Under the radar #29
The Airborne Toxic Event; Figurines; Freshkills; Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
Posted September 18, 2008
The Airborne Toxic Event, "The Airborne Toxic Event" (Majordomo)
Hyped on: Café Eclectica; The Culture of Me; The Pelican's Perch
Who: This kicky five-piece from L.A.’s culturally fertile Silverlake area is the very definition of what’s really good in classic indie rock. Incorporating chiming guitars and earnest, heartfelt vocals that mean something with lots of atmosphere, it’s no wonder they’ve made such a tremendous impact on the L.A. music scene (the band saw their single “Sometime Around Midnight” get added to some of the city’s top commercial and public radio stations).
What: Evoking images of the Church, Echo & the Bunnymen and Modest Mouse, ATE’s eponymous debut is rife with ear-catching melodies and thoughtful lyricism (the band’s primary songwriter, Mikel Jollet, is also an accomplished fiction writer and journalist). Songs like “Something New” percolate with the casual precision of the Strokes next to more irreverent tunes like “Missy,” which finds Jollet giving Conor Oberst a serious run for the heartstrings.
Made for: Fans of the “Silverlake sound” (think Silversun Pickups, Cold War Kids and patron saint Elliott Smith). Cool collegiate freshman settling into their first dorm room. New-school indie aficionados that still treasure mixtapes stolen from their older siblings’ own college years.
X-Factor: Classically trained violinist Anna Bulbrook was a resident advisor at Columbia University. Among her charges was Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig. – STS
Who: A quintet of ‘60s-loving Danes (mostly the Beach Boys and the Bryds) that serves as foil to Scandinavian brethren the Hives—another band obsessed with that decade. But where the Hives favor short, spastic garage rock, Figurines feature moody, psychedelic pop.
What: Frontman Christian Hjelm sings with hardly an accent, in a nasally wail that’s irritating at times, a potent mix of Isaac Brock and that guy from Mercury Rev. But voice is hardly a concern on the rollicking “Bee Dee” or the dreamy “Cheap Place to Spend the Night,” which concludes with fairytale plucks of the banjo after Hjelm sings about a mysterious substance that “grows in the shadows.” Standout “Drunkard’s Dreams” is a seven-minute stomper on acid, with jumpy rhythm guitar, a lengthy solo bridge and a Jefferson Airplane organ takeoff smack in the middle. Clearly, imagination is legal in the land of the midnight sun.
Made for: Fans of the Flaming Lips’ slow-burners. Happy people: Denmark was named the happiest place on earth in a 2006 study.
X-Factor: Last year, the band’s harmony-rich track “The Air We Breath” was featured in the 13th episode of “Gossip Girl,” quite possibly during a moody deflowering scene. – MR
Who: No sleep ‘til Brooklyn! After a couple of years of being inundated with flabby indie-pop and lazy laptop beats, New York’s best borough finally brings the noise. The second record by this five-piece is true DIY old-school: self-released, decidedly lo-fi and preferably heard on vinyl (as well as seen: the lyrics are “hand silk-screened” on the record sleeve).
What: “Now sing the song our grandparents sang!” commands vocalist Zach Lipez during “Revelations,” and yes, there is a bit of a retro vibe on the Freshkills record (though not that old). The band touts its post-punk allegiance to the likes of Drive Like Jehu and Quicksand—this isn’t too far off base, as the group’s fractured guitars create sweet disharmony behind Lipez’s oh-so-slightly-Ian-Curtis broodings (or, to be more local, just call the band a messy take on Interpol and you’re probably safe). “I Quit Smoking” is the indie-rock relationship anthem of the year, building from bitter recriminations (“She said, you make love like a punchline/Jokes die inside your mouth”) to something…kind of sweet (“I quit smoking to keep your scent on my sheets”).
Made for: People who think “punk” can still mean something dangerous, Hipsters craving noise and depth. The 300 people who understand what “sounds like Drive Like Jehu” means.
X-Factor: Need more punk authenticity? The band’s Sept. 12 record release party took place at a Brooklyn art gallery/music space with a band called Violent Bulls---. – KM
Who: Dan Stephens is Dan Le Sac, the producer and beatmaker with the badass sideburns. David Meads is Scroobius Pip, the rapper and poet with the mountain man beard. The duo hails from Essex, which is sort of the British equivalent of Long Island—a suburb of London that the hip urban kids never take seriously. They blew up last year with the success of a track called “Thou Shalt Always Kill,” which features Pip dispensing his own personal commandments over a twisted electro beat.
What: Dan and Scroobius are signed in the U.S. to Sage Francis’ Strange Famous label, and they’re definitely kindred spirits—in fact, the best way to describe to Pip’s style is probably to call it a cross between the Streets’ lager-soaked delivery and Francis’ angsty, cerebral wordplay. “Thou Shalt Always Kill” is full of clever one-liners and T-shirt-ready iconoclasm (“The Beatles? Just a band”), but the tracks on which Pip really shines are the ones where he’s more beat poet than rapper, like the harrowing “Magician’s Assistant” or the brilliant shaggy-dog story, “Waiting for the Beat to Kick In.” Dan Le Sac, for his part, keeps the production work dense, dark and choppy, approaching something close to genius with his use of a crumpled Radiohead sample on “Letter From God to Man.”
Made for: Club kids who want to exercise their brains as well as their arses. Recovering Mike Skinner fans. Anyone who loves that gray area between rap and spoken word.
X-Factor: The hipster tastemakers at Pitchfork savaged “Angles,” giving it a 0.2 on their one to 10 scale—which, these days, might actually be better publicity than a positive review (they also ripped Black Kids and Airborne Toxic Event, and you see how much it's hurt those guys). – AH
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