Pop is what people know.
Simple. Familiar. Predictable.
So keeping that all in mind how can it be done well, especially when the pool is saturated with garbage to opaqueness?
One way is to keep one of the above features intact while twisting and melding the other two into something else. It doesn’t matter what stays and what gets the full brunt of experimental attack, so long as all three don’t remain in the stock pop form.
Enter Little Dragon. The Scandinavian quartet puts in equal parts synth and human-made sounds to make their pop music, with aching melancholy and enough danceable energy to fuel a room.
Singer Yukimi Nagano pans her delicate and clear voice between powerful melisma and hushed near-whispers, built on everyday occurrence lyrics that seem all the more unique through her voice. She also plays a paddle shaped tambourine, which doubles as a beater that she uses on an array of small Japanese gongs.
The band’s foundation is built by drummer Erik Bodin, who adds just the right spurts of electric percussion in with his otherwise acoustic kit, and bassist Fredrik Wallin adding complimenting thumps to Bodin’s steadiness.
Keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand, who looks like he could double as Edgar Winter, stays true to my own rule about synthesized sounds: don’t overdo it. While Little Dragon could easily be called an electronic act, and even their myspace page makes the claim, the group doesn’t hide behind their equipment. Wirenstrand produces very simple melody lines to compliment the rhythms and Nagano’s painfully real singing, with bursts of sound effects that work like finding the occasional jalapeno in a complex dish. If your attention strayed, his touches brought you right back in.
Lincoln Hall received the band well, as the whole night was filled with great danceable music. VV Brown started the night off with a small cauldron of rock, reggae, afro beat and rap as a canvas for her to stretch her soulfully strong voice.
This being my first trip to LH it’s reassuring that folks actually built a place for people who go to shows to actually hear music.
Enjoy a couple Little Dragon highlights:
What do you get when you mix stripped-down garage rock, red poofy hair, advice on how to make people uncomfortable in a bathroom and a Web site known for breasts?
A recent live recording You Me Them Everybody show, of course.
Recorded on February 22 at Hungry Brain, the show delved into more up and coming Chicago music and comedy with a couple first-evers. Alex White, of the roots garage rock group White Mystery performed her first ever solo set, after nearly 10 years of playing live music. Comedian Cameron Gillette performed his first recorded set with bizarre observations on trying to lie to his parents and getting the whole audience to say, “I make funny sounds because I’m angry with god.”
The show also featured Playboy.com Editor Scott Smith talking about the joys of Beverly and getting used to a job where it’s okay to look at naked women all day.
Alex White kicked off the show, exuding a shy comfort with the even-more-stripped-down version of her already minimal garage rock. She was armed only with a Rickenbacker semi-hollow body guitar, her howling yet sugary voice and a bass drum that broke midway through her five song set. Her music is naked, soulful rock distilled to the rule breaking, head busting spirit that has either scared people or turned them on since the guitar was first made electric.
White shifted back and forth from distortion-assisted chords and gentle muted picking, with her red fluff of curly hair bouncing with the beat. Her voice was musical and clear, but with urgency and primal energy, like she would scream at any second. She tapped into that primitive form of rock with a laugh and smile throughout the set.
After her set, she talked with YMTE hosts Brandon Wetherbee (founder of YMTE) and Esmeralda Leon about ditching lessons at Old Town School of Folk to start her own band, the power of Baba O’ Riley and singing Staples Singers covers like “Will the Circle be Unbroken” with her mother.
“It’s about your mother dying and I do a duet on it with my mom,” White said about the song.
White Mystery has a new album coming out, with a record release show March 20th at the Hideout.
For everyone who says digital doesn’t have the warmth of analog, here’s what might be one of the grainiest digital videos taken.
Scott Smith, editor of Playboy.com, joined Wetherbee and Leon after White’s set. He described his first few weeks working at Playboy as feeling like he was getting caught watching porn all the time at work, and not used to the fact that he was supposed to look at breasts at work.
“If you’re at a regular job and you look at nudity or things you’re not supposed to look at at work, you do the porn flinch,” Smith said. “Someone comes up behind you and it’s like ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ Click. For the first three or four weeks at Playboy I still did the porn flinch. I’d be like ‘Oh shit I’m supposed to be looking at this.’”
He described 15-20 minute conversations at work about how to accurately represent masturbation on the Web site, John Mayer comparing his penis to white supremacists and the limits of making Playboy.com safe for viewing at work.
Later in the talk, Wetherbee hassled Smith about his love for Beverly and a short feud Smith had with Richard Marx over some blogs a few years ago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i26qpuqjAsA). Wetherbee also prodded Smith about his Twitter account picture.
“You’re doing the face where ‘I just made a funnier joke than everyone else and I’m smarter than you, so let’s have this smartini,’” Wetherbee said. “But I know you, and you’re not that like that.”
“Aren’t you sweet? We’ll kiss later,” Smith said.
“I would totally kiss you if that would be on your Twitter page,” Wetherbee shot back.
By some stroke of blind (dumb) luck, I shot a picture right as Smith was making the face he makes in the Twitter photo.
From left to right: Brandon Wetherbee, Scott Smith, Esmeralda Leon
Comedian Cameron Gillette closed out the show with a series of random one-liners that required thinking for a moment or two before the laughing came. And it was brain power spent well. During his first-ever recorded set, he had the room laughing hard.
“I had a hard time telling my parents I was gay,” Gillette said. “But I have an even harder time lying to them.”
To close his calm, deadpan set, he brought the audience into a call and response that had the crowd saying “I wish my dad had loved me more,” among other oddities.
You Me Them Everybody meets every Monday night at Hungry Brain for more music, comedy and random outbursts of debauchery. www.youmethemeverybody.com