30 August 2010

Orphan Boy: "Passion, Pain & Loyalty"

I’ve heard some of the banter over Orphan Boy (a trio composed of Rob Cross, Chris Day, and Paul Smith); as I am usually not moved to go and listen to music just because I heard some drunk at a bar drop a name or two, I did not cross bath with Orphan Boy again till the other day. I started listening to “Passion, Pain, & Loyalty” (2 August 2010) this weekend; on my ride home from a night of debauchery, I blasted the album and two things came to mind right away. The first was this sounds dated, but not at all 80s. The second was this sounds dated, are the 90s slowly coming back? I do not state any of this as a criticism; on the contrary, I believe that the band wanted the album to sound this way, capturing a mood and feel of yesteryear. Orphan Boy stands as one of those bands rejecting the 80s influenced crazed of the moment (for the most part), which I imagine would bring them the ire of some, but it is a welcomed change of pace, especially when speeding along Route 3 in New Jersey.

The album kicks off with “Letter For Annie”; the track has a long, drawn out introduction that would make the likes of Ride jealous. “I wrote you a letter, cos you’re not listening anymore,” sings Rob Cross, and later sings, “You wallow in romance, while the ones that love you grieve.” A “letter” but it is in a song, though the person is “not listening” anymore – cheeky irony! This is one of these weighty “showgazy” song, almost drowning in its own undertow, laced with a thriving bass and dirgeful guitar. When the beat finally drops, you are no longer floating on air; you are dropping fast, crashing towards the ground. “Pop Song” follows, and I like the way the guitar is crisp, almost jangly, while everything else is muttered and affected. Then comes “Harbour Lights.” Opening with vocal effects, including backmasking, you may think it is going to be a harrowing number, but when the beat drops, the rhythm section really carries the song into a feel-good post-punk influenced number. But it is not the post-punk of the early 80s, but rather the threads found in the late 80s and 90s in shoegaze.

The piano in “1989” is almost ironic – considering all of the 80s nostagia lately, you would think that at song named “1989” would use more synthetic sounds. Again, the song is very muttered, very “shoegazy,” and though it has a piano, I would not call this piano pop/rock at all. Instead the piano functions much the same way as an arppeggiated rhythm guitar would. This is followed by “Anderson Shelter Blues,” aptly starting with a harmonica, narrates the story of trying to survive during war. Anderson shelters were designed to be a small wartime shelter for families, and were even supplied for free to lower income families in the UK before the outbreak of World War II. “I remember it well, I was ten years old, the sky was filled with mustard smoke; in the wine cellar all spirits broke… I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, or why the gunfire rattled and fell…” Without being preachy, the lyrics concentrate on the people’s reactions to war, while the music allows the listener to ponder, contemplate the issue.

The highest compliment I could give to this album is the final track, “A180.” The song is musically dramatic and visceral; lyrically the song is resigned to reality (“We gave our minds to this, they explained, we cannot win. There’s footsteps in the footnotes boy, and all your failures keep you thin.”) Slow, harrowing, with a piercing lead guitar arrangement, I would imagine that if a young David Bowie were writing now, this is the song he would write. And that statement, my friends, says it all.

Now I ask a favor: what ever you do, do not call Orphan Boy Madchester or shoegaze. They are neither. “Passion, Pain, & Loyalty” (great descriptors of qualities of life) exists in a niche that may graze elbows with these genres, but comfortable fits in none. This is a band that is continuing to grow and wet their feet in new musical terrains, slowly maturing their musical style while not clinging to one musical reference or genre. If any one album has taken me by surprise this summer, this is it.

Track Listing:
1. Letter For Annie
2. Pop Song
3. Harbour Lights
4. Remember
5. Some Frontier
6. 1989
7. Anderson Shelter Blues
8. The Promise
9. Untitled #9
10. A180 Song

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

Here is their video for “Pop Song” from their YouTube Channel: orphanboyuk.

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29 August 2010

Originals and Covers: Videos

I thought I would have a little fun…..

I was listening to “Gala” by Lush when “Hey Hey Helen” came on. What a great cover version to the song; it inspired me to start listening to some original versions against the covers, including “No More “I Love You’s” (The Lover Speaks / Annie Lennox), “Lullaby” (The Cure / Editors), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana / Tori Amos), and “Strawberry Fields Forever” (The Beatles / Candy Flip – slang for dropping LSD). So I started to think about why cover a song, and what makes a good cover. Not to get into this too much, but as for why: to bring something new out of a song, or to save it from obscurity, or both. As for what makes a good cover? There is no one set rule. Sometimes a complete departure, sometimes keeping a one or two or three elements, and sometimes keeping faithful to the original, I am usually more curious about why a band chooses to cover one band or song and not another. Though I hate to compare the “value” of one against the other, it is sometimes obvious that the cover outdoes the original, but most of the time pales in comparison. Here are five interesting originals and their covers. (I stuck to songs that were singles only, so I could post them with videos.) Enjoy!

“Blue Monday”

Original by New Order, from their MySpace Videos Page.

Blue Monday (1988) by New Order

new order | MySpace Music Videos

Cover by Orgy, from their MySpace Videos Page.

Blue Monday

Orgy | MySpace Music Videos


Original by Madonna, from her MySpace Videos Page.


Madonna | MySpace Music Videos

Cover by The Flaming Lips, from their MySpace Videos Channel.


The Flaming Lips | MySpace Video

“Enjoy the Silence”

Original by Depeche Mode, from their MySpace Videos Page.

Enjoy The Silence

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Cover by Lacuna Coil, from the CenturyMedia YouTube Channel.

“Take a Chance on Me”

Original by Abba, from the AbbaVEVO YouTube Channel.

Cover by Erasure, from their MySpace Video Page.

Take A Chance On Me (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

“Who’s That Girl?”

Original by Eurythmics, from the EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel.

Cover by She Is Danger, from their YouTube Channel: sheisdangermusic.

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24 August 2010

Catching up with Stars and Murder by Death

So the other night I posted some videos, which included one by Murder by Death; I scratched my head because I could have sworn that I reviewed them, when in fact I had never found the time. So I looked through my digital collection and CDs and found another band that I never found the time to sit down and write about…. So I cleared my calendar completely. It was time to write about Stars and Murder by Death, two bands entering veteran status (both releasing music for close to a decade), they have never compromised on exactly what they envision for their music. Both have songwriting chops, both could easily write a piece of frilly, bubblegum pop, but have definitely decided to go another direction.

Stars: “The Five Ghosts” (above)

Murder by Death: “Good Morning, Magpie” (below)

Stars: “The Five Ghosts”

Canadian veterans Stars released their fifth album, “The Five Ghosts” (22 June 2010), and offer up another album full of sentimental warmth and ingenious hooks. This is a band whose prolific body of work is astounding. All of the members of the band are also part of baroque/dream pop band Broken Social Scene, while one member enjoys an acting career and another a solo career. This time around, though Vagrant Records will handle the international distribution of the album, within Canada their own label, Soft Revolution, will handle distribution. There was a time I wondered why musicians would want to start their own label, and it eventually dawned upon me why: creative control. Especially in North America, where record companies are eating up other companies, and the business/number side of music has become more important than the artistry, musicians have little choice but to preserve their creativity by creating new channels for release. And this has definitely helped Stars compose and record an incredible album.

This is not a “big” album full of virtuoso moments – that would defeat the purpose of writing music of breaking up and heartache. Furthermore, though we could correctly call this an indie release (as it is on their own independent label), the album wallows through a few genres: pop, dream pop, post-punk, electropop, and shoegaze. The music itself is highly dramatic, conveying everything from urgency to confusion, listlessness to nervousness. Another great aspect of the album is the vocals. I love how the female and male vocal arrangements work with and off of each other.

There are many intriguing songs on offer, including “Wasted Daylight”: “Heat is a heavy head, keeps me in my bed; push aside the pillow, the whole room just turned yellow. Three in the afternoon, we still haven’t moved; sirens sighs echo, a pulse through our window…” and then the beat drops. As “poppy” as a song can get before it is no longer “shoegazey,” the song is urgent with an undertow of nervousness. But the most infectious song on the album is “I Died So I Could Haunt You.” You would think with a title like that you are going to get a dreary gloom fest, but it is actually as upbeat as can you get. My favorite song on the album, “We Don’t Want Your Body,” is pretty much crass and upfront in its discontent: “I sigh and frown and start to cough, your hunger starts to turn me off.” The music is mysterious at times, with its electropop effects, but the bass and guitar arrangements in the chorus are so itchy, you want to move, dance… The most sentimental song is the ambient “The Last Song Ever Written.” Of course, there is a twist in the sentimentality: “This is the last song that was ever written; after this nothing will rhyme. This is the last time that you’ll ever see us; after this, you’re gonna go blind.”

It is becoming rarer and rarer when bands have released multiple albums and can still hold my attention. Stars is one of those bands, and “The Five Ghosts” is one of those sentimental albums that may border on cutesy, but packs visceral power and universal emotionality that is infectious and hooks you. This is solid craftsmanship that should not be passed over!

Track Listing:
1. Dead Hearts
2. Wasted Daylight
3. I Died So I Could Haunt You
4. Fixed
5. We Don’t Want Your Body
6. He Dreams He’s Awake
7. Changes
8. The Passenger
9. The Last Song Ever Written
10. How Much More
11. Winter Bones

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

Here is their video for “Fixed” from their YouTube Channel: StarsMontreal.

Murder by Death: “Good Morning, Magpie”

Taking their name from the comedy of the same name, Murder by Death hails from Bloomington, Indiana USA. Releasing their fifth album, “Good Morning, Magpie” (6 April 2010, also available on vinyl!), they bring a bit of country, folk, and post-punk to indie rock. Unlike the previous album, there is no consistent theme or narrative, but there is a sense of urgency and isolation. As the story goes, the album was conceived and (started to be) composed when Adam Turla went in the Appalachia for two weeks, living disconnected from the rest of the world. The final product: dark, introspective, and broody.

Opening with “Kentucky Bourbon,” you get a definite idea where the album is going: “There are many choices in this life that we don’t get to make; like who’s your pa, where you from, and when the leaves are down it’s time to rake.” One of the few choices you do have is to drink Kentucky bourbon (and though I am a vodka man, as long as you are going to drink whiskey, Kentucky bourbon is the way to go). This short track goes immediately into “As Long As There Is Whiskey in the World.” A modern day drinking song fit to be sung at a pub (one of my goals to get a few friends to sing this one really loud at a bar), the song goes through being down, having loved, and even higher powers, but ultimately, Turla sings, “I don’t want to be saved, as long as there is whiskey in the world.” The drinking theme is left behind for “On the Dark Streets Below,” a song about prostitution, two prostitutes to be exact. There is Annie who “makes a kind of music of the buttons popping off her dress,” and Adelle who “guessed… she could find a job in management… but now her talent’s spend on other people's dough.” And even though there is a slight admonition to the song, there is the ultimate reality that these women live with: “These folks got nowhere left to go.” It is a harsh reality that is never spoken of, and two thumbs up to Murder by Death for taking on the issue with tongue-in-cheek and a horn filled, sometimes sensually arranged, song.

My favorite track on the album is “Piece By Piece,” a sort of advice-filled song to someone younger. Full of universal axioms – “You’re walking ‘round free and in chains the next day; time has a way of breaking you down, piece by piece from your tooth to your claw” – resident cellist, Sarah Balliet, has the most gut wrenching, heart tugging arrangements on the album right here. Sure, you could easily say that in other songs the arrangements are more luscious or even more intricate, but they do not pack the visceral punch as they do here. Another favorite is a song about the mundane: shaving! “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shavin’ With a Knife)” may very well be a story of Turla’s stay in the wilderness… when he “thought I’d try my hand at the barber’s trade.” Of course, he ends up cutting himself with his knife while shaving… and starts the fussing and the cussing. The music is playfully dark, as it is played as tightly as you would imagine a novice actually holding a knife in shaving. And don’t forget the narrative “White Noise”: the broodiest song on the album, for all of its contemplation, it is the most sensual song on the album.

Murder by Death’s “Good Morning, Magpie” is a study in contradictions. Slumped in many old (some classic) genres, despite the musical references, it is fresh, urgent, and relevant. Dark and seedy at times, the album is quite often mundane and universal. Though the tracks shift from one theme to another with relative ease and dexterity, the style of music produces a visceral effect that unifies them… and again, this one is an album. Though each song is strong on its own, this is an entire experience, beginning to end, that is going to impress you.

Track Listing:
1. Kentucky Bourbon
2. As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World
3. On The Dark Streets Below
4. King Of The Gutters, Prince Of The Dogs
5. Piece By Piece
6. Good Morning, Magpie
7. You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shavin’ With A Knife)
8. Yes
9. Foxglove
10. White Noise
11. The Day

Keep up with Murder by Death at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are their videos for “As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World” and “White Noise” from the vagrantrecords YouTube Channel.

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18 August 2010

The Android Angel Answers 5 (Again)

So here is a first for SlowdiveMusic Blog....

The Android Angel (Paul Colto), whom I have reviewed (link) and interviewed (link) earlier this year, was spending some time in New York City. It gave us the perfect opportunity to sit down with him and conduct an interview face-to-face, on camera. Mirage asked the questions, and we would like to thank Paul Colto for taking the time and answering five in person.

Keep up with The Android Angel at homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you are in the NYC area on Thursday, August 19th, you may consider coming down to Recoup Lounge (21 Rivington St.) at 8pm and catch The Android Angel sole area show.
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15 August 2010


Here is an eclectic collection of videos. Enjoy!

Glass Diamond’s “Chase After Myself” from their YouTube Channel: GlassDiamondMusic.

Grinderman’s “Heathen Child” from the MuteChannel YouTube Channel.

Clinc’s “I’m Aware” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Skream’s “Listen’ To the Records on My wall” from the rinsefm YouTube Channel.

Stornoway’s “Watching Birds” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Murder By Death’s “White Noise” from the vagrantrecords YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

13 August 2010

New Concept

Many thanks to Marcel, who gave me the opportunity to open actual CDs and not cold downloads – how I love to open CDs and read through booklets lying back on my coach!

What I find most interesting about electro/synthpop is that when most think of its origin, they think of the United Kingdom right away. Rarely do we hear the names Gershon Kingsley, Kraftwerk, or Karlheinz Stockhausen – all hailing from Deutschland (Germany). Actually, Deutschland never gets the credit it really deserves as it is the dominant nation of Europe and one of the dominant in the world: top 5 GDP (the largest in Europe), the strength behind the Euro (on the rise again), has one of the largest immigrant work forces (people do not emigrate to other nations unless there is hope for economic mobility), one of the world’s three largest exporters of goods (especially in terms of car – drivers wanted!), and one of the most prolific producers of music. I think Brits and Americans need to take a step back a moment and really take note how the Germans have contributed to, defined, redefined, and mastered electronic music in general, electropop specifically. Whereas in the UK and USA the electro-revolution in music, seen most clearly in the rise of new wave, was an extension of the post-punk movement – musicians keeping a punk ideology alive of questioning the status quo, expectations, and the aesthetics of genre started to experiment with electronic elements, some forsaking analogue instruments altogether. In Deutschland, however, there may have been a punk movement and post-punk as well, electronic music (as in France and Scandinavia as well) developed independently from these. The rise of electronic music was an art form of its own that has been ripped off and emulated by the Brits and American in many ways. And to give you an idea of the range of German electronic bands – from electropop to EBM – here are a few bands worth looking into: Accessory, Armageddon Dildos, Camouflage, CCCP, De/Vision, Eruption (a forefather band, active in the early 1970s), Funker Vogt, Jesus on Extasy, KMFDM (which loosely means “no pity for the majority,” not Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode), Paranoid, PISCIDE, Planetakis, Polarkreis 18, TOY, Trio, Weltklang, Wolfsheim, X-Perience, Yendri, and Zhi-Vago.

This post, however, is all about New Concept.

I have been fortunate when it comes to German music; my nephew, who lives here in the States with me, was raised in Deutschland and keeps me in touch with what is happening over there (now if I can get him to write about all these bands!). But that is not how I discovered New Concept; a few weeks ago I received a friend request on MySpace from the band, accepted, and listened to the music. I was blown away by the sophistication of the music. I needed to hear more, know more, so it was only a question of time before I reached out to the band (blatantly asked them to send me their discography) and spent a few days listening, very loudly, to their music exclusively…. I think my neighbor is singing along to some of the songs already.

One of the marks of great songwriting is when genre becomes irrelevant. Where any given song can be reformatted into any genre and exists beyond the static version written and recorded on an album; when the song has a personality, attitude, and life of its own, outside of the band, album, or genre. This applies to New Concept. Though they are essentially an electropop band, their music is more universal than just that. Each song only shares sophistication and savvy in common; individually, they all have a life of their own, though they come together beautifully as albums. In this post iPod world, we are quickly forgetting the concept of albums, unified by themes or sonic motifs or production styles. (My friends will tell you that I load full albums into my iPod and make them endure each and every track!) Whether it is New Concept’s “Wheel of Love,” “The Outer Gates,” or “Stomp,” each is a complete collection in and of itself, composed of individual songs that can easily stand-alone.

English is one of the two largest language markets for music in the Western world (Spanish being the other); New Concept has opted to sing in English, though I would love to hear a few German tracks personally. But unlike most of the electropop written in the English-speaking market, many of the hackneyed clichés are thankfully missing from New Concept. They may have heard their 80s and even their 90s, but they do not allow this to be the determining factor of how their music is going to run. Sometimes employing an ostinato (that repetitive sound in the background) and sometimes not, sometimes faux-drum and bass sounds and sometimes not, sometimes completely electronic and sometimes not, the different combinations allow for a more varied experience and a great range of depth to their music. English is definitely their second language, but it does not hinder the depth of their lyrics in the least. Sometimes when listening to foreign bands singing in English, you can’t hope but think to yourself, “What the hell do they mean?” or “Couldn’t they find a better rhyme for that?” But you never get that with New Concept. Their lyrics are as fluidic as their music.

For those of you into electro/synthpop music, New Concept will offer up a new alternative to the new wave of Anglo-dominated electro-revival. And for those of you starting to explore Deutschland’s incredible musical traditions and scenes, New Concept is one of the most inviting points of entry. Below are brief reviews of each of their major releases, and you can definitely head over to iTunes to download away.

“Wheel of Love” (2000)

The album opens with a short, ambient instrumental, bordering on a trip hop feel to the beat, but quickly gives way to “Innocence.” The textures of the sounds between the rhythm and melodies couldn’t be more different. The heartfelt admission, “I’m crying tears of innocence, I’ve never cried these tears…” is ambiguous, because we never learn what caused those tears, only that “you flee it’s reality.” But it is that kind of ambiguity that leads a listener to connect the song to his/her own experiences, not having one spelled out for him/her. “Try!” is more aggressive, really harkening back to a new wave feel, where “Why Don’t You Believe Me” (“Is it right? Is it wrong? I’ve waited so long, endless nights…”) is the perfect piece of contemporary synthpop.

“Harbour of Storm” has two appearances on the album. The album version is visceral, where the High Energy Mix definitely captures German dance trends of its time. “Daydream,” my favorite song on the album, is one of the two darkest songs on the album, with a definite hint of darkwave – “Never trust another daydream. Never trust what you saw. Conceal the pain.” This kind of song is a lost art form in music: the ability to write an upbeat pop song that is dark and sinister at the same time, but with no undertow. The other dark track, “But You’ll Never Sleep Tonight,” closes out the album (other than the extra remix of “Harbour of Storm.”) Let me commit blasphemy now! This is the kind of song that old Depeche Mode fans pray that DM would produce nowadays. Electropop that does not harken to the past, intricate rhythm section, and introspective lyrics (“… but you’ll never sleep tonight, no chance to say good bye, I’ll take you through this darkest life and you moan… and you moan alone, greed demands its own…”), the song is mysterious, open-ended, and sonically inviting.

Track Listing:
1. Brainstorm
2. Innocence
3. Try!
4. Why Don’t You Believe Me
5. Never Never
6. Greatest Lifetime
7. Harbour of Storm
8. Daydream
9. Losing
10. Daydream
11. Living
12. But You’ll Never Sleep Tonight
13. Harbour of Storm, High Energy Mix

“The Outer Gates” (2004)

They open their sophomore album distinctly from their debut; “U Stop Me” is a near-dance ready pop song, employing vocal effects, whose upbeat pace belies the fact of the lyrics of the falsetto: “Another point, another town, another joy to break a heart for a while.” Also on the album is “…Met You At 46,” a full length, mid-paced instrumental with impressionable string arrangements, sometimes bordering on dark; the song has some arabesque moments. Again, New Concept produces music that fans of old synthpop would be happy with: “Waiting” and “Wonderful Star.” No, they do not sound like 80s at all, but they are the logical progression of what synthpop should sound like today. They do not harken back two decades to reproduce an old sound, but rather rely on modern sound effects for their ostinato. “Waiting” relies on a slue of electronic sounds/effects and guitar, while “Wonderful Star” employs big, ambient key arrangements.

Two tracks exist in two different versions. The first is “Sky.” The album version, with its piano and ambient keys, borders on darkwave, while the rough version is more synth/industrial rock than anything else – demonstrating that the band has more range than previously demonstrated. The second track is “Station Man.” The album version is brilliant songwriting and production: the song sounds much more complex than it is, a testament to great production. The R’n’voice Remix, with female vocals, is much more downtempo and loungey. Again, demonstrating a new range in music than previously demonstrated, you are left to wonder just how much more can this band really change it up.

One of the bonus tracks is “Blue Dress,” a cover of a Depeche Mode track off of “Violator.” First off, I think that it is easier to sound like DM than it is to cover them – one of the reasons why there aren’t many covers of DM, because it is difficult to take their music out of context/genre. However, New Concept owns their cover. Though the vocal arrangements are near identical (though the background vocals are more luscious), the beat is slightly faster, the wall of sound fuller, and has a hopeful feel to it, not the anxiousness that Gore infuses into the song with his voice and Wilder with the texture of the sounds. (And two thumbs up for not covering a single!)

Track Listing:
1. U Stop Me
2. Waiting
3. U2 Night
4. Wild Brain
5. Return
6. Sky
7. Met You at 46
8. Wonderful Star
9. Live and Die
10. Station Man
11. Flash In the Night
12. Love Is Blind
13. Station Man, R’m’Voice Remix
14. Blue Dress (Depeche Mode cover)
15. Sky, Rough Version

Here is a video clip for “”U2 Night” from their YouTube Channel: newconcnewconc.

“Stomp!” (2009)

I listened to the previous material in order of release; I wanted to get my own concept of what they sounded like against their own contemporaries and develop my own expectations of the band maturing. When I heard “Stomp!” I was forced to throw all my expectations out the window. Sure, it is sophisticated and savvy like everything that followed it before, but the sound is bigger! Though technically an EP, “Stomp!” makes more musical references than before, again showing the band’s ability to exist out of the pigeonhole of electropop. With a move in record label, on what is on offer the band states: “It was really important for us this time to keep a musical thread running through the album and to concentrate on our specialities, without foregoing ingenious ideas, instead of offering too much which might not actually be appreciated.” And they succeeded.

The music here is more visceral than their previous releases, with vocal arrangements that are bit more unexpected. Take the titular track, “Stomp!,” its vocal arrangements are closer to Irish jig than anything in electropop, accompanied with a big guitar and aggressive arrangements/sounds. “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” a real foray into synthrock darkwave, follows. “Drowning” is a modern day electronic post-punk song, while “Slow Motion” is the interplay of a rock guitar arrangement against an instrumental downtempo song. New Concept plays within the piano rock genre for “More Than Gold,” with intricate vocal arrangements (together, the vocalists can span four octaves). Followed by the hodgepodge “When You Come Around,” this is the most interesting track. The song threads together many musical references, from rock to industrial, from pop to post-punk, it is a song that in theory you do not think will work, but it does. The music never allows the lyrical anger or anxiousness to overwhelm it, though the affected guitar sounds hint at it. The EP closes with “One Feeling,” and all I have to say is wow. Piano and strings, with very limited percussion, and an acoustic guitar, this is the least imagined way you thought the collection would end. Another instrumental (I admire musicians who have the “cojones” [balls] to do instrumental music, and not just as rare b-sides), this may be the shortest track on the collection, but it is viscerally as powerful as all the rest. The lead string arrangement is gut-wrenching and haunting.

Track Listing:
1. Stomp!
2. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
3. Drowning
4. Slow Motion
5. More Than Gold
6. When You Come Around
7. One Feeling

Here is their video for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” from their YouTube Channel: newconcnewconc.

Keep up with New Concept at their homepage and MySpace.
Read more ...

11 August 2010

Via Audio Answers 5

Last month I reviewed “Animalore” by Via Audio (link), and, to quote myself, the music was “alluring and … infectious.” Expanding on a great NYC musical tradition, this Brooklyn band is the evidence that when musicians/artists are given control of their product, what is produced is high quality and astounding. My personal thanks to bassists David Lizmi for taking the time and answering 5.

Via Audio / Photographer: Lev Kuperman

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

My personal music influences are Motown, old time country, Michael Jackson, Prince, Earth Wind and Fire, Fleetwood Mac, Deerhoof, Beatles, Buddy Holly etc…

My non-musical influences are Kanye West, NAS, and Dragonforce. Not that I don't like those groups, I just am not musically inspired by them.

2. On your debut album, "Say Something," the songs were more consistent in style; this time around, "Animalore" sports out many different musical references, including a bit of disco. In fact, it seems that song-to-song your approach was different. How did this process, writing to recording, come together with such an effect?

The recording process was different than "Say Something" because we got to spend as much time as we needed at the same studio with the same producer, Jim Eno. "Say Something" was a bit more rushed, we had a third of the time with Jim and we recorded in five different studios. It’s funny that "Say Something" sounds more consistent, probably because we were playing those songs on the road and recorded the parts almost verbatim the way we did it live. On "Animalore," some songs we didn't try at all on the road; we had much more time to flesh out and explore. I think also our musical tastes broadened from "Say Something," so we wanted to try new things other than your standard Indie Rock fare.

3. What would you say to critics/listeners who question the shift in sound from your first and second album?

It's not a deliberate choice to play songs in many different genres. It really comes from the broad range of music we are in love with while writing or recording a song.

Via Audio / Photographer: Lev Kuperman

4. What's up with the ram on the cover?

We think it's beautiful and encompasses the theme we were going with this record, Animalorem,

5. Undertow Music Collective released “Animalore”. How did the move to your new label come about?

Undertow is our management company. We decided that we wanted to release the record ourselves. We wanted to have full artistic integrity with the help of our management and the wonderful music biz people we met along the way. We felt we could do the same or a better job than what music labels were offering. So we went for it; the risks are much higher but the rewards are much [greater].

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

Here is the link for Lev Kuperman’s (photographer) homepage.
Read more ...

10 August 2010

Catching up with The Pinker Tones and Temposhark

I’m going to stick to two electropop albums for this one; I know … I know … I know … enough of the electro / synthpop. But these two albums are so damn good; my only regret is not having had the time to listen to them sooner. One hailing from España (Spain), while the other from the UK, both of these bands are not your typical electropop bands; mixing in some of the savviest songwriting, references to their music that is wider and broader than most of their contemporaries, and sense of humor, both albums are perfect for summer fun, but can actually be pretty introspective as well. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Enjoy!

The Pinker Tones: “Modular” (above)
Temposhark: “Threads” (below)

The Pinker Tones: “Modular”

The duo of Professor Manso and Master Fury who crossed paths in 2001, The Pinker Tones places España on the synthpop map. Singing principally in Spanish, though English does surface on the album, the duo recently released their latest album, “Modular” (29 June 2010 in the USA). Oddly, they launched their new album on 10 July 2010 on Central Park’s Summer Stage (New York City) during The Latin Alternative Music Conference (which sort of baffles me, as they are Spanish, that is European, not Latin American, but oh well). As per the band, there was a desire to return to basics with this album, which in their words is “la comunicación” [communication].

The album is zippy and poppy, employing more cues than the average electropop band. For instance, there is the occasional Spanish pop flavored rift or arrangements, and sometimes it is obvious that the duo is conscious of current indie rock scenes. However, the 80s synth- and electropop cues are everywhere from beginning to end. Opening the album with the titular track, an instrumental of electronic effects that runs less than one minute, you really have no clue what you are about to get with the rest of the album. With the second track, “Estriado Al Sol” [“Stretched to the Sun”], you get savvy 80s-esque infusion into a song that relies more on the catchiness of the rhythm than the sound effects. “Sampleame” [“Sample Me,” as in copy my music] rushes in with rapping in Spanish – an ode to our musically sampled world. Then the electropop magnum opus, “Tokyo.” Sung in English, lyrically it runs like an 80s Duran Duran song, “In my room I was lost in translation, and I get lost in my imagination, oh oh oh, why don’t we go to Tokyo?” Whether the lyrics follow each other logically or not is not the point here; many bands made a career with fractured lyrics, especially electro and synth acts (just Google the lyrics to “The Reflex.”) The point is that this song is not only musically homage to the past, it is also lyrically, as they capture the exact mentality to the style of 80s lyrics.

Though the magnum opus comes early on, the album is loaded with incredibly interesting songs. For instance, in “Polos Opuestos” [“Polar Opposites”], the duo returns to rapping. If you know anything about my taste in music, you should know I that I typically hate rapping in Spanish! But The Pinker Tones do it with such tongue in cheek (in this track rapping about every cliché imaginable, including that she’s beauty, and he’s beast, she’s Pepsi, and he’s Coke, she’s Facebook, and he’s MySpace), that you sort of laugh along with the irony and enjoy it. The last track, “Friends,” is also sung in English and is the slowest paced track on the album. It is a study in geography, as a list of different cities get mentioned, “They say you judge a man by his foes and his friends … you can find friends of mine all over the world… I couldn’t fit them all in just one simple song.” The song runs much like “Return to Oz” by Scissor Sisters, but where as that track is an admonition, The Pinker Tones ends there album with a sweet “communication” to all of their friends.

And though most of the songs are in Spanish, a disadvantage trying to break into the American or British scenes, the music itself is catchy. The Pinker Tones prove that a few years into their career, they are still able to produce an album that is vibrant and not plodding through the same ole clichés. Give “Modular” a chance at “communication,” you may just be impressed.

Track Listing:
1. Modular
2. Estirado Al Sol [Stretched to the Sun]
3. Sampleame [Sample Me]
4. Tokyo
5. Invisible
6. Con Mi Camera [With My Camera], Modular Mix
7. Polos Opuestos [Polar Opposite]
8. Invaders, Modular Mix
9. Game Boy Music
10. Sabiduria Popular [Popular Wisdom]
11. Viajes [Travels]
12. Un Dia Sin Numeros [A Day Without Numbers]
13. PinkerLand Vibes, Modular Mix
14. Friends Around The World

Keep up with The Pinker Tones at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Estirado Al Sol” from their YouTube Channel: thepinkertones.

Temposhark: “Threads”

I first heard of Temposhark when I came across their video for “Blame” – the video instantly got my attention (a little cartoon with a devil), but it was the actual song that blew me away. It was a perfect example of music that transcends genre in the same way the standards did. What I mean is that Temposhark is a pop band that happens to be electronic, and not really an electropop band. Think of back in the old days when Bobby Darrin was singing; each song had a personality, an attitude of its own. That is the exact case with Temposhark – it’s never about the genre of the song, but rather the song itself. So then there sophomore album was announced, and let me say with no hesitation that this is no sophomore slump; “Threads” (5 April 2010) is as savvy as Temposhark’s (Robert Diament’s brainchild) debut album, “The Invisible Line.” Even though he treads many of the same musical soundscapes, this time he increases his musical references to include the 60s and 70s, as well as some real house beats. Again working with Sean McGhee, who has worked with the likes of Robyn and Sugar Babes, together they craft nifty pop songs that are attitude laden.

Though Diament’s sense of playfulness was apparent on the debut album, “Threads” really sports out some of his most musically playful moments. For instance, the opening track, “Irresistible.” The song has a swagger to it, with all of its wooo-wooos. Like I always say, it is hard for anyone in an electronic format to really have a warm feeling to his or her music, and when that is accomplished you tip your hat – and I am tipping my hat, this is a warm and great invitation into the album. With a big band feel to the song, the expectations are laid out for a great album.

The first two singles follow back-to-back. “The World Does Not Revolve Around You” and “Bye Bye Baby” are two vicious songs masquerading around as pop ditties. The first one, musically warmer than the latter, is more of a chastisement, “I really want to like you, but you only talk about yourself, it gets boring very quickly. So someone has to tell you, and I think it should be me, no one is going to love you till you shut up and see that the world does not revolve around you.” The latter is lyrically subtler, but musically savvier. To quote the opening of the Madonna’s track of the same title: “This is not a love song.” A matter-of-fact tell off (“Bye bye baby, it’s too late for me to care anymore…. In the palm again, no more! It’s all over!”) wrapped in the mantle of danceable pop.

What I like about Diament’s songwriting is that you never know where he is going with it. I like the fact that the album is pretty unpredictable track-to-track, and most often even within the track. “Threads” and “Green Lights” revolve around ballad-esque posturing with pianos really guiding the arrangements. “Cold,” regardless of its sound effects, is closer to post-punk revival than electropop. “Fireworks” reminds me of j-pop, while “The Last Time I Saw Matthew” (the closing track) is a bare piano-singer fair. With indie and house references in between, this album, with references all over the place, flows effortlessly, never putting off the listener.

My only complaint, which is no reflection on the album, is that they did not bring back the little devil for another video! Other than that, Temposhark’s “Threads” is a spot on, perfectly execute pop music. Two thumbs up for not reproducing the debut on their sophomore effort and enjoying the process of treading new territories as much as we enjoy listening to it. Check this one out.

Track Listing:
1. Irresistible
2. The World Does Not Revolve Around You
3. Bye Bye Baby
4. Threads
5. Cold
6. Stuck
7. Green Lights
8. Fireworks
9. Say I’m Sorry
10. Frames
11. The Last Time I Saw Matthew
12. Threads, MaJiker Remix
13. Threads, Morgan Price Remix Radio Edit

Keep up with Temposhark at their homepage and MySpace.

Here are the videos for “The World Does Not Revolve Around You” and “Bye Bye Baby” from their YouTube Channel: temposhark.

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09 August 2010

Viking Dress: "Summarize EP"

Hailing from The Var, specifically Hyères, in France, Viking Dress offers up sophisticated pop. I am not familiar with the biography of the band, but it would not surprise me to find out that The Church and Lush influenced them. I say this because their music is as sophisticated as “Under the Milky Way” by The Church, with its sophisticated interplay between acoustic and electric guitars. While many of the vocal arrangements (not to mention the beauty of the strumming of the guitar) is reminiscent of Lush’s “Spooky” era. So, it may be pop, but there are hints of post-punk and dream pop seeping through the entire EP; however, the music never gives into the dark side of music as much post-punk does, nor is the music ethereal or wispy like much of dream pop. Viking Dress injects a new vitality into the Euro-indie scene, not content with rehash in any way, and ready to wow you away with their sophistication.

So, I came across the “Summarize EP” (20 November 2009) pretty late in the game, but the more I discover the French indie scene, the more I am falling in love with it (it may be time brush up on my French). The references are broader than would be expected from either an American or British act, which usually are nationally insular, occasionally sharing cues with one another. The French, however, are demonstrating cues that not only come from the American, British, or French, but also Australian and continent wide Europe, and this, as Viking Dress demonstrates, leads to vibrantly relevant music.

What follows is something that I rarely do: a track-by-track description of the six songs on the “Summarize EP.” Actually, it may be the first time that I have commented on each and every track of any given release.

“Générique” [“Generic”] is a misnomer for this song; an instrumental carried by the interplay between two rhythm guitars arrangements: the strumming of the acoustic guitar and the arpeggio on an electric. A much deeper lead guitar arrangement intrudes on the serenity of the rhythm guitars, but never dominates it.

“Comme 4” [“Like 4”] is the first track with vocals, in French. Where as “Générique” defers to a wispier dream pop, “Comme 4” is earthier and warmer. Again, the same style of guitar arrangements, but the lead guitar is significantly the more dominating.

“Lalie's Game” is definitely my favorite track on the EP. With a slow building up, starting with guitars only, the beat takes some time to drop and the female vocal arrangements are ambient, in much the same way as keys would be in post-punk. But what really propels the drama of the music is the drum arrangement. Two-thirds through the song, the drum has a consistent roll that accents the visceral power of the song in a more aggressive way.

“Les Pelouses” [“Lawns”] capitalizes on the female vocals. As the guitars jangles through the song, it is the vocals that you keep expecting to hear again… you long to hear again. They are mesmerizing and beautiful in a very dream pop sense.

“Summarize” is the first track in English and first arguably removed from dream pop. Musically, it is the most straightforward song (other than the opening track). The change-ups are subtle, the vocal arrangements as sophisticated as anything before, but what really gets you is how the song borders on becoming “aggressive;” you full well expect the song to explode or implode, but it never does… and that is where the song gains its visceral power.

The EP closes with “So Vain” (again in English), returning to a dream pop feel. In many ways, musically the EP comes full circle, sans the strumming of the acoustic guitar. What I like most about this track is just that it is one of those songs that are best described as a sigh… with a playful edge, the song is the most intricate on the collection, really sticking in all of the previous elements into one song.

Track Listing
1. Générique
2. Comme 4
3. Lalie's Game
4. Les Pelouses
5. Summarize
6. So Vain

Keep up with Viking Dress at their MySpace and Facebook.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy to the "Summarize EP," you may purchase directly at this link.

Here is the video for “Lalie’s Game” from the Waterinc Vimeo Channel.

Viking Dress - Lalie's Game from Waterinc on Vimeo.

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08 August 2010


This one has been long in coming….

Anyone (other than me) can carry a tune and some can even show off an amazing range in the last thirty seconds of a song, but singing is another story altogether. A few months back, a friend asked me who were my favorite female and male vocalists: who would I consider to be a great vocalist? Immediately, I started scratching my head, because I really had never thought about this in any serious way. So I started compiling a list of criteria of what would make a great vocalist – in that sort of classical sense of singing, sans the rappers, screams, sprechgesang, etc… I immediately dismissed two factors: popularity and range. Popularity, generally, is the measure of corporate sponsorship, and range only indicates what notes you can hit, but that does not indicate if the singer uses his/her voice to maximum capacity. So amongst my criteria was the ability to be emotive – can the singer make me feel? Also, does the singer sell the lyrics, making them believable? And does the singer have a distinct style?

At first I felt a bit inundated: Was I considering the entire range of singers out there? Did I forget anyone? I started asking around, trying to get people’s opinion, and it was funny how no one could agree on five; I goggled a few lists, and they could not agree with one another either. But the one common trend I found is that most of these personal and media lists were not broad in scope (and some of the people included had no business being called a great vocalist – for some, entertainer would be a better term). I started then to compile my own list (sifting through my iTunes collection and the vinyls and CDs that have yet to make their way into the external hard dive), and became frustrated once again when many of the older, classic, and foreign singers were not officially available to embed from YouTube, Vimeo, or other video sources. I did not just want to compile a list of ten female and male vocalists; I wanted to be able to give you something to listen as well. (I know that YouTube is only five years old, but I think it is time that labels and artists start making back catalogues available in this VEVO revolution.) So, instead of compiling my favorite vocalists of all time, I decided on compile my favorite five female and male vocalists who are currently active and relevant to the music scene. Relevant is always the hard part; many older bands are still releasing albums, but how influential are they? Take a band like Depeche Mode; when they release, till today, people listen, both audiences and other musicians, but countless of others do not fall into this category, no matter how much I love the new music.

I want to pay some respect to the classics, which have helped develop my ear and musical taste. Amongst these vocalists are Bobby Darin, Julie London, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington – four incredible vocalists whose legacies continue to influence singers today. Not limiting myself to English, I would also like to include Rocio Jurado, the singer of the Spanish Chanson, in this list of classics. Her name and voice is synonymous with traditional Spanish music, full of drama and power, it is impossible not to hang on to her every word. As for the lists that follow, these artists have either established themselves or on the road to do so if they keep their heads screwed on right. Enjoy these vocalists, for they not only prove their abilities as singers, these are artists that continue to define, challenge, and redefine trends, music, and, in some cases, what it means to be great.

Les Chanteuses

Eva Amaral (of Amaral)

The namesake of the Spanish band/duo Amaral, Eva Amaral’s voice has a little of that Rocio Jurado; emotive, dramatic, and mesmerizing. Along side Juan Aguirre, they have composed everything from traditional Latin and Spanish music, dance music, pop rock, and some cutting edge indie rock. Taking most cues from the British and Euro-indie scenes, Eva Amaral, album to album, is able to recreate her vocal style, always leaving you wondering just what will come next.

Here is a live performance of “Concorde” from Amaral’s MySpace Video Page.

Amaral: Concorde en directo.

Amaral | MySpace Music Videos

Corinne Bailey Rae

What I love most about Corinne Bailey Rae is just how hard it is to pigeonhole her as a simple soul singer. With a touch of R&B, a dash of pop, and a pinch of indie rock, she composes and performs music that carries visceral power that is universal and infectious. Her angelic, quite soft, voice wisps through songs with general ease, with each note delivering the conviction of her words.

Here is the video for “Like a Star” from her debut album, from her YouTube Channel: CorinneBaileyRae. The second video is from her recent sophomore album, “The Sea,” called “Paris Nights/New York Mornings” from her MySpace Videos page.

Paris Nights/New York Mornings

Corinne Bailey Rae | MySpace Music Videos

Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes)

Working under the intriguing moniker Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan (of Pashtun descent) has one of the most distinct sounds in music; combining threads of dream pop, folk, indie pop, and non-Western elements, her music is ambient, soothing, and introspective. And not just audiences have taken notice of her talent, but also peers, including Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Thom Yorke (Radiohead). Her voice is sheer drama – mirroring the mood of the songs, from anguish to despondency, the only comparison I always come back to when listening to her music is Kate Bush, and that says it all.

Here is the video for “Daniel” from Bat For Lashes MySpace Videos page.

Daniel - Bat For Lashes

Bat For Lashes | MySpace Music Videos

Annie Lennox

There should be no doubt that Annie Lennox is my favorite female vocalist of all time. From glam and punk influenced rock pop band The Tourists to the new wave of the early Eurythmics, from the Motown influenced later Eurythmics to the soul of her solo career, Annie Lennox’s contralto range has proven over and over to ooze as much drama as her ever-changing theatric image. Polymorphic in image as in genre, her voice is perhaps the most distinct female vocalist’s out there, morphing in style as needed for each individual song. And even when being ambiguous, as in “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These),” there is always this connectivity between her singing and the audience.

The first video is The Tourists’ “I Only Want to Be With You” from the DaveStewartOfficial YouTube Channel. The second Eurythmics signature song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These),” while the third is their video for “Don’t Ask Me Why” from the EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel. The last two from her solo career: “Precious” and the amazing The Lover Speaks’ cover “No More ‘I Love You’s’” from the AnnieLennoxVEVO Youtube Channel.

Katie Melua

The Georgian born, British raised Katie Melua has mesmerized me completely recently. I have always loved the sound of her voice, even when originally she sang, “How can you make me fall apart, then break my fall with loving lies?” (“The Closest Thing to Crazy.”) Now she takes a different approach: “I’d love to kill you with a kiss…” (I’d Love To Kill You.”) With complete control of her mezzo-soprano range, she uses the entire range of her voice from beginning to end, including live, which proves the staying power of her voice.

Here are the videos for “Closest Thing to Crazy,” “It’s Only Pain,” and “A Happy Place” (I know I recently posted this one, but it is such a great song and video) from the DramaticoMusic YouTube Channel.

Les Chanteurs

Andy Bell (of Erasure)

In this synthpop revival world, I am amazed that the names Andy Bell and Vincent Clarke, a.k.a. Erasure, have not become household names, considering how they are ripped off left and right. Clarke, the musician, is the quiet presence in the duo; Bell, however, is known for his over-the-top antics on stage, what never gets the credit is his voice. Juggling Erasure with a solo career and Djings, his multi-octave range can get guttural or sing with one of the best, most controlled falsettos, even while prancing around in a dress of the globe.

Here are Erasure’s video for “Chains of Love” and “Always” (amazing background vocals, taken out in the 2009 Mix of the song for some odd reason) from the Erasure MySpace Videos page. Also, his first solo single, “Crazy,” from his MySpace Video page.

Chains Of Love (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Always (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos


Andy Bell | MySpace Music Videos

Matthew Bellamy (of Muse)

When I told a fellow Cure-head that I considered Matthew Bellamy the most talented individual in music, I almost got my head ripped off. But he is the total package: phenomenal songwriter, amazing producer, kick ass performer, talented pianist, rocking guitarist, and astounding singer. Sure the technical aspects of his singing are a bit rough around the edges, he still delivers what is needed from song to song, whether he is singing “Microcuts” or “Map of the Problematique.”

Here is a live performances of “Feeling Good” and “Time Is Running Out” and the video for “Undisclosed Desires” from the Muse MySpace Videos page.

Feeling Good [Live From Wembley Stadium]

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Time Is Running Out

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Undisclosed Desires

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Tom Chaplin (of Keane)

Easily this generation’s best vocalist, Tom Chaplin is simply the bee’s knees. You can tell he must have had a few lessons along the way to control is tenor to perfection, but what really comes across is the sincerity in his voice. As humble as his stage persona, his voice has that empathic quality that helps you relate to the song, regardless if he is waxing poetic or being blunt and to the point; I have caught many Keane-haters singing along to a song and hating themselves for it.

Here are the videos for “Bedshapped,” “Is it Any Wonder?” and “The Lovers are Losing” from the KeaneVEVO YouTube Channel.

Dave Gahan (of Depeche Mode)

Perhaps not the most obvious choice, Dave Gahan (pronounced GAN), has proven his chops as a singer, performer/front man, songwriter, and producer over the last thirty years. And when Depeche Mode releases, the world listens. Of the veteran bands of the British 80s, DM remains the most relevant, and perhaps the most influential (contested only by The Cure in that department). Gahan may not have the vocal range of other singers, but he delivers conviction like none other. Whether singing Vince Clarke’s, Martin Gore’s, Alan Wilder’s, or his own lyrics, he is able to suck you right into his world. From getting you ready to dance or rock, to sway to gospel or chill to lounge, Gahan has proven the versatility of his voice and is only second to Freddie Mercury as a front man.

Here are videos for “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “It’s No Good,” and “I Feel Loved” from Depeche Mode’s MySpace Videos page. Lastly, a solo single, “Kingdom,” from the Dave Gahan MySpace Videos page.

Just Can't Get Enough

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Never Let Me Down Again

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

It's No Good

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Dave Gahan - Kingdom (official music video - album version)

Dave Gahan | MySpace Video


I enjoy this love-hate releationship with (Steven) Morrissey. Introspective, witty, intelligent, and sarcastic, whether with The Smiths or now solo, his songs will either astound you with lyrical savvy, depress the hell out of you, or make you laugh. The dramatic quality of his voice just draws you into his little narratives and vignettes. And nothing is off limits: from smoking in the hopes of an early death to psychotropic drugs, The Smiths brought sophistication to post-punk, while Morrissey continues to bring a twisted, but realistic, outlook on life.

Here is the video for “Ask” (officially The Smith’s MySpace presence, but no page, but here is the direct link). And here is the video for “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” from Morrissey’s MySpace Video page.


The Smiths | MySpace Music Videos

Morrissey -Something Is Squeezing My Skull

Morrissey | MySpace Music Videos
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