Army of Mushrooms – Infected Mushroom

I can’t believe I’ve been posting about music for about 4 years without ever mentioning Infected Mushroom. Not only are they one of Israel’s best selling artists ever, but they stand out as possibly the best psychedelic trance djs out there. Psytrance, as it’s called, is composed of strange synthetic sounds layered into a complex arrangement. As techno, I’ve always admired Infected Mushroom’s ability to always be evolving the song, somehow keeping it from being boring without losing the hooks. On top of that they are very open to ‘mainstream experimentation’, love nothing more than hyping up crowds and getting them to dance their asses off, and were the first electronic dj duo I’ve ever seen to incorporate live guitars into their act a decade ago. Also, cool album art still counts for something.

Army of Mushrooms – Infected Mushroom

Drum N’ Bassa 
Drum N’ Bassa

Army of Mushrooms takes a step away from previous releases as if to refocus itself in its core psytrance roots. Gone are the poppy vocal efforts the previous 3 albums championed after the success of I Wish on Converting Vegetarians. Some of the melodies are definitely more weird but still the classic Mushroom you’d expect. Never Mind is a great way to open the album; it is a technical masterpiece of the popular and the strange yet catchy.

Here is introduced a noticeable and somewhat expected dubstep influence, a natural step for Infected Mushroom to get psytrance dirty into psystep. I didn’t find the one song that overtly pushed the style too appealing but it is a nice ingredient as a minor influence across the collection.

Overall I have to admit that this album seems to have a bit too many ‘just average’ tracks and falls short of previous titles, but only because Infected Mushroom’s catalog is so good. But don’t let a quick skim fool you. Spending the extra few minutes to hear Drum N’ Bassa out until the end is time well rewarded. As with all of their music, turn up the volume, notice the intricacies, and rock the fuck out.

Sun – Cat Power

After years of not releasing an original LP, Chan Marshall defies expectations and presses a great album. I don’t know where she’s been or what she’s up to- I’m not really the type to read about artist’s lives in Rolling Stone, but I am glad she’s back. I’ve previously alluded to the possibility that I would like this release based on the single Ruin, and while this isn’t going to light the world on fire, it certainly is nice to once again be listening to some good Cat Power.

Sun – Cat Power

Cherokee
Cherokee

The album opens strong with Cherokee, Sun, and Ruin- three tracks that are surprisingly upbeat and positive for the musician. The presence of percussion and electronic support are welcome and it’s clear that Cat Power is best with these elements. 1996’s What Would The Community Think made that clear long ago and it’s sometimes frustrating as a fan when Chan deviates from this style.

The remainder of the album is perhaps not as strong and there are a mix of hits and misses depending where you fall on the fan spectrum. I personally enjoy most of it but the songs probably aren’t a good way to showcase the best of the band. Still, if you’re looking for a slightly modernized, optimistic version of Cat Power 3.0, it’s here for the taking.

The Fonda Theatre

At long last I get to cross ‘seeing The Afghan Whigs live’ off my bucket list. They played two nights at the Fonda Theatre, formerly Music Box, formerly the Henry Fonda Theatre, formerly a bunch of other names but originally (and again) Music Box.

Venue:

6126 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90028

This is a great location in the heart of Hollywood, just a short block from the Hollywood & Vine Metro station. If you don’t take the train, however, you’ll need to look for parking and you’ll probably end up paying in the connected lot. There’s an upstairs floor with seating and a bar as well as an large outside roof patio but all of this is secondary to what really matters – the main floor. Again a large bar and some limited seats sit against the back wall before a step down into the large, flat, open General Admission area. The old 1920’s theater vibe is present from the decorative ceiling, pillars, and old curtains.

Show:

As previously mentioned, the theater just went through a stint as the Music Box where the large area in front of the stage often acted as a club dance floor. This means there is plenty of space and the sound is great. The acoustics of the old fashioned theater are appreciated and it’s easy to see the show no matter where you stand. The Afghan Whigs kept the light show simple but the equipment was modern and well done. I have to say that I’ve seen countless shows at this venue and have never been disappointed.

Drinking:

The drinks in plastic cups are more or less what you’d expect but it is worth pointing out that there are enough bars in here to keep you from waiting in any noticeable lines. And of course, this being Hollywood, danger dogs will be served on the sidewalk just outside. But the real gem is the attached bar, Blue Palms Brewhouse. This is one of the best places to discover and drink craft beers in LA. They have a large rotating selection of 20+ drafts, including a few of their own, and have a bunch of appetizers, burgers, and entrees that go great with beer. The only thing I can fault them for is being a little too packed and leaning a bit too heavily on the IPA crutch. Sometimes the door between the bar and the theater lobby is open as well, allowing easy access. What more could you want?

Santa Barbara Bowl

I just caught a great double show. Jane’s Addiction is on tour for their new album and I decided to see them off the beaten path and go to the Santa Barbara Bowl. What’s more, The Airborne Toxic Event opened for them.

Venue:

1122 North Milpas Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Just on the edge of walkable from Santa Barbara’s State Street, up into the hills, is the pleasant outdoor bowl. The venue is much smaller than similar sites (like the Hollywood Bowl) but the intimacy is appreciated. Southern California lends a hand in the ambiance- the coastal air and cool breeze kept the temperature perfect. There are more seats compared to most normal concerts but there is still a party at the bottom if you so choose. Up top, the wooden bleacher-style seats are spacious.

Show:

Most outdoor venues have an acoustical challenge to deal with and may suffer some sound quality loss as a trade-off. The Santa Barbara Bowl does a valiant job and I thought both bands sounded great. The stage is big and offers a lot of space for lights, props, and performers. It is important to keep in mind that, while this is small for a bowl, outdoor venues tend to be much bigger than traditional theaters so you do tend to get more of a bird’s eye view of things.

Drinking:

Is there anything better than drinking wine from plastic cups at outdoor bowl concerts? Santa Barbara, known for great wines, delivered. Unlike Hollywood Bowl, you can’t bring in your own bottles and I’m not even sure if you can bring in your own food. The concession stands have a pretty broad selection of snacks and entrees, though.

Hollywood Palladium

After seeing a few good bands at bad venues, it was refreshing to get to see Crystal Castles with a good set up at the Hollywood Palladium.

Venue:

6215 Sunset Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028

Within blocks of the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, the Palladium is larger and more convenient than one might expect. Parking in the area is limited and will probably cost you some money but it is very easy to get through the line and get inside. The Hollywood Palladium went through a massive renovation in 2008 and has very nice Art Deco elements throughout. The accent lighting is moody and the General Admission floor is laid with wood. The stage is shaped like an oval and the entire floor area wraps around it and out to give a good view to many, and there are two balconies for a higher view, one of which is usually reserved for VIPs (and thus, less packed). The hallways and bathrooms are roomy and the AC works great providing a very easy and comfortable experience all around.

Show:

Simply put, the lights and sound system at the Hollywood Palladium are top notch. Everything about the venue is new and well planned. It was refreshing to clearly hear the music after the debacle at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The smoke show, however, does tend to get a bit crazy here and can impact the visibility of the act. In this case I’d say more of that was on Crystal Castles and the fact that I was watching the show from the back of the floor. In the past I’ve seen both the Pixies (for a Doolittle show) and Nine Inch Nails (for a Downward spiral show) further up into the mix and had a fine view.

Drinking:

With a bar on each balcony, one in back of the floor and another in the mezzanine area, it is very easy to grab a cocktail and get back to the show. Smokers might be disappointed by the lack of patio- they just kind of stand outside at the front. Food is nonexistent while inside but, it being Hollywood and all, you’d be hard pressed not to see several bacon wrapped hot dog stands on your way out.

The Afghan Whigs

I’m watching a replay of The Afghan Whigs right now on the Austin City Limits YouTube page. It’s not hard to see why they are one of my absolute favorite bands of all time. Especially when they play tracks from Gentlemen, it is insane that I’m able to see this in my lifetime after thinking it could never happen. These guys are talented and I’m happy to be seeing them in person later this year. Check them on this tour if you can.

And yes, they do play Miles iz Ded.

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

A few friends and I just caught the Silversun Pickups at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Since I see a good deal of shows in the LA area, I figured I should start sorting them out.

Venue:

1855 Main Street Santa Monica, CA 90401-3209

Just off the 10 and easy to get to, the SMCA is in the heart of the city close to the beach. There’s ample parking in a next door pay garage and there’s no hassle getting inside. The interior structure looks like a 50s era bomb shelter- it is laid out like a theater but has little imagination or noticeable decoration. The plain cement walls and cement seating/steps are so bland that it would even be embarrassing for a high school pep rally. As with most shows, the AC didn’t do a very good job keeping the crowd cool on the General Admission floor but it was nice to be able to go outside in the front grounds for some fresh air. All in all the venue is pretty convenient.

Show:

The light show was top notch. I’m not sure how much of this had to do with Silversun’s set up but there were great visuals with modern lights. It was a simple layout too so I’m sure the limits could be pushed on this end. That said, it’s hard to judge the speaker system because the whole place is encased in cement and echoes like crazy. I have to say, especially considering the fairly large open space the crowd was standing in, the music was completely destroyed by the horrible acoustics. I love the band and am familiar with all their songs and it was sometimes hard to discern what was going on. I don’t know if everything could be blamed on just the echoes, either. At times the back up singer would chime in or a guitar solo would start and it took several seconds of silence before the volume was adjusted to the proper mix. Just awful for a great album that I wanted to enjoy live.

Drinking:

Now to the important part. Drinks were served outside and they had good bottles like Sailor Jerry’s available. Prices weren’t too bad and lines were plentiful and decently sized. We did generally wait about 5-7 minutes to order but it was pleasant standing and socializing in the front yard anyway. Pours were pretty good too. There was a food counter inside but it didn’t look appealing and no one was bothering.

Ruin–Cat Power

It’s been a while since I’ve been excited by Chan Marshall’s work. 2006’s album The Greatest wasn’t exactly, err, the best original music she’s produced, and since then she’s continued this country and soul binge with a covers album that, while likely garnering her industry respect, isn’t quite where my tastes lie. Even 2003’s You Are Free, while retaining the old ‘Cat Power’ style, couldn’t quite live up to the haunting beauty of her previous body of work. It seemed that Cat Power was perhaps an indie phenomenon relegated to 90s relevance.

In early August, a new decade will bring a new original Cat Power album, Sun. From the early single, Ruin, I am glad to hear that maybe some of the old charm is back. The salsa-esque piano sets the tone and Chan’s vocals do the rest, creating a simple and effective song that brightens the mood with every listen. While the emotion on the album remains to be seen, history has shown Cat Power to use a poppy single to lure attention to a more diverse collection so it’s hard to say what is in store for us in August. Needless to say, I’m actually intrigued this go around and will report back with the reveal.

Neck of the Woods – Silversun Pickups

After just recently releasing a kick-ass EP, Silversun Pickups finally drops their next full length studio album. Will the group continue the trend of adding distortion and noise to a mostly homogenous collection? Although that’s a horrible summation of the direction of Swoon, which is admittedly a great album, the criticism is still fair. Silversun is a group, however, that has a lot more to share than a single trick, and even though Seasick hinted at some good things, it didn’t prepare me for Neck of the Woods.

Brave diversity is a concise description of the collection of tracks. As the album first starts, I actually thought I was listening to new Sigur Ros. Within moments it sounded like the recent Portishead effort. How a band can pull off representing so many influences at once is remarkable. Depeche Mode, She Wants Revenge, My Bloody Valentine- I shit you not, sequences of songs sound like all of these groups.

Busy Bees
Busy Bees

All this variety is immediately confusing- the music is different and although some songs have catchy sections, the expectations of where the music is going keep changing. Inconsistent beats, notes, and melodies will require more listening to than the group’s previous work but high notes and powerful surges excite, making familiarity with the songs and the lyrics elevate the experience. Neck of the Woods is definitely more indie. The songs have less standard pop structures and more changeups and strong melodic dissonances. But the sounds are purposeful with great builds to rocking sections.

Besides the non-conformist song structures, Silversun is adding some other twists to this cocktail. Some tracks are more synth driven at times, especially in their intros. The band thankfully plays with much less distortion. Many of the vocals are simultaneously backed up by the female bassist giving a magical quality to the harmony. Everything here screams love of music and discontent with doing the same thing again and again, and after all, isn’t that kind of what ‘more indie’ is all about?

Out Of Breath
Out of Breath

My recommendation on Neck of the Woods should be clear. This is a landmark album by the Silversun Pickups. This is a snapshot moment of the band maturing into something more than just a signature sound. This is a headphone record. Put those on, turn the volume up, and just enjoy the variety and pacing of the entire album without interruption. It all fits together so well that it will amaze you at how enthralling an experience it can be.