Category Archives: Features

Any and all content created by WKDU DJ’s (includes album reviews, show reviews, personal lists, opinion pieces, etc)

Concert Review: Chet Faker @ Union Transfer (5/16/2014)

Or: Like James Blake You Can Fuck To

By Jonathan Plotkin

A late show at a venue typically means the place has been overbooked and the second guys aren’t that important. But Friday night’s late performance by Chet Faker at the Union Transfer was nothing short of gorgeous. Starting us off was Sweater Beats, who despite his moniker, performed on stage wearing a jacket. Not having heard of Sweater Beats before tonight, I had really hoped it would be a duo wearing reallyridiculoussweaters and dropping beats, but apparently it’s just one guy from New York named Antonio Cuna. Maybe sweater describes his beats themselves? I suppose one word that sprung to mind during his set was “wooly” but that’s probably me just trying to make this stupid analogy work. Despite some technical difficulties early on, Sweater Beats rocked it for about 45 minutes with slowed down bass that rattled your chest and lifted your body with each beat, only to drop it on the next. He reminded me somewhat of Sweet Valley, though a bit less aggressive. I didn’t want to break stuff so much listening to Sweater Beats as I did just groove. Suffice to say, I’ll be checking out more of his stuff in the future.

As for the main attraction, Chet Faker (born Nicholas James Murphey- his stage moniker is an homage to Chet Baker) came out to a darkened stage (wearing a sweater, I might add). His set up was simple: a small keyboard, a board with some beats making jawns, and a laptop off to the side. Unlike the Chromeo show a few days beforehand, there was no elaborate lighting scheme and he relied on just the house lights. I actually liked this stripped down approach: for just one dude for whom being an independent artist is a huge part of his aesthetic, anything more would have felt showy. Plus, the dark purple lighting kept the mood, well, moody throughout the show.

Chet Faker wasted no time in getting soulful- starting off with “I’m Into You” and “Terms and Conditions”, he got the crowd dancing all sexy like right away. He later moved into material from his new album Built on Glass with “To Me” and “Blush”, a personal favorite of mine. WIth its high energy the crowd went from bumping and grinding into jumping and sweating without missing a beat.

But he didn’t just play stuff from previous releases. About half an hour in, he turned to the crowd and said “I really love electronic music but it’s too easy to just hit play. I think it’s really important to have a section of your set where you can fuck up, that’s what makes a musician. This is the part where I fuck up.” He then proceeded to improvise for several minutes, looping live beats and keyboards. Though not as soulful or danceable, to me it was the most impressive part of the show, especially since I didn’t hear him fuck up at all (though to be fair, how would I know? He laughed about that afterwards, telling the audience “maybe I fucked up, maybe I didn’t”).

He brought it back to the beginning of his career soon afterwards, playing another track off of his debut EP Thinking In Textures (whose name unfortunately escapes me, just trust me it was great). Finally, he played the track that we had all been waiting for and made him famous: his beautiful, smooth-as-silk cover of “No Diggity”, encouraging the audience to “get sexy with this one”. And ooh boy did we. I’m pretty confident that most of the people at that show got laid afterwards (I would have joined the fun, but I went alone and though I did run into someone I knew, it was a guy I went to middle school with and I’m not the biggest fan of man parts).

Wait, did I say everyone had been waiting for “No Diggity”? He closed with “Talk Is Cheap” and the crowd went wild. More than happy to follow his request to sing along, the roof of the Union Transfer swelled with the combined voices of hundreds of people all unified in vocal harmony (I thought we sounded pretty good but maybe his mic was just turned up enough to drown out our crappy voices).

Chet Faker left soon after that, bowing and thanking us once more for being such a wonderful crowd, sounding completely sincere. His humbleness tied nicely with a mid set speech describing his nature as a DIY musician and I really just liked the guy. It didn’t hurt that when he first walked on stage he gave several dozen “Happy Birthday” balloons out the the audience. Apparently he found them backstage and figured it had to be at least one person’s birthday. What a stand up guy.

Happy birthday to someone.

Happy birthday to someone.

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Concert Review: Future Islands @ First Unitarian Church (April 29, 2014

Courtesy of 4AD

Courtesy of 4AD

By Esmail Hamidi

Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to see Future Islands headline the First Unitarian Church. Accompanying me were WKDU DJs Dr. Plotkin and Peter Liu, of The Love X-Perience and Hear Hear Mix respectively. Supporting were Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Chiffon. Soundwise, the bill was pretty darn diverse, but all bands had their hometown in common: Baltimore.

One cool thing about the Baltimore scene is its interconnection – the music might be wildly different, but the musicians are all uniformly skilled and versatile. Dan Frome and Denny Bowen, both of weird noise rock quartet Roomrunner, were spotted filling in on bass and drums for Ed Schrader and Future Islands respectively. I’m normally used to these guys playing totally different types of music, but they still killed it in this setting.

All groups on this bill played perfectly. Chiffon caught my attention with a weird hipstery take on 90s radio R&B and BMORE CLUB that got me movin’. Their beats were very, very reminiscent of the programming on WERQ Baltimore 92.3 FM a.k.a. 92Q JAMS, a station that is best listened to cruising the streets of West Baltimore around 10PM in a late-model Cadillac.

To me, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat always sounds like The Monkees on PCP, and this was no exception. Every time I’ve seen them on the home front, this two-piece always succeeds in turning the floor into a swirling mosh pit. Unfortunately, this did not happen in Philadelphia. For further weirdo cultural experiences courtesy of Ed Schrader, check out the Ed Schrader Show on YouTube.

Lead singer Sam Herring mentioned that he was feeling a little under the weather that night. He was definitely holding back, but still delivered a great performance. He is a conduit for the music – gyrating and radiating sexual energy like a balding, bodybuilding Elvis gone new wave. Bassist William Cashion lashed out with expressiveness that a lot of bass players could take a lesson from. As the main live instrument in the mix, Cashion simultaneously anchored the band and played singing leads.

Synth player Gerrit Welmers’ compositional skills play a huge role in the Future Islands sound, and Denny Bowen’s always a clock on drums. Their live personas were somewhat less expressive than those of Herring and Cashion, but steadfast nonetheless.

That night kind of embodied why everyone needs a good show every so often. I know I did. It was…refreshing. Also, sidenote, I ran into Liz of Liz and the Lost Boys afterwards. You can peep the session they did with WKDU (and that I engineered, woo soundz!) here.

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…Sleep Deprivation, Hoagies, and Yoga

By Jonathan Plotkin

This was written last fall, but slipped through the cracks until Jonathan fortunately remembered and sent it over to me. 

I recently had a bit of an unusual night. I went out bar-hopping with a friend and some girls he knew much later than I normally would (we didn’t start drinking until after midnight, which I felt was rather late for a Wednesday night). Afterwards we filled up on Wawa hoagies and by the time I got home at 4 AM, I was stuck with a choice: Should I pull an all-nighter and exercise at 6:00 AM, or sleep until noon and contribute nothing to better society?

Being the headstrong individual that so many describe me as, I decided to start my day early so I could crash right after. I managed to keep myself awake for 2 hours by snacking on chocolate covered espresso beans, until I was able to head to the Bikram yoga studio. For those who don’t know, lack of sleep, meatball hoagies, and whiskey typically aren’t a great way to warm up for 90 minutes of intense exercise in a heated room. The mind turns to anything else to distract it, which for me is always music.

What with the sleep deprivation and trying to work out the alcohol from my system, I began to have bizarre waking dreams synched up to whatever music was stuck in my head. Having recently just seen Spiritualized live, I couldn’t get their music out of my mind. I tried to recall exactly how specific songs went, causing a strange, Fantasia-like series of flowing colors to move behind my eyelids. As soon as I got home, determined to hear the space/psychedelic/gospel rock of Spiritualized the way it was meant to be played, I cued up Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space on my stereo and settled into my bed for the proper listening experience.

Of course, having been up for nearly 24 hours at this point, I immediately fell asleep, with iTunes just playing through their entire catalogue (just three albums, but still a sizable length of music at over 3 hours long). Now I don’t know how many of you have tried to go to sleep with blinding daylight outside, but it’s really hard. Your body naturally wants to be awake when the sun is out (no seriously, it’s science) and trying to fall asleep at 8 AM when you’re used to waking up then is damned near impossible. So impossible, in fact, that I kept waking up from bizarre whiskey/yoga dreams to hear the sweet sounds of Spiritualized playing in my room.

These dreams seemed much more like a Hollywood production than typical the random firings of my subconscious. They had plot structure that (nearly) made sense, real characters that weren’t just bastardizations of people I knew in reality, and music. Oh, the music! It was like having an honest-to-goodness soundtrack playing the entirety of my dream. A chilled out party had “Cop Shoot Cop” playing in the background. I went on a bike ride and I heard “Headin’ For The Top Now” playing as I climbed the hills. At one point, I met a girl and “Mary” played while she described the most tragic life my subconscious had ever imagined.

I honestly can’t think of a poetic way to finish this, I just wanted to share with you all the joy that comes with staying up all night, eating and drinking too much before a yoga class, and finally sleeping while the music you’ve had stuck in your head for the last hour and a half is playing into your ear holes. Bottom line: music + sleep = awesome and I definitely recommend that’s how you spend your next all-nighter, no matter what causes it.

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Preview: Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin Live @ WKDU (2/20/14)

Jack Deezl &Aaron Ruxbin

Jack Deezl & Aaron Ruxbin

By Chris Burrell

Drexel Alumni Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin approach the craft of DJing from two extremely different angles, but both coalesce at the intersection of passion and obstinacy. Refusing to succumb to the pressures of conformity both within the stigma and equipment typically associated with being a popular disc jockey, these men find themselves on the polar opposite spectrum of what defines DJing: one playing only vinyl records, the other [mostly] originals. One pure analog preservation, the other digitally manipulated live. The unifying factor being an emphasis on challenging the listeners expectations, advancing an amalgamation of sounds new and old, and digging for the deepest cuts; whether unearthed from years ago or synthesized earlier today. You won’t hear any top 40 in these sets, but you will hear something brand new, every time, guaranteed. Two special live in-studio sets from across the sonic spectrum. Put on your thinking caps and lay out your disco pants, Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin are going VAHN DEEEEPEEERRRR!

Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin will be performing with RJD2 at Union Transfer on February 21. Tune in to The Halfway House on February 20th to catch their Live @ WKDU session.

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Review: Neutral Milk Hotel @ The Tower Theater (1/29/14)

Photo courtesy of peterhutchins.tumblr.com

Photo courtesy of peterhutchins.tumblr.com

By Nick Stropko

So, it has happened. Years of anticipation, speculation, and blind hope have culminated, and the day has gone and passed. I have seen Neutral Milk Hotel.

Naturally, I have rapturous praise for the concert. Of course Jeff Magnum’s voice has retained it’s power, its winding intensity, its ability to reach just a little higher than it probably should and sell it regardless (he did have the slightest of problems during “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 1,” but it really just served to humanize what has become a deified figure). Of course it was gratifying in a way Jeff’s solo shows were not to see the whole band together–Julian Koster rotating in place with his bass and playing the singing saw, Scott Spillane working an array of brass instruments, and Jeremy Barnes frantically keeping everything together. They really nailed the eclectic instrumentation present in NMH records, with the singing saw, zanzithophone, and electronic bagpipe, among many more, making appearances. Of course standing in a room full of people singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” with Jeff Magnum is going to send chills down your spine. Of course, of course, of course.

However, rapturous praise is kind of boring. Pretty much every account of the show I have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead, I’d like to offer an array of stray thoughts I had during the show.

  • While Magnum’s voice has certainly not lessened in intensity, it seems like his range has become ever so slightly more limited. I think a few of the songs were played a few steps down, and he reaalllyyy had to strain to hit that note in “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 1.”
  • I can’t really tell if I like Jeremy Barnes’s drumming or not. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems like he has trouble maintaining the beat during fills. Is it possible that Jeremy Barnes is actually not a very good drummer at all? Is this just a weird stylistic thing that I’m not grasping? THIS IS OF GRAVE CONCERN.
  • I really enjoy the stage dynamic of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff was pretty much unrecognizable–he received no applause when he walked onstage, his mess of hair making him look like a roadie in a fantastic sweater. He spoke little but seemed gracious, maintaining his weird indie god aura while not coming off as too stuck-up.
  • Isn’t this whole tour kind of remarkable? Maybe this is well-tread ground, but I think it’s worth restating every now and again that a band can sell out major venues across the country largely based on the strength of a record they put out on an indie label in 1998.
  • The “Ghost”–>”[untitled]“–>”Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2″ combo during the encore was phenomenal. Phenomenal. When I saw them break out the electronic bagpipe, I kind of freaked out and definitely sang along to a bagpipe part. No shame.
  • Fuck it, I can’t think of anything else that’s negative. It was a really great show, and I’m thankful I got to see it.

If you missed out on Jeff and co. last week, fear not! They’re playing at The Mann on July 21st. I highly recommend you attend.

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Top 50 Albums of 2013 (according to Liquid Courage Media)

Our lovely Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Shannen Gaffney, also writes for Liquid Courage Media. This is their list of the top albums of 2013, co-written with Isabel Imperatore (in alphabetical order).

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Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean
Allison Weiss’ No Sleep Records release, Say What You Mean, was an uplifting take on the more depressing moments of being a teenager-to-twenty-something. The first track, “Making It Up,” outlined the uncertainties of defining a relationship. Our favorite is the breakup pop tune “How to Be Alone”.

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Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ
BEYONCE released a self-titled “exclusive visual album” on iTunes in the middle of the night without any previous announcement or promotion. Do I need to say anything else? Videos/tracks to check out: ”XO” and “Blue” (and the entire album).

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Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
If we can use the word ‘groovy,’ Blood Orange released one of the grooviest records this year. “You’re Not Good Enough” encompasses everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your ex, and has been stuck in our heads ever since its recent release.

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Brick + Mortar – Bangs
It’s hard to categorize and describe Brick + Mortar, which is a duo comprised of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon. They combine elements of alternative, electronic, indie, drum and bass, noise-pop, hip-hop, and punk. It’s aggressive, anthemic and catchy. The intense drum and bass parts are overlapped with Brandon’s distinct vocals and instrumentation like synths and guitar.  Listen to “Bangs” and “Locked In A Cage” and you’ll understand.

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Charli XCX – True Romance
Charli XCX was definitely a breakout artist of 2013, and True Romance was one of the best dance pop albums of the year. Her obvious best track was “You – Ha Ha Ha,” but “Take My Hand” and “What I Like” were also equally addictive pop gems.

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The Idle Noise Velvet Underground A-Z show this Wednesday!

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

by Mr. Noyes

I found out about the Velvet Underground in 1985, at some point after PolyGram issued the VU LP of outtakes. I was a teenager in rural Berks County, partying weekends in a backwoods spot my friends called Alaska. “Stephanie Says” made a lot of sense, but it was White Light/White Heat that made my mind split open. The guitars were insane, beyond what I’d thought possible. I’d only recently heard Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising and couldn’t really explain unconventional tunings. I’d only recently read Howl and had a vague inkling of a beat New York that had been. I knew just enough to hear something remarkable in “Sister Ray.” The junkie sailors and the fellatio were interesting, but it was the industrial groan and squeal of the electronic instruments, like some hellish vacuum cleaner sucking at a soul, and the hollowed snap and tumble of the primitivist drums—those were really interesting. And ecstatic.

Everyone always says that everyone who heard the Velvets went on to start their own band. I didn’t. I kept listening to the Velvets. I bought a cheap cassette reissue of their live 1969 double album. That version of “What Goes On” keeps on going on and going on. Lou Reed’s guitar hit a sweet spot among punk rock snarl, avant-garde repetition (a la Steve Reich), and a zoned-out effect I could feel inside my skull. It’s an anti-aesthetic, full of the sort of cultural collisions that fueled Black Arts poetry in Newark that year and the working class anger of the Detroit rock scene—see the Stooges and the MC5. But the Velvets got there first. “Heroin” came out on Verve, most famous as a jazz label, alongside records by Count Basie and Odetta. Lou scored more than junk in Harlem. Those first three Velvets records — I don’t think there’s any better soundtrack to the violence and weirdness of American life, c. 1966 to 1969. Maybe Coltrane or the Mothers of Invention. But the Velvets could do pop and devotional music and gentle balladry and face-melting noise, often on the same LP side. The Velvets made important music. They deserve an A-Z.

Idle Noise with Mike Eidle and Trixie Noyes plays on WKDU every Wednesday from 7-9a.m. This week they will have a Velvet Underground A-Z exploration of artists, covers, and songs related to the band. You can listen on 91.7 fm or at wkdu.org.

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