Staff Trax: Japanther, Local Natives, Spoon, James Mercer, Rialto, Yes, The Life and Times, Hot Chip

Welcome to Staff Trax, the weekly feature here on DC9 where we shed some light on the music we've been enjoying of late, regardless of the touring or album release schedules that tend to bear the focus of most of our coverage. It's a chance for you readers to get more insight into our own personal tastes. Anyway, don't think too much about it. Just listen, mkay?

Japanther -- "Um Like Your Smile is Totally Ruling Me,"
Seeing that Japanther has been around for a decade, I feel kind of foolish having just recently stumbled upon this impressive duo from New York City. And, to make matters worse, the band's excellent 2008 full length Tut Tut, Now Shake Ya Butt sat on my desk for at least a couple of months before I was intrigued enough by the cover art to finally give it a listen. Once I was exposed to the joyful noise of Japanther, I was hooked. Butt's second cut, the pulsating "Um Like Your Smile is Totally Ruling Me," begins with a hilarious spoken word sample and then proceeds to rock like all holy hell. There is indeed a righteous noise coming from Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly. This is what punk rock sounded like before it became a corporate entity. --Darryl Smyers

Local Natives -- "Wide Eyes"
After being severely let down by Yeasayer's "more accessible" electro-infused sophomore album, Odd Blood, I stumbled a across these guys and, fortunately for me, they've been filling the void: The Los Angeles natives in Local Natives have been amusing the heck out of me all week with their multi-part harmonies, frantic drumming, and escapist lyrical content. And while Local Natives may be comparable to Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, and well, yes, pre-Odd Blood Yeasayer, the band certainly contains its own individual aesthetic. Its debut album, Gorilla Manor, was released in the U.S. on February 16, and the band is scheduled to play The Cavern on April 22. Above is a live version of, "Wide Eyes" one of my favorite tracks off Gorilla Manor. You may also listen to--and download--the entire album off the band's website. --Catherine Downes

-- "Utilitarian"

For a band that doesn't really rock out as often as it spaces out, "Utilitarian," an early Spoon tune, is one that, for them, rocks pretty hard. Of course it features the reverb studio guitar tricks they are known for, but it's also kind of a party-starter. --Lance Lester

James Mercer -- "Caring Is Creepy"
Other than the customary springtime listens to Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow, I haven't really thought too much about the Shins since college. It's not that Natalie Portman and legions of fawning female fans ruined them for me or anything--I still think "New Slang" is just about flawless, even if it should be permanently banned from mix tapes for the rest of eternity. I just never thought they could top Oh, Inverted World, and, after seeing some magical performances at fairly small Austin venues in 2001 or so, I couldn't stomach paying the big bucks to hear sorority girls cackle through the band's sets at venues like the Palladium. I haven't given a proper listen to frontman James Mercer's Broken Bells project yet. (Here's a question: Has anyone besides Cee-Lo ever collaborated with Danger Mouse more than once?) But the on-line hubbub surrounding it's release allowed me to stumble upon this 2004 recording of James Mercer's solo set at the Moonshine Festival, a charming little recording that features the Shins frontman approximating the intertwining guitars and keyboards of songs like "Caring Is Creepy" with a little Neil Young-style harmonica. For old fans, it's a great way to hear the songs in a new light--you can definitely make out a few more lyrics in this setting--and the telling cover of Young's "Harvest" in the set isn't too shabby, either. --Noah W. Bailey

Rialto -- "Monday Morning"
Back in 1998, I was a clerk in CD Warehouse in Mesquite. I'd listened to just about every used record that rotated through our bins, and, eventually, I stumbled across this gem. If a pop record can be cinematic, then Rialto's self titled album is film noir all the way through. And the band managed to do it without losing its Brit-pop fundamentals. It's too bad that Rialto never saw any real success other than a few charting singles in the UK. This record remains on my all-time heavy rotation. --Daniel Hopkins

Yes -- "Heart of the Sunrise"
Maybe it's because the band recently played the House of Blues. Maybe it's because The Mars Volta hasn't been giving me the same prog fix as it did on its earlier records. But, for whatever reason, I suddenly decided that I needed Yes's "Heart of the Sunrise" on the iPod so badly, that I settled for buying the entire Fragile LP on iTunes, which is the only way to get this infuriating, 11-minute assault of quirky passages and very testy instrumentation. Yeah, it's "that song from Buffalo '66" that was cleverly laced all through the movie, but it works so much better served up as one, big foot-long of classic prog instead of divvied up into bite size noshables. --Alan Ayo

The Life and Times -- "My Last Hostage"
As I scoured a few stores looking for my pick from last week's Staff Trax (Lifetime's self-titled fourth album), I found a copies of The Life and Times' debut EP and LP. Along with the band's second album, Tragic Boogie, you really can't go wrong with this trio. It sounds like the right kind of band that took influence from Failure and turned it into something forward. Sure beats sounding like Deftones-lite. --Eric Grubbs

Hot Chip -- "One Life Stand"
Firmly stuck in my head for the past week is the title track from Hot Chip's latest release, One Life Stand. The two principle singer-songwriters for Hot Chip strike me as being musically obsessive and residing somewhere on the nerd end of the personality scale--two characteristics that cut a little too close to the bone for me. They've written some of the catchiest dance floor tunes I've heard in the past four years and, when I think of bands I can't wait to see again, it's Hot Chip that comes to mind first. This song demonstrates how the band has lyrically evolved beyond sly takes on hip-hop bravado. And the video has me obsessively checking to see when the band will be returning to town. --Doug Davis

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs