Category: The Shins

Coachella 2012: St. Vincent, Feist were out to challenge

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At the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a pair of giant orbs stood near the food tents. Inside were circular dance rooms. But the attempt at transporting listeners to another realm via space-age domes of dance simply dropped festival-goers into mini, Hollywood-like clubs. Back outside and gimmick-free, a trio of artists used a different approach, moving fans with their music -- and did it with a traditional instrument known as the guitar.

Annie Clark is diminutive and soft-spoken. More than soft spoken, rather, she is a careful speaker. Her thoughts aren’t said so much as crafted. As St. Vincent, Clark is something else entirely, equally frightful, high-strung and hostile. At Coachella, Clark was in full guitar slayer mode. Her songs are based around melodies that could have been lifted from a nursery rhyme, but Clark rips them apart one shard at a time, like an animal toying with its prey.

Introducing songs, Clark told the Coachella crowd that “this next one is inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s personal writings” (“Surgeon"), and then later: “You guys can totally dance to this one” (“Marrow”). Yet the rhythm was more spastic than it was a comfortable beat, and both songs sounded as if they were conjured from a dream. Clark’s guitar, which she struck, teased and stretched out one string at a time, was the nightmare interrupting.

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Across the field, James Mercer was leading his retooled Shins through a set on the mainstage. When it comes to hooks and melodies, the Shins don’t try to distort or hide them, but the band comes at them patiently. The most current lineup is adept at shading, filling every melodic crest and fall with brightly twinkling textures.

It added a touch of magic to the act's repertoire, and it was fitting, then, that the band tackled Pink Floyd’s “Breathe.” It brought a quartet of audience members, outfitted as wizards (of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”-ilk), to its feet, and the group swayed and grooved to the slow-moving reverie.

Depending on where one walked on the Coachella grounds, the Shins would soon be drowned out. The artist bleeding into the band’s refined arrangements was Feist, the Canadian singer-songwriter who made it clear that she’s left behind her more polite past.

“The Bad in Each Other” constructed its rhythm as if in a panic. Later, “Graveyard” was built around ghostly backing harmonies, courtesy of Mountain Man, and a full horn and string section, sounds from which seemed to hover rather than flow.

Feist doesn’t let things get too serious, however. If one wasn’t paying close attention during “Caught A Long Wind,” you’d miss her joking that the song was actually an outtake from Dr.Dre’s “The Chronic,” the solo debut from Coachella’s Sunday night headliner.

A quick laugh, and then she was on to “Undiscovered First,” in which rhythms sound as if they’re trying to build a fire and her guitar slithers like a rattlesnake. Her voice trailed into a violin strand as she asked, “Is it wrong to want more?” It’s a question all three artists sought to answer in their work.

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-- Todd Martens 

Photo: Annie Clark of St. Vincent performs at the Empire Polo Field during Day 2 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. Credit: Karl Walter / Getty Images for Coachella

No luck needed, 'Hunger Games' dominates U.S. pop chart

The soundtrack to "The Hunger Games" debuted at No. 1 this week

The musical companion to "The Hunger Games" emerged as the clear leader on this week's pop chart, bolstered by contributions from the likes of Taylor Swift, the Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and Maroon 5, among many others. The disc, "The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond," sold 175,000 copies in its first week of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan, easily placing it ahead of longtime chart ruler Adele. 

However, "The Hunger Games" didn't quite dominate the music industry in the way it did the film business this past week, as the instant blockbuster debuted with a staggering $155 million take at the box office, but it is the first soundtrack to top the Billboard charts since "Michael Jackson's This Is It" did so in late 2009. Yet the soundtrack, released by Universal Republic, is something of a stand-alone set piece, as only three of its 16 tracks are actually in the film. Those that made the cinematic cut can be heard in the end credits. 

Alongside its roster of big-name artists, the soundtrack does showcase two students from the USC Thornton School of Music. Singer-songwriter Jayme Dee has a song of her own, “Rules,” on the album, and junior Rozzi Crane is featured singing with Maroon 5 on the track “Come Away.” 

The soundtrack is one of five debuts inside the top 10, but the only real contender for the top spot. Adele's Grammy-winning "21" is at No. 2 this week, adding an additional 130,000 sales to its tally of more than 8.3 million.

The major label debut from pop band the Shins, "Port of Morrow," lands at No. 3. The former Sub Pop act is now working for Sony's Columbia Records, and "Port of Morrow" sold a little more than 74,000 copies this week.The Shins' final album for Sub Pop, 2007's "Wincing the Night Away," bowed at No. 2 after selling 118,000 copies in its first week.

Controversy-courting local hip-hop outfit Odd Future is also working with Sony, partnering with the major for its own Odd Future Records, and the act scores a No. 5 debut this week with  "The OF Tape Vol. 2." The collection sold 40,000 copies this week. It's similar to where the act's creative center, Tyler, the Creator, entered the chart about one year ago. His "Goblin," released independently on XL Recordings, also landed at No. 5, having sold 45,000 copies in its first week. 

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Ludacris back at No. 1 with 'Battle of the Sexes'

Ludacris 2008 Mel Melcon

Atlanta rapper-actor Ludacris is back atop the national sales chart with his latest, “Battle of the Sexes,” his third No. 1 album and the first rap collection to make it to the top since Jay-Z’s “Blueprint” logged two weeks there in September.

It’s a rebound of sorts for the rhymer born Christopher Bridges, after his 2008 album, “Theater of the Mind,” made it only as high as No. 5. “Battle of the Sexes” had first-week sales of 137,000 copies, putting it just ahead of the new Gorillaz effort, “Plastic Beach,” opening at No. 2 on sales of 112,000 copies.

In a strong week for new releases, with five debuting in the Top 10, the posthumous Jimi Hendrix collection “Valleys of Neptune” enters the chart at No. 4, on sales of 95,000 copies. That’s one notch higher than the peak position of his landmark 1967 debut album, “Are You Experienced?,” and right behind 1968’s “Axis: Bold as Love” and 1971’s “The Cry of Love,” both of which peaked at No. 3. The rock guitar hero scored his only No. 1 album in 1968 with “Electric Ladyland.”

The other new entries to the chart this week are from Southland-reared country singer Gary Allan, who debuts at No. 5 on sales of 65,000 copies of “Get Off the Pain,” and  Broken Bells, the new group featuring producer Danger Mouse and Shins singer James Mercer. Their collaboration, also called “Broken Bells,” starts out at No. 7 with sales of 49,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Ludacris. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Shins frontman James Mercer goes up-tempo

The singer has a movie coming out, a tour starting up and a new album to work on.

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James Mercer went to the movie audition last year expecting the worst. He wasn't even an actor but a singer-songwriter and the leader of a hugely popular indie-rock band called the Shins. But he was drawn to the character of Eli, a 35-year-old musician whose band and career are hopelessly stalled. "He's now doing temp jobs and is worried about his future," Mercer says of Eli. "Kind of like me 10 years ago."

A lot can happen in a decade. He eventually got that co-starring role in "Some Days Are Better Than Others," set for release in August. And with the Shins, Mercer has risen from his early bedroom recordings in Albuquerque to be the frontman of a million-selling indie-rock band, making music emotional and philosophical, with vivid melodies and an equal flair for understated ballads and rousing pocket symphonies of pop.

The band's last album, 2007's "Wincing the Night Away," showed a weakness for pop harmonies and a tradition of song craft practiced by the likes of the Beach Boys. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, suggesting an army of followers waiting to hear of the Shins' every move.

"Maybe it makes you work a little harder," says Mercer, 38. "I'm trying to avoid having regrets about missing opportunities. That would be the worst thing. Like having an audience waiting, and not working hard enough, and coming out with a record that disappointed them. It's just really work. The more you put in, the more you get out."

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