Made it to band #1000 on Band of the Day app!

Note: this was first published in Band of the Day app on June 6, 2014

The Strokes

It’s hard to believe that today we’re featuring our 1000th Band of the Day. Instead of exposing you to an unknown band today, we’ve decided to mark this special occasion by taking it back to one of the bands responsible for sparking our own obsession with music discovery: The Strokes. Thirteen years ago, the five New Yorkers — Julian Casablancas (lead vocals), Nick Valensi (guitar, vocals), Albert Hammond, Jr. (guitar, vocals), Nikolai Fraiture (bass), and Fabrizio Moretti (drums) — released their debut album Is This It (2001). Almost immediately it received critical acclaim across mainstream and independent music publications, being cited as one of the greatest rock albums of the 2000s and selling millions of copies worldwide. Since then, the band has kept the momentum going with the release of four additional albums: Room On Fire (2003), First Impressions of Earth (2006), Angles (2011), and most recently 2013’s Comedown Machine.

But going back to the Is This It era, it was a time when smartphones and music discovery apps didn’t exist. Most of us discovered new bands the old-fashioned way: radio, television, music magazines, snarky record store clerks…or in my case, snooping through my older brother’s Winamp files on our family’s shared computer. Instead of finding some type of incriminating evidence against him, I double-clicked a song at random, and turned the speakers up. The song was “Hard To Explain” (from Is This It), and I remember this visceral, overwhelming sensation of feeling completely captivated by the music. It sounded nothing like the top 40 radio hits and MTV chart-toppers I normally listened to as a teenage girl coming of age in the early 2000s. Immediately I queued up the rest of the songs on the album, and listened on repeat until I was kicked off the computer.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for The Strokes to oust ‘N Sync as my new favorite band — lead singer Julian Casablancas was now the top JC in my life (sorry JC Chasez). I bought every magazine with The Strokes on the cover, joined their online forum to meet like-minded fans, and went to all of their concerts when they came through town. One of the most important effects of this teenage devotion was that their music opened up an entirely different world of music to what I had always known. I learned about iconic bands who The Strokes cited as influences, like the Velvet Underground, Television, and New York Dolls; and their contemporaries, like The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Libertines, and Interpol. Music discovery became an essential part of life, a part that I’m now honored to share with all of you on a daily basis.

So today, instead of exposing your ears to the next best unknown band, I hope you enjoy taking a journey through the musical history of The Strokes with our selection of featured songs from each of their five albums. – Amanda Van West (@amandabomb)

#FlashbackFriday: Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel

This is an old unpublished one from Band of the Day, from 2011. Still one of my top albums, six years later. Click here to listen.

Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel (2008)

From the first few notes of “Hot Tent Blues,” the opening track to Late Of The Pier’s debut album Fantasy Black Channel, you’re in for a circus of bizarre sound effects, and hairpin turns through a galaxy of relentless and awesomely ridiculous songs.

It’s a swirling collage of musical ideas and effects—the unifying element being that every song sounds as eclectic as the next. As the instrumental “Hot Tent Blues” melts seamlessly into “Broken,” lead singer Sam Eastgate (who also plays guitar and synths) declares, “Didn’t sleep last night, couldn’t come down.” It’s danceable, but with a sense of yearning as Eastgate’s vocal range gradually moves to a higher register on the line “It’s all evolution’s fault now!”

Some random dude in front of a Castle Donington sign

Although they’ve all known each other since primary school in a small English village called Castle Donington, the quartet (which, alongside Eastgate includes Ross Dawson, drums; Sam Potter, sampler; and Andrew Faley, bass and synths) didn’t emerge as Late Of The Pier until 2004. They started making bedroom recordings, and released a free 14-track demo called Zarcorp, before being signed to a label. After attracting the attention of infamous British record producer, Erol Alkan, Fantasy Black Channel—produced by both Alkan and Eastgate–was released in the UK in 2008.

Considering all of the members are in their early 20s, many of the influences that can be heard on the album are from time periods before they were even born. In the otherworldly, foot-stomping “Space and the Woods,” an almost Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie twang sings out, “Put on my radiation suit and slip away.” And like Gang of Four on an acid freakout, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” has an angular, dance punk feel—with vocalizing “doo-doo’s” mimicking the synth riff.

 

“The Bears Are Coming” is like tribal martian music, with an oddly infectious riff that sounds like letting air rhythmically squeak out of a small mouth opening in a balloon. Like many of the other songs on the album, this almost sounds like it could be multiple songs in one. There is a bluesy breakdown of “I saw you wading in the water,” which explodes—there is literally the sound of glass breaking—into a wonderful mishmash of all the freakiness colliding as the imaginary bears have escaped.

But the stand-out track on here comes midway through, with the madly danceable “Heartbeat.” It has one of those tempo build-ups that’s worth waiting for, the type that brings to mind the feeling of pure elation and invincibility before the night becomes a complete blur. Eastgate assumes the role of erasing any sense of hesitation as he declares, “It’s just a line!”

With their jarring tempo changes, hedonistic lyrics, and eclectic musical ideas, Late Of The Pier is not for everybody. It’s been described as “anti-pop pop,” but for those along for the ride—enjoy the 42-minute dance adventure that’s equally grimy and glamorous.

Playlist: Songs you should know to impress your hipster friends

You know those friends who always seem to one-up you on obscure bands, no matter how much time you spend trawling the blogs? Give ‘em a taste of their own medicine by familiarizing yourself with some new music: Click here to open the Spotify playlist. 

 

Treasure Island Music Festival: Phantogram Review

(Note: I originally posted this for Band of the Day)

When you work in music, and you listen to thousands of bands and go to hundreds of shows, there’s an inherently sad thing that can happen. At some point, there’s this neutralization effect in which every new band becomes the same level of “good.” Pleasant enough to listen to while you’re working, driving, or getting ready in the morning. Or a nice night out at a concert, as an alternative to staying in and watching TV — but absent is that special spark that stirs something deep inside of your core, the spark that pushed you into this all-consuming world of music in the first place.

So when you have an experience that reignites the spark, it takes you completely by surprise, punching you in the gut as a visceral reminder of the role that music plays in your life. The steel hit the flint for me this past Saturday during Phantogram’s set at San Francisco’s Treasure Island Music Festival. The sun had just set, and there was a damp chill in the air, with a thin layer of mist hovering above a throng of festival-goers who were bundled up in hoodies and thick coats. Looking out beyond the stage, the bay was like a sheet of jet black satin, rippling gently with the reflection of a twinkling night time cityscape.

SF Cityscape at Treasure Island Festival, 2013

The scratchy opening beat of “When I’m Small” began to resonate across the audience, Josh Carter’s somber, yet grooving guitar work elegantly intertwined with Sarah Barthel’s airy vocalizations of “oh, oh, oh, oh.” There’s an almost unearthly, completely mesmerizing duality to her voice; delicate, yet commanding as she sings, “Take me underground/take me all the way/bring me to the fire/throw me in the flames.”

Electric Jellyfish

Suddenly out of nowhere, a swarm of artificial, glowing white jellyfish floats through the crowd, completing the mystical atmosphere that Phantogram has conjured in the span of less than an hour. Every single layer of sound swells into an all-consuming moment of pure sonic bliss at the song’s climax, Barthel pulling at your heartstrings and clawing at your soul as she mournfully declares, “I’d rather die/I’d rather die than to be with you.” And in that one single moment, everything is perfect. 

Happy Sinterklaas Day!

Happy Sinterklaas day!
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This is a very special day in which my people (the Dutch) celebrate the life of dear ol’ St. Nick, and enjoy some seasonally-appropriate racism. For those of you who’ve never heard of this holiday, gather around ye olde yule log (a laptop will suffice) and let your humble narrator tell you the tale:There once was a man called Saint Nicolaas, who’s also been known to go under such aliases as: De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man), De Sint (The Saint), and De Pre-Diabetische Bebaarde Kerel (The Pre-Diabetic Bearded Dude).

Every year, around late November, a steamboat from Spain arrives in The Netherlands. And on this boat is a stately, yet stoic, chap ensconced in a crimson crushed velvet suit, sporting a flowing white beard that glistens like the first snowflakes in the dawn’s light. Upon his arrival, he parades down the streets on his great gray steed, Amerigo, welcomed by a gaggle of cheering and singing children. “HIJ IS HIER (he’s here)! HIJ IS HIER!” they shout with glee!

Accompanying Sinterklass is his devoted servant, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who’s under strict orders to dress up like a 17th century page in a colorful dress, festooned with a lace collar, and donning a feathered cap, to satisfy his master’s unusual fetish.

On the night of December 4th, the local children are instructed to leave out their shoes by the fireplace, ready to accept the gifts of the generous overlord. After a snifter of brandy, and an erotic romp in the hay, Sinterklass and Zwarte Piet sashay around town, filling the shoes of the good children with chocolate coins, oranges, class A drugs, enemas, and other treats.

The naughty kids? A lump of coal. The really naughty kids? A good spanking with Zwarte Piet’s chimney sweep’s broom, made of the sharpest willow branches, whilst Sinterklass guffaws maniacally, the whites of his crazed eyes glinting in the night that’s as dark as his soul. And for the REALLY naughty children? They’re tied up in Zwarte Piet’s sack, to be transported back to Spain. Nobody knows exactly what happens when they get to Spain; some things are better left unsaid.

So there you have it, the most well-researched, factually-accurate tale of this special holiday. Happy Sinterklaas Day, everyone!

The Vaccines – The Vaccines EP Review

When a band manages to sell out concerts before even releasing a full-length album, it’s hard not to pay attention.

With just a self-titled EP under their belts, London-based newcomers, The Vaccines, are making waves in the vast ocean of the indie music scene.

Their influences might be vintage—ranging from The Zombies, to The Jesus and Mary Chain, to The Ramones—but the hype surrounding them is completely 21st century. Bloggers and music journalists alike have turned to social networking to spread the word on the next great British band.

Although it’s easy to lump them in the same category with other lo-fi, dream pop bands—like Beach House, Best Coast, and The Drums—The Vaccines manage to rise above the pack with their catchy hooks and punchy lyrics.

On the surface, “Post Break-Up Sex”–the first track off of the EP –sounds like it could be a lost Buddy Holly B-side, with dulcet 50s pop melodies over a pleasantly jangly beat.

But lyrics like, ‘I can’t believe you’re feeling good from/Post break-up sex/That helps you forget your ex/What did you expect from post break-up sex?’ give the song an ironic contrast.

Packing in a lot of punch in less than a minute and a half, “Wreckin’ Ball (Ra Ra Ra)” is the stand-out track on the EP.

Even if The Ramones and The Beach Boys formed a supergroup, and then time warped onto the set of a beach party scene in a raging 1960s surf movie, they probably wouldn’t come up with a song as catchy as this.

Winding down the EP is the more mellow, psychedelic-influenced “Blow It Up.” With its chiming guitars, downtempo beat, and repetitive chorus of ‘Blow/Blow/Blow it up’, this song is the auditory equivalent of getting lost in a kaleidoscope, admiring all of the intricate bejewelled patterns.

Until The Vaccines release a full-length album, The Vaccines – EP is the perfect appetizer to keep your music player satiated.

The Strokes New Single: Undercover of Darkness

To say that I used to be completely, utterly obsessed with The Strokes is a bit of an understatement.

As a 16 year-old high school girl in 2002, once I heard “Hard To Explain” and “Last Nite”, I never looked back.

I joined their official fan club. I went to as many of their concerts as I could. I posted on their music forum. I bought every single music magazine that featured articles on them. I devoted nearly every single blog post to them. I proudly wore their t-shirts. They were even the muses for my high school art assignments:

Drawing of Julian Casablancas, by Amanda Van West

But, like many young bands on the scene, nothing is permanent. As I grew out of my teeny bopper Strokes-obsessed phase, the band produced two more albums, before pretty much disappearing over the last 5 years.

They never officially split up, but most of the band members were busy with side projects, and it seemed like The Strokes might not ever produce music together again.

Undercover Of Darkness

That is, until today. For the first time in 5 years, The Strokes have released a new song: “Undercover Of Darkness.”

This is the first single off of their forthcoming album, Angles, which will be released on March 22nd.

While I was waiting for the song to download (it’s available for free for the next 48 hours on their official website), all of those giddy, 16 year-old teeny bopper feelings came bubbling to the surface again.

Even upon listening to the first few notes of the song, and to Julian’s distinct, yearning-yet-gritty voice, crooning away ambiguous lyrics, little goosebumps actually formed on my arms.

“Undercover Of Darkness” has the classic, Is This It?-era Strokes sound: upbeat, jangly guitars and a feeling that is simultaneously nostalgic and melancholic.

You know that feeling that you get when you meet someone new, but you feel like you’ve known them forever? Yet, you’re still excited about what they’re going to bring to your life, so you want to hang out with them as much as possible to soak up their awesomeness.

“Undercover Of Darkness” is like that new person, and my iTunes is getting a very hefty dose of it–repeatedly!

Hopefully the rest of Angles will live up to the expectations set by “Undercover Of Darkness.” In the meantime, “I’ll wait for you!”