BlackBook Tracks #38: Moon Child

They say nothing good happens after midnight, but the real cutoff is 2 a.m. Or 3 a.m. Even if you weren’t out being the life of the party, things still start going a little weird in the wee hours. This week’s picks are dedicated to staying up too late and getting in the existential zone. 

Katy B – “5 AM”
London party queen Katy B has been teasing the follow-up to her 2011 debut album On A Mission for a while now, and “5 AM” is her latest offering. She’s known for her effortlessly relatable lyrics, and the new single finds her in the midst of a late night freakout, singing, “I don’t know what I’m running from / When the sun comes up, it won’t be long.” The club might be closed, but her heart’s still racing.

Holy Ghost! – “Okay”
Following the release of their second album Dynamics, Holy Ghost! have unveiled the video for “Okay.” Directed by Ben Fries, the clip follows the duo through a maze of screens, a fluorescent-lit world that they’re seemingly trapped in. The song also takes place in a sort of fenced-in zone, and Alex Frankel delivers the lines “I’m not falling over, but I’m not calling sober” with the kind of pleading edge that’s just barely holding it together. 

M83 – “Moon Child”
Long before “Midnight City” became ubiquitous, M83’s main man Anthony Gonzalez was mining the early hours of the morning for inspiration. “Moon Child” is the title track from 2005’s appropriately-titled Before The Dawn Heals Us, cruising towards the sunrise in a burst of light. This weekend, fans in southern California will be able to see the much-lauded French outfit perform with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl.

Money – “So Long (God Is Dead)”
You could start listing bands that Money sort of sound like and be going for a few minutes straight. (Arcade Fire, Frightened Rabbit, and Efterklang are just some examples, to get started.) But the Manchester, UK band makes its own kind of indie folk anguish, generally revolving around the themes of death and religion–perfect subjects to contemplate when the birds are starting to chirp again. Being alone has never been so beautiful as it is on “So Long (God Is Dead),” the opener to their debut album The Shadow Of Heaven.

Foals – “The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack” (Liars cover)
Since its release in 2006, Liars’ "The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack" has become semi-canonized–you may remember it from its striking use in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. It’s an undeniably powerful song, recorded with grandeur and anchored by the haunting line “I can always be found.” British art-rockers Foals, recently nominated for the Mercury Prize, manage to pare it down and make it even more intimate.

Holy Ghost! Drop The Needle On ‘Dynamics’

For every tired conversation about the state of 20-something New Yorkers, much less has been said about the transition to the next decade. On Holy Ghost!’s new album Dynamics (DFA), lifelong residents Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser offer up their take on getting older in a city that’s obsessed with youth. The childhood friends turned DJs turned disco-rock duo have followed up their 2011 self-titled debut LP with more dance anthems that are made to mature well.

As the title implies, Dynamics wrestles with a search for balance—whether it’s mental, within a shaky relationship, or with New York City. Where their first album’s opening track "Do It Again" was made for kicking off a night out, "Okay" starts Dynamics closer to closing time. Thanks to Holy Ghost!’s penchant for crisp production, a drunk dial at 3:30 a.m. has never sounded less sloppy. "Bridge and Tunnel" shows off Frankel’s ability to sing warmly about his often-cold hometown, while "Dance A Little Closer" puts a bittersweet twist on what sounds like a simple come-on at first listen. First single “Dumb Disco Ideas” clocks in at eight minutes and uses every one of them well, turning the defeat of a heat wave into into a triumphant, tightly-controlled sprawl. It’s a calling card for the ambition of this record, sharply self-aware and reaching outward.
I called up Frankel and Millhiser to talk about aging, getting kicked out of Manhattan, and being able to laugh off having the worst summer ever.
What was the biggest challenge you had while making Dynamics?
Nick Millhiser:
I can’t think of a single thing. Writing a record is always difficult–that’s not to say that it’s painful, but there’s always stages in making a record that are tough, and that’s for different reasons. One day, it’s because you can’t make the vocals sound the way you want them to. Another day, it’s because the groove of the song feels wrong in a way that you can’t articulate. But I can’t think of a single obstacle, it’s not like we felt this great pressure to make a great album after the enormous success of our first record, our first record wasn’t enormously successful. We didn’t really feel any crazy pressure to one-up ourselves. Internally, we wanted to, but we weren’t really worried about mass disappointment, you know?
You guys took the process pretty slowly, right?
I think it was faster than the first record, by a lot, but I think relative to the way that other bands make records, I think we work pretty slowly. We take our time, we never compromise, we never say, "It’s good enough, we gotta get this done." That’s one of the other nice things about being on a small label. There’s no A&R guy standing over our shoulder being like, "You need to get this record done by this date or you’re not going to get it out in the first quarter" or whatever. It’s more like, "When you guys get this done, let us know and we’ll put it out.” So it still took us–how long did it take, Alex?
Alex Frankel: A year.
NM: On and off, a year and a half. It’s not a short amount of time for twelve songs.
"Dumb Disco Ideas" was a big summer song for me, but I like how you don’t romanticize the idea of having to have the best summer ever.
We didn’t set out to write a summer song, it sort of happened that way by happy coincidence. I think think the goal was much more broad, if there was a goal with that song. Alex and I were saying to ourselves, "Let’s do something long and weird, like we used to do with our remixes."
AF: Lyrically, the summer reference was to last summer, which was like the worst summer ever. There’s no real narrative to that song or anything, but those words were just what popped into my head when I thought about summer being cruel. New York summers are kind of cruel and oppressive. If you’re going to the beach every weekend, okay, that might be nice. If you’re stuck writing a record in Brooklyn in July, it’s a bit sticky.
You seem to be dealing a lot with the themes of wasted potential and people not knowing their own shortcomings on this record. Is that an okay interpretation?
AF: I hate to say no, but I think that’s what’s nice about pop music, and why we don’t put our lyrics in the albums is because it’s a good interpretation if that resonates with you. But it’s kind of like looking at a Rorschach test. It probably says more about what you hear, unless it’s super direct that the lyrics are very obviously about one thing. If anything, it’s really self-deprecating, so it wouldn’t be about other people having shortcomings, really. Like in "Cheap Shots," to me what it means when I say "Your friends will hurt you," I’m kind of saying that universally. That’s what friends do to each other, not saying that’s a shortcoming or a pro, that’s just what friends do. It’s up to you, it’s a choose your own adventure.
"It Must Be The Weather" sounds like it must be one of your most personal songs.
Yeah, I’d say so.
What was the process like behind that one?
That one started in the studio on a day when Nick was sick or something. It was based on this track that I was playing out a lot, really slow, this Revenge track or something that has that same groove. So I just copied the basic groove and tempo of that, and it just seemed like an easy song to sing, because it’s slower. A lot of times, it’s hard to be articulate and to do anything personal when it’s really fast, you’re a bit more slave to the tempo. When it’s slow like that, it allows a little more space for the vocals and for you to hear them and to get more words in. When I wrote the lyrics to that song, that’s the song that has the most lyrics because it has the most space. Again, last summer was a kind of a fucked-up, weird, depressing summer, and that wasn’t supposed to be about the weather being bad. It’s kind of the opposite, the weather was great, but internally, the weather was awful. So I guess that’s what that’s about, too much excess of everything.

Another thing I noticed about "It Must Be The Weather" was the "I think about my age" line. You also put out a new non-album song called "Teenagers In Heat." Did you think a lot about maturity and the perspective you have now?
Or lack of it. First of all, in this line of work, there’s too much time to think about yourself. We don’t have kids, we don’t have jobs, we don’t have retirement plans. You’re kind of stuck in the moment. Nick and I have known each other so long, there’s like a mirror thing happening where I’ve known Nick since since he was six, and I can’t see myself getting older, exactly, but I can see Nick getting older, and vice versa. Knowing someone that long, it’s kind of like having a brother you’re watching get older or parent or something like that. There’s also a reality where we’re getting to an age where almost all my friends from high school are married, pregnant, working their way up in some job somewhere, and they have lives. That’s something you kind of throw away when you do music, to some degree. You’re not a part of this structure. When you’re a kid, imagining yourself getting older, I imagined that certain things would have happened by 30. And it turns out that they didn’t happen the way I thought they were going to. So I guess that plays into both looking back at what I thought it was going to be like now, and looking at now, and then looking at the future and where it’s going. It’s pretty vague, but those are things we both definitely think about and you’re reminded of when you bump into your friend on the street and they’re pushing a stroller and talking about this life that is slowly slipping away. Maybe later, maybe at 40, maybe at 45, but there’s no way to be a touring musician and have a typical family structure.
NM: Maybe it’s because of the nature of where we live in Williamsburg, which is like living in a big college dorm, but 30 was right around the time that I started to feel my age a little bit, if only by comparison.
AF: You go to a bar, and for the first time at 30, you’re like, "I’m not just a year older than these kids, I’m five years older, and I look older." 30 is by no means old man territory, but it’s all relative. At 30, that’s the first time you start having realizations about your age, and I think you continue for the rest of your life. I’m sure in five years’ time, we’re going to look back and be like, "Look at these 30-year-olds." When you’re 45, you’re going to be like, "Wow, what would it be like to be in your 30s and living in Brooklyn?" It keeps going like that. In your 20s, you’re not really thinking about your age and you’re still really connected to your teenage self.
"Bridge And Tunnel" is another favorite of mine. As native New Yorkers, how has your relationship with the city changed, particularly recently?
We were kicked out of Manhattan long ago. We both moved to Brooklyn when we were 17, Nick moved then to Williamsburg and I followed about four years later. I think Nick usually says that everyone in New York says it was better ten years ago. So in the 80s, they were saying it was better in the 70s, 90s it was the 80s, and now they say it was better in the 90s, whatever. We love the city, Manhattan’s kind of been yuppified, but that could change again, too. It’s been economically booming in the last bit. We’ve lived here so long, we don’t really know anything else. My relationship hasn’t changed that much with the city other than trying to avoid Manhattan on Friday or Saturday nights.
You also have some of the best album art of the year. Who did you work with, and how did that come about?
AF: You can finish an album, but if you don’t get the artwork in, then albums get delayed. That actually happened with the last record, and the classic thing we say to each other is that we need one simple image that will translate all media, which is probably the hardest thing to do. I was searching on Google image search, literally just for hours, just searching images to make an idea board or whatever. Nick had been mentioning Robert Longo, so I decided to go through all of his stuff, even though I didn’t think we’d actually get to license one of his images because he’s such a famous artist. There was one that really stuck out to me, which is the one that’s the cover, and it occurred to me that I knew someone who knew him. But it was a long shot, as Nick said. So I called my friend Hans, and Hans asked Robert, and Robert wanted to hear some of the music. I sent him a few of the tracks I thought he might like, he liked them, and that was it. He said "Sure," he didn’t charge us a lot of money, and he was very cool about it. So we got really lucky. It was also kind of serendipitous–I didn’t realize this at the time I saw the image, I saw it and I liked it because of what it was, but looking at it next to the last album, it kind of continues a nice aesthetic. It kind of looks like the first record cover, of Nick and I. It’s such a strong image, there’s nothing on the cover except for the image. It doesn’t say Holy Ghost! on it or anything.
Anything else you think people should know about this record?
It’s made to be listened to loud.
Dynamics is out this week on DFA Records.

Ian McCulloch Is Ready For His Close-Up

It may not have been par for the course that my teenage reaction to Donnie Darko was to buy every album ever recorded by Echo & The Bunnymen, but that’s how it went down. Still haven’t forgiven Richard Kelly’s director’s cut for replacing “The Killing Moon” with an INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” in the title sequence. What were we talking about? Oh yes: lead bunnyman Ian McCulloch, who is set to release a double album, Holy Ghost.

The conceit of this one is pretty fun, especially if you’re the melodramatic type: disc two will be a new ten-track studio album, Pro Patria Mori; the first disc, however, is all grandiose orchestral reworkings of Mac’s previous material, including some Echo songs. Take a listen to this gorgeous rendition of “Bring On The Dancing Horses,” recorded at a show at London’s Union Chapel last year.

Emotional, no? We’ll have till April 22 to see how the new stuff pans out, but let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a Stephen Malkmus collaboration, because Pavement really nailed this cover:

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Holy Ghost! Plays at Samsung Galaxy S III Launch Party

Thanks a lot, Samsung. The human brain is now obsolete thanks to your neat new Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone. But maybe I’ll find a new use for my gray matter, because last night I attended the New York launch party for the futuristic device, which was hosted by a chipper Ashlee Simpson at Marquee nightclub in Chelsea, and I left pondering just how clairvoyant a tiny, shiny little gizmo can be. 

As I’m ushered into Marquee, I feel as though I’ve caught Gloria Swanson without her makeup on. The lights are bright, the wooden floor is clean, and there’s not a spilled drink or dropped straw in sight. Suddenly the lights dim and everything becomes blue, save for Simpson’s shiny red leather shorts. An army of leggy, blue-sheathed girls flit about the room, setting out cocktail menus and powering up the Samsung Galaxy S IIIs displayed on every table. Throughout the party, guests use the S-beam feature to order cocktails (you’ve seen the commercial with the guy holding two phones back-to-back and transferring a photo), and play with the countless other intuitive features. 
I’m waved in to the back VIP room, where the AC blows and the champagne flows, to chat with New York duo Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel of the popular synth-pop band Holy Ghost!, who will be the entertainment for the evening. The long-haired Millhiser and clean-cut Frankel met at age 6 and have been music partners ever since. 
Originally part of the hip-hop group Automato, which broke up when their rapper stopped rapping, Millhiser and Frankel turned their beat-making skills into the dynamic duo that is Holy Ghost!, named after one of their favorite songs by the Bar-Kays. They may look like just another couple of synth-wielding hooligans from the ‘Burg, but they’re set apart by their nostalgic approach to music. Their sound takes cues from ‘80s pop and ‘70s disco, and Millhiser says his dream venue to play would be Shea Stadium, the old Mets stomping ground, which was demolished in 2009. But fear not retro-philes, they can usually be found DJing at Le Baron in Chinatown. “It’s like an underground party,” says Frankel, “a dark room with a smoke machine.” 
Their eponymous album was released by DFA Records last April and they’ve just finished two years of touring, partially with their recently dismantled lablemates, LCD Sound System. 
“We are in the studio writing another record,” says Frankel, “so we probably won’t start touring until the end of this year. And the album will come out next year maybe.” 
When asked which band, dead or alive, they would tour with if given the chance, Frankel paused for a moment, before saying, “LCD Sound System,” with a laugh. 
“Dead!” chimes Millhiser. “It’ll be a reunion tour. They’ll be opening for us. At Shea Stadium.” Then he mutters, “Fuck you, Shea Stadium.”

Carry On My Wayward Hipsters: LCD Soundsystem Passes the Torch

With LCD Soundsystem playing their last ever gigs this week in New York, it feels as though a bookend is being slid into place on NYC’s Decade of the Hipster. Fitting that LCD should be winding it all up at Madison Square Garden, anathema to everything indie kids ever pretended to stand for — after all, LCD’s James Murphy made it clear from the get-go what he thought of the swelling Zeitgeist when, in “Losing My Edge,” he sang, “I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80’s.”

Perhaps even more appropriate is that while LCD is burning down the house at MSG, one of Murphy’s most treasured progeny, Holy Ghost!, will be playing even further uptown, on West 56th Street, opening for Cut Copy at Terminal 5 this Friday and Saturday nights. The Brooklyn duo, consisting of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser, signed to Murphy’s DFA label to glowing praise from the boss – a useful form of promotion, to say the least. Their utterly infectious eponymous debut album (out 4/12) is in thrall to nothing particularly trendy. Rather, they manage to flit effortlessly between blatant disco romps (“Say My Name”), exuberant, Motown-ish pop gems (“Jam For Jerry”), cool funk (“Static on the Wire,” “Some Children”) and stern but catchy electro-pop (“Do It Again”).

Perhaps the hippest thing about them is how little they seem to care about how hip they are. Which, of course, reminds us a little of…well, James Murphy. Still, it’s hard to imagine these tunes not tearing up the most precociously cool dancefloors from Greenpoint to Glasgow all summer.

LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge by epb21

Holy Ghost! Dissects Dance Music, Remixes Phoenix, Hates Auto-Tune

In the Williamsburg apartment/recording studio of Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel — childhood best friends turned electro heroes Holy Ghost!, I’m drinking from a mug with a picture of a young Millhiser and Frankel on one side and the words “I love my auntie” on the other. It’s a testament to the longevity of their friendship and creative partnership. The duo has been working together for almost 15 years, from their elementary school breakdance crew West Side Boyz, to high school rap group Automato, to their current incarnation as Holy Ghost!. With the wildly successful release of their debut disco-tronic dance single “Hold On” and a slew of subsequent remixes under their belt — most recently for Parisian pop rockers Phoenix’s new single “Lisztomania” — the two DJs have garnered a burgeoning wave of hype and numerous remix requests. On the 24th of June, their new single “I Will Come Back” is released and available exclusively at Green Label Sound. It’s their first original piece of music in two years since the release of “Hold On.” Eating takeout sushi and smoking American Spirits, Millhiser and Frankel discuss experiences on tour in Europe, where to find good dance music in New York, and the demise of radio hip hop.

So what inspired the name Holy Ghost!? Why the exclamation point? Nick Millhiser: Well, the name Holy Ghost! comes from The Bar-Kays song of the same name, which is one of our favorite songs. The idea came specifically when I Googled the lyrics to the song and the first line was “Your love is like the holy ghost!” It was written with an exclamation point, and I just thought it looked funny. It was holy ghost, but like holy crap or holy shit — making holy ghost into some sort of exclamation.

The two of you grew up together, but how did your friendship turn into being members of hip hop group Automato and then collaborating as DJs? Alex Frankel: We grew up on the Upper West Side and were always playing in bands together. In high school, we started making rap beats. Nick’s a drummer and I’m a piano player, and a few of our friends rapped, so eventually we wanted to play those beats live. We played all around the city in high school, and then the band got signed to a record deal in our senior year. Instead of college we made a record with James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of DFA Records, and they exposed us to a lot of dance music — we were really hip hop heads before that — and they opened us up to a lot of artists we fell in love with, like Kraftwerk, Frankie Knuckles, etc. So after Automato fell apart, Nick and I just kept making music and — maybe in large part because of DFA’s influence — the sound started to shift towards dance music.

How have your careers changed since the release of “Hold On”? NM: We have a career now, which we didn’t before. With Automato, we did everything the way you’re told is the way to do things. We signed to a major label, and all the things that you subconsciously think, “That’s what I’m aiming for. If I’m going to have a career, that’s what it’s going to be.” But the best Automato ever did was break even touring, and we all worked side jobs. And then inversely, being on DFA Records — a record label with no money that doesn’t give advances — we’ve actually managed to have a career.

You’ve been touring all over Europe recently. How would you compare the electronic scene overseas to the one in New York? AF: Last night we met this guy who was from Turkey, and he was asking us where he should go for electronic music in the city. We’re like, it depends on the night. A club can be hip hop one night in New York, but the club morphs every night depending on what act and crowd they’re trying to bring in. In Europe, you have in every city these mainstays of electronic music. They’re divided into subgenres: disco club, electro club, house club, techno club, gay club, lesbian club, whatever it is, but they are what they play there. There’s a larger appreciation for dance music in Europe, and it’s also had a longer timeline. These clubs have been open for twenty years playing one type of music, whereas in America the trends seem to dictate the music, and things change up a lot faster. NM: Nightlife is just different here. In most cities in Europe if you ask, “I want to go hear good dance music, where should I go?” And it’s like, “Well what kind of dance music do you like? Do you like house? Yeah. OK, well you should go here, here, and here any night of the week if you want to hear house.” There’s so many clubs that are great house clubs …. And New York is the best city in the world as far as I’m concerned — and certainly has the best nightlife in America — but you don’t have that here. AF: In America, you have LA, New York, Miami, maybe Austin, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Maybe ten places that are playing hip, cutting-edge, new music. But in Europe, think of all those countries as states, and each one of them has tons of places to play. That’s why we tour there.

What are your clubs of choice in New York and Europe? AF: Sub Club in Glasgow — the best club in the world. NM: It’s small, maybe twice the size of this apartment and with low ceilings, but it has a gazillion dollar sound system — by far the best club we’ve ever been to. AF: The kids are up for anything. Glasgowiegans are just extremely educated musically, and they knew of everything we were playing and everything we might play. They party super hard, but not in a gross, sloppy way. There’s some soulfulness to their excess.

And New York? AF: Downstairs at 205 with Justin Miller and Jacques Renault, weekly on Tuesday nights. That’s my favorite club experience in New York.

How was working with Phoenix on the “Lisztomania” remix? NM: I think in general when you do remixes, whether you sincerely believe it or not, you have to take on this certain level of arrogance where you sincerely believe that you’re going to be making a better version than the original. And with “Lisztomania,” we were just like, “At best it’ll be different.” It was also hard because we try to go for songs that aren’t big already, that people aren’t really attached to. When we were asked to remix MGMT, we originally got asked to remix Electric Feel, and we were like, “Fuck no, that song is perfect as it is, there’s no need for a dance version of it.” But the Phoenix one was really fun because they’re a band we love so much, and a band whose production we love so much. Normally when you do a remix, it’s commissioned by the label, then you send it back to them for approval, and then the label sends it to the band. But it just so happened that on the due date of the remix, Phoenix was in town rehearsing for Saturday Night Live and their manager asked us if we wanted to come meet them for a beer and play them the remix. And our first reaction was like “Fuck yeah.” And then we got there and it was so nerve-racking. We were sitting around a table with Phoenix as they listened to it one by one on their headphones. But I guess they liked it.

Who’s doing exciting things in electronic right now? AF: Jacques Renault and Runaway, AEROPLANE, Gavin Russom, Stickydisk the record label, A-Trak. Everyone seems to be doing big stuff, all our friends, and New York has a lot of good stuff. Everywhere we go, even if it’s just the sound guy slipping us a CD, it’s all really great. Hip hop is bumming me out a lot. The radio hip hop, it’s a bummer. NM: It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt old. I’m like, “I don’t get this.” AF: It’s the summer! All I want is one summer jam that everyone can blare, and all I get are these pussy R&B songs, this auto-tuned bullshit. Where is Mobb Deep when you need him?

Holy Ghost! will be playing a DJ set at Hotel on Rivington on June 21 before heading to Canada and Europe on tour.