Coachella, 2014: Girls Win, Synths beat out Guitars

Bcoachellaig music festivals can largely be tracked back to the first Newport Jazz festival in 1954, The Folk version in 1959, and then followed by Woodstock in 1969, Glastonbury in 1970 a bunch of other European festivals that followed and thrived through today. SXSW launched in 1987 and has become something entirely different 30+ years later, Lollapalooza launched in the US in 1991, but lost momentum eventually, and finally Bonnaroo and Coachella re-ignited the scene in 2001. Since then, the idea of the Summer festival has exploded, evolved and become a massively big business, including a re-launched Lollapalooza, ACL Festival, Outside Lands, Sasquatch, Governors Ball, and countless EDM fests.

With the traditional “record business” at the end of it’s inevitable decline, reinvented as part YouTube and SoundCloud (free) with the balance being a digital subscription, algorithmic radio, and old school vinyl nostalgia (sure people buy CD’s and digital tracks but that will be over within the next 5 years). The music that we have access to and the speed of an artist’s ascent from obscurity to stardom, are equally astounding. Nowhere are both those facts more self-evident than at a major festival.

Every year I go to a few festivals and take an immersive temperature on both the state of modern music and the pulse of youth culture – both of which are best viewed from the vantage of the fields of the Indio Polo Grounds at Coachella. This was my seventh Coachella, but the first time I attended the second of two weekends. The weather was perfect if you like hot, dry breezeless days. There were no sandstorms, no rain, very few clouds, and as a result almost no grass since it had been trampled down the prior weekend. There were, however, fewer people and a lineup of incredible music that peaks between 1-9 if you’re an indie music nut like me.

Coachella 2014 was a very very good year for music. It was also the year of the female vocalist. It was also a year, where synthesizers outnumbered guitars by a very large margin.

Day 1: The first six bands I saw on Friday were absolutely breath taking female fronted bands: Wye Oak, was the first, and their track “Civilian” was among the best of the festival. Next a few tracks from newbie Waxahatchee, who make straight up guitar and drum indie rock riding the wave of their “Peace and Quiet” single. Then there was the truly otherworldly Austra, who sound like something you would hear in a good dream. The always incredible Dum Dum Girls, lead by singer Dee Dee who looks like Joan Jett, sounds like Chrissie Hynde, with a band as cool as they come. There is no band destined to be bigger and broader this time next Coachella than MS MR, who met in college made a record and were playing the main stage to a massive crowd early in the day 18 months later. The first dude I saw all day utter even a word was the utterly mindblowing Jagwar Ma, an Aussie psychedelic dance band that wooed the crowd into a blissful trance. Back to the ladies and there isn’t a story about the speed of buzz and the reality of the 10,000 hrs than LA’s Haim. A trio of LA based sisters who sing beautiful pop songs, but live play their instruments as if possessed by hellions from the 70’s. Next up was Neko Case, who possesses perhaps the best natural voice at the festival and without a doubt one of the tightest bands out there. She was divine despite the too smallish crowd. The second dude at the mic all day was Greg Dulli from Afghan Whigs, a band I loved twenty years ago and one who still managed to sound tight and relevant even today. There is something magical about the sunset set on the Outdoor Stage at Coachella, this year it was the delicious Broken Bells (James Mercer from the Shins and Danger Mouse), projecting perfect pop into the colorful desert sky. For the most part, I know every set I’ll see ahead of time, but some are more exciting than others, and for me it was the deep house mastermind Bonobo (aka Simon Green) who played the tightest DJ set of the whole weekend. I say that having gone to see Girl Talk take over the festival for a few songs just after, but sometimes too big is too big. When you see music all day, the big messy crowded headlining sets just seem unworthy, so we stopped to see the biggest, weirdest, coolest band cap things off The Knife.

 

Day 2: Another of the best things about Coachella is getting there early enough that there are no crowds just big open spaces and room to drift. Laura Mvula is one of the best British soul singers you have never of, and I was so glad I had and that it started a glorious second day. From lush, orchestral soul, to the brutishly authentic Mick Jagger meets Iggy Pop retro rock from the most excellent Foxygen. Continuing on a deep retro vibe was UK youngers Temples whose whirling Pink Floydian rock was happening 20+ years before their birth. I saw a few songs from Banks, but they were too sleepy for that early in the day, before heading over to Bombay Bicycle Club for a packed house of happy fratty guys and gals. The crowd for Scotland dance pop band CHVRCHES was absolutely enormous, proving you can go from not even being in a band to 40,000 people singing every lyric in less than two years. Next was more 80’s Brooklyn based dance pop in the form of an excellent set by Holy Ghost!, followed by a massive crowd for Head and the Heart, who, although I’ve seen a dozen times now was playing to a massive crowd and sounding like the folk rock stars they were destined to become. Now you can’t see everything, so no Kid Cudi, only one Washed Out track, before venturing over to perhaps the coolest set of the festival: LA based Warpaint , whose deeply serious melodic rock was mesmerizing closing with the incredible single “Undertow.” Every year there is one band that literally blows up right before the festival. In the past there has been Foster The People, Gotye, Alt-J, but this year the band and the set of the fest for me Baltimore’s unlikely Future Islands. Looking like Marlon Brando but sounding like a fusion of Fine Young Cannibals and Tom Waits, singer Samuel Herring is a wonderfully electric and unlikely rock star. After that we caught pieces of Fatboy Slim, Pixies, Solange and before hunkering down for one of the loudest, strongest sets of the day from Sleigh Bells. Sure elsewhere Pharell, Skrillex, Queens of the Stone Age and Empire of the Sun were banging, but Coachella is all about hard choices.

 

Day 3: By day three if you are really “doing Coachella” as in seeing music, not hanging at VIP, or showing up at 5, or stumbling around bleary eyed, you are tired, but also very much in a groove. The groove of watching music all day. Clearing your head of everything except for the music you are watching and that with you will see later. This day was the lightest in terms of what I wanted to see, but it started with deep disco with LA’s Poolside, whose grooves were a super smooth way to start the day. Not since Liz Phair’s debut “Exile” record has their been a singer as clever, and cool, and competant’ as Aussie Courtney Barnett. Again, from out of nowhere she is playing Coachella within a year of releasing her first music. More luscious 80’s disco classics from Classixx, so much damn fun, followed by perhaps the best Superchunk set I have seen in eons, despite the notable lack of Laura on bass. Certain things just turn magical in the desert, and the sunset set with a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel was down right spiritual. There was nothing like them when they made their two classic albums in the mid-90’s, and there was certainly nothing more intense than this set this year. For something a little bit more upbeat nothing is better than Sweden’s lush Little Dragon. I hadn’t seen anything in it’s entirety on the big main stage all weekend, but playing his first Coachella set in fifteen years Beck was absolutely on it, covering the classics from “Loser” up through the glassy ballads on “Morning Phase.” It’s easy to forget how incredibly important Beck has been and will likely be for many years to come, but seeing him on that stage was nothing less than magical. With the exception of Radiohead, without a doubt the biggest, baddest critically acclaimed live rock band on the planet is Arcade Fire. Although I’m not a huge fan of their new LCD produced album, seeing them play “No Cars Go” or “Suburbs” is something special. For all the incredible music that played throughout the weekend, there is only one Arcade Fire. A good headliner is hard to find, but on this particular Sunday Arcade Fire owned the night.

 

Music and Technology

Back to reality. For the past eight years I have tried to chronicle each significant step and change in technology, and the evolution/application of mobile and social behavior through the lens of music festivals. First there was SMS (texting) on feature phones – for finding and meeting people in impossibly crowded environments it was simple and useful. Next fans taking photos, mostly Razor phones, to eventually publish on Flickr or merely store on hard drives. Then came Twitter (most easily via sms), short simple web-based publishing but also serving the location conundrum, which was an excellent innovation and great way to follow tastemakers in real time on the grounds. Facebook mobile brought photos + geo + publishing. Phones in the air, selfies, videos, all endlessly capturing the moment, so much so that the moment is lost and replaced with looking at phones. With Foursquare came adding and leaving location-based check-ins, sometimes with photos, sometimes just as quick diary entry. Next there was Instagram with good-looking, geo-tagged photos, with comments and everything else from everything that had come before. And that is kind where things stalled. Sure Vine, Snapchat, Tinder, Whatsapp, Coachella’s own app, and all the iterations that have happened since these original innovations are nice, but we’re kind of back to where we started: photos, FB, Twitter, etc. Bandwidth still sucks, especially later into the day and night, and in the end festivals exist for people to see and hear music, share communal passion, and spend quality time with friends and family. I still do take a photo at every show I see, but more as a form of diary. Perhaps it’s tedious to watch from afar, but it makes sense to me.

It’s possible that the rise of festivals is merely a societal reaction to the alienation and self-absorption of the screen-based world we live in, but to see tens of thousands of people experiencing the same moment with nothing but smiles (and yes phones) reminds us of the many things that technology will never replace. People turn people onto things through passion, expression and joy. Now go see some live music this summer. Your soul will thank you.

 

Oh and if you subscribe to Spotify or Rdio here are the playlists:

On Spotify:     TastemakerX V31 “Coachella 2014″

On Rdio:        TastemakerX V31 “Coachella 2014″

 

 

Future Islands – Singles (4AD)

Future Islands is a Baltimore based synth rock band who appears to have deservedly spiked a vein in part thanks to a strangely viral Letterman Show appearance in early May. I have long been a fan of their 80ish new wavey music and remarkably Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) vocals, but “Singles” is such a milestone leap forward in terms of accessibility and fidelity it is almost hard to fathom.

The real single on “Singles” is the inescapable “Seasons (Waiting On You),” but almost every track on the latest effort is toe-tapping masterpiece. “Spirit” has every bit of the synthesized energy of a Cut Copy or Small black, but again it’s the guttural crooning of singer Sam Herring that elevate it into something utterly transformative. I’ll be hard pressed to stumble upon something quite like this for a while.

The Bestest, Filmmage 2012

Another great year for films large and small, but in reality I think it was the bigger films that were better than the indie’s. Perhaps it’s that the indie film marketplace has never been more difficult than it is today. Art house screens are disappearing and the ones that exist are often not much bigger than the screen in your living room. Add to that the compression of release windows, and you’ll find most indie’s on Netflix or Amazon within a few months. But the big films were smarter, longer and largely better than any year for the past decade, and any of the most respected auteurs working had films this year (Tarantino, Haneke, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, Speilberg, Russell). Half of this list is already streamable and the other half, should probably be seen on the screen, so go make it happen.

1) Searching For Sugar Man – Dir. Malik Bendjelloul (Sixto Rodriguez)

Every year there is a film that transcends all others, both in creativity and also in its earnestness. “Searching For Sugar Man” is just that film. It is really two films in fact, the first a bizarre backstory about how an obscure folk singer became the most important musician in apartheid South Africa without ever having a clue. The second film within a film is about the journey to rediscovering one of the most criminally under heard musicians of the 70’s.

Most music docs put the music at the forefront because the stories behind the musicians are already broadly known (The Last Waltz, Marley) but “Sugar Man” is a story of a man nobody knew. A man who lived in quite, simple, peaceful, obscurity in a very modest apartment in Detroit making a living as a day laborer. But Rodriguez, whose records I discovered only a decade ago, and like Nick Drake who struggled to find an audience around the same time, had a voice like and angel, and wrote words even more piercing and honest than Dylan. But unlike Drake, he survived, and never seamed to carry any anger about his lack of success. He was and is still a beacon of light who exudes a kindness that makes his music so unquestionably beautiful. This film is a true masterpiece.

2) Django Unchained – Dir. Quentin Tarantino (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz)

Picking up where “Inglorious Bastards” left off, “Django” is the perfect canvas to enjoy watching bad guys get slaughtered comically while the good guys tow that fine line. The violence is funny, but the drama is real, and for almost three hours, Tarantino entertains you mashing up spaghetti westerns with “Roots.” In almost anybody else’s hands a bloody slavery revenge film would watch like a sloppy mess, but Tarantino is a film buff with brass balls, so anything goes.

Christoph Waltz is again brilliant as German bounty hunter, who ends up freeing Jamie Foxx’s Django from chain gang early on to help him kill the Brittle brothers. Like all of his films Tarantino spins a great yarn of a story, juxtaposes good and evil, uses music as well as can be imagined, and extracts exquisite performances from everyone. Django the character, represents the underdog who not only overachieves, but blows up roof when given the chance. Of the two anti-slavery films this year, “Django” wins if for nothing other than originality alone.

3)  Beasts of the Southern Wild – Dir. Ben Zeitland (Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry)

You have never seen a film like this before. That is because the topic is so specific and the performances are real you’d swear you were watching real life unfold, albeit a strange and almost surreal one. This world is the one inhabited by the remarkable Hushpuppy, a six-year old survivor from the Bathtub region – an impoverished island like area off the coast of New Orleans. She lives in a ramshackle trailer with her alcoholic father until the storm comes, and turns everything into a swampy jungle.

Cast largely with first time actors, and shot on a shoestring in the ravages post Katrina Bayou’s “Beasts” plays like a slow motion, waking dream. And although each character seems pathetic and worthy of our sympathy they are all beautiful fighters, who neither want our pity nor expect it. Life in the Bathtub is filled with fragrant colors and characters who form a dysfunctional family, rag tag yet indestructible. You will not see another quite this rich in so many ways this year.

4) Moonrise Kingdom – Dir. Wes Anderson (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand)

Most people either are or aren’t Wes Anderson fans. There is no middle ground. If you’re a fan, this will be one of your favorites- right up there with “Rushmore” and “Fantastic Fox.” Everything is so small, nuanced and twee that it would be almost impossible to not appreciate his obsessive detail focus.  In fact the film almost looks like you are looking into a dollhouse of tiny real people, scattered across a rustic wonderland filled with strange caricatures.

Largely a story of young love and the minor adventure that ensues when the community gets involved in the search, this film is mostly about getting know a dozen or so genuinely unique characters: Ed Norton’s super serious boy scout leader, to the Bill Murray and Frances McDormand’s detached parents, to the Bruce Willis wacky Captain Sharp. The film is a visual feast, but also one of the most creative films of the year where watching very happen couldn’t be more entertaining.

5) Argo – Dir. Ben Affleck  (John Goodman, Alan Arkin)

Ben Affleck is on a helluva run these days. “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone” and now “Argo” are all nearly perfect films. There is nothing flashy, but everything is rock solid: cinematography, acting, and the overall texture. Perhaps it took him a while to get rolling, but his films are beginning to have the substance of Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts.

“Argo” tells the story of the Iran hostage crisis, and the outrageous plan to free them by staging a fictional film. Affleck is perfect in his role of producer, but John Goodman, Alan Arkin and the rest of the cast are superb, bathed in a crisp 1980 authenticity. There was no film easier to watch than this one in 2012.

6) Lincoln– Dir. Steven Spielberg (Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field)

Watching “Lincoln” is like eating vegetables, but the ones that taste good – onion rings perhaps. Weighing in at nearly 3 hours, it flies by. In it we learn much about the politics of getting the 13 Amendment passed, but mostly we learn about Lincoln. If we believe the film, we learn that he was laugh out loud funny, a consummate and talented storyteller, and perhaps our country’s most gifted politician.

Daniel Day-Lewis makes very few films, and as a result he is staggering in nearly all of them. This might even be his best role yet, not only physically becoming Lincoln, but creating a character so nuanced (he sounds a bit like Bill Clinton on vicodin) you’ll forget at times he isn’t the president. Conversely, Spielberg makes loads of films, and they cover a massive amount of ground, but with “Lincoln” he plays right at the intersection of his passions: history and quashing bad guys. It’s really good.

7) Robot and Frank – Dir. Jake Schreier (Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon)

I love this film. It is small in scale but huge on humanity, realism, empathy and a bunch of other good qualities. Frank Langella, who just seems to be getting better with age, this time plays a cranky white collar ex-thief who is sent a robot by his son to keep him company. Living in quiet isolation in a quaint New England town, he occasionally ventures into town with stops at the library (which is closing) where flirts with Susan Sarandon as soon to be out of work librarian.

Although the film moves briskly through a pretty straightforward plotline, it is wonderful in that it juxtaposes the technological advantages present with the beautiful simplicity of the past. No film this year personalizes the both the realities of growing old, with the genuine human need to have meaningful companionship as a reason to survive. And yes there is a surprise twist, pay close attention.

8) Zero Dark Thirty – Dir. Kathryn Bigelow (Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton)

If you watch and love “Homeland” you will no doubt like “Zero Dark” but perhaps a little less than if you didn’t watch the show. As great as the film is, unlike “The Hurt Locker” which was just raw, gritty, fresh, and unexpected, this time you are seeing a story you have likely been following for a dozen years, and whose theme and setting is much more topical today that it was even five years ago.

That said, this is truly solid filmmaking with an incredibly deep cast, led by Jessica Chastain, but featuring a deep bench of familiar faces. Given that we know how the story begins and ends, watching the fat middle unfold is surprisingly intense and compelling. Katherine Bigelow has all of a sudden seemed to hit a kind of Ridley Scott stride.

9) 2 Days in New York –Dir. Julie Delpy (Chris Rock, Julie Delpy)

I miss the “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” era Woody Allen films, which is why I was so delighted to see Julie Delpy pick up where he left off. Everything is there in spades, the cramped but homey NYC apartments, the improbably contrived situations, the hilarious rapid-fire dialogue, and lovable characters. Instead of a nebbish Allen, we get a hipster Chris Rock, and an irresistible Delpy and her real life father.

This film is far superior to its Parisian predecessor, and might be the best performances to date from Rock and Delpy. The dialogue is relentlessly comedic, and revolves around the disastrous visit of Delpy’s French relatives as they descend on her tiny Manhattan apartment. The film is both laugh out loud funny, and genuinely sentimental.

10) Cloud Atlas – Dir. Tom Twyker / Wachowski’s (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry)

In a year filled with long movies, “Cloud Atlas” is the one probably deserves the longest running time, as it is derived from an enormous original work, and actually tells 6 interconnected but separate tales spanning 300 years. Although you might find the underlying “past lives spiritualism” a bit hokey, there is much to love even at a superficial level.

Of the many visual and plot gimmicks, the most clever, and almost always effective trick is that Hanks, Berry, and the rest of the play different characters in each of the six stories which begin on a Polynesian island in 1849 and end in futurist Seoul, Korea 2044. The scale and ambition of the film is among the most ambitious of the year, so despite holes here and there, I think it fair to describe it as remarkable.

11) Your Sister’s Sister – Dir. Lynn Shelton (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt)

This is bona fide chick flick that even self respecting dudes will no doubt relate to. In part this is because at some point, everyone probably wishes that they could go back in time, not have kids, mortgages, and the anxiety of adult life. This film feels more like a play shot on film than a film, but it doesn’t really matter because this is all about the dialogue.

Mumblecore superstar Mark Duplass is increasingly becoming a legitimate, card-carrying movie star, but it is in roles like this where he really thrives, as a dude kind of lost in the middle of his life. Thankfully he is shuffled off to recuperate at the beautiful cabin belonging to his best buddy (Emily Blunt) where he finds her irresistible lesbian sister. The rest unravels like a beautiful sweater.

12) Silver Linings Playbook – Dir. David O. Russell (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper)

It is hard to see this film without lofty expectations unless you’ve been hiding under a rock. That said David O. Russell, manages to take what could have been a painfully cliché mass dramedy and turn it into a near perfect romantic comedy. Bradley Cooper’s manic lead, is spot on, as a recovering bi-polar former teacher looking to restart his life from his parents blue collar Philadelphia home.

Ripping what seems like a page from Frederick Exley’s brilliant novel “A Fans Note,” DeNiro plays the football obsessed patriarch (although his team is the Eagles not the Giants) and delivers his best performance in years. As good as Cooper is though, Jennifer Lawrence, is adorable and more important believable as the girl who will help him start again. This film won’t hurt your brain, but is very easy to swallow, and makes you smile throughout.

13) Liberal Arts – Dir. Josh Radnor (Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins)

After seeing the film at Sundance, I assumed it would be the runaway indie comedy of 2012. Perhaps it’s that the film has a whole bunch of personal relevance, having spent a bunch of lost weekends on the set (re: campus) when I was younger. In the film a 30-something graduate returns to his alma mater, Kenyon College, for a weekend to watch his second-favorite professor (Richard Jenkins) honored after a lifetime at the school.

While there he falls in love both with the past, and a beautiful, precocious girl half his age played by the most talented Olson sister (Elizabeth). Although it won’t stretch your brain too much, there are plenty of bittersweet reminiscences and a handful of wonderful cameos including a brilliant one from Allison Janney as a cougar-esque English teacher. This film was criminally under seen.

14) The Deep Blue Sea – Dir. Terrance Davies (Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston)

Rachel Weisz is one of the most underrated actors working today. She always delivers perfectly understated performances, but this time around her patience and sadness is as good as anything this year. The film has an incredibly slow but compelling pace, in part due to the fact the film is remake of a film, adapted from a 1955 play. But director Terrance Davies manages to execute the authenticity of the time a place (post WWII London) to a tee.

But the story is largely about love, or the lack thereof, and features Weisz in an almost Sylvia Plath “Bell Jar” role, despondent, but with a sliver of hope shining faintly. She is married to a rich older man, but this gives way to an affair with much younger but volatile man. For people looking for an upbeat feel good film, this is not the one, but “The Deep Blue Sea” harkens back to an older more formal kind of filmmaking.

15) Marley – Dir. Kevin McDonald (Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff)

Who doesn’t love Bob Marley? Maybe there are two other artists in the history of rock music who are as universally loved as he is, but oddly most people know almost nothing about how he started and how his life ended. Although this is not a film that shines a particularly bright light onto the mind and soul of Marley, it does a more than adequate job of outlining the basic details of his life, all set to a wonderful soundtrack of rarities and hits.

Directed capably by Kevin McDonald, “Marley” features interviews with friends, family, band mates and business associates, concert footage, rare photos, it is a delight to revisit Marley as a younger man making his way, and established start, and then one dealing with a fatal illness. There are no real revelations here, but I’m not sure there needs to be.

16) The Sessions – Dir. Ben Lewin (John Hawkes, Helen Hunt)

When I saw “The Sessions” at Sundance last year, it was called “The Surrogate.” I loved it for many reasons, but mostly it was the combination of the fact that it was based on a true story, and the blunt courage of the actors. In it the great John Hawkes plays man trapped in an iron lung for most of his life, and his relationship with a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt in easily the finest performance of her career.

Although much of film involves quite graphic and awkward sex between the two, the film really revolves about the relationship the two develop over the course of their sessions. In an age increasingly divorced from actually human contact (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) watching two people interact as intimately as this reminds us how important it is to be alive and living in the physical world.

17) The Master – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (Joachin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman) You will either love or loath this film about a the leader of a Scientology-like cult, and one of his rabid followers. More sheer power from PT Anderson.

18) Bernie – Dir. Richard Linklater (Jack Black, Shirley McLaine) Off character brilliance from Jack Black as a small town mortician caught up in murder, and winding weirdly towards a something genuinely original.

19) Looper – Dir. Rian Johnson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt) The mind-bending “Looper” sends assassins from the past into the future to kill and then dispose of bodies in the past. Yup, awesome even for non-sci-fiers.

20) Amour – Dir. Michael Haneke (Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Riva) The story of two retired music teachers, and their daughter who reenters their life and flips it upside down.

21) Arbitrage – Dir. Nicolas Jarecki (Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth) This wonderfully topical film about a loathsome hedge master of the universe whose world is crumbling around him.

22) Sleepwalk With Me – Dir. Mike Birbiglia (Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose) A breezy little romantic comedy starring an incredibly lovable aspiring comedian and the incredible girlfriend who for some reason still loves with him.

23) Dark Horse – Dir. Todd Solandz (Selma Blair, Christopher Walken) Another painfully sad suburban tale of loneliness and longing from the indie sad sap Solandz. Heartbreakingly hilarious.

24) Oslo, August 31 – Dir. Joachim Trier (Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner) As stark and patient a film as you are likely to see, also as bleak and depressing as you are likely to watch.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

Almost four years ago, even before their first EP “Sun Giant” was released, I stood before  five bearded hippies at the Bowery Ballroom, transfixed by their lush nostalgic confidence as they buzzlessly opened for Blitzen Trapper. Nothing they have done since that night has been anything less than perfect. Their CSN harmonies, Van Morrison ‘Astral’ meditations and meandering California spirit is such an authentic relic of a bygone era, even among a sea of more popular revisionists Mumford and Sons, that the years that have passed since the debut have passed way too slowly.

The dozen songs on “Helplessness Blues” are about what you would expect- earthy epics that tend to rise and fall around the sublime vocals of still only 25 year-old Robin Pecknold. Already something of a studio perfectionist, these songs were recorded, scrapped and rerecorded a handful of times between Woodstock, Seattle and parts in between. From the stunning title track whose chorus “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore” mixes the just the right amount of Johnny Appleseed pioneer spirit with earnest longing, to the bouncy slow build of “Grown Ocean” to the lush “Lorelai,” this album covers a remendous amount of ground very carefully. Like Wilco before them, the Fleet Foxes seem destined to make a long career of trying to understand who we are and who we wish to become. There is much to love here, and I’m guessing many who will grow to love it more with each passing year.

TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

Product DetailsCertain bands seem destined for greatness. With TVOTR it wasn’t immediately clear given the angular, heavy feeling of their first album, but with each of their subsequent efforts you began to hear a band dead set on slow and steady evolution. By the time “Cookie Mountain” arrived the band had proven that punk, funk, and electro-dance could co-exist happily in a kind of melodious groove. With 2008’s “Dear Science” the band had become broadly accessible without losing a shred of credibility and like Radiohead before them seem committed to both genre-defying creativity and the production of albums in an era of singles.

On “Nine Types of Light,” the band’s fourth full length, the corners are even brighter than ever with songs that alternate between shimmering ballads like “You” ( a near perfect love song), their more traditional dance  heritage on tunes like “Repetition” (echoes of Peter Gabriel vocals that morph into an infectitious dance beats), and near radio friendlygroove pop on “Caffeinated Consciousness.” Perhaps some of the sunshine here is the result of the Brooklyn-based band’s choice to record the album in LA. Despite their prolific tendencies (side projects like Maximum Balloon, and Rain Machine) and acting gigs like Tunde Adebimpe’s lead role in “Rachel Getting Married,” the band seems poised to make a long career of this steady dance towards the sun. RIP, bassist Gerard Smith who died way too young yesterday at the age of 36. He will be missed.