Culturespill » The Flaming Lips

Filligar: OK, So Maybe “Ivy Rock” DOESN’T Suck

22nd April

Filligar

If the first thing that a label like “Ivy Rock” brings to mind is a group of Dartmouth dorks armed with kazoos, theories of linear deconstruction, and a peculiarly intense affinity for John Cage, you need to listen to Filligar–the latest in Culturespill’s “Best Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” series. OK, so maybe they ARE from Dartmouth–well, three of them, at least (twin bros Teddy and Pete Mathias and their un-twin younger brother Johnny)–and maybe they’re named after a pet goldfish, but they’ve already cranked out six albums since 2000 even though their combined age is still younger than your grandmother, with the eldest being a wily 19. That kicks ass in any book; and with more albums in eight years than most bands put out in two decades, it’s hardly surprising that The City Tree and Succession, I Guess, two of their most recent efforts, betray a maturity reserved for the established influences their music reveals–bands like Wilco, The Flaming Lips, or even Hot Hot Heat.

Tempering the incorrigible mania of Bloc Party or The Long Winters with the quirky power-pop of Wilco’s “I Can’t Stand it,” Filligar’s work lacks only the chiseled cohesiveness those more seasoned influences offer–in other words, they’re young. Their erratic sensibilities–at once supine and spastic, mellow one minute and manic the next–occasionally tug their songs in directions that catch even the most experienced listener off guard. They deny no detour and take every foreseeable turn, and if the results are mixed at times, they almost always deliver something you haven’t quite heard before–no rare feat in a market overwhelmed by enough indie bands to invade and conquer several small nations.

Filligar!

The taut and blistering rocker “Yanni Walker,” a tune that threatens to make the grade on our best of the year lists this fall, exhibits a disciplined focus that occasionally eludes 17-year-old vocalist Johnny Mathias (look, the kid’s 17–give him a break), whose initial whispers on “Purple Gum Weather” wander through an occasionally explosive series of vocal peaks and valleys carried home only by the song’s gorgeous and haunting production. Johnny Mathias finds a voice of his own when he settles down to belt a wistful wail and ask “Where are you now? Where are you now?” amid a broken-hearted crash of shuffling percussion and organ.

The ballad, truly one of the album’s most affecting and mature moments, evokes the mastered melancholy of The Eels’ “Counting Numbered Days” and delivers the poetry of a great Flaming Lips dirge, with its “blue wind sweeping away the night.” Johnny struggles just as mightily to reign in his boundless enthusiasm on tracks like “Peppermint” as he yelps his way through in a kind of restrained frenzy, but the band serves up more than the modest helping of charm that saves several songs.

Sparkling with considered melodies and deft musicianship, Filligar’s youth may manifest itself in a few overambitious flourishes at times–where the hell does that chintzy burst of synthesizer come from at the close of “Big Things”?–but, ultimately, this is a band that’s ripening into a sound of its own far earlier that any aforementioned idol. I defy anyone who fell for the Flaming Lips the first time a friend turned them on to The Soft Bulletin to try sitting through more than ten minutes of Telepathic Surgery. And if you think you’re a Pink Floyd fan because you’ve had one of 30 million copies of Dark Side of the Moon somewhere under the driver’s seat of your Jetta for a few years, try surviving the first track of Ummagumma, no less the first ten minutes–just don’t invite anyone over when you do it, and have a barf bag handy.

Plenty of bands stew in their own imaginations well into their twenties before stumbling into the fruition of their promise. But here’s a band whose lead singer can’t even vote yet, and they’re tossing off arrangements like “Fruit Fly” that rival Wilco’s “Pieholden Suite” or McCartney’s epic “Rinse the Raindrops” in their complexity and range. Both Succession, I Guess and The City Tree flash with the developing maturity of a young band that threatens to grab the world by the throat and howl in its face before long–just as soon as they register for Fall classes and submit their senior portfolios. “Right now our education is the top priority for all of us,” Teddy says, “But during our vacations we spend almost everyday writing songs, practicing, playing shows and recording–our vacation time previews what life will be like for us after graduation.” It also previews what life might be like for fans when they can do this full time–and it looks good. Very, very good.

MGMT: Surf Jungle Country is Born!

30th March

mgmt.jpg

“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars”

– MGMT

If it already feels like you’ve taken one too many sips of hallucinogenic mushroom tea while stepping inside another episode of VH1’s “Where Are They Now,” especially the part where the featured “artists” do lots of drugs, get fat and completely forgotten by the world, and then try to not be forgotten anymore by making really terrible music in their middle age for a “comeback” tour attended by thirteen-and-a-half people worldwide, that’s as it should be: You’re reading an article about MGMT, a duo of self-described “mystic paganists” devoted to “opening the third eye of the world” with their debut LP Oracular Spectacular. The album’s first track, “Time to Pretend,” which is featured in the new movie 21 about some MIT kids who took Vegas to the cleaners by learning to count cards, takes aim at every one of those VH1 cliches with the sharp arrow of the band’s notorious sarcasm:

I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life.
Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.
I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do.
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute.

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend . . .

There’s really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.
The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce
We’ll find some more models, everything must run it’s course.

We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

“We were really sarcastic when we met them,” Van Wyngarden tells Rolling Stone of his first meeting with Columbia Records execs, who soon signed MGMT to a four-album deal worth six figures, “They asked us for a list of dream producers, so we made one: Prince, Barack Obama, Nigel Godrich and ‘Not Sheryl Crow.’ ” Culturespill’s vote, for what it’s worth, is for “Not Sheryl Crow”–not EVER, in fact.


MGMT: “Electric Feel,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Oracular, a collection of psychadelic synth-pop jams in which Andrew Van Wyngarden sounds like he’s singing from under water and inside the sun simultaneously, at turns Mick Jagger and Andy Gibb, is an easy choice as Culturespill’s inaugural “Best Band You’ve Never Heard of” installment. But you’ll be hearing plenty about them soon. The album debuted on UK charts at the 12 spot, and the band’s core members, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, have graced just about every major magazine’s “artists to watch” reports in the past year, including feature coverage in Spin, BBC and Rolling Stone.

Of course, getting feature coverage in Rolling Stone can be a bit like getting a sharp stick to the eye–the magazine wreaks of perfume ads and spends more time endorsing politicians and pop wannabes these days than it does talking about something called “music”–you know, the stuff it was founded for. But while obsolete rags like Rolling Stone strive desperately for a contrived coolness–kind of like that scrawny white boy in high school who came to class with a lunch packed by mom and boasted of many untrue sexcapades in his best Ebonics to fit in–the boys of MGMT do their damnedest to fit nowhere at all.

They got their start doing “these obnoxious, noisy live electronic shows . . . where we would write these weird techno loops and arrangements that we could play with live.” Remarking on “these weird California Credence-style songs” they wrote to perform live a while back, Andrew and Ben explain that “A lot of people hated it. That used to be the goal of our shows. We were still trying to be obnoxious and somehow people got into it.”


MGMT: “Time to Pretend,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Drenched in addictive hooks that marry Prince and The Flaming Lips in a union of space-funk and soul that somehow captures exactly the sound the band describes on their MySpace page–“surf jungle country”–Oracular delivers a sound that’s as fresh in 2008 as Beck’s was in 1994, leaping onto the scene with the same “we don’t care” abandon that “Loser” brought to the biz back then. And people are “getting into it”–lots of them. It’s no accident that the album vaguely echoes The Flaming Lips. Oracular IS produced, after all, by David Fridmann, the captain at the console for many a Flaming Lips album. Roll Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots with some speed-laced nicotine and you’ve got the addictive mindfuck that is Oracular Spectacular.

Apart from their music, though, what’s refreshing about Ben and Andrew is their indifference to the punk-rock disdain for corporate influence that has itself become one of the cliches they expose, claiming instead to have “talked a lot about selling out as soon as possible” before anyone but their buddies knew who they were. Touché! Nonetheless, here’s to hoping that next year’s Grammy Awards completely ignore this masterpiece deserving of universal adoration, a neglect that has become a seal of approval for bands too good to be caught on TV with Brittney and Beyonce–and let’s hope it stays that way, for the sake of both the band and their growing number of fans.

And keep your eyes peeled for a curious little LP rumored to be out “in early 2009,” featuring an indie supergroup of sorts that emerged from MGMT’s recent tour with indie pop prodigies, Of Montreal. Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s frontman, has teamed up with Andrew VanWyngarden to form a side project called Blikk Fang. Judging from the certainty with which Spin projects an LP release due next year, the two of them seem pretty serious about it.