CMJ 2014: Buzzchips and MyFreeConcert Present PARLOUR TRICKS at The Living Room
PARLOUR TRICKS at The Living Room; All photos by Laura Baker-Finch
Brooklyn, New York -- Hundreds of bands descended upon New York Friday night for CMJ Music Marathon, bringing tons of awesome music to the city. PARLOUR TRICKS' set at the newly-relocated Living Room in Williamsburg as part of the Buzzchips/MyFreeConcert showcase was far from an exception. This six-piece is no stranger to the CMJ grind, with this year's Friday night set capping off a three-show run.
Anyone following PARLOUR TRICKS for the last year or so can easily detect a sharp change not only in name (until recently they went by Lily and the Parlour Tricks), but in the band's musical aesthetic as well. The only thing that has really remained constant in their sound is the inclusion of three-part female vocal harmonies. What was once more akin to a power-trio of gritty blues-rock backing the vocalists has expanded to an effect-driven pop sensibility (as evidenced by their recent Village Voice Best Pop Act win). Lily Claire, the band's lead-singer and songwriter, remains at the forefront, but now leads her cohorts in a still challenging yet decidedly more accessible format, incorporating synth-bass, electronic drums, and major key tonality.
This new sound was established from the beginning of their Friday night set with the upbeat opener "Gone" featuring electronic hand claps and catchy melodies. From there, we heard the recent hit "Requiem" - a ballad complete with a grooving bass line, computerized finger-snaps, and ethereal guitar atmospheres not necessarily found in this genre. That being said, these tracks remain accessible enough to warrant heavy radio rotation.
The understated magician of PARLOUR TRICKS is guitarist Angelo Spagnolo. He seems discontent with any form of conventional guitar playing, opting instead for discomforting riffs à la Marc Ribot or non-traditional effects reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood. While you would think this would interrupt the newfound pop sensibility of the band, it surprisingly meshes seamlessly well with the rest of the group.
The most profound moment in the set came during the slow-building "Walk in the Park." While Claire displayed her vocal prowess throughout the entire show, this instance was particularly moving. She began with a low, soft melody that climbed to an emotive peak sending chills down the spine. By setting up a strong foundation with backup vocals and the rising instrumentation, Claire is allowed to really belt out her melodies, putting on display the full emotional content of her lyrics.
One signifier of the fact PARLOUR TRICKS are fully embracing this pop direction was the inclusion of their two-covers-in-one track recently featured in a Shop Session. The band incorporated lines and melodies from Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" into Coldplay's "Magic," making the two songs entirely their own. It somehow worked perfectly, displaying a superior musicianship not found in most bands.
The band fooled the audience by declaring their most recent single "Lovesongs" as the final tune of the set before the three vocalists left the stage while Spagnolo and bassist Brian Kesley produced a low rumbling. This led into the band's epic mashup of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain," and a few others scattered throughout the track, harkening back to their old, dirty sound to close the set.
What's most exciting about PARLOUR TRICKS is their ability to retain their old, gritty sound while producing a more contemporary aesthetic. When it comes down to it, the songwriting is definitely something classic and familiar, but the elements surrounding it represent subversive tonal choices that manage not to get in the way of what's important: accessibility and emotion. It's hard to imagine a better way to go about pop music.