Monday, July 28, 2008

Pierogi and More Hipster Music

If you've never heard of a pierogi, then I'm very sorry, because they're absolutely delicious. Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana, where I ate a whole pile of them (not to mention some Polish sausage and potato pancakes). Wonderful experience, particularly because I could look around and think "these are my people." American descendants of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and others of that ambiguously Slavic central European heritage descended on the town my dad was born to delight in the world's best stuffed dough food. Pictures are available. Note the pierogi-shaped foam hat.

I've been writing again. This installment is called The Hustler, and it's entirely dialog. I mentioned before how I'd taken to having dialog speak for itself, and didn't like to include a lot of "he remarked" or "She answered,". This is the extreme end of that, with the dialog not only speaking for itself but telling the entire story. The format was inspired by an excellent story my dad wrote, "Your Own Personal Jesus". The setting is mostly drawn from personal experiences. And the characters are very loosely based on real people.

I promised a discussion of some decidedly non-mainstream indie music. The first is a band that I've become quite the advocate of lately, This is Ivy League. A bit of background: two guys from Cobra Starship (of Snakes on a Plane fame) decided to get together and play some indie folk/pop. Mellow, but not in a boring Jack Johnson style. More like catchy yet relaxing. The duo describe themselves as "tropical" sounding too, and I see where they're coming from there. I immediately thought of Kings of Convenience, with their relaxing close harmonies, but their music has just a bit more tempo to it than the Norwegians'. The album might lose a little of its interest, but certainly none of its quality, toward the end; personal favorite tracks are "The Richest Kids" and "London Bridges", which non-coincidentally are the first two I heard. Ah, primacy.

Now, I'm not necessarily a Cobra Starship fan--I don't dislike them, but I'm not into them the same way I might sing the praises of Rilo Kiley. More like I'm just not familiar enough to give an informed opinion. I came to like the band after hearing them on the Paste Magazine Culture Club podcast. They were alongside similarly bafflingly obscure bands that if you said you'd heard of, you'd be lying. Such hyper-indie bands are a mixed bag at best: in many cases, there's a reason the bands are so unknown, and that reason is they're not distinctive, or not interesting, or just not that good.

But every once in a while, there's a hidden gem there that makes the whole podcast worth listening to. And This is Ivy League is one of them. Check out their self-titled CD. (If you were thinking of bootlegging it off some sweet torrent, don't bother. Nobody has it. You're better off just shelling out the ten bucks, and it's worth every dollar.)

The other band came from a very different source: MTV. I was relaxing and preparing to suffer through the commercial break between episodes of Next when I was shocked to hear... music that didn't suck! In fact, it was so good that I rushed to my computer to download the rest of it. Shocked as I was to hear something on MTV that was not "Bat Guano and Lime", I wanted to make sure this wasn't a musical mirage, and that this "Carolina Liar" band was actually worth listening to.

It was. As far as I can tell, this guy might be from South Carolina or from Sweden. The internet has been uncharacteristically spotty with its information about the band. You can tell it's a young band; there are vocal miscues, one per song on average, but they don't make the music on a whole unlistenable. And I'm not sure if there are two singers, an overlay of two vocal tracks, or just some really well faked harmony, but there's some second dimension there. They have a pleasantly creative use of unconventional instruments: synthesizers and otherwise electronic effects and chimes recall Mae in both The Everglow and Singularity modes.

The song on MTV turned out to be the first track off the CD, "I'm Not Over", and after I bought into its peppy and just slightly emo rock, I wondered if that track's appearance on MTV wouldn't turn the band into a one-hit wonder. The rest of the album is sufficiently strong that they shouldn't be; hopefully MTV recognizes that as much as I do. That strength really hits its stride toward the middle of the album. From "Simple Life" on we get baroque pop sensibilities of multiple tracks of multiple instruments doing different things at the same time, and that works very well.

There's nothing special in their lyrics, except for a couple humorous bits about Myspace, and choruses are repeated a little too much. Despite the handful of weaknesses, the strengths are much more pronounced. Comparisons, especially vocally, to Keane and the Killers is apt, but the band has a sound unique and separate from either of them. Rather, their alternative-ish sound proves (along with Kings of Convenience, just to bring things full-circle) that Scandinavian influence in music is a good thing.

Oh, and does Pineapple Express look funny? I can't really decide. I'm pushed toward "yes", because the last collaboration between Seth Rogen and James Franco was Freaks and Geeks, which was absolute genius.

Currently listening: "Close Call", Rilo Kiley

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