegated to the realms of nostalgia, the films and arcade both forgotten relics of a bygone era. Enter the Arlington TX Indie Pop band, Man Factory. A quirky little unsigned group whose catalog had consisted mostly of poorly recorded, uninspired and disjointed singles, singer/guitarist Tyler White and keyboardist Austin Sevener had a brainstorm one night. Why not combine the nostalgia of childhood adventure films with the arcade games they grew up on? While we’re here, why not make an ambitious 3-album Rock Opera with no record label or financial support to speak of?
Apparently, they couldn’t think of compelling reasons not to, and we get to reap the rewards. Street Fight: Round One is available for free in its entirety at myspace.com/manfactory, and the improbable proposition of a Rock Opera based on the classic 1v1 fighting video game Street Fighter II is… well…good. Rather good, in fact. The concept album finds the band in significantly tighter focus than their previous efforts, and White’s deadpan falsetto comes through strong and clear, evoking comparisons to John Sampson (Propagahndi, The Weakerthans) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) without wading into derivative waters. Fellow vocalist Toni provides a softened contrast, staying comfortably within a moderate range. On the whole, the band blends guitar-driven bombast somewhere between Weezer and The Who with analog synth leads that might as well have been ripped clean from the video games that inspired the tale.
Starting off with “Night at the arcade”, the Factory tells the tale of a haunted arcade machine, ripping a poor young girl through space and time – and the earnestness with which they deliver such a far-fetched premise against the Rocky-esque main theme does wonders for the material, replete with faux horn section, dueling harmonized guitar solo, and appropriately epic build. In “Chun Li, Outside” Toni takes center stage, bringing a relatable determination to this inherently goofy revenge tale, segueing seamlessly into “Chun Li, I’m Lovin’ it” – which gleefully contrasts synthesized pan pipes with lyrics like “Bison’s Mean, Bison’s Bad, Bison fought and killed your Dad” – although it does come apart a bit towards the end, when the band tries to blend in original soundtrack from the game, and it feels a tad forced. “Where is Ryu?” and “E. Honda’s concern” continue the wink/nudge seriousness, and “Good Grief, Zangief!” branches out into eastern European folk music, before culminating in an 80’s TV theme-style power pop chorus – but the real star of this show would be “Balrog, 24/7,” in which White gleefully does his best Justin Timberlake, slinking through a slick R&B gem long on charm, and with sass to spare. And therein lies the beauty of Round One – it’s an inside joke, sure, but one that invites everyone to be a part of it. The record is disarmingly sincere in its childlike joy, and it’s 100% free.
Awesome.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

NOW HEAR THIS (VAMPIRE WEEKEND – DEBUT COLUMN, 2008. BE NICE TO ME)


Note: this piece is being reprinted here as part of an ongoing blog consolidation effort here at the Blog of Doomtm. It's my first published column, so please by kind when eviscerating me - poor freshman Killstring was trying to manage hip without sneering, and that's always a tricky balancing act. 

Second note: it's strange to think about now, with a flood of indie bands who pair jangly guitars with irreverent pop rhythms, educated volcabularies, and a sunny disposition. But it was pretty far out in left field when it came out.

Now hear this!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Contributing Writer

“There’s no good music anymore.”

We’ve all heard this. Some of us are saying it. It’s a legitimate question: adrift in a world of factory-fresh teen starlets, soulless vanilla rockers, and cookie-cutter wannabe tough guy rappers, what’s a discerning listener to do? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to read Now Hear This! – and you’re going to be exposed to an entire world of music that may have slipped right under your radar.

Today’s Act: Vampire Weekend.

Now, when first presented with these guys, I expected a very specific sort of mopey, eyeliner-drenched gloom rock, or at the very least, some angry, angst-filled industrial beats. Imagine my surprise, instead being greeted by some of the most unironically chipper music ever recorded.

Vampire Weekend formed at Columbia University (the name is taken from a student film produced by frontman Ezra Koenig his freshman year,) and derives its sound from equal parts British Pop, Congolese soukous music, and as near as I can tell, the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. Unsurprisingly, the Ivy League campus was receptive to their unique Euro-African literate Indie pop, and they’ve been on a landslide of success ever since, with SPIN magazine naming them the best new band of 2008, and even the almighty Rolling Stone ranks their song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” #67 on their Top 100 songs of 2007.

Their major label release, titled (yeah, you guessed it) Vampire Weekend is a light-hearted romp through pop convention. Songs like ‘Mansford Roof’ (which was the first single released, in addition to starting the record off) blend vintage organs, strings, and the atypical drumbeats that exemplify the band’s quirky approach. Koenig’s trademark falsetto is never forced, never strained – and that goes for pretty much everything else on the record. ‘A-Punk’ delivers a more straightforward approach, with its bright, clean guitars, and persistent rhythms.

The guitars on this record really bear mentioning – in an age where even contemporary pop and country artists have big, distorted electric guitars, Koenig and co-conspirator Rostam Batmanglij keep it clean on the 6-string front – there’s nary an aggressive snarl in sight, and the album’s lone guitar solo is more an exercise in melodic exploration than gratuitous face-melting axework.

Batmanglij’s Harpsichord takes center stage for ‘M79’, before giving way to driving violins, bouncing bass, and one of the catchiest melodies in recent memory. The driving, piano-pounding ‘Walcott’ is a tongue-in-cheek tale, loosely tied to the titular hero of the ill-fated Vampire Weekend film. The album’s concludes with arguably its strongest track, the Clash-esque ‘The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance’, a (insert reference here)

So, why should you go out of your way to listen to some absurd amalgamation of Ivy League English nerds, and traditional African music? Quite simply, there is no single better cure for a low test-score, a rough breakup, or any other strain of crappy day. Vampire Weekend is sunshine in a freaking glass.

Now hear that.