Notable Coachella 2013 (a recap)

I understand why, around this time every year, half of my social feed is basically dedicated to sneers and all-out assaults on the Coachella Valley Music Festival and its attendees. Lots of annoying posts from the grounds, the headliners can sometimes be eyeroll-inducing, it’s cost-prohibitive, and of course, the obscene amounts of dubstep.

All I can say is that I’ve gone to seven of the last eight festivals and can not imagine an April without it. Feel free to hate it, I have come to love it—sandstorms and all. I will spare you the long, glowing version of the recap and give it to you in interwebs-friendly list form with some photos. Enjoy! Or don’t.

Notable Coachella 2013:

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, decked out in distorted pope regalia, shoved the microphone down her pants.

IO Echo thanked the crowd at 12:30pm on Friday for their attendance. Ioanna Gika proclaimed, “You guys are the real music fans. You’re not having a beer at some fancy mansion and cruising in at 6pm.”

The new and improved Sahara tent towered over the crowd with massive overhead and stage lighting rigs.

U.K. beatboxer extraordinaire Beardyman managed to incorporate both Elton John and his fictitious mother from Staten Island into his set on the Outdoor Theater.

Helix Poeticus, an enormous art piece modeled to look like a snail, somehow made its way around the field and left a snail trail of bubbles. Paintings and quotes slowly appeared on its shell throughout the weekend.

Japandroids were phenomenal.

Los Angeles-based Local Natives took the first sundown set of the weekend on Outdoor Theater for a beautiful performance.

How to Destroy Angels, featuring Trent Reznor of NIN and his wife, performed in a massive glowing cube in the Mojave tent.

Blur closed with one of my favorite songs, “The Universal.” I felt like a seventh grader all over again.

As a shuttle rider, I was on the “Yellow Path” in and out of the festival entrance, which was marked by an audio loop of the munchkins and Dorothy chiming, “Follow the yellow brick road.”

Ian Brown of The Stone Roses was painfully flat, or as Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times put it, Brown exercised “an extremely casual relationship with pitch.”

Jehnny Beth, lead singer of British all-female punk outfit Savages, wore classy red shoes during their brilliant set on Saturday. Also notable, bassist Ayse Hassan wore a turtle necklace.

I couldn’t even get in the tent for 2 Chainz, but I did get some kettle corn.

Bat for Lashes experience technical issues early on but Ms. Khan handled it with grace and a shimmering rainbow cape.

Second sunset set on the Outdoor Theater belonged to Portugal. The Man from Alaska, which consisted of well-constructed medleys and ended with a massive sing along to “Hey Jude.”

The Postal Service.

As per usual, Daft Punk was rumored to play, this time with Phoenix during their headlining slot on Saturday. We got R. Kelly instead.

DIIV announced their name and their place of origin (New York City) in between every song. Loved it.

Final sunset set of the weekend was Tame Impala on the Outdoor Theater, and by this point, the winds were whipping up enough dust to cover the sky in an eerie haze.

La Roux‘s Elly Jackson sounds exactly the same live as she does on recording. Not a bad thing at all.

An art installation titled Mirage was fashioned after a mid-century Palm Springs mansion with its facade and residents projected on the all-white structure after dark.

Dance-punk legends The Faint delivered one of the best sets of the weekend to a packed Mojave tent.

Wu-Tang Clan named the punishing sandstorm that had picked up by Sunday night’s end “Hurricane Wu.”


Source: Under the Radar Magazine

Ranked: Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst began his career a teenage wunderkind in Omaha, Nebraska with strong ties to the burgeoning music scene and the band’s signature record label, Saddle Creek. Oberst popped up here and there as a solo artist, with a backing band, with a different backing band, playing in a friend’s band. As such, it’s difficult to trace every contribution made by Oberst, but undoubtedly he is best-known for his work as Bright Eyes, which is essentially Oberst with a rotating lineup of musicians that eventually formed a solid core with Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott.

From wunderkind to the next Dylan to something completely different, Bright Eyes has purportedly concluded its run with 2011’s The People’s Key (the last of eight original albums, all on Omaha’s Saddle Creek). And while it’s ideal to hear the progression through the years chronologically, here are Bright Eyes’ major original releases ranked from most essential to least.

[Omitted but Noteworthy: A Christmas Album (2002), Noise Floor (Rarities:  1998-2005) (2006), and truthfully, all of the EPs released]

Words by Michele Yamamoto


I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning


When Lifted… arrived in 2002, it seemed like a masterpiece. It was grandiose and honest in a way that is hard to explain (though I did try in my undergraduate thesis). It was a real arrival for Bright Eyes after years of independent success, but 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was when Bright Eyes truly hit its songwriting stride. Aside from the fact that Oberst and Co.’s first high-profile guest, Emmylou Harris, appeared on several tracks, the album delivers from start to finish. The fat had been trimmed from the emotional and structural excess of Oberst’s younger days without the loss of gravity. The lyrics are clever and poignant as ever, and each song on the album is memorable, well-crafted, and can easily stand on its own. With each layer of sound, lyrics, composition, and collaboration, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning attains clarity and composure.


Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground


Lifted… marked the pinnacle of the early Bright Eyes moment and, as the music makes clear, Oberst was keen to its importance as a breakthrough. Every Bright Eyes record has an opening track that sets the stage for the album to come, and with Lifted…, we go on a car ride with a man and a woman (Blake Sennett and Jenny Lewis of then-Saddle Creek band Rilo Kiley). Lewis sings along with “The Big Picture,” which is framed initially as diegetic sound—a song she’s chosen to play for the ride—at one point quieting Sennett to hear it. And the entire album, from packaging to transitions, alludes to grand storytelling and is rife with references to the band’s increasing public profile. Producer and musician Mike Mogis, who is the real second member to Oberst, created a signature sound for the album that seems to exist on the tip of a record needle—a warm and insulated world where Oberst’s musical bombast can flourish. Lifted… is at once sprawling, orchestral, and intimate, with that signature over-indulgence of Bright Eyes’ earlier phase, focusing on the overall experience rather than the individual tracks.


Fevers and Mirrors


Before going over the top with Lifted…, Fevers and Mirrors was exactly what the indie scene needed. It was youthful, experimental, and charming with, well …songs. Oberst really settled into his quirky vocal rhythms, which is to say that it seems like he wrote to suit the words. And the words were typically emotional and lush with visual imagery (“At the center of the world, there’s a statue of a girl/She is sitting near a well with a bucket bare and dry”).




With arguably the act’s most beautifully crafted album opener, Cassadaga marked a turn toward the mystical. Perhaps it was the country and folk influences that imbued earlier releases with a neutral Americana or even Christian tone. Whatever the case, Cassadaga maintains its “American” connection but follows different threads in the quilt. Named after a spiritualist community in Florida, the album references a recovery on a beach in California, tints its violin with folk technique, and stirs a melting pot of influences from coast to coast—an experience of transience that effectively pulls Bright Eyes out of the Midwest and into something bigger.


Letting Off the Happiness


Still rough around the edges, but worlds away from its first release, Bright Eyes’ sophomore release introduces Mike Mogis as a major collaborator, which becomes the standard from this point forward. Released just after Oberst turned 18, but recorded mostly while he was a 17-year-old, this release is edited down to an elite 10 songs (half the number on the previous release, A Collection), including “June on the West Coast,” which introduces his country and folk influence. Part of the young Oberst’s charm was his ability to write provocative and mature lyrics that seemed to demonstrate a complete knowledge of love, sex, and loss, and this release plays young and wise at the same time.


Digital Ash in a Digital Urn


The counterpart to I’m Wide Awake boasts the same level of songwriting proficiency with a decidedly more digital (obviously) element to it. Though it is more surreal and beat-driven, its arcs and emotional sensibilities are still palpable. Bright Eyes’ first big move with shimmering digital effects still manages to provide barnburners such as the growth of “Hit the Switch,” or the anthemic “I Believe in Symmetry,” while closer “Easy/Lucky/Free” (anthemic in its own right) leaves us with Oberst shouting as the track decays and cuts out.


A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997


The birth of Bright Eyes and the only release with just Oberst. When he penned the material for this 20-track debut, he was in high school, and though his age comes through clearly even in comparison to Letting Off the Happiness and the production is abysmal, the strength of the material is hard to miss. His willingness to indulge and then overindulge in emotion is admirable and even experimental when tracks like “Saturday As Usual” seem to break down entirely before being pulled back together with a resolute and dynamic “fucked.” Even now, the complexity of the songs is pleasantly surprising.


The People’s Key


The People’s Key completes Bright Eyes’ shift to the mystical, and as result, the lyrics are undeniably stuffed full of poetry while lacking the emotional intensity of the younger Bright Eyes. No doubt, the songs sound full, and many of them stick on first listen, but it almost reads as too glossy. This is not a notch against the enjoyability of the album. It’s simply the least compelling offering from a strong back catalog.


Source: Under the Radar Magazine

Foals: Holy Fire (Warner Bros.)

Holy Fire opens with a sense of gravity. A low buzz and a pattering in the distance draft images of cavernous space before the guitar even shimmers into existence. And then it builds, each new instrument stoking the fire. This rings true throughout the album. Holy Fire reveals a band adept at carving out arc and terrain in its music, and demonstrates a big step forward with a newfound coherence (from track to track as well as from instrument to instrument within songs). Each track thoughtfully develops with strong drive, every layer of sound playing a role in concentrating and directing the energy to its resolution.

Lead vocalist Yannis Philippakis shows his range, from gentle to ragged in “Last Night,” then emotionally plain for closing track “Moon.” Drummer Jack Bevan delivers everything from straightforward rock to complex but engaging rhythms. The guitar work is creative and undeniably rhythmic, at times doing double duty as a percussive element.

“Milk & Black Spiders” carries a catchy chorus over the band’s signature glimmering guitar effect. “Inhaler,” the album’s first single, is about as big as the album gets, with post-prog aggression and relentless drive. And album closer “Moon” may be a long way from Holy Fire‘s start in terms of intensity, but it maintains the industrial feel of the album while naturally constricting it to a close as Philippakis reflects, “It is coming now, my friend, and it’s the end.”

Source: Under the Radar Magazine

The Raveonettes: In and Out of Control (Vice)

For those that missed the dainty electro-pop of The Raveonettes’ first two releases after the darker Lust Lust Lust, the duo answer with In and Out of Control. Still bouncing through simple and sweet 1960s pop by way of dismal 1980s aesthetics, the warmth of darkness around the edges lingers but is significantly more buoyant than its predecessor.

This has been one of the more fascinating elements of the Raveonettes over the span of their output—their ability to confuse the dark and light elements. And, with In and Out, the lyrics are often in dispute with the signifiers in the music.

About half way into the album comes the track “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed),” and conceivably one of the best examples of just this lyrical confusion. The harmonic foundation is reminiscent of young rock n’ roll—sans rhythmic accents—and the vocals are light and airy. Female lead Sune Rose Wagner sounds as sweet as sugar, but what is she saying? During the verse, she pronounces, “They rip you to shreds, make you feel useless, you’ll never forget—those fuckers stay in your head.” Then, of course, there’s the refrain, which is essentially the song’s title drawn out with an angelic chorus echoing the main line.

The biggest departure on the album is the final track, “Wine.” Both intensely reflective and spacious, the entire song is soused in reverb. It swirls around, aerates and just as it’s about to take a final breath, the glass empties out with no resolution. The music simply dissipates into the sound of waves. In this instance, the phrasing of the lyrics and the sedation of the music line up potently.

The Danish duo continue to dance—quite merrily—on the boundary between light and dark with In and Out of Control.

Source: Under the Radar Magazine

Black Heart Procession: Six (Temporary Residence)

While inherently dark and possibly blasphemous, an album like Six draws its strength not from its lyrical content or its obvious but effective incorporation of influences but from its ability to utilize space and sound together. Of course, the lyrical content and the might of Black Heart Procession’s influences all play into it, but the band’s latest opus is not simply a sloppy assemblage of the two.

“When You Finish Me” opens the album with a twinkling piano, distant with reverb, and unfolds as a back-and-forth between two chords beneath a low voice. Barely singing at all, the vocals call to mind the dejected confidence of Leonard Cohen. “Wasteland” plays out a lot like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.”

And throughout the album, Black Heart Procession maintains a spatial presence as well. Whether it be the reverb, the religious undertones of the organ, the shakey squeal of a theremin, or the echoed vocal lines that read more like a thought than a depth of harmony, the album defines and comfortably resides within its own limits, just tangible. Either we’re in a darkened and empty bar or the final pew of a grave and humorless cathedral. Or perhaps, as the band could very well be suggesting, the two are one in the same and we’ve hit upon the intersection.

Across thirteen tracks, Black Heart Procession deftly positions its audience in a consistent and specific environment, allowing Six to be inherently dark and blasphemous and not just a dark and blasphemous album.

Source: Under the Radar Magazine