28 November 2009

X: THC Live

I have not been to as many live shows as I am accustomed to going to this year, but when Michael Nova of X: THC invited me down to see the band perform at Monkeytown in Brooklyn, it was a no-brainer. I knew I was not going to pass up this opportunity.

Wednesday (25 November 2009) rolled around, and, at about seven in the evening, I started the journey to Brooklyn (I am not one of these Jersey-ites that think that a passport is required to go to Brooklyn – actually I more often than not skip Manhattan for Brooklyn). Carlos Aranzazu, Gray Door Studio photographer, was accompanying me. (It was nice not to have to worry about taking any pictures myself, and well having a professional along.) On our way there, we chatted about what to expect, other concert/show experiences, and the visual components of music and live shows. Never did we expect such a powerful experience as we pulled up in front of Monkeytown.

The backroom of Monkeytown is about thirty-by-thirty, with coaches and tables set around the perimeter. A film screen hangs from each wall, while the band played in the center of the room. If intimacy was the goal, the space alone would create it. But the actual experience, the synesthesia, was overwhelming. As the band easily followed through their set, you wanted to see each screen, you wanted to look at the band, you were overwhelmed trying to explain to yourself what was the genesis of your feelings – the music, the band, the visuals, the different combinations…. What was definitive was that you wanted more.

Now, let me say something for all the “purists” out there – it is time to step into the new millennium. The incredible thing about our contemporary world is that bands are no longer limited to creating the sound that they can on their own, but rather have the technology to augment their sounds. The question is whether or not a band solely relies on this technology or uses it wisely. X: THC struck the perfect balance. The individual musicianship of the band was always in the forefront. Tienne, on guitar and keyboards, has a soothing presence of her own on the stage; there is a magnetic attraction that makes it hard to take your eyes off her while she strums away. Drummers may be a dime dozen, but good drummers are very rare. John Bollinger is one of these good drummers: great technique, great timing, and great presence (something most drummers lack). Then there is Michael Nova. He is definitely the newest New York bard. He is not just there reciting lines, but rather singing with conviction and delivering the story. Even Aranzazu, behind his camera, concurs that Nova’s persona on stage is powerful, as he creates a rapport with his audience.

I have seen a few great artists this year – amazing performances. But I have to tell you, you are crazy if you do not jump on the opportunity of seeing X: THC live. This is a powerful experience, both sonically and visually. And the beauty of the visuals is that even if you do not know the music, they will draw you into the experience. Their original film, “X: The Human Condition,” is a powerful, abstract piece that will remind you of some of the great avant-garde silent films.

Set list:
1. Introduction/Hide
2. Monster
3. A Human Flood
4. Sleeping with One Eye Open
5. The Creature from the Blackened Room
6. Don’t Cry
7. Mr. Happy
8. Like Violins
9. Worth Fighting For
10. Tag You’re It!

Keep up with X: THC at their homepage and MySpace.
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The Real November Blurbs

As the last blurbs were really meant for October, here is this month’s installment. It is a bit frustrating that we really do not get a chance to dedicate time to everything we are listening to (and that things get by us – there is only so much time we have to do research), so we wanted to do some catching up. Again, apologies that we could not dedicate more time to these albums, but hopefully you will take the time to check out these artists. Here are six incredible albums, crossing three continents, two languages, and five genres. This is truly schizophrenic. And I sort of love it that way.


Karpatenhund: “Der Name dieser Band ist Karpatenhund”

From their first show at the Blue Shell in Köln, Deutschland (Cologne, Germany) in 2005, Karpatenhund (Carpathian Dog) has been on a roll creating music that combines elements of shoegazing, new wave, and power pop. Releasing their sophomore effort on 28 August 2009, “Der Name dieser Band is Karptenhund” (“The Name of the Band is Karpatenhund”) draws influences from current indie rock and 80s sensibilities, from both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the things that I really like about this band is that they sing in German; they have chosen not to conform to the normal cliché of singing in English for popular success. Of course, speaking in German will make them less accessible to Anglo-American markets, but the band more than makes up for it with their music. This is solid music; there is not a song on this album that is not infectious, as they hook you with their simplicity and straightforward arrangements. There are no gimmicks here; what you have is a solid pop sensibility of knowing how to put an album together. Sonically, anyone that is a fan of Blondie, the Cure, the Dandy Warhols, New Order, and the current post-punk revival will find something in the band they can become a fanatic over. The music itself, in much the same way as the music of David Bowie or Eurythmics, is very dramatic.

Fortunately, I have a nephew who was raised in Germany to help me through the lyrics, but I will say that there is no need to know the exact lyrics to get the empathic power of this album. This is a feel good album, about enjoying the visceral experience with a smile on your face and the tapping of your feet. Take a plunge and listen to this band – you will not regret it. Hot track: “Lost Weekend.” I love these kinds of tracks where a band throws everything into the mix, even aspects that are seemingly contradictory to each other. A dancy, indie beat, new wave keyboarding, sythnpop sounds, key arrangements close to polka, and post-punk bass and guitar riffs, this song is by far the most memorable song on the album.

Track Listing:
1. Anfang (Black Box Recorder)
2. Wald
3. Notfalls Werde Ich Fur Immer Warten
4. Boden
5. Plastic Soul
6. Rorschach
7. Hier wachst nie wieder was
8. Bitte Bitte Bitte
9. Wie fuhlt es sich an?
10. Lost Weekend
11. Ende (Rauchen)

Keep up with Karpatenhund at their homepage and MySpace.

Check out their videos for “Wald” and “Notfalls Werde Ich Fur Immer Warten” from their Vimeo channel: Karpatenhund.

Karpatenhund - Wald from Karpatenhund on Vimeo.

Karpatenhund - Notfalls Werde Ich Für Immer Warten from Karpatenhund on Vimeo.

FYI: Their album is available at Grooves Inc.

Baddies: “Do the Job”

Hailing from Southend, Essex, the Baddies debut album, “Do the Job” (28 September 2009 in the UK, 13 October 2009 in the US as import), is most definitely stirring some heads. As part of the line-up for this years Leeds and Reading Festivals, the band is becoming known for their (post)punk influenced indie rock. The band is comprised of Simon Bellamy, Danny Rowton, and identical twins, Jim and Michael Webster, and together what they have to offer is vehemence. Though pretty much straightforward rock-pop, the album is full of quirky hooks and riffs and out of leftfield lyrics (“We all sleep better night if we open one eye…” from “Open One Eye”) that make it a standout in a scene with dozens of fly-by-night bands.

Many of the songs have the same intensity as early Siouxsie and the Banshees’ songs, such as “Mirage” and “Placebo Effect.” And in a world that keeps looking to the past for cues, especially in music, it is not going to be a surprise that you are going to hear other bands in their music, including the Futureheads and Talking Heads. And, of course, since the Baddies are not part of the hit parade, this is going to be seen as a band thing (while those with press/media support doing the same thing are elevated to deity status). But what is the true measure of a band’s success: the development and loyalty of a fan base, which the Baddies are easily amassing.

The talent of the band is not to stick to one formula – not like the countless of bands that sound like Joy Division or the Cure from beginning to start. Whether you are listening to “We Beat Our Chests” or “Who Are You?” each song is distinct. There is a feel of what you listen to is what you get live. Though I have not seen them live, word has it they all dress identically live (just look at the album cover); this may have been cute and novel in the 80s, but nowadays it is just a gimmick. And gimmicks are not what this band needs. These overly powered indie tracks speak for themselves.

Track Listing:
1. Tiffany, I’m Sorry
2. Open One Eye
3. Battleships
4. Colin
5. At the Party
6. Pisces
7. We Beat Our Chests
8. Holler for My Holiday
9. I Am Not a Machine
10. To the Lions
11. Who Are You?
12. Paint the City

Keep up with the Baddies at the MySpace page.

From 9 March 2010 to 1 April 2010, they will extensively be touring the UK, hitting Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leeds, Cambridge, Birmingham, Oxford, Brighton, London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Northampton, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Wrexham with the Joy Formidable. Check out their MySpace for more information.

Here is their video for “Open One Eye” from their YouTube Channel: baddiestv.

William Orbit: “My Oracle Lives Uptown”

William Orbit is one of those electronic musicians and producers that have really garnished my respect. Whether it is his work with other artists (most notably Madonna’s “Ray of Light”) or his own material, whether in Torch Song or solo, Orbit is one of the few artists/producers to consistently be turning heads and perking ears, with the ability to recreate his sound and tricks over and over again. Unfortunately, Orbit falls into the same pattern of veterans not living up to their potential on his latest release, “My Oracle Lives Uptown” (4 May 2009 in digital format, 8 June 2009 as a CD; digital format in the USA available, but a hardcopy is only available via import). Essentially, there is no major shift from “The Strange Cargo” series, but, nevertheless, Orbit offers up a sophistication and allure that has defined his career. By no measure is this album hackneyed or rubbish, quite the opposite. But knowing Orbit’s track record, an album that was six years in the making makes you long for more.

Many of the tracks were previously available in one format or other via his website. With many contributors, including the incredible Laurie Mayer, this album takes a few steps away from the ambient, but not far away enough to be called pop or dance. Other than “Purdy,” you are not going to be inspired to get up and dance, but this is not a bad thing. Orbit was not aiming at a club album, but rather a “party” album. And this hits the mark straight on. As for the vocals, they are arranged as nothing more than another level of sound. The vocals are never the core of the song, usually ethereal, and this is most obvious during “Neutron Star,” where voice is used not for words but for sonic effects.

Musically I was hoping for mind-blowing sounds, boggling arrangements, and a new chapter in ambient electronic music. But I realize that these were mine (and probably most critics’) expectations – this is no reflection on William Orbit’s vision and final product. Nor is this album only background noise; it is as entrancing and rapture inducing as anything he has done before. But that is just it: Mr. Orbit has done it before and I still hold the hope that he is going to knock my socks off again.

Track Listing:
1. Radioharp
2. Purdy
3. Optical Illusions
4. White Night
5. Hydrajacked
6. Nimbus
7. My Oracle Live Uptown
8. Spotlight Kid
9. Neutron Star
10. Drift so Far
11. Golden Country
12. City Lights Reflection

Keep up with William Orbit at his homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the video for “Optical Illusion” from his YouTube Channel: radioharp.

You Say Party, We Say Die!: “XXXX”

I remember the first time I came across You Say Party, We Say Die! I was at a Virgin Mega Store in NYC perusing when I came across one of their albums and thought to myself, “With a name like that, you best be a good band.” Then some guy, who had an eerie resemblance to Grace Jones with blue hair, said, “Great album! Love them!” And then started my affair with You Say Party, We Say Die! Their latest offering, “XXXX” (29 September 2009), is their third studio release since 2005. Combining indie rock with dance punk, YSP! WSD! is one of those infectious bands that becomes a guilty pleasure.

With a little less dance, and a little more rock, “XXXX” delivers some of the band’s most interesting music. Their best vocals till date, coupled with their best production till date, this album does not abruptly creep into a frivolous soundscape, but instead it generates a fluidic experience. My favorite track is “Cosmic Wanship Avengers.” It has a newfound sense of urgency, combining old style Devo-esque mentality. The most haunting track is “XXXX/Loyalty.” Definitely taking its cue from post-punk, goth rock musicians; the song’s sinister melodic keyboard sound, dark mood inducing guitar arpeggio, and vocal effects demonstrate that they have learned and perfected a few new tricks. And the closing track, “Heart of Gold,” is not a blowout finish. Instead, YSP! WSD! goes for visceral power.

“XXXX” follows the tradition of great Canadian song writing. Furthermore, “XXXX” may very well be the first album by YSP! WSD! that critical detractors will be forced to acknowledge as a strong, credible album. Solid craftsmanship, solid production – in my book, You Say Party! We Say Dance! have earned the right to have such a bombastic name for their band.

Track listing:
1. There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)
2. Glory
3. Dark Days
4. Cosmic Wanship Avengers
5. Lonely’s Lunch
6. Make XXX
7. Laura Palmer’s Prom
8. She’s Spoken For
9. XXXX/Loyalty
10. Heart of Gold

Keep up with You Say Dance! We Say Die! at their homepage and MySpace.

Zero 7: “Yeah Ghost”

My friends are usually surprised when they find out that I am a fan of downtempo. Something about the ability to zone out to a great beat, some ambient sounds, and a killer groove that does it for me sometimes. And I am not going to offer up some grand philosophic reason for why “Yeah Ghost” (28 September 2009 in the UK, 29 September 2009 in the USA, 2 October 2009 in Australia) is the downtempo album of the year, but rather simply say that this is an incredible experience.

Essentially a duo (Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker) from London, Zero 7 employs various vocalists for their recordings and live performances: “Yeah Ghost” features Jackie Daniels, Eska Mtungwazi, Rowdy Superstar, and Martha Tilston. Binns also takes up the mantle of vocalist on the album. Notably missing from the mix is Sia Furhler. The album is definitely jazzier than recent efforts, but the folk elements are still there. “Yeah Ghost” definitely marks a new mindset for the band. Whereas before you could imagine the band producing music for a backdrop to an event or party or lounge, this album is the event. There are two standout tracks here, the first of which is sung by Eska Mtungwazi. “Mr. Mcgee” has some of the most soulful singing out there, while incorporating a jazzy bassline and upbeat percussion. The second is sung by Binns himself. “Everything Up (Zizou)” (a homage Zinedine Zidane) verges closer to indie dance than anything else and proves that Zero 7 is not a one-trick pony.

If you are in the mood to zone out to some great artistry, this is the album for you. Zero 7 definitely comes to age with “Yeah Ghost,” departing from long time collaborator Furhler does not hurt them at all; instead it has forced Binn and Hardaker to rethink their game plan and jump outside of the box that they have been trapped in the last few albums. Check it out.

Track Listing:
1. Count Me Out
2. Mr. Mcgee
3. Swing
4. Everything Up (Zizou)
5. Pop Art Blue
6. Medicine Man
7. Ghost Symbol
8. Sleeper
9. Solastalgia
10. The Road
11. All of Us

Keep up with Zero 7 at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Everything Up (Zizou)” from their MySpace video page.

Everything Up (Zizou) [Joker and Ginz remix]

Zero 7 | MySpace Music Videos

Dappled Cities: “Zounds”

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the art/indie rock, post-punk revival band Dappled Cities (formerly Dappled Cities Fly) released their third album, “Zounds” (15 August 2009 in Australia, 15 September 2009 in the USA). The title of the album caught my eye immediately, “Zounds,” and anyone who has read their Shakespeare immediately recognized the word, though may not have known what it meant. It was originally just a contraction for “God’s wounds,” that is, Jesus’ on the Cross. (The entire Trinity thing.) Soon, it would degrade into being an oath, like “For fuck’s sake,” showing surprise. And as I heard this album, all I could say was, “Zounds.”

Joined by a new drummer, this is definitely darker than anything they have done before, and there is a feeling of grandeur to it. But what I really like about the album is the fact that their sensibilities are as easily applied to eerie, post-punkish music as to an out and out pop number. “The Price” is a jewel in the world of pop. The song is mesmerizing but not cliché, luscious but not overpowering. It is the kind of balance that all pop (regardless if rock or dance based) should strive for. Furthermore, unlike so many post-punk revival bands out there, Dappled City is able to retain their own sound and not sound like one the veterans. Take the song “Kid” (I am so stuck on this track), you will find it impossible to pinpoint the archetype of this song, but why is that? Because unlike so many of the bands in the revival mindset, their musical references are greater in scope. This is not just post-punk rock and new wave references – but also in the mix is experimental pop, post rock, and I would venture to say some psychedelic 60s.

Perhaps this album really stands out because Dappled Cities are Australian. Australia has the advantage of having its finger on the pulse on the American and British music scenes, while having its own that most of us are oblivious of. It gives a band like Dappled Cities the ability to draw on many different influences, many different references, and create something that is distinct and fresh in a field that is often full of rehash and imitation.

Track Listing:
1. Hold Your Back
2. Answer Is Zero
3. The Price
4. Wooden Ships
5. Slow for Me, My Island
6. The Night Is Young at Heart
7. Miniature Alas
8. Don’t Stop There
9. Kid
10. Middle People
11. Apart
12. Stepshadows

Keep up with Dappled Cities at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “The Price” from their YouTube Channel: dcfhq.

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Retrospective on My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless"

I have not forgotten – a few months ago I stated that I had to write about My Blood Valentine, and that has been one of my intentions since I wrote about shoegazing back in January. So to my friends, who continuously reminded me about My Bloody Valentine, stop nagging me – here you go! Thanks for all the support.

Out of Dublin, Ireland, very few bands ever leave such a mark on music as My Bloody Valentine. You can throw around a few labels – dream pop, noise pop, post-punk, shoegazing – but you will find it impossible to really put your finger on this band. And I am fully aware of the fact that when I say “My Bloody Valentine” I am supposed to think “Isn’t Anything” (November 1988). But since when do I ever do what I am supposed to do? “Loveless” (4 November 1991) is one of those albums that continues to haunts me – eighteen years after its release, it still leaves me confused, mystified, lost, and wondering about what exactly I was just listening to. And in terms of musical history, “Loveless” is representative of a new paradigm – and arguably a catalyst for what indie music was about to produce. It is not so much that My Bloody Valentine influenced an entire generation of musicians (from fellow shoegazers to post-punk revival and everything in between), it is the conviction and the way they challenged normal conventions in music that should also be taken into account.

Kevin Shields (guitarist and vocalist) is known to have blatantly said that he (and the band) knew more about the music industry than the label companies did. Now I am not sure this would be true in terms of accounting and all those fancy numbers, but the band definitely had their finger on a pulse that others did not. Their debut, “Isn’t Anything,” may have not been a ground breaking, pop album, but it did point out that the (post-)punk ideology of challenging music was alive and well. Audiences were looking for something new, beyond the new wave, teenybopper pop, and hair metal bands of their day. Along side such bands as the Cranes, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Pixies, the concept of “noise” became more and more important – and not noise as some melodic concept, but noise as in compressed, distorted, out of control sound that somehow carries the song. And this idea was perfected with the 1991 release of “Loveless,” which made waves on mainstream pop charts in the UK and even invaded the American underground.

The recording of the album was an exercise in persistence and torture. The brainchild of Kevin Shields, the album was recorded over several months at several studios. It was a vision that was not well articulated to the rest of the band or producers he worked with, and it proved to be more difficult than he ever imagined. What was tooted as a one-week recording experience turned out to be well over a year, but the final product would forever blow the door open to future artists. Already, “underground” bands were breaking through and playing in stadiums on both sides of the Atlantic (The Cure and Depeche Mode), and though My Bloody Valentine would not reach those size audiences, they would turn quite a few heads and inspire many young inspiring artists.

Opening with the magnum opus “Only Shallow,” the compressed guitars arrest your ears, while the near incomprehensible, ethereal vocals create an interesting counterbalance to the noise. Taking a cue from post-punk rockers and their use of stream of consciousness, the lyrics are almost as fractured as the music: “Speak, she’s not scared, soft like there’s silk everywhere.” Then “Loomer” comes in, with much of the same construction as “Only Shallow,” just at a slightly slower pace. But it is that slower pace that gives it a sense of eeriness that the opening does not have. But “Touched,” the third track, will basically stop you in your tracks. An instrumental of about a minute in length, it is a bit eerie, but more melodic than what has come before it and is the perfect set up for the following track, “To Here Knows When.” This track feels more epic than it length (five and a half minutes), but captured in it is a small narrative: “Kiss your fear, your read button falls from my mouth. Slip your dress over your head; it’s been so long. Move on top, because that way you touch her too, turn you heard, come back again, to here knows when.” Compressed guitars, distorted keys, an ostinato much like synthpop, the song is anything but your average ballet.

The album then slips into more of a “consumable” format over the next few tracks: “When You Sleep,” “I Only Said,” “Come In Alone,” “Sometimes” (stripped down track basically sung to a distorted guitar), and “Blown a Wish.” “Blown a Wish” is one of my favorite tracks of all time. This is the one track that My Bloody Valentine just throws everything into the mix that is expected of them: compressed guitars, distorted sounds, ostinato, ethereal vocals, and minimalist lyrics (“Midnight wish, blow be a kiss, I’ll blow one to you, make like this – try to pretend it’s true”). Though the album never returns to the arresting sound of the first two tracks, but following “Blown a Wish,” when you are floating on a cloud, you are smashed right back down. “What You Want” is the closet on the album to a standard indie rock song out there. But it is the epic finish, “Soon,” that will probably stay in your memory the longest. I have always felt that this was included to throw off everyone from thinking they knew what My Bloody Valentine was about. This song is as close to dance ready as any “rock” band can come to. It defies what you have been led to expect from your listening experience thus far, but yet every trick they have ever used (like in “Blown a Wish”) is here, only it all sounds happy-go-lucky. Even the lyrics sound apropos: “Wake up, don’t fear, I want to love you. Yeah, don’t go there, I let you get to me. Yeah, yeah, come back, don’t be afraid of me. Soon.” But then you get to the second stanza: “Your eyes are blue, blue jewels. Yeah, yeah come back, have faith someone like you can find the reason of what I did to you.” And I am not sure if I am supposed to be disturbed or touched because we are never told what he did to her. Eerie and cryptic, but regardless amazing storytelling, this album’s lyrics challenge typical points of views and themes.

When touring to this album, their one goal was to challenge how much noise an audience could listen to. Trust me, it took some time to get use to when you heard the “noise” live! But ultimately, by the 90s, when numbers were quickly becoming more and more important than nurturing talent, My Bloody Valentine were dropped from Creation Records when the numbers were not what was hoped for. With less than frequent output after 1991 (really none), by 1997 My Bloody Valentine disbanded. And though rumors ran amuck for years about a new album, the first glimmers of real hope did not come till 2007, when Kevin Shields announced that the band (vocalist/guitarist Bilinda Butcher, bassist Debbie Googe, and drummer Colm O. Ciosoig) were to reunite. In 2008, the band played their first live show in thirteen years, and would go on to play Roskilde Festival (Denmark), Benicassim (Spain), Fuji Rock (Japan), Oyafestivalen (Norway), and Electric Picinic (Ireland). Though a new album has always been rumored (Shields did say they were near completing an album in 2007), to date there has been no album. But the hope is always there that My Bloody Valentine is brewing something that is going to blow audiences away again.

Track listing:
1. Only Shallow
2. Loomer
3. Touched
4. To Here Knows When
5. When You Sleep
6. I Only Said
7. Come In Alone
8. Sometimes
9. Blown a Wish
10. What You Want
11. Soon

Keep up with My Bloody Valentine at their homepage and MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Only Shallow” and “Soon” (single version) from their MySpace Videos Page.

Only Shallow

My Bloody Valentine | MySpace Music Videos


My Bloody Valentine | MySpace Music Videos
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24 November 2009

Scarlet Soho Answers 5

A few months ago, I got a hold of Scarlet Soho’s “Warpaint” (link) and have been stuck on it. I am a sucker for good synthpop, but as I have said before about Scarlet Soho: they are not sitting around and rehashing the past. They may be entrenched in a genre that came to fame in the 80s, but their relevancy and urgency is something here and now. It is infectious and addictive, and after following them on Twitter for the past few weeks (laughing my butt off on more than one occasion), I reached out to the band, and they were more than happy to answer a few questions for SlowdiveMusic Blog. My personal thanks to Scarlet for taking the time to Answer 5.

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

SCARLET: We've got quite a wide range of influences, a lot of ideas slip into the songs and the live show without us realising it. The 80s thing gets mentioned a lot but I there are aspects of the band that probably originate from the first wave of British punk bands in the 70s and louder bands like Faith No More. I also think there is an underlying element of humour in SS that most other electro bands lack. I think that is very important.

2. Your sophomore effort, "Warpaint," is very different than your debut in atmosphere. What were the differences in how you approached the writing and recording of your second album to your first?

SCARLET: “Warpaint” is a far more cohesive record. The songs all came from the same writing period whereas the first record was considerably more spread out timewise. It's different in tone as well; it's a more upbeat album as a whole. When we recorded “Divisions...” the third member at the time had just left the band rather acrimoniously, so Jim and I had to do the entire album alone and work out what we were going to do next. I think that had a massive effect on the way the album ended up sounding. “Warpaint” was troublesome to complete for different reasons - our producer had a mental breakdown during the recording, so James and myself were left to pretty much do the whole thing ourselves. We're currently writing and demo-ing tracks for album #3, which we're hoping to put out as quickly as is humanly possible!!!

3. I am always very interested in gear, especially with electro acts. So here are three things I am curious about: analogue or digital? Studio equipment versus live? Favorite guitar?

SCARLET: We tend to prefer analogue-sounding noises but use digital gear to get it. When you're flying out to do a show in Germany for example, I only want to worry about the welfare of my bass! We pride ourselves in being one of the only truly live electro bands around. We played a show in Berlin last week where someone had the audacity to tell Jim that it was "all playback" and "only the vocal was live." This is utter bullshit!!!!! A lot of bands no longer bother and put everything on a backing track; it may ensure that the show sounds good consistently but it's DULL!!!!! We relish in our mis-hit notes and occasional wonkiness! It's what live is all about - the unknown. My bass is my favourite guitar. I've looked at others but they never compare. It's an absolute work of beauty and I love it as much as is possible to love an inanimate object. Just look at it?!!!!

4. In general, why do you think Continental Europeans are more receptive to electro acts than the British or Americans?

SCARLET: It's difficult to say really. They definitely do seem to have a better idea of what we are doing as a band than people over here in the UK. But I'm not sure if that's down to them collectively being more open to something a little different or if it's just because British people are rubbish...

5. Any plans on coming over to the States? Any words for your American fans?

SCARLET: We would love to come to the States! I'll have words with our agent! There's nothing planned as yet but it's definitely something we would like to do in the near future! If anyone can help out with that, drop us a line!!! Any words for our American fans...?

'Favourite'. It has a 'u' in it. Innit.

Thanking you!

Keep up with Scarlet Soho at MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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Videos, but First a Few Words and X:THC

As the year is coming to a close, the amount of releases of new music is starting to slowdown, and that is part of the reason why we have not posted as consistently as in past months. But Juju and I have been listening to stuff that got by us during the year or were just not able to give time to, and compiling a few CDs for review that we feel really feel we need to give attention to. Nevertheless, we plan to refrain from posting in the last two weeks of December (unless something of great importance comes up), but we do plan to return in early January with our Best of 2009 list – including our favorite albums, tracks, album cover art, and videos. We’ve booked some time to listen to music together, watch some videos again, and then collectively vote, so that our list is not the opinion of just one person, but rather compiled from the input of all five people who have reviewed music. We welcome any comments or opinions of what you thought was the best of 2009.

Lastly, I want to remind anyone in the NYC / Brooklyn area that X: THC is playing at Monkeytown tomorrow night – Wednesday, November 25. For more information about the show and the upcoming CD, please check out the posting on the album review (link) and an interview with the band’s vocalist Michael Nova (link).

Enjoy the videos.

Little Boots’ “Earthquake” from her YouTube Channel: littlebootsvideos.

The Twang’s “Encouraging Sign” from their YouTube Channel: TheTwangTV.

Two Door Cinema Club’s “I Can Talk” from their MySpace Video page.

Two Door Cinema Club | I Can Talk

TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB | MySpace Music Videos

Wetdog’s “Lower Leg” from the angularrecords YouTube Channel.

The Golden Filter’s “Thunderbird” from their YouTube Channel: thegoldenfilter.

Kasabian’s “Underdog” from their YouTube Channel: KasabianTour.

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17 November 2009

Shakespears Sister: "Songs from the Red Room"

Earlier this year, I wrote a retrospective on Shakespears Sister (link), and though in recent months I have made a concerted effort to stay on top of music news (that does not involved gossip and people’s favorite food on tour), I really had no idea that Siobhan Fahey was about to resurrect the Shakespears Sister moniker and release a new album. “Songs from the Red Room” (16 November 2009) came right out of left field, and word of the album had me all giddy, as I relived my life during the Sister brush with pop success in the early 90s. Then I remembered two things: this has been a year (actually two in a row) of veterans for the most part not meeting their potential and in many cases leaving me disappointed (these albums I did not write about). The second thing I realized immediately was the lack of fanfare about this release. Though it is touted as the first studio album since 2004, remember the third album, “#3,” may have been released in 2004, it was written between 1995-1997. (The label did not want to release the album, and it took Fahey many years to get the rights to the songs back.) As for “Songs from the Red Room,” I had no idea what this album was going to be like.

The credits read like a who’s who in music: Whitey, Jagz Kooner, Death in Vegas, Marco Pirroni and Terry Hall. And of course, what many fans and critics are going to point out is that Marcella Detroit is not on the album. (Detroit and Fahey, as the rumor goes, have not spoken since their creative collaboration dissolved in the early 90s.) But Siobhan Fahey deserves to have her name first among the list. More than the fact that this is her album, it should be noted that Fahey started two of the words most successful bands: girl band Bananarama and sythnrock band Shakespears Sister. And on “Song from the Red Room,” Fahey sports out every trick she ever learned and threw a few new ones into the mix. There is definitely a feel that these songs were not written in one recording session, but rather over a few years. And this gives the album a depth and breath that makes it difficult to pigeonhole. Furthermore, this album works as both individual songs and as a collection. What you get are tightly constructed songs, with elements of synthrock, synthpop, indie rock, and dance.

The first single was “Bitter Pill.” Released for the first time in its original “guitar-format,” this song has already been recorded (covered) by the Pussycat Dolls, which they renamed “I Want You Back.” Then there is the second single, “Pulsatron” (Whitey Mix), which is as urgent and relevant as all of the other indie rock out there. Though I do not think that Fahey was aiming to be “indie” or anything for that matter, her eclectic voice and savvy arrangements should really turn the heads of these youngsters starting out. Furthermore, though all the songs on the surface are glittery, seductive, and/or enchanting, scratch the surface and you will find Fahey’s woebegone world unfurls. Another shocking surprise on the album is “Hot Room,” a Linda Lamb cover. Though the cover isn’t miles away from the original, it is significantly different in atmosphere. Very little people can do sexy and sinister at the same time with such ease and allure as Siobhan Fahey. But the one track that I am stuck on stupid over is “It’s a Trip.” This is really synthpop for the new millennium. Fahey uses every trick of synthpop, while avoiding any cliché and sonic resemblance to the 80s.

Album by veteran? Check. Good album by veteran? Check. One of the top albums of 2009? Check. My fear about “Songs from the Red Room” is that it will be ignored by both mainstream and underground. Siobhan Fahey has been around the block in a music industry that favors young and/or new artists, and proven veterans (especially those coming back after a long hiatus) are quite often ignored. Regardless, Fahey proves that an artist does not have to rely on past monuments to write and record new treasures. Shakespears Sister lives on! And “Songs from the Red Room” is yet another testament to the fact that veterans in the music industry still have valuable gems to contribute. Do not allow the lack of hype about this album to dissuade you from listening to it. This is top notch; this is tomorrow’s classic Shakespears Sister.

Track Listing:
1. Pulsatron (Whitey Mix)
2. Bad Blood
3. Was It Worth It? – with Terry Hall
4. It’s a Trip
5. Hot Room
6. A Man in Uniform
7. You’re Alone
8. Bitter Pill
9. Cold
10. You’re Not Yourself
11. A Loaded Gun
12. Bad Blood (Jagz Kooner Mix – AT Edit)
13. Pulsatron (Gully Mix)
14. Cold (Death In Vegas Mix)
15. Someone Else’s Girl – exclusive bonus track, iTunes

Keep up with Shakespears Sister/Siobhan Fahey at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “Pulsatron” (Whitey Mix) from Fahey’s YouTube Channel: ShakespearsSisterTV.

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16 November 2009

X: THC Answers 5

X: THC recently came onto my radar, and I have been counting down the days to when I will see them live at Monkeytown (Brooklyn) – nine days: Wednesday, 25 November. Incredible music, incredible multimedia concept, but just as incredible is the depth of the band’s conviction and character. Michael Nova (vocalist) and I have had an open dialogue, and I have been touched by his story, the band’s history, and the sincere, introspective view of the world and human nature. It was only natural that I would reach out for an interview, and I would like to thank Nova for taking the time out of a busy schedule to answer 5.

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Joseph (John) Merrick, Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington, Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, Antoine St. Exupery, Anne Rice, European Folklore, Tim Burton, Rod Serling, Jean Cocteau, Gullermo Del Toro, Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Michel Gondry.

Musically, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Joy Division, Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, Zero 7, Air, Portishead, Coldplay, ABC, Spandau Ballet, Pink Floyd, and Stevie Wonder

2. How did the band come up with the idea of having a multimedia experience for their live shows?

Having had feelings of never fitting in and always feeling like an outsider, even amongst those closest to me, I began to realize that everyone feels this way to a degree.

I felt that this was a story that needed to be told. Someone needed to speak for those that would not be spoken for. For those that hide their feelings in empty smiles, and secret disillusionment.

I understood, and wanted to do one good thing in my life...one thing that would make a difference to someone...

But music was not enough. I realized that without visuals, it would be incomplete.

You had to hear it and see it to feel it. It had to be multi-sensory...

I spent 11 years putting together “X: The Human Condition” as a testament to what the human mind can accomplish, or how it can hold us back...

I didn't want to hold back anything.

3. During production, you (Michael Nova) lost and recovered your sight. How did this experience become a catalyst for the inspiration of what the band does?

I was told by the "experts" that “X: The Human Condition” was impossible to create without a massive budget. I learned why shortly thereafter. It was a massive undertaking...one that took me to the brink of suicide.

When I lost my vision, I never considered that my normal vision could fail me.

My health was always fine, I rarely got sick, and never wore glasses...but now, I tried to make sense of what was happening to me...to understand why everything in the world seemed to stand in the way of completing this project.

In the end, everything that I experienced; the alienation, the disconnection, the feeling that I was alone in the world, the stress, and the fight against multiple diseases... all the challenges faced in completing “X: The Human Condition,” were all there for a reason... to inspire...to make a difference to someone...to realize that you are not alone in the world.

Unexpectedly, the process of “X: The Human Condition” in itself has become inspiring, and whether it achieves commercial success or not, that was never the goal.

The goal was to create one good thing.

One thing that would make a difference to someone...

4. Music and cinema are typically considered two different realms. Other than flashy soundtracks, the two rarely meet in any serious way in pop culture. In the case of X: THC, how interrelated is the film, "X: The Human Condition," to the album?

The visuals tell part of the story, the lyrics tell another part, so they are completely inter-related, but if you were to look deeper, you might find something more...

5. You have quoted Charles Dubois, "The most important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become." In terms of your artistry, how is this quote significant?

I think that as long as we think in terms of a definition of who we are, we're trapped. We're trapped because we're defining ourselves by a label, self-imposed or imposed by others.

Labels limit us to what we know, what we've already experienced, and that by definition, holds us back.

We all fall into ways of being that don't serve us... habits of comfort... for me that was being alone. Giving up that comfort is very frightening because it's what we know. The alternative is the unknown, and that frightens us. But for us to truly live, we need to have the courage to transform the part of us that holds us back into something that propels us forward.

My favorite quote comes from Teddy Roosevelt, called "The man in the arena"...

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Keep up with X: THC at their homepage and MySpace.

If you are in the NYC / Brooklyn area, support the band and head to Monkeytown (58 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg) and experience them live. Admissions is $5, and there is a $10 minimum – click for reservations.

Also, do not forget to head to the band’s website – the Goodies section – and purchase the album (review). A portion of the proceeds will go to support the Jed Foundation (Half of Us) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
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14 November 2009

Jason Ricci and New Blood: "Done with the Devil"

Admittedly, this being the first blues review on SlowdiveMusic Blog, there is a bit of nervous excitement about writing this one. And though I may have passively listened to the blues in the past (my father was a fan), I have never invested the time and energy to really listen to blues. But this is a process of discovery. Sometimes you have to meet the right person, with a great passion for something alien to yourself, to really get interested. Unlike previous reviews, where I may have “lived” with the band for years or at least the genre/scene they belong to, this is new territory for me. So I hope you enjoy the review and become curious enough in the blues to start plunging into this incredible sonic world. So enough of my faffing, enjoy the review!

Over the last few weeks, I have been having the crash course on the blues. Thanks to my friend, Belladonna, I have started to look into and invest in some of the greatest artists of our time. And I don’t mean “of our time” as some pejorative euphemism for the last fifty years, but rather the here and now that we all share. And one of these acts is Jason Ricci and New Blood, whose latest album “Done with the Devil” (21 April 2009) has blown me away… away… and I’m still drifting away. Jason Ricci is a study in contradictions when it comes to the blues. For instance, the blues is usually associated with dispossessed African Americans, and Ricci is white, suburban, upper middle-class. And though I would not consider the politics of the blues as conservative, I would consider their social values to be old school, which gives rise to yet another contradiction: Ricci is openly gay in a homophobic scene. Regardless, though, is the fact that he is the heir-apparent to the title of “The King of the Harmonica.” From the amazing musicianship to the soulful vocals, the riveting in-your-face attitude of the music, “Done with the Devil” is one of those albums that I really regret not discovering upon its release.

What is apparent about the music is that it draws influence from more than just traditional blues. There is definitely a streak of punk rock going through the music. “I Turned into a Martian” is one such song, with harmonica playing that is as aggressive and powerful as any guitar virtuoso. This is not meant to take anything away from guitarist Shawn Starski; his guitar playing varies in style song to song, with a chameleon like ability to deliver new depths and elements to blues music. Another track that will take you by surprise is “Sweet Loving” – as close the Memphis style that the band has ever produced. This is the least confrontational song on the album, easily whisking the listener into a good mood, chanting along with the titular chorus –“Sweet loving with my baby…”

Unlike the majority of rock and pop bands, where lead vocal duties are handled by one singer, Jason Ricci and New Blood share lead vocal duties from time to time. For instance, “How It Came to Be” is sung by Starski, while “Keep the Wolf from My Door” is song by drummer Ed Michaels. However, the fluidity of the album is never sacrificed by the sharing of the vocal duties. Actually, even when styles are significantly shifted, the album is incredibly fluidic. From the opening track, “ Done with the Devil” (country influenced blues, with a definite 70s rock production style), to the closing track, “Enlightenment” (beginning with an eerie carnival theme, the song is an instrumental showcase of some of the best playing out there – possibly the best of the year), this is the single most solid album I have heard all year.

“Enlightenment” is an interesting title for an instrumental. It has given me food for thought, and I am not sure what was going through the head of the band when they wrote and titled it, but I venture to say that the true enlightenment that musicians have to face is that at the end of it all, it is all about the music. It is about the craftsmanship, the artistry, pushing the boundaries, and not becoming a cliché. Every member of this band could easily take a safe listener-friendly route, but they decided not to. Instead what you have here with “Done with the Devil” is Jason Ricci and New Blood at their best – being artists and turning the blues world on its head. This is not an album that you want to miss; check your hang ups at the door with your coat and take a serious listen.

Track Listing:
1. Done with the Devil
2. Sweet Loving
3. Holler for Craig Lawler
4. Broken Toy
5. Ptryptophan Pterodactyl
6. I Turned into a Martian
7. As Long As I Have Y ou
8. How It Came to Be
9. Life of Denial
10. Afro Blue
11. Keep the Wolf from My Door
12. Englightenment

Keep up with Jason Ricci and New Blood at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Up coming tour dates (refer to band’s homepage for more information):

• November 15: Erie, PA USA – Avalon Hotel
• November 16: Cleveland, OH USA – The Winchester
• November 17: Harrisburg, PA USA – The Maennerchor
• November 18: Piermont, NY USA – Turning Point
• November 19: Woonsocket, RI USA – Chan’s
• November 20: Washington, DC USA – Madame’s Organ
• November 21: Charleston, WV USA – The Empty Glass
• November 22: Dayton, OH USA – Gilly’s
• November 27: Saint Antonin Noble-Val, FRANCE – Live at Saint Antonin-Salle des Fetes
• November 28: St. Remy les Chevreuse, FRANCE – Espace Jean Racine
• November 29: Weert, THE NETHERLANDS – De Bosuil
• December 2: Broleck, GERMANY – Kornbrennerei / Radio Live
• December 3: Enschede, THE NETHERLANDS – Nix BBBlues Club
• December 4: Diest, BELGIUM – The Borderline
• December 6: Njimegen, THE NETHERLANDS – Doornroosje
• December 12: Charlotte, NC USA – Double Door Inn
• December 13: Atlanta, GA USA – Smith’s Olde Bar
• December 31: Bradenton, FL USA – Ace’s Lounge
• January 1: Cocoa Beach, FL USA – Beach Shack
• January 2: Tallahassee, FL USA – Bradfordville Blues Club
• January 23-30: Ft. Lauderdale, FL USA – Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise

Here is a live performance of “Broken Toy” at Moulin Festival is Ospel, Holland (The Netherlands) from the jasonricci YouTube Channel.

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12 November 2009

Radio... ummm Lady Gaga

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine wanted to know why I hadn’t written about Lady Gaga in any extensive way – I thought to myself, “Has this schmuck even read any of my postings? Does this dunce have any idea of the range of musicians we have covered here?” Well… honestly, that range is ever shifting, really depending on who is writing and what we are exposed and grooving to at the moment. Originally I thought about more “underground” or unknown (barely known) musicians in the States, but the range kept getting larger and larger – and, yes, I do have plans on continuing to increase that range. (Lately, a good friend has really gotten me into the blues.) However, ultimately, the one common thread between all of the musicians on this site is that they favor substance to glitz, artistry to gimmicks. At the end of it all, we are "singing the unsung heroes," giving credit to unsigned, unknown, and/or major artists that have not gotten all the credit they deserve. And while suffering from writer's block the other night, a dear friend of mine sent me an article from the “New York Post” about Lady Gaga (link), and it inspired me to write – not specifically about her, but I think she is the perfect symbol, allegory really, of what I want to say.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out and someone asked, “Who determines the Top 100 singles?” The generic babble of it is based on radio play, requests, and some sales configurations got regurgitated. But then I remembered the Cure, among bands, ranking on the top ten of the Hot 100 Singles Sale, but not being on the top 100 singles. The only conclusion then is that airplay is more significant in the ranking than sales (ironic really). And ultimately, airplay is not based on the requests that come in (go ahead and call your local pop stations and ask them to play “Papillon” by the Editors, but don’t hold your breath). It is based on a narrow play list selected by program directors. If you are not on that list, you are not going to get played. And perhaps that list is really about the least offensive music (marketers paying for commercial time have to be kept happy, which would explain satellite radio's broader range of music), perhaps it is payola and other incentives (major corporations have an invested interest in pushing products – ever wonder why most of the music on the radio is from major companies compared to the percentage of independent label artists?), or perhaps it is the result of continuing a trend of consumable “pop” instead of doing research of what is out there. Regardless, I replied to this naïve person, “Program directors, of course.”

So it is almost appropriate that Lady Gaga would be named after Queen’s song “Radio Gaga”: “So don’t become some background noise, a backdrop for the girls and boys, who just don’t know or just don’t care and just complaint when you’re not there. You had your time, you had the power, you’ve yet to have your finest hour. Radio. All we hear is radio gaga, radio googoo, radio gaga. All we hear is radio gaga, radio blah blah, radio what’s new? Radio someone still loves you.” Regardless of the “gaga” the radio is going to play, someone is going to love it, regardless. Because if that is all that is on offer, you either have to get acclimated to it or do some searching of your own (which most people do not have the time or desire to do). And though most people I know cannot even name one song by Lady Gaga, she has risen as a pop icon. She is not the only person, just the latest, and will not be the last. Furthermore, I am not saying she does not have talent; she had a very interesting career before her transformation into Lady Gaga. But she, as many other artists, became an entertainer, lowest denominator, for record sales and radio play.

What really got me about the “Post” article was the lead sentence – comparing her to David Bowie, Cher, and Bjork. (I am not going to touch Cher, I promise.) David Bowie and Bjork are not just musicians and artists: they are musical institutions. Both have created music and personas that exist outside of the box, and both have used visual image to express the depth of their music. Both have influenced countless musicians (Bowie: The Cure, Placebo, Duran Duran; Bjork: Kate Havenevik, Lamb), and both have done so by not selling out to the radio. Actually, both could care less about radio play. But the comparison I hate the most is when any new “diva” comes along and she is instantly compared to Madonna.

Is Madonna a great vocalist? No. Is Madonna a great musician? No. Is Madonna original? No. You would immediately think that I have nothing good to say about ole Maddy, ha? Madonna knows her limitation as a vocalist, and though she has pushed her own boundaries, other than the one time rapping (unforgivable!) she has never written or recorded a song that is not perfect for her voice. Furthermore, what she may not know as a musician she makes up for with the ingenuity of working with the right people. And is she original? One moment Marilyn Monroe the next Marlene Dietrich? It does not matter, for everything she does she owns – it is not homage or imitation, it is usurpation and incorporation. It is not the assimilation into something foreign, it is forcing the foreign to be part of her. Add that to being an amazing performer (whether riding a mechanical bull, simulating masturbation, or singing in a German accent), she delivers the perfect performance for the interpretation of the given song. Moreover, and the Madonna fans are going to hate me now, couple that with the fact that she is one savvy business woman, making marketing into an art form, none of these little divas can compare to the career she has had. (It is also wise to remember that Madonna started in the 80s, when pirating music was not as common as it is now. Artists back then sold millions upon millions of albums, and now just one million is considered a miracle and a great day. Furthermore, she was never safe to play on the radio, considering her antics. Yet, she busted through to radio play and forced the pop world to elevate her to pop icon. Can you think of any other person to accomplish that? I can’t. When Michael Jackson became questionable, program directors ignored his new material, while Madonna continues to get into the rotation with newer singles, while generating new scandals.)

To this point, Lady Gaga is no David Bowie, no Bjork, and no Madonna. This is not to say that she, and others who program directors select, will not leave a positive mark on music; this is not to say that she will not give up antics for substance – Alanis Morissette started as a teeny-bopper and quickly made a transition to serious substance after winning a Juno Award. But ultimately, this is why I really do not write about much “mainstream” music. I really do not feel comfortable with a program director, seeking corporate commercial time, determining what I should be listening to. (And this is no fault of theirs; they are running a business that has to sustain itself the way the infrastructure for getting new music out there is currently structured.) And that is not to say that radio friendly music and I have not crossed paths (I love Little Boots, La Roux, Frankmusik), but I do question glitz, gimmicks, and antics over substance and craftsmanship. Did a band like Muse rise from obscurity to getting radio play in most major markets in the world? Yes, but they did so on the merit of their craftsmanship. Yeah, the latest album is not up to par with their pervious work, but “Uprising” as much as preaches revolution and entered the US top 40. But what does the majority of the top 20 music really have to offer in terms of genre, craftsmanship, and artistry? Not much for the most part. Ironically, the most iconic musicians in history, for the most part, were not chart toppers; sure some were (the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Madonna), but those are the exceptions to the rule. Most of the iconic musicians may have had one or two hits, but not a string. You may never have heard of Kraftwerk, but I assure you, you hear them in the work of others. The Doors only had three top 10 singles in the USA, while Jimi Hendrix had none. The Cure and Depeche Mode have never had a number one single in any English speaking country. And “Bohemian Rhapsody” was more successful the second time released in the USA, shortly before Freddie Mercury past away, than the first time, and still did not hit #1.

The lesson to learn about this: radio gaga may be fun to listen to, but it is not going to have sustainability for the most part. Radio gaga may be fun to listen to, but it is the choice of a program director and not the listener. And Lady Gaga may be fun to gyrate around to and even laugh at with some of the costumes, but you are not going to hear any praises from me (at least not at this moment). Her fame is predicated on program directors thinking that she is safe to play, safe to sell commercial space, and commonplace enough to sound familiar to an audience. And perhaps my collaborator here on the blog, Bloodybones, may be right and her next album may take her in another direction, but until that happens, I will always favor musicians and bands that prove their craftsmanship as composers, performers, and artists. And I will never forget that just because it is getting played on the radio it does not mean that it is the most selling, the best quality, or “art” that challenges genre, society, or our own ideas. As in all things, I am weary of the status quo and those that support it, blindly or consciously.
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11 November 2009

And We're Back to Videos

Managing all of the links on this blog is becoming a bit overwhelming. Therefore, we have decided not to go back and update the past video links. We always provide the YouTube Channel, Vimeo Channel, or MySpace page where the videos come from; if an embed is no longer available, please check out the artist on the official provider's page. Thanks!

And enjoy the videos!

Architects' "Follow the Water" from the CenturyMedia YouTube Channel.

Thursday's "Circuits of Fever" from the EpitaphRecords YouTube Channel.

Boy of Girl's "Hot Chocolate Boy" from their YouTube Channel: boyofgirlofficial.

Fenech-Soler's "Lies" from their YouTube Channel: fenechvideo.

Ellie Goulding's "Under the Sheets" from her YouTube Channel: elliegoulding.

Muse's "Undisclosed Desires" from their MySpace Video Page.

Undisclosed Desires

MUSE | MySpace Video

Rancid's "Up to No Good" from their YouTube Channel: rancidvideo999.

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10 November 2009

X: THC: "X: The Human Condition"

I am often attracted to music that is hard to define by a single label; I am often attracted to bands that make a practice of genre bending, combining elements of variant musical genres into one song. X: THC is one of these bands, but what makes them even more interesting is the fact they are combining not just multiple genres, but multiple media platforms, arresting your senses on many different levels. This is no passive musical experience; the album will drag you, forcefully, through feelings of emotional isolation, abysmal numbness, maddening frustration, and ultimately to catharsis. “X: The Human Condition” is an amazing album, part of multi-sensory experience, that may build on many of the stepping stones of the past, but is definitely an album and concept that treads towards the future and new possibilities in ways that many artists have not even started to consider.

How to describe the music? Ambient, brooding, sensual, consuming, and emotive. There is definitely a lot of post-punk influence, with percussion reminiscent of electronic new wave. The beats are very grounded, but the subtle keyboard arrangements are ethereal and enveloping. The vocals are soulful, heartfelt, and delivered with conviction. As Michael Nova sings, you can’t but help to fall into his voice's veritable qualities, making you feel his lyrics on a deeper level. But what I really like about each song is that the music is not arranged to favor the vocalist. Tienne (guitar and keyboards) and John Bollinger (percussion) are as intricate and important to each song. This New York trio is not two musicians supporting a singer, but rather three musicians interweaving a soundscape together.

The band uses the word “synesthesia” to describe the experience, and I could not agree more. Personally, I am obsessed with synesthesia, a condition where one sensory impression creates a response from another sense. For example, a synesthete may hear the “A” note and always see the color blue when the note is played. Another synesthete may touch sandpaper and taste peanut butter. This album will transport your senses, and the one song that stood out the most to me was “Like Violins.” This song, which takes you by complete surprise, is a study in kinesics, as you literally feel your body moving as you are listening, though you are sitting still. Another track to just get lost in is “A Human Flood” – laced with strings, compressed guitars, and affected vocals, the song emotes various, contradicting, emotions, while inducing a frustration of not knowing of whether to sit still or run. And it is rare for a song to have such an effect on a listener, but it is even rarer when a band can produce an album of songs that have such an effect on a listener.

Many bands use flashy visuals on LED screens, but X: THC has taken this one step further. The band has produce a film, “X: The Human Condition,” that will be played during live performances. This only leaves me wondering just how much more powerful the music will be when multiple senses are being bombarded at once. And the opportunity to find out will come on Wednesday, the 25th of November, 10pm. X: THC will be performing at Monkeytown (admission $5, $10 minimum, with a full late night dinner menu available). If you are intrigued by synesthesia and/or have been wanting to experience a live performance that is distinct from most live shows, mosey on down to Brooklyn (Monkeytown is located at 58 North 3rd Street) and support X: THC. (reservations)

Track Listing:
1. Introduction/Hide
2. Monster
3. A Human Flood
4. Sleeping with One Eye Open
5. The Creature from the Blackened Room
6. Don’t Cry
7. Mr. Happy
8. Like Violins
9. Worth Fighting For
10. Tag You’re It!

Keep up with X: THC at their homepage and MySpace.

You can go to the Goodies section of their homepage for a pre-sale release of the album, which will officially be released in March 2010. There you will be able to purchase the CD or download the music, and pay what you want. The band site states that $9.99 is the average price, but keep this in mind: the band has teamed up with the Jed Foundation (Half of Us) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and are donating a portion of the proceeds. Yes, not only does X: THC offer something different in terms of musical/sensory experience, they do more than pay lip service to social responsibility and giving back to the community. The band is committed to fighting against depression, self-injury, and suicide. And really this is something that we should all support. (Hint: don’t be stingy.)

Here is a promo from the XtheHumanCondition MySpace Video Page. I hope you are as mesmerized by it as much as I was.

X : The Human Condition Preview

X: The Human Condition | MySpace Video

Hope to see you at the show.
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03 November 2009

November Blurbs

… Ummmm October Blurbs really, that was the intention… but life got in the way.

When I sat down and decided to start this blog, I also decided that I did not want to write just two or three lines for a review and call it a day. I sort of knew that I wanted to do something more in depth than that; I wanted to really pick albums apart enough to give a reader something to really go by, and not some silly shout out like, “If you like so and so, you will like this.” What I realized right away was that each album would take time to write up, and as a result it would sort of be impossible to cover every single album that I (or the other members of the blog) was grooving to. (Our Tuesdays are usually filled with listening to one album a few times over and then writing away for an hour or two, and it is a process that is hard to repeat each and every day – or even week to week – for each member writing.) Add to that the fact that some albums and new bands just slip by you sometimes, you sort of develop a pool of albums that you have not gotten to. So I sort of made the “executive” decision to include some blurbs… sort of. I still cannot bring myself to only write two or three lines per album, but these will definitely be a bit more compact than past reviews – for the most part. Ultimately, I think they deserve coverage, and I wish I had time to dedicate to them (or a few more volunteers to write – HINT TO MY FRIENDS). In any case, I think that once in a while we will post a “Blurbs” to put out the word on a few albums that we simply could not get to. This is not an indication that any of these albums are inferior to other albums (actually two of the following albums easily make my top twenty of the year), but it is our effort to be a bit more comprehensive of things we really love and time has not allowed us to review in depth. Ultimately, we love these albums and we hope you will too! Please enjoy, and look up these bands.

Settle: “At Home We Are Tourists”

It is funny how the Seattle and Brooklyn sounds have merged more and more these days; hailing from Easton, Pennsylvania USA, Settle combines the best aspects of pop-grunge rock with the melodic qualities and “dark” introspections of Brooklyn’s indie scene. What is on offer on the debut album “At Home We Are Tourists” (24 April 2009) is this generation’s youth’s anxiety wrapped up in quite sophisticated arrangements that do not belie the visceral. If someone were going to argue that the early 90s are back, they best point to Settle. “Grand Marshall’s Moonclouth Robes” (the opening track) may not blow you away sonically, but it will blow you away with it’s 90’s-esque apathy and defiance: “We’re still marching” becomes the rallying call for a new generation that is inheriting this oppressive, dejection full world. And I assure you that if by the end of the first track you are not hooked, the second, “Naked At a Family Function,” will do it to you. Simplicity at its best; what will grab your attention is the subtle shifts from verses to chorus. This is a band that understands that good songwriting does not mean “letting it all hang out” on every track. Good songwriting is composing a song that has its own personality, complete in itself, and has a life/existence outside of the official recording – and these twelve songs are just that.

Songs like “Sunday Morning After” demonstrate that Settle is not a one trick pony. And as I listened through the album the first time and subsequently afterwards, I thought about how bands select the tracks for their first album. Usually, nascent bands spend months (maybe years) trudging through the local scene until getting noticed. Sometimes having written anywhere between twenty and fifty songs, or more, there is a selection process. Settle is one of those bands that have made me wonder what else do they have up their sleeves? It is obvious from first listen that this band is capable of handing over more than they have already, and I am already counting down a second album and hunting down b-sides.

Track Listing:
1. Grand Marshall’s Mooncloth Robes”
2. Naked At a Family Function
3. Rite of Passage
4. ISO: 40yr M W/Kids Seeks 26yr F W/O Kids
5. Affinity For My Hometown
6. I Saw An Inferno Once
7. Murder
8. Sunday, Morning After
9. On the Prowl
10. Kick. Win!
11. Dance Rock Is the New Pasture
12. Into the Mind Of Those Who Commit Desperate Acts of While Under the Influence Of Others

Keep up with Settle at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Murder” from the EpitaphRecords YouTube Channel.

Hello Seahorse!: “Bestia”

I made a promise to myself that this coming summer, if Hello Seahorse! is playing in Mexico City and I could afford to get down there, I would go!

Reality, one of the most untapped markets for indie rock/pop is Latin America, both in terms of forming a fan base and talent. Hello Seahorse! can give any American or British band a run for their money! Their sophomore effort, “Bestia” (4 August 2009) [translation, “Beast” – all translations my own], is a testament that indie rock has a lot to benefit from the infusion of other cultures and music. The album takes it cues from standard pop, indie rock, and electropop. Officially a trio (drummer Bonnz!, vocalist Lo Blondon, and keyboardist/bassist Oro de Neta), I am so curious to see how they pull off their luscious songs live – backing tracks, sequencing, other musicians on stage?

As for the album, it is definitely a darker album than their first effort, and this time around there are no English lyrics – which I applaud (at once, not every act that wants international recognition needs to sing in English – the Spanish speaking market is huge – and secondly, I have always felt that Latin America needs more indie bands that sound fresh and relevant, and not transposing last years’ fad). What will get you about this album are the fluidity and the depth of emotional power. You do not need to understand the Spanish lyrics about nihilism or unrequited love in order get lost in the emotional energy of the music. My two favorite tracks are the experimental “El Segundo” and the pop anthem “Oso Polar.” “El Segundo” [“The Second” – as in time, not order] is wrapped around anything other than a consistent beat. Actually, it is the vocal arrangements that are keeping time. Opening with the lyrics, “I play by the rules, but I fear to lose,” the lyrics slowly slip into despair and mayhem, as Lo Blondon sings, “Perhaps today they will kill me, perhaps today they will save me.” Lunatic, yes, but definitely the crazed feelings we all feel when we are overwhelmed by life and trying to make sense of it. As for “Oso Polar” [“Polar Bear”], it is one of those pop songs that follow the vein of 80s Cure songs – you know, those seemingly happy sounding songs that are depression fests once you scratch the surface. The polar bear is the allegory for the forgotten who seek affection and a place they belong, as she sings, “If you see me walking the streets, it is that I am looking for my home again.” And though all the lyrics are as introspective, emotionally loaded as that line, you cannot hope but bounce around to the music.

Hello Seahorse’s! “Bestia” is going to get my award for the biggest surprise of the year! Give it a listen.

Track Listing:
1. Bestia [Beast]
2. Criminal [Criminal]
3. Miercoles [Wednesday]
4. Oso Polar [Polar Bear]
5. El Segundo [The Second]
6. Despues [After]
7. Siberia [Siberia]
8. El Recuerdo [The Remembrance]
9. Del Cieo se Caen [They Fall from Heaven]
10. Universo 2 [Universe 2]

Keep up with Hello Seahorse! at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Despues” from their YouTube Channel: HelloSeahorseTV.

Blackbud: “Blackbud”

Blackbud released earlier this summer their eponymous sophomore effort (8 June 2009), and though they have toured with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Keane and have aroused the attention of the likes of Jimmy Page, they continue to exist under the radar of the mainstream. And though endorsements don’t typically tickle my fancy, I have to say that this is one of these bands that have really caught my attention (I want to kick my own ass for not catching on sooner). What do I like about this album? The fact that this is a bit over of forty-minutes of music that is not pretentious, trying to be something it is not, or trendy. This is music at its best. There is no attempt to allow production gimmicks or fly-by-night fads define the album or the music, instead what you get is heart felt, soul-searching music.

“So It Seems” is my favorite track on the album. I love how the atmosphere can be near ethereal one moment and the next anxiously desperate. The closing track, “Darkness,” is subtle and ambient. There is no attempt at a rock anthem for a closing track. Instead they go for what they do best – they deliver a song that is easy to be introspective to. And that’s the thing about this album: it inspires you to not only feel, but also think – a dangerous thing! Blackbud is not content with being one of the bunch or just another band, they want to be themselves and deliver music that represents them. And that brings me back to the beginning, about being under the radar – this is a blessing in disguise. Blackbud has carved out a niche where only they exist and have been able to establish themselves and their own sound, something they might not have been able to do if they were part of a hype-machine. But, at last, the time has come for other to hear what they are about, and if what you want is guitar based, unaffected music – this may be the band for you.

Track Listing:
1. Left Your Arms Empty
2. You Can Run
3. Wandering Song
4. Love Comes So Easy
5. So It Seems
6. Golden Girl
7. Road to Nowhere
8. Came Down Easy
9. Outside Looking In
10. I’ll Be Here
11. Darkness

Keep up with Blackbud at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “You Can Run” from the IndependienteRecords YouTube Channel.

Simple Minds: “Graffiti Soul”

I had to write about the Simple Minds, which perhaps says more about the fact that I was a teen in the 80s than anything else. But the reality is that it is has been a while since Simple Minds released an album that I went gaga over, but then they released “Graffitti Soul” (11 August 2009). And it seems that I am not the only person going gaga over this album, but I would like to distinguish here between two camps of people. The first camp of people are obsessed with 80s revival, especially punk-punk revival and this nu-new wave going on. You cannot obsess over White Lies, Metric, Little Boots, or La Roux and not give credit to Simple Minds, who helped to lay down the very formulas these bands have usurped. Then there is the second camp, which I would like to think I am part of, who can just point out a good or bad album regardless of whatever is going on. This is a great album, and finally another group of veterans who are living up to their potential.

The Simple Minds have returned to the pop sensibility of earlier hits, which has been scarce since “Belfast Child” (though we caught a glimpse of it with “Hypnotised”). This is a band that has the capability of turning any concept into a listenable track that is easily appreciated by people. For instance, “Kiss & Fly” does not hide its depth in poppy, happy-go-lucky arrangements; instead the music reflects the lyrics, “Spiritual confusion, so more than I can stand, I can feel…like someone is a coma, someone without sight…feel it in my body…feel it every night.” Yet they have the amazing sensibility to put this forth in a way that is not all death and gloom. “Shadows & Light,” my favorite track on the album, is one of those songs that really demonstrates everything that Simple Minds have learned in their thirty-year plus career. Sonically bringing together acoustic and electric elements, infused with what I would say are many counter-intuitive arrangements, this song, shy of three-minutes, is a power-packed ditty that only proven veterans could write.

I am just one of those odd people that keep up with bands that I have always loved, sometimes making excuses for how a band’s current effort is lackluster, but there are no excuses here. This album is solid, urgent, and relevant, and if radio/video programmers got off their lazy asses and played what is really solid and not a plethora of young, glamorous, often talentless entertainers, then veteran artists like the Simple Minds would once again rise to the top of pop consciousness. But let that not deter you and take a listen to this album.

PS – great cover “Rockin’ in the Free World” closes the album.

Track Listing:
1. Moscow Underground
2. Rockets
3. Stars Will Lead the Way
4. Light Travels
5. Kiss & Fly
6. Graffiti Soul
7. Blood Type O
8. This Is It
9. Shadows & Light
10. Rockin’ in the Free World

Keep up with Simple Minds at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the link for their video “Rockets” from the universalmusicgroup YouTube Channel.

Dangerous Summer: “Reach for the Sun”

Named after Ernest Hemmingway’s novel of the same name, Dangerous Summer hails from Ellicott City, Maryland USA. Releasing their debut album earlier this year, “Reach for the Sun” (5 May 2009) smacks of passion that reminds me of musicians before the industry was so driven by numbers. Do not get me wrong, the musicianship is solid, the craftsmanship is tuned, but what is delivered is music that will not slip easily away from memory. Could the album be more polished? Yeah. Could the album be better produced? Yeah. But, then again, if those two things would have happened, you would not have this album, and “Reach for the Sun” is perfect just as is.

This is not an album full of frilly love songs; instead it is the musing of a band’s introspections about life. But there are two tracks that I cannot get out of mind. The first is “This Is War”: “So tell me what you think of the atmosphere and all those months inside my head. Well do you really believe in me?” Universal – that is what the lyrics are. A hundred million, billion people have thought of these feelings, but no one was smart enough to write them down. The second track I cannot get off my mind is my favorite on the album, “Surfaced,” which is best described as one long, rocking sigh. You sort of get that feeling of relief when exhaling while you listen to the muddy guitar playing, which really must be the intention of these guys to generate an emotional undertow. Then you hear another set of lyrics, so obvious, that you wonder why it wasn’t written before: “Can you hear me? Well, I don’t even care. I’ll stop my screaming, if you look the other way.” Anyone who has been a relationship (be it friend, be it lover) that was completely one sided will relate to this song. And anyone looking for an album that is straightforward, not philosophical but about life, and favors a nice gritty live sound to a polished produced sound, should definitely check this one out.

Track Listing:
1. Where I Want to Be
2. Settle Down
3. Weathered
4. Symmetry
5. Surfaced
6. A Space to Grow
7. Reach for the Sun
8. The Permanent Rain
9. Northern Lights
10. This Is War
11. Never Feel Alone

Keep up with Dangerous Summer at their MySpace page.

Here is their video for :Where I Want to Be” from the HopelessRecords YouTube Channel.

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