Saturday, June 20, 2009

Review: Manners by Passion Pit

Passion Pit
Release Date: May 19, 2009

Although technically released in 2007, the debut of MGMT left their indelible mark on 2008 with three unbelievably strong singles, one released right after the other as their fan base grew at alarmingly exponential rates. Now in 2009, Cambridge, Mass. outfit Passion Pit is shaping up to be the year’s so many words.

What draws the immediate MGMT comparisons is the irresistibly catchy electro-pop nature of their sound. However, Passion Pit turns it all up to eleven, oozing unbridled exuberance on a majority of the tracks. The album cuts right to the chase with one track after the other that simply demand the listener’s attention. No beating around the proverbial, nonsexual bush here: Passion Pit involve a sense of immediacy in their tracks and toss in a hook or beat that will be unforgettable for days. This oversimplified evaluation cannot quite apply to the entire album, but it more or less holds water. Notice the “entire album” portion of the previous sentence. Unlike MGMT, every goddamn song is stellar. There are no holes, no deadweight, no valleys on Manners. The album can be played on repeat ad nauseum without the trigger-finger reflex of changing any particular track.

The eleven tracks of their debut pour on the charm in a variety of ways, but in the end, it is their unabashed ability to stick in one’s mind in whatever way possible. Ten seconds into the album, “Make Light” develops one of those trademark, upbeat synth segments that, when it fades for the verse, makes the wait for the chorus interminable. “Little Secrets” has a nice retro feel, featuring a chorus of children happily chiming in “Higher and higher and higher!” The MGMT sound is definitely prevalent here, as is a little “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice, and the concoction is forever catchy. Single “The Reeling” is so textbook hooky, it makes sense that it was chosen as the single. Not everything evokes immediate attention, however: “Swimming in the Flood” begins with a soothing string section before the modest synth back beat enters, creating a truly memorable slow-burning electro-pop gem. It is not over-the-top ecstatic, but it shouldn’t be, as it throws some variety into the mix while still maintaining the fundamentals of the album. The tinge of melancholy on “Eyes as Candles” also slows things down a bit, swelling at every turn of the chorus with the intermittent orchestra sounds and opening hook playing over each other. The true cyclic nature of the album comes to fruition towards the end, as “Sleepyhead” turns up the excitement and energy once again as a slightly twisted, mostly delightful lullaby.

Without question, the album has the feel of all-or-nothing: If Passion Pit’s core sound (catchy electro-pop with high-pitched vocals) is your cup of tea, then you’ll likely enjoy every single song on the album. If not, you will hate it. Simple as that. However, Passion Pit make it awfully difficult not to oblige and join the fun that they are cooking. Everyone talks about Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear (and now Dirty Projectors!) among the inane and premature album of the year babble. Wherever they may end up, Passion Pit have created a truly memorable, utterly addicting, and repeatedly replayable debut that demands discussion among the year’s big hitters.

Ed. Note: I cannot even begin to count how many times I typed “Passion Put” in this article….



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How-To: Make Your Own Ringtones!

It is the 21st century dillemma: You have the best, most elitist and hipster music taste this side of Pitchfork, yet your cell phone best represents this with a MIDI version of "Hot Cross Buns." How are you supposed to obnoxiously let everyone know that you, yes you, do not listen to mainstream garbage, but instead have found a niche in sub-subgenres that have barely been conceived?

Well, rest easy, because the definitive answer is finally here.

After months of rigorous testing in the Cassette Musique labs, I have concocted a simple, stepwise process to make absolutely free, absolutely hip, absolutely obnoxious ringtones for your cell phone. There is probably some catches to this, but the method has worked for me, so at the very least it is worth a shot.

For one, I am on Verizon Wireless and have a Samsung Glyde phone. I haven't tested this on any other service providers, and have only tried this one other time on my old Motorola phone and it did work. Also, you are going to need to be able to receive a picture message with an attachment (that's crucial.) Ready? Let's go:

1. Peruse your iTunes (or other inferior music library program) and find a song that you're sure is to impress virtually everyone who hears that someone is calling you. This is probably the hardest part.

2. Once you find the song, you need to select no more than a THIRTY SECOND section of the song to use as the ringtone. If it was hard enough to find the right song, it may be hard to find a section that makes a fantastic ringtone. Alas, once you know the section you want to use, right-click the song, select Get Info, and go to the Options tab. You'll see a Start Time and Stop Time section. Enter in, to the best of your ability, the times where the section you want to use appear. It may be 0:33 to 0:49, so enter that. Trial-and-error works well here, so listen to the newly-edited file to see if it was truncated correctly.

3. Once you have your song of choice shortened to ringtone length, you need to convert the file into a low-quality MP3. (I see you bashing your head against your keyboard...relax, it isn't that bad.) To do this, first go to the Edit tab at the top of iTunes and select Preferences. Under the General tab, select Import Settings. You're going to want to import using the MP3 Encoder, and select Custom for Setting. A small pop-up window will come up. I've found that in order to shrink the file size effectively while maintaining some audio fidelity, a Stereo Bit Rate of 96 kbps works well, but also set Channels to Mono. (Sample rate was Auto and the two checkboxes were checked for me, too.) Once this is done, hit OK and get back to the song file. Right-click the song in question, and select Create MP3 Version. It will make a second copy of the song, one which is of your selected length and quality. Perfect!

4. "How in God's name do I get this one-of-a-kind ringtone to my uber-stylish phone?" Go to your favorite e-mail client and compose a new message. Send the message to your cell phone by typing in your 10-digit cell phone number (area code + 7 digits, like 2125550123) followed by Then, attach your newly made MP3 file. It should be relatively small, like about 100 KB, give or take. Once it is attached, send it and wait anxiously.

5. Once your new picture message arrives to your phone, open it. The song should play upon opening it, so you can hear how AWESOME it sounds. Then, for my phone at least, select Options and Save As Ringtone. Perfect! All done. Try to find some similar option if that isn't there. Some phones might be Negative Nancys and not allow this. That would suck. At least you tried. Be creative and experimental if you have to (that's basically what I did), and you'll get it eventually (unless, of course, your service provider or your phone simply doesn't allow it, in which case write an angry letter expressing your discontent on how the legal ringtone store doesn't have "Gun In The Sun" by Wavves available.)

I made this post for a few friends who wanted to also make "Hustlin'" by Rick Ross their ringtone, but if this benefits anyone else, bitchin'. Coming up next: How to fix your leaky faucet in four easy steps! (Cue Home Depot commercial.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Review: Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear
Warp Records
Release Date: May 26, 2009

Grizzly Bear didn’t stand a chance. Neither did 2009, really. As soon as the calendar changed, the world was exposed to an album of literally epic proportions, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Immediately, the album’s legitimate greatness was widely publicized, invoking “Album of the Year” whispers as early as the first few weeks of January. Since its release, especially in the indie stratosphere, MPP set the bar quite high, and all subsequent albums would struggle to achieve its unexpected success. Except for one.

Almost as immediately as MPP took over the world, there were skeptics quick to say that one album may very well be as good as or better than it. This, of course, was an album that had not been released yet. In fact, it would be four months or so until its proper release. These are the expectations that Veckatimest has had to face upon its release.

The debate will continue for the duration of the year: Merriweather or Veckatimest for Album of the Year? Again, it is preposterous to start deciding such things, but these are obviously two excellent albums that have received universal acclaim, popularity and even sales. However, they are two different albums when it comes down to it, engaging the listener in different ways.

Veckatimest opens up rather relaxed and without any sense of immediacy, almost invoking a chill coffeehouse environment. A minute or so into “Southern Point,” this transient pretense is debunked with an already-climactic change of pace, before settling down and quickly picking up again. The track’s cyclic nature is sufficiently satisfying to kick start the album before segueing into the irresistibly bubbly “Two Weeks.” If the opener did not get your attention, you would have to be deaf to not appreciate such polished pop presence from the otherwise introspective band. Speaking of which, shades of Yellow House come through immediately on “All We Ask,” unforgivably shifting gears into typically soft-spoken melody. “Fine For Now” peaks and valleys in grandeur on scales apropos for Grizzly Bear, meandering from delightfully lush and fulfilling peaks to intermittent finger-snapping lulls and Droste’s melodic pipes (“If we’re all faltering, how’d I help with that?”)

In fact, the first five tracks are superb in their own respective manners. The album continues strong, although not on such a high as the opening tracks. The lowly chug of “Ready, Able” is spotted with transient flourishes until it coalesces into a beautiful hybrid of harmonic lyrics and meticulous melody. “Hold Still” is very minimalistic, featuring simple vocals and a repetitious, cacophonous guitar plucking every now and then. It is admittedly the good-but-not-excellent section of the album, all leading up to the impressive finish, starting with “While You Wait For The Others”. It is the fantastic and formulaic pop gem situated near the latter half of the album, perfectly placed to catch the listener’s attention after a few mildly entertaining tracks and subsequently emphasizes the multidimensionality of the track. For one, the often cryptic lyrics that appear in most of the other songs do not apply here, as the song actually spins something slightly cohesive and applicable. This, combined with the band’s typical low-key, addictive pop style and actual song order, make it a refreshing listen every time.

Veckatimest is substantial enough to write about on its own, but the comparisons to MPP are almost too hard to ignore. Two points in particular: Both albums start off with a string of excellent tracks, come back down to earth, and finish up strong. Additionally, the uber-hyped songs released before both albums’ releases are likely the individual highlights of each album. Of course, the aforementioned album of the year debates will also ensue between the two records, but evaluate Veckatimest on its own merits: A complete, focused and thoroughly engrossing blend of chamber pop and indie folk from beginning to end, and yes, one of the year’s finest.

Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks"


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Selling Out Alert!

Indie fans are relentless to keep their exclusive, premiere, never-before-heard CD-Rs of obscure-as-fuck bands under wraps in order to maintain a shred of pointless, intangible "indie cred." In other words, it is mindless. Once a blogs-only indie band becomes popular (for an indie band), fans immediately repudiate the band's entire body of work, past, present and future, for reasons unbeknownst to myself.

The most recent example of this is Grizzly Bear. Their fantastic new album, Veckatimest, recently sold over 33,000 copies in its first week, landing it at a lofty #8 position on the Billboard 200 chart. 33,000 may not seem like a lot, but when translated to a time when albums actually sold (circa 1999), that number would be more like seventy-two million (give or take). Regardless, it is an impressive feat for a talented indie band, and there is no reason to discount them for succeeding and for actually selling records in an era of unbridled piracy. Hell, I'm happy that they're making some money. They deserve it. (Don't believe me? Full-blown Veckatimest review is a-coming. Pinky swear.)

SPEAKING OF SELLING OUT, I was just typing in random words into Google one lazy late-night, and eventually, I came across A WEBSITE THAT MENTIONS CASSETTE MUSIQUE™. Indeed, hell is clocking in at a balmy one-below on the Centigrade scale right now. As unbelievably ridiculous as it may seem, this really does exist, albeit in a very strange, unexplained sense. Hilariously enough, it was posted on April Fool's Day. However, all PR is good PR, considering the website hauls in an astounding single-digit traffic rate per month. Some (read: no one) may say that this may be the crucial first step towards full-blown selling out. I say, Keep the cryptic mentioning-in-passing PR coming!

In summation, this post serves absolutely no purpose other than to take up space. Actual content pending.