27 February 2011

Thirteen Senses: “Crystal Sound”

I remember watching “Kyle XY,” about a boy who appeared out of nowhere. An interesting show, and not to get into it too much, I remember how Kyle always had a hard time adjusting to living in a house of people who took him in. But i was watching the show that I first stumbled across Thirteen Senses, which had a song featured on the show: “Home”. It was lyrically profound (“And they walk an open road. They’re miles from this town. They’re walking through the pain that brings you down. Now they’re coming home”), accompanied arrangements that surrounded a piano, sung with a soft, welcoming voice, which you feel is always there to comfort you. Over one year later, Thirteen Senses releases their third studio album, “Crystal Sounds” (31 January 2011 in the USA as digital download), featuring “Home.”

First off, the cover of “Crystal Sounds” caught my attention. As a huge comic fan, the moment I saw it, I thought to myself that this was an awesome cover; it’s as if it walked out of a late 60’s comic book with a little kid looking at something unknown. You can imagine him saying, “Mommy Look, a Space Ship!” It is full of wonder and fantasy; it is the perfect invitation to let go and seep into the album.

Thirteen Senses may be dream pop influenced, but “Crystal Sound” is not the archetypical dream pop album. There is some ethereal feel to music and the soft, near breathy, vocals fit, but the piano typically grounds the music. The best example of this “Animals.” The dreamy opening, with the effected guitar, has a wispy quality to it, but it gives away to a piano ballad as the song continues.

The lead single of the album is “The Loneliest Star.” If the worlds of 80s pop and dream pop were to collide, this would be the song. Dreamy, trippy, and fun – get ready to tap your feet or dance in your seat. “Answers” is definitely my favorite track. It starts off with the vocalist singing in his very melodic tone singing voice, and leads you on a sort of adventure about a girl: “It was already beginning to show curses from years ago. And the ocean is already parted. Will you take a walk? Walk with me now till we get to December?” The first two minutes of the song are a slow, but it’s a beautiful lull; soon the arrangements unfurl revealing a strong bass line and a repetitious guitar that sonically mirrors the narrative of the song. The two distinct part of the track just propels the emotions behind the lyrics.

“Crystal Sounds” demonstrate the great craftsmanship that Thirteen Senses brings to the table. This is a band that no one should just foolishly pass by. Give the album a good listen and be as mesmerized as I was when listening.

Track Listing:
1. Crystal Sounds
2. The Loneliest Star
3. Home
4. Imagine Life
5. Suddenly
6. Animals
7. After the Retreat
8. I Saw Stars Disappear
9. Answer
10. Out There
11. Send Myself to Sleep
12. Concept
13. In the Crowding

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

Here is their video for “The Loneliest Star” from their YouTube Channel: ThirteenSensesTV.

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26 February 2011

PJ Harvey: "Let England Shake"

PJ Harvey is part of the soundtrack of my life. Years ago, songs like “Victory” sung to my very soul, and I swore that she must have written “Rid of Me” (1993) just for me to ponder over! When I finally got a hold of “Let England Shake” (14 February 2011 in the UK, 15 February 2011 in the USA), I had to listen to it quite a few times before I even thought of writing. I put nothing pass PJ Harvey, there is nothing she is not capable of writing or composing, and she proves that again. The most disarming thing about this album is that it is not introspective in the way Harvey has become famous for. This album is a mediation on England itself; in the very opening track, the titular “Let England Shake,” she sings, “England’s dancing days are done, another day, Bobby, for you to come home, home and tell me indifference is won, won, won…” And the journey through resonating soundscapes and national mediation begins.

In a world where most music is about love, the loss of love, the need for love, and always about the desire for love, Harvey’s “Let England Shake” stands out. And when most bands make national or political statements, it is done through cutting remarks and criticisms, but rarely with subtle mediation. “Let England Shake” steers clear from being preachy or even political in a partisan way, but rather allows the narratives of each song create its own world for listeners. Each song on the album is sung through a distinct persona; from small vignettes to powerful monologues, each song is a reflection on English consciousness, conscience, and history. And among the historical references is the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign, a failed campaigned that ended in a staggering number of causalities. And the indifference that has won, alluded to right in the opening, is that in order to move on as a nation, we have to unfortunately forget, to some degree, the atrocities that have been initiated by and/or enacted against the nation.

Bringing the shadow of America into the mix, in “The Glorious Land,” an allusion to the World Wars, Harvey states, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? The fruit is orphaned children.” Even in the act of defense, of aggression for self-preservation, in England’s case, or to assist allies/friends, in America’s, there is always a cost to war, and one that goes unmentioned quite to often is the affects of those left behind: the children of fallen soldiers. But the album is not always so poetically blunt, it can get extremely more graphic: “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat” (“The Words That Maketh Murder”), or if you prefer, “Louis was my dearest friend fighting in the Anzac trench. Louis ran forward from the line and I never saw him again…. He is till up on that hill, twenty years on that hill, nothing more than a pile of bones” (“The Colour of the Earth”).

Many non-Europeans fail to understand the significance of England (the entire United Kingdom) being an island nation, apart from the rest of Europe: English identity is free from that of the continent. “Goddamn Europeans,” Harvey sings in “The Last Living Rose,” “Take me back to England and the grey, damp filthiness of ages and battered books…” And even in all that can be complaint about ole England, Harvey ultimately always longs for her home; the national pride shines through. “I live and die through England,” she sings in “England.” And that is the reality we all live in: the inescapability of living life through our national perspective, even if “it leaves a sadness.” At the end of it all, the “national” contributes such an integral part to all of us (whether in our acceptance, critique, or rejection of it), and Harvey even mediates this idea.

The music on the album, especially when Harvey employs the Autoharp, is more inviting than the lyrics. But it is what draws you right in; there is a sense of innocence and curiosity to the music that acts as the comforter to the harsh realities of the lyrics. But it is in that contrast that “Let England Shake” is saved from being an angry political, anti-war protest. Rather, we are left to consider the consequences of national actions on the individuals portrayed by Harvey’s personas and lyrics. And though the final words of the album leaves a morose image (“If I was asked I’d tell the colour of the earth that day, it was dull and browny-red, “the colour of blood,” I’d say” (The Colour of Earth”)), that is not what one takes from the album. In fact, one does not take away the imagery of war and death, loss and regret, but rather the need to always question “nation” on a very personal and individual level – something that not only brings individual growth, but also national rejuvenation.

Track Listing:
1. Let England Shake
2. The Last Living Rose
3. The Glorious Land
4. The Words That Maketh Murder
5. All and Everyone
6. On Battleship Hill
7. England
8. In the Dark Places
9. Bitter Branches
10. Hanging in the Wire
11. Written on the Forehead
12. The Colour of the Earth

Keep up with PJ Harvey at her homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the video for “Let England Shake” from the letenglandshake YouTube Channel.

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25 February 2011

//orangenoise Answers 5

First off, let me say that knowing that shoegaze has spread beyond the Anglo-American and continental European music scenes warms my heart. Hailing from Karachi, Pakistan, //orangenoise swirling shoegaze is infectious and top grade, and … well to borrow some British slang … simply ace! Their EP, “//veracious” (link to review) has been on heavy rotation on my iTunes. A few e-mails back and forth, I would like to thank band members Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey and Talha Asim Wynne for taking the time to Answer 5.

Photographer: Humayun M.

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

[Talha] Psychedelic rock from the 60's, shoegaze, a little bit of prog rock here and there. From the early gazers to the more recent bands, all have had some sort of subconscious involvement. I'd like to consider color and light as influences as well; I think I might have a mild case of synesthesia.

[Danny P] The Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Oceansize, Tori Amos, Steven Wilson (all of his work with and without Porcupine Tree) to name a few. A part of me is still quite a metalhead as well so Meshuggah can’t stay out of that list either. As far as the non-musical influences go, it'll have to be a really cluttered list of things ranging from Tim Burton to Gordon Ramsay and Liverpool FC.

2. Why “//orangenoise”? What is the meaning behind the moniker?

[Talha] Yeah, we had to come up with a name for the band in one day, //orangenoise seemed to be it.

[Danny P] Hahaha, it’s the only name that made sense at a time when we needed to name the band, something in a short span of time for our first gig as a band.

Photographer: Humayun M.

3. The band hails from Karachi, Pakistan; how does this filter through your music?

[Talha] Pakistan has been traveling through the course of time undetected when it came to sub-culture, arts and the sorts. Our sounds, I feel, are only the representation of our thoughts and the way we grew up, our surroundings and everything. Does Karachi have a sound? Would that be us? I don’t think so, but our sounds are our own, and we're from Pakistan. The world is slowly dissolving its cultural borders and we are a product of these times.

[Danny P] To be honest, I'm really not sure how it would filter through the music, so I'd suppose it would have its references embedded in the music somewhere, somewhere where it's totally natural for us to perhaps not notice it? Everyone has got their own sound, //orangenoise is a mixed bowl of sorts that way.

4. This question is for a good friend of mine, who cannot stop listening to “Veradicine.” I think her neighbors know the song by heart by now! What is the story behind this song?

[Talha] Hahaha, poor neighbors! “Veradicinem” you can say, is about submission, to music. And how submissive listening can prove transcendental.

Photographer: Humayun M.

5. You have described the "//veracious" EP as a stepping-stone to your album. How so a "stepping-stone"? What are the future plans for an album, and will it continue to investigate shoegaze?

[Talha] This EP [“//veracious”] was like drawing the outlines for the stuff that’s to come. Breaking this sort of music in Pakistan requires a slow feed to the listeners, to not completely alienate them. All our wild thoughts and ideas were shaped in and now they've given us a general sense of direction in which we're headed. I don’t know if we'll solely pursue shoegaze, but I can assure you that we're not letting go of it! We try not to limit ourselves to a movement for our specific sound, but there is some sort of fluid containment that keeps us well gelled together.

[Danny P] Most definitely, there’s an entire world of sound out there. If anything “//veracious” may have taken a few listens for some people here in Pakistan itself to digest and understand. I guess one could say “//veracious” is the “//orangenoise-101” of what’s to come.

Keep up with //orangenoise at their Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp [where you can preview and download the “//veracious” EP], and Soundcloud.

(Also, if you wish to see more of photographer’s Humayun M’s work, please head over to Flickr.)

Here are two clips of live performances – “Veradicine” and “On the Run” – from the talhavai YouTube Channel.

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24 February 2011

Alphafalls Answers 5

Over the past month and a half, I have done my best to really spend sometime writing about truly independent musicians, such as Luke Scott-Hinkle, a.k.a. Alphafalls. Currently Scott-Hinkle is working on Alphafalls second album, “Umbrellas Over Rain Clouds,” due to be released in late April this year. And there are two things I need to thank him for; the first for wanting the blog to share his music directly with you on this blog (listen to and/or download “Different” below). And second, of course, I would like to thank Scott-Hinkle for finding the time to Answer 5.

Photographer: Makoto Scott-Hinkle

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

I have let my non-musical influences affect me more than the musical ones. I have several muses. One is the muse of the dark I hate you for how you treated me songs. Another is my muse of unreturned love and rejection. Both of these muses are real people. It's a strange feeling to be equally affected by people I've lived with and people I never see. I guess sometimes it's easier to love what isn't there than what is...

For musical influences, I grew up listening to 60's pop that my parents played and also to classical music. My first instrument was the oboe when I was ten. I danced ballet from age eight till I was sixteen. I quit dancing when I decided my future was writing rock music. I was home schooled (of the unschooling variety). While some of my heroes dropped out of high school to become rock stars, I skipped a step by never going to school. Some of my influences include Alice in Chains, Tori Amos, Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb. Lately, lots of Kill Hannah and Florence & The Machine, lots of artists who are women and play the piano, 60's pop.

2. I have always thought that geography impacts music to various degrees. How has Springfield, OR been an influence on your music?

This place is fucking dark in the winter. I moved to Springfield, OR from New York when I was six. I can still remember the feeling of my first winter here. It was like a bleak rainy twilight of suppressive gloom had moved into the neighborhood. The rain and fog comes in October and often doesn't leave till May or June. Summers here are like California, just a little cooler. How's that for contrast? I have a love hate relationship with the weather and climate here. I lived in Nashville for two years and was a lot less depressive there. I like what darkness (literal and emotional) does for me as an artist. I have never much cared for happy music. It's not what I’m here for. Seasonal affective disorder is standard issue here, but I see it as something that serves me. Also, music is my therapy, and it's a therapy I enjoy going to. There is lots of literal truth in my music, and even more emotional truth.

3. “Alphafalls” is a moniker for “Luke Scott-Hinkle.” Why use a moniker; what’s the meaning behind it?

I record my songs as if there were a whole band. Having a group name gives the expectation that the recordings will be fully produced with lots of instruments. This isn't just a guy in a garage with a guitar, this is Alphafalls, the rock band. Plus this left the door open to having additional members when I was at a point in my career when that made sense. My next album is currently being created in a test tube with the help of a mad scientist and his assistant.

Photographer: Makoto Scott-Hinkle

4. You wrote the following in a blog entry: “God is a prostitute. For the right price, He will Love you to Death. God and the devil are two sides of the same mistake. And change is expensive. But I want my life to be expansive.” Could you take a moment and think a few months back and give us exactly what was going through your mind when you wrote these words?

I want people to examine what they think they know and see if it is what they really know. Perhaps the question "What was going on in my emotions when I wrote that?" would apply. I didn't have a clear thought in mind when I wrote it, but I liked how the words felt, so I wrote them down.

5. You took on the topic of gay teen suicide in the song “Different.”

The song was inspired by the gay suicides but it's about more than that. It's about accepting yourself even when the people who should be on your side aren’t. It says, "Hey, you're an idiot. But I'm in the city now and I'm doing fine. You should love me and I'm still upset about it but I'm fine because I've realized that you aren't my family because functional families allow their children to become who they are supposed to be, not what their parent's or their parents religion says they should be." So there!

I wrote this song in May of 2010. I was standing naked in the shower when I started singing the chorus, I could tell it was good by the way it affected me emotionally. So I got out of the shower and dripped water all across the hardwood floor of my house on my way to get my notebook and portable recorder. I didn't know what the song was about at first because I have always had a decent relationship with my father. Then I got to think about why someone would feel that their father wasn't really their father. That question led me to the premise for the song. I feel that songs already exist before I write them down, but I still have to spend a lot of time interpreting what they want to become in tangible form. "Different" is really right inside my usual subject matter, most of my songs are about feeling rejected, misunderstood or hurt in some way. Usually about romantic failure/longing and loss, but family relationship are pretty similar and just as painful. Some songs I set out to write, this one asked to be written. Love is the greatest most human emotion, so to tell someone they are wrong for loving is completely cruel.

Keep up with Alphafalls at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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23 February 2011

Cranial Collide: "Surrealevance" EP

My thanks to Steve “Reno” Johnson for keeping me in the loop.

If you had the (mis)fortune of visiting my house lately, you would be treated to the blasting compressed, distorted guitars and vocal harmonies of shoegaze. But then I received an e-mail from Cranial Collide. In full disclosure, the e-mail only stated that the band received my contact information from Steve Moore (of The Unravelling and Post Death Soundtrack) and a private link to an advanced copy of the “Surrealevance” EP (25 February 2011). I turned off the blaring shoegaze and blasted the five tracks … moments later I knew I would be writing this review. For some time now, I have lamented the state of metal (and hip-hop); I have read about the late 1970s, when the Reading Festival was essentially a metal festival, of then cutting edge bands, and I wonder how such a genre of music, with such a rich history, has become so complacent. Of course, that is only on the “popular” side of metal, when you delve in deeper, to the independent artists, free of the shackles of a corporate mentality, your ears are arrested with an array of bands that are amazing and singularly distinct.

Cranial Collide is one of those bands. Combining the power of metal, psychedelic rock, and contemporary trends in hard rock, this quartet has produced viable and urgent music. I do not want to use terms like “progressive,” as I think all artists have a responsibility to be “progressive,” but their intricate movements from one arrangement to another, all the time showcasing more than just the “power” of the guitars, has earned them that title. The band is composed of Kayla Bil (vocals), Ryan Brun (bass), Steve “Reno” Johnson (drums), and Gary Webster (guitar). Now, of course, people immediately assume that the first thing you need in a metal band is an amazing guitarist (they have that), but actually it is a drummer that pulls it all together musically. Johnson is easily the most capable indie metal drummer I have heard in a long time. Combined with the power that Webster brings and Brun’s spot on perfect basslines, musically this band is all about urgency. Sure it can be loud at time, grandiose even, but volume is used only to accent the urgency created by the intricate arrangements. Bil, the lead vocalist, is amazing. I am going to make an odd comparison here; her vocals are as intricate to the band’s music as Siouxsie Sioux’s were to the Banshees. In style, they could not be more dissimilar, but in what they accomplish, giving form to the swirling mass of music, it does the same. The way the band plays vocals and instrument arrangements off of one another makes the relationship between voice and music a much more complex one than found in most bands.

The opener, “Deep Water,” with its slow build, demonstrates the band’s power to create powerful visceral undertow. From big arrangements to softer, more personal moments (with Steve Moore supplying male vocals), what caught my attention immediately about the band’s music is the careful attention to details. Like all the songs that follow, this song is carefully crafted for maximum impact. Followed by “Smash,” there is something alluring about how Bil’s vocals play against the music; typically speaking, most vocalists seem to sing over the music, but in this case it is as if the music is being played over her vocals – a testament to her singing skills. Then “Forest,” the most traditionally metal song on the EP, demonstrates that the band understands what metal is all about and are able to employ a classic format and bring something fresh and new to the format. Of course, my favorite is “Perpetual Enmity,” the epic of the collection, at six-and-three-quarters long. This song is as sexy and sensual as they come, and not just because of the vocals. Musically, the song is alluring and disarming, as it swaggers through different arrangements. Then, the finale, the shortest song on the collection, “Simon Says.” What? The epic is followed by a short number? Is that even feasible? It is, when the band can pack the same amount of urgency in three-and-a-quarter. Not the “hardest” song on the album, the urgency is generated by how all of the intricate arrangements play off of one another, and you are definitely left wanting more.

Now that I am going to continue blasting some metal, consult the links provided below for information on how to obtain a copy of the “Surrealevance” EP and tour dates.

Track Listing:
1. Deep Water
2. Smash
3. Forest
4. Perpetual Enmity
5. Simon Says

Keep up with Cranial Collide at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. If you happen to be in the Calgary, AB (Canada) area on 25 February 2011, join the band at the Distillery Pub (615 7 Ave SW) from 9pm – 2am for their EP Release Party.

Here is a live performance of “Simon Says” from their YouTube Channel: cranialcollide.

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22 February 2011

Cut Copy: “Zonoscope”

Been slumped with work … but back with a few posts and plans of arranging a few on camera interviews again in the near future. Thanks to all our readers for the constant support and hope all is well.

I remember when I first heard Cut Copy’s sophomore album, “In Ghost Colour” (2008), in the days before this blog. Hailing for Australia, Cut Copy’s take on electropop was distinct from the electropop revival in the UK or USA. Listening to that album, again and again, was such an amazing experience. And though the north is embracing a harsh winter, it is now summertime in Australia, and the time was prime for Cut Copy to releases their third album, “Zonoscope” (8 February 2011 in the USA as download). In the time between listening to the album and writing, I have heard the opinions of some of my friends about the album. Their opinions, at least initially, were not the best, but the more you listen, the more you start to fall into Cut Copy’s hypnotic spell again.

When I first heard their lead single, “Where I’m Going,” even I was a bit put off. I thought to myself, “This does not sound like the Cut Copy I came to love. Could they be going a different direction with their music this time around?” Though the track was not the conventional Cut Copy track that we are accustom to listening to, it really is a nice change of pace. All of those initial reactions are more our expectations of what we expected the album to sound like. The lack of obvious synthesizer arrangements in “Where I’m Going,” have a closer to “analogue” sound than expected, is actually quite refreshing once you get rid of your expectations. This is the first clue that their craftsmanship is expanding and they are not allowing themselves to reproduce the same sound again and again.

When I heard “Take Me Over,” the second track of the album, the bass memorized me, for it has this common feel and depth that is associated with Caribbean music styles. It easily carries a great tune that is infectiously catchy. Then there is “Alisa,” which was a big surprise; the best way to describe it is as Britpop meets the post-punk feel. But ever a band owned the title of “alternative dance,” it is Cut Copy in their monumental closing track: “Sun God.” Fifteen minutes long, the track struts though various soundscapes of lusciously arranged layers of music. It is like being in a labyrinth: you have no idea of which way the music is going to twist and turn, you have no idea where in the song you are, and you simply don’t give a damn either.

Though “Zonoscope” does not live up to initial (false) expectation, Cut Copy has produced an excellent album with nice experimentations. And as you continue to listen to this album over and over, you realize one thing: Cut Copy did it again. They are ahead the curve; they are pushing the envelope of what is expected of them, and, indeed, bridging the gap between electronica and electropop.

Track Listing:
1. Need You Now
2. Take Me Over
3. Where I’m Going
4. Pharaohs & Pyramids
5. Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution
6. Strange Nostalgia
7. This Is All We’ve Got
8. Alisa
9. Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat
10. Corner of the Sky
11. Sun God

Keep up with Cut Copy at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Here is the USA link for iTunes, where you can preview and purchase “Zonoscope.”
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21 February 2011

Golden Gardens Answers 5

After listening to Golden Gardens’ EP “Somnambulist” (link), I immediately thought of the heydays of when then nascent bands like Cranes and Curve were coming into their own. And as any release that intrigues me, the process of setting up an interview was to follow. Let me just say that after Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble mentioned The Cure, Nabokov, Marie Antionette, and Salvador Dali in one response, I think I may have fallen in love! With that said, I would like to thank Aubrey and Gregg (Alexander Joseph Neville) for taking the time, coordinating responses from two coasts, and Answering 5.

(Golden Gardens / Photographer Ariana Dominguez)

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

[Aubrey] Musically, my biggest influences are Cranes, Cocteau Twins, Curve, Max Richter, The Innocence Mission, The Sundays, Bauhaus, The Cure, Julee Cruise, Nancy Sinatra and classic Bollywood singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Other trinkets that inspire and excite me are the films of Matthew Barney, David Lynch, Fritz Lang and Maya Deren; fairy tales, Greek mythology, ancient haiku, and books by Murakami, Nabokov and Raymond Buckland; art nouveau, art deco, crystal vibrations, Marie Antoinette, silent film sirens, unicorns, Salvador Dali, Native American spiritualism and mermaids.

[Gregg] Musically, I would say The Cure, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Joy Division, Roy Orbison, Bauhaus, Roxy Music, Tom Waits. I'm inspired by surrealism in art and literature, comics especially those created by Alan Moore, Grant Morrison (who changed and in many ways saved my life), Warren Ellis, Charles Burns, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, weird horror, ghost stories. David Lynch is a major influence on my creative output, Werner Herzog, Kenneth Anger. Night.

2. Who is Golden Gardens? And is that rumor of being bicoastal true? (If so, how does that work?)

[Aubrey] Golden Gardens is Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville and Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble. Gregg is the musical alchemist, weaving lush tapestries of sparkling sounds; I am the medium, conjuring secret messages from other worlds.

[Gregg] Currently we are located on opposite coasts of America. Aubrey is located in Seattle and I am in Tampa, Florida. Both are coastal towns - which in its own way I feel is important for Golden Gardens. I'm currently in school here, but I will be making it to Seattle when I can for shows.

[Aubrey] We develop our songs by sending ideas back and forth to one another (we each have DIY home recording studios) and then building complete tracks from there. Gregg sends me a riff, I add a little something, he fleshes out additional instrumentation, and I add some more vocal parts and so on until we have a finished song. It's an insanely enjoyable process, creatively.

3. You have intriguingly described yourselves as “messages of alchemy and wisdom.” Could you expand on what you meant by that?

[Aubrey] Our goal is to seduce our audience with this magickal sound, invoking a trance-like state and elevating their spirits to a heightened level of mystical awareness. What we transmit is transcendent and should therefore have an alchemical effect on the mind and soul, inspiring inner knowledge and calm reflection.

(Golden Gardens / Photographer Ariana Dominguez)

4. As a nascent independent band, what challenges are you faced with and how are you overcoming them?

[Aubrey] Personally, I feel more liberated than challenged with our independent status. Yes, we have to actively work at promoting our own music and convincing bookers/promoters/DJs/etc. to support us, but we're so passionate about what we're doing it becomes a labor of love. I actually enjoy emailing bloggers and journalists, posting on message boards, and generally "getting the word out" about Golden Gardens. It's nice to build personal relationships with the people who will be listening to and playing your music (as music is inherently a personal endeavor), and to have total control over your own path is very luxurious. We're not looking at this project as a cash cow or fame rocket; we simply wish to share this thing we love to do with those that hopefully enjoy it. That's the best reward.

[Gregg] While Aubrey is certainly the more outgoing of the two of us, I have to agree. I really enjoy the social aspect of being a band in this day and age. Knowing that people are hearing the music you make, and then those people having the ability to interact with you past the superficial "I like your tunes" level is wonderful.

5. Word has it that a second Golden Gardens’ EP is in the works. What can we expect?

[Gregg] The new Golden Gardens EP is in production as we speak. A couple of songs are completed. A couple more are in the middle of the composition process and there are one or two that are still being "hatched" from bare ideas. The concept of this was to take the ideas that spawned "Somnambulist" and imagine a dark mirror image of them. What sort of songs would that inspire? We took this concept and are building this new EP. It has been an odd process. The songs have been harder to write in many ways and there have been a few discarded ideas that may make their way into future material. The songs have come out sounding lusher and more powerful and the "darkness" we are striving for in this release isn't coming through in an angsty or menacing way, but in a much more romantic and resplendent manner.

Keep up with Golden Gardens at their homepage, Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase the "Somnambulist" EP.

Here is the video for “Paresseux” from the gossamerruby YouTube Channel.

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19 February 2011

Madonna vs. Lady Gaga

I know, even my eyes are rolling at the title of the post, but I am continuously asked by some of my friends as to why I have not written about Madonna and why I am not into Lady Gaga – so, being the pragmatist that I am, I decided to do both in one fell swoop. So, as I was folding my laundry, in my boxer briefs, dancing to Microfilm blasting in the background, this post started to formulate in my mind, so I warn everyone it is a bit heady (and long). Though I have sort of addressed the issue before (link), I want to be a bit more (since I have no plan on being completely) definitive. Considering the nature of this blog, I am sure some people may be puzzled as to why I would dedicate time to thinking and writing this post when I have other posts to write and interviews to post (shortly), but I do have a reason. In the back of my head, this is not about “mainstream” musicians, or recent controversies (but they are included), but rather a real look at an ongoing debate within the music industry and some the of issues they spill into. Regardless of what anyone (including myself) thinks about these two, there is no denying that the here-and-now of pop culture bends to them to variant degrees. And I want to say off the top that I think both of them are talented, but for very different reasons. But I think that this debate of “Madonna vs. Lady Gaga” needs to be intellectualized in a way that I don’t feel it has been… so I am going to put my two cents in (and I am sure that some of my very friends who asked me to write about them are not going to be happy!)


Image is important in music; considering that The Cure is my favorite band of all time, I have no issue with artists who have an image or gimmick in their appearance. And though the media always references Robert Smith’s constant use of make-up (he sort of looks like an overweight, drunk, gothic version of Bozo the Clown), at the end of it all it is always about the band’s music. This is the model that anyone who wants to sustain a career of music should take note of; people get tired of image and gimmick after a few years, but noteworthy music (and live performance) will give you longevity. This is something that Madonna knows all too well. Of course there have been moments when her music may have been overwhelmed by image (like those cone bras) or by scandal (the now almost trite “Sex” book), at the end of it all, the press has always come back to her music. Her fans even get upset if you mention she is a media mastermind, but I yet to meet a Lady Gaga fan who cannot stop talking about her image and “scandals.” (Really, giving the finger at Citi Field was not a scandal as much as a cry for free promotion; if you want to do something scandalous at a sporting event, you will have to top Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, which topped Roseanne Barr’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1990.)

Madonna’s image is polymorphic; it is in constant change and flux, but each image is consistent with an album or tour. More so than any musician, a simple image will conjure up thoughts of specific albums and tours. It is a visual moniker for what she is selling. And when she simulates masturbation on stage during “Like a Virgin” on the Blond Ambition Tour, it fits the song. Everything is carefully crafted, carefully designed, and carefully controlled. By comparison, one never knows what to expect from Lady Gaga; like Cher (and sometimes Bjork), she makes the grandest of appearances wearing some of the oddest clothing – some of which I have to admit is eye-catching. She has a complete understanding of glam (and even camp), but her visual moniker is not her image, but rather the fact that she is uber-polymorphic – and that is not something that is sellable but is extremely marketable until she and the wardrobe people run out of ideas. When Madonna performs at an award show, we wait anxiously to see how she will interpret her song; if she is going to simulate masturbation or kiss her two female co-singers is just icing on the cake. When Lady Gaga performs at an award show, everyone cannot stop wondering about what she is wearing and why and what antic will come next. At the last Grammy Awards (or the Grannies as I refer to them), she crosses the red carpet in an egg – she ginned it up from before her performance, instead of allowing her performance to stand on its own. Again, more controversy about the egg/incubator thing, as if anyone believes that she was “reborn” when it was so crafted. (At least after Madonna kissed Britney and Christina, I wondered if they all got together with Missy Elliot and did more than simulate masturbation.)

And as for that meat dress Lady Gaga wore, don’t get me started on starving children and the waste of food.

Music Sales

I applauded that Lady Gaga set the record for the fastest selling single in one week on iTunes, over a million in five days. In this broadband revolutionized world, where free music is everywhere, this was an incredible feat. But here are a few things to consider: will the single continue to sell, how did the hard copies sell, and does the fact that unlike the 80s and 90s when artists had a harder time reaching international markets, iTunes now allows for a broader audience (and not the talent of any individual artist or band) also a factor? To any new (under ten years) artist/band out there, I congratulate you if you sell over one million units, now impress me by being around over twenty-years and doing the same. I am not trying to be snarky; the music industry is the world of youngsters and the unknown becoming known; the fact that bands like Depeche Mode and U2 are still able to sustain such mega-careers at the thirty-year mark is more impressive than a debut album going platinum. Furthermore, that a fifty-year old woman shaking her kooshie could reach the fourth most grossing tour of all time as of this date with the Sticky and Sweet Tour is even more impressive. And the fact is that it was the second most grossing when the tour finished. (FYI, the most grossing tour ever was The Rolling Stones’ “A Bigger Bang Tour” in 2005-2007 as of this date.)

Pushing Buttons

Picture this: you are in an airport and someone says the word bomb; the entire place in an uproar, people are searching for one, while the person who said it is in the middle of a controversy. Continue to picture this: once it is determined there is no bomb, and someone says, “Really, bomb,” it may be aggravating, but the threat of the original scare is never matched. Unfortunately, things do become mundane. Madonna was the first to say, “Bomb.” Of course, this is an unfair comparison as Madonna is old enough to be Lady Gaga’s mother, but at the end of it all, she said bomb first. And we can apply this to their career over and over again, but let’s look at the most loyal part of their fan base. So they both may support gay rights, but it was Madonna who really pushed the cause in the 80s when most Americans were not pro-gay. This did not alienate her from radio play or popularity; her taking a stance on a social issue made her more notable, somehow more real. Lady Gaga’s support of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and gay rights in general is just complicit with what most Americans now believe and really not that risqué. (I am not saying that there isn’t a good ole fight ahead for gay rights, but the reality is that it now has the support of most Americans, just not the old men in the Congress.) Lady Gaga is just capitalizing on a long tradition of gay men being into female divas, but really does nothing for their quality of life or pushes a cause that most Americans do not agree with – like global warming or green energy, but then again, there is really no way to make those issues sexy to an audience.

In Georges-Claude Guilbert’s book “Madonna As a Postmodern Myth” (2002) (link to Amazon USA site for book), Madonna is quoted saying, “I know that I’m not the best singer and I know that I’m not the best dancer. But, I can fucking push people’s buttons and be as provocative as I want.” At once, the typical Madonna dichotomy, that lovely binary opposition, is presented: the humility and the bombastic. And this can best be demonstrated by a video.

Let’s be a bit counter-intuitive, though, and start with the video for “Alejandro.” My first reaction to the song was that it is build on the same platform as “Who’s That Girl?” (The Madonna song, not Eurythmics, to confuse them would be blasphemous!) Now don’t go quoting me as saying that the song is a rip off; by far, it is not, but they share the same approach and “underpinnings.” English sung, with some words in Spanish, with a near Caribbean-Latin beat, but really closer to dance ready radio house music for people who have never listened to deep house and only know two dance moves. As for the lyrics, it is a love song that can’t get its narrative point of view straight: first, “I know we are young and I know you may love me…” Then, “She’s got both hands in her pockets.” At best, I am confused if she purposely switched the pronouns or if this is some love triangle. But it is a love / break-you-heart song, so when we get the video, which is visually brilliant, I am left wondering.

[“Alejandro” from video from LadyGagaVEVO YouTube Channel.]

Okay, I admit, my favorite moments are when Lady Gaga “mounts” the dude in the bed (I love the subversive), but the video is totally disassociated from the lyrics. Now, videos do not have to recapture the narratives of songs, and I am often attracted to videos that are conceptually stunning more than anything else, but why create a totally different narrative? I get the video: she gives into religion/spirituality by the end of the song. Her “eating” the rosary is the acceptance of Christ in her, and, in the words of video director Steven Klein, “Thus at the end of the film, she chooses to be a nun, and the reason her mouth and eyes disappear is because she is withdrawing her senses from the world of evil and going inward towards prayer and contemplation” (link). But where is the evil world alluded to in the scantily-cladded world of choreographed dancing that seems more inviting than threatening? Was it in the dancers’ near-Nazi looking costumes? (A more controversial issue in my book!) If that was so threatening, why was she dancing in unison with them and not running from them? And did the losing of her “senses” have to look like something out of “Ghost Busters”? Don’t get me wrong, the video is visually appealing, but I don’t get the controversy. In the world after church scandals, preachers hooking up with people on escort services, and Nine Inch Nails, isn’t the world over religious shook? This song was good enough to stand on its own, to have a video that matched its infectious beat, but instead in an attempt to gin up some controversy, which really came and went. This was another attempt at promoting a song with something other than actual music or video; it relied more on the audiences’ visceral reactions and sexual images than the actual artistry or music. And I am personally turned off when any artist does that. But the reality is that it is a page out of Madonna’s book; remember the video for “Like a Prayer”?

To quote another Madonna song, “This is not a love song.” Unless you really want to stretch what is textually present in the lyrics, this is a song about faith and epiphany… so what else was the girl to do but produce a video that matches the song. In a world before religious (sexual) controversies and when more people identified themselves as churchgoers, Madonna released “Like a Prayer” to the horror of the Vatican. (I would love to have been a fly on the wall as the Pope watched this one.)

[“Like a Prayer” from Madonna’s MySpace Videos Page.]

Like A Prayer

Madonna | Myspace Video

Now never let it be said that I think this video was an original concept. Let’s not forget all of the sexual imagery found in “The Song of Solomon.” Sexuality and the Bible are not mutually exclusive. Mark Judge in his article, “Lady Gaga Is No Madonna” (link), interprets the video better than I ever could. “Madonna’s video for “Like a Prayer” is an intelligent and even devout meditation on grace, love and conscience.” He quotes Fr. Andrew Greeley, “Only for those who think that sexual passion is an inappropriate metaphor for divine passion…” could this video be controversial. Judge continues about the characters in the video, “They are powered with the power of the Holy Spirit, which gave Madonna grace and courage to fully respond the call from her conscience.” Ultimately, Madonna stands up against the symbolism of the burning crosses (racism), runs to the authorities (responding to her conscience), and helps free a man from wrongful prison, which is implied by his appearance in the curtain call. But it is a “curtain call” – it is understood that this is a video, a performance, and not reality, just symbolic.

Though we can question the level of controversy for each video, only one questioned the norms and beliefs of its time. Only one was produced during an era that intimated that such a production would be an end to a career. Though both of them ginned up controversy, at least one has a tangible moral lesson that anyone could relate to: live your faith and allow it to guide your conscience and conscious actions. The other fails at any intended meaning in its lack of a strong narrative structure and relying more on imagery and choreography.

Homage or Rip Off

There is such a thin line between homage and ripping someone off, and the reality is that you can rip someone off in homage. And a further reality: just how many original people are there? Let’s consider all of this current post-punk and 80s synthpop revival. These bands may not be replicating the songs of Joy Division, The Cure, Depeche Mode, or Erasure, but they sure enough have ripped off their style of music in many ways that beg for direct comparisons. But there is a big difference in imitating the style of someone and replicating a song. Yes, we have reached that now infamous comparison of “Born This Way” with “Express Yourself.”

[Madonna’s “Express Yourself” from her MySpace Video Page.]

Express Yourself

Madonna | Myspace Video

First off, let’s just say that Madonna has usurped the image of many people, from Marilyn Monroe to Marlene Dietrich, (and not just people’s images, but cultural and artistic ones as well, like the film “Metropolis”) but she never claimed originality when doing so. Furthermore, with each usurpation she more than imitated, she made it part of her. We all know that in “Material Girl” she is portraying Marilyn Monroe from “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend,” but in the imitation/usurpation, she uses the original as a mold and then extends its logical meaning into something new and fresh – or at least fun. Same as when she performed “Like a Virgin” as Marlene Dietrich. In both, she extends the symbolic meaning of the subject of imitation. It is not simple pastiche, but rather creating something new while acknowledging the past. But notice she goes into the no longer relevant past to breathe new life into new imagery. Lady Gaga, however, on this occasion usurps from the canon of a presently relevant artist.

[Lady Gaga’s Grammy Awards performance of “Born This Way” from the LadyGagaVEVO YouTube Channel.]

Now, if I were an aspiring female pop artist, I would pattern myself after Madonna – maybe not her music, but definitely how she has handled her career. Why the hell not? Can you imagine a more relevant female pop artist? So, I do not fault Lady Gaga, who has even referred to herself as the biggest Madonna fan (which properly pissed off a few Chelsea Queens), for paying homage to Madonna; but this bit of homage did go over a thin line into a rip off. Whether it is copyright infringement, I will leave that up to the artists, songwriters, and lawyers to decide, but for even the most loyal Lady Gaga fan not to acknowledge the eerie similarities is flat out denial. (Then again, I dismiss anyone who says The Cure has not written a great song in fifteen years!) Lady Gaga should have said at the Grammy Awards, “This was inspired by Madonna,” and not that odd reference to Whitney Houston, which echoes nowhere in her music and was a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the “Express Yourself” comparisons.


I hate musicians who say, “I do this for myself.” No you don’t; if you did, you would not record it, release it, promote it, perform it, and push the product like there was no tomorrow. I think musicians need to be less disingenuous. With that said, both Madonna and Lady Gaga want to have a cultural impact and want to be respected for making that impact. But this is something that only hindsight can see with 20/20 vision. Unfortunately, we cannot judge that for Lady Gaga yet, as she is continuing to unfurl her career – whether she is a fad or a trendsetter only time will tell. Ten years from now we shall see; my prediction, when the glitz and controversy wears away, Lady Gaga is going to start producing the best music and performances of her career. As for Madonna, I cannot say that the best is behind her as she is always full of surprises, but she has definitely earned the respect of the music industry and left a remarkable impact on that industry and culture in general. Unlike the women prior to the 80s in the music industry, men did not exploit her; she exploited herself. She turned the power of female sexuality into her most powerful appeal, at the same time helping to erase taboos, lashing out against racism and homophobia when it was not popular to do so, and continues to fight for causes she believes in (she even sang with Annie Lennox to support SING, to raise funds for and awareness of women and children with HIV.)

In her long career, many have come to think of her and not the Virgin Mother when someone says, “Madonna.” Producers and songwriters come and go, musical fads come and go, but now nearly thirty years into her career, Madonna refuses to go. No one looks back at her career and says she imitated this one or that; no one intimates it was her producers and songwriters that made her. Critics, fans, and causal listeners who are not hung up on her antics look back and say she has had the most remarkable and successful career of any female pop artist. To define her is simply to mention her name, “Madonna,” and this is the most important lesson that Lady Gaga could learn. Do not pattern yourself against one person repeatedly, make a name for yourself on your own terms, and strive to be defined by your own name, “Lady Gaga” and not comparisons to others. That is one of the marks of all great artists: to define them is to defer to their moniker – Abba, David Bowie, The Doors, Michael Jackson, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc… Furthermore, the true measure of relevance in music is not how your music charts or sells, but the mark you leave behind on the industry, how long your music survives relevancy, and your influence on future artists. Madonna has changed the idea of what women are capable of in music, people are still covering her early music, and almost every wannabe-girlie-diva is rehashing her antics and/or style. In a nutshell, Madonna is Madonna, and Lady Gaga is not. At least at this moment, I think it is easy to see who the winner of this match-up is.
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18 February 2011

Matthew Mercer Answers 5

Everyday I become more and more of a fan of Matthew Mercer; from his work with Microfilm to his solo material, there is always a thoughtful artistry to all that he produces. Nothing is gratuitous: every sound, every beat, every note has a purpose. Reviewing his latest solo release, “Pianissimo Possibile” (link), was a welcomed departure to the music that has been featured on this blog thus far. A few e-mails later, I would like to thank Matthew Mercer for taking the time to Answer 5.

1. I was blown away by “Pianissimo Possibile,” especially considering the fact that it is a departure from what you have done with Microfilm. What influenced you to compose music in this direction?

I've always been interested in the piano as well as electronic non-dance-oriented music. Most of the music I'd released under my own name had been aimed at minimal techno DJs and fans, but I've always made music that veers away from that area too. It seemed like a good idea to focus on that and produce a body of work that represented that side of my interests. The decision to go with the piano as a focal point was somewhat arbitrary... I started experimenting with some basic parameters and ended up running with it to amass a reasonable collection of tracks, and then I began to consider an album.

2. What I appreciate the most is that you did not approach “Pianissimo Possibile” as instrumental version of songs that simply had the vocals removed from them. Most “contemporary” instrumental music does just this; anything else would be disarming to the average listener. To the average, passive, music listener, what would you tell them as to why they should listen to this collection?

As with most lyrical music, my goal is to evoke a feeling, as simple as that is. Everyone will bring his/her own associations or assumptions to the table in terms of what each track or even the whole body of work means emotionally or artistically, and I'm not necessarily one to tell them how to feel about it. But I've never been someone who focuses on lyrics or vocals in music, and so to me it's only natural to let the music do the "singing" for me.

3. Intentions and interpretations are two different things, especially with instrumental music. One of the things I took away from the album was the balance between old and new, classical and modern. But what was your intention? What do you want the listener to take away with them?

My intention was not necessarily the old and new contrast, but I do like the formal contrast of organic sounds (an instrument like the piano, which has innate fluidity to me) with digital editing techniques that are often abrupt, clipped or manipulated in ways that are sometimes very obvious. For instance, I was really drawn to the sound of piano tones that are trimmed between the actual hammer strike and the final decay, so you're left with the essence of the piano without the full expression of its sound from beginning to end. In terms of an emotional takeaway, I have no agenda. The songs certainly carry a certain amount of gravity at times, but I would consider that an expression of abstract impulses from within rather than a clear agenda that would qualify as an "artist's statement."

4. As you know, I am a “gearhead” and I want to know what equipment and/or software you used when putting this album together?

I run everything on a Mac quadcore tower, and almost everything was created in Propellerhead Reason 4. I used Recycle to cut up the piano phrases and then triggered those through the Rex player in Reason. For the first time I partnered up with someone to do audio engineering on these tracks, because I really needed an extra set of ears to help fine tune the fidelity of the mix, so Charles Fenech (of Australian EBM act AngelTheory) assisted with EQ and levels before I ran the final mastering through T-Racks.

5. Out of curiosity, will these tracks make their way to your DJ sets? If so, will they be played in the “Pianissimo Possible” versions or remixed? If remixed, will they become available to us via your Bandcamp page?

I approached most of these with the intention of being freed from the beat of the dancefloor, and so I don't anticipate trying to fit these into that world that I strived to avoid. It's not out of the question, though; I usually like a challenge when it comes to mixing tracks and styles. If I do end up remixing any of these, they will be available on Bandcamp.

Keep up with Matthew Mercer at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to his Bandcamp site where you can preview and purchase “Pianissimo Possibile.”

Here is Matthew Mercer’s video for “Sky Opened Up” from his YouTube Channel: matthewdmercer.

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17 February 2011

Eight Videos

Thought I would pop on to post the second round of videos for the month, as I start to look forward to a long weekend and some writing. Hope everyone is well. Enjoy!

Alpines’ “Drive” from their YouTube Channel: AlpinesMusic.

Frankie & The Heartstrings’ “Hunger” from their YouTube Channel: frankieheartstrings.

David’s Lyre’s “In Arms” from their Youtube Channel: ThisIsDavidsLyre.

The Unravelling’s “Move Forward Until You Are Dead” from their YouTube Channel: Theunravellingmusic.

The Kills’ “Satellite” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Jessie Ware & Sampha’s “Valetine” from the youngturksrecords YouTube Channel.

The New Raemon’s “Verdugo” from the bcoredisc YouTube Channel.

Two Door Cinema Club’s “What You Know” from their YouTube Channel: twodoorcinemaclub.

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15 February 2011

I Was A King: "Old Friends"

I have been a bit remiss about not writing this one up already! One listen to I Was A King’s “Old Friends” (25 January 2011) and you really feel as if you have found an old, familiar friend … or that proverbial old pair of jeans that slip on so nicely and comfortably. This is the third release by the band (and I am ashamed to say that we have not written about them till now), and, as you listen, you may definitely have a feeling of familiarity (so much early 90s indie is being distilled in this album), but there is something different … distinct. From one of the most precise pop sensibilities to the faint fingerprints of shoegaze, from a touch of the Beatles and sunshine pop to a bit of hipster noise, all of these competing references may drive most bands into a disastrous production, but I Was A King comes from a proud tradition of incredible songwriters and performers – Scandinavia.

Hailing from Norge (Norway), I Was A King has produced an upbeat carnival of music that is full of drama and vitality. Even at its most contemplative, the album is uplifting and carefree. Opening with the intense “The Wylde Boys,” the general mood of the album is set with this slightly over two minutes track: fun, fun, fun! “Echoes,” which follows, is definitely grounded in the 60s, but more of a 60s that has been distilled through the early 90s; furthermore, it features some of the most beautiful strumming on the album. But the experimentation kicks off in the third track, “Learning to Fly.” This track, slowly and methodically, builds itself up, before slowing down to a halt and kicking back into another direction. Here is when you get to witness the ingenious arrangements and the way music can be used to heighten the lyrical drama. This is followed by the strangest of all interludes in “Nightwalking.”

Reality: just as there is no gloom on this album, there is no fluff or filler on this album! Even the contemplative “Snow Song” is refreshing and heartening. Another thing I can easily say about the album is how “noise” gets infused into this album is quite interesting; like the beginning of “Unreal,” which whirls around and around in a frenzy of saxophones before breaking free into some beautiful acoustic strumming and vocals, “noise” is always used to accent what is about to follow. Packed with short, well-crafted songs from beginning to end, the final track, the titular, “Old Friends,” is the one track that stays true to a more “classic” form. Why wait to the end to strut through a no-frills track? It is all about the dramatic nature of the album. In the final moments of the album there is a bit of heartfelt contemplation, because from beginning to end, through it all, every experience has “… made me realize you were always been around.” This is the kind of song that does not need any musical experimentation; the universality of how we all feel about old friends is what really carries the song … and in fact, the album.

I Was A King may reference many different musical styles, but “Old Friends” belongs to none. But that is the thing about great songwriting: it is not easily defined or pigeonholed into a box. And of course, I am sure that there are some people tired of me ranting on endlessly about how talented Scandinavian musicians are, but point blank: when you have a greater exposure to different musical styles and get to distill threads upon threads into your music that are variant and often time contradictory, and yet manage to pull it all together and create something that is engaging… well… that is Scandinavian music! And I Was A King proves this in their take on power pop.

Track Listing:
1. The Wylde Boys
2. Echoes
3. Learning to Fly
4. Nightwalking
5. Snow Song
6. Someone Is Waiting
7. Unreal
8. Forgive And Forget
9. Daybreak
10. Kontari
11. Here To Stay
12. Old Friends

Keep up with I Was A King at their MySpace and Facebook. Here are the likes for iTunes in Norge, UK, and USA, where you can preview and purchase “Old Friends.”
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12 February 2011

Ports of Call: "Fractals" EP

My thanks to Thomas Mosher, of Ports of Call, for keeping me in the loop.

What is a fractal? In a nutshell it is a geometric design that can be split into smaller parts and those parts should some how reflect / mimic the original, or, conversely, build up by using the same part to create something that reflects / mimics the original somehow. So if we go back to February 2008, the days before SlowdiveMusic Blog, you may have come across Ports of Call’s debut album, “Like Thieves…” These are the original triangles, so to say, of their take on shoegaze and space rock. Now, with their follow up, “Fractals” EP (1 February 2011), you can hear the band overlaying these triangles one upon the other and revealing new dimensions to their music. And in my current shoegaze obsessed world, where melody and distortion collide, Ports of Call’s “Fractals” is a serendipitous listening experience.

This quintet hails from The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), and sports an infectious psychedelic shoegaze sound. But returning to my metaphor of a triangle, this time they are sporting a wider range of triangles, which include noise pop and dream pop. They don’t necessarily wear their influences on their sleeves, and you will be pressed to find a single band or song they model themselves on, which shows they are more interested in expanding a genre than trivial rehashing. What really caught my attention about the band sonically is a sense of timelessness. This is music that could easily have been produced in the heydays of shoegaze, yet it is fresh and viable in today’s indie music scenes. To pull this off should be for any listener the first piece of evidence that the band has songwriting chops.

The EP opens with “Fadophobia,” which has amazing vocal arrangements, starting with simple, but beautiful strumming, the song quickly builds to include a sometimes arpeggiated lead guitar, a steady rhythm, and ambient keys in the background – sometimes trippy, sometimes aggressive, depending on the guitars, this is an ingeniously arranged song. Followed by “Transparent Apparent,” the mood is more pensive and the track really capitalizes on some shoegaze tricks, like juxtaposing distortion with crisper guitar sounds. What will grab you about “Selective Memory Machine” is the fact it is the background, ambient keys, that really catches your attention and drives much of the arrangements, in much the same way that post-punk artists did with minimal keys. Then “Ballinora” slips in, with some acoustic strumming in the opening, this is noise pop for a new generation – short, direct, distorted, and urgent. Of course, there is that interesting interlude/break in the middle of the song, which proves that Ports of Call has the song writing chops to think of music dramatically. “Fractals” closes with “Mainlines.” The keys may make you think space rock all of the sudden, but don’t sell the track short! You see, this is one of those schizophrenic tracks that pack in tons of musical references and somehow has it all in control. And in this unexpected jamboree of musical styles that really resists labels (not shoegaze, not dream pop, not space rock, not dream pop), you get a glimpse that Ports of Call has more to offer than the “Fractals” EP hints at.

Now, I know that shoegaze may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I know I am about to sound arrogant when I say, “But it should be!” Beautiful distortion, incredible melodies, and infectious rhythms, Ports of Call is definitely one of the bands from The City of Brotherly Love that you need to check out.

Track Listing:
1. Fadophobia
2. Transparent Apparent
3. Selective Memory Machine
4. Ballinora
5. Mainlines

Keep up with Ports of Call at their MySpace, Facebook, and Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase both “Fractals” and their debut album, “Like Thieves…” Also, in support of printing a vinyl (yes, vinyl!) release of “Fractals,” the band has set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds … donations are more than welcomed.
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Golden Gardens: "Somnambulist" EP

I remember a time when if you wanted great music, you had to turn to EPs and mini-albums. Whether it was My Bloody Valentine’s “Ecstasy” (1987), Cranes’ “Self-Non-Self” (1989), Ride’s “Ride” (1990), Curve’s “Cherry” (1991), it was these nascent, underground bands that were defining the upcoming music scenes and carrying on musical traditions (from post-punk to noise pop) that were completely abandoned or ignored by the mainstream. Golden Gardens is one of these bands, who recently released their “Somnambulist” EP (6 December 2010) and are (re)educating an audience on what trippy, shoegazey, dream pop is all about.

I admit near complete ignorance about the band’s biography, but here is the little I do know: the band is a duo, which hails from Seattle, Washington USA and apparently named after Golden Gardens Park. Though the band uses electronic equipment to generate their music, I would hardly call them an electronic band. For that matter, I would not call them a dream pop or shoegaze band in the classic sense of either of those genres. And of course, all this dream pop/shoegaze revival is getting some of us really happy about what a 90s revival could sound like, but Golden Gardens is not rehashing that classic form. It is fair to say they are expanding it, reconfiguring it, and producing something fresh and urgent. But if you need a comparison, think of Cranes, in the sense of having so much focus on a female voice lifting up from the music, and Curve, in the sense of generating powerful undertow in the dichotomy between how the vocal and musical arrangements interplay with one another.

“Somnambulist” is the perfect name for this collection. The music is lost somewhere between a dream world (that trippy, dream pop) and those barely conscious, but epiphanic twilight moments when we are stirring. The opening track is “Paresseux” [French for lazy], and this track definitely has a laziness, slow-moving quality to it, that allows you fall back into contemplation – a perfect way to ease into this musical journey. “Cloudless” has a bit of trip-hop to it, but retains its ethereal dream pop. “Elizabeta” has a beautifully thick wall of sound in the background and that feeling that the song is either going to explode or implode into something different, but never does – and it is in that denial of major shift that the song gains this amazing visceral undertow. “The Uses of Enchantment” is the closest song to post-punk, working on subtle shifts and repetitions. “The High Priestess” is the standout song of the collection, and of course an amazing study on epic music! It is a bit more experimental in arrangements than the other songs; it really captures the qualities of being somnambulistic. It moves in a daze, is shadowy and ethereal, as you are subtly swept into its soundscape for a near seven minutes. “Heartbeats” closes the collection, and like the opening, the music wallows gracefully though lethargy, as the focal vocals (at one point in a cappella) completely arrests your attention. The music is only meant to heighten the urgency of the vocal arrangements; this is the most haunting song of the year thus far!

For the sake of a bit of disclosure, I want to say that Golden Gardens came into my radar on Twitter, when I got a heads up from the band in the form of a few words. Not the first time I got a heads up from a band, which more often than not ends in a disastrous listening experience, I checked out their music on Bandcamp and could not stop listening to the “Somnambulist” EP. Trust me, if you had an affinity and love for dreamy shoegaze, or your curiosity is even slightly roused, check out Golden Gardens links below and support the band.

Track Listing:
1. Paresseux
2. Cloudless
3. Elizabeta
4. The Uses of Enchantment
5. The High Priestess
6. Heartbeats

Keep up with Golden Gardens at their homepage, Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase the "Somnambulist" EP.

Here is the video for “Paresseux” from the gossamerruby YouTube Channel.

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09 February 2011

//orangenoise: ''//veracious EP"

I am a sucker for good shoegaze, and I remember the heydays of shoegaze, when it was overshadowed by grunge in the USA and Britpop in the UK. I remember when “shoegaze” as a label was thought of as an acerbic dirty word, but I never thought of it that way; actually, I thought of it as a red badge of courage or a scarlet A, proof that musicians out there were working on music of artistic substance and disregarded what mainstream radio thought of as appropriate. And of course, all good music is infectious and communicable, and shoegaze is starting to prove its legacy. And if you thought that shoegaze was only for Brits and a few Americans, I have a surprise for you: //orangenoise.

Hailing from Karachi, Pakistan, //orangenoise is composed of Danial Hyatt (drums and percussion), Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey (bass, vocals), Faizan Riedinger (guitar), and Talha Asim Wynne (guitar, vocals). Wearing their red badge of courage with pride, this is truly shoegaze: whirling feedback drenched guitars over memorable melodies and rhythms. But //orangenoise, however, does not replicate the early shoegazers. They have learnt from this style, infused a bit of the 60s, psychadelia, post-punk, and post-rock, and created music that is compelling, urgent, and fresh. Their debut, “//vercious EP” (11 January 2011), is nothing sort of spellbinding, and from the first listen I was in shoegaze heaven.

The EP opens with “Rabblerouser” (one of my favorite words in the English language); closer to the shoegaze of Catherine Wheel than Ride, the song is guttural, earthy, and grounded. Pure shoegaze, free of the etherealness of dream pop, the song is thriving and urgent. Then comes “On the Run,” sporting some garage rock and a 60s influence in the vocal style. “Trust” starts with a feel of serenity, and then crashes into swirling and moaning guitars, continually changing up the sonic intensity; the vocal arrangements are upfront in the first half of the song, leaving the latter half to whirl around through a journey of shifting soundscapes. In terms of a truly classic shoegaze sound (for the purists), there is “Veradicine.” Harrowingly distorted guitars against an ethereal backdrop, which has that near to free-falling-kind-of-feelilng, are juxtaposed against one another to generate a powerful undertow. Of course, it is the closing, “I Know Everything,” that caught my ears the most. One word: Epic! Very classic post-punk meets dream pop / shoegaze, the song is very subtle in its arrangements, but clever enough to sound blatant and grandiose.

Amazing shoegaze, incredibly compelling songs – what more do you need to know? Support //orangenoise!

Track Listing:
1. Rabblerouser
2. On the Run
3. Trust
4. Veradicine
5. I Know Everything

Keep up with at their Facebook and Bandcamp page, where you can stream and/or download the EP. Also, here is the link for guitarist/vocalist Talha Asim Wynne on MySpace and Twitter.

Here is a live performance of “Rabblerouser” and “Veradicine” from the talhavai YouTube Channel.

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08 February 2011

Esben and The Witch: "Violet Cries"

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a friend of mine – an artist and fellow blogger – reached out to me about the imminent release of Esben and The Witch’s “Violet Cries” (31 January 2011 in the UK, 8 February 2011 in the USA). She asked (no, she demanded!) that she review the album; of course I said yes. For those that do not know Esben and The Witch, the band takes their name from a Danish folk tale, where a literal “little” brother is the hero, and hails from Brighton, UK. This post-punk trio, I think, is going to perk the ears of many listeners/readers. So, with no further ado, I would like to thank Painted Bird for coming back and volunteering her review. I hope we see more of her incredible writing in the weeks to come (hint!).

As an artist, before the music on the album had a chance to catch me, the cover surely did. The expression of the weeping trees inspired that same feeling in me as I pondered the cover for quite some time. The conjugated stalagmites of ice that hang helplessly from the trees portray a scene that seems to set in a dark, quiet area of forest surrounded by water that ripples in the wind. There is a sense of fighting, a want to escape, but there is a lack of effort in the conviction to leave and, therefore, Esben and the Witch give us “Violet Cries.”

I hear it, I hear them, they palpitate in the crevices of my mind and it is soothing but emotion laden. They conduct music much like a river flow: the talent is everlasting and scarring. Why does it scar? Because unlike most music, even the background sounds are to be remembered, etching themselves into your memory. Take “Light Streams,” though the lead vocals are the dominant component of the song, it is the background sounds and vocal effects that haunt you. It is too easy to compare them to contemporary artists and say that they are a gothic version of Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs; reality, the only comparison to their kind of mastery of songwriting and recording would be Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Five times into listening “Violet Cries,” I found myself most attracted to the painfully agitated songs. The cries and songs and the rhythms are not violet, but emotionally violent in a post-punk sense. Whether it is the drama and anger of “Warpath” or wispily contemplative “Marine Fields Glow,” Ebsen and the Witch turns mundane emotional unrest to monuments of beauty.

Esben and the Witch, who simply relish in emotional elaboration, approach their music to balance noise and melody, silence and audibility. Like an artist playing with black and white, in their simplicity there is a world of gray that becomes colorful and memorable like a twilight moment of epiphany. Your heart may be racing at moments when you listen to this album, but what will really catch you is the fact that “Violet Cries” is a heart stopper.

Advice: listen to this music on a sad, rainy day and enjoy the artistry.

Track Listing:
1. Argyria
2. Marching Song
3. Marine Field Glow
4. Light Streams
5. Hexagons IV
6. Chorea
7. Warpath
8. Battlecry/Mimicry
9. Eumenides
10. Swans
11. Lucia, At the Precipice – bonus track
12. They Use Smiles to Bury You – bonus track

Keep up with Esben and the Witch at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are two video clips, the first the official video for “Marching Song,” the second a live version of “Marching Song.” Both are taken from the matadorrec YouTube Channel.

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