Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mystery Jets Live in NYC: Reflections and an Interview

September 24, 2007

I’m in the lobby of Joe’s Pub, a trendy hideout in the St. Mark’s area of the East Village. And I truly do mean hideout, as its facade is little more than a narrow staircase set between two 20 foot tall privacy fences.

Damn that William Rees! They can’t find me on the guest list and I have to pay for my own ticket. I’d sent an email to the band and received an email back from one "William" who said that sure they could do an interview after the show. That was three weeks ago.

Alas, I had sort of expected this. I’m not exactly the New York Times, or even, god forbid, NME. And, technically, William hadn’t said anything about the guest list. Ah, well. I should have sent a confirmation email a few days before the show as a reminder. With a private laugh at myself, I fork over my credit card.

Truth is, this is my first band interview ever – my first concert since moving to NYC a month ago, in fact. So, figuring I’d screw up in one way or another at some point, I’d decided ahead of time to just go with the flow and not worry. It helps that for the last year Mystery Jets have been spinning in heavy rotation on my computer and iPod, quickly becoming a personal favorite.

The floor manager returns from backstage and assures me the band will still do the interview. With that thought tucked comfortably inside me, I slip into the dark of the concert room.

It takes awhile for my eyes to adjust. The ceiling is massively high and ornate in its tiering and designs. Dark red and black walls add to the opulence, but the intimate size of the room (any place in the room gets a view of the stage no more than about thirty feet away) combined with cushy couches and soft spot lighting make the room perfectly cozy.

At last, the crew is finished with sound checks and the lights dim even further. Kai emerges from the curtained door behind stage, followed by William, Kapil and Blaine. I wait . . . where’s Henry? . . . I wait a bit more . . .

Indeed, where is Henry? He doesn’t show up for the show at all, and the band makes no mention of his absence. Hmm. Well, I have my first question, at least.

Despite being somewhat perplexingly billed as an “acoustic show,” the set is not exclusively acoustic. But Joe’s Pub is a mellow kind of gin joint, and the Jets have toned down their set to fit the atmosphere. It’s an interesting set, a rare chance to hear live some of the slower songs from Making Dens and Zootime.

The band also plays two new songs, “First to Know,” and “Flakes” from the sophomore album they’ll be recording in the near future. “First to Know” sets a kooky organ and rather ominous bass to dancey percussion. “Flakes,” meanwhile, sounds like nouveau 60s doo wop. If these two songs are any indication, the future is a thrilling time for Mystery Jets and their fans.

Highlights of the evening and obvious crowd favorites are the energetic “Diamonds in the Dark,” and “Boy Who Ran Away.” Still, as the last notes of the show die and the band says their farewells, I’m crushed at the exclusion of “Zootime” and “Alas, Agnes.” I berate myself for not also attending the non-acoustic Brooklyn show two days earlier. Next time, I promise myself, for the new album tour . . .

Back in the alley behind Joe’s Pub, Blaine and William have managed to politely tear themselves from fans clamoring for autographs, photos or just conversation. The night air is thick with humidity and the quiet is a welcome change, the dulcet sounds of the building now but muted vibrations. Blaine sets down his crutches and rests on the ground smoking a “fag” he bummed from William. Alone with the two, a situation so unexpected yet strangely comfortable, it’s with near regret that I subdue the fan in me and start the interview:

LA: [To Blaine] So, where’s your father?

BH: He hasn’t been touring with us lately.

LA: Oh, I didn’t know that.

BH: Yeah. We’ve always toured as a five-piece, but it got to the point where we wanted to streamline things to a four-piece. We haven’t really explained it well to people . . . [Looks at William]. We might as well do that now. What you have to understand about Mystery Jets is that the band started with my dad when Will and I were eight. We’ve never really rebelled – most teenagers use music to rebel, and since my dad was always right there . . . This is our chance to do something alone. And he’s fine with it, he understands.

WR: Basically, in order to remain happy, we needed to go it alone, learn from our own experiences and mistakes.

LA: So will he still be recording the new album with you?

WR: Yeah, he’s still part of the band. This is just for tours.

LA: I read somewhere that he’s the primary lyricist. Is that true?

BH: It was for our first album. On the upcoming album everything is more collaborative.

LA: Okay. So, it’s your first U.S. tour, has anything stood out in particular about the U.S.? Anything unexpected or strange?

WR: England and the U.S. are fairly similar, but the attitude here seems different. People seem happier here, like they derive more joy from life maybe. Aside from that, the size of things, everything is bigger from portions of food to buildings . . . it’s like a magnified version of England.

LA: You’ve played how many shows on this tour so far? Four?

WR: This is the fifth.

LA: Have you had a favorite?

WR: Probably Toronto, Toronto was really good.

BH: Also Chicago.

LA: What about them stood out?

WR: In Toronto, the culture. People compare it to Europe, and apparently Montreal is supposed to be similar. But yeah, the people were very cool and into it, seemed to get a lot of the subtleties in our show.

BH: In Chicago, our friend Jamie T. was playing there too. He’s from Twickenham too. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Twickenham area, but we know him from way back.

LA: Is he one of the musicians who’d played with you at the big Eel Pie Island shows?

BH: Yeah.

LA: Ah okay, interesting. I can’t remember reading about this anywhere, but where did the name “Mystery Jets” come from?

WR: About fifteen years ago, on a bright summer day, Henry was sitting in his bedroom when a plastic toy airplane flew in the window. It was one of those World War II Comet models. And it was a remote controlled one, so he picked it up and went to the window to give it back to whoever was flying it, but no one was around. A mystery jet . . .

BH: In the tiny cockpit area, there was a message rolled up inside. He’s never shown the message to us or anyone else.

LA: So you don’t know what the message says?

BH: No. A mystery message in a mystery jet.

LA: Very cool story. Do you have a process you follow for writing songs?

BH: We have many different ones, actually.

WR: Sometimes it’ll come from one person’s brainstorming, and other times from jamming together. That’s why they’re enjoyable, I think. If only one person was writing it could get boring.

LA: Do you have a name for the new album yet?

BH: We don’t have a name yet. We’re hoping to release it early next year.

WR: And then the U.S. release will be a month or so later. Unlike our first album, which came out in England almost a year before the American one. We want to have a world-wide definitive release this time.

LA: Do you have a favorite song from Making Dens?

BH: We all have our personal favorites.

WR: I guess mine is “Zootime,” which was actually the first song we collaborated on. It’s so unlike our other stuff, like an alien piece of music come down to earth.

LA: Interesting that it was the first collaboration, yet it’s so different from your other stuff.

WR: [Musing] That is interesting, isn’t it . . .


Sample MP3s:
Diamonds in the Dark

Mystery Jets Myspace

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

At Long Last: North America, Meet The Films

Don’t Dance Rattlesnake

The Films

The Films’ universe is a mélange of derangement: manic, acerbic and often problematic, generally concerned with relationship problems and innocent outings gone horribly awry. As the album unfolds, this universe reveals itself to the listener behind driving guitars and cheeky but honest lyrics. It’s a staggering thought then, and a feeling not too far from betrayal, to realize Don't Dance Rattlesnake might never have been released in the U.S. because of one label’s incompetency and negligence.

Don’t Dance Rattlesnake has been available to buy in various countries around the world since February. When “Belt Loops,” the second single from the album, was released in the U.K. in June, there was still no date set for an American release. Fast forward to August and The Films, fed up with broken promises, break with their label, Warner Bros.

As badly as that might have gone, the result of the fissure is the North American self-release of Don’t Dance Rattlesnake and its companion album HORSEFORCE!, an acoustic re-working of the DDR lineup. And how we do appreciate such aggressive self-direction when the outcome is music like this!

The universe opens up in an excellent way with “Good Day,” gliding in on the sound of a contented lethargy one could listen to for hours whilst lounging on a hammock, drinking glass after glass of (Long Island) iced tea.

“Belt Loops,” of course, is a speed-induced trip through the fiery landscape of ramshackle romances. The biting lyrics will be particularly fun to sing if the listener has experienced a belt loops-type phenomenon. (Think of it as a quick route to healing.)

In contrast, “Jealousy” is wrenching, twangy alt-country to which Will Sheff would surely give his approval. It’s an interesting counter to “Belt Loops.” The pairing of the two songs shows The Films’ emotional range: touching on the same subject through provocativeness and introspection, respectively.

Searingly clever lyrics make “Talk, Talk” as smart as it is fun to rock out to, while “Tabletops” plays ode to youthful whimsy, unapologetic frankness and unyielding optimism. And with moves like firing their label, the song is oh-so-wonderfully honest.

“Black Shoes,” the first single from DDR, is still the best amalgamation of blatantly catchy riffs and cheeky lyrics wrapped in lead singer Michael Trent’s raw vocals. If the song doesn’t spur you to at least tap your foot, well, you may be in need of an I.V.

Last four songs of the album, in particular, seem to showcase The Films’ story-telling abilities. I prefer the HORSEFORCE! version of “Holliewould Getaway,” – I’m a sucker for piano rock, and it’s got a bit of a Tom Waitsian sound to it.

“Bodybag,” as the album’s last song, uses melancholic sounds and reflective lyrics and for a pleasant change of pace. It’s a fitting end to a mostly manic but obviously intelligent album, and perhaps a caveat to those who navigate The Films’ album, and universe, too unthinkingly.

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Sample MP3s:

-- Jealousy
-- Black Shoes
-- Holliewould Getaway (HORSEFORCE! version)

If you like what you hear, you can buy DDR through The Films' store, or iTunes. The companion album, HORSEFORCE!, is only available by purchasing the Limited Edition release directly through The Films' store, however.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sept. 11 Releases: Hot Hot Heat Cooling Off? Also: Film School, Grand National

Happiness LTD

Hot Hot Heat
Sire Records

The third time ’round for Hot Hot Heat finds them with a bit more studio polish and, as you might have guessed from the title, a bit more depressed. Not unexpected, since lead singer and lyricist Steven Bays penned several of the songs after breaking up with a long term girlfriend. Still, two years on from Elevator, their commercially successful second album, Happiness LTD pushes Hot Hot Heat’s reach as a band further than they’ve yet been.

“Outta Heart,” most certainly one of Bay’s post-relationship writings, uses backing instrumentals and voices to produce an almost (Richard) Ashcroftian anthem about a relationship gone askew. “Harmonicas and Tambourines,” meanwhile, sounds like it could be on the Weird Science soundtrack and is one of the album's definite missteps.

Perhaps Hot Hot Heat should just stick to being Hot Hot Heat. The best songs on the album aren’t trying to forge a new sound and therefore don’t sound forced and/or generic. “5 times out of 100" captures the biting lyrics of previous albums, “My Best Friend” is pure frantically-paced, piano-laced brilliance, and “Conversation” draws on Bay’s intense voice and stutter-staccato rhythms to create near perfect dance pop. It's just too bad the rest of the album can’t keep up.

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-- Click to listen to "Conversation"

Also new this week:

Film School
Beggars Banquet

Film School have been indie rock staples since the beginning of this century. Hideout’s musical depth is most striking: the fuzz, layering, psychedelic undercurrents and lethargic sounding vocals. This is the sort of album you’ll have to listen to multiple times to truly appreciate – the good news is that you’ll want to.

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-- Click to listen to "Lectric"

A Drink and A Quick Decision

Grand National

Recall Records

Comparisons to the Police are inevitable for Grand National, and not only for the fact that members Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence Rudd once toured as a Police and Queen cover band. The duo’s synth pop is certainly catchy, and besides the Police, echoes of New Order and Depeche Mode are clear. Good album for dancing, driving and indulgent introspection.

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-- Click to listen to "By the Time I Get Home There Won't Be Much of a Place For Me"

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Video of the Week: Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy

Owen Pallett as the one-man-band Final Fantasy. This clip will give you a good idea as to how he performs songs at concerts: building songs on pieces of themselves with help of a looping machine. The stark beginnings and robust endings are quite interesting to observe.

Want to see it live? Owen starts a U.S. tour in October with friend and sometimes-collaborator Cadence Weapon. More info can be found at his (fan-operated)
myspace page.*

"Took You Two Years to Win My Heart" off his debut album,
Has A Good Home:

*The listed opening date for the tour (Oct. 11) is wrong; the tour will begin Oct. 12 in Chicago.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

News: Zeppelin, Klaxons, Patrick Wolf

Led Zeppelin Reunite for One-Off Gig

The rumors are true, dear god. Robert Plant confirmed the one-off engagement to NME earlier today whilst on his way to a meeting with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones to sort out the details. No other information was confirmed, though speculation is the gig will be charity-based and could happen as early as November.

Klaxons Revel in Surprise Win at Mercurys

A win at the Mercurys is certainly cause for celebration and inebriation, but perhaps Klaxons took it a bit too far. Scheduled as guests on a BBC News morning show, the band arrived blitz out of their minds and had to be replaced at the last minute.

More antics continued in the green room as bassist Jamie Reynolds reportedly repeatedly shouted "I've got $20k [the monetary award for winning the Mercury Prize] in my pocket!" and "There I am!" every time a clip of the band was shown on TV.

You know, on second thought, maybe Klaxons did the right thing. They're a rock and roll band. This will only add to the legend.

Patrick Wolf Announces North American Tour

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The chameleonic troubadour will play the first gig in Philadelphia on September 30, and wind his way west for the last gig in Los Angeles on October 16. I wonder if his hair color will still be the same blazing shade of red when he opens the tour? Or, for that matter, if it will stay that way for the whole tour? Questions, questions . . .

Full Dates and Venues:

Sept. 30 - The Fillmore, Philadelphia
Oct. 1 - The Black Cat, Washington D.C.
Oct. 3 - Webster Hall, NYC
Oct. 4 - Paradise, Boston
Oct. 5 - Cabaret du Musée Juste Pour Rire, Montreal
Oct. 6 - Lee's Palace, Toronto
Oct. 8 - St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit
Oct. 9 - Metro, Chicago
Oct. 11 - Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
Oct. 12 - The Plaza, Vancouver
Oct. 13 - Neumo's, Seattle
Oct. 15 - Mezzanine, San Fransisco
Oct. 16 - El Rey, Los Angeles

Monday, September 3, 2007

Oasis Meets Pale Saints for Brazilians-turned-Londoners The Tamborines

Sally O'Gannon

The Tamborines
Planting Seed Records

Born in Brazil and living in London, The Tamborines do catchy fuzz rock as well as anyone at present. The trio’s debut EP is solid: nothing groundbreaking, but quite fun and elegant in its simplicity.

Title track “Sally O’Gannon" starts things off with an intense wall of sound that permeates throughout and ties in perfectly with a classic pop melody and interstellar synth effects. In contrast, “Be Around” is not nearly so instantly likeable, and even seems to end prematurely, though after a few spins it does start to grow on the listener.

“Come Together” is an absolute gem: dirty rock baptized in a haze of dissonance and made (almost) whole again. And finally, “Sally O’Gannon (demo version)” offers listeners a chance to compare the title track with an earlier, stripped-down version. The band wisely chose to rework the track for a fuller sound, and paired here with the official version, the demo is frankly only interesting insomuch as listeners will want to compare the two.

What appears to separate The Tamborines from most novice bands is that they aren’t trying to fit into a scene. This isn’t trendy dance rock, nor is it hyper jangly rock. The Tamborines are anything but trendy and hyper, in fact. Their sound exudes a nonchalant coolness that seems to stem from knowing who they are as a band and being comfortable with it.

Overall, Sally O'Gannon is a highly promising debut, though “Sally O’Gannon (demo version)” is disappointing as a fourth and final song. Using the demo as the fifth track, with an entirely new fourth track added to the album, would have been wiser. As it stands, however, an EP with just three different songs is flimsy and far too fleeting for such an obviously talented group. Still, with whispers of an LP in the near future and a potential 2008 U.S. tour, it's hard not to get excited about what could be . . .

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Sally O’Gannon will be released in the U.S. on Sept. 4, and is only available online through Darla Records here. Catch the “Sally O’Gannon” video below: