Tempe, Ariz., 1998

Every so often, a young band asks me for advice on how to get better. Other times, veteran musicians toiling below the radar have asked me how to get noticed. In either case, I never know what to say. I'm a music critic, not a musician, after all. And I'm barely even that. Like a lot of people, I actually pay my bills with another job, although in my case that happens also to be in journalism. So I'm not sure how much wisdom I have to impart in these matters.

But people do seem to want answers, whether or not the person giving them is flawed himself. And I've definitely been obsessing over music long enough to have an opinion or two. Plus, I'd actually like to help! So I figured I'd type this up as some kind of ready-made answer for anyone wanting to know how to make their music better. With luck, that will lead to their getting noticed, too. Listicle, ahoy:

1. Practice as much as you can, in as many ways as you can.
This may seem really obvious. But hey, you asked. I got the opportunity to write the occasional album review that a lot of people might read by constantly writing album reviews that probably no one should ever have to read. I know it doesn't sound very punk rock, but the only way I can tell you to make a good song, a good record, or whatever, is to keep making lots of music and learning from your mistakes. If you're lucky, you can keep most of the bad (or, in a lot of cases, simply "good"-- the line between what will get you noticed and what is merely acceptable can be very small) stuff low-profile enough that no one will have to know about it when your great material finally comes around. In short: The only way to be a songwriter is to write a song.

2. Practice in ways where you'll get feedback from real people. Every once in a while, a staggering genius will come along who can work in total isolation and create something that later speaks to millions. If that's your goal, then you're probably too brilliant to waste your time reading my advice, anyway. And you should probably by a lottery ticket, if only as a backup plan. For the rest of us, it's probably not enough just to keep writing and recording music in a vacuum. You won't get any better until you see how other people react to your music-- music is a form of communication. "When it hits..." Better still, play your music for people who have no incentive to be nice to you. I still have plenty of high-school tapes that sounded awesome to me at the time. If I'd had the guts to play those songs more places where I could see what people liked and what people thought was laughably awful, I probably would be less embarrassed by my old recordings today. Play lots of shows. Interact with like-minded musicians or music fans online. Exchange ideas. Grow up in public. Keep your ears open and your skin thick. Make something beautiful/memorable/distinctive. In order to be a musician, people need to get something out of your music, and again, unless you're one of those preternatural geniuses (or you have a built-in marketing/PR machine behind you-- hi, "American Idol," Justin Bieber, etc.) you're going to need to put yourself out there in front of those people to find out what that is-- and where you can push them to blow them away with something they never knew they might like. In short: The only way to be a successful songwriter is to write a song someone likes.

3. Make music you like. I can't tell young bands how to get better, because what I want from them is to show me something that sounds like it's coming from them, something that I might not have expected, something new to my world. Your music may need to be part of some kind of dialogue with other people in order for it to improve, in order for it to speak to an actual audience (audiences > critics), but if you start reducing your songs/tracks to a science, to some kind of demographically targeted marketing tool, well-- it might turn out great (there are exceptions to every rule-- see #4 or #5, not sure how long this list will be yet) but there's also a risk people might not like it anyway, and if you at the very least aren't enjoying what you're doing, then you might as well be doing something else you don't enjoy that will be more lucrative. As Jonathan Richman says in a press bio he wrote for himself in the 1990s: "He promised himself that if it ever became work instead of fun he’d quit that day. And…if it ever does, he will." So yeah, somebody out there needs to care about your music in order for your music to affect people the way you might like. But life isn't fair. The reasons people care about music at any given time don't necessarily have anything to do with the reasons they might care about your music a year from now. If you like what you're doing, and the people you trust like it, and you're having fun, then don't worry about the critics. You're not making music for them, are you? Besides: They'll come around. In short: The only way to be a successful songwriter in the way that matters most is to write a song you like.

4. So yeah, as I was saying in #3, there are exceptions to every rule. That's often where the most interesting developments in music happen anyway-- look at the relationship between capitalism and art at Lil Wayne's Young Money label, or Sweden's Sincerely Yours, or for Robyn or R. Kelly or M.I.A. or Justin Timberlake or John Mayer, and the ways that in a certain situation, just having fun and just trying to sell copies and just trying to express yourself can all be the same thing. There are no rules for making great pop music; if there were, it would be classical music (no offense to classical music, which is often over my head, but that's the point). One of the great things about pop is that, as with sports or TV shows, everybody can have an opinion on it. You might not want my mom to be a music critic, but if I play something for her and she thinks it's just annoying or filthy or weird or whatever, that's no more or less valid than my thinking it's awesome. It's just informed by a different context. Most music these days seems to have a specific niche in mind-- a distressing lack of ambition, in my opinion, which will only make pop music less and less important to people who aren't already music fans... there's a reason there's so little space for pop in The New York Time ' Sunday Arts & Leisure section-- but at its best, a great song or track can speak to anyone. What I rave about is the stuff that speaks beautifully to me and that I think might speak beautifully to other people, make them feel something or laugh or dance or see the world in a new way or kiss their lover or buy the next round or. Or. Or. In short: The only way to be a successful music-type person is to remember there is no "only way" to be a successful music-type person.

5. I've said it before and I'll say it again: THOU SHALT THINK FOR YOURSELVES. I was talking with my uncle the other day about the Church of England minister who not long ago told congregants that in certain cases it's OK to shoplift. My uncle, interestingly to me, noted that situational ethics is pretty much the foundation of liberalism (in the sense of a liberal society, I assume, not in the narrow liberal-conservative U.S. political sense-- although you may be able to see how it could apply there, too): There are people who want hard-and-fast rules of life to be set down for them, and who say they live by those rules, and then there are people who view every situation as different, and who consider what it must be like to live in another person's shoes before passing moral judgment-- who live life as it comes to them, in all its complexity (I guess in reality we're all a little of both, right?). For some reason that reminds me of what I hope for out of music: What will make for a great record, a great band, varies as much as the infinitude of situations every human being faces every instant every day on the face of this increasingly interconnected planet. Don't take anything a pretentious blowhard like me says as gospel. Listen to your heart, make it happen, do your best, have a great summer, stay cool, achieve your dreams and stuff, shantih shantih shantih whatever and ever amen. In short: Just do it.



 Where is the love?

Belated quarterly report for individual tracks. Requirement for this list was just that a track had to have been out there in some form by March 31, 2010, as best as I could possibly incorrectly tell as I was posting this (so for example Robyn's "Dancing on My Own," a surefire top 10 for me right now, is not included; Poison Control Center's "Being Gone" isn't, either, but if the video had come out March 31 instead of April 1 it would be). Meanwhile, in albums news, please consider Erykah Badu dropped from my first-quarter top 10 and Ke$ha added (what was I thinking?). Also: another selection of incongruous Black Eyed Peas photos.

Tell me what I'm forgetting:

1. Ciara [ft. the Dream]: "Speechless" In a post today, this funny and weird and actually pretty astute Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews (not sure exactly how I should feel/write about it because no doubt I will eventually come up for review-- at the very least, it's a worthier adversary than most criticize-the-critics blogs in the last five years) says Pitchfork has never covered The-Dream, except in a single news item about Lil Wayne. This is, technically speaking, not true. The old Forkcast, which you can only find in your RSS reader these days, covered "Shawty Is a Ten," a "Shawty Is a Ten Remix" with R. Kelly, "Falsetto," the "Falsetto" video, "I Luv Your Girl," and "Let Me See the Booty," plus Dream productions like "Touch My Body" and "Umbrella." What, you expected me to say something about the song? Without speech. For now. (OK, except to say I never thought The-Dream would keep finding new and better variations on his "ella ella"/"ay ays," or that Ciara would out-"Promise" her own "Promise.")

2. Tanlines: "Real Life" When I wrote about this track for Pitchfork, I missed something crucial. First of all, my use of the word "sad" was totally off, although the Brooklyn duo do bring an air of melancholy to this vaguely tropical synth-pop stunner, which should fit nicely between New Order and the Tough Alliance on a mix. I know this isn't what you should normally do with dance music, but let's go through the lyrics again: "You might think I'm still that way/ It's only natural/ It was a past life thing, it was a past life thing/ It wasn't anything at all." In the context of having been "lost" ("trouble was I was alone"), it's clear he's not looking back on something sadly/wistfully, as I'm afraid my review suggested-- he's reassuring a lover, "OK, when I was single, I was a jerk-- mistakes were made-- but not only is that over, it might as well never have happened." Words easier said than followed through upon, given what we know about human nature, and maybe that's what makes them poignant. I still love how the song seems like it's about to end, but then comes back for another chorus. No idea what's with the chant of what sounds like "mass aloha"-- it's just the sort of thing somebody should be singing at the end of this song, right?

3. DOM: "Burn Bridges" I'll have a lot more to say about this band, who like labelmates Golden Girls hail from Worcester, Mass., but for now just read Dom's interview with Ryan Dombal and listen to the song. I wouldn't be surprised if another Dom track (probably "Living in America" or "Jesus") edges this one out as my favorite by the end of the year.

4-10. Aloe Blacc: "I Need a Dollar". Janelle Monae [ft. Big Boi]: "Tightrope". Robyn: "Fembot". Das Racist: "Shorty Said (Gordon Voidwell Remix)". Spoon: "Out Go the Lights". The Drums: "I Felt Stupid".

Yes, we can.

Incomplete list of assorted other tracks for your consideration, no particular order:
Caribou: "Odessa" 
Nicole Kidman: "I'm in Love With a Jehovah's Witness"
Liars: "The Overachievers"
Titus Andronicus: "No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future"
Los Campesinos!: "A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State Or, Letters From Me to Charlotte"
Dum Dum Girls: "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout"
Alley Boy [ft. Young Dro]: "Tall"
Delorean: "Stay Close"
Rox: "My Baby Left Me"
Goldfrapp: "Rocket (Richard X One Zero Remix)"
Tracey Thorn: "Oh, the Divorces!"
Gorillaz: "To Binge"
Young Money [ft. Lloyd]: "Bedrock"
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: "Round and Round"
Drake: "Over"
Surfer Blood: "Catholic Pagans"
Lindstrom & Christabelle: "Baby Can't Stop"
Neon Indian: "Sleep Paralysist"
Zola Jesus: "Night"
jj: "Pure Shores"
Here We Go Magic: "Collector"
These New Puritans: "We Want War"
Four Tet: "Sing"
White Hinterland: "Icarus"
Rich Boy: "So Look Good"
Rich Boy [ft. Yelawolf]: "Go Crazy"
The-Dream: "Love King"
Toro Y Moi: "Blessa"
Beach House: "Used to Be"
Robyn and Diplo: "No Hassle"
Field Music: "Them That Do Nothing"
Sonny and the Sunsets: "Too Young to Burn"
Best Coast: "Wish He Was You"
Cloud Nothings: "Can't Stay Awake"
Spoon: "Written in Reverse"
Love Is All: "Less Than Thrilled"
Cults: "Go Outside"
Active Child: "Wilderness"
El Perro Del Mar [ft. Robyn]: "Change of Heart (Rakamonie Remix)"
Golden Girls: "Amateur Teen Sex Attics"
Ludacris: "How Low"
Baths: "Maximalist"
Starkey: "11th Hour"
Young Dro and Yung LA: "Black Boy, White Boy"
Junkie XL [ft. Jan Hammer]: "Made for Each Other"
The Besnard Lakes: "Albatross"
Gyptian: "Hold Yuh"
Fiveng: "Jonah"
Marina and the Diamonds: "Hollywood"
Dead Gaze: "Back and Forth"
Freddie Gibbs: "Crushin' Feelin's"
J Stalin [ft. Jacka]: "Red & Blue Lights"
Mr. Dream: "Knuckle Sandwich"
Yelawolf: "Pop the Trunk"
Kisses: "Bermuda"
Joker: "Tron"
Arches: "Comin' Back Again"
Teen Sheiks: "Germs"
So Cow: "Random Girls"
Young Dro: "Go to the Club"
Tycho: "Coastal Brake"
Kelis: "Acappella"
Shout Out Louds: "Walls"
Chat Room: "Mom's Web Dating Again"
The Knife in Collaboration With Mt. Sims and Planningtorock: "Colouring of Pigeons"
Cold Cave: "Life Magazine"
Marvelous Darlings: "I'll Stand By Her"
Radio Dept.: "Heaven's on Fire"
Bullion: "Say Goodbye to What"

 Glamorous/Clumsy (pick yr fave).


Faces are changing on Ludlow Street.

Downtown New York came to Downtown Des Moines over the weekend. The two hit it off pretty well! Turnout wasn't overwhelming, but a surprising number of people who saw Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas at People's Court on Friday night appeared to be clapping and dancing with a decidedly un-Lower-East-Side enthusiasm. My group wasn't quite as demonstrative-- you have to plan out the best times to go over to the bar area, which is separate from the main floor, and where you have to stay while you have a beer, because local all-ages show rules are complicated-- but the overall consensus seemed to be: GOOD SHOW. Casablancas did "11th Dimension" of course and other songs from his solo debut album, last year's new wavey Phrazes of the Young, plus his bizarro hit cover of Saturday Night Live sketch song "I Wish It Was Christmas Today," and a couple of Strokes songs, too (including a moving, unadorned version of "I'll Try Anything Once," the song that became "You Only Live Once" from third album First Impressions of Earth). With a six-member backing band, and some of the newer tracks stretching to a very un-Strokes five minutes, the show was a bit proggier than I expected; Casablancas was about as cool as I'd hoped (I've never seen the Strokes before), not saying too much but expressing what seemed to be pretty genuine pleasure over his reception in a town he'd never played previously (during "I'll Try Anything Once," he complimented people for clapping along and then cracked a self-deprecating joke when everybody stopped with one verse left to go... "Now you're just showing off," he said as the interaction resumed one song later). He also sells really nice T-shirts. I wish it was Christmas today-- unfortunately, the Strokes (reunion, of sorts?) tour isn't until this summer.

Hey, you!

Ladd of the Vaudeville Mews booked a show at Beechwood Lounge over in Des Moines' East Village on Saturday night: Iowa's own Land of Blood and Sunshine and the Jitz, plus lo-fi party-rockers the Beets out of Queens, New York. The Beets' first full-length, Spit on the Face of People Who Don't Want to Be Cool, is out on Brooklyn's highly worth-watching Captured Tracks label. Beechwood Lounge doesn't have shows often, I don't think, and it's a funny place anyway-- think of the High Life Lounge, except a little bit farther east, with Budweiser instead of Miller-- and the basement has a rough, communal vibe to it, load-bearing view-obstructing columns adding to the, I guess we call it, charm. It's a good spot to see a show. I think we decided one of the Beets looked like Jonathan Richman and another like John Lennon (they sang in harmony a lot) and I forget what we came up w/ for the rest of them-- they have a stand-up drummer and a guy who sits in a corner and plays the flute or recorder or something, I couldn't quite make it out. The sound was a sort of scuffed, sloppy, deadpan take on 1960s garage-rock. At least as much Pabst Blue Ribbon as Anheuser-Busch product was sold.

Upcoming shows after the jump....



 I'm so 3008. You so 2000 and late.

I was going to try to list a top 15 or 20 albums or something, but then I realized I was only 100% sure of my top five, so I decided I'd just go ahead and rip off Tom Breihan all the way. I tried to stick to stuff that came out between January 1 and March 31; if we're lucky, I'll post some of my favorite individual tracks of the first quarter before the next one comes around. Apologies to Zola Jesus, Surfer Blood, These New Puritans, Lindstrom & Christabelle, Dum Dum Girls, Gorillaz, Cloud Nothings, Akira Kosemura, Sonny and the Sunsets, Yelawolf, Race Horses, Tanlines, Ted Leo, Broken Bells, Active Child, Gil Scott-Heron, Field Music, Fabolous, etc. etc. (Oh, and I have some photos from the Black Eyed Peas show at Wells Fargo Arena, not sure if I'm going to end up using them with a possible essay so I figured I'd throw those up just for something pretty to look at.... There's more where these came from, too.)

Let's get it started in here.

1. Spoon - Transference. OK, I know they're playing 80/35. I know there's not an obvious hit on Transference like "The Underdog." And I know that after my first few listens, I was telling people Spoon probably shouldn't play a festival like 80/35 this year, because the new album was just too much in its own little world-- should've grabbed 'em after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (of course, they'd go and name the accessible one Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). But Transference is the album I've probably listened to most this year-- I went out and bought it on vinyl, and for some reason I haven't felt the need yet to pick up the new Titus Andronicus on vinyl, so I guess I must like this better, huh?-- and you know what, I think I was just being paranoid. Because once people spend more time with this album, I feel like it's going to move up a whole lot of year-end lists: It's just one of those albums that is totally its own, unified experience, from its The Graduate-goes-record-geek cover art (a 1970 image by William Eggleston; I picture the kid from the cover hiding out in his bedroom, trying his best to escape for a little while by making music that sounds like the records he thinks are cool) to its weird, off-center production and unexpected audio interference-- plus it happens to have another great batch of songs, from a band with no shortage of them. Spoon's own Britt Daniel and Jim Eno produce, so when "The Mystery Zone" cuts off suddenly or "Before Destruction" starts to sound like your cell phone is too close to the speaker (or when you notice how "Who Makes Your Money" has no question mark but "Is Love Forever?" does), you gotta figure it's intentional; there are auteur films, and this is an auteurs' album. And I have no clue what it all has to do with the psychological concept of transference, but I get that they're singing about communication here, communication breakdowns really-- and I can't think of a more important subject now that we're all connected to each other but struggling to express ourselves in a meaningful way between "likes" and "pokes" and Farmville. Nor can I imagine a rock album expressing that struggle with as much smoldering gorgeousness. There's the White Album-style cut-loose rocker to showcase Daniel's fantastic howl ("Written in Reverse"), the taut post-punk groover that reminds you how most of Transference was recorded at the same studio as tourmates Deerhunter's Microcastle ("Got Nuffin'")-- there's even a piano lullaby ("Goodnight Laura"). My favorite is probably "Out Go the Lights," which you can hear here. Spoon already had their day in the major-label sun, such as it is, so they knew there was no point trying to duplicate the success of "The Underdog." This is the sound of a band with nothing to lose. And nothing to gain except an album its members might like, whether it gets through to other people or not. Here's betting it does.

2. Beach House - Teen Dream. Beach House have been coming up with new ways to be sure they'd get described as "languid" for three albums now. I wasn't sure they'd top Devotion, an intimate slow-burn dream-pop album I'd recommend to anyone who liked either Mazzy Star's So Tonight That I Might See or Britney Spears' Blackout. But they did. And how: You're still going to remember a haze of impressions more than the individual songs, at least until you've listened as many times as I have, but "Norway" broadens the Baltimore duo's scope to include 1980s Fleetwood Mac-style choruses, "Used to Be" is a marvelously restrained piano-based song about a couple growing apart (the lyrics suggest one ending, the warmth in the music makes me hope for another), "Silver Soul" is just a bigger, more impassioned version of the kind of thing they've been doing since their debut's outstanding "Apple Orchard." You may have read that Victoria Legrand has a classically trained voice, but compared with that earlier stuff, it now sounds rock-trained, honed by a few years of touring; Alex Scally's guitar lines have new arrangements to snake through. "Zebra" motif aside, there's nothing black-or-white about this album-- the lipstick-smeared pink on the inner cover (I picked this one up, too, double-vinyl with DVD of kinda lame videos) suits it just fine.

3. Love Is All - Two Thousand and Ten Injuries. I won't even pretend this would've been this high if not for the Swedish five-piece's great show at the Vaudeville Mews a couple of weeks ago. Love Is All have been one of my favorite bands since debut 9 Times That Same Song, and I was a big fan of sophomore album A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night, too, so don't get me wrong; there are few bands I'd rather turn to for punk-spiked indie-pop with braying saxophones and painfully accurate reflections on single life. But the first track I heard from the album was the uncharacteristic "Take Your Time," which had my expectations low-- borrowing from the Clean's "Tally Ho" was one thing, but what, they're doing Pachelbel's "Canon in D" now? Then I listened like 10 times to get ready for the show and another 2,000 times since picking up the physical record, and it doesn't hurt a bit.

4. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor. I have a feeling a lot of people are going to rally around this one just because it's great to hear something so ambitious in an indie-rock scene flooded with too-cool-to-try lo-fi and too-commercially-savvy-to-try licensing bait. But I think there's a lot more going on here than just an overblown Civil War concept album with a multiplatinum rap record's worth of (indie-famous) guest stars. I liked Titus Andronicus's previous album OK, and I enjoyed them when I saw them live, especially when the New Jersey dudes were jumping off of speakers and cussing about politics and stuff, but I had a hard time hearing past the Bright Eyes-ish quaver in Patrick Stickle's voice. Then again, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst wasn't the first to sing that way-- I wonder how fans of David Dondero felt when Fevers & Mirrors came out-- and there's no way a vocal style could cause me to dismiss an album that makes me pump my fists and sing along so many times (as Tom says, great driving album). So, let's see, the Civil War: Our side won, right?

5. White Hinterland - Kairos. A review in UK magazine The Wire says this isn't an r&b album as much as something "to inspire wistful gazing onto snow-covered landscapes." I respectfully disagree.

6-10. Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring; Four Tet, There Is Love in You; Liars, Sisterworld; Toro Y Moi, Causers of This; Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh) 

 Mazel Tov. (L'chaim!)



(Oh meine) Liebe auf den ersten Blick.
Des Moines gives, and Des Moines takes away.

Right after the small but passionate audience at Love Is All's Vaudeville Mews show Thursday night had me only praising the Des Moines concert experience, a couple of other (pretty good!) shows by bands I basically like taught me a couple of the more awkward quirks of a smaller city's music scene. Aside from not many of my friends wanting to go to a midnight show on a weeknight, I mean.

Dum Dum Girls first. This buzzing, reverb-buried garage-pop band-- on stage sort of like if the models from the "Addicted to Love" video wanted to be the Strokes-- began as the solo project of a supposed Los Angeles librarian calling herself Dee Dee (real name: Kristin Gundred). After the One Kiss Can Lead to Another box set a few years ago coincided with a resurgence of bands inspired by 1960s girl-groups (the Pipettes, Lucky Soul, Tralala, Johnny Boy-- the list goes on), in the past couple of years more female-led bands have taken a rougher, noisier approach to the girl-group genre: Vivian Girls, meet the Shaggs. While Vivian Girls have a great sound, Dum Dum Girls struck me from the start as having the better songs. For one thing, Dee Dee's debut Dum Dum Girls EP could pull off a ballad. For another, tracks like "Catholicked," with clever lines about a chest stuffed with emotion and a confident young woman declaring that "my sins are my own," struck me as simply good pieces of songwriting, however you might choose to record them. I even said so, in a Pitchfork track review, back in February 2009. 

Dum Dum Girls released their debut album, I Will Be, on indie (well, actually nearly half-owned by Warner) heavyweight Sub Pop, earlier this year. Dee Dee has a full band now, and Richard Gottehrer, who co-wrote "My Boyfriend's Back" and produced the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go's, helped produce. The overall sound is slightly cleaner, and the individual songs didn't quite reveal themselves to me as much, but my overall positive impression about the band definitely pushed the album into steady iPhone duty. Not a surefire top 10, or anything, but easily a contender for a spot on my overall year-end list, on the faith that I'd get more into the individual songs the more I heard them. Which is still quite possible-- it's a good album.

Their early show Monday night at the Mews, however, was... weird. First of all, Dum Dum Girls are opening pretty much everywhere else for San Francisco buzz band Girls. I'm pretty sure I saw Christopher Owens, the dude from Girls with the awesome backstory (I'll let you Google it for yourself), in the audience last night. But I guess his band chose not to play Des Moines that particular evening? Which-- fair play, totally his right. So it was just Dum Dum Girls, who I like better, anyway. And I was looking for Captured Tracks and Blank Dogs man Mike Sniper, who I really enjoyed interviewing for a recent article, and who I think used to tour as a member of Dum Dum Girls, but I guess he wasn't there, either. Whatever. The music itself was great: a little bit of overkill on the reverb, maybe, but Dee Dee's new band sounded super-tight, they did "Catholicked" and "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout" and anything else I was expecting to hear, and I was nodding my head and bouncing up and down and looking stupid. Except for the "stupid" part, so were a lot of people. The crowd was a little dude-heavy, but the dudes couldn't help that, and neither could the Girls (Dum Dum or otherwise). And, you know, if you really are the Strokes, and it's, let's say, 2001, then yeah, you can play a super-short set-- I'm gonna be generous and guess it was 30 minutes?-- and address the audience with a totally supercilious attitude (I think we got a "thank you" or two, tops) and then be all the cooler for it. But it's 2010! And Dum Dum Girls are good, but they're not that great! And the stockings, or pantyhose, or whatever you call those retrograde comic-book-fantasy outfits they were wearing-- they're another reason to listen to Robyn or Beyonce or Kate Nash. I was gonna ask Dee Dee if they brought records or tapes I could buy, but I was too scared. Somebody else asked. We could order them online, I heard. Whatever, it's only Des Moines, right? Bummer.

I have less to say about the Morning Benders' show at the Mews on Friday night, I promise. They're another buzzed-about band, this time from Berkeley, California. Their new album is called Big Echo, and you might like it if you're into bands like the Shins or the Dodos. The catchiest song, "Excuses," combines elements of, like, college a cappella groups (you will never get the "bum bah bum" out of your head) and precious, melodic indie-rock. It also has a lyric about "the southern tip of your body," which, I'm sorry. Anyway, I went to the show with a bunch of friends, and I had a good time, and I'm really glad Morning Benders came to Des Moines. It might've been the overall vibe, I dunno, but I was starting to find the show itself a little boring, a little bit the kind of thing where the noisy spots felt tacked on for the cool factor when the underlying songs really wanted to be something a little cleaner, a little more pop/rock. Which, if you know me, is fine, too! But I was armed with Twitter, and I had the misimpression I was about to be clever-- always dangerous-- so I tweeted something snarky. The next day, also on Twitter, Christopher from the band understandably called me out. I apologized profusely, immediately, and will do so again if called, because either way they seem like really nice guys, and even if they weren't it sounds like they felt it was just a strange night, and besides, the whole point of music criticism for me is never to start a personal beef with an artist or go out of my way to hurt their feelings; you're supposed to be providing a service for other people, not virtually heckling the band. I screwed up.

It's interesting, though. The rules are probably different because I'm a music critic, and so, like it or not, I'm a representative of the publications I write for. But I wonder if, in Brooklyn, there would've been so many tweets that maybe my own boneheaded attempts at humor could've gone overlooked, unnoticed, and un-called-out, so Morning Benders wouldn't have had to try to figure out what I was saying (it doesn't really make sense) and I would've been in the clear. A learning experience: In a smaller city, it's harder to blend in, even when you say something online. I'd better get smart.

(Initial band announcements for 80/35 Festival are on Monday. Advance two-day tickets are $40 or $175 for a two-day pass at midwestix.com. This is a pretty sweet price, and they will go up, so if you're going to be in Des Moines this July 4 weekend and you like any of the music I write about on this blog, I suggest picking them up now.)

(ALSO: Record Store Day this weekend. Hit up Zzz Records on Ingersoll starting at 11 a.m. for special Record Store Day-only releases, pizza, discounts, and all that kind of good stuff. If you're going on the Mayor's bicycle ride, then stop by later in the day.)

(ALSO ALSO: Top tracks/albums of 2010 so far coming up eventually. I always take too long on this stuff-- it was supposed to be for the first three months of the year.)

- Cowboy Mouth at Vaudeville Mews April 14
- A Weather at Vaudeville Mews April 15

- Nadas at People's Court April 16
- Julian Casablancas at People's April 23
- Manchester Orchestra w/ Thrice at People's April 25
- Poison Control Center's Record Release Party at Vaudeville Mews April 30

- Canby's Record Release Party w/ Golden Veins (ex-Beati Paoli) at Vaudeville Mews May 1
- Poison Control Center's Record Release Party at the M Shop in Ames May 1
- Brother Ali at Vaudeville Mews May 2

- As I Lay Dying at People's Court May 3 
- Owl City at Val Air Ballroom May 4
- Harlem w/ the Jitz at Vaudeville Mews May 5 
- Mayday Parade at People's Court May 5
- Afroman at Vaudeville Mews May 13
- Baroness at Vaudeville Mews May 17
- MONO w/ the Twilight Sad at Vaudeville Mews May 18
- Mark Mallman w/ Why Make Clocks at Vaudeville Mews May 19

- Maxila Blue's Record Release Party at Vaudeville Mews May 21
- Pocahaunted at Vaudeville Mews June 4
- Damien Jurado at Vaudeville Mews June 6

- Pearly Gate Music at Vaudeville Mews June 9
- The Melvins at House of Bricks June 27
- 80/35 Festival July 3-July 4
- Phoenix at 7 Flags Event Center, Aug. 10
- Keith Urban at Iowa State Fair Aug. 13
- Pat Benatar w/ REO Speedwagon at Iowa State Fair Aug. 17
- Darius Rucker at Iowa State Fair Aug. 19
- Sugarland at Iowa State Fair Aug. 21
- Sheryl Crow at Iowa State Fair Aug. 22  



Make out, fall out, make up.
Josephine Olausson said she expected three people last night. Des Moines didn't do quite as bad as that, but it was a late show, a small crowd. Here's the thing, though: Everybody was dancing. It was like people were jumping and clapping extra hard just to make up for the low turnout. And you could tell Love Is All-- the spastic post-punk quintet from Gothenburg, Sweden-- were happy about it the whole time.

This was the kind of night that makes me appreciate going to shows in Des Moines. I'd seen Love Is All once before, at Cake Shop on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and it was great-- you may still be able to listen to proof here. But I didn't really "see" them much, in the literal sense. Place was packed. And Mrs. Des Noise definitely couldn't go, what with having to ride the subway home in time to get up and teach kids the next morning. Here, not only could I see them, I could enjoy them-- without feeling self-conscious about it, either, because everybody else was probably even more demonstrative (or at least, better at dancing).

Straight out of bed I smashed my head on the bookshelf.

Last night, we heard songs from all three Love Is All albums, including new one Two Thousand and Ten Injuries. If you know the band, you know what it sounded like: Funky guitar stabs, saxophone, keyboard, and Olausson's idiosyncratic vocals about, well, love, and all-- this sort of frenetic style descended from late 1970s British indie bands, 1980s Australian indie bands, and other parts of your complete music-dork breakfast. They came back for an encore, which was nice. They complimented our dancing, which was nice. And they seemed pleasantly surprised that a place called Fong's Pizza would actually make good pizza-- also nice! (They couldn't play "Less Than Thrilled", one fan's suggestion from the new album. At this point, though, how could we not be understanding?)

It wasn't until after the show that I thought about how unorthodox Olausson is as a frontwoman. I mean, her songs radiate enough personality, humor, and desire for love that you have Dean of Critics Robert Christgau calling her "definitely my type," and Pitchfork's Jess Harvell dubbing her "one of the early 21st century's great poets of romantic dissatisfaction"-- an appraisal Olausson took to Twitter to disavow. And yet she's up there in a pink sweatshirt, hardly trying to capitalize on the crushes her songs appear to inspire. She's performing as a person.

That isn't to say she's dull up there. Anything but. Aside from her basic presentation, she's not far off from the dervish-ness of Jemina Pearl here a couple of months ago. There was barely a second to pause for a breath between songs-- a challenge for those of us doing a lot of jumping up and down-- and from time to time Olausson or another band member would come careening into the small crowd. You can tell they've been doing this for a little while (I also recommend seeking out the songs by their prior band, Girlfrendo).

I don't know that it was a good night for the Vaudeville Mews in the short term, given the low turnout. But it had to be a great long-term investment. Everyone there was visibly having just an amazing time-- they'll tell their friends. And with doors not opening until 10 p.m., it was really late for a show in Des Moines, anyway, so I know there were people who would see a band like Love Is All next time who couldn't make it. Anyway, it's just worthwhile to have a music venue that brings top-notch international acts like this one to the area. People who hadn't heard about them will start hearing about them. Events like the 80/35 festival continue to increase exposure for music that-- believe it or not, jaded New York critics-- is still off the radar for a lot of people.

Sparsely attended but awesome shows today are the only way we can eventually have packed and awesome shows sometime in the future. Uhh, right?

(Sorry I missed Mission Creek this year. We will figure out a way to get out to Iowa City for that next year. Also upcoming: Some kind of year-so-far best-of list. Morning Benders tonight!)

- the Morning Benders at Vaudeville Mews April 9
- Dum Dum Girls at Vaudeville Mews April 12
- Cowboy Mouth at Vaudeville Mews April 14
- A Weather at Vaudeville Mews April 15
- Julian Casablancas at People's April 23
- Manchester Orchestra and Thrice at People's April 25
- Poison Control Center's Record Release Party at Vaudeville Mews April 30
- Brother Ali at Vaudeville Mews May 2
- MONO and the Twilight Sad at Vaudeville Mews May 18
- Mark Mallman at Vaudeville Mews May 19
- Damien Jurado at Vaudeville Mews June 6

- 80/35 Festival July 3-July 4
- Phoenix at 7 Flags Event Center, Aug. 10
- Keith Urban at Iowa State Fair Aug. 13
- Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon at Iowa State Fair Aug. 17
- Darius Rucker at Iowa State Fair Aug. 19
- Sugarland at Iowa State Fair Aug. 21
- Sheryl Crow at Iowa State Fair Aug. 22