27 February 2010

Catching up with Corinne Bailey Rae and Post Harbor

Being buried under snow has its advantages, for one I got to do a lot of catching up over the past few days, including my music listening and writing. Corinne Bailey Rae is an artist I have known about for the past few years, but never really taken the time to really listen to her music. Post Harbor is a band I was recently introduced to and have been stuck on. Both are releasing their second albums, and both are great. So enough with introductions, I rather just dive headlong into these two albums.

Corinne Bailey Rae: “The Sea”

I heard the voice of an angel, and her name is Corinne Bailey Rae, a neo-soul singer from the United Kingdom. I recently heard “I’d Do It All Again,” and really regretted not making the investment in her debut album: “Corinne Bailey Rae” (24 February 2006). I was conscious of who she was, heard all the singles, saw the videos, and really liked her sound and her voice. But, as I was not blogging then and life was a bit crazy, I never got around to checking out the full album. But history did not repeat itself, Bailey Rae just released her sophomore effort, “The Sea” (20 January 2010 in the Japan, 26 January 2010 in the USA, and 1 February 2010 in the UK), and I am completely enraptured by her voice. Recording this album came to a complete halt after the tragic death of her husband (Justin Rae), and after a year of solitary existence, she revisited her music and this is the final product that captures that era of her life.

This album is all about the journey of genesis: from euphoria to devastation to regaining her strength, this is a personal album full of emotional insights and growth in her musical repertoire. The expected soul and R&B strands are present, but so are strands of jazz, blues, and current indie rock/pop. This is easily achieved because this time around Bailey Rae relied on a live band. And though sometimes the band verges on going through the motions (as they do not have the same emotional connection to the work as she does), just playing the notes, what carries each song is her voice. Whether wailing to a guitar or crooning to strings, her voice imbibes an emotional depth that is warm and inviting.

Bailey Rae’s indie influences are most apparent on the opening track, which I would imagine have thrown off a few people. Starting with the strumming of an electric guitar, she sings, “He’s a real live wire, he’s the best of his kind: wait till you see those eyes. He dresses like this different scene, he’ll kiss you make feel sixteen: what’s it even mean? Are you here? Are you here? Are you here, cause my heart recalls that…” And as her disconsolate vocals fill your ears and pulls on your heartstrings, you can only imagine the personal strength she must have to sing this song. And though the indie rock beat drops, and the song starts inching towards a faster tempo, her voice remains the same. And though the music shifts to neo-soul in the following track, “I’d Do It All Again” (the lead single), the same disconsolate feeling to her voice is ever present, but even more powerful.

The album, however, does not consistently stay in this mood; “The Blackest Lily” brings some funk to the table. And when she sings, “Colour my heart, colour my heart, make it restart, make it restart, colour my heart, I want it more than I ever knew,” it brings a sort of comfort, a mantra for future possibilities. Her voice is most powerful on “Love’s On Its Way.” When she sings against the strings, with such a simple arrangement, it is evident that Bailey Rae knows how to emote her soul. The album closes with the highly dramatic titular track, “The Sea,” her metaphor for life: “The sea, the majestic sea, breaks everything, crushes everything, cleans everything, takes everything from me.” And it is all summed up in these final words that Bailey Rae sings on the album. Life is majestic, it can crush you and it can cleanse you of all your pains and hurts, but one of the main measures we use to judge life is loss. And true loss, loss that cuts into the bones and soul, into your heart and existence, is something we can never forget.

If you have ever loss and felt lost, and if you ever thought that there was no hope left or light at the end of the tunnel, Corinne Bailey Rae’s “The Sea” is for you. This is not just an album about loss; this is about growth, regaining that inner strength, and living. This is a journey that shows the human strength and emotional depth. This is not just an album; this is something that needs to be experienced.

Track Listing:
1. Are You Here
2. I’d Do It All Again
3. Feels Like the First Time
4. The Blackest Lily
5. Closer
6. Love’s on Its Way
7. I Would Like to Call It Beauty
8. Paris Nights / New York Mornings
9. Paper Dolls
10. Diving for Hearts
11. The Sea
12. Little Wing – iTunes exclusive
13. It Be’s That Way Sometimes – iTunes pre-order bonus

Keep up with Corinne Bailey Rae at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is her video for “I’d Do It All Again” from her YouTube Channel: CorinneBaileyRae.

Post Harbor: “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them”

I didn’t now anything at all about Post Harbor until the other day, when a friend of mine introduced me them, saying, “If you like Sigur Rós, you’re gonna love this band.” Of course I was game for a new artist in my collection, so I took a listen and was blown away and quickly educated myself. Post Harbor hails from the Pacific Northwest (specifically Seattle, WA USA). They self-released their debut album to little fanfare, but signed to Burning Building Recordings for their sophomore release. With a profound title, “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them” (16 February 2010), this sophomore album is easily a measuring rod for what post-rock is all about. Quite often subtly unexpected and other times abrasively grandiose, the album relies on unconventional arrangements and visceral bombast that hooks itself into you and does not let go. (Honestly, I fell in love with post-rock with “Happy Songs for Happy People” (17 June 2003) by Mogwai, and I have rediscovered that love again.)

Most of the songs on the album are of epic proportion, including the lead single, “Shirakashi.” The songs interplay between being soft, almost ethereal, and boomingly hard. And though vocals are occasionally interjected into the songs, unlike the majority of bands, it is not the words that are the focus. Much like dream pop, the vocal arrangements are just another layer of music, and the focus is always on the music, with its highly dramatic shifts and unaffected lows. This constant mountain-valley to the mood of the music is what creates this overwhelming sonic and emotional power that hooks you consistently.

There is a real level of sophistication on how noise is used on the album. From the falling rain in “The End of Something Great Is Coming” to the electronic ostinato of “With a Line Graph I Can Tell the Future,” noise always enhances the emotional urgency of the music. As for the range of sounds, from strings to synthetic electronics, guitars to subtle vocals, each song employs a range of sounds to color the atmosphere and mood of each song. And there is no “structured” was of doing this; the band approached each song as an individual, never having a cookie-cutter format to the songs. The only consistency in the songs is that they are approached minimalist fashion; not one single song is drowned in sound to the point of being overbearing.

Post-rock has yet to make real headway in popular culture, which may be to its advantage. Musicians like Post Harbor are able to continue to experiment with the concept of how “rock” should be put together and not weighed down with extraneous expectations. “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them” is a steady step in that direction. If Post Harbor did not generate much fanfare with their freshman release, this album is going to turn quite a few heads. And if you are not a fan of post-rock, or have no clue what it is, then you may want to really listen to this album; you may just fall in love.

Track Listing:
1. Ponaturi
2. Cities of the Interior
3. Shirakashi
4. With a Line Graph I Can Tell the Future
5. The End of Something Great Is Coming
6. Alia’s Fane
7. Augustine
8. Caves, Hallow Trees and Other Dwellings
9. Fore Example, This Is a Corpse
10. Intro

Keep up with Post Harbor at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Shirakashi” from their YouTube Channel: postharbor.

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26 February 2010

Videos During Yet Another Blizzard

I thought I would sneak on and post some new videos (I know that SDM has been working on “Skins” videos, with one more installment on its way and busily writing a new editorial).

Goldielocks’ “Cold Sweat” from her YouTube Channel: goldielocksmusic.

The Futureheads’ “Heartbeat Song” from their YouTube Channel: TheFutureheadsTV.

Operator Please’s “Logic” from their YouTube Channel: OperatorPleaseAus.

Caribou’s “Odessa” from their YouTube Channel: CaribouVideos.

Muse’s “Resistance” from their YouTube Channel: muse.

Archie Bronson Outfit’s “Shark’s Tooth” on the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Wild Beast's "We Still Got The Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues" on the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

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25 February 2010

Post Death Soundtrack

Anyone who knows me knows that I am attracted to dark moody music, with philosophically brooding lyrics. There is no such thing as too dark! I get my fix from a variety of sources – post-punk gothic bands, experimental electronica, industrial, darkwave, and post-rock. But imagine for a moment if you could merge all of that into one band? Imagine there was a band out there that could bring together a variety of different strands, forgo conventional categorization, and instead write music from a primal, emotional nexus. Genre becomes irrelevant, and all that matters is mood… the visceral… the powerful, dark undertow that drowns you. Imagine for a moment that all that matters are those arrangements and words that rip right into you but give you a euphoric catharsis. If you are having a difficult time imagining it, I would like to introduce you to Post Death Soundtrack.

(Post Death Soundtrack / Photo by Michael Seelt)

Post Death Soundtrack is the brainchild of Kenneth Buck and Steve Moore, and evolved to include Colin Everall and Jon Ireson. Each of the four member brings their individual experiences, musical tastes, and savvy and expertise to the table. And though the band touts itself as the antithesis of what the music industry has become, it may be better to think of them as one of the bands that should be respected and emulated – not so much the antithesis, but rather the approach to craftsmanship that makes quality, relevant, urgent music. Equally as comfortable penning a trip-hop song like “Long Cold Night” or a gothic, industrial song like “Decentralized” (currently my obsession, listen to it a hundred times and I assure you that you will be a different person), Post Death Soundtrack has chameleonic prowess, which allows them to literally transform their sound from song to song. What else could be said about this eclectic collection of songs on their debut album? “Euchreist” has something of the 80s in it, but does not rehash the industrial and electric body music of that period. What makes this song completely different from its distant past brethrens is that it is more sophisticated, with amazing shifts in tone and tempo. The closing track, “I’ll Meet You at the End,” which opens with an ominous heartbeat, sports out an acoustic guitar, a wicked double vocal harmony, beautiful arabesque post-punk styled ambient keys, and a subtlety that is as entrancing as gut wrenching.

Recently making their debut CD, “Music As Weaponry” (16 September 2008), available on CDBaby for purchase, the band plans to release two items in 2010. The first will be “Weapons Reloaded.” This will include remixes and alternate versions of the tracks, as well as new material and covers of Dead Can Dance (“Anywhere Out of the World”) and The Doors (“Riders on the Storm”). Both of these covers are available for downloading from their official site, but I want you to take a moment and consider this: sure there are many bands that are great at covering music, and there are a few great cover albums out there, but how many bands out there would cover two songs that are worlds apart? Not many, and this is the kind of daring that the band brings to the table.

The second release this year will be the follow-up to “Music As Weaponry,” and if you have been listening carefully to the background, you are getting a glimpse of the future. As a four-man piece, the depth of the music is greater… Just take another listen to the first track, “Beauty, Eyes I Adore.” With an opening vocal arrangement reminiscent of early electronic darkwave, when the beat drops the feeling of claustrophobia and anxiousness takes over you. And if you want even moodier, the second track, “Our Time Is Now,” is for you. Dark, menacing, and chaotic, this song easily proves that Post Death Soundtrack is the most relevant industrial band out there at the moment. Yes, the most relevant, because this is not cookie-cutter, reproduction of the past. And, if you have been listening carefully, you understand when I say that Post Death Soundtrack not only reached the bar, they set it higher.

My thanks to Steve Moore for sharing these two tracks.

Create a MySpace Music Playlist at MixPod.com

Keep up with Post Death Soundtrack at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Do not forget to visit CDBaby!

Also, check out the photography of Michael Seelt at Seelt Studios.
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24 February 2010

JB Answers 5

Well, any fan of Howard Jones is a friend of mine… and that is sort of how JB and I first started chatting, connecting through a mutual MySpace friend. I was instantly hooked onto his music, a relevant electronic blend of musical styles from the 80s, 90s, and 00s, yet avoiding the rehash mania. Continuing to work in music over years, JB is currently recording an album. Taking the time to suss out our questions, we would like to thank JB for taking the time to Answer 5.

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

Musically I’m inspired by shed loads of people, and the list grows the older I get! I grew up listening to my Mum’s Beatles “Red” and “Blue” albums, John Barry stuff, then in 77 I remember freaking out to “Fanfare for the Common Man” by ELP [Emerson, Lake & Palmer]! I loved Jean Michel Jarre's work from 76 to 86, some Tangerine Dream and Mike Oldfield... then in the 80s, Numan, Depeche Mode, Genesis, Rush, Phil Collins, The Police, Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Thompson Twins, Sting, Kate Bush, Yes, Pink Floyd, Thomas Dolby Paul Hardcastle even!... The list is on my page. 90s wise, started getting into things like BT, Chicane, Way Out West, Feeder, and Mansun. Non-musically a lot of people inspire me, actors such as Robert De Niro, Mel Gibson, lots of films too many to mention.

2. I am one of those gear-heads, always getting swept up in those arguments of what sounds better. So, out of curiosity, what is your preference, analogue or digital? Why?

Jeez, both work brilliantly together; however, if I were asked to make a track using either digital or analog, but not both, it would have to be analog.... Because I understand analog probably more and it’s easier to get the sort of sound I want more quickly!

3. There is a misconception out there that artists that create dance music are "frivolous," yet you have taken on some deep feelings and weighty topics, including Madeleine McCann. How would you respond to this kind of criticism about artists involved in dance music?

As with any style of music there’s good and there’s bad. Personally I think some dance music falls down lyrically. I’d rather hear instrumental tracks than tracks with vocals with poor lyrics.

I always try to think of something worth saying. “That Was Then...This Is Now” is about the Asian tsunami, “Sweetist” was inspired by my first daughter... “I Really Love You Now” was written for my second daughter. “Guardian Angel” is about a guardian angel trying to help someone out of a problem… “Walkaway,” the break up of a relationship, “Trivia” is about how some people believe their problems are so bad, yet when you look at the bigger picture of life they are tiny.

4. You mention on your blog that choosing "tracks for the album was a tricky old business..." Could you expand on the need of keeping consistent and varied at once?

This album took 4 years to write. I tried to bring out the strongest songs. Equally production quality had to be considered. “Loving You Forever” was a song written 2.5 years ago, I loved the song but the production was a bit weak, so I asked Chris Andrews to re-interpret and mix it... It’s sounding a lot better now. I might even try a rock version of that song again in the future.

5. You have been in the music industry for some time now, so from your point of view, how has the industry changed in recent years?

Oh massively. Its now easier for people like me to run a fan base and sell music on the Internet. I’ve reached out to more people in the time I’ve been on MySpace in places I could have only dreamt of once. The music industry has shrunk however. So many record companies have gone or merged. I’ve not bothered approaching record companies since 2000, and even then I noticed how key contacts seemed to disappear, jump ship or move on. A lot of this has to be because of illegal downloads. Record companies don’t make the money they used to, and so are even more reluctant to spend any money on unsigned artists than they were in the 80s/90s. You can argue both ways whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I guess the net result is that there are many artists making money like me selling their material as a sideline career, but fewer artists making a living out of it.

Keep up with JB at his MySpace.
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23 February 2010

Sambassadeur: "European"

There are albums that are breathtaking with such grandeur and musical posturing, like The Cure’s 1989 “Disintegration” or Muse’s 2003 “Absolution.” With great moments, full of overwhelming arrangements and bombastic poetic lyrics, listeners are lost in a world-creating soundscape of emotional undertow that there is nowhere to go, impossible to escape. But there is another kind of breathtaking album: the understated. These albums are usually simpler in arrangements, but have a warm allure, a subtle addictiveness, that makes you just want to listen. And in that simplicity, those perfectly arranged songs that are not embellished in any sense of the word, is a soundscape that one willingly retreats towards. “European” (23 February 2010), Sambassadeur’s third album, is such an album; simple and subtle, yet haunting and alluring, one listen and you just want to fall head over heels for the album.

Out of Göteborg, Sverige (Sweden), this quartet (Joachim Läckberg, Daniel Permbo, Anna Persson, and Daniel Tolergård) may have taken their time to release this album, but the wait has been worth the time. Incorporating strings and a dream pop approach to the arrangements of the songs, the vocals and instrument merge into one another in a familiar warmth that makes the album exciting to listen to. Neither rocking nor mellow dramatic, the album walks a tightrope between giving into great Swedish pop sensibility (like Abba’s or The Cardigans’) or indie rock/pop (like The Sounds’ or Peter, Bjorn, and John’s). And it is in that precision, combined with an ethereal feel, that this album generates its subtle, but visceral, undertow that is irresistible.

The album kicks off with “Stranded,” piano into strings, wispy vocals, and steady beat (which all ends in the original piano arrangement); you are drawn immediately into this carefree number. But this feeling of floating free, carefree, is most apparent in “I Can Try.” Out and out, the most popish song on the album, but swaying away from all the conventional pop clichés, this shows the craftsmanship ingenuity of the band’s ability to write a catchy number without selling out their style or substance. Mixed to perfection, the song incorporates a very wide range of different sounds – from synthetic to analogue. Then there is “Albatross.” With a beautiful acoustic guitar and the most heart-tugging string arrangements on the album, it is hard to resist bringing yourself down from your euphoria into this amazingly beautiful sadness: “Once I had it figured, once I knew exactly what to do, and I didn’t really plan to start over once again. I was never worried, I just kept my cool and planned my move, didn’t notice when it struck, I was running out of luck…”

“A small parade has passed, I saw it on my way home…” Persson sings on the opening lines of “Small Parade,” the closing track, and it is exactly the best metaphor for the album. This is a small parade of beautiful songs, which brings a smile to your face, devoid of the overcrowding, jumble of over-the-top antics. “European” is far the best album produced by Sambassadeur, who only get better, more ingenious, and creative with each passing album. Furthermore, this is fresh and relevant, and not an attempt to capture the sounds of the past; instead, Sambassadeur plunges forward, creating a refreshingly urgent and relevant album that should grace anyone’s collection!

Track Listing:
1. Stranded
2. Days
3. I Can Try
4. Forward Is All
5. Albatross
6. High and Low
7. A Remote View
8. Sandy Dunes
9. Small Parade

Keep up with Sambassadeur at their homepage and MySpace.
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22 February 2010

Delphic: “Acolyte”

As much we here at SDM Blog hate to use the term “alternative” when talking about music, what else can you say about Delphic: this is an alternative dance / electronic act, which has released their debut album, “Acolyte” (11 January 2010 in the UK, importable in the USA since 19 January 2010). Already catching the attention of audiences with two singles last year (“Counterpoint” and “This Momentary”), this has become a highly anticipated debut, and already receiving accolades from many quarters, but most importantly from fans. Already set for an Australian tour and to grace the stages at the Coachella and Glastonbury Festivals, these newcomers are continuing to set the bar really high this year. 2010 is seeing some incredible releases right from the first quarter.

Officially a trio (Richard Boardman, Matt Cocksedge, and James Cook), the band does integrate a drummer (Dan Hadley) into their live shows. So unlike many other “electronic” outfits, these guys are not purists and prefer the feel of real drums on stage. And the vocal harmonies… the voice of James Cook, which is recorded on multiple tracks per song, may appear as multiple voices but is actually a young vocalist who has the style and ability to arrange his vocal arrangements in layers like a veteran. His voice is incredibly soft in the majority of the tracks but it stands out as he fixates you on the lyrics, as the musical arrangements pick up the mood or mellow it out, but usually making you want to dance.

Even though the album is vocally exquisite, this is not a “vocalist” album; it is more comfortably categorized by its electronic and dance elements. However, this is not “electropop-revival.” What Delphic has really managed to do on this album is compose an electronic album that is light on 80s references, has substantial “rock” elements (like in “Doubt”), and really part of a Nuevo-electronic trend. This is most apparent in the titular track, “Acolyte,” an electronic instrumental meant to boggy to. The repetitive yet catchy beat of the song gets you up and going. However, this is not a typical, lyrically superficial dance album. Where the lyrics not these grand poetic posturing, they are sweet and straight to the point, devoid of unneeded abstractions. For instance, the song titled “Doubt” already alludes to the subject matter of the song, straight to the point. You can easily imagine a person filled with questions, regret, and remorse, and so the lyrics do not come as a surprise: “Wanting meaning, wanting more than the same things. Wanting everything, just to start at the ending. I found another face to show. Just because what you say is what will go.” This makes sense and does not leave your mind wondering, “What the hell just happened?” There is nothing pretentious on the album and yet does not lack the substance to earn respect from music connoisseurs that are addicted to lyrically deep songs. Each track is incredibly reminiscent of universal experiences, and it is just comforting to hear something familiar every once in a while, especially when it sounds this good.

Form a band and create some buzz? Check. Record a solid debut album? Check. Of course there are going to be as many people who might not like this album as much as I do, but there is no denying that “Acolyte” is solid, from writing to production, from concept to sound quality. IF you have not heard of Delphic, head to YouTube and MySpace and hear their sound, then get over to iTunes or your vendor of choice and buy this album. And import it where domestics are not available – there’s no point in waiting for months for a domestic.

Track Listing:
1. Clarion Call
2. Doubt
3. This Momentary
4. Red Lights
5. Acolyte
6. Halcyon
7. Submission
8. Counterpoint
9. Ephemera
10. Remain
11. Alterstate – iTunes Bonus
12. Counterpoint, video – iTunes Bonus
13. This Momentary, video – iTunes Bonus
14. Doubt, video – iTunes Bonus
15. Halcyon – iTunes Bonus
16. Remain – iTunes Bonus

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

Here is their video for “Doubt” from their YouTube Channel: delphicmusic.

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21 February 2010

Windy City Gentleman Answers 5

Something I am very committed to is supporting new artists and nascent bands, which have the chops to deliver amazing music and deserve to be discovered. Windy City Gentleman is one such artist. Though tags like “hyphy” and “grime” can be thrown around, they would only minimize the range and talent he has to offer. A little bit of punk, a bit of post-punk, a bit of crunk, and on and on, with a unique sensibility of how to put it all together, this is a song writer that keep you on your toes. Currently recording his debut album, “China White,” back and forth with a few e-mails, and of course the prospects of an interview surfaced. We would like to thank Windy City Gentleman for taking the time to Answer 5.

(Photographer: Gabriella Kashani)

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

Where to begin? I've been influenced by so much great music and so many life changing moments/experiences over the years... My father was a huge influence; he's also a singer/guitarist and I remember watching him play in his band when I was a kid, probably around 6 or 7 years old, and thinking, "I want to do that too.” Nirvana also had a profound impact on me; a friend of mine in 6th grade gave me “MTV Unplugged in New York” for my 12th birthday. I remember learning every song on that album by ear in about 2 hours... changed my life. Nowadays, I'm really into jazz and classical, I get bored easily so it's nice to listen to music that’s so different from what I write... helps keep things fresh, when I’m coming up with new material. It's like wiping the slate clean and creating from a very pure place. I could go on for weeks and weeks and months and months and years about what influences and inspires me, but who has that kind of attention span anymore? Lets save a little for the next one.

2. Windy City Gentleman - this is an interesting moniker, especially for someone working out of Los Angeles. How did the name and band come about?

I AM Windy City Gentleman... after my last band’s breakup I decided it was time to go it alone. That way I would never have to deal with egos and drama that come along with being in a band. I just feel that a band is such a sensitive machine; I really didn't want to gamble another 5 years of my life on something that could be undone in the blink of an eye with a meaningless difference in opinion.

The name came about when I came across a book written about an infamous ancestor of mine, Herman Webster Mudgett. The book was titled "Gentleman from a Windy City," liked the sound of it, and well, the meaning behind it is even more chilling... I share blood with America's first serial killer...

3. How did you end up working with Brian West?

I don't know; it's all a blur!! Haha… no, actually used to hang at Track & Field Studios [Hollywood, CA USA] when I was just this punk 20-year-old kid. I was working on some tracks with this guy named Joe (Joseph Lobato) at the time, and he was asked to engineer Nelly's [Furtado] second album "Folklore.” So when he was working on the session, Joe would call me up and say, “Hey man come though, you should get in good with these guys.” So I just started coming around, so much to the point that everyone was completely comfortable with me being there while they where recording… saw some really cool stuff, and learned a lot from those days. But it wasn't until a few years later, after my band had split, that Brian and I met up and began discussing working together on this project. He saw potential in the new songs I was writing and felt it was time to take things to the next level.

4. "Good Old Friend" is really a standout track... What range of music can people expect to listen to on "China White"?

Haha, it's funny to hear that now... that song almost never was. That was one of the first tracks I brought to the table when meeting with Brian, he kind of dismissed it, reason being that it sounded too much like the stuff I had been writing in my previous band, and he was set on doing something new and different with me... Joe (whom I mentioned in the previous answer) and I swayed Brian to give us the keys to his studio for a weekend that he would be out-of-town and from that session we got "Good Old Friend" and "Time Flies." “Good Old Friend” hasn't been touched since, and sounds amazing… ended up being one of Brian’s favorite recordings.

Because there is NO band, I feel that I had a lot more freedom to explore things I typically wouldn't have if there were one. As I mentioned earlier, I get bored easily, so I like to write and record music that is going to keep me interested… music that I would like to hear… and to do so it has to come from a very real and honest place. I'm not concerned with what others will make of my music or words, I figure if at the end of the day I’m happy with what I’ve created, then who cares? So the record will play from track to track like a schizophrenic psychopath. It has highs and lows, dirt and clean… screams and whispers.

5. The music industry has changed radically over the last few years with the broadband revolution, and so has the way musicians connect with their audience. How has the Internet been an advantage and disadvantage to you?

If it weren't for the Internet, Windy City Gentleman wouldn't exist. Seriously. Not now, anyway... I don't have an album out yet and I haven't performed in quite some time... I keep thinking I really am a figment of everyone’s imagination, I only exist in this cyber "avatar" world, but with tools like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been able to build awareness for myself and my music and when my album does come out and those tours are booked, it's gonna make all the difference in the world. After all, isn't the net how YOU found me?

Keep up with Windy City Gentleman on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is Windy City Gentleman’s video “Ethanol” from his MySpace Video page.

Windy City Gentleman - Ethanol

Windy City Gentleman | MySpace Music Videos
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20 February 2010

"Skins" Videos - Generation 1 (2 of 3)

First off, our apologies for being off line for the last week – some technical and some life issues prevented us from continuing with posting, but we have quite a bit of material to post over the next few days. First off, though, is our second installment of videos of music featured on “Skins” Generation 1. Enjoy!

Battle's "Atlas" from the WarpRecords YouTube Channel.

Animal Collective's "Fireworks" from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Wolfman's "For Lovers" (featuring Peter Doherty) from the RoughTradeRecordsUK YouTube Channel.

Gravenhurst's "Hollow Men" from the WarpRecords YouTube Channel.

Depeche Mode's "I Feel You" from their MySpace Video Page.

I Feel You

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Spektrum's "Kinda New" from the datarecordsuk YouTube Channel.

LCD Soundsystem's "North American Scum" from their MySpace Videos Page.

North American Scum

lcd soundsystem | MySpace Music Videos

A Hawk and a Hacksaw's "The Sparrow" from the theleaflabel YouTube Channel.

MGMT's "Time to Pretend" from the MGMTVEVO YouTube Channel.

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14 February 2010

"Skins" Videos - Generation 1 (1 of 3)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love “Skins” – the concept is simple: follow a group of teenagers through their two years of sixth form (last two years of high school here in the States). Every two years, a new crew of characters, and a third generation has been announced for 2011. This British dramedy asserts it self as most authentic show of teenaged life. All I can tell you is that you will laugh, cry, and be dumbfounded by some of the things that go on. (MTV is planning an adaptation of the show for the States, but I can’t see it as being as raw – this show is raw compared to American sitcoms or drama. It may very well loose its edge on the adaptation.) As for this post (the first in a series of three), I wanted to share some of the music that the show has used. The producers of the series really understand how music works, and the range of music that people listen to in real life. Hence, the range of music on the show is astounding. So, you may actually come across a few videos you never imaged that I would post! What I really like about the music that is played on the show is how it really adds depth and dimension to the characters and scenes, and not just background filler. (And the original music of Fat Segal is simply amazing!) Though I wish more of the music were available to embed, that is another story. So let me stop my babbling and faffing… Enjoy the videos!

Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" from RobertPalmerVEVO YouTube Channel.

Archie Bronson Outfit's "Dart for My Sweetheart" from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" from the JohnnyCashVEVO YouTube Page.

Blondie's "Heart of Glass" from their MySpace Video Page.

Heart Of Glass

Blondie | MySpace Music Videos

Lyrics Born's "I Changed My Mind" from their YouTube Channel: lyricsborntv.

Camera Obscura's "Keep It Clean" from their MySpace Videos Page.

Keep it Clean

Camera Obscura | MySpace Music Videos

Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" from the LutherVandrossVEVO YouTube Channel.

The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" from their YouTube Channel: whitestripes.

Asobi Seksu's "Thursday" from their MySpace Videos Page.


Asobi Seksu | MySpace Music Videos
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13 February 2010

Chew Lips: "Unicorn"

And let the comparisons begin. A trio that relies on electronic equipment with a female vocalist – they’re like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. An electropop act with a soulful female vocalist – they’re like Yazoo. An explosive electro-dance act – they’re like Sunscreen. Wrong, wrong, and wrong – they’re Chew Lips and may very well turn the electropop world on its head. They may have taken some cues from these bands, but their own unique twist on writing music is distinct and fresh and ready for a 2010 audience. The band is young… very young! They formed in the spring of 2008, and a dozen or so shows into their nascent career, DJ Steve Lamacq featured them in the Electric Proms Festival in October of that year. The rest is history… with a release in the UK of “Unicorn” (25 January 2010 in the UK, import available 9 February 2009 in USA), this trio (vocalist Tigs and instrumentalists Will Sanderson and James Watkins) is already making waves in British and continental clubs, while redefining the entire concept of minimalist electropop.

I will advice you to do is listen to this album at high volumes, because it obviously was produced with the intentions of being played at a club, and some of the subtle sounds may be lost at low volumes. With that said, the music does not rely on little gimmicky sounds to get you all giddy over reliving the 80s. The songs rely on tight beats, ingenious arrangements, and when “sounds” are used, it is to highlight the vocal or rhythm arrangements, but the occasional electronic staccato surfaces. The ostinato in some of the songs is barely noticeable, and do not form the heart of the song like in synthpop. The kinds of sounds that arrest your attention are varied – from the synthetic to guitars and pianos – and you have a soundscape that is never predictable. (Adding guitars and bass guitars – albeit very affected – creates more depth of sound than other traditional electropop acts.) And though I typically hate fade-outs at the end of songs (can’t song writers figure out how to end their songs!), in this case they seem just the natural course of events.

One of the most difficult things for electropop or synthpop bands is to have vocals that seem to be part of the soundscape, which neither pushes the music in the background nor overwhelmed by the music. Tig, proves her vocal chops in this department. The vocals give the music an organic feel that electronic music does not usually have, and the music and vocals are always in perfect balance. And Tigs incredible vocals are really highlighted in the closing track, “Piano Song.” I wonder if the title of this song is sheer coincidence or homage. Erasure’s “Wild!” also ends with a track called “Piano Song,” and when you have spent the time listening to the album, with all the minimalist beauty and luscious vocal arrangements, you wonder if Vince Clarke [of early Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, and Erasure fame] was not an influence. Regardless, if coincidence or homage, the track is the most serene on the album, really showcasing Tigs’ vocal capabilities. The vocals border on hallow, yet carries the emotional tone of the piano and synth sounds. And even with the synths are getting louder and louder, it is her voice that carries the song. You are never distracted.

I was tempted to just write: “Great album, go buy it!” and call it a day. Chew Lips’ “Unicorn” is amazing on every level: vocal arrangements to production, lyrics to odd synth sounds. And though the album is full of 80s (and 90s) cues, the music does not sound dated, a pitfall that many electropop acts fall into. Whether this album becomes your guilty pleasure, the most eclectic piece in your collection of music, or the album you are proudest to own, one thing for sure: this is an album that will get under your skin in a good way. (My favorite tracks: “Karen” and “Two Hands” – simply amazing.)

Track Listing:
1. Eight
2. Play Together
3. Slick
4. Karen
5. Too Much Talking
6. Toro
7. Two Years
8. Seven
9. Two Hands
10. Gold Key
11. Piano Song

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

Here is their latest video, “Play Together” from their YouTube Channel: chewlipstheband.

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10 February 2010

Five Dream Pop Albums

I have been thinking about this one for a while. Ever since I wrote about shoegaze, I wondered if in fact I should have written about dream pop first. Furthermore, I added more pressure on myself by sharing my ideas (originally about mainstream) with a colleague of mine who is most definitely one of the smartest and observant individuals I have ever met. “Dream pop” came up in one of our conversations, and I really started thinking about the entire idea of this post, especially when she asked me in that academic tone, “Well, how would you define dream pop?” I felt sixteen again, which was good, because it was about then that I discovered dream pop. If ever there was a perfect name of any genre in music, it is “dream pop.” Associated with the post-punk movements in England and Scotland, and bringing many incredible female vocalists to the forefront of some of the most influential and innovative bands, dream pop saw the incorporation of ethereal elements into the musical arrangements and vocal styles. And just as the post-punk rockers before them, in the pre-“alternative” label era, dream pop musicians were hard to define and continued to evolve. And like shoegaze (which is the offspring of dream pop), musicians in this genre are typically associated with more than one genre. The funny thing is that though early on these musicians were British, and the label was coined in the United Kingdom (“Melody Maker” asserts claim to this), but the term was more frequently used in the United States to define this breed of musicians.

Like its offspring, shoegaze, it would be really hard to really point out a definitive, universal sound or quality that all dream pop artists share. And it would be impossible to point out five albums that sum up the entire range of music, which is not my intention. If anything, this is a starting point to start delving into this genre, this mentality and approach to writing music. Essentially born out of the post-punk movement, that rejected the complacency and regurgitation of the style of the punk rockers, dream pop artists took the broody, heady, and introspective music of the post-punk rockers (especially the more “gothy” ones) and added the ethereal, dream-like elements to their music. It is cinematic really; picture it this way… a character on the screen is about to have a dream sequence, but the dream is not just going to be profound, it will be surreal – how would you score it? Some of these musicians went completely ethereal in an airy way, with breathy vocal and highly effected guitars and keyboards, echoing throughout the background. Others did not go dreamy, but rather nightmarish: dark, breathy vocals, acoustic elements, and devoid of any wispy elements.

Like with shoegaze, I have always thought that the best way to define this movement is by its listeners. Because of the vastness of sounds within this genre, which expanded to electronic musicians, there seems to be only one substantial common element: their audience. If you have a Cocteau Twins album, you probably own Mazzy Star, Slowdive, and Spiritualized. In that sense, like the music of the original goth rockers, there is a cohesion that goes beyond the sonic experience. There are artistic, cultural, and social ideas at play – especially for women. Rock (and most of its subgenres) has always favored male dominance. The 90s would really solidify this with the male dominated Britpop and testosterone-driven grunge. Dream pop allowed and continues to allow many musicians, including women, to shape and influence the idea and range of “rock ‘n roll” away from the traditional ideas of male dominated compositions and attitudes. Even the men involved in dream pop (just like those involved in shoegaze, synthpop, and post-punk) reject that masculine bravado and equipment-smashing antics that categorized much of 90s rock mentality. (Sure Britpop musicians were distinct from grunge, but even when cataloguing Britpop people often list Blur, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis, Pulp, and Suede, but not always Echobelly and Sleeper, female fronted acts.) And though most of dream pop would exist right below the level of mainstream, its influence has been felt in virtually every genre of music.

What I have always personally been attracted to is the sophistication of the music. Whether it is the classical elements of the Cranes, the bombastic distortions of Curve, the precise guitar playing of Lush, or the vocal arrangements of Ride, dream pop artists are always trying to bring their game up one notch above the rest of the field, while always hitting you hard with visceral power. (I previously wrote about these four bands in “Five Shoegaze Albums” (link). But as I said above, these artists tended to be part of more than one musical scene, so check them out as well.)

So here is a great starting point – five amazing albums that might get you interested in dream pop. The selection spans back over twenty-five years, and I have lived with some of them that long. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Elysian Fields: “Bleed Your Cedar” (1996)

I remember the thrill and excitement I had when I first listened to Elysian Fields. Not your typical dream pop band, as they are a bit more “earthy” than their brethrens, they gained my complete respect when their second album was not released! Hailing from New York City, Radioactive/Universal wanted them to rework their second album (produced by Steve Albini, known for his work with Nirvana). The label wanted a more commercial, mainstream feel, but the band put it all on the line. They would not rework the album; they parted ways with the label, and ran the risk of never releasing music again. But this is a story of artistic integrity beating corporate commercialism: Elysian Fields would go on to release various albums (the most recent in 2009 (link)) and they alone dictate how the band’s future unfurls. Typical of New Yorkers, Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow (the creative heart of the band) do things their way, on their terms, with little consideration of what other artists or labels are doing. And what they continue to create is amazingly visceral music that challenges not only what you expect from veterans, but also from other dream pop musicians.

Why is it a must? I recently described “Bleed Your Cedar” as the soundtrack of my nightmares from when I was in my early 20s. “It’s been seven years now, living in this box, closed in on all sides, no light, just dark. He kept me under the bed, I’d pray for it to stop; he’d lock me safely away, and lie on top. Pop the latches, open the hatches, out comes Jack in the box” (“Jack in the Box”). This is a band that has the ability to capture your inner most anxieties and despair; they can translate that feeling of claustrophobia we feel quite often in our lives into an eerie, nightmare-inducing lullaby. Sonically the antithesis of “Jack in the Box” would be “Mermaid.” Charles breathy singing, Bloedow on an acoustic guitar, the song metaphorically narrates the reality of being tangled in life and not having what you most desire (“soon as you see me I’m gone”). The song truly captures the band at their best: there is no need for bells and whistles, just the solid craftsmanship of two musicians who can generate simple, awe-inspiring, emotionally loaded, infectious music.

Track Listing:
1. Lady in the Lake
2. Jack in the Box
3. Off Or Out
4. Fountains On Fire
5. Star
6. Anything You Like
7. Sugarplum Arches
8. Parachute
9. Gracie Lyons
10. Rolling
11. Mermaid

Keep up with Elysian Fields at their homepage and MySpace.

The Sundays: “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” (1990)

Hailing from London, England, by 1989 The Sundays were hailed as the next Smiths, even though they had yet to release an album! And though the comparison is truly an honor, in many ways it undermines what The Sundays have to offer. Unlike The Smiths, the sarcasm is held in check with The Sundays, and when getting introspective, their isn’t that gloom and doom feeling that The Smiths could generate easily (think “I Know It’s Over”). Formed after Harriet Wheeler (vocalist) and David Gavurin (guitarist) met, they would start composing music, though having little or no formal background in music. Perhaps that is a fact that was to their advantage, as they were able to avoid the clichés of their contemporaries. The band would release three albums before going on a hiatus (since 1997) with the occasional rumor that the band is regrouping, what The Sundays leaves behind is a legacy that tightly written songs, straightforward lyrics, and introspection without disparity can be powerful and beautiful. And that last word – beautiful – is the perfect adjective for their music.

Why is it a must? “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” is the debut album by The Sundays, and just as the title implies something basic (the basic aims and skills of education), the album itself is very basic, elemental. Furthermore, this is one of those exciting dream pop albums that are not affected by the traditional post-punk broody mentality. Instead, it is upbeat, straightforward, and often lyrically deceptive. Just take their second single, “Here’s Where the Story Ends.” Tight rhythm section and a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar, and a general upbeat feel, Wheeler sings, “It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year, which makes my eyes feel sore… Crazy I know, places I go make feel so tired, I can see how people look down. I’m on the outside, oh here’s where the story ends.” Though she never reveals how the story ends, you can only imagine the horrific “surprise, surprise, surprise” she refers to. And though not overtly political, The Sundays had no problems taking some swipes at society in general: “Give me a story and give me a bed, give me possession, oh love luck and money, they go to my head like wildfire. It’s good to have something to live for you’ll find; live for tomorrow, live for a job and a perfect behind, high time, England my country the home of the free. Such miserable weather, but England’s as happy as England can be, why cry?” (first verse of “Can’t Be Sure”). How miserable it must be to live for a job (as opposed to working to live)? How miserable an existence when it is all about money and possessions and having a fine ass (“behind’)? The constant façade of happiness is all over England (or any nation really), while people are crying. Can’t be sure why? Because life like that is miserable.

Track Listing:
1. Skins & Bones
2. Here’s Where the Story Ends
3. Can’t Be Sure
4. I Won
5. Hideous Towns
6. You’re Not the Only One I Know
7. A Certain Someone
8. I Kicked a Boy
9. My Finest Hour
10. Joy

Keep up with The Sundays at their/Harriet Wheeler’s MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Can’t Be Sure” and “Here’s Where the Story Ends” from TheSundaysVEVO YouTube Channel.

Mazzy Star: “So Tonight That I May See” (1993)

The brainchild of David Roback (guitarist) and Hope Sandoval (vocalist), Mazzy Star formed in Santa Monica in 1989. They rejected the common trends found in the late 80s and 90s on the West Coast (especially grunge), and instead treaded through the realm of dream pop, shoegazing, and psychedelic rock, with elements of folk infused right in. Along side the other “Paisley Underground” bands of Los Angeles (those who rejected violence and hardcore proliferation in the Los Angeles rock scene), Mazzy Star capitalized on soothing melodies, slow to mid-tempos, and the interplay between acoustic and electric sounds. One of the standout features of this band is Hope Sandoval. Unfortunately, though audiences may be multicultural and multiracial, the music industry does continue the stereotype of releasing material by Anglo-American musicians; Hope Sandoval, however, is of Mexican descent. And she can rock with the best of them. And though she and the other members of the band are busy with solo and side projects, the band has not disbanded and plans to release a fourth album; it will be their first since 1996.

Why is this a must? At least in the USA, “Fade into You” may very well be the biggest dream pop hit, hitting #3 of Billboard’s Modern Rock and #44 of single’s chart. Dreary, bluesy, and ethereal, wispy vocals, you really do not expect the blighted view of relationships: “I want to hold the hand inside of you, I want to take a breath that’s true. I look to you and I see nothing, I look to you to see the truth.” Then there is “She’s My Baby” – laced with echoes and feedback looping in the background. The story is open for interpretation, but I have always seen it as the story of a mother having to realize that her child no longer belongs to her, but the world or another more specifically. The titular closing track is of epic proportions (at almost seven-and-a-half), and everyone knows how I love epic songs. The song never explodes, never gains momentum, but stays at dirge pace. The feedback will fill the background, the intensity will overwhelm some, but the song never explodes. Highly poetic (“Searching like the fresh goes by small like wind refuse to die, free me now so I can see the taste of wind who lock me”), the song sports out some of the best psychedelic music of the 90s.

Track Listing
1. Fade into You
2. Bells Ring
3. Mary of Silence
4. Five String Serenade
5. Blue Light
6. She’s My Baby
7. Unreflected
8. Wasted
9. Into Dust
10. So Tonight I Might See

Keep up with Mazzy Star at their MySpace.

Here is the link for their video for “Fade into You” from the emiamericarecords YouTube Channel.

The Chameleons: “Strange Times” (1986)

Hailing form Middleton, UK (near Manchester), The Chameleons (The Chameleons UK in the USA) started in the thick of the post-punk movement in 1981. They are one of the dream pop bands that sport a male vocalist. With a vocal style somewhere between breathy and like Jaz Coleman’s [Killing Joke], the band dregs through dark lyrics, universal nightmares, and alternate between ethereal and post-punkish soundscapes. And though they are typically lesser known than their heavy hitting contemporaries (Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Siouxsie and the Banshees), their influence on music should not be ignored: Clan of Xymox, Interpol, Editors, and White Lies. Disbanding in 1987, but reforming for a short reunion from 2000-2003, The Chameleons is one of the few bands whose legacy is greater than their output. By 1987, they clenched their position in English and world musical history.

Why is it a must? I have two words for you: “Swamp Thing.” That alone is a reason to make the investment. The song is pure atmosphere, like the seeping moments before entering a nightmare. “When the world is too much with me, please leave, just go away before I lose my mind completely.” An eerie, ironic song of imageries of despair, anxiety, and anthropophobia, with jangle guitar playing (in the arpeggios), the song also employs that out of leftfield stream of consciousness of post-punk: “When the light of life has gone, no change for the meter, then the king of spivs will come selling blood by the liter.” Then there are the two versions of “Tears.” Version one: acoustic guitar playing over an ethereal soundscape, the song reminisces about the days of when “we were younger.” The song is really the pondering of those who are younger, ready to break into full adulthood, to take responsibility for themselves: “In the real world, how will it be? In a cold world, how will it be? In a lonely world – beg and crawl – how will it be? Will the ghosts just stop following me?” Version two: rocking, with little ethereal in the background. Arabesque, dual melody guitar playing, the song is just as haunting as version one. (By the way, buy the UK or German version of the albums on CD, as you will get all the tracks that way.) Side note: I still have my vinyl of this album! It does not have a B-side, per se; it has an A and a A+ side!

Track Listing:
1. Mad Jack
2. Caution
3. Tears, original arrangement
4. Soul in Isolation
5. Swamp Thing
6. Time the End of Time
7. Seriocity
8. In Answer
9. Childhood
10. I’ll Remember
11. Tears, full arrangement
12. Paradiso
13. Inside Out
14. Ever After, not on the American CD
15. John, I’m Only Dancing, Bowie cover
16. Tomorrow Never Knows, Beatles cover

Keep up with The Chameleons at their homepage and MySpace.

Cocteau Twins: “Treasure” (1984)

As I have said countless times, Cocteau Twins (hailing from Grangemouth, Scotland) were pioneers of post-punk and would help to define the dream pop sound movement. Influenced by The Birthday Party, Kate Bush, Joy Division, Sex Pistols, and Soiuxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins can easily be said to be the original leaders of dream pop. Defining what it would mean to sing in a breathy way, Elizabeth Fraser’s voice and vocal style (puit a beul – a style that favors the rhythm of what is being song over the actual words) would go on to influence a generation of British female vocalists. So much of the melody surrounds her voice – especially when she is just making “sounds” and not mouthing words. And if you want a legacy, look at every band they inspired; here is a very short list: Bel Canto, Bjork, The Cranes, Curve, Kitchens of Distinction, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Ocean Blue, Sigur Rós, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Sundays. And though they officially disbanded in 1997, their music continues to influence younger artists and hopes continue to abound that they will reform to add another chapter to their legacy.

Why is it a must? “Treasure” would solidify the core of their line-up for the rest of Cocteau Twin’s career. The album was influenced by the writing of French poet Gérard de Nerval, a surrealist writer whose “Les Filles du feu” (“Girls on Fire”) was written as an attempt to prove his sanity while in an asylum! Like the writing of Nerval, “Treasure” is highly refined. The luscious layers of musical arrangements, the vocals of Fraser, and the rhythm sections all conspire for one effect: to create a dream-like sequence in the soundscape. And even though there is much staccato in the playing, it never feels foreign or out of sort. One of my favorite tracks of all time is on this album: “Lorelei.” Surrealist in sound, dreamy in feel, Fraser’s vocals at once sooths you and yet forces you to think – as you try to decipher what she is singing. And once you do, you find yourself scratching your head: “Get off the car, kick his chain, kick his pride, get him soaked… hit… run. Lift up your toes, in my mouth, and we can make love, and we can go…. We’re covered by the sacred fire. When you come to me, you come to me broke.” Also on the album is the more gothic sounding “Amelia”: “Who’ve been wounded, who should wound her? Heart on the grasp, who but who put on the heart.” And if you are thinking, “What the hell does all of this means?” then Cocteau Twins succeeded. “Treasure,” like the rest of their catalogue, is meant to make you think, not just accept music passively. The point has always been to challenge notions of mainstream music, as well as that of the punk, post-punk, goth, and fellow dream pop rockers. And as you find yourself thinking – disturbed! – but transported away by the music, realize that Cocteau Twins have succeeded in their objective, and this is the reason they are not just a band, but a musical institution, and “Treasure” proves that.

Track Listing
1. Ivo
2. Lorelei
3. Beatrix
4. Persephone
5. Pandora (For Cindy)
6. Amelia
7. Aloysius
8. Cicely
9. Otterley
10. Donimo

Keep up with Cocteau Twins news at their homepage, their 4AD page, and MySpcae.
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09 February 2010

Hot Chip “One Life Stand”

After Hot Chips released “Made in the Dark” two years ago (4 February 2008) and toured the album, they did not take anytime to rest. They went directly into the studio, started writing, and are back in the game with “One Life Stand” (1 February 2010 digitally, 8 February 2010 in the UK, 9 February 2010 in the USA). Hailing from one of the Caribbean Commonwealth nations, I have always witnessed first hand how British culture has influenced (and even forced itself on) other cultures and music. But one of the things that really caught my ear on this album is a sound that I never thought I would hear in “popular” music (other than odd 80s stuff). The sound, the instrument, I am referring to is the steel drum, which give a very vibrant sound, and when played correctly you can also get a deep full sound. Needless to say, I was attracted to the album instantly.

“One Life Stand” is the lead single of the album, and it is quite an interesting song. He is pleading to someone, wanting to know what she is thinking, what does she want, and wants to be her one and only. Quite the sappy song, but it does get the message though. The musical arrangement is just brilliant: the piano "solo" in between lyric, was something I found fun and entertaining. “I Feel Better” is hands down my favorite song. Even though the autotune bugged me a bit at first, it actually makes the song fun. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. It makes you want to have that “here comes the beat…DROP THE BEAT HOT CHIP!” And though you then would expect it to be something huge, something the complete opposite of what was just heard, but they throw you a curve ball. What they give you is better than what you expected: they add flavor to the beginning part, a beautiful rhythm arrangement that does not scream “club,” to accompany the luscious string arrangements. This song brought back a feeling that I haven’t felt since I was a young boy, and it was those steel drums I was talking about earlier. Just to know that something like that made it on a song like this, and it just sounds perfectly meshed together.

Now being friends with a certain blogger has really exposed me to music before my own time – specifically synthpop from the 80s. This album really reminded of the brilliant songwriters of the early and mid 80s: Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, Chris Lowe, etc… There is a quality to the music that is not reminiscent of the 80s, but rather a continuation. It is the same sort of ingenuity and arrangements. I am not going to belabor this – Hot Chip grows on this album, they demonstrate a broader range than before, and they point towards the future of synthpop.

Track Listing:
1. Thieves in the Night
2. Hand Me Down Your Love
3. I Feel Better
4. One Life Stand
5. Brothers
6. Slush
7. Alley Cats
8. We Have Love
9. Keep Quiet
10. Take It In
11. Brothers, short film – Deluxe Edition
12. One Pure Thought, live in Brixton 2008 – Deluxe Edition
13. Ally Cats, live in Brixton 2008 – Deluxe Edition
14. No Fit State, live in Brixton 2008 – Deluxe Edition

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

Here is the link for “One Life Stand” from the emimusic YouTube Channel.
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06 February 2010

Fyfe Dangerfield: "Fly Yellow Moon"

I caught on to the band Guillemots after the release of their second album, and became curious as word spread last summer that they would start composing and recording a third album. So, it caught me by total surprise when I discovered that Fyfe Dangerfield (guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist) released his debut solo album, “Fly Yellow Moon” (18 January 2010 in the UK, available as an import in the USA as of 26 January 2010). If anyone has not heard of this yet and has gotten nervous that Guillemots is no more, rest assured, they are still releasing a third album. Fyfe Dangerfield, who loves to keep himself busy (with his band, now solo career, and few other collaborations/projects), offers up much of what may be expected from a Guillemots’ release, but also flirts with ideas that he has not in his previous works. This is a quirky album, as quirky as the fact that Dangerfield is right-handed but plays guitar left-handed.

These are highly crafted songs, with a meticulous attention to details. Considering how they were recorded, it makes the songs even more amazing. The album was recorded in under a week, and though the production quality is minimal for the most part, Bernard Butler (of Suede fame) lends his ear to the production process. What you get here are songs that speak for themselves with raw intensity. You can easily divide the songs on this album into two broad categories: the acoustic ballads and the grand pop songs. (This is one of the great things about the album; it does not stick to a pattern or genre, and even within the two broad categories, there is vast diversity.)

The namesake of the album appears in “So Brand New”: “Fly yellow moon, you put the smile back on my face…” In comparison to the other acoustic songs on the album, this is the darkest sounding one, arguably the most introspective. And of course, my favorite moment in the song is the literary reference: “Once I was livid, once I was in hate, once I was Lear on the rocks.” But my favorite acoustic moment is “Livewire.” With minimal rhythm and melodic sections, the song is basically sung to a simple, but beautiful guitar arrangement. Full of little insights into the world we live in (“Good Samaritans never play their part…”) and a constant playing with words/meaning (“We got everything to play for, 1-1, half time…”), this is one of those endearing songs that may not wow you away, but will definitely pull at your heartstrings.

As for the grand pop songs, the album opens with one such song: “When You Walk in the Room.” The opening beat makes you think for a second, “Are we going electropop here?” The excitement (or fear) of that possibility is assuaged immediately as the piano kicks in, and he takes a defiance stance: “In this moment, no one is pulling me into the ground…” And later, “I can’t help it if I’m happy…” And I could not help but smile. Think about it: we are living in an era where most “serious” musicians are constantly feigning anxiety, depression, and emotionally laden lyrics that make you think, “Dude, Zoloft.” But typical of Dangerfield, who likes to throw out the rulebooks, this song is blatantly honest of an emotional reality most musicians will not touch: feeling happy, being on cloud nine, especially when indulging in that feeling of “I want you endlessly.” It is amazing when a pop song can be such a mantra.

The lead single, “She Needs Me,” comes towards the end of the album, and is one of those tracks that is so absorbing, you simply forget about everything that came before it. This is the best out-and-out pop song so far this year! With big string arrangements, dramatically emotive vocals, a haunting piano, and a steady beat worthy of inspiring dancing, what makes this song such a standout in the recent scene of pop music is that it is anything but 80s. Fyfe Dangerfield does not jump the bandwagon, and could you expect any less from him? You will think more of 70s pop than new wave or 80s pop.

No, “Fly Yellow Moon” is not a guilty pleasure (just ask my neighbors who have had to endure several hours of my blasting the album over and over). You may not get Fyfe Dangerfield at his most experimental, but you do get Fyfe Dangerfield at his most raw, with his constant solid craftsmanship. My advice: take a break from all the 80s influenced indie and the anxiety-feigning guitarists, and fly yourself to this yellow moon and enjoy the ride.

Track Listing:
1. When You Walk in the Room
2. So Brand New
3. Barricades
4. High on the Tide
5. Faster Than the Setting Sun
6. Livewire
7. Firebird
8. She Needs Me
9. Don’t Be Shy
10. Any Direction

Keep up with Fyfe Dangerfield at his homepage (check out the Drawings section!), MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “She Needs Me” from his YouTube Channel: fyfedangerfield.

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05 February 2010

A Rumination on Mainstream

How does the mainstream affect us? As a starting point, let’s look at some numbers… as I am often told that numbers don’t lie.

There is no doubt that Lady Gaga has dominated the pop charts. Her recent album’s, “The Fame Monster” (23 November 2009), lead single, “Bad Romance,” dominated the charts, with top ten singles in Australia, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the USA, while reaching the #1 position in Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. All in all, 17 top ten standings, 10 in the #1 position. This is impressive for any musician. By comparison, Muse’s lead single form “The Resistance” (14 September 2009), “Uprising,” did not peak at #1 in any country, and only entered the top ten in Finland, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK. Compared to Lady Gaga, they only entered the top ten in five countries. Hands down, Lady Gaga is “more” mainstream than Muse, as she has toppled the top 40 charts. But remember that the top singles charts usually represent radio play (though other factors are included, such as singles sales, they are out-weighted by radio play as the leading factor as I have written about before (link)). So it may come as a surprise when you switch which chart you are looking at, like to the album charts, you get a different picture. Lady Gaga enters the top 10 in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK, and the USA, while taking the number # 1 position in Ireland and Poland. All in all, 11 top ten spots, with 2 at #1. Muse’s “The Resistance” reached the top ten in Finland, Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, and the USA. They took the #1 position in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK. (All numbers are from of ACharts). All in all, they reached top ten in 18 countries, with 13 at #1. And if you compare the touring schedule, there is no comparison. Muse will play in front of many more people, have more shows, and headline a slew of festivals. So, if Lady Gaga is outwardly the more popular of the two, the more mainstream, as reflected by her single, why are her album figures and touring numbers not greater than Muse’s?

On 2 January 2010, a reader posted a comment, which in part read, “You should put up an article about how mainstream stuff affects society today, cause it like, so does…” This comment got me scratching my head about the relationship between the mainstream and society, the affects that mainstream has on its audience (in this case, radio listeners), and really how to define what is mainstream and what is not. The later is simple enough: mainstream music receives radio play and is reflected in the singles pop charts. Though I really do not pay creed to charts, because if I like something or not is not determined on how many units sell, but I started with them to prove a point: just because one band/artist gets more radio play, enjoys the “privilege” of being mainstream, does not mean that it enjoys more exposure and success than another. Furthermore, I do not think that “mainstream” can be defined in anyway that is universal. On 30 January 2010, the number one single in France was “Stereo Love” by Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina, and it has charted in six other European countries. But this is a song (and artists) that is basically unknown in the United States. And though Erasure would break the top 20 in the USA three times since 1985, they would do it twenty-nine times in the UK. And this last example reveals a small fact that may easily go ignored.

We could say that there are cultural norms at play that make Europeans more receptive to the over-the-top, flamboyant antics, irrepressibly gay Andy Bell of Erasure, and this in part would be true. Just look at European countries left and right legalizing some form of same-sex civil union or marriage in recent years. But I think that lines of thought like this, these sort of essentialist ideas, are dangerous. They misrepresent what the entire populace thinks, and ignore why program directors really pick out the music they do for airplay. There is a definitive reason why in the UK program directors are willing to play a wider range of music and musicians, regardless of who or what they are. (Though of course, even in the UK, many artists get snubbed for one reason or the other.) I think the difference is in how radio stations raise capital for operation. Unlike American radio stations, the BBC (the mother company of Radio 1) is funded primarily through licensing fees. Commercial time, or in the appropriate lexicon, “need time,” is often limited to operational costs, not to generating profits. To supplement income, BBC Radio 1 has an array of studio shows that eventually releases CDs and DVDs for public consumption. Ultimately, nations that have broadcasters that rely on licensing (like the UK) are not at the mercy of corporate sponsorship, but are of their public sponsorship. So the more open-minded the nation is to social issues and about what kind of music they listen to, the greater the breath of music that is played, as long as of course it fits within the language requirements of some nations, which favor the mother tongue dominance in their radio broadcasts. Ultimately, the only limitation is really not to outrage a significant amount of the license paying audience, in the tens of millions in the UK.

In the USA, program directors are dictated upon corporations that buy commercial time that pay for operations and profits. If the selected music can “damage” their image or product, they pull their money. As I have said before (link), this only leaves American radio stations (and any other nation with this format) playing what is safe, the least common denominator, and not the full range of what is out there. With the constant threat of having corporate sponsorship pulled, program directors have to be careful not to alienate consumers and/or tarnish the product that is sold. By comparison, couple the UK’s (and other European nations) use of licensing and their rich tradition of music festivals (from Rock am Ring to the Frequency Festival – not to mention Reading, Leeds, and Glastonbury Festivals), the general exposure to music that Europeans get compared to Americans is by far greater.

So what is mainstream, what can be seen in the single charts and receives radio play, is quite often in corporate sponsored medias, determined before the listener even gets a chance of listening to the full range of music. The “mainstream” has been “affected” before your reception of it, it has been predetermined. Not to mention that indie labels in this environment cannot compete with the millions spend on promoting large corporate releases. (And of course, print and Internet media either can embrace these chosen select artists, or offer the complete opposite and specialize in a specific niche. Just look at the magazines in the music section at your local Barnes and Noble – just look at this blog.) Any effect that the “mainstream” has in society is to lock you out of a certain range of exposure; that range is just greater in some nations than others. Albeit, at the end of it all, I am not advocating that the USA and other like countries need to have licensed broadcasts like the UK, but I am saying that there should be more transparency. Listeners should be aware of how musical selections are made by program directors. Furthermore, we started with a premise composed as a question: how does the mainstream affect us? In this situation, it does not, for it is corporations who do. The “mainstream,” just the byproduct of corporate commercialism, is what is affecting the listener; therefore, we are at the whim of big corporations that have nothing to do with music, that determine what we think is hip and acceptable. But really that opening question should be completely rephrased: how do we affect the mainstream?

I am a complete advocate of getting my news from various sources – if I read “The New York Times,” I then read “The Wall Street Journal.” If I watch the love fest at MSNBC, I then go to the hate fest of FOX News – the kind of “fest” shifts depending the president. My approach to music is much the same. I look for a wide range of music, and have come to check quite a few sites for new bands, trust the word of mouth of certain people, listen to specific radio stations online, just walk into venues to check out a live show of local or touring musicians, and just take a chance on the Internet on MySpace or YouTube. One does not have to accept music from only one source. Furthermore, if you want to affect the mainstream, start demanding! Demand your local station play Editors, My Luminaries, Northern Portrait, and Surfer Blood. Start Facebook groups, go crazy on Twitter, and/or reach out to people on MySpace. Start going crazy about social issues that are important to you, as their acceptance will change the face of what music is going to be played on the radio as well. But if that seems like too much of an ordeal, then please do not complaint about what the radio is playing. Ultimately, I never do, I take my own advice: search out music on your own.

The point is this, going back to the numbers, real musicians do not give a rat’s ass if their single is being played. They tour, they sell albums, and they reach a large audience by establishing their fan base over years of touring and a steady output that shows integrity and craftsmanship. What nascent band/artist does not want to reach the iconic status of such bands as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Manic Street Preachers, Metallica, Muse, NIN, and Placebo to name a few? And for that fact, tomorrow’s veterans are already producing incredible music (no, I am not going to share who I think they are). And the number of units sold is ultimately not the goal, but the legacy they leave behind and how they have touched their listeners. As for the mainstream, I don’t give a rat’s ass for it myself, and though I know what is “popular” (whether here or abroad), I am often not amused by it, as my niggling mother taught me not to allow anyone to push her/his ideas on me. Nevertheless, I do not think that licensing levels the field all of the time, but I do think that we need to rethink the infrastructure of how music is delivered to audiences. Ultimately what I have learned from this process of thinking about “mainstream” (and running this blog) is that there is no universal mainstream, that many of the biggest and most successful bands in the world don’t chart on the singles chart, and that there is always someone behind the person shoveling out the music you listen to on the radio – whether it is a commercial buying corporation or an indignant public feeling that its licensing fees are being misused.

So to answer that comment that was posted: the mainstream does not affect us at all, it is commercialism or an indignant minority of the license paying populace that finds fault with something aesthetic. As for what is mainstream, it will continue to change (remember that Elvis was not allowed to be filmed waist down because of all his gyrating, but these days who isn’t gyrating in performances?). Fads will come, fads will go; the real question is how many people will buy it or reject it for something more substantial? There are options of where to find new music, from satellite radio, to press media, to the Internet. As for this notion of “mainstream,” it is like “school yard words”: it means nothing unless you believe in it and buy into it.

Here are eight videos from the aforementioned artists:

Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" from the LadyGagaVEVO Youtube Channel.

Erasure's "Breathe" from their MySpace Video Page.

Breathe (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Placebo's "English Summer Rain" from their Vimeo Channel: PlaceboWorld.

Placebo - English Summer Rain from PlaceboWorld on Vimeo.

Nine Inch Nails' "Only" from their MySpace Video Page.


nine inch nails | MySpace Music Videos

Depeche Mode's "Precious" from their MySpace Video Page.


Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina's "Stereo Love" from the SpinninRec YouTube Channel.

Muse's "Uprising" from their YouTube Channel: muse

Editors' "You Don't Know Love" from their YouTube Channel: editorsofficial.

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