Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lissie - Why You Runnin'

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

2009 My Most Listened To

I try not to do "best" lists. That is difficult for me as I have added so many albums this year. Instead I will do a most listened to 2009 list. This list is representative of the different places you can find music. Indie Labels, Jamendo, netlabels, Free Music Archive and Major Labels are all represented.

I'll also do a group of albums that came out before this year that I just became aware of this year.

2009 LIST

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

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

Dodos Visiter

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

Brown Bird - The Devil Dancing

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 Affordable MP3's

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."


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

South China - Washingtons

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

Peapod Recordings & The Water In Portland

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

Andrew Vincent - Rotten Pear

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 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.

Busy Tony and The Near Future Of This Blog

As a stay at home dad for 2 toddlers, who are great, I have to budget my time wisely. As well as spend time with my incredible wife Kathy, who also happens to suffer this musical fool. She does the editing for the blog, as that little facet of writing never quite took hold in me. Merci Kathy. It is always a fine line of trying to keep all the music interests going forward. I have added almost 30 new artists to my collection in the last couple of weeks. I go to shows to do interviews with bands, support the local music scene, and feed my addiction to finding free net labels.

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.



Adam Ashbach / Welcome To Ashley (Novo Showcase@ Schubas 12 09 09)

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

Josh Mease Live/Interview (Empty Bottle, Chicago/11.10.09)

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 Asian sound you noticed comes from the melody being based on an Asian pentatonic scale. 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 Wilderness?

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

Netherfriends - Calling You Out (ep)

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

Big Science - The Coast Of Nowhere (ep)

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!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Josh Ottum - Like The Season

Like The Season at times evokes the wildly addictive bottom end drive of Cake's best songs. Other times this wonderful collection of pop songs with clever lyrics is a West Coast call to arms that is in line with Alex & Sam. Intelligently placed hints of 70's style production (horns, woodwinds and dreamy guitar hooks) permeate Like The Season.

"It's Alright" starts the album with bouncing guitar that gives way to a bass groove that catapults this song. The simple harmonies here are under the radar and work to augment and enhance rather than take the attention away from the groove.

My favorite track is next ,"Easy Way Out". Horns and piano move this track. 'The problem with faith is like the problem with doubt, once you go in you can never get out... it won't let you down it won't keep you out now what was it you're offering now.' The break in the middle is a welcome surprise that gives way to horns driving the song again.

The bass line is the signature on "Who Left The Lights On". A wash of distorted guitar pops up towards the end of the song with some nice mixing that accentuates the left and right channels alternately.

On "Having You Around" we get a glimpse at what Josh's music might sound like if he completely embraced his more eclectic side. I love the more traditional songs, but there is a special energy on this one. There are multiple tempo shifts, and mood changes give "Having You Around" a jazz feel that is capped off with a reprise at the end. You just don't hear too many reprises these days.

"Heaven Is A Great Cocoon" is the perfect closing track for the album. A metronome percussion on this track acts as the tick tock of a clock that lets you know that at some point in this song there will be an eruption. This explosion comes half way through with a blast of electric guitar and the lyrics 'I want my own set of guarantees, what else is there left to lose. I'm such a fool for your make believe, you've got me trying to make up someone new.'

Josh takes chances on a lot of these tracks, and they pay off. There are horns, brass,woodwinds and percussion that mix with piano and guitar pop rock to make an infectious brand of pop music. These wide ranging sounds give the songs on Like The Season a full sound that doesn't strictly come from big production efforts. Josh is adept at incorporating wide ranging sounds in incredibly creative ways. The dual nature of his lyrics have a way of putting their hand out to you and then, when you're ready to grab them, they retract at the last second. In this way his uses nods to the 70's as well. Everything here is well thought out which makes for a satisfying listen to the album as a collection.

You can get Like The Season at Lala and Amazon.

You can keep an eye on Josh's forthcoming tour at his myspace page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Interview with Tune-Yards at The Chopin Theatre, Chicago (10/15/09)

The Tune Yards album Bird Brains is an interesting collage of digital audio recording and samples that make for a great exploration of what is sonically possible on an album.

Therefore I was very interested to see how this collection of sound snippets and samples would play out when performed live. I was fortunate to film an interview with Merrill before the show.

She said that she didn't want to just have a DAT machine playing, and instead used relay pedals and used grunts, drumsticks hitting mic stands and anything else that was handy to lay a percussive ground-floor. She built the rest of the musical building up with her vocals and also the ukulele, which takes on a more prominent roll live than on the album. Any questions about how this would all shake out were answered immediately as Merrill created a sound that was different from the album, but actually shined the focus on her songwriting and her amazing unique vocal style.

The Chopin Theatre was a great place to see a show. The sound was really good and owner Lela and the people that worked there were very nice and accommodating for my interview of Merrill as well as throughout the show. Check out their upcoming line-up.

Thanks to Catherine at Beggars for all of the help.

Also thanks to my friend Steve Juras shot the interview on his video camera as well as took the pictures that show up on this blog. Check his wide range of artistic endeavors at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pretty Little Empire's album Sweet Sweet Hands now on sale!!!

Head to Pretty Little Empire to buy the mp3's of their stellar new album, Sweet Sweet Hands. You can read a review of the album on my blog posting below. Help support artists who do it all on their own!!!

tUne-yArDs - Bird Brains (Album Review)

is Merrill Garbus , a one-woman musical wrecking crew. Bird Brains is a beautifully balanced musical kaleidoscope that uses everything from ukulele to hand-held digital field recordings. It is a D-I-Y album that has imperfections like restarts and red-lighted eq's that add to the overall loose feel. It sounds chaotic at times, but it is an ordered chaos.

The first track, "For You", mixes Merrill's beautiful beautiful vocals and a simple but effective ukulele to create a short, restrained pop song.

The percussion on "Sunlight" is a loose simple jazz beat that augments the catchy pop ukulele hook. Merrill's vocals raise higher and higher as she sings 'I could be the sunlight in your eyes, couldn't I , couldn't I?' The last chorus is a busy sonic landscape with many parts that work well in concert.

"Lions" is a sound collage of found sounds including birds tweeting and car engine sounds accompanying a ukulele. 'I'm so angry at you goody two shoes punch you in the nose. We could pretend it's Christmas while we're out here in this box, while my brother and all his friends without their tiny teeny trucks. If I scream they'll hear us...' Merrill wails as the fervor of her singing matches the frustration in the lyrics.

The vocal collage opening on "Hatari" gives way to funky ukulele riff. The vocals here are reminiscent of a tribal chant. These elements make for an infectious groove. The bottom of the percussion drives this song with insistence.

brings a Hawaiian flavor on "News". The eclectic percussion here and production make this song sound like it's coming from an old phonograph. The harmonies on this song are beautiful.

The overall experimental nature of Bird Brains is impressively balanced with traditional pop hooks. This album is a hybrid of a hybrid. Each one of these unique ukulele based songs have a different shading and the end result is a full color palette of sound. I wish I could be in Merrill's head when the genesis of these songs started running around.

You can purchase this album at 4ad.

Merrill's on tour now, so go check her out. My wife and I loved her show. I'm sure you'll be captivated by her stage presence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The French are coming... the French are coming!!!

The albums list on Jamendo grows more and more exhaustive every day. They are up to 25 thousand and counting with hundreds added monthly. I have become a big fan of the French bands that play alt/rock, 90's guitar music, all of which you can find and download for FREE on Jamendo.

Clownage is an alt rockband that has a great lead singer and really good production. Ballads and rockers are on Premiere maux.

La Curiosite Tua La Chat have a swing to their big guitars and funk bass lines. It definitely has an Anthrax feel to it. The vocals go from whisper quiet to a controlled scream. Also here a trippy bounce reminiscent of 311.

Godon is : Jazz like guitar screaming riffs, check. Heavy funk bass lines, check. Stacatto dums, check. Half spoke, half howled vocals, check. All of that adds up to a band very similar to Living Colour. But they are not simply aping LC's style. They certainly have the chops to make all of these elements work.

Zero echo Smashing Pumpkins with clean tone guitar followed by big buzz guitar. Whispered vocals give way to controlled climb up the register.

Fresh Body shop sound similar to NIN. Their sound leans toward more traditional at times than NIN.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Adam Ashbach -Puzzle Pieces (Album Rview)

Adam Ashbach's voice is the calling card for Puzzle Pieces. The Ex - Musical Outfits front-man knows how to use the full range of his voice to create pop songs that stand out. There is a clean full production throughout this ep.

The build-up of Adam's vocals on "8 Years With Betty" go from a quiet statement to a loud plea.

Flourishes of marching drum beats are strategically placed in smart fashion on "Everything", the stand-out track on this ep. The backing falsetto vocals and sax give this songs soulful quality that is in the tradition of 70's Mowtown.

"Warning" is a contemplative love song that uses the warm tone of Adam's vocals as a blanket to cover the minimal instrumentation. There is a beautiful simple vibe here that works well.

This is just an ep, so I am interested to see if there are more songs coming. For my money the tracks that use less traditional means work the best here. Adam is a good songwriter who emotionally connects with his lyrics . It is his earnest approach to these songs that connect with the listener the most.

Check Adam out at Puzzle Pieces and Adam's Myspace and also a free download of Adams song.

I will be attending the Novo artists show at the great venue Schubas to see Adam, Welcome To Ashley and Red Light Driver. Come on out and see some great indie bands!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Josh Mease - Wilderness (Album Review)

Sometimes the background information on how an album was recorded is pertinent information and sometimes it's not. In the case of Wilderness it is very important. After listening to the subdued and sublime melodic trip of the songs on this album I am not surprised that Josh Mease recorded a good deal of this in a closet in his Brooklyn apartment. He then mixed it in his native Denton, Texas. The title of Wilderness is apt as Josh's songs evoke the wilderness, whether it be NY or Texas.

"You Found Me" has a Beatles-esque rhythm with softly soaring vocals. The change in tempo here is nice and swells at times with a wink to 70's pop production.

The third song, "Neon Ghost" has subtle glockenspiel accents and dreamily whispered vocals. The bedroom closet recording gives this song an intimate feel.

After 12 to 15 listens of Wilderness, "White Diamonds" is the melody that has me humming time and time again. With a swelling, full production in the bridge, it is anchored in 70's production with Josh's vocals keeping a foot in the present.

Beautiful Beach Boys like harmonies start out "Eleanor". 'So time will tell, maybe I'll know you well, you don't have much to say but words just get in the way'.

Electric guitar comes to the front for "On and On". The distorted solo here is a nice change from the sonic texture of the rest of the album. More sweet melodies that build into a crescendo.

The album closer, "Tall Trees" shows more of Josh's inventive nature. On this song the piano is played with an Asian flair. Other backing sounds give you the visual of a Japanese countryside.

Josh has managed to infuse Wilderness with a relative calm. He uses the energy of New York City and not the loudness. He defers from using the larger than life qualities of Texas and instead focuses on the isolation that such a big place can impose on it's residents. Josh separated himself from people while recording this album. This allowed him to devoutly follow the concept of a Wilderness whether it be in New York or Texas. The end result is a singular vision delivered with great melodies.

I can't wait to hear what Josh's next album sounds like.

If you would like to enjoy this album as much as I did, you can get it here: frogstand records, and also at i-tunes and amazon.

Josh is also on tour NOW, so check out his shows on his artist site: josh mease.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Catching Up With Pretty Little Empire

Justin Johnson from Pretty Little Empire was kind enough to answer a few questions about their new album, Sweet Sweet Hands, due out Oct. 26 at pretty little empire. Hailing from St. Louis, MO. they play an infectious brand of alt- folk/pop music that is sprinkled with Western and punk. If you haven't already then check out my album review of Sweet Sweet Hands.

Where did you come up with the name Pretty Little Empire?

I was thinking up names for Will’s other band at the time. We were working together but not playing music together at the time. I did not like their name and was trying to come up with a few new ones. They did not end up using any of the names I came up with. Not too long after that, the band Will was in, and the band Wade and I were in ended. We formed this new group soon after and the name came up again.

The production from song to song give this whole album a sound even if the tempo and instrumentation change. Did you guys do the production yourself? Was there a sound you were aiming for?

Yes we did the album ourselves. Will has a 16 track recorder in his apartment. He produced and recorded the album in our practice space/his living room. When we started it was simply just a few late night recordings after Will and I would get out of work. I would start playing something on acoustic and Will would turn on the recorder. Some of it sounded started sounding pretty cool. We let everybody listen and then started trying to get that intimate late night feel sound for the rest of the record.

Tell us a little about the change in band members for PLE. How is the sound going to change with this new line up?

We have had quite a change in the last few months or so. Hannah who played guitar/vocals wanted to focus more on finishing school. She played her last show with us in July and helped finish the rest of the record in June. We thought about going on as a three piece but ended up getting Evan O Neil to come in as a drummer. Will moved up front on guitar and vocals. Hannah will be missed greatly. She definitely helped in shaping the quiet simplicity of our sound. I do see things changing quickly. We have a much fuller more aggressive sound now , but try to still keep things simple. Evan is also a songwriter, so we are working on a few of his songs right now too. Things have been very busy for us the last few months.

Is there a full scale tour in the works?

At this point we are still getting our bearings with the new lineup. We do plan to do a few out of town shows this year. I think though at this time a full tour will have to wait until we get ourselves more organized, musically and financially.

Now that you have the first record done is there something else you would like do do sonically, new instruments?

We do want to experiment, and add more elements to the sound. Some of our new songs sound different and have a more layered rock and roll feel. We plan to get into a real studio during the winter to record these new songs. Though we love the lo-fi sound of this first record, we would love to try for a bigger sound on this next one.

Tell us how you guys feel about the whole label thing. Interested in signing to one?

Since we are just starting out the idea of labels has not really entered into our minds. We are just working hard right now to get our record out next month and hope people will take a listen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Living Colour Live on Oct.4 at Double Door

One of my favorite bands at one of my favorite venues. I went with my wife and good friend Erik. It turned out to be every bit as good as I thought it would. They blazed through 22 songs with very few breaks. They opened up with "Middle Man" and "Desperate People" from their debut album Vivid. The versions were updated but still had the vibe of the originals.

Next up was "Go Away" from their heavy metal album Stain. A video was beamed onto the screen behind the band throughout the show, but in this song really worked well as they showed starving Africans as lead singer Corey Glover sang 'I see the starving Africans on TV...I feel it has nothing to do with me...I sent my $20 to Live Aid...I paid my guilty conscience to go away.'

"Funny Vibe" (Vivid) followed and bassist Doug Wimbash with the heavy funk bass on this song.

One of the highlights of other Living Colour shows I've been to did not disappoint at this show. "Bi" is a sexually charged tale that has the cautionary tale of be careful what you wish for. Corey puts a lot of suggestive movements with body parts and his eyes and breathes 'My lover told me that she's bi... I wanted to scream...there were tears in my eyes, she said baby, baby don't you cry cause the I am with you've been seeing on the side'.

Will Calhoun's drum solo was an interesting blend of standard drums and also electronic sounds. The rest of the band at this point left to catch a breath. Will has so many influences from so many cultures in his drumming it's impossible to name them all. He is an amazing drummer.

"Open Letter to A Landlord', my favorite track from Vivid is an emotionally charged song that the band was able to bring across well on stage.

Next they played "Burned Bridges", "The Chair", "Decadance", "Young Man", Method" and "Behind the Sun", all from their new album The Chair In The Doorway. (I'll be doing a review of it in another week). The high point in this block of songs was on "Decadance", Vernon broke a guitar string, and Cory had a couple of quips about how this "shit still happens after all these years". These new songs were good, but I haven't had a full chance to digest and break them down. So for now I can say the crowd loved them. All of the LC shows I've been to, the crowd has been informed and there is no silly screaming for "Cult Of Personality". The fans always know and sing along with the band on all songs.

The highlight of the night for the crowd came next as LC slid into "Papa Was A Rollin Stone". I have never seen them play this and the crowd really appreciated this cover of the Temptations classic. Corey turned this into a sing along for the crowd and everyone responded.

Funk laden, "Glamour Boys"(Vivid) has Doug holding down a bouncing bass line. "

After playing a couple of songs from The Chair In The Doorway, they played "Time's Up" at a frantic pace .

Then it was "Cult Of Personality" just before they left the stage. Another sing along.

The the first encore was "Love Rears It's Ugly Head" (Time's Up). Corey and Vernon went all out on this one. Then the last song, their cover of Hendrix "Crosstown Traffic". Somehow they managed to inject even more swing than the original.

Living Colour have been together, with this line-up, for over 15 years. They are a tight unit live that always manages to have a few tricks up their sleeve. If you get a chance I would highly suggest that you go see Living Colour.