Movits! are one of those things that people describe with phrases that you think couldn’t possibly be accurate – like “swing jazz big band hip hop fusion” or “Swedish” – but actually get it just right. They’re two tall blonde brothers with Meatpacking haircuts (shaved on the side, long and floppy on top with no fade) and one dark-haired guy who’s a bit more continental and from a less hot distrikt. A playlist of their songs is exactly what you want to put on at your party — peppy but not overwhelming at a volume that you can talk over and completely danceable with a few more clicks.
You know in mainstream teen or twenty-something moves when the characters are at some incredible party that is too grand and coordinated for their social circle and there’s always a live band that’s actually a cameo by a real group like Bishop Allen in Nick and Norah’s? Movits! would be perfect for that. Other than that, these guys are total outliers and don’t fit into any stereotype except every single one about Scandinavians and mine about how socio-economic class and elevation of residence are correlated in oscillations — well-off folks will live at in sea-level towns like Luleå, folks that live in hills and minor mountains like the Blue Ridge and the Smokies are all poor, rich people live in mile-high mountains like in Colorado or the Alps, everyone living higher up in this atmosphere like on Everest or K2 is a poor Sherpa, and then after that, there’s space. There are no poor people in space.
Sometimes, Americans are too close to the culture to understand it:
Movits! – Fel Del Av Gården
Everyone’s done it. You’re sitting around, bored in the dorm with your best buddy. There’s a guitar and some band name ideas that you don’t write down. Whenever this happens, neither person can ever play drums, but that doesn’t matter since you know you can make beats with technology – that’s how they do it in hip-hop. Now most times, the project fizzles from there – after all, there are sports and alcohol and girls and you can always just say you’re in a band. Well, these guys actually stuck with it as undergrads at Harvard, and released an album in 2003 where they performed and produced every part (a few friends helped) and later spent an entire year releasing an EP every month. Their songs have been in movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and No Strings Attached and in ad campaigns for Target.
Basically, Vampire Weekend is just retracing their steps. But Vampire Weekend is kind of a bitch, and you’re cool bringing Bishop Allen around your friends or just staying in. Trust me, it’s easier that way. And it’s fine, we all mellow out a little as we get older and sometimes we’d rather have old friends over to gray-out on wine and all wear outfits, instead of melting into a strange dancefloor’s compact mass and deforming spacetime into a blackout.
Sunny but not too hot:
Click, Click, Click, Click – Bishop Allen
White Chucks and a lettermans jacket with a hardcover book:
The History of Excuses – Bishop Allen
If you want to put your dick in my mouth, Jason Schwartzman, why don’t you just do it. I am so angry with you, so mad at you, that my mouth is just waiting to touch your lolli.
I was so settled on being nobody. But you had to go out and make all of us passively hipstered nobodies feel bad. Some creep with hoarder tendencies decided to make a creepshow movie called Rushmore, with a depressed Bill Murray (easy) and some mesmerizing older British chick (how hard is that) with straight teeth (harder). The movie was almost dead because quaint-as-fuck Wes Andersen couldn’t find the deadpan geek.
And then some moled-out dweeb swoops out of nowhere, and ushers in an empire of idiosyncratic stereotypes and cooler-than-you’ll-ever-be soundtracks. Now look at you, Jason Schwartzman. You and Wes Andersen still dry hump. You still have moles. You still look like me and every other middle schooler circa mille neuf cent quatre vingt quinze.
But now you are rolling around kissing Natalie Portman’s bottom in an internet prequel to a useless movie. But now you have a band called Coconut Records.
This is where the steam billows out of my ears. You sit down, close your eyes, and shit out upbeat indie, downbeat EMO, 60s pop, white disco-rock, quaint She and Him bullshit, pseudo French-folk, and it’s just all so goddamn listenable. And you don’t even promote your band. All those Wes Andersen chubs would melt over this, but you just don’t care. You don’t care. You can just do whatever you wants. Write a bizarre mix of tracks, swoon around with ol dead blue eyes Zooey Deschanel, go kiss Natalie Portman’s fanny, touch Selma Blair’s boy chest, and if you feel like it, put out a great album that you could care less if anyone listens to it. Thanks. Now, I’m the asshole.
P.S. Have you ever had a lonely cat? It’s the saddest thing in the world.
Traditional Hazy L.A. Indie-Pop:
Coconut Records – West Coast
French-Appalachian Duet with Zooey Deschanel (I still think the Bones one is prettier):
Coconut Records – This Old Machine
Eliot Smith-ish but Less Heart-Stabbing:
Coconut Records – Microphone
Perfect name for this group. But don’t think Florida or Hawaii. Think Northeast offseason, maaaaybe shoulder season. It’s all calm and teak and longing. But that’s a little too romantic. There’s definitely an abandoned boardwalk amusement park with slow-mo rides and temporary carneys too. And that works since they’re from Baltimore which is all seafood and shuttered doors all the time.
Mazzy Star Melting:
Beach House – Apple Orchard
Ok. No need to pussyfoot around like kittens in mittens. They sound like early Strokes. They do. Albert Hammond Jr. even produces some of their songs. But clean that mess up, the Strokes used to be awesome. You remember how every damn night you’d be in some bar’s basement with Last Nite playing while you made out heavy with some solid youth in skinny black jeans before everybody wore them. Now, a staggering bar-banger comes on and you’re just having fun with your buddies and by the time you look up, it’s closing time and the only girl still around is a big old mare. That’s your mare, that’s your night, that girl is called a nightmare and when you wake up the next morning you realize you just had one. But the fat bottom line is that The Postelles’ White Night kills it and you can tell yourself that you made her rocking world go ’round.
Urban youth rock for fit kids:
The Postelles – White Night
I’m pretty sure he’s not, but he looks half black and half Jewish and probably had a real badass older brother who looked like Lenny Kravitz and who had a motorcycle and banged every cheerleader in school (or the French version of a cheerleader – a mime or accordion player or whatever), and would kick the shit out of anyone who messed with his little bro. Ben didn’t have the kevorka to pull off that style and date the Heathers, but he looked around and realized there were all these French girls who were secret stunners, Rachael Leigh Cooking it in sweaters and glasses, so he started dressing like a J. Crew model, listening to Loudon Wainright, making furniture out of found materials, and burning CDs with MP3 files while everyone else was stuck with 12 WAV tracks so he could make mixes of hundreds of unreleased recordings from Stax Records.
Ben looks like his name should be Amos. Like he never smells and wakes up and his hair is perfect, but he uses cologne and gel anyway just because he likes certain brands. He looks like a nice Terrence Howard – before Terrence became personally outraged by the history of African-American oppression, put a chip on his shoulder and stopped trusting authority. Ben’s on Motown Records in France (though technically all of Motown records is French, being owned by a subsidiary of French conglomerate Vivendi – whoops, pow, surprise!) and actually chose his stage name based on the bow-tied grandpa on the Uncle Ben’s Rice box. There’s so much fodder here for a really charged discourse on the archetypes of race, they teach an Ethnic Studies senior seminar at Berkeley on Ben. Cornel West hates him so so bad for repurposing rhythm and blues and repackaging the music of the American black man’s struggle into smiling entertainment for Europeans, although it’s not “black” enough for the Poles. I met this Polish girl in Stockholm where she was the coat check girl at the Hard Rock Café, which is actually a very hip, non-touristy spot in Northern Europe, and she told me that Polish men hate black guys, not because of any direct racism, but because Polish women are so into them. She thought it was because hip-hop symbolized the West and freedom to Poles. Every Polish girl I’ve ever met has been really cool, but I’ve never been to Poland so there may be some self-selection at play for the Polish girls who travel or live abroad.
Admittedly, there’s some available kitsch in liking poppy soul music sung by a 27-year old French kid, but the songs make you feel good and Ben’s a good performer. And anyway, the whole point of this blog is to let you know about just-sub-mainstream music that you may or may not have already known so you can add some songs to your music library and give you a talking point or two to authenticate your interest, to at least the level of the first page of Google search results, so that other people think you’re a little cooler, and to pass it all along with some ramblings styled retroactively on purpose after Vice’s Dos-and-Don’ts but weighed down with a remorsefully small amount of upper middle class guilt.
So what have we got from Uncle Ben (né Benjamin Duterde – I found out that né is the masculine inflection of née like ten minutes ago)? He released an EP in 2009 called Soul Wash whereon he does soul covers of American pop and rock songs like The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl and Gnarles Barkely’s Crazy. His first full-length, Uncle Ben’s Soul, came out May 2010. And, no joke, his debut was starring in a 2005 short rom-com film called Soul Wash The Movie where he plays the owner of a failing record shop which he saves after receiving a magic potion called “Soul Wash.” Ice Cube and Queen Latifah weren’t in it.
P.S. Isn’t it weird that when people get married they start calling their spouse’s parents “mom and dad?” Is incest not taboo anymore?
Smooth, carefree, sunny clefs:
Ben l’Oncle Soul – Soulman
Like taking candy and babies:
Ben l’Oncle Soul – Seven Nation Army
This is one of those bands that’s been around forever, been tied to a lot of more popular bands, and done a ton of commercial work, but never really became household. It’s even better linking a band like that than a new, really obscure one. Yeah, it’s great when an absolute stunner from Montana or somewhere walks into your life, but it’s even better when you finally notice that girl who’s always been around and is friends with all your friends but none of your buddies ever dated because she was a few years younger and hadn’t developed or found her style yet.
These guys formed back in ’96 in NYC via a posting in a guitar shop, but have toured with the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Hives and the Kings of Leon, wrote the title track to the move, School of Rock (Jack Black even stars in a couple of their videos), had songs features in video games like Madden and Shaun White Snowboarding, a DKNY ad campaign, and movies like Tropic Thunder, Grandma’s Boy and the Fun With Dick and Jane remake with Jim Carey and that tight-bodied Tea Leoni, and have even an uncited line on their Wikipedia page stating “they broke up shortly afterwards but soon reunited at the behest of the Donnas.” God, remember what a wet-dream it was for teenage boys and marketing execs to have a punk pop band of decent-looking girls that seemed like they might go home with you even if they weren’t drunk?
They’ve got an EP followed by three LPs and they really hit their stride on the middle two releases, Electric Sweat and Alive and Amplified, which, yeah, are cool names, but also are perfectly descriptive of their contents. You wouldn’t want to put on their songs when it’s just you at home wearing white crew socks or at a party with a lot of alcohol choices, but they’re perfect for (i) walking through the city when you’ve got to be somewhere soon, (ii) adding to the same damn playlist you’ve used on the treadmill for the last year, (iii) the last song at the pre-party before everyone goes out to the bars, and/or (iv) when you’re hosting a party and realize it’s 3am, anyone with any ambitions of seeing the sun tomorrow has gone and everyone left has been drinking Red Bull vodkas and eating Adderall.
You should see them live – even though they’re kind of old now they still kill a tweaked out show and make it seem like you can touch time and find that it’s not brittle, you can’t snap it, but it is malleable and you can stretch it apart like Laffy Taffy. I never understood the tagline, “Snap into a Slim Jim” since Slim Jim’s don’t snap. Also I’m happy for his family that when the Macho Man’s heart finally exploded from all the steroids, he was driving sao his technical cause of death was a little less self-inflicted.
Good ol’ fashion tube sock rock:
The Donnas – Take It Off
So what we’ve got here is basically just a French-Canadian Suicide Girl with a sweet indie-pop voice who’s cooler and cuter than your sister and any girlfriend you’ve ever had. Ugh, TGIF.
What do you call the dye job where there’s platinum blonde on top but when you lift it up it’s all black? She’s got that. Plus the smoky eye makeup and playful tattoo sleeve. She also has that turned up aristocratic nose that lets you look straight into her nostrils without bending down like she’s a skull – only girls who speak French or Scandinavian girls who speak better English than you can pull off that nose. She looks like I wish Regina Spektor did and she throws in a ligature combining the ‘o’ and the ‘e,’ to get to Cœur de pirate (née Béatrice Martin).
I bet she was cute as a kid. Apparently she was, and someone had the keen eye to take hundreds of under-aged nudie pics of her for some alt-goth porn site. Though the site took them all down at the request of her record label when she signed (in Canada, labels and asking nicely still have pull), they’re still floating around because the internet is an unstoppable rebel force like cancer eating away your organs. This is all true – you can Yahoo it. Quebec has this talk/variety show that mixes Good Morning America, The McLaughlin Group and Oprah called Tout Le Monde En Parle. It’s pretty terrible and the guests are usually Québécois, which is a word I also see written Québécoise, Quebecer and Quebecker. Remember, that other terrible show Becker, starring Ted Danson? I’ve always been really attracted to Mary Steenburgen. Anyway, our girl admitted on Tout Le Monde En Parle that all those hip skin shots were taken while she was under-aged – it was a minor scandal for a time but everyone was pretty cosmopolitan about it.
Most of her tracks sound like an almost catchy song in a foreign grocery store. I’m not sure if it is, but I think the music genre here is maybe chanson, I don’t know. But on her solo efforts, she’s best with the sad piano-stricken stuff . But what’s really great is when you have a femme adorable with an affecting voice is when you pair her with a cool music dude or two (see e.g. Frou Frou, She and Him, etc.). Cœur’s been smart enough to hitch her hag-wagon (I just like that phrase, she’s actually a foxtrot of a dance – even her cover of True Colors is amazing to the maximum, amaxing) to Jay Malinowski, who, despite looking like a badass B.J. Novak, is killin’ it on all counts – just slaying dragons and rescuing princesses every single day, hokey-pokeying in and out of genres from rock to punk to ska to dub to reggae to country to mariachi to pop, and holding art exhibits for his paintings in Toronto. Apparently, he’s sponsored by Fredy Perry, whatever that means. Cœur’s an occasional feature to Jay’s main band Bedouin Soundclash and is in another band with him called Armistice. She also plays the female lead in music videos for some of Jay’s solo efforts. Of course, they’re dating. NBD, except I don’t know which I’m more jealous of and want to replace all her birth control with Tylenol.
Mixing The Clash, Billy Joel, Sublime and Ryan Adams into one:
Bedouin Soundclash – St. Andrews
Sweet, but dark song featuring Cœur de pirate:
Bedouin Soundclash – Brutal Hearts
A simple ska/punk muted charger:
Bedouin Soundclash – Mountain Top
Alt-country soft-thumper with choreographed domestic violence as metaphor:
Jay Malinowski – Life Is A Gun (VIDEO)
Mexicali blues cum Ontario y longing:
Armistice – Mission Bells (VIDEO)