Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tegan and Sara - The Con

★★★★★ Tracks:
The Con
Knife Going In
Back in Your Head
Burn Your Life Down

My wife: “Turn that down! Our neighbors are going to think we’re lesbians...”

Me: “Come on, it’s not that bad,” just as Tegan sings, “I felt you in my legs / Before I ever saw you.”

...Alright, she has a point.

Tegan and Sara - Back In Your Head (Live Conan O'Brien 2007)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

★★★★★ Tracks:
Don’t Rush
Paperback Head
The Ocean

Most anyone who enjoys Tegan and Sara will take a defensive stance when speaking of them, a stance that only arises in the case of guilty pleasures. Just look at that album cover ... I understand the criticism to their perceived packaged hipsterism, the gimmicky imagery of are they lesbians / are they twins / are they lovers / maybe all three? But when I play a track all of that never comes to mind because they craft such great pop rock. They remind me of Fleetwood Mac or Tom Petty for modern day indie enthusiasts; taking bits and pieces of all that great rock over the past 25 years and impressively compartmentalizing it. As well as its infectious nature, the duo have incredible talent for building pop songs from the bottom up, as they write all the material themselves.

I’m starting with their latest release because it’s not only their best work yet, but it also garners the lowest “cheese factor” of the bunch. As these twin siblings have grown and matured before our eyes so has their music. Tegan and Sara pull from all of their influences this time around; the album’s named after a Leonard Cohen lyric (“Came So Far For Beauty), “Alligator” sounds like a Madonna throwback, “The Ocean’s” fast tempo and open-stringed strumming brings Jimmy Eat World to mind, on “Hell,” one of the first tracks to have ever been co-written by both sisters, they show how easily power-chord driven punk rock comes to them, and their increasing infatuation with 80’s new wave is harnessed in songs “Don’t Rush,” “The Cure,” “Arrow,” and “Paperback Head.” Chris Walla of Death Cab fame produces T&S for the second time and he markedly improves the recording quality here, everything sounds crisp, with one of the most impressive aspects being the top-notch, forceful drumming and percussion -- the aspect of the music which really carries these songs forward.

Tegan and Sara - Hell

And sure, there is still plenty that could likely be heard backing the credits to a romantic comedy, or some awfully awkward scene to one of those WB shows my wife might or might not watch; in “On Directing,” even Sara herself realizes her sugar-coated lyricism (“Go steady with me / I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen.”) can induce dry heaves. In the end though I just can’t ever seem to let T&S’s immaturity get to me because the hooks are so fucking good. They'll most likely always write with naive and sometimes immature sincerity, and combined with those abrasive tomboyish voices, the unamused will quickly grow disinterested. But 2009’s Sainthood brought Tegan and Sara from oft-played guilty pleasure to a group producing one of my favorite records of 2009.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Television - Marquee Moon

★★★★★ Tracks:
See No Evil
Prove It

They were mainstays at CBGB during its heyday in the late 70's, that was about all I knew of Television before their free Central Park show a few years ago. My wife and I walked in a bit late, bought our $12 beers, and watched them play what I now know is the title track to Marquee Moon. The song runs over ten minutes long, with an instrumental interlude spanning the majority of its playtime. They embellished on it live, and what felt like fifteen minutes in I was already finding myself pretty damn bored by the whole thing. It sounded like a garagey version of Phish, a sort of meandering piece of music that never found the hook it seemed to be searching for. Maybe everyone was tranced out or I missed the mushroom party, but the crowd appeared lifeless. The band lacked energy or any sort of stage presence, and at the time I thought these bros from the 70’s just didn't have much steam left in them. But maybe they were playing with heavy hearts. We stayed for a few more tracks and left disappointed.

Undeterred, I bought a copy of Marquee Moon a few weeks after the show. It floored me how immediate and infectious it was. About half way through a live performance I didn't understand the appeal but the opening riff to "See No Evil" left me wearing an unshakable grin. What phenomenal guitar play. I immediately thought of one of my favorite albums, The Strokes’ Is This It (insert typical hipster joke here); I could see Casablancas and Hammond, Jr. sitting around some years ago, picking apart the guitar licks on Marquee Moon while gathering ideas for the dynamic guitar interplay on their debut album some 25 years later. Television uses a dual left/right guitar approach (and as it is with most complex guitar bands, mono is not a good option when playing this record), sometimes layering as many as four and five guitars on to a track at once. Songs like “Venus” and “Friction” have guitar leads that last their entire lengths, mixing in multiple and frequent guitar solos. All too often the solo will sound like such a pretentious piece of shit in rock’n’roll music, but Television uses precision, allowing the solo to improve the overall structure of the song while simultaneously attacking its conventionalism, and they do so with confidence, not arrogance.

I admit I still skip over the sprawling “Marquee Moon” most times through, but damn if their live show didn’t give me a false impression, because Marquee Moon is rock'n'roll guitar virtuosity at its finest.