From Khelan Bhatia. Follow Khelan on Twitter @KhelanB or email him at khelan[AT]borderstan.com. You can find him at the 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, Blackbird, American Ice Company, or dj’ing every other Thursday or so at the Duplex Diner.”
Hi there, Borderstanis. Yep, still pinch hitting for the music column. Nope, they still haven’t found a regular. BTW, what do we all think of the column name “BorderSound?” Too on-the-nose? Too gauche? Well, it’s a work in progress.
As I mentioned last week, I’m a nut for music (there’s an argument to be made that I’m a nut. Full stop. But that’s neither here nor there). There are few things more elating than listening to a truly magnificent debut album from an up-and-coming artist. Especially when you can feel the raw talent traveling from the speakers (or earbuds) directly to your eardrums. It’s euphoric, really. Conversely, there’s nothing more disappointing than a mediocre (or truly terrible) second album by same artist.
You ask yourself, “This is not my beautiful band? This is not my beautiful sound? How did I get here?” (BTW, if you caught that reference, you’re my soul mate.) You can call it a sophomore-slump. You can call it sequel-itis. I’ll never call it back (or rather, I’ll pass by each track when I have my iPod on shuffle). Don’t get me wrong. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure the second time you come out of the gate. Make it too similar to the first and everyone calls you a one-trick pony. Make it too different and you risk alienating your audience.
And there are the few, wonderful, marvelous times, when an artist (or band you love) just outdoes his or herself. And that’s exactly how I felt when Miike Snow released their second album, “Happy to You” a couple of months ago. When I first discovered them (yes, them, it’s not just one guy, despite the misleading name), I was mesmerized by their ethereal, yet slightly sinister sound. Think of them as an electronic version of a Post-Revolver Beatles, without the Ravi Shankar influence. And then I went to their show back in February or March of 2010. It was one of those moments (well, the moment lasted about 45 minutes) that made me wish I could bottle up exactly what I experienced during their show at the 9:30 Club. It was completely superior to the already-excellent recorded album.
Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been listening to “Happy to You” for the last few weeks, coming to the conclusion that it’s a worthy, if not slightly better, sophomore effort (IMHO, the percussion on the second album is better than the first). I’m anxiously awaiting their April 28 concert at 9:30, having bought my ticket months in advance. The day of the show arrives and in true OCD fashion, I get there right as the doors open so I can find just the right spot (and, of course, to catch Penguin Prison, the opening act — fantastic BTW). During that period between the end of the opening act’s set and before the main event begins (I affectionately refer to it as the Twilight Zone), a wave of panic passed through me. What if they’re not as good as I remember? What if the new album is a bit shit live?
And then… they come out. And there’s a spaceship on the stage.
It goes without saying that the fear was replaced by a sense of… awesomeness? Is that the right word? Whatever, it was g*ddamn transcendent. Truly. Miike Snowe opened their set with “Enter the Jokers Lair,” the initial track on their second album. What followed was an hour-and-change of a back-and-forth between songs from the new album and the first album. The highlights for this reviewer were “The Wave,” a surreal pop song that begins with a military drum and “Paddling Out,” essentially their response to mid-90’s Mobyesque house music. After the concert finished, I left 9:30 with the realization that I saw lightning strike twice.
I just hope we won’t have to wait another few years before they return to the District. In a spaceship.