Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I'll be going to the Sasquatch Music Festival again this year. It will be my third year in a row, and I am looking forward to it again this time around. It happens at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington during Memorial Weekend (May 23-25). I'm getting ready for three days of outdoor music and fun!

This year's headliners are Kings of Leon, Jane's Addiction and Ben Harper, and there will be plenty of other good acts supporting them, including Nine Inch Nails, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Erykah Badu, M83 and The Decemberists, just to name a few. Demetri Martin will be at the comedy tent, and there has been a dance tent added this time (to showcase bands like Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, and Chromeo). Bands I am most excited about seeing this time are Doves, Silversun Pickups and Explosions In The Sky.

Doves and Silversun Pickups released new CDs during the past couple of weeks. I wanted to get both so I could familiarize myself with some of the new material before seeing the bands at Sasquatch


"Kingdom Of Rust" is an excellent album for those who like creative song arrangements, great vocals, and good musicianship in a slightly-arty rock format. Doves' music is radio-friendly but not to the point of being out-and-out "pop". It has enough of an edge that it retains personality in spades. There are very few moments where I lose interest when listening to this one.

The opening track "Jetstream" is a mix of real and synthetic beats, backing a nice mix of guitars and synths in a song that really locomotes. The synths actually recall those from Steve Miller Band's hit single "Fly Like An Eagle". The title track is a gorgeous ballad, lushly arranged, with personal pain coming through in the exquisite singing of Jimi Goodwin.

"The Outsiders" starts off with tempestuous drums and synth sequencer before evolving into a high-intensity guitar-driven piece. Nobody can tell me the Doves didn't listen to some Who before devising the intro to "Winter Hill"; it is one of the more atmospheric numbers. I want my band to cover this tune! It is nice and circular, very well-crafted.

"10:03" starts off as a ballad before becoming something Coldplay could only imagine pulling off in the intensity department. "The Greatest Denier" is heartfelt sadness about the decline of England, clothed in an atmospheric mid-tempo piece: "So go to sleep citizen, we'll wake you when we're done."

While the album rocks at times, much of it is also carried about at a leisurely pace. That isn't to say there is not also power in the slower tunes. "Birds Flew Backwards" is a very creative slow number with soothing sounds. Reverb-drenched backing vocals and strings frame Goodwin's lonesome voice.

"Spellbound" is a classic Doves number in 6/8 time, complete with acoustic guitars and majestic keyboards and a lovely guitar line that weaves in and out through the choruses. Songs like this were what made up much of the meat of Doves' first two discs.

I'm less enamoured with the song "Compulsion". While it still feels organic, there is almost an industrial feel to it. Not all a bad thing, and the track is growing on me the more I hear it. You will find both good vocal harmonies and unison singing in the chorus of "House of Mirrors", a tune which might lend itself well to an arena. In this tune, the musicianship of the band members really shines through. The closing number "Lifelines" has a near-Beatles feel in places.

Vocalist Jimi Goodwin is the band's bassist, and brother Jez plays guitars. Andy Williams (not the crooner who sang "Moon River"!) is the drummer. The unofficial "fourth member" of the band is keyboardist Martin Rebelski, who I expect will be onstage with Doves at Sasquatch.
This one is growing on me. I wasn't sure about it at first listen. Having been a fan of their previous album "Carnavas", I find this one fairly different. While "Carnavas" had a consistently tough feel about it most of the way through, I find "Swoon" veers wildly from delicate to brutal. The band has added strings to the mix, and the effect is a lush rollercoaster ride of sound. A lot of effort went into this recording, and I am looking forward to seeing and hearing how it translates to the "live" setting!
L.A.'s SSPU has endured endless comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins, although they don't necessarily list the Pumpkins as an influence as much as they like to mention My Bloody Valentine, Secret Machine, Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. I will admit the sound is similar to Smashing Pumpkins when it comes to the multitude of thick, fat, fuzzy guitars layered over pumping basslines and driving drumbeats.
One major difference is in the vocals. SSPU's Brian Aubert tends to sing in a gaspy, breathy, almost boy-bandish way at times, while when the Pumpkins' Billy Corgan sings it often sounds like he is trying to squeeze out a painful bowel movement. Take your pick! 8-)
The Pumpkins may feature more guitar virtouosity from Corgan when it comes to solos, but when it comes to a total guitar sound I think Aubert may actually be a better arranger. On record anyway, SSPU just sounds a little tighter. Definitely a difference, anyway.
Maybe this is due to the difference in the way the two bands are configured. The Pumpkins use a two guitars/bass/drums lineup, while SSPU goes with one guitar (Aubert), bass (Nikki Monninger), drums (Christopher Guanlao), and keyboards (Joe Lester). Monninger does great vocal harmonies with Aubert.
No more comparisons... this band is just who it is.
My standout tracks on "Swoon" are "The Royal We" and "Growing Old Is Getting Old". "It's Nice To Work Alone", "Substitution" and the album closer "Surrounded (Or Spiraling)" are also very nice. "Catch and Release" is a pretty ballad, and the first few minutes of "Growing Old" are quietly, pulsingly beautiful.
The lyrics are a bit fluffy in places, but every time I start thinking about that, along comes an instrumental passage that blows me away. And whenever I think the music is written like pop music, the whole sound drops off some kind of sonic cliff.
This album is designed to be played LOUD. Listening to the opening track "There's No Secrets This Year" with the volume turned down low is almost like sacrilege.

During the next few weeks I will be posting some other items about bands that will also be at Sasquatch, among them Sun Kil Moon and Explosions In The Sky.
Happy listening!


Blogger J. Marquis said...

I'm looking forward to hearing these, especially the Doves.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

I think you will enjoy, J. In particular, the Doves disc is like a fine brand of ear candy! No, not made from wax, but from the finest sonic ingredients!

5:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Cool lineup. I love Nine Inch Nails. I heard Kings of Leon when they were on Saturday Night Live; I can't remember what they sounded like or what I thought of them. The newest Rolling Stone cover announces that Kings of Leon are the best band in America. Then again, the previous Rolling Stone announced that Mastodon is the most brilliant fantastic heavy metal band in the history of the universe.

Anyway, that should be some great sounds.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

Sounds like this year's festival will be good. I have heard Doves, but not Silversun Pickups or Explosions in the Sky yet, I'll have to check them out!

6:53 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Explosions is an instrumental band. They tend to have a very cinematic sound. Their music was featured in the TV series "Friday Night Lights" during that show's first season.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

tom, you sound a bit jaded at RS's penchant for hyperbole. ;-)

I'll have to check Doves out, sounds like it could be some cool stuff.

Explosions in the Sky is definitely interesting. A bit heavier amongst the no-vocals crowd is Pelican.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

I have a couple of recent Pelican CDs, and I would like to see that band live. In comparing their music to Explosions In The Sky, I would agree that Pelican has a thicker, heavier sound, close to metal at times. Another one in that general grouping that I like is Red Sparrowes, and for newer post-rock loud/soft/loud stuff, Mogwai's early matieral is great too. Bands like these are proof for me that while having a vocalist is not overrated, it isn't always necessary.

Explosions In The Sky is the festival-ending act on the middle stage, and although it will collide with Ben Harper, I will still be seeing (and hearing) Explosions!

11:00 AM  

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