Are The National one of the best rock bands working today? Yes. Is their new record, Boxer, one of the best of the year so far? Definitely. Are they known for their signature exuberantly focused tension-release brilliance during live performances? Sure, though I just made that one up. (But you know what I mean.)

So then what the fuck happened last night at the Bowery?

Things started out within normal limits, though quietly, gently, as might have been expected given the tone of their new record, Boxer, with the excellent, “Start a War;” the band sounded spot on. But then things began to deteriorate with no apparent warning. It was a heart-breaking scene, like watching some brilliant actor in some crap play.

After listening to Boxer, you might suspect things would be different. After all, do you ever love like your first love (aka. Alligator for many)? The songs are more subtle and intimate sounding, and though there are beauties on the record (from “Slow Show” to “Guest Room”), there is no “Abel” or “Mr. November” which fit the National’s live performance modus operandi so perfectly well. “Mistaken for Strangers” was the closest new material approximation of that National energy we’ve come to expect, and even the aforementioned Alligator tracks (including the song that could do no wrong, “Secret Meeting”) fell a little flat.

It’s tempting to blame the technicalities: though the Bryan is in full stand-out control of Boxer, the drums were a little too loud; Matt wasn’t loud enough, the backing vocals were too loud; where were Bryce’s guitars in the mix; and most importantly where was the old viola/violin player that looked a bit like a weathered sailor? He was awesome. Still, I get the sense that the translation of Boxer from record to live show is still a work in progress.

So there, it’s said. I still endorse the notion that the National are the best band in America, and recognize that even supermen are allowed to have an off night. But upon further review, the play still stands.

Let the death threats begin…

Listen: “Murder Me Rachel” from Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, and “Cold Girl Fever” from The National, both available on Brassland.

Listeners tend to favor descriptors such as “ethereal,” “shoegazing,” and “ambient” when describing Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Comparisons with Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, etc. surround and abound. And sure they’re true and fairly accurate, but for now let’s move on.

Besides being all of those things listed above (and not to be repeated anymore), A Sunny Day in Glasgow are essentially playing cool pop music (just with loads of reverb and unidentifiable electronic sonics), with full recognition and celebration that they are not going to win American Idol any time in the next century.

Instead, the band reminds me of 1995/1996, after all of my friends in Philadelphia seemingly abandoned the hardcore/emo scene in favor of the Cardigans’ album, Life, and Rollerskate Skinny. (Think maybe, Medicine’s Shot Forth Self Living, as a result of the collision.) Today, one might compare them to New York’s Asobi Seksu, though they pay a little more homage to club (meaning discotheque, break out your glowsticks) music than say, Sonic Youth.

It’s easy to hear this brother-sister-sister combo as starting in a bedroom with looped and layered song ideas that have now evolved into a dissonant Stereolab on club drugs. The songs are about ambiance (say it in the French way, rather in the Eno way), but are at their best when the dual vocals hook you in. (See “5:15 Train.”)

Be on the look out for a new record, called Tout New Age, available on July 10, 2007.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow play June 14 and 15rth in Brooklyn: Union Hall, Soundfix/loft party. See their website below for details.

Listen: “Watery (Drowning is Just Another Word for Being Buried Alive Under Water)“, “5:15 Train” from Scribble Mural Comic Journal available on Notenuf Records.

These videos can now be found on the scene page for your viewing pleasure.

Pavement – “Gold Soundz” from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

Battles – “Atlas” from Mirrored.

Dan Deacon – “Crystal Cat” from Spiderman of the Rings.

Paris, Je T’aime – Trailer

The National – “Mistaken for Strangers” from Boxer.

Mark Maher

May 26, 2007

It seems New York singer-songwriter Mark Maher has a bit of a dramatic flair. On a new five-song demo (available online here), he explores the theme of trust (and truth), armed with only his voice and a piano.

The songs are sweet mid-tempo tales of love and loss, that out Maher as a true romantic. The music pays homage to his recent work in theater, interspersed with moments of Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell and even Tori Amos. (Or is it that he’s just playing a piano?)

Mark will undoubtedly be seen out and about New York, and may occasionally be heard singing at Marie’s Crisis. As a friend to the Invisible Friends, we encourage you to check him out.

The Trust Demo:
1 “I Hate
2 “After All This Time
3 “Can’t Get Back
4 “I’m Trying (To Move On With My Life)
5 “On the Road

Joan As Police Woman

May 21, 2007

Joan Wasser is what you would call well-connected. She could be the spokeswoman for some indie-rock cellphone service, where we could all marvel at her inner-circle of free-minute-friends.

Previously known for her work as a member of the Dambuilders, Ms. Wasser went on to collaborate with a collection of various artists, many of whom seem to be having a bit of a moment right now, which lends itself nicely to aiding her own band, Joan As Police Woman, just as their album is about to be released stateside.

Yes, she is a friend and collaborator of Rufus Wainwright, who is wearing her scarf in the current edition of Rolling Stone and has a new album out. Yes, she was once a Johnson of Antony & the Johnsons fame, and the list of artists she’s worked with reads a bit like a who’s who of independently-minded rock and roll: Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Tanya Donnelly, David Gahan, Mary Timony (in Mind Science of the Mind, with Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think).

And now, of course, she’s on tour with fellow violinist, Andrew Bird.

But Joan As Police Woman is more than the most popular girl in school. Her songs are beautifully soft and float along with piano and that voice, though simultaneously self-described as punk. (After all, “Beauty is the new punk rock.”)

Joan As Police Woman is currently in Europe.
Real Life was released by UK indie Reveal Records last year. It will be released in the US in June.

Listen: “Real Life” and “Eternal Flame” from Real Life, available on Reveal Records in the UK now, and in the US on June 12.

The Invisible Friends are back from vacation abroad.
Here’s a summer soundtrack update…

1. The National – Mistaken For Strangers

2. Pela – Lost to the Lonesome

3. St. Vincent – Now Now

4. Parts & Labor – Fractured Skies

5. Palomar – Whoa!

6. Bjork – Wanderlust

7. Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine

8. Charlotte Gainsbourg – AF607105

9. The Prayers – USA (available here)

10. Mika – Relax, Take It Easy

Takka Takka

May 3, 2007

In the opening moments of their set at the Pela record release show at the Mercury Lounge, Takka Takka singer Gabe Levine announced that he was fired from his day-job. Admittedly, we have no idea what Mr. Levine previously did to pay the rent, but hey, could this be filed under a blessing-in-disguise?

Supposedly, it’s too early to tell. Takka Takka independently self-released their debut album in late 2006 to some strong reviews, following the lead of fellow Brooklynites and friends, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, with whom they once shared a tour and a band member. Are they laughing their way to the bank, dodging major label record contracts along the way? (Probably not, after the underwhelming CYHSY second record, but who knows what strange prospects unemployment brings…)

Despite the shared indie-rock heritage, however, Takka Takka are a different band. Sure they hop around on stage playing lovely indie-boy guitar rock, Levine armed with acoustic guitar, keyboards and strapped into a harmonica, but trade the Talking Heads David Byrne influences for some Lou Reed with a little doses of Pavement, the Wrens, the Van Pelt, and Imperial Teen.

Takka Takka play Union Hall on May 12 with The Changes and The End of the World. They also play at the South Street Seaport with The National on August 17, for FREE.

Listen: “We Feel Safer At Night” and “Coco On the Corner” from We Feel Safer At Night. (Self-released by the band CYHSY-style.) The Talk Faster EP is still available FREE here.