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A Top Five Look Back at 2014

December 31st, 2014

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

Top Five Albums
1. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
2. Total Control, Typical System
3. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2
4. Coldplay, Ghost Stories
5. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal —Charles Steinberg

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Feist, Tarrytown Music Hall, 4/10
When I heard Feist was doing a tiny solo acoustic tour, I forked over ducats for this one. There were bits of stand-up-like banter with the audience as she stripped down the material. But what really made the night was a mini-reunion with former bandmate (and ex) Kevin Drew as they dueted on the Broken Social Scene classic “Lover’s Spit.”
2. (tie) Rhye, Webster Hall, 2/21
This performance was a bit misleading because although singer Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal are the members in Rhye, the latter member doesn’t tour. But Milosh’s ethereal voice really is the heart and soul of the pair, and it shone greatest for the hit “Open.” His deceptively androgynous voice sounds at times like Sade or even Antony Hegarty.
(tie) Max Richter, The Bowery Ballroom, 12/7
When I saw that the German-British composer was playing Bowery, I had to hop to it. As Richter usually plays symphony concert halls, it was an interesting choice to play such a smaller venue. The Ballroom felt like a recital hall with the audience entranced. What can I say: I’m a sucker for artists playing unorthodox venues.
3. Glass Animals, The Bowery Ballroom, 7/7
I was recently reminded of this concert when my yoga instructor played “Gooey” in class. Pretty fitting, right? In addition to infectious dance melodies, frontman Dave Bayley’s gangly limbs flayed erratically that evening, bringing to mind another dude named Thom Yorke. The two lads have great music and dance moves to boot. Coincidence? I think not.
4. Phox, Knitting Factory, 7/22
The buzz swirling around this Wisconsin band post-SXSW had me tuned into their album all spring and into the summer. Frontwoman Monica Martin was definitely a bit tipsy, but that didn’t detract from her lush vocals or onstage camaraderie. (Check out Schuyler Rooth’s review of their Mercury Lounge gig.)
5. (tie) Mr. Little Jeans, Rough Trade NYC, 5/10
Opening for Sohn, Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, aka Mr. Little Jeans, overshadowed the headliner for me. It’s rare when that happens, but this lady has a knack for übercatchy dance-pop songs that streamed through my head all summer. She mentioned how she often came here as a child and was really craving a good slice of pizza. What’s not to love?
(tie) Alvvays, Rough Trade NYC, 7/28
New York City summers are packed with free outdoor gigs throughout the boroughs, but this in-store performance with Alvvays stood out amongst the rest. Their infectiously happy songs illuminated the dark back room of Rough Trade but had folks departing into the night with an extra bounce in their step. —Sharlene Chiu

Top Five Just a Man and His Guitar Solo Sets (chronological order)
1.
Dustin Wong (opening set), The Bowery Ballroom, 4/21
2. Plankton Wat, Trans Pecos, 5/8
3. Steve Gunn, Mercury Lounge, 5/18
4. Willie Watson, Mercury Lounge, 5/21
5. Leif Vollebekk (opening set) The Bowery Ballroom, 11/21 —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Sylvan Esso, Rough Trade NYC, 9/11
Both my favorite album and my most memorable live show of 2014 came from Sylvan Esso. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn possess unwavering emotive energy, and every single lyric and beat has sunk into my psyche . I saw the duo perform live twice this year, most recently at their headlining show at Rough Trade NYC. The duo’s erudite electronica boosted the audience as they performed the entirety of their self-titled debut album plus and few clever covers.
2. Broods, Mercury Lounge, 3/3
Comprised of New Zealander siblings Caleb and Georgia Nott, Broods blend melodic melancholia with sparkling synths and glitchy beats. After getting wrapped up in their self-titled debut EP, I simply had to see them live. Broods played their first NYC show to an incredibly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at Mercury Lounge.
3. Hozier, The Bowery Ballroom, 5/13
Hozier’s rich voice and ardent lyrics sit front and center in his compositions. When he headlined The Bowery Ballroom back in May, he was flanked by equally talented musicians who created dazzling harmonies with choral echoes and rock hooks. Hozier and his bandmates mesmerized the audience, including me.
4. Dan Croll, The Bowery Ballroom, 4/17
Dan Croll’s brand of pop is highly addictive, and his live show is equally intoxicating. He fuses lilting pop, wonky electronica and tribal beats and tops it all off with clever lyrics and airy vocals.
5. Kishi Bashi, The Bowery Ballroom, 6/4
Kishi Bashi has what so many musicians seek, and that is an astounding live presence. It’s as if this guy belongs onstage. Kishi Bashi played back-to-back sold-out New York City shows this past June and stunned audiences with his whimsical finesse and astute lyrics. This picture and my review prove that Kishi Bashi’s live performance is one big euphoric dream sequence. —Schuyler Rooth | @Schuylerspeak

Top Five Albums
1. Under the Pressure, the War on Drugs
Channeling Dylan and Springsteen beneath Adam Granduciel’s vocals and personal struggles to stunning effect, this Philly six-piece put out, for me, far and away the top album of the year.
2. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
From the very first listen, Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut sounds familiar, not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. The music is lived in and alive and a joy to listen to again and again.
3. 77, Nude Beach
Eighteen songs that sound like the love children of late-’70s Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. You’ll smile the whole time you listen to it.
4. Dancin’ with Wolves, Natural Child
Recording for the first time as a five-piece, and moving away from gritty garage rock to
a more full-band bluesy country sound (with a side of boogie), these Nashville boys took a huge step forward.
5. Morning Phase, Beck
Six years removed from his previous offering, Beck’s slow-building emotional relative of Sea Change captures you from the very first note. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Pearl Jam, I Wireless Center (Moline, Ill.), 10/17
Playing a small (for them) venue (for the first time) on a Friday night in the middle of nowhere, Pearl Jam put on the best show by any band I’ve seen in the past four years. They performed No Code in its entirety and covered Pink Floyd, John Lennon, Van Halen and Neil Young. Frontman Eddie Vedder put it best, comparing the appearance to a blind date: “You get there and she opens the door, and it’s like, she’s hot!”
2. My Morning Jacket, One Big Holiday (Riviera Maya, Mexico), 1/29
I could’ve chosen any of MMJ’s performances from this run, but the last night was the longest show and it particularly stood out thanks to the perfect weather, the we’re-on-vacation-in-the-middle-of-winter party vibe and carefully chosen covers (including Jim James singing, “Something, something, something” in “Rock the Casbah.”)
3. the War on Drugs, The Bowery Ballroom, 3/20
I absolutely loved, loved, loved Under the Pressure and was extremely excited to hear it live. The War on Drugs did not disappoint, plus they even threw in a stellar rendition of “Mind Games” to boot. (As an added bonus, the night began with Drive-By Truckers at Terminal 5 and closed with green sauce and salt-baked goodness at New York Noodletown.
4. Jonathan Wilson, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 2/14
It was a Friday night and Valentine’s Day. But if you were expecting something quiet and romantic, you’d have been way off. Jonathan Wilson and Co. delivered 16 jammed-out (but not self-indulgently) songs over the course of two-and-a-half hours.
5. Deer Tick, Allen Room, 3/6
As part of the American Songbook series, Deer Tick played an incredibly intimate, seated show in front of a wall of windows revealing Columbus Circle below. It was one of those moments that makes you grateful to live in New York City. —R.Z.

 

 

 

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The Influential Gary Numan Headlines Webster Hall on Saturday

March 20th, 2014

Gary Numan, an innovative, pioneering force in industrial, electronic music and synth pop, has been influencing others for more than three decades now. He rose to fame fronting the post-punk band Tubeway Army in late-’70s London. Numan’s first solo album, the guitar-free The Pleasure Principle (stream it below), came out in 1979. Led by the single “Cars,” the LP received rave reviews and the singer-songwriter toured the world in support of it. Since then, Numan (above, performing “Cars” for KEXP FM) has released a slew of singles and albums. His 12th studio album, Songs from a Broken Mind (stream it below), came out last year. Consequence of Sound declared “Gary Numan is easily poised for a comeback, even though he never really went anywhere, and Splinter is easily his strongest album in years.” Find out in person why he’s influenced the likes of Trent Reznor, Beck and Dave Grohl when Gary Numan plays Webster Hall on Saturday night.

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Gardens & Villa Bring a New Album to Music Hall Tonight

February 25th, 2014

Five college friends formed Gardens & Villa in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2008. At first it was just Chris Lynch (vocals and guitar), Adam Rasmussen (synths), Shane McKillop (bass) and Levi Hayden (drums), but they soon added Dustin Ineman (keys) for their live appearances. The band headed up to Oregon to record their first album, the upbeat but chill Gardens & Villa (stream it below), with Richard Swift, camping out in his backyard: “No shower, no kitchen, but all the magic you could ask for.” The A.V. Club said the group “belongs to the tradition of scruffy California rock bands that make music as big, breezy, weird and subtly sinister as their home state,” before comparing Gardens & Villa (above, performing “Minnesota” in studio for KJEE FM) to Beck, Ariel Pink and Grandaddy. Earlier this month, the quintet’s follow-up effort, the introspective yet danceable Dunes (stream it below), arrived on Secretly Canadian. Paste weighed in, saying the album “is an enticing amalgamation of contemporary dance-music sensibilities laid over familiar, primal roots. The pointed, salient synths of Adam Rasmussen mesh fluidly with the soft melodies of lead singer Chris Lynch’s bansuri flutes and falsetto cries. Innumerable intricacies layered into the background make for an encompassing wall of notes that pulls you into a unusual dance.” Dance along in person when Gardens & Villa play Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight. (Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming’s Diane Coffee opens.)

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Spend a Sultry Sunday with inc. at Music Hall of Williamsburg

July 12th, 2013

Brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged formed inc. (originally Teen Inc.) three years ago in L.A. Thanks to their blues, funk, gospel, jazz and rock influences, their brand of R&B doesn’t sound like your typical R&B. So when Daniel says, “It’s undeniably the language we speak, but we’re trying to transcend that language,” it makes sense rather than sounding boastful. Two years ago, on the strength of their three-song EP, 3, inc. (above, performing “Black Wings”) recorded with and toured the country alongside the likes of Beck, Cee Lo Green and Raphael Saadiq. Earlier this year they returned with their first full-length, the slow and sultry No World (stream it below), which has won over many, including Deepak Chopra. Find out why when they play Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday night.

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Sharon Van Etten and Friends Play Town Hall Tomorrow Night

November 14th, 2012

Like many before her, Sharon Van Etten came to New York City from New Jersey in order to make music. And despite her East Coast upbringing, Van Etten sings of Middle American—universal, even—themes, but she does so in her uniquely powerful voice. The talented singer-songwriter has put out three folkie albums, including this year’s acclaimed Tramp, which Rolling Stone says “plays like a female version of Beck’s Sea Change.” The album was a bit of an all-star affair, with appearances by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and a host of others. And when Van Etten (above, doing “Give Out” for Minnesota Public Radio) plays Town Hall tomorrow night, she’ll be joined by Aaron Dessner and Wasner, plus Thurston Moore, John Moloney, the Antlers’ Peter Silberman and Megafaun’s Brad Cook.

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A Big Band Brings a Big Sound to Mercury Lounge Tomorrow Night

August 10th, 2012

It’s hard to pin down Ava Luna’s notable sound. Or as frontman Carlos Hernandez says, “We have a lot of synthesizers and vocal harmonies. I would call it kind of heavy and strange, but also very poppy.” Imagine well-crafted songs (thanks in part to Hernandez studying Music Composition at Columbia) that employ a heady mix of’60s doo-wop, ’70s R&B and a dash punk and avant-garde all topped off with a trio of women adding three-part harmonies and you’re starting to get the idea. The Brooklyn septet has been eagerly compared to Dirty Projectors, and the influential Seattle public-radio station KCRW has mentioned Midnight Vultures–era Beck. So there’s also that. As their excellent new album, Ice Level, proves, Ava Luna (above, playing “Past the Barbary” for Pink Couch Sessions) makes the kind of music that you can listen to over and over again and get something different each time, which in an era when music all too often sounds the same, is pretty damn cool. See them tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge.