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First Nation & Bear in Heaven

To cap off 2006, we’re talking about bands that will launch us into 2007.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be focusing on groups that are clearly proceeding into the New Year with an innovative cutting edge. Today, we have two young New York bands–one all-male, the other all-female–sharing similar musical approaches, but rising out of, and heading into, two completely different worlds.

I met Bear in Heaven on Myspace. Amidst the continual flow of musicians that emerge from that post-modern playground, few have caught my attention as quickly as they did. This was at the beginning of last summer. I knew I was going to New York, so when I happened upon them, I immediately asked if I could film them in the streets of their city.

Alright, a quick note about their name, which just happened to come at the wrong moment. What is this animal trend, anyway? After the “Wolf” in every genre, suddenly “Bears” are everywhere–Panda Bear, Grizzly Bear… And now this one from paradise.

On their record (they’re currently looking for a label to release their first full-length album, which is entirely unique and captivating), the arrangements are undoubtedly clever; it’s a collection of folk gems formed by boundless echoes. Comparisons with Grizzly Bear aren’t entirely unwarranted, considering the two groups’ formal similarity: a one-man band picking up more members as time goes on. In the beginning, it was Jon Philpot’s solo project. (Jon’s the one singing in the video, and he also released a great EP in 2003 with Eastern Developments, Scott “Prefuse” Herren’s label). As time went on, a score of friends were added to the project, which immensely enhanced the sound. Rhythms were changed, electronic textures added here, a little beach ambiance thrown in there, and so on.

When I met them in the heart of Manhattan, the circumstances were initially tense. Jon was lively and charming, but his buddies were not. They were fashionably situated in the corner, uninspired–we hadn’t even begun, and they looked bored. It really seemed to me they didn’t want to do this. And the fact that we were having them play acoustic (sorry boys, we didn’t come with all the portable equipment to make it happen electric) made me imagine the worst. What if their music lost all its ingenuity once you cleared away the production values and the electronics? This is an essential question we’ve been asking ourselves ever since this project began. In spite of these fears, however, we began shooting on the rooftop of a corner building, and the guys started to loosen up and engage with the video. It was pretty decent, considering that the song had to be adapted and modified at the last minute. Immediately following this, we hopped in a car and headed towards Union Square. I had a simple idea for the mise en scène: they would play the piece in the car while “playing” the car horn as well. The song, entitled “For Beauty”, really took off, and the end result is pretty amazing–especially considering how different it is from the album version. Everything ended smoothly: cheeriness all around, everyone cool and happy. A pleasant surprise.

#29.1 – FOR BEAUTY

Réal : Vincent Moon

Shot in Paris, 2006

As for First Nation, they already released their first album (rather quietly) at the beginning of last summer on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label. It’s a pretty good first release, although not perfect–it’s missing three or four songs. It does, however, break open new horizons between avant-pop and pygmy music. First Nation has been deemed the “little sisters” of the most important group of the past three years. (Who doesn’t believe that Animal Collective transformed the face of music?) It’s also important to mention that Abby, Dave “Avey Tare” Portner’s sister, has just joined First Nation on percussion, replacing Melissa from Telepathe. It is, however, the strength of the two singers, Nina and Kate, that drives most of the band’s sound.

They had just come from doing a show in the gentrified Dumbo district of Brooklyn. When I asked them about it, they told me it was at this sort of weird, open-air festival sponsored by a beer company. One of those things where any halfway decent spectacle will make the masses happy, hosted by a guy who will gracelessly interrupt the concert in mid-song to announce the winners of a contest for god-knows-what. Nevertheless, that’s how it is. A show with First Nation and Scott Mou (who comprises half of the project Jane, along with Noah from Panda Bear) in front of a dozen spectators…oohh, New York!

The girls immediately proved to be charming and open to the idea of doing a video. However, since they were so tired from the show, they would only do one song…which left them disappointed, and me craving more. The song, “Female Trance”, is a real masterpiece from their repertoire. In the video, however, the song is really stripped away to its core—completely naked, and yet still so engaging. That little flute melody really pulls you into its spell…

First Nation passed quickly through France last summer for a single show at the Midi Festival. They’re returning for a longer stay this summer, mostly to play the awesome festival Villette Sonique, our own little All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Don’t miss the true New York experiences–the kind that open up new musical horizons, far from all the hype around the repetitive, hollow-sounding trends we hear everywhere. After all, it’s good to feel disoriented and lose your words…

#29.2 – FEMALE TRANCE

Réal : Vincent Moon

Shot in Paris, 2006

Translation by Matthew Evans