Downtown NYC Festival Adds New Acts

With just under a month to go till the Downtown NYC Festival kicks off on May 10, two-day passes are already sold out, but $75 one-day tickets are still on sale. The event spans great venues including Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, Angel Orensanz, Pianos, Cake Shop, Tammany Hall, Element, Capitale, and Rockwood Music Hall—and features some of the hottest emerging bands.

New additions include Andrew Wyatt (of Miike Snow) and hipster-fried R&B pioneer Autre Ne Veut, as well as Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, who is likely worth seeing for the name alone. They will join such performers as Purity Ring, Earl Sweatshirt, d’Eon, Sky Ferreira, Ducktails, Beach Fossils, and the endlessly funky Teengirl Fantasy.

The festival will be hitting some other cities with modified lineups, but you know they won’t be as good. Though who knows? Some magnificent crooner might come aboard in the Vegas leg of the tour.

BlackBook Tracks #2: Songs From @Sweden

After Jens Lekman and Niki & the Dove came to New York this past weekend, we were inspired to round up some songs from our favorite Swedish artists. Settle down with a plate of internet uterus and some informational reading about Judaism and check out this week’s picks.

Jens Lekman – “Waiting For Kirsten”
No one tells a story like Jens Lekman, who’s equally adept at bringing laughter and tears. This song leans more toward the former, telling the now-notorious story of how the singer-songwriter once tried to meet Kirsten Dunst. Anticipation levels for his forthcoming heartbreak-centric album, I Know What Love Isn’t, are already running high.


Peter, Bjorn and John – “(Don’t Let Them) Cool Off”
It’s already too hot to come up with a remotely funny joke about the weather. All whistling aside, Peter, Bjorn and John’s 2011 album Gimme Some was highly underrated.


Noonie Bao – “Do You Still Care”
If you can look past the “white person experiencing exotic India” video, “Do You Still Care?” sees up-and-comer Noonie Bao delivering an extraordinary performance. Depending on what kind of emotional upheaval you’ve recently gone through, this song represents the stage either before or after “Somebody I Used To Know.”


We Are Serenades – “Birds”
Featuring members of Shout Out Louds and Laasko, We Are Serenades find strength in harmonies. Also, strings!


Miike Snow – “God Help This Divorce”
Cool down with this crisp track from Miike Snow’s latest, Happy To You.


Niki & The Dove – “DJ, Ease My Mind”
The electro-pop group sold out their Northside Festival show last Thursday, and the buzz is only going to continue to skyrocket by the time they return to the US this fall to tour with Twin Shadow. Dance with tears in your eyes!



Karin Park – “Restless”
Dark like the Knife, but easier to sing along with.


Icona Pop – “Nights Like This”
Icona Pop were already featured on last week’s playlist, but we can’t help it if the dance-pop duo makes infectious tunes. They’re also playing their first New York headlining show this Friday at Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery. If you didn’t get tickets in time, you can always see a different Swedish band that night.


The Hives – “Wait A Minute”
The Hives can always be relied on for a good time, and they’ll be tearing down Terminal 5 on Friday. After going five years since their previous album, they’re back with a vengeance on Lex Hives.


Robyn – “Dancing On My Own”
You didn’t think we were going to forget this, did you?

Five Questions For Smile

Smile is a spot-on name for the new electronic project from Bjorn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn and John) and music video director and Teddybears member Joakim Åhlund, mostly because you can’t help but do just then while listening. The band, which does mostly instrumental electronica, has just dropped the debut album, A Flash In The Night, a collection of a dozen charming, sweeping songs just waiting to score whatever adventures you’re going to have this summer that was released on Ingrid, a label started earlier this year by Swedish musicians including Lykke Li and members of Miike Snow. We caught up with Yttling and Åhlund to find out more about the band.

How did Smile form?

This could be true: Smile was formed by Bjorn and Joakim because someone needed to record a classic kraut-folk-disco-cosmic-pop album again. (They thought anyway). Yes! There are just too few records like that out there. We invited some real good friends and pay them a lot of money to come and play music and drink for two days.

Your record is coming out on a new label, Ingrid. What’s the story with the label and how did you decide to release your record with them?
Ingrid is more like an artist collective. There’s no one telling us what to do on Ingrid and we try to help each other out. It’s a Scandinavian socialist thing a lot of people would vomit on if they knew the whole story. So please don’t tell anyone.

How do you think fans of your other bands might take to the new project?
They will recognize some sounds and then they can brag and say they like Smile even more than our other bands.

This is a mostly instrumental record, why is that?
We thought: What would Joe Meek, Chopin, Sun Ra and Link Wray do? And then we did just that. Instrumental records live longer.

What was the last thing that made each of you smile?
Bjorn: It isn’t the leaking ceiling in my living room anyway.
Joakim: When I watched the swedish TV program Blåsningen on YouTube. So funny.

Comeback Kids: March Goes Out Like a Lion With Some Fantastic New Albums

The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge)
The Magnetic Fields bandleader Stephin Merritt, one of the great living American songwriters, has returned to indie label Merge, picked up his synthesizers, and released his strongest album in years. No concepts or overarching themes this time out, just a collection of 15 short, crafty pop songs (all under three minutes) from a master of the form. The song titles alone will elicit giddy grins from fans (“God Wants Us to Wait,” “All She Cares About Is Mariachi”). Merritt covers a fair amount of ground: clever synth-pop, of course (“The Machine in Your Hand” is about wanting to be a crush’s mobile device); a spurned lover’s revenge fantasy (“Your Girlfriend’s Face,” which the song’s protagonist has hired a hitman to, um, remove); country (“Going Back to the Country”); and Gary Numan–style ’80s new wave (“Infatuation [With Your Gyration]”). Almost every track’s a keeper, and the (very) few that miss their marks are over before they wear out their welcome. It’s the band’s most consistently entertaining album since 69 Love Songs, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

The Ting Tings, Sounds from Nowheresville (Columbia)
Manchester pop duo and Apple darlings The Ting Tings follow up their ubiquitous international hits “That’s Not My Name” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go” with a confident, polished collection of smart, sassy modern pop. Highlights abound: The twin chant-a-longs “Hang It Up” and “Hit Me Down Sonny” could pass for M.I.A. at her catchiest, and “Soul Killing” is an admirable stab at a ska anthem. Elsewhere, the album effortlessly shifts from the ’90s heyday electronica of “One By One" to the deft radio-ready pop of “Day to Day.” The spare, haunting closing track “In Your Life” ends the album with hushed vocals, acoustic guitar, and viola—a well-deserved cooldown after a half hour of uptempo, spirited fun.

School of Seven Bells, Ghostory (Ghostly International)
The third album from NYC’s answer to M83 is another inspired mix of electronica and early-’90s dreampop.The band is now a duo after the departure of vocalist Alejandra Deheza’s twin sister, Claudia, but the vocals here soar as effectively as on prior releases. Ghostory is a concept album (thankfully without the minor-key dirges or goth trappings its title might imply), but while close attention reveals a story  and the group’s trademark lyrical wordplay amid Benjamin Curtis’ swirling guitar textures, the individual songs are strong enough to stand on their own without narrative context. The propulsive opening track “The Night” is as good a song as any the band has yet produced, and “White Wind” packs a heavy, Garbage-like punch. Only on the trance-inducing “Show Me Love” and the percussion-less “Reappear” does atmosphere overtake songcraft.

Miike Snow, Happy to You (Downtown Records/Universal Republic)
Proving this Swedish trio’s stellar eponymous debut was no fluke, the self-produced Happy to You gamely picks up where its predecessor left off, with 10 more tracks of  sonically tricked-out, expertly crafted songs that stylistically fall somewhere between The Postal Service and MGMT. While no single track reaches the dizzying pop heights of “Animal” (the first album’s finest moment and one of the best songs of 2009), some (“Paddling Out,” “Pretender,” and “Archipelago”) come awfully close. The album as a whole is packed with an arsenal of production tricks, sound effects, and marching band brass and drums that will hold your attention throughout.

Nite Jewel, One Second of Love (Secretly Canadian)
L.A. singer Ramona Gonzalez’s sophomore album of hip, lean, laptop disco retains the D.I.Y. charm of her earlier recordings, which have earned her a legitimate cult following. The main difference here is the expected studio polish and her improved songwriting chops. Half of the album consists of hooky pop confections like “Memory Man,” “Mind & Eyes,” and the album’s infectious title track and first single, all benefitting greatly from the cleaner, leaner sound. The remaining half is more stark, minimalist, and experimental, and should appeal to adventurous ears—the kind of music enthusiasts who prefer their pop in quotation marks.

Bright Moments, Natives (Luaka Bop)
Multi-instrumentalist Kelly Pratt, who has played brass and wind instruments for the likes of Beirut, Arcade Fire, and LCD Soundsystem, has released a solo album on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, and it’s a charmer. Natives is a home-studio recorded confection of odd samples, warm vocals, keyboards, and Pratt’s trademark trumpet flourishes. The Kentucky native’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording fills out the album with all manner of nifty sonic details without making it sound cluttered, and the songs themselves are tuneful and melodic (Careful: You’ll have the melody of “Travelers” stuck in your head for days.) A promising debut.

Plants and Animals, The End of That (Secret City Records)
The Montreal trio’s third folk-infused, guitar-centric indie rock record has a raw, intimate, in-session sound, with Warren Spicer’s vocals way up front in the mix, suiting the material just fine. While the lovely harmonies that sweetened their Polaris-nominated debut album, Parc Avenue, are missed, understated acoustic moments like opening track “Before,” and the midway interlude “HC” nicely offset Crazy Horse–style rave-ups like “Crisis!” (featuring the priceless chorus “We’re somewhere between a crisis and a pretty good time”). The End of That manages the neat trick of sounding contemporary, even as it harkens back to loose, ’70s-style guitar rock, ragged in all the right ways.

Adios, ACL: Look at Photos & Watch Black Lips Discuss a Very Special White Russian

Last weekend, we indulged in Austin’s indigenous Sweet Leaf Tea/Tito’s Vodka concoctions, scarfed Brisket sandwiches in 90 degree heat, fist pumped as Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig joined saucy Swedes Miike Snow on stage, sweet talked our way into the Sleigh Bells after-after-show in the intimate confines of Beauty Bar’s backyard, gawked at the exceedingly high ratio of children (many with mohawks) to real-sized people in attendance, raged our faces off in the endless Dedmau5 mosh pit, talked to the comical and sometimes crude Black Lips (video after the jump), and, after three days, miraculously held on to our stamina for The Eagles, along with every over 40-something in Texas. This was Austin City Limits. Check out the photo gallery for an up-close look at the festivities.

Photos and video by Austin Conroy.

Austin City Limits Wishes You Were Here

Today, hippie hoards and indie music fanatics are piling into Zilker Park in Austin, Texas for the 9th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival. Headliners this year include The Strokes, Muse, Phish, MIA, The Flaming Lips, and The Eagles, to name a few. Miraculously, Austin’s weather forecast for the festivities is in the 80’s, no chance of rain. Last year’s festival turned into a soggy sludge bowl after two days of showers, so let’s just say, we’re feeling fortunate this time around.

The fest spans out over 8 stages, hosting over 130 shows in three days. Attendees travel from far and wide, many from the greater Austin area, but there are also plenty of New Yorkers and L.A.-ites in the mix. Today’s list of must-see acts includes Miike Snow, The Black Keys, Sonic Youth, and Vampire Weekend, with Phish and The Strokes battling for the evening crowds. We’ll be braving the heat, celebrity-searching in the press area, and sampling the local fare, which includes Frito and Cheeto Pies (chili and queso dip poured into an open Frito/Cheeto bag, eaten with a spoon – yes, really), and compiling a photo gallery of gnarly tats on beer bellied bikers and skinny jean-wearing hipsters. Wish you were here…

Photo by Austin Conroy.

Miike Snow’s Not Playing Any Games

You can’t really categorize the band that is Miike Snow. When three eclectic musician-producers come together, the results, which can be heard on last year’s Miike Snow, range from house to techno to pop to rock, all with a mellow, yet danceable beat. Fresh off their first stint at SxSw and now onto a hectic touring schedule, American singer Andrew Wyatt and the Swedish production team of Pontus Winnberg and Christian Karlsson (the pair is also known as Bloodshy & Avant. They have worked with Madonna, J-Lo and Britney, among others, penning the latter’s “Toxic.”) took a break to chat with us over a few drinks about the haze of touring, the nature of the contemporary pop machine, and the organic evolution of their own tour dynamic. They also discussed dancing, more of which Miike Snow hopes to inspire in their fans in the future.

Miike Snow has really developed a following. What do you attribute the growth to? Andrew: Well, we’re actually paying more people to come to our shows.

Oh, so that’s what it. Andrew: It’s getting expensive, but we’re having fun. Pontus: I think it’s just happening the old-fashioned way. We just do one show, and those people go tell their friends, they bring their friends, and so on. It’s definitely not on the back of any huge campaign. We’ve only been touring one year. It’s happening slowly. Andrew: I think it is all happening by word of mouth.

Your fan base seemed different at this past weekend’s show versus at your performances last fall. This time, people were really into dancing, to the extent it felt almost like a rave. Christian: We like when people are dancing.

Describe “Miike Snow.” What are you? A dance act? A pop act? Christian: I don’t think that we are either. Andrew: We don’t try to have one type of sound. We like a lot of things a lot. We try to incorporate a lot of different sounds into our songs. Pontus: I think there is actually a huge difference in the perception of dance music between Europe and the US. Music is completely different over there. Maybe it’s starting to change a bit now. But it felt like for a while in the U.S., if you had a kick drum you were immediately called “dance,” more or less, whereas in Europe I guess you have to push it more, to provoke that response [like wanting to get up and dance]. We think it has to sound more like proper house music.

Is your sound now going to head in that direction? Pontus: We don’t see the changes in our music, because we do so many shows. And that sort of thing gradually changes. But that is probably true. Christian: We also have more slow songs now than we did before, both with “Cult Logic” and “A Horse Is Not a Home.” Pontus: One thing that it definitely could be is the bigger sound system, because you can hear the kick drum and everything. It helps make it more bass-y.

Your music sounds like dance music, but lyrically more akin to rock music. Do you agree? Is that something you work towards? Christian: I think there is something in what you are saying. I don’t think it’s that common that you are dancing to the lyrics that we have.

The lyrics are about funerals, among other things. Christina: Yeah, I think we’re pretty fresh in that sense. Pontus: There is the whole musicianship side of the band, in the sense that we play everything. We have some sequences, but nothing is pre-recorded. Everything is changeable, and we mess with all the sounds. It’s unlike a lot of dance acts these days that are DJ’ing and they are brining laptops and calling it dance music.

What other pop acts are out there that you like? Or maybe more importantly, any that are any good? Pontus: It depends on what you mean by pop I guess. To me, the whole aspect of pop has been pushed into something more, than it has been in the past because of the blogs and everyone can access all the music they want. A band like Beach House or any of the new pop-y bands that would have been considered too weird or psychedelic a few years ago are now considered pop. The borders of pop have been pushed quite far. It could mean anything. The Bloody Beetroots can be pop. It can be because it has that appeal, even though their songs are not are structured like a traditional pop song. Andrew: Yeah, it really depends on what you mean by pop. Like in the seventies for example, you didn’t have the phenomenon of artists that were totally built from soup to nuts by a record label. Management companies or labels make the artist. Then you have bands like the Beach House or the xx, which reaches a lot of people. Their music is great, I think. It’s not really happening inside of the major label structure. In the seventies, you also had a lot of different types of music on major labels. All the labels care about now is what they can put on Top 40 radio, for example, the Lady Gaga’s or the Beyonce’s. What has changed is that pop music didn’t ever just mean those kinds of artists. I think that now everyone else has to groove through the indie channels and the internet. Christian: A lot of new acts are getting closer to the indie scene, like La Roux and The XX have the same audience. Actually I think La Roux is a pop act. The XX maybe are pop music, but are more of an indie band. But, they both definitely have the same audience. Andrew: We had the best time at the the xx’s show at SxSw.

How was the SxSw experience for you? This was the first time you guys were down in Austin together. Christian: It’s kind of weird because you’re basically being thrown up on stage without really knowing if anything works or how it sounds or where the audience is going to be or anything. It was interesting. You don’t really feel like you can perform at your best, it’s more like you just have to make it work.

Did you have fun down in Texas? Christian: I was shocked because the party basically ends at 2:00 a.m. or something. After that, it’s really hard to find anywhere to go. There are so many people there and everyone’s going crazy one minute, and then it’s just all of a sudden empty and stops.

What’s the best part about touring and the worst? Andrew: The worst part is what it does to your body, you’re so banged up from living on a bus in a room smaller than what someone in prison gets. And the best part of it is the mental haze that you are in. Christian: You’re kind of like upside down, you don’t have to really care about anything but the sound check and the show.

There must be a lot of people telling you what to do. Pontus: Especially in the states, touring is like machinery. On tour, it’s just the same thing over and over again. You show up at the venue and everyone knows exactly what they do which is kind of nice, as opposed to touring in Europe. Christian: We like having the bus, because it becomes your home, especially when you have the bus always outside the venue, cause if you don’t have that you’re wind up just sitting in shitty backrooms. It’s kind of sad.

What is touring in Europe like? How is it different from touring in the U.S.? Pontus: It’s more like everything is a constant change, you go to completely different places and stay in different rooms. In the U.S. it feels like everything is more standardized. You’ll have your 300 capacity venues, and then the 600 capacity venues and the 1,200 venues. All of those venues are built kind of the same way, which is kind of cool because everyone knows where to go and what to do, and we know our way around better. In Europe they just throw you up there and the stage can be in a corner somewhere, or the next time it can be in the middle of the room. It’s just a very different flow. Christian: And you’re going from different country to country, everything is changing. You never have the right money. Whenever you walk out of the bus, you’re like “oh shit!” Everything is a little bit more complicated.

So what’s next for Miike Snow? Andrew: We’re going to start recording again this summer, and we should be done by September.

What will the sound be like? Andrew: I think we’re going to bring more stuff in from our live experiences.

More high energy? Christian: More of everything.

Photo by Sean Hennessey.

Reading Coachella’s Fine Print: Breakthrough Performers Worth Checking Out

So you’re selling livers, kidneys and daring yourself to forgo food for weeks until mid-April in order to pay for your trip to Coachella. It’s understandable, really. And while the big draws, like Muse, Jay-Z, Gorillaz and MGMT, appear on this flier (not this one) in enormous typeface, the true breakouts are in such fine print that you’ll likely go blind trying to read their names. But please don’t! Instead, consult a handy guide to Coachella’s fine print gems, after the jump.


APRIL 16 Quite good: La Roux Best bet: Kate Miller-Heidke. As demonstrated by this very capable cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” below, Miller-Heidke may be the most welcome Australian pop import since we allowed Natalie Imbruglia an American conquest. Miller-Heidke has also earned a stamp of approval from Ben Folds already. Also her last album contained this bit of genius.

APRIL 17 Quite good: Tokyo Police Club, Corrine Bailey Rae Best bet: Sia. Known in part for her work on Christina Aguilera’s Bionic and for her contributions to Six Feet Under, Sia has done the impossible: Maintaining street-cred while peddling sensitive emotronica ballads.

APRIL 18 Quite good: Miike Snow, Little Boots, Matt & Kim, Hadouken! Best bet: Florence & the Machine. Recently nominated for a Brit award, this band, comprised of lead singer Florence Welch and a host of rotating collaborators (the eponymous “Machine”) may probably perform one of the best sets of the Coachella weekend.