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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Helio Sequence-Opolis-Norman, OK



            That’s what I was for a good 15 minutes after Helio Sequences spectacular splash down in Norman this past Saturday night. I’m just thankful that I was given the time to write this after the fact, because I don’t believe the “uhhhh” you would have elicited from me at the time would have done them justice.


            I went into the show a casual fan of the band, impressed with their indie-rock splattered against the blippy electronic canvas. I left, however, a prophet, shouting, from the street corners, the Word of Helio.


            Another stellar show at the Opolis (oh how I love the cats) that stood head and shoulders above the rest I’ve caught there so far this summer. It rolled to a start with the sunny stylings of Kansas’ D*R*I* who filled the room with light and warmth. They were as golden as field of wheat, breezing through an unhurried set that left the crowd warm and assured. The bright and dazzling vocals and windswept guitar was a great set up for what would prove a more frantic headliner.


            The Portland two-piece, The Helio Sequence, have enjoyed a fruitful career. They have opened for the likes of the Pixies, Modest Mouse, the Shins and most recently British maestros Keane. All four of the releases have been well received, chiefly their most recent album “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” They have also benefited from the backing of their indie stalwart label Sub Pop, a dream for lead singer Brandon Sumners.


            “One of the first cassettes I bought was “Bleach” by Nirvana and it really inspired me. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be awesome to be on Sub Pop?’ Sure enough, x amount of years later, here we are.”


            The Helio Sequence hit a major road bump in 2005 when Sumners temporarily lost his voice. He came out of the event a new man, and the duo became a new band. They had to change the way they approached their music, though many will argue it was for the best, Sumners included.


            “I feel like I came out of it completely different. The way I look at a song, everything really. I look at it as a fateful adjustment though.”


            Helio Sequence seems to be all the stronger for the incident, and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.


            The band fluttered through Norman almost exactly a year ago to the day, and even then didn’t let a torrential downpour of rain and tornado sirens in the distance put a damper on things. This time around we saw them celebrating their tenth anniversary as a band, although it was hard to gauge whether the anniversary couple or the crowd as having a better time.

            The band launched into things on a bit cautious pace with the more deliberate “Can’t Say No.” From then on out, however, things would be moving at a breakneck pace. They dabbled between hectic electro heavy floorburners, like the insatiable “Don’t Look Away” that got the crowd moving, and poignant, though still energetic anthems like “Lately.” The music filled the crowd’s ears and kept on beating like the Energizer bunny; there was no time for breaks, as though the crowd would have even wanted one. That is one thing the band is in no short supply of, energy. It’s that energy that made the crowd lively pulse the night away. And every bit the band gave the crowd, the crowd gave right back.


            Frontman Brandon Sumners strums the life out of the guitar and plays the harmonica like a madman. He is consumed with the music, and seems to play it out of his body like the plague. But despite all of this energy he refuses to sacrifice any vocal integrity and never seems to miss a note.


            Drummer Benjamin Weikel is a sight to be seen. I’ve never seen a drummer to be so entertaining by simple playing along. He carries a unique technique to drumming that is beyond words. Musically, he is tight, precise and heavy, maintaining a perfect driveway for Sumner to glide across.


            The crowd felt a shock of excitement as they turned into the illuminating “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” They seemed to jump into a whole other gear as the notes bolted across the walls as the place felt like it was on the verge of implosion. They quickly wrapped up the set, and after a short encore, the band called it a night.


            So I stood there, speechless. And despite a full recovery, I am still at a loss of words, struggling to find the perfect words to encapsulate this performance. I think you just had to be there.



Interview with Sherree Chamberlain

Sherree Chamberlain played a gorgeous acoustic set at the Opolis this past Sunday, in support of the Seattle band Telekinesis, where she debuted new songs and performed old favorites as well. Her music is simply stunning, balancing infectious acoustic guitar, poignant guitar, and an alluring voice that culminates in a whirl of color and jubilation.. After the show Sunday night, she took the time to answer a few questions about her music, inspiration, and her plans for the future.


So what inspires your music?


Well, you know, it varies. But, I just bought this book. It sounds so cheesy, but it’s called The Artist’s Way, and it’s just these exercises. Just writing exercises that you have to do everyday, discipline kind of thing. Every morning, I’ve been getting up, writing two pages. You aren’t allowed to go back and look at it, but it really centers you, kind of just gets you in the mood. I’m learning that creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it everyday it atrophies. So I’ve been really inspired lately by this book I’m reading, and really working on these writing exercises and just letting it flow. It makes you acknowledge your doubts and your shortcomings and you have to write them down. It’s kind of emotional but it feels good once it’s out because you are like, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore.


What do you prefer about solo shows over the full band ones?


Well, it’s more fun because it is more intimate. I feel like I interact with the crowd a lot. And I don’t have to worry about messing up so much; I mess up all the time during solo shows. It’s fun and I don’t feel that pressure. I don’t know, the crowd gets to hear my voice a little more clearly, and what I’m trying to say a little more clearly too. I can talk in between songs and kind of explain what’s happening. I think sometimes I almost reveal too much and say too much. I really do like interacting and talking to the crowd. I feel like that’s easier when I’m on my own and there aren’t five guys behind me waiting.



So you’ve been playing since you were fairly young then?


Before I even played, in like second grade, I went to my first concert, which was Bryan Duncan. He was some cheesy Christian musician with like a purple suit and black patent leather shoes, so cheesy. I remember lying in my bed trying not to cry thinking about how I wanted to do what he was doing and how I didn’t get to because I was too young. My family has always been musical and I started playing guitar when I was about 14. I should be a lot better for the amount of time I’ve been playing. It’s never been a specific choice for me to play; it’s just always been apart of my family. Actually, recently I realized what it is to be proactive. There is a difference between someone who is creative and someone who is an actual songwriter, because there is a craft to it. You have to look at it in that way; that you have to work. That’s something I’ve never done, I’ve always tried to let creativity come to me. Now I’m realizing that if I want to do this I have to work. So I started taking guitar lessons, I’ve been reading books and working on exercises to better myself, because there is no shame in learning more. I’m enrolling in a music theory class in the fall because it is high time that I started learning that stuff that I needed to a long time ago. I decided to humble myself. I liked to think of it as a natural talent and I wasn’t “trained.” But during recording, it’s a handicap. I realized that I needed to get over my pride issue and admit that I don’t know everything, and that it’s ok.


Is that where all these newly debuted songs came from?


Yeah, I swear to God I’ve written them all in the past four days. I’ve just been really refreshed. Our record is finished in the duplication stage ready to be finished, and some of those songs are about six years old. I’ve just felt such this burden of ‘I can’t move on because I have nothing to show for what I’ve done’ and now that this is finished I’m ready to get in and start an EP because I’m ready to put new stuff out. In the future, I just want to keep writing music. I’m not sure what the main goal is, just that I want to be creatively fulfilled.


And what does music mean to you as an artist?


It’s just something that I’m still trying to figure out. Once again, as dramatic as this might sound, I always, growing up, felt like there was something inside of me; that it is my nature to sing and to play music. I feel so unhappy and discontent if I’m not creating something. I would feel so stifled and grumpy. For me, it’s just part of my nature, and either or not I do something amazing someday, for me that’s not the main goal. For me, the main goal is happiness, therapy and necessity. I’m still figuring it out, but that’s what I’ve got so far.


            Her debut record, “A Wasp in the Room,” will be released in the near future, and you can catch her live at the Marquee in Tulsa on June 16th

Telekinesis-Opolis-Norman, OK


            Telekinesis stormed through Norman this past Sunday night. I came to the show expecting a quaint, intimate evening. The openers, Justin Rice and Sherree Chamberlain, kept the night on that peaceful path before the headliners decided to crash down with a roar of thunder. And nothing is quite as good as the unexpected.

            Seattle’s Telekinesis has been buzzing all over the music scene since early 2009. They were the darlings of SXSW, and have been supporting acts like Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Ra Ra Riot, and Cut Off Your Hands since March. The came to Norman on their own however, and I have a feeling their next time through they’ll be occupying a much bigger stage.

            Their brand of power pop is that straightforward, familiar type of music that instantly feels as though you have heard it before. Though it could be easy to be cast off as generic with that sort of song writing, Telekinesis has found a way to keep these down-to-earth melodies fresh, interesting, and miles away from boring.

            The night began with the darling Carly Gwin (of the Workweek), followed by a solo performance of Student Film’s front man Justin Rice, whose superb solo stuff sounded strikingly like the Decemberists. Then it was time for Sherree Chamberlain to take the stage. Her set was relaxed and intimate without the full band backing her. She debuted several new songs and sounded absolutely stellar with her inspirational, folksy ditties. Her lush, unassuming voice bounced along the walls of the Opolis like a beautiful echo. Then it was time for the headliner.

            Telekinesis is basically the one-man act of Michael Benjamin Lerner, but he is accompanied by three fellow Seattle musicians on tour. Lerner helms the drums on stage, but continues as lead singer without skipping a beat. The debut record has a very relaxed, gentle feel to it, but performed live, the songs take on a much more vigorous, frantic form.

            The launched into the set like a tornado, with a fast paced, frenzied dashing between the songs on the set list. They are one of those few bands whose songs might actually sound better live. “Look to the East” and “Tokyo” scurried along hysterically with Lerner’s drums thudding dominantly. They took well deserved breathes with the sauntering “Plankton” and “Awkward Kisser” and even rendered a cover of the Kinks “House in the Country.” The show was at its absolute best with “Calling All Doctors,” which darted around daringly, and the power pop perfection of “Coast of Carolina” which the band elected to close with. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that wouldn’t instantly fall in love with the beautiful melody and enchanting lyrics of this song to a distant lover. If your life was a movie, this is the song that would play over all of the happiest moments, and Telekinesis provided me with one of my happiest moments of the summer with there pleasantly unexpected show.

            This show hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was probably happiest buried beneath all the rubble.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Phoenix-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

I was almost uncontrollably excited when I heard “1901” a few months ago. The aspect of a new Phoenix album on the horizon brightened my day like a ray of sunshine. Sure enough, the album came out, and it is my favorite release of theirs to date.

            Their music is the definition of European chic to me. It’s as though their music is dressed up in a tight leather jacket, skinny jeans, puffing on a slender cigarette with that effortlessly hip attitude.

            But these Frenchies aren’t just style, and they have a heck load of substance. Dubbed as a European Strokes, they have proved themselves more reliable than their NYC counterparts, crafting alternative rock as polished as a 70’s Corvette. They don’t disappoint with the new stuff either.

            The glossy “1901” paces back and forth over a fuzzy disco beat and zigzagging guitar. “Lisztomania,” the leadoff track, is as catchy as a cold, and songs like “Lasso,” “Rome,” and “Big Sun” show that the band refuses to let off the brakes as the cruise to a close.

            As glitzy and captivating as this record is, you’d be doing your self a disservice to not pick it up. Who knows? Maybe a little bit of that European cool will rub off.


Passion Pit-Manners

Discovering Passion Pit a few months ago with their EP “Chunk of Change”, I had high expectations going into their full-length release. They surpassed every hope I had.

            A must have for fans of MGMT and the like, Passion Pit’s “Manners” feels like a much more complete version of “Oracular Spectacular” with songs ranging from dance floor burners to full blown electro rock anthems. The whole record has the essence of being recorded in the depths of the ocean, splashing and diving with the glimmer of the moonlight overhead.

            The music bounces along like lighting through a thunderstorm, silver shimmers dancing across a gloomy skyline. They kick things off with the remarkable “Make Light” before throwing back to the 80’s with “Little Secrets.” “Sleepyhead,” a hold over from the debut EP, dazzles and splatters for a truly unique listening experience. Highlights come in the form of “Moth’s Wings” and “The Reeling,” which both uncover a glimpse of what feels like the future of music.

            If you feel like dancing, nodding, bouncing, kicking, rocking, and hopping, then this is the record for you. It’s got something for everyone, and everything if you want it all.

Miike Snow-Miike Snow

Miike Snow- Miike Snow

            This Swedish outfit provides the perfect summer cool down with their debut release. The side project of producers Bloodshy and Avant (the men behind releases from Christina Milian, Kylie Monogue, and even Britney Spear’s “Toxic”) enlisted friend Andrew Wyatt to create a sort of Scandinavian N*E*R*D*.  The result is a record that is unmistakably beautiful and undeniably cool.

            These boys must have been saving the best beats for themselves. The songs sound just as poppy as the music they had produced before, but with a much cooler edge. Frost tinged beats and icy swirls of synths make you feel like you are partying at an Antarctic dance club.

            “Black and Blue” glides around at a frantic pace, while “Silvia” sounds like the best OneRepublic song they never wrote. The band is firing on all cylinders with the two leadoffs to the album: “Animal” and “Burial.” “Animal” blips and hops along with an unforgettable hook. Then the blurry “Burial” whirls around like a blizzard viewed outside an icy window. The song won’t leave your head for days, and you won’t want it to.

            Miike Snow’s debut is a testament to how good unpretentious pop songs can be. Just leave it to the Swedes.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Red Cortez: The Opolis 5/19

To those of you who have not yet heard of Red Cortez, rush to the nearest computer and take a listen. No, they are not an extremist militant group. They are, in fact, one of the most interesting bands to burst on the scene in the past few years. Coming to the end of a three month long tour, the band made a quick stop in Norman this past week, and though the crowd was small, one by one, the crowd was slowly converted into a new legion of fans.

            Hailing from Los Angeles, the band has been quietly plugging away the last few years, honing their craft and getting rowdy on stage. But a band this good couldn’t stay hidden for too long.

            Over the past year, Red Cortez has exploded onto the scene. The launch began when Morrissey handpicked the band to open for him over a short jaunt across the US. It was then on to SXSW, an experience lead singer Harley Pritchel-Cortez described as “hectic, amazing, and unforgettable.” They got to open for bands as diverse as Black Lips, Delta Spirit, and Viva Voce. Since SXSW, the band has trekked across the States and has steadily amassed an army of fans.

            Opening for the likes of Tallest Man on Earth, the Submarines, and the Mother Hips, I am all but sure that Red Cortez has stolen the show nearly every time. The played to a sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and were surprised and intrigued when the played a show for a strict Christian college in Indiana where the crowd participation was limited to clapping in a seated position after the conclusion of the song. If you have seen the band, you will know how hard it must have been to stay seated.

            Red Cortez live is an unforgettable experience. The crowd at the Opolis probably could have been counted using just your fingers and toes, but the second they rip into that first chord you feel like you are in a sold-out crowd at the Madison Square Garden.

            Pulsing with energy and passion, the band performs like their lives depend on it. The drummer plays on a small set, yet makes a sound bigger than dual drummers. Guitarist Calvin Love slashes and rips through the set, jumping into the crowd without missing a beat. The true spectacle is lead singer Harley Prichel-Cortez. He leaps between songs with the guitar, piano, and harmonica, howling and wailing the entire time. Witnessing the conviction he embodies brings to mind a maniac street preacher, twisting and turning like a gymnast. And the music doesn’t suffer for the theatrics.

            The music of Red Cortez is a puree of punk, bosa nova, blues, soul, and a rock and roll. These diverse influences make for an unmistakable. They bounce between frantic, hurried rock songs to gorgeous blues melodies with unparalleled expertise. “Fell on the Floor” exemplifies that energetic compassion they are known for on the stage. “All the Difference” shows just how light and beautiful they can play.

            So do yourself a favor and go take a listen. I know you will thank me. Just continue to spread the word.