Category Archives: review

i’d rather be a hippie than a hipster

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The new album from Grouplove is here, and much like their debut, 2011’s Never Trust a Happy Song, it’s all over the place — in the best way possible. Spreading Rumours, their sophomore effort, is loud, messy, frenetic, and fucking incredible. The jumble of musical styles and obvious references to other musicians seem on paper like they would never work, a blend of reggae, rock, rap, funk, soul, pop, and stomp so audacious that it’s actually quite perfect. It’s impossible to listen to this album without wanting to immediately get up and dance — or have an impromptu solo air band concert on your couch.

I suppose I’m Grouplove’s target audience, since I’m a fan in one way or another of most of the above referenced genres, and I’m a sucker for pomp-and-circumstantial pop. You say bombastic, I say fantastic. And that last sentence pretty perfectly summarizes Spreading Rumours. You’re either going to love this album or start shaking your cane and asking those damn kids to turn that noise down. And that’s okay. I’ll just be in the former camp rocking out.

Going back to the aforementioned blend of style and influences permeating Grouplove’s work, the usual suspects from Never Trust A Happy Song are back for round two on Rumours, including the Pixies (“Raspberry”) and Beach Boys (“Shark Attack” — though really just the acoustic guitar breakdown and harmonies; that track is an explosive surf rock/dancehall concoction that might give even fun fun fun-lovin’ Brian Wilson a headache). Joining them this time around are The Beatles (“Bitin’ the Bullet” — see if you can pick out strains from “A Day in the Life”), the Flaming Lips (“News to Me” sounds eerily similar to “She Don’t Use Jelly”), and Better Than Ezra (“Save the Party For Me,” the album closer, which to my ears echoes BTE album closer “Happy Endings”). “Sit Still” could be a lost collaboration between Feist and En Vogue (can someone make that happen for real?). I’m sure there are many more that will jump out at me in the days and weeks to come.

One of the things I love best about Grouplove’s use of such referencing, both obvious and subtle, is that it doesn’t seem forced. Maybe they meant to write a hook that riffs on Black Francis’s best; maybe they just really enjoy the Pixies and their work is always in mind when writing. Either way, Grouplove has found a way to take their reverence and turn it into something wholly their own. Even the very name of the band (and the title of this post, which comes from a Rumours lyric) implies their free-spirited attitude toward other musicians: it’s a group full of love for other groups.

That statement may be a bit of a reach and a more than a little cheesy, but if Grouplove doesn’t care about unabashed sentiment, then why should I? As they sing on “News to Me”:

And if you’re living for something, that’s something / Yeah, you might have it all.

Looks like Grouplove and I suffer from an embarrassment of riches.

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i was once a loyal lover


The release of Ben — sorry, Benjamin — Gibbard’s excellent solo album last week got me thinking about how much I used to love Death Cab for Cutie. Not just love — like, LOVE love. (In case it wasn’t clear from that eloquent proclamation, this love blossomed most brightly during my freshman and sophomore years of college.)

I wore out my digital downloads of Transatlanticism tracks, gobbled up Plans as soon as it was released, saw them on tour, and then… things just kind of fell off.* When Narrow Stairs debuted in 2008, I was mildly obsessed with epic eight-minute-plus single “I Will Possess Your Heart,” but I didn’t really care for the other singles, and when a friend lent me a copy of the entire album I just kind of shrugged and the music rolled off, not leaving any sort of strong impression, good or bad.

By the time Codes and Keys came around last year, it was the same story. I liked “You Are a Tourist,” but NPR’s advance stream of the entire album left me cold. I didn’t even bother seeking out a copy until last month, mostly out of guilt at my fairweather fandom. During that same transaction, I also finally got myself The Open Door EP, which I had heard about and wanted to acquire upon its release but for some reason just never purchased.

Wracking my brain for reasons as to why that could be — after all, I had already heard a couple songs off the tiny tracklist and liked them a lot — I looked up the release date, and then realized that its early April 2009 debut was smack dab in the middle of my harried completion of a soul-sucking, time-thieving magazine prototype production project at grad school. So, of course, some things were bound to fall by the wayside, right? I mean, I was barely sleeping, spending hours upon hours in the computer labs staring at slapdash layouts, even making arts and crafts projects in my failed attempt to be a creative art director while also making my life even more difficult than it had to be.

Honestly, sometimes I think my membership in the music fan club should be revoked. Yes, I was beyond busy, but I knew about this EP’s existence, and should have made more of an effort to acquire it. It would have come in handy to have on my Zune for all those long hours in the lab, and probably would have provided a nice respite from the craziness swirling around me, if only for those five tracks.

Rather than regret my musical transgressions, I’m just going to enjoy what I have now — and boy, am I ever. As the chorus goes in this post’s title track: “You can’t even begin to know how many times I’ve told myself, ‘I told you so.'” I still may not be a very loyal fan (I can think of many other bands against whom I’ve committed similar sins, and for that I am sorry), but I’m trying. In this age of  overstimulation and distraction, digital or otherwise, sometimes “better late than never” is the best that you can do.

*Many people will note that I could never have been a true Death Cab fan in the first place since I sort of ignored their earlier releases, which apparently all the cool kids think are really their best work. Fair point. But to give me back some credibility, I do have a handful of illegally downloaded tracks from Something About Airplanes, The Photo Album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords, and even LIKE some of them. But I’m a simple girl with simple tastes and if I don’t care for music I move on, no matter how much I love the band in question. Sorry.

i need you right now

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, adjusting slower than I’d like to my new life as a Midwesterner. And as I’m still without gainful employment, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to contemplate my inner conflict, and thus have been taking every and any opportunity to distract myself, devouring pop culture with a voraciousness I haven’t felt in years.

Enter Howler.

Thanks to stumbling upon a recommendation from Paste, I decided to seek out their debut album (which, yes, came out waaaay back in January, I’m late to the game, blah blah, etc.), and I couldn’t be happier that my wasting time on the internet led me to this band. Mindless link-clicking can be good for the soul, kids.

In the week since America Give Up entered my life, I’ve listed to the album countless times (okay, that’s not entirely true, thanks to Last.fm’s diligence), and its third track has inspired me to hit “repeat” on more occasions than I can recall. I’m not sure the last time I was this obsessed with a single song — maybe December 2008? Either way, I am seriously in love with “This One’s Different.”


It’s difficult to put into words what exactly it is about this track that has me so transfixed. Maybe it’s because the guitar and bass hooks are buoyant and infectious, the delivery is snappy, and the lyrics are dripping with clever turns of phrase, like the narrator declaring that in writing a song, he’ll “put the pen onto the page, let the ink scream along.” I also really dig the Replacements reference in the following couplet:

Paul said, “I could live without your touch if I could die within your reach.”
I say that damn line way too much, like it’s something I have to preach.

Other standout tracks include back-to-back-to-back trio “Told You Once,” “Back of Your Neck,” and “Free Drunk,” though really, the entire album is worth your time (and clocking in around 31 minutes, it’s certainly a short journey to take for such a big reward). I’ve read several reviews comparing these guys to The Strokes, an observation I think is apt, especially when considering their vocal stylings and penchant for fuzzed-out melodies. I’d also venture to say they’re taking some influence from Weezer and the Beach Boys (in addition to the aforementioned Replacements) with their affinity for surf rock, straight-up rock, and tight harmonies, and I am totally on-board with them further exploring that sound on future releases.

As frontman Jordan Gatesmith croons on “This One’s Different,” “When the feeling is there, it’s there.” For me and Howler, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

everybody, put your best suit or dress on


While not technically the new year yet, I couldn’t resist the Death Cab reference. This time of year always brings out the nostalgia in me — as I’m sure it does in just about everyone else, too — and what better time to get sappy and reflective than at the end of this year and on the cusp of the next? I’m pretty sure it’s what the holiday was designed for. (Nevermind the whole changing of the calendar thing.)

Aside from a few mishaps along the way, 2011 was a pretty kickass year, at least in my personal life. My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary in May. My brother got married in June and shortly after found out he and his wife are expecting their first child (baby Claire is due in March, and Aunt Katie can’t wait). My adorable nephew, Dante, turned 1 in November, and after spending some time with him around Christmas I can already tell he’s a brilliant child, if his ability to figure out a toy basketball and hoop after one attempt is any indication. (Scholarship, anyone?)

And of course, the best thing happened in August. After months of planning and planning-related headaches, I married my fantastic, goofy best friend, and four months in, we’re as happy as ever. I don’t want to gush too much (my Facebook friends are more than familiar with my ability to wax poetic about my happiness, sometimes to the detriment of others — apologies for that), but suffice it to say, the day itself was wonderful, and so far, the life we’re building together is pretty great. I’m looking forward to many more years of this fabulous existence with my husband by my side.

I hope to write a more exhaustive end-of-year pop culture recap in the coming days/weeks (I’m currently working on a retrospective music mix, which is taking much longer than anticipated, mostly because I keep coming across new tunes to add to the pile), but for now, let me end this one with a few of the things I enjoyed in 2011:

This commercial • Spontaneous trips to Boston & NYC to visit much-missed friends • Seeing “Starry Night” in person • Bossypants • My first iPod • Dancing to Lady Gaga with my father- and mother-in-law at my brother’s wedding • 50/50 • Randomly discovering new music • Repeatedly singing the chorus of LCD Soundsytem’s “Drunk Girls” with my husband apropos of nothing • Leslie and Ben’s coupling and Ron Swanson’s wisdom & ‘stache on Parks and Recreation • The first half of Mindy Kaling’s book, which I started yesterday and absolutely love already • WEQX • Sam Roberts Band • “Internet Killed the Video Star” • Continuing my obsession with Chris Jones and Esquire, especially this piece • Honeymooning in Maine and everything that went along with it, especially the copious amounts of seafood and Dark & Stormies • Mike and Tom Eat Snacks • The Muppets and its fantastic soundtrack • Buying way too much music on Amazon • Inadvertently becoming a USC fan (sorry, Dad), to the delight of my husband and his college friends • Giant teacups filled with Strongbow • My teal skirt from H&M • Big metal chickens • To-die-for dessert at New World Bistro • The soups/sandwiches/smells at Placid Baker in Troy • The “New Girl” theme song • A signed copy of Simon Pegg’s book with a personalized wedding message (thanks, Jaime!) • Hilarious and heartfelt presents/cards/speeches from our wedding, and our sunglasses favors • Having a husband and becoming a wife •

…and Mondoro champagne, which Nick and I drank on one of our first dates, at our wedding, and many times in between, and what we’ll toast with tonight to ring in the new year.

Cheers to 2011; bring on 2012.

jump, jive, and whales

twitter's popular "fail whale" error message.

twitter's "fail whale" error message makes me seriously consider joining the site. © Yiying Lu

Batten down your hatches, landlubbers, for I’m about to tell ye a tale.

Whales are my favorite animals, a love I can trace back to an obsession with the movie Free Willy* and annual childhood trips to MarineLand. I still have a stuffed orca, Whaley, from one of those visits, who may or may not still sit on my bed.

(*Yes, I know that killer whales are more closely related to dolphins. But considering they’re the BAMFs of the ocean, I think of them as one of the family. Plus their genus name, Orcinus, means “from hell.” Awesome.)

I’m a sucker for these sea-dwelling creatures in any material form they may take. Calendars, posters, jewelry, anatomically incorrect Beanie Babies, even one of those horrendous spray-painted t-shirts from the mall — I have owned and treasured them all.

Today my collection is considerably pared down, but my eyes and ears still perk up at the slightest mention of anything whale-related. That’s why I was delighted to come across Heart on a Stick‘s A Goddamned Guide to All These Goddamned Whale Bands. (Part Two is here.) Whales and music served up with a side of snark? Yes please!

The list is exhaustive (“but not comprehensive,” warns the author. “I left out Namu the Disco Whale, just to be mean.”), featuring dozens of whale-monikered artists. Who knew that Whale is the new black? (Or Wolf/Bear/Hands/Tapes/Cassettes/Crystal, as the case may be.)

I thoroughly recommend reading through the whole Guide, which is sprinkled with wit (my favorite!), fun facts, and a few pretty good bands. WALL•E and Fudgie the Whale also get shout-outs.

The best offerings from a musical standpoint are The Devil Whale and Freelance Whales:

Freelance Whales, whose vocalist reminds me of The Format and synthesizers of Hellogoodbye, is also blessed with one of my favorite names of the bunch. As a freelance writer, I feel for these guys; I can just imagine some poor, frustrated porpoise trying to scrape together a living as a whale.* This is what happens when I’m left alone with my thoughts.

(*Actually, “freelance whale” is a pretty fitting description for the orca.)

Other contenders for best name include:

  •  British Whale: While the name is a combination straight out of my own personal version of heaven, the usually-entertaining Justin Hawkins (of The Darkness fame) disappoints here with only two tracks, both abysmal.
  • Prints of Whales: Another fantastic juxtaposition, this time adding puns to the whales and Britishness. Their MySpace page offers the cheeky tagline “Putting the ‘O’ back into Cuntry,” plus the most giggle-inducing friends list I’ve seen in quite some time. (Thank you, Scrotum Clamp and Gob$au$age.) If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t like their music, I’d be in love. As it is, I’m still slightly smitten.
  • Simien the Whale: Named for a misheard Rusted Root lyric, though I question the band’s ignorance. This song is a classic.

I’ll stop here for fear of ruining the rest of the list’s lustre. Suffice it to say, it’s a worthy venture if you’re up for a whale of a time, mateys.

it’s like i’ve waited my whole life for this one night

Well, okay. Maybe not my whole life. But last night’s Jim and Pam Wedding Extravaganza on The Office was definitely a fulfilling chapter in my love affair with this show, and this couple. I kind of understood where Michael was coming from when he hilariously revealed that he painted a second portrait of Jim and Pam “in the nude. But that one is for me.”

michael with his SFW portrait.

michael with his SFW portrait.

As I watched with my friend Mark last night, he observed that this episode had the perfect balance of sentiment and slapstick, and the writers made sure that tone was apparent from the opening moments, where the audience was treated to the greatest/grossest chain reaction vomit sequence in recent memory. (Actually, I seem to recall a similar scene being in a movie a while back, but am blanking on what the film is. Anyone care to help me out?)

Here we were treated to the first of many fabulous Creed moments in this episode, when Mr. Bratton was caught scarfing down noodles while everyone around him was losing their lunch. The dead look in his eyes while Michael was trying to cover Jim’s ass during the toast (“It’s a different sensation when you use something to block…I think everybody knows what I’m talking about.”) was also priceless.

The entire episode was bursting with these little moments, blink-and-you-miss-it gems of facial expressions, body language, and subtle dialogue. I have far too many favorites to list them all (Maid of the Mist! Twins! Phyllis’s hat!), so I’m just going to wrap up this love-fest by sharing what I’m sure will go down as one of the best moments in Office history: the YouTube wedding procession rip-off, set to Chris Brown’s “Forever.” (For the record: I do still like the song, even if Brown is the scum of the earth, and thought the original video was charming, if a bit cheesy and over-hyped.)

the falls represent my melting heart.

the falls represent my melting heart.

My heart was so full of joy while watching this, I thought I might spontaneously combust. Ah, fake characters that I am far too emotionally invested in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Thanks to Best Week Ever for the photos)