Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Lissie Maurus should be a household name in Illinois off the strength of her enduring ep 'Why You Runnin'. Lissie sings about her vantage point of the Mississippi River near her hometown Rockford, IL. It's refreshing to hear someone sing about the Mississippi in the Northern part of Illinois. You can hear shades of Stevie Nicks, Dusty Springfield, and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) in Lissie's vocals. Her soulful vocals tell the stories of someone much older.
On "Little Lovin' " the vocals have a brassy tone. The end of this song has a nice loose feel and Lissie sings like she is leading a sing-along in a revival tent. The Stevie Nicks comparison is apt for her delivery here.
"Wedding Bells" is a tale told from the ex- girlfriend point of view. 'The wedding bells will never ring for me' she laments after saying she got her ex's wedding invitation. The echo on her wistful vocals is commanding and reminds me of Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star).
'Oh mighty river, oh Mississippi, oh all the trouble your banks have seen. Carry these stories from north to south but round these parts your westward bound'. This is a slight twist on the classic lament of the Mississippi from folks in the South. "Oh Mississippi" captures the vitality of the great moving body of water as well as the relationship that people have with this living streaming river.
"Everywhere I Go" is in the great blues tradition of wearing your heart on your sleeve. When Lissie hits the powerful notes on this song you feel what she is saying.
Lissie is able to connect with and commit to the feelings that these songs were breathed to life from. There is a country influence here, but I wouldn't necessarily call this country music. One thing for sure, it will be hard for you to stop listening. Lissie is confident in her delivery and her voice is mesmerizing.
This Fat Possum Records release was produced by Lissie's friend Bill Reynolds, the bassist in Band Of Horses. He does a good job of capturing the unique texture of Lissie's voice which is smoky, brassy, delicate and powerful.
You can check out Lissie at Fat Possum, along with quite a few great releases that I personally own (R.L Burnside). I am working on interviewing Lissie when she comes to Chicago on Jan.15 at Metro.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
I'll also do a group of albums that came out before this year that I just became aware of this year.
Pretty Little Empire - Sweet Sweet Hands
Beautiful vocals, great songwriting, and irresistible
melodies have me still playing this a few times a
Baby Boy Killer - Pretty Little Empire
Decemberists - Hazards Of Love
My friend Paul turned me on to all of their stuff this year.
Repeated listens make whether you like the vocals a
moot point. Seek out all of their albums.
Won't Want for Love - The Decemberists
Josh Mease - Wilderness
Texan transplanted to N.Y. Great song writing.
Jazz flavored pop with Southern ease.
White Diamonds - Josh Mease
tUnE-yArDs - Bird Brains
Merrill Garbus uses a hodge -podge of sound and a
healthy dose of imagination to craft wildly
interesting pop songs.
Loney Dear - Dear John
Loney Dear polished this album and it
sounds shiny and bright. It's a hum along
Everything Turns To You - Loney Dear
Fever Ray - Fever ray
Brooding and beautiful songs that take their
time coming to life.
If I Had A Heart - Fever Ray
Dodos - Time To Die
The Dodo's shift gears a bit from the percussion
driven rhythms of Visiter. The songs on Time To
Die have a bit more of a classic song construction.
Two Medicines - Dodos
Spheriot - Bekennerschreiben
One man band Luko used touches of Kraut-rock
and 70's psychedelic and space rock. Nice
production on this complete album.
Aufmarsch der Lemminge - Spheriot
The Home Phonema - There' Nothing Left To Give Up
Pop, progressive,and post punk all color this album. This
is loose and dirty and sometimes that's the best thing
music can be.
Eisoptrophobia - The Home Phonema
South China - Washingtons
Sonically sparse songs shine a bright light on the
beautiful vocals and compositions on Washingtons.
Octopus Project - Golden Beds
Psych rock meets gorgeous hooks.
Wet Gold - Octopus Project
Older Than 2009 Albums
Alex and Sam Sounds Like This Volume 1
La Curiosite Tua Le Chat La Curiosite Tua Le Chat
Beach House - Beach House
Clownage - Premiers Maux
Learning Music - Readers, Travel
Notes and Scrathes - Uh -Oh
The Perishers - Let There Be Morning
Audra Mae - Audra Mae
Lull - Acoustique
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The Eastern European flare on The Devil Dancing is what separates Brown Bird from many other folk acts. David Lamb(guitar,banjo,percussion) started the group as a three piece with now married couple Jerusha(cello,vocals) and Jeremy (accordion, banjo,toy piano, vocals) Robinson. In those early years the group had a darker sound that surfaces at times on The Devil Dancing. Other members added later are Mike Samos (dobro, lap steel, mountain dulcimer) and Morganeve Swain (viola, cello, ukulele, vocals) now make the group a five piece that at times sounds like a seven piece. The songwriting on this album has clever wordplay about men in search of redemption.
The easy and cool nature of Lamb's vocals punctuate the first song, "Danger and Dread". 'You say there's no use tryin' to protect you from the danger and dread, though this world is made of fearsome beasts that bark and bite, we were born to put these creatures through one hell of a fight may we feast upon the flesh of any fever that befalls you tonight." The accordion accents are played in an eastern European fashion here.
"Down To The River" is a non- conventional spiritual number outfitted with choral harmonies. In most songs about going to the river there is redemption at the river. Lamb's version states, ' I went down to the river with my suffering sins, Lord I tried but the water wouldn't let me come in. Too many lives have been broken, there's too much blood on my hands, there ain't no water in this world that can turn me into an innocent man.'
The title track sparkles. It's nice mix of stringed instruments that add to the songwriting. 'You chased every demon from my guilty heart you were draggin' your claws on the walls of my veins tearin' me apart. Now I come home as a stronger, ah, stronger honest heart.'
'The man I could have been' is a running theme on The Devil Dancing. David lamb spins tales of men that can see, but not quite reach their redemption. The five piece that is Brown Bird plays as a cohesive unit that are in no rush. The songs are allowed to breath and the music frames the strong songwriting nicely. The harmonies vary and add a depth to the songs on The Devil Dancing.
Check out their myspace, they are on tour with South China (the side project of fellow band- mates Jerusha and Jeremy Robinson). I hope they come to Chicago, so I can see both of these great bands and maybe work in an interview.
Thanks to Ron at Peapod recordings.
e-music is a subscription based mp3 service that I recently signed up for. I had concerns and questions going into a subscription service. Do I have to take the same amount of music a month? Can I skip a month with out being penalized? Can I quit any time I want without penalty? On e-music you can quit any time you want. Upgrade your account to the highest level one month and then to the lowest or not at all the following month. Then start back up again.
A bit from their home page:
"eMusic was originally launched as a CD retailer in September 1995 by Creative Fulfillment, Inc. under the name eMusic. In 1998, it was acquired by Goodnoise, and in 2000, launched the world's first digital music subscription service...The groundbreaking digital music retailer was one of the first to sell DRM-free music in the popular MP3 format beginning in 1998 and became the first service to sell audiobooks in MP3 in 2007. MP3 is the only DRM-free digital format that offers all the functions of physical music products such as the CD and is compatible with all digital audio devices, including the iPod and Zune...eMusic caters to music lovers in the underserved 25-54 demographic. Its vast catalogue comprises more than 6 million tracks from over 60,000 record labels that span every conceivable music genre including rock, jazz, comedy, hip-hop, blues, classical, country, folk, children's music, electronic, world, reggae and more. The label roster includes well-known independents such as Concord Music Group, Koch, Naxos, Beggars Group, Saddle Creek, Warp, Domino, Barsuk and Merge. Recently, eMusic added the back catalogue of Sony Music Entertainment labels such as Arista, Columbia, Epic, Jive, LaFace, Legacy Recordings and RCA."
PLANS / COST
For signing up the first time you get 50 bonus tracks. You also get 50 bonus tracks when you sign a friend up. Your friend has to have an official invite for you to get the 50 credits. So if anyone reading this is really interested and wants to give it a try, send me an email and I'll send you an invite. Then once you are signed up you can get a friend to join and get 50 bonus tracks too. The cost per track is a pittance compared to i-tunes or Amazon or Lala. On my $11.99/month plan for 24 tracks that comes out to .50/track. I will be upgrading to the $20.79 next month and get 50 tracks, that's .42/track. Here's a chart of the plans:
|12 (every 30 days)||$6.49||$0.54|
|my current plan||24 (every 30 days)||$11.99||$0.50|
|Recommended||35 (every 30 days)||$15.89||$0.45|
|50 (every 30 days)||$20.79||$0.42|
|75 (every 30 days)||$30.99||$0.41|
They are known for their indie selection but have almost everything that I have looked up. The collection grows daily and the interface works smoothly. You can make friends and lists that other users can see. You can also can save the album or track for later. Before you join you can go on e-music and search their collection to see if they have what you want . (The search there is case sensitive, don't use all lower case letters). I have a lala player with some of my e-music album purchases to the right of this post.
You can buy a few tracks or the whole album. Some albums of more than 10 tracks give you a few tracks for free if you purchase the whole album at once. Also if you buy just a few tracks off an album, your account remembers what tracks you need to complete the purchase.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Listening to South China's, Washingtons, evokes images of looking out an icy window towards the Atlantic Ocean. The full force of a North-Eastern winter makes it difficult to breathe the crisp air outside. It is such a beautiful and majestic sight but at direct odds with how dangerous it can be. There is a tempered joy there that is similar to listening to Washingtons. That's not to say the music is somber but the highest of highs in this album are a faint smile at best.
The husband and wife team of Jeremy and Jerusha Robinson are South China. His background is in experimental rock. Her background is in classical. Together they create sublime, moving compositions.
The first notes of the first song "Escape" set the tone for this album. The simple piano notes and cello on this first track are beautifully played by Jerusha, her vocals languidly dancing amongst the instrumentation.
"Painting" starts off with the blurt of horns and a walking cello line. Jeremy's accordion finishes the overall muted sound. The simple harmonies between the two here are spot on.
Set against little else, the cello sounds aggressive here. There are elements of jazz and classical readily recognized on "The Sun Sets On Washington Ave.". The music builds to a crescendo at the end of the song.
"U-Haul And Green Car" is oddly enough a song about moving. The horns return here along with soaring harmonies towards the end. 'Today we drove for a long way, to our city, to make my home," Jerusha sings. Interesting to note the difference between the lyrics saying home instead of house.
Eight songs into Washingtons it's very clear what they do musically. The cello is constant throughout. And yet while listening to the sparse opening to "Sister" I start to guess where they might add the small bits of instrumentation that will inevitably come. Guitar? Accordion? It comes and it is short and sweet. 'But peace is mine at last little sister, and I feel you, at the top of the world'. The timing of Jerusha's delivery of this line is a microcosm of this album. Everything in good time.
What is striking about Washingtons is the sparse beauty of the composition of the music. There aren't any wasted notes or superfluous instrumentation. It's an album that I would be hard pressed to describe with a style. It reminds me of what they tell you in creative writing. Look at everything you've written and then get rid of 50% of what is there. You won't need that. That's what South China has done with Washingtons. What's left is a beautifully lean collection of songs that are a hint of the Spring ahead while presently you are mired in the Winter.
Check out Peapod Recordings for info about purchasing this amazing album.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
There must be something in the water in Portland Maine or perhaps just at Peapod Recordings. How else could there be three incredible bands (South China, Brown Bird, and Dead End Armory) at one label in one town in the furthest reaches of the north eastern part of America. The starting point should be how far north Portland is from a majority of the rest of the country. I am very lucky to have traveled with my wife on vacation through Portland, Maine to our destination, Bar Harbor and I can tell you that it feels detached from the rest of the U.S. by it's location. We flew into Boston and drove up the scenic Route 1 through some of the most beautiful looking places. The people of this area superseded the beauty of the scenery. Incredibly nice and genuine the people were throughout our trip through Maine. We visited in late Spring. I have a friend who was stationed in the Coast Guard in Maine who tells me that there are harsh conditions in the winter. The people there don't reflect the hardship of that cruel winter. In the music of the aforementioned bands of Peapod Records there can be somber tones, and yet it doesn't feel like isolation or anger.
I was fortunate to stumble onto Brown Bird's The Devil Dancing on Lala and inquired at Peapod about doing a review. Ron Harrity kindly sent me that album along with South China's Washingtons and Dead End Armory's Hope You're Good. I thought of writing a big piece about the label and it's location and small blurbs and recommending all three albums. The more I listened the more I realized it would end up 4 posts, this one to set it up and full reviews of the three albums.
We went to Maine on a working vacation. My wife had a conference in Bar Harbor and we stayed there five days. During the day, I drove almost every bit of major road on Mt. Desert Island, as well as spending some time in Portland. Before this trip I had never thought about moving out of state. After the trip my wife and I were both thinking about Maine quite a bit. She even inquired about possible job openings with the Bar Harbor institute that held her conference. To this day it's my favorite place in the U.S. that I've visited. I will always think about Maine when I listen to South China or Brown Bird or Dead End Armory, and that's a great thing.
So I fully encourage you to check out the full Peapod Recodings roster of artists. I also recommend spending some time in Maine, and see if you feel the same way about that I do.
Friday, December 18, 2009
There is a casualness to the songwriting on Rotten Pear. It's as if you were sitting with Andrew in a bar at a wobbly table and listening to him regale you with the world of Andrew. He only pauses from the storytelling long enough to take a swig on his cheap beer, and you have to strain to hear him at times as his chair squeaks when he spins on it. He tells his stories of love and loss and of the finer establishments where he drinks. The songs are straight ahead rock songs. So often songs like this are muddled with light-hearted keyboard lines or a tambourine throughout. Andrew avoids these and he keeps the instrumentation simple, with the focus on his laconic storytelling.
On "Going Out Tonight" Andrew wryly weaves a simple story for the girl that's left him with nice turns. 'Got a bottle of scotch that I ain't poured...cause I just spent two days in detox...i'm going out tonight'. Later he says to his woman in retrospect, 'I know I was a failure when I wasn't just a disappointment...now I spend my days tryin' to remember all the things I coulda' done different'
"Diane" is the state of the union of Andrew's world. Themes here include another woman leaving him for low ambition and the death of rock n' roll. 'They say kid hey things are always changin', you can't stop technology, well if things are always changin' please start explainin' why it seems like the same shit to me.' And then to Diane he says "You've written some new songs, you think they're pretty strong, definitely worth copywritin', I know some day you'll be famous, and I'll be watchin' you on my T.V, so hurry up and finish that new record and I'll see you on the OC.'
Diane is song #5. So at this point Andrew would have halted his story, grabbed a couple more beers and gone to the bathroom, which is half the reason to go, the other half is that he wants to check his messages and see if his girl called him back. So he returns to the table, lights a smoke, finishes a beer and continues telling you his story.
On "Ruffian" Andrew tells a dark story about a bad kid who beats on people and in turn gets beaten on. 'So will it be heaven or hell or just a prison cell because if you don't care just one bit, I worry how you will grow out of it'. Just an electric guitar with a clean tone and Andrew's earnest vocals paint a decidedly bleak outlook for the troubled ruffian.
Next is my favorite track. "Canadian Dream" is Andrew's answer to the American dream. This Canadian dream is for his friend who is leaving Canada and going elsewhere to chase his dreams. 'I got your postcard from out West, in big block letterers you wrote it's the frickin' best, because you hardly have to get up before noon, and your landlord don't care if you smoke up in your room.' Then the friends next contact. 'I got your phone call from out east, you say the school sucks but not the parties and there must a hundred bands playin' every night, and you're gonna start up on Wednesday at the open mic. And you are living the Canadian dream'. Then 'I got your letter from overseas you said it's taken a while but you've found yourself finally, you've seen so many people and things, so much that Montreal even seems boring.' His friend thinks that living anywhere but Canada is his dream. To which Andrew counters with his Canadian dream, 'I bought a house on the cheap part of town, it's got a small backyard, but the rest ain't too run down and with my tax refund I bought a big T.V, I've got plans for homes and gardens and watching hockey, and I am living the Canadian dream.'
Andrew would finish his last story and then promise you he'd be right back. He'd walk out the back door of the bar and disappear...until he shows up tomorrow night. Is that the Canadian dream?
A special thanks to Jon Bartlett from Kelp records. Check out their other acts if you like Andrew. I also have Jim Bryson's Kelp release Where The Buffalo Roams and like it a lot. I might review it in the near future.
I am fortunate to have good friends like Steve Juras, who is interested in just about everything. He shoots a lot of the video and all the photos and bring his own gear to do it. August, who helps keep me connected to the local music scene. Also my friend Paul, with whom I share a good deal of musical likes and dislikes. He is a bit of a sounding board as he gives input on some of the artists I expose him to regularly. He also points me towards new bands he is into. I appreciate the friendship and the help of all three.
So with all of this going on plus Holidays with the family recently I have had a bit of backlog of things to try to put on the blog. I have most of that squared away now and have posted a live performance and an interview with local musician Adam Ashbach. I have reviews of Peapod Recordings artists Brown Bird, South China, and Dead End Armory. I have impending reviews of Illinois artist Lissie (possibly an interview in Jan), local post punk band California Wives (who I met at the Adam Ashbach show), soulful artist Audra Mae (who bravely covers a Whitesnake song), and many more of my new e-music purchases. I also have a post on e-music coming shortly. Check that post out if you want to learn how you can get almost any mp3 download for .50 a song.
Thanks to all of the artists, label contacts, promotion people and venues that have been beyond accommodating and made this blog really fun to do. If you are reading this and enjoy the blog, please join as a follow on my site. It will help me keep track of who is out there reading this. Please leave positive or negative feedback. After all it's all feedback.
I was able to catch up with Adam Ashbach before the showcase and do an interview with him that is posted on my youtube channel. I also was able to video Adam's performance as well as a song by another local act Welcome To Ashley and the concert links are here. The show was a rousing success. Schubas was full, even though it was the first really cold snap we've had. The crowd really responded to both Welcome To Ashley and Adam. I would recommend going to see both.
Thanks to August Forte and all the fine folks at Novo Entertainment as well as Schubas, which is always a great place to see a show. Thanks to my friend Steve Juras who shot the interview footage with Adam as well as the still pics posted on this blog.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I went with a good friend to watch the Josh Mease show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Josh had a simple set up and played the acoustic guitar on the front of the stage. He had a quiet calm on stage. The songs from his brilliant album Wilderness came to life one after the other. The songs were even better live. I had planned on and shot a video interview of Josh, but there was some difficulties with the final product of the video. Josh was gracious enough to answer the questions again through email.
Could you talk about the recording process in your closet in Brooklyn?
It could be pretty difficult at times. I already had bass/drums recorded for most of the songs, and I would try to finish them off as much as I could with my makeshift setup. I started a few songs off from scratch at my place ("White Diamonds", "Eleanor", "Neon Ghost"). The usual process was to get a sound going, which involved lots of trial and error and running back and forth between my computer and the makeshift booth I made in my closet. Once I found a sound I liked, I would just do as many takes as I deemed necessary. It could be tough because there was always the danger of someone in the building taking a shower and ruining a take with the sound of running water. There was also an ongoing garage sale right outside my window when I was making the record, and people would occasionally yell or play Salsa music on their radio really loudly when i was working. I think I need to find a quieter closet somewhere for the next one...
Where did the "Asian" sounding influence come from on tall trees? Are there any other music styles you into that might find their way onto the next album?
I really wasn't thinking about any kind of Asian influence for "Tall Trees". I wrote the song after a trip to the Redwoods a couple of years ago, and I was mostly thinking about that. I think the you noticed comes from the melody being based on an Asian . This was totally unintentional. I never like to analyze what I'm doing and think in terms of scales / music theory when I'm trying to be creative and write something. I'd rather hear my way through it.
Could you talk about the production for a bit? What were you aiming for sound wise?
I was aiming for something that was a hybrid of "pro" hi-fi sounds, and lo-fi oddball sounds. I really like sounds that have lots of character and aren't overly clean or sterile.
Can you talk about your music background from Texas a bit and how that background informed the songs on ?
I studied music from the middle of high school until I graduated college. I used to think I wanted to be a jazz guitar player, so I'm sure the years of study to achieve that goal have influenced my music tremendously. I have zero interest in being a jazz musician now, but I'm still happy I spent all that time studying music. The challenge now is to make sure I don't over complicate things, or let my schooling get in the way of making honest music.
How is the tour doing so far? Any crazy moments yet, on stage or off that you could share?
The tour has been lots of fun so far. No crazy moments to speak of (yet).
Josh is great live and you should go check him out. Here's the link to Josh's site to check out his show schedule. I want to thank him and his label again.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The ethereal qualities on Calling You Out are reminiscent of psychedelic qualities of Animal Collective and The Flaming Lips. Shawn Rosenblatt is Netherfriends , a Chicago Post Punk outfit that are able to fuse the electronic elements with pop rock structures much in the same way as The Talking Heads and more recently Learning Music. Throw in a little Beatles and you have an interesting musical base for some honest lyrics that stare in the mirror of their writer.
"Friend With Lofts" states 'I know bands who don't give a fu%$ , well they dress like band but they don't play enough. " This is a tongue in cheek screed against a band that likes to be seen and not heard.
A musical bird house of sounds starts "Really?" and then gives way to percussive pulse that has world music overtones.
Oh-Hi-Oh is a dense track that upon further listens reveals new sounds in the periphery each time. There is a nice contrast of the seemingly crazy sounds and the melody
A David Byrne party track would be another name for "Nunya (beeswax)". The driving world beat percussive elements as well as the African inspired chants that makes this track refreshing.
"Mom Cop" is a song with dialectic lyrics, "I don't know what's worse, yeah your mom's a cop or your dad's a nurse, either way we'll turn out the same."
Shawn Rosenblatt is in complete control of the musical landscape on Calling You Out. He has quite a big picture vision of a complete sound that has varying influences. He blurs the line between pop and psychedelic while interjecting world rhythms. He adheres to the 'write what you know' theory and it serves him well as the lyrical content of these songs is well thought out.
I plan on seeing Netherfriends on Dec 21. at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. Shawn is always playing somewhere and probably tonight, so you might want to check him out at Netherfriends myspace, if only the drummer shows! (Inside joke from Shawn's blog).
Recently Netherfriends was featured live on the Daytrotter Sessions. (Daytrotter is an invaluable music resource that records indie bands in their studio and lets you download the result).
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Coast of Nowhere is awash in classic early 80's post-punk. The addition of insightful lyrics and a wink and nod towards a shoe-gazer vibe make this ep wildly addictive pop music.
"My Career As A Ghost" starts off with subtle howl that gives way to an intermittent bass line and jazz flourishes on the percussion that give this song a depth not often found on pop songs.
As a fellow Chicagoan, it's great to see a Chicago band write "DNC", a song about the 68 Democratic National Convention. To keep the politics low here I will say that this was at the very least an incredibly complex event that shaped many of the things that were to come later in the city much the way the Great Fire did. There are some great 80's new wave flags being waved on this song. The vocals with the slight echo which gives way towards the end of the song to a high register wail . The little chugging guitar riffs and the driving percussion matched equally by the bouncing bass line. 'Everyone always talks off the future,in big block letters and social sutures.'
' You're the last of the world class air conditioning connoisseurs,' opens " World Class AC" set against a simple piano line. Visions of U2's Boy and October are evoked on this simple but lush track. The open spaces on the quieter passes of this song works well as rising action when set against the complete full sound towards the end of the song that is the climax.
The title track closes out the ep. The driving jazz influenced percussion and soaring vocals make for a high energysong. This is reminiscent of so many early 80's tunes ,by groups like Big Country, that seem to be larger than life. A full production leads to a big sound.
Big Science has balanced their influences of post-punk and new wave to create their own hybrid that has interesting lyrics as well as big hooks. The band is tight and all members are integral to the full sound on The Coast Of Nowhere. There is a vibrant music scene in Chicago at present thanks to bands like Big Science.
Check their site out at Big Science to get their music and concert dates.
Congrats to the guys for signing to AEMMP records!