04 July 2012

Big Wreck: "Albatross"

As I have said before, my youth consisted of an overdose of a few genres of music: dream pop, glam rock, goth rock, (early deep) house, industrial, new wave, (campy and kitschy) pop, post-punk, punk, shoegaze, synthpop, etc… So it should come as no surprise when I say that by 1997 I was becoming disenchanted with music. Just look at was on offer from the veterans: Erasure’s “Cowboy” (1997, a return to the mundane after an amazingly experimental eponymous album), Crane’s “Population 4” (1997, grew on me eventually, but devoid all of the band’s grandiosity), Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Rapture” (1995, an anti-climatic end to one of the most underrated bands of all time), Ride’s “Tarantula” (1996, a disappointment only overshadowed by the disappointment of the band breaking up), The Cure’s “Wild Mood Swings” (1996, inferior to all their prior albums), Depeche Mode’s “Ultra” (1997, with the obvious exceptions, really….really?) … and the list can go on and on and on. But then I heard “That Song” … How does the cliché go? Hook, line and sinker! Considering that Big Wreck is anything other than those genres mentioned above, it even surprised me back in 1997 that they were one of the bands instrumental in reigniting my passion for music. And, when I decided that I would wait for July to relaunch SlowdiveMusic Blog (since I would be free of all responsibilities other than tanning and spending wasting hours without my feet ever touching the ground), the best place I could think of starting once again from is the reformed Big Wreck and their new release, “Albatross” (6 March 2012).

Another thing I have said before is that I am sucker for literary metaphors. Whether or not Big Wreck intended on bringing up visions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” it is where the metaphor of the albatross being a psychological and/or spiritual burden comes from. Lyrically, Big Wreck delivers on this theme of tortured souls and restless contemplation. Musically, Big Wreck continues to elude conventional labeling. Are they post-rock? Post-grunge? Progressive rock? Perhaps it is best to acknowledge that Big Wreck brings in all the above references with a slew of others, including the blues, and, after a decade since their last release, they are still able to stir up that sense of anxiety and angst that makes you breathless. But, unlike so many bands that have reformed, they are not relying on old formulas or old monuments … they are creating the next chapter, not wallowing in the last one for the sake of nostalgia. And there is Ian Thornley’s voice. Suffice to say it is one of the most haunting voices in music.

The album opens very subtly with “Head Together,” and then the beat drops: “Those glances ricochet off everybody else, but they’re sticking to me like glue. And if the situation ever was to change, who’s to say what the hell I’d do.” Big instrumentalisation and tight arrangements, this is the kind of song you expect from Big Wreck. The second track, “A Million Days,” with a new-wave-esque opening that repeats, has one hook after the other, endlessly changing it up. Then follows the first “wow” moment, “Wolves.” Musically, the mandolin work is very unexpected. Lyrically, the weight of the words is belied by the levity of the music (“I said bleed out your heart, if it’s still beating for someone else….”). Then the titular track follows: “One last cup of starlight, before I wake and start my day. A past so filled with promise, before I lost, I lost my way. Ah that’s okay, and I’m alright; I guess I’ll be lost again for one more night. Oh and that’s alright, I’m okay; I’ll wear the albatross for one more day.” And even though the song is ripe with bluesy elements, Ian Thornley’s voice is uplifting and oozing more hope than it has ever before.

The rest of the album is as brilliant as the opening four tracks. “Glass Room” demonstrates Big Wreck’s pop sensibility, without compromising their style, while “All Is Fair” is a contemporary (indie?) take on 70s rock. “Control” slows things down (eerily) to ditch out a bit of harsh reality (“It’s the same old world, where we grew up, and there’s no one to blame for why we’re all screwed up. You can bury your head in a great big hole, did you ever believe that you were in control?”), while “Rest of the World” is this big, loud, harsh monster of a song, where all of the metal and post-rock references are running rampant. “You Caught My Eye” is a study in contradictions: musically anti-sultry but seductive, lyrically harsh but coquettish – yet it all works so well when put together. The cacophonous “Do What You Will” plays with your expectations over and over, and then slips into the final track: “Time.” This is the biggest surprise on the album. From all the acoustic elements to the unexpected shifts, Thornley’s is profounder than ever before: “If I could go back in time, what would I change of mine? I wasted way too much of it just wishing I could go back in it. It takes time to figure out why I’m always running out.”

And what have always said if you wanted the job done right? Get a veteran to do it! “Albatross” is an amazing album and a very welcomed return of Big Wreck. Check this album out immediately.

Track Listing:
1. Head Together
2. A Million Days
3. Wolves
4. Albatross
5. Glass Room
6. All Is Fair
7. Control
8. Rest of the World
9. You Caught My Eye
10. Do What You Will
11. Time

Keep up with Big Wreck at their homepage, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Albatross,” “Control,” and “Wolves” from the bigwreckmusic YouTube Channel.

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12 May 2012

Back, with a Few Words, Videos, and More Koortwah

It has been quite some time since I have been willing to write, and, in retrospect, I realize that I really needed the time to myself to deal with many issues. 2012 has been one of those years that make you wish it were over already; from my home being broken into and someone in my immediate family passing, I just needed the time to let the dust settle and sort things out in my head. Being back, typing away, is like wearing an old pair of jeans: comfortable, familiar, and feels good. I thought I would start posting again with videos, including Koortwah’s latest video “Candy in the Sun.” But first….

There are a few people I would like to thank for their patience and support during this time: Mia (from miles away I still feel your support), The Candyman and his insufferable other half (for always giving me perspective and being there for me), my “Mama” Charlene (for his undying optimism), and Painted Bird (for continually bringing me back into reality in your own way).

As for the videos, I wanted to lead in with Koortwah’s “Candy in the Sun.” The last time I wrote and posted, I wrote about Koortwah’s debut album, “Lay Them Wise” (link). He has that “je ne sais quoi” characteristic to his music that I am attracted to. Over the last month, I have heard the album over and over and over, and every time my musical expectations continue to be challenged and am left even more curious than the previous time; continuously mixing and switching up everything from IDM and synthpop to post-punk and synth-rock, this is the kind of album that no one song as an exemplar can really capture the dynamics of all its intricacies. It really is a must listen to album, but with that said, the video for “Candy in the Sun” needs to go viral! Support this amazing independent musician and get the word out about the album and the video!

Koortwah’s “Candy in the Sun” from the KOORTWAH YouTube Channel.

Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains’ “City Kiss” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Twin Shadow’s “Five Seconds” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

The Big Pink's “Lose Your Mind” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Gossip’s “Perfect World” from the GossipVEVO YouTube Channel.

The Magnetic Fields’ “Quick!” from the MergeRecords YouTube Channel.

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10 March 2012

Koortwah: "Lay Them Wise"

A bit over a month ago, DJ Chauncey Dandridge told me about Koortwah; he did not so much ask me to listen to Koortwah’s music, but rather demanded it. With permission from Koortwah, I was forwarded a link to download and listen to the music, a collection entitled “Vertical Demos.” Honestly, I did not take the needed time to really listen actively and thoroughly, but on Saturday, 11 February 2012, I was in Manhattan with friends to catch the musical interpretation of “Carrie” at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Chauncey sent me a text that evening telling me that Koortwah was performing at Rock Bar, three blocks away from the theatre. After the musical (which I do recommend), we headed down to Rock Bar, and I have to say that by the end of the first song, I was smitten.

That night, I went home and really listened to “Vertical Demos,” which apparently has been released under the title of “Lay Them Wise” (7 February 2012) via iTunes. Koortwah is the brainchild of Jake Courtois; the moniker is the phonetic spelling of his last name. He migrated to New York City, in his words, to “escape from his fundamentalist overseers,” where in New York, “rats, being largely misunderstood, felt like family.” These two quotes sum up so much about what you can expect from Koortwah. Metaphoric with a sense of humor, his music celebrates the misunderstood or ignored, oftentimes the obvious we forget to mention, leaving behind the fundamentalist ideas of how people should behave and even how music should comport itself. Essentially treading through electronic soundscapes, the references are much wider than the average electronic outfit. From synthrock to IDM (intelligent dance music), electro and synthpop to trip-hop, the electronic coldness is juxtaposed by the occasional use of an acoustic guitar strumming and Courtois’ eerily alluring voice.

The opening track of “Lay Them Wise” (also the opening track of the live performance that night) is “Night Vision.” There is a feel of dream pop etherealness in the vocal arrangements, grounded by the IDM beats, the ambient music and ostinato is occasionally interrupted by some “harsher” sonic elements. The following track, “Candy In The Sun,” slows down the beat to a near downtempo feel, musically less ambient, the coarseness of the music mirrors the lyrics: “Candy in the sun, we all come undone, insides on the outside, wave good-bye.” Sometimes, however, there is a bit of mid-80s post-punk mentality in the music, where the feel of the music belies the lyrical profundity. “Amen” captivates you with its dance-ready beat, savvy hooks, and a controlled cacophony of sounds; lyrically, there is definitely a dark motif running through the song, where the religious “Amen” is highlighted in the vocal arrangements: “I don’t want what you want, maybe I should die alone; hold my hand, I want to go home… Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.” Now, it is my understanding that Courtois does not explain his lyrics, so I wonder if this is an allegory of gaining self-confidence to continue alone, or a nifty take on the crucifixion. Either way, the song is infectiously disarming.

“There Go Your Teeth” (with a line that is going to be my new mantra, “Everything is boring, you’re boring, maybe I don’t need new friends”) is an anti-love song which musically juxtaposes harsh electronic sounds with the warmth of a piano, while “Wrong Tree” basks in its electronic soundscape, fluttering easily through its arrangements, even when the beat drops away and the acoustic strumming begins. The mood instantly changes with “Built To Burn,” especially when Courtois sings, “You know what I’d do for money…” The closest thing to a ballad on the album, what the song really made me think of is that this is how some of the slower tracks on the “Chorus” album [by Erasure] would sound like if it were recorded today – poppy, yet heart-rendering; electronically generated, but musically and lyrically greater than its medium. Then the jazzy titular track drags itself in. What I really like about this song is how the ostinato and the main key arrangement during the verse are so distinct from one another and yet, somehow, work well in tandem.

The most disturbing song is “Pound of Sugar”: “I had children, yes, I once had sons; they lived and learned, I guess they all died young.” What I really like about the vocal arrangements is that the song is not sung line by line in the traditional way we are accustomed to; quite often, the last word of the bar is the first word of the next line. It adds a sense of drama and suspense to the song. Then the album (unfortunately) comes to a close with “The Water’s Gold.” Instead of ending on the clichéd power song, the album closes with a slower paced song that oscillates between coarse and ambient, between ethereal and earthier arrangements.

It is not often on this blog that I have felt compelled to comment on each and every song on an album; this, in and of itself, really reflects what I feel about this album. Here is secret about my musical collection: there are only a handful of albums that I can say that I feel an intimate attachment with each and every track. “Lay Them Wise” joins this group of albums. What Koortwah has created here is a musical experience of elements we may all know, but are presented in a way that is disarming and gives you pause to reconsider what you think about your own musical expectations. This nascent, truly indie artist has composed the kind of album that some of the veterans he lists as influences would like to produce themselves. Furthermore, when I think of what post-punk means – a budding movement from the late 1970s that stayed true to the punk ideology of rejecting conformity, while at the same time experimented with a broader range of sounds and references, always with a twist as it usurped popular formats – it is hard for me not to consider Koortwah among this tradition.

(I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about the live performance. A drummer joined him on stage, he occasionally strummed away on his acoustic, while the rest of the music was produced electronically; throughout the performance of each song, there were images being projected, which ranged from curious to poignant. However, there was no sensory overload; the music, the vocals, and the images all conspired together to suck you right into the performance.)

“Lay Them Wise” is the first album of 2012 that I can honestly say is a must! Check out Koortwah’s music and follow him at one (or all) of his sites to keep abreast of new music and future live performances – you may just find yourself falling in love with the music as much as I did. (Of course now I need to track Jake Courtois down among the rats to get him to answer a few questions.)

Track Listing:
1. Night Vision
2. Candy In The Sun
3. Amen
4. There Go Your Teeth
5. The Wrong Tree
6. Built To Burn
7. Lay Them Wise
8. A Pound Of Sugar
9. The Water’s Gold

Keep up with Koortwah at his homepage, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are a few of the interation iTunes links to Koortwah’s “Lay Them Wise”: Canada, Deutschland, España, France, Ireland, The United Kingdom, and The United States.

Here are the tracks “Built to Burn,” with the videos used during live performances, and “Night Vision” from the KOORTWAH YouTube Channel.

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03 March 2012

Stephen Vs Stephen Answers 5

When I first listened to Stephen Vs. Stephen’s deubt EP, “And Yet,” I was immediately drawn into its multi-references to past musical trends and its air of current urgency and relevance. There was no doubt that I was going to review this EP (link). Stephen Vs. Stephen is the brainchild of Stephen Sandknop, a truly independent and nascent musician. So nascent indeed that you will be pressed to find out information on him on the Internet, which led my urgency to want to ask him a few questions. A few e-mails later, I would like to thank Stephen Sandknop for taking the time to Answer 5.

(Stephen Sandknop of Stephen Vs. Stephen)

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

Gosh. My musical influences are pretty diverse – everything from Sonic Youth to Wilson Philips. The “And Yet EP” is a direct offshoot of the albums “She's So Unusual” and “I Say, I Say, I Say” by Cyndi Lauper and Erasure, respectively. Both albums got me through a rather rough period of time and were hugely inspiring to me. Lately I've been trying to make myself listen to newer music (I'm usually stuck firmly in the 80s and 90s). Some of my favorite tracks at the moment are by Jonsi and Bon Iver. Really amazing stuff, musically, and it's nice to hear guys sing like they aren't bored with life. Aside from musical influences, I've written several songs while watching David Lynch films on mute. It works every time.

2. You are truly an independent and nascent musician, with little information out there about you and your music. Could you tell us three things about yourself as a lover of music and musician that we should know about you?

Three things you should know about me… Barbra Streisand and Courtney Love taught me to sing… Most of my songs don't have bridges because when I try to add them they almost always become an entirely new song… I'm an Aries. I've been told this explains why I actually have terrible rhythm. I finally found myself an awesomely sexy Leo boyfriend, though, and I'm never letting go of him (he has rhythm).

3. One of the things I love about your music is that it references so much, from synthpop to shoegaze. So I am wondering when you sit down to compose a song, are all of these references something that you keep in mind or is the process more organic?

I'd say it's a bit more organic; I don't sit down and think to myself "today I'm going to write that long-lost OMD track." I do try, however, to surround myself with things that inspire me and fit my ideals. I love Christmas lights and unusual paintings and old furniture. I listen to synthpop a lot when I want to be energized or while cleaning and shoegaze when I'm driving. I drive a Honda from 1988 and sometimes when I drive I like to pretend I live in another era. Nothing makes me feel groovier than listening to “Automatic” by The Jesus and Mary Chain while driving and smoking and wearing really cool sunglasses. I'd like that kind of thing to be present in my music, yes.

(Stephen Sandknop of Stephen Vs. Stephen)

4. SlowdiveMusic Blog ranked “The Void” in Top Tracks of 2011. We demand to know the genesis of this song!

"The Void" was a collaboration with an Australian Internet friend of mine named Robbie Goldstein. We met on an old Courtney Love fan board called KittyRadio back in the mid-2000s and started exchanging song ideas and sexy pictures. One evening he sent a song idea my way that he'd put together in Reason. It sent shivers down my spine and within a matter of hours I'd workshopped the structure with him and added vocals to it. The vocals on the final version are from that first run through. By the time it came out on the EP I'd added some guitar, a real snare drum, and more layered instruments. It remains one of my very favorite things I've ever helped create.

5. What’s on your plate at this moment? Any new music we can expect soon?

It's coming, slowly but surely! Right now I'm just expecting the EP to take off…any minute now. But in all seriousness, there's an upcoming sci-fi film called “Goliad Uprising” by Indie filmmaker Paul Bright that's going to feature one or more of the tracks from the EP. Apparently, one song in particular is going to be playing during the opening credits and I could not be more PSYCHED! Aside from that, I've just moved to Los Angeles and the sky's the limit, so they say. I'm looking for work as a production assistant on various film projects, and in the interim Hayden Hall and Jugger Naut of the fabulous synthpop band Professor Possessor are shooting an overtly sexy music video for "The Difference Between Us." I'm expecting it to be genius per their usual work, and the three of us are also in talks of starting a throwback 1960s boy band. I can't tell you how excited I am to start doing live shows again! Sky's the limit, indeed.

Keep up with Stephen Vs. Stephen at his Bandcamp page (where you can preview and download the “And Yet EP”) and check out his YouTube Channel, SBSandknop – interesting “Pyscho” influenced clip there!

Here is Stephen Vs. Stephen’s song “The Void” from his Bandcamp page.

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01 March 2012

Katrin The Thrill: "Earth Is Calling Us"

My many thanks to Independent Music Promotions for keeping me in the loop!

There are a few female vocalists, who when I hear them sing, the sound of their voices continue to haunt me for hours. Grace Slick and Siouxsie Sioux are two of these vocalists; the one thing that they have in common is that when they sing, their vocals seem to “lift” from the songs and dominate the soundscape. In more recent years, Skin of Skunk Anansie and Marina Lambrini Dimandis of Marina and the Diamonds also have this quality to their vocals. Katerina Panopoulu, who writes and performs under the moniker Katrin The Thrill, is another female vocalist to possess this quality. Her debut EP, “Earth Is Calling Us” (20 December 2010), not only frolics in darkish, brooding music that straddles both grunge and post-punk revival, it showcases her powerful and compellingly alluring vocals.

This is one of those releases that I kick myself for not discovering or being told about earlier! The genesis of the EP harkens back to 2009, when fires swept through Greece leaving havoc and devastation in their wake. “Earth Is Calling Us” is not only a reaction to the fires, but also a means to help; part of the profits will go towards the reforestation of the burned forests. In essence, this EP is more than just aesthetics; it is the chance, the potential, of doing something meaningful that transcends music.

“Earth Is Calling Us” opens with “You Make Me Wanna Die” – musically straightforward and lyrically blunt: “Now you’ve hurt me enough, so please decide to stop. Yes you made me sad, how cruel is your love…” Do not dismiss this song as that ramblings of a jilted lover; take notice of how the atmosphere between verse and chorus shifts, when Panopoulu repeatedly sings, “You make me wanna die.” It becomes obvious that this song is about the effects of an abusive situation, an issue rarely addressed in music. And it is obvious from the start that there is conscious consideration of how music and lyrics will work in tandem. The following track, “Unreal,” is darker and more brooding than the first; the guitar playing/arrangements on the track, though not the most complex on the album, really create an amazing lulling atmosphere. “God” is a surreal, narrative track of death (maybe suicide) and a “trip to find God” in order to find love. The song is as dramatic as they come; from the verses that seem to inch slowly, building up suspense, to the grandiose, yet ambient, feel of the chorus, everything about the song is disarming in a good way, especially when she sings the line, “I am God. I am God.”

The titular track follows, sharing some of the same underpinnings of the preceding track in terms of how suspense is built in the song. What I really like about this track is how the music and vocals bounce back-and-forth from resigned to angry. The radio edit of the song closes the EP. But before reaching that point, you go through “Sorry.” The music goes poppier than before, definitely more on the grunge side, with a bit of “shoegazy” guitars for effects. The main lyrical content is the repetition of “I’m sorry.” What really gets you about the song is how the near bubbly music and the idea of contriteness in the repeated phrase are really mutually exclusive and yet work wonderfully together (definitely my favorite track). But like good lyricists, there is an air of (total) ambiguity about this song: what are you sorry about? How did it go wrong? But, at the end of it all, it doesn’t matter, because the song really captures that moment when you want to give into your remorse and ask for forgiveness, but still stubbornly holding onto the façade of being happy and upbeat.

Just as I always say about Scandinavia, Greece stands outside and relatively at a distance from the Anglo-American world; though drenched with its music, it is experienced in quite a different way than a kid in Boston or Manchester would engage it. It is that distinct perspective about music, genre, and even language that really gives some international artists something special and alluring to their music. Katrin The Thrill (though having studied prior and now living in the UK) is one of those artists that have that alluringness of being the outsider producing something familiar, but yet refreshing and distinct. “Earth Is Calling Us” is the evidence of that. It is everything about this collection (that amazing voice, the infectious rifts, knowing that your purchase helps reforest parts of Greece, and that distinct approach of familiar elements) that keeps me hitting repeat and making me wish I knew about it earlier.

Track Listing:
1. You Make Me Wanna Die
2. Unreal
3. God
4. Earth Is Calling Us
5. Sorry
6. Earth Is Calling Us, Radio Edit

Keep up with Katrin The Thrill at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the video for “Earth Is Calling Us” from the manoouz YouTube Channel.

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19 February 2012

Videos and a Few Words on Madge

Among some of my friends, the Madonna mania has started – a few of them who have never watched the Super Bowl tuned in this year to see Madge perform. Let’s give credit where it is due: a pop career spanning thirty-years (no other pop artist has ever stayed relevant for that long), the bragging rights of being the most spectacular live pop performer, currently the fourth most selling artist of all time, and the solo artist with the highest grossing tour ever, she has set the mark very high for any artist to replace her as the Queen of Pop. And when I heard her latest single, the bubble-gum “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” I immediately had to laugh … a good laugh though.

Let me say right off that the coverage of her Super Bowl performance was sexist; when she had a misstep, the first thing that it was accredited to was her age. But does anyone mention Keith Richard’s or Paul McCartney’s age if they make an error? Or Robert Smith’s when he screws up his own lyrics live? All artists make mistakes. The evidence that this veteran’s age is not an issue is the fact that the misstep did not deride her performance. She immediately recuperated from it and did not miss a beat in the rest of the choreography that followed. As the years goes on, her ability to concentrate during a performance (which have gotten longer and longer) has only gotten better. And if that is enough to her credit, remember at least we did not see her boobs.

As for “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” Madonna has usurped and incorporated just about everything into her music and live performances, so it is no surprise that Madonna has usurped the 80s revival. At the heart of it all, “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is a new wave song, and I find it interesting how fans of new wave and 80s revival roll their eyes when they hear this song … would they do that if it were another artist performing the song? This song is so 80s that she is even sporting a big, gaudy cross again and not to mention those wedding dresses in the video, a nice reference to “Like a Virgin,” and of course all the less than subtle references to the “Material Girl” video. (Why would she reference anyone else? She does have an ego the size of Montana … no, Canada.) I for one have to admit that this is her best single since “Hung Up” and a perfect example of what makes her distinct from other pop artists. First, she can incorporate just about any element in her music and make it seem natural, just a matter of fact. Second, she can just write a song that is (on the surface) not trying to be more than what it actually is – a pop song. Unlike other artists (nameless), not every single has to be some kind of commentary or something more bombast than what came before it. Not everything is about making a statement, sometimes it is just a friggin’ song. This one just happens to be all new wavish and gets two thumbs up. (Of course, I wonder what was going through her mind when she wrote, “Every record sounds the same…” (those nameless artists?).)

Enjoy the videos!

Madonna’s “Give Me All Your Luvin’” (featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj) form the madonna YouTuve Channel.

SBTRKT’s “Hold On – Sisi Bakbak Rmx” from the youngturksrecords YouTube Channel.

Scissor Sisters vs. Krystal Pepsy’s “Shady Love” from the scissorsisterstv YouTube Channel.

The Japanese Popstars’ “Shell of Silver” from TheJapanesePopstVEVO YouTube Channel.

Austra’s “Spellwork” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Lightships’ “Sweetness In Her Spark” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Band of Skulls’ “Sweet Sour” from the vagrantrecords YouTube Channel.

Saint Etienne’s “Tonight” from the SaintEtienneVEVO YouTube Channel.

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18 February 2012

Doug Prescott: "The Journey & The Deep Blue Sea"

My many thanks to Independent Music Promotions for keeping me in the loop.

For some reason or other, I have typically swayed away from making political commentary on the blog, but I think it is obvious from the musicians that I tend to cover where I stand politically. It is perhaps why I usually sway away from certain genres of music and a certain set of musicians – their politics revolt me for the most part. Though I listen to some country music, it is for those said reasons that I usually sway away from it as a genre, so when I received Doug Prescott’s “The Journey & The Deep Blue Sea” (1 November 2011), at first I scoffed at the fact that I was about to listen to country music. Though it is hard to categorize this album as purely being “country,” as many other elements (from lounge to funk) permeates through the music, at the heart of the songs there is something undeniably American. However, I think that the folks in the metaphoric Nashville (who think they have the market on “Americana”) would thumb their collective nose at this album, which, in my book, is a good reason to listen to it.

First let me admit some of my ignorance. I know little about Doug Prescott; I did cheat a little and read a snippet of his biography (crooning by night, by day the CEO of Prescott Environmental Associates, consulting clients to operate cleaner and greener) and know even less about his discography. And even though I do listen to some country music, it is by far not enough to actually tell you what is trendy or not. I say these things to point out that this is truly a blind review. But what speaks volumes to me is the fact that I am listening to Prescott even though I am post-punk overdosed, shoegazed-obsessed.

The album kicks off with the ironically titled “Happy Enough Song,” which really displays some great blues arrangements. “I just do my thing and do my best to sing a happy enough song,” sings Prescott, and it is not just the music that sucks you in, but also the universal reality: we all go through life, the mundane activities of everyday, as we wait for something better, always keeping our chins up – that happy enough song. Starting an album with such a song only makes you wonder just what is coming next. “Hideaway,” more traditionally country than the opener, is about Prescott’s need for change from the mundanities of everyday life: “Break away, I just might need to break away…. Hideaway, I wish I could hideaway. There are decisions to be made, but I don’t want to make them.” (Just about how I feel every Monday.) The third track, “Patience,” brings in the funk, succinct lyrics (“Better just get in line, you just might have to wait; might not be your time, you might get lucky sooner or later…”), and a detached, matter-of-fact vocal style. And already in the first three tracks, Prescott shows a wide diversity of musical and vocal styles, really elaborating on the concept of just what is “country.”

The album closes with “Little Elvis & Fat Cat Eddie” – a strong blues ending to mirror the opening. And by the time you have reached this closing point, you are realize that one of the reasons you have been drawn to the vocals is because they are fashioned after an older, 60’s, style of singing which is warmer and more alluring that contemporary singing, which makes it perfect for the continual narration throughout the album. My favorite track is “Silence Speaks Volumes.” With a near Caribbean-feel and a line I think we all must have said at one time (“Don’t patronize me when we’re trying to talk it over”), it is the outlier of the album. Musically it is disarming in the context of the rest of album, and lyrically it is the line that comes before the aforementioned that is the most poignant: “Sometimes what you don’t say hurts more.” I would be remiss, though, if I did not mention “Let’s Get Wide Open.” In terms of the arrangements, no song on the album compares – this is great arrangements! There is nothing superfluous: from the vocal crooning to the use of the horns, every moment of music and vocals helps propel the mood of this 70s-esque song.

Doug Prescott’s “The Journey & The Deep Blue Sea” is essentially a country album, but it is those musical references to other genres that really brings it to life. His non-purist approach to songwriting is refreshing, as anything that is done by the book easily bores me. Furthermore, Dough Prescott represents one of the independent country musicians, a set of musicians that rarely get any mention in the world of the “independent” music. And as a true independent artist, he is able to compose music that is outside of the norm or the expected. This, I state emphatically as a post-punk overdosed, shoegaze-obsessed fan, is the kind of music that might have me going out to buy a Stetson. Check it out.

1. Happy Enough Song
2. Hideaway
3. Patience
4. Silence Speaks Volumes
5. Oh Maggie
6. Let’s Get Wide Open
7. It’s About Oil
8. Beach Wedding
9. Right Time, Right Place
10. Little Elvis & Fat Cat Eddie

Keep up with Doug Prescott at his homepage and Facebook.

Here is Doug Prescott’s video for “It’s About Oil” from the davstill YouTube Channel.

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07 February 2012

Alcest: “Les Voyages De L’Âme”

Every once in a while I find that it is alright to revert our minds into the times of knights in shining armor and the Guillotine. There is a lucid feeling that one gets when off in the clouds of ‘the great escape.’ It is enough to know that there is some place to turn to when the walls of today are crumbling to the floors of tomorrow. I once came across Alcest while surfing through the “related videos” on YouTube — I watched the video for their single “Atre Temps,” and was captivated, not by the video but the story going on behind it all. Although it is a proven fact that I know nothing of the French languge besides “Que’ce que tu fais?” and “Bonjour,” it was nice to know that this exotic poetry could capture me so. Alcest’s “Les Voyages De L’Âme” (6 January 2012 in Germany and Austria, 9 January 2012 in Europe, and 31 January 2012 in the USA) is their third album, and being that I’ve never truly been a fan to shoegaze, I just might have to put up my white flag and surrender. Hailing from Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France is a sort of musical architecture that has aligned itself on the borderline of two worlds — imaginary and reality. And often people find it a challenge to evenly balance the two, yet as it seems Alcest took the challenge into deep consideration and created “Les Voyages De L’Âme” [English translation: “The Journeys of the Soul”].

The album begins with “Atre Temps” [“Another Time”], where initially we are set out in a distant land that somehow manages to remind one of “Lord of The Rings;” birds are flocking overhead (the gentle stinging of the guitar), and the clouds are fast forwarded and slowed in a simultaneous manner as Neige produces his vocals which seems to caress the listeners ears. Initially placing us in a foreign atmosphere where we are free to do as we please (bear with me), we are serenaded through a course that will lead us to ancient dragons and maybe even a castle or two, but ultimately we will pass by everglades and streams that we can touch and feel with the strumming of the guitars, the beating of the drums and the subtle vocals leading us through these magnificent acres of land. To cast aside the imagery for a moment—the fact that Alcest took the time to create such an intricate piece is what has seemed to capture me the most, in contrast to that there is also a need to understand that this band puts in the effort when composing their works of art.

The next track that I must mention is of course the titular track “Les Voyages De L'Âme,” truly the official entrance into this world where there are no restraints. When thinking in terms of both the album and track title, there is a sense of knowing. The musical narrative displays a lavished portrayal of the world of the “unknown,” yet as Alcest leads us through this place it is enough to realize that we might know too much. Personally I find this track to be one of my favorites simply because of the complete tenderness it conveys, not only that but it leaves you with a thirst that seems to be unquenchable until you have reached the very last song on the album.

The closing track is “Summer’s Glory,” and when taken into deep consideration it is very much similar to a track that would be played at the end of an extraordinarily epic adventure. With this track being the second longest on the album, it also gives a complete summary of what one’s “soul” might have been through. “Summer’s Glory” is an incredible track simply because of the florescence that shines through much like being in a forest of leaves with the sun setting in the distance of it all. There is no comparing when it comes to the opening or the ending tracks on “Les Voyages De L'Âme” but what should be left to remember is that Alcest traded reality for idealism and painted it upon the blank canvas of their listeners’ minds.
And I am left with nothing more to say than if you’re someone who enjoys indulging in a little bit of shoegaze or even maybe a trip far away from reality, then this is your band. With the release of this exceptionally mesmerizing album, it’s honestly worth the listen if you happen to have some free time on your hands. And try not to be shy; in the surrealism that Alcest has created in “Les Voyages De L'Âme,” anything is possible.

Track Listing:
1, Autre Temps
2, Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles
3, Les Voyages De L'Âme
4. Nous Sommes L'Emeraude
5. Beings Of Light
6. Faiseurs De Mondes
7. Havens
8. Summer's Glory

Keep up with Alcest at their homepage, Myspace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Autre Temps” from the prophecyBC YouTube Channel.

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23 January 2012

The Silent Numbers Answers 5

Late in December I reviewed The Silent Numbers’ “Calculator” (link), an alluringly dark brooding breed of shoegaze. Now, I make no pretense, I am big fan of shoegaze, always on the lookout for something new, that helps to evolve the genre further, and that is what I found in The Silent Numbers. It was a no-brainer; I reached out to the band and asked them to answer a few of my questions. So I would like to thank Eric Sabatino (guitarist) for taking the time to Answer 5.

(The Silent Numbers, photo from Facebook)

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

We're listening to a lot of Siouxsie and the Banshees right now. Our influences are pretty transparent; Slowdive, The Cure, Gang of Four, The Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, and Echo and the Bunnymen are all good examples. Finding other musicians with the same tastes was the hardest part in starting this project.

2. I have scratched my head many times thinking about your moniker, "The Silent Numbers"; what's the meaning behind the name and how did the band settle on it?

The name existed as a lyric in one of our early songs. Nick [Woods, vocalist/guitarist] said it and we liked the sound of it. It can mean anything. A number is another term for "song," though I don't believe that's the meaning in the song.

3. Portland, Oregon (USA) is definitely producing a lot of shoegaze these days, but your brand of shoegaze is definitely distinct by comparison. How would you define your brand of shoegaze?

It's been hard for us to find this "shoegaze scene" here in Portland. As I’m writing this, we'll be playing on a bill tonight with the Prids. They fit the definition pretty well. A couple other local groups called Well and Anne are really making some great stuff. We are also in contact with Golden Gardens from Seattle, who we heard because of your blog. They're really fantastic. Honestly, finding these bands in our area has been difficult. The music scene in Portland seems to be focused on 80's/early 90's hardcore, and ironic 80's themed music. Lots of names with jokes in them too. Nick and I are from the Detroit area, and Adrian [Melnick, drummer] and Bryan [Robertson, bassist] are from the East Coast. I've always thought that bands from depressed places make music that fit my taste more. Most of my favorite British bands are from Manchester. As for our comparison to other Portland area "shoegaze" bands, I would say that we're doing something that's a little more guitar heavy and layered.

4. My appreciation of instrumental music has really taken off in the last few years. The more I listen to your track "Canadia," the more I appreciate your craftsmanship, which has a cinemagraphic quality to it. Considering that music with vocals has certain constraints (most namely the verse-chorus structure), how do you guys approach the writing of an instrumental versus a track with vocals?

I remember that “Canadia” had some working vocals while we were writing it. We were in a period were we were writing very busy songs with very little space. The vocals just ended up making it more chaotic and cluttered. It was really cool, because it allowed us to obsess over song structure and play our instruments in a lot of places we normally wouldn't have been able to.

5. 2012, what does The Silent Numbers have planned?

We're hoping to play more out of town shows and festivals though gas prices make it difficult, and getting paid by promoters hasn't been easy either. We would like to help grow a music scene in our town with similar styled music, and begin putting together some better bills with similar bands. We're always working on recordings, and are currently writing some new songs.

Whatever gets thrown our way; we plan on working very hard this year and hopefully being recognized in some small way for it.

Keep up with The Silent Numbers at their hompeage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page, where you can preview and download the “Calculator” EP and the rest of their discography.

Here is their video for “Canadia” from thesilentnumbers YouTube Channel.

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22 January 2012

Third Anniversary

Not to be cliché, SlowdiveMusic Blog has been and continues to be a labor of love. From as far back as I can remember, I have spent hours listening to music; not just the kind of listening that we all do as background noise, but quite literally playing an album in the dark and just listening. Starting the blog, though I had a bit of internal resistance, was one of my best decisions, because it really has reconnected me with my love of music and forced me to listen to some music I may never have come across otherwise. And after three years, and the support of many like you reading this at the moment, I am willing and able to stare down 2012 and continue to grow SlowdiveMusic Blog. But I must take a moment to thank a few individuals who have helped/inspired me in one way or another: Mirage (for sticking around this long), Painted Bird (for challenging my musical tastes), Candyman (for being the best damn editor ever), Candyman’s less likable other half (for telling me my musical tastes suck, which means I am on the right track!), and my dear friend and fellow commuter (for always giving me perspective, now it’s time for you to write as well). And of course, DJ Chauncey D, who is well aware of the mayhem going on in my life at the moment; he reached out to me and suggested I do something different – instead of any ole editorial for the third anniversary, that he would interview me. I thought, “Why not?” and took the time to Answer 5. Enjoy!

1. What band or artist that you have not interviewed yet would be your dream interview?

Well, I would love to interview Robert Smith [of The Cure fame] and Annie Lennox. And since I am curious as all hell, there are tons of others – Damon Albarn, Eva Amaral, Brett Anderson, Andy Bell, Matthew Bellamy, Bjork, David Bowie, Vincent Clarke, Ray Davies, PJ Harvey, Madonna, Martin Gore, Stefan Olsdal, Roland Orzabal, Trent Reznor, Siouxsie Sioux, Tom Smith, Alan Wilder, etc… And of course anyone we review on the blog has an open invitation for an interview. So feel free to reach out!

2. If you were to write a song, what band or artist would you want to record/perform it?

I am not sure I would want to write a song for another person or band to perform; I am usually attracted to artists who compose their own music and pen their own lyrics, as opposed to being producer driven. With that said, I would love to be in the studio as one of my favorite artists are recording to give the thumbs up or down.

3. What is your major motivation for creating and maintaining this blog?

I have always been bothered by bad reviews that are based on misguided personal or corporate expectations, as opposed at listening to an album without prejudice. And then most of these reviews are trite and full of bad one-liners. I thought that there should be better quality, both in reviewing and writing, and I thought I could help fill that void somehow. But the real motivation has always been to sing the “unsung” heroes. Whether nascent bands that garner little coverage or veterans that are ignored and passed over in favor of new, corporately sponsored young faces, I wanted to put out there some great music that is often ignored.

As time goes on, I am writing more and more about indie artists, indie in the sense of being truly independent, such as The Android Angel (as opposed to the kind of “indie” band that really is a euphemism for festival bands). There is just so much out there that never really gets noticed. That is part of the reason why I have never written a negative review – there is just so much out there, that I don’t want to waste time telling anyone why I simply don’t like one title or other. (Believe me there is a ton of shit that I hate out there!)

I release that the decision of not sharing music or posting videos that are only from official sources (musician, label, director, etc…) makes SlowdiveMusic Blog less appealing. These decisions have been made and upheld in order to create a blog where artists would come to be interviewed, keep us in the loop of what they were doing, and share music for the sole purpose of reviewing (and only shared when they request it). The lack of downloadable music may make me less competitive than most sites, but it proves SlowdiveMusic Blog’s integrity and journalistic standard. But, as we are a blog, there is one thing that we must always do and that is to disclose any and all exchange of music for reviews. We always do this by writing in red texts before the post, the cue to our readers that there in fact has been some exchange. Regardless, we continue to only review music that we believe in.

But I really would like to point out something a bit political at this time: we are currently facing the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) as major legislation in the USA. As a person, a blogger, and, yes, a journalist, freedom of expression is very important to me, and I hope that everyone realizes the importance of this freedom – something that I think we will all be more focused on in the coming months. Educate yourselves on these legislation and others like them internationally; where we want to preserve the rights of all artists and entrepreneurs, we do not want any government potentially having the ability to strangle our freedom of expression.

4. Here's a two-parter: Which present day musician/band do you think is grossly overrated? Underrated?

This is indeed a hard question to answer. Where do I start?

Overrated in the pop world: Lady Gaga. I want to state for the record (again), I do not think she is talentless; I just think that her eye is more on making faux-statements and lowest common denominator music to appeal to the masses. I think that like Madonna, when she is no longer part of the hype machine and MTV and other mainstream outlets start to favor younger, fresher artists, Lady Gaga will write and produce her best music – her own “Ray of Light.”

Outside of the pop world, I would say White Stripes – should I run for shelter and hide after saying that? Perhaps it is because I could never connect to the majority of their music; I know they were talented, but I just never got it.

As for the underrated, let me answer this in three parts: foreign, indie, and major.

I think that most Americans and Brits tend to listen only to music that hails from English-speaking country, though Australian, Canadian, and New Zealander music is often ignored. Furthermore, I have always said that there is something to be said about French, German, and Scandinavian musicians, who not only have access to American and British music, but also their own national, continental, and even international music. The rise of bands like Abba is not the rule, but rather the exception to the rule of bands that rise to international prominence that do not hail from English speaking countries. So current bands I think are underrated include Destronics, Kent, Northern Portraits, and Second to name a few.

In terms of indie bands, the list could go on forever, but Murder By Death, Microfilm, and Kyte comes to mind immediately. Then there is Diego Garcia, whose album “Laura” we thought was the best album of the year. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Clara Engel – beyond brilliant and talented.

In terms of “major” artists, there are many veterans that are often underrated, like Duran Duran or Erasure in their later years. But if there is one band that I really think is underrated, it is Editors – every time I listen to them again, I like them more and more.

5. What is one of the most amazing situations that has occurred in your life that you can completely thank your creation of SlowdiveMusic for?

Well, my highlight came very early on, when I interviewed Steven Severin [of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ fame]. His music filled and continues to fill hours of my life. But I have also gotten to interact with many musicians that I admire, like Christophe of Transbeauce who is brilliant.

But what I really want to say is that at the end of it all, this is an arduous process; people are usually impressed that I have kept a blog going for this long, though we hit a rough patch with consistency last year. As any avid blogger will tell you, this is like having a second job that does not pay – and the investment in time, financially, and emotionally can really take a toll. What I am most amazed at is that I am stubborn enough to keep going at it, with some new ideas to unfurl.

Eurythmics’ “When Tomorrow Comes” from the EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel.

Kent’s “Hjäta” [“Heart”] from the KentVEVO YouTube Channel.

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

Editors’ “Bullets” from the EditorsVEVO YouTube Channel.

Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Dazzle” from the bansheesofficial YouTube Channel.

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21 January 2012

Free Swim

Paul Coltofeanu, the man behind The Android Angel moniker, has in these past months simultaneously produced music behind another moniker, Free Swim. Now, the first thing I have to admit is that most of this post should have been up last year, but life continued to get in the way. However, as I sat back this morning, listening to the first two releases and the brand new one, I instantly remembered why this truly independent musician has always fascinated me: incredible song writing. All three of these EPs are written with a narrative in mind, where music is used not only as a melodic accompaniment to narration, but used to signify mood, setting, and characterization. Collectively these three EPs may be a break from Coltofeanu’s personal introspection as The Android Angel, but they are a deep mediation on universal truths that we often forget.

“Two Hands is OK” (17 January 2011)

There are many things that I can say about “Two Hands is OK,” such as the music is universally appealing, as it acts as the background of the narrative of the story. But I think I am going to frame this EP in terms of its narratology.

The “Two Hands is OK” EP opens with a very catchy instrumental, “The Eureka Moment.” Think of the song as the exposition of the narrative, the background – the anxiousness of living in this fast paced world, then having that moment, that singular idea that will solve everything: two new hands. Then the rising action kicks in the second track: “I’ll Graft Two Extra Hands on My Chest”: “There was once a man so incredibly busy, being a father, a son, and a saleman. He grafted two new hands to his chest.” This of course will allow him to “sign more documentation and multitask much more efficiently.” But this sense of productivity goes beyond work: “He pleasured his wife, he pleasured himself”

Continuing the famous narrative graph that haunted most students in secondary schools, “Actually, Two Hands is OK” would be the climax, when others finally take note and form an opinion of the man: “I guess you’d hope he’d more than cope with the demands of life in the fast lane.” But his unfurling comes with a Rubrix Cube (those damn things!). His hands become obsessed with completing the puzzle that he finally loses control, not just of his hands, but also of life in his obsession to straighten things out. Then the falling action comes in “Rubik’s Rue.” With a bit of postmodern self-reference (“I’m aware that’s a slightly lazy metaphor, but I only studied English to GCSE.”), his wife suggests he has the extra hands removed. He thinks that life “wasn’t so bad” with two hands. Ultimately, the operation is a success. In the resolution of the narrative, “Quality Time With the Wife and Kids,” there is the realization that “sometimes life get hard, sometimes thing get tough, but most important is quality time…”

The moral of the story: the wear and tear of everyday life and everything we do to be more efficient in the wage-labor market is all for naught, compared to the quality time we spend in our lives. Here is the laziest of clichés: we should work to live, not live to work.

Track Listing: The Eureka Moment / I’ll Graft Two Extra Hands on My Chest / Actually, Two Hands Is OK / Rubik’s Rue / Quality Time With the Wife and Kins

[“The Eureka Moment” from the paulcolto YouTube Channel.]

“Yolanda the Panda” (28 March 2011)

Again, the EP is arched around a narrative, but this time around the narrative and music is definitely more ambitious. For instance, Colteaufeanu takes out that acoustic guitar and does some of his most beautiful strumming – and let me state for the record, that he is, in my opinion, one of the most emotive acoustic strummers out there. As the narrative is even more fantastic (a Panda, a Willet, and an Englishman are going mountain climbing!), the music this time does not simply just mirror the urgency of the narrative, but rather amplifies the characterization in terms of capturing their emotions.

From the start, “I Want to be a Mountaineer!” there is the consciousness of “I want to feel some adrenaline.” This sets the actions of the narrative, but (in the next track “Harmlessly English”) it is when Yolanda meets “a willet bird who told me all about Sir Edmund Hillary and what he did on Everest,” that both decide that they will “conqueur Everest…” They build a boat, they sail (to beautiful strumming), and encounter Michael Perham, the Englishman – described as “weird and overbearing, but he was harmlessly English…”

Again, with a bit of postmodernist self-referencing and intertextualizing, “Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop” references the debut LP. The story gets all convoluted here, when the Willet is seized by Chinese authorities, who want to force Yolanda back to San Diego (as she was on loan to the USA, which is profitable to the Chinese government). But long story short, Yolanda is able to escape and scale Mount Everest. With the “sponsorship from Michael Perham,” she is reunited with her parents. The Willet flies back to San Diego. And Yolanda is able to return to an ordinary life, much like the man with two removed hands at the end of his EP, in the final track “Scoring Bamboo Shoots.”

The moral of the story: Not only does Coltofeanu like happy endings, but also at the end of all the adventures returning to the mundane, the everyday routine is comforting. How did Dorothy put it? “There’s no place like home.” (Another lazy metaphor.)

Track Listing: I Want to be a Mountaineer! / Harmlessly English / Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop / Scoring Bamboo Shoots

[“Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop” from the Free Swim Bandcamp page.]

“Dennis” (20 February 2012)

The latest offering by Free Swim is the EP “Dennis.” Again, Paul Coltofeanu pins this collection of music to a cohesive narrative: a bromance. There is something intrinsically homoerotic about all bromances, no matter what anyone says. The opening title is not simply, “Dennis,” but rather “Oh Dennis.” As the monologue of the song points out, the name Dennis is derived from the Greek god of grape harvest, winemaking, and ecstasy – can you say drunken orgies? The music, very straight forward 80s style indie, with some electronic fare in the background, just drives the point of urgency straight through “getting to get to know someone called Dennis.” Then the partying starts in “Croydon Fernandes,” but Dennis meets a girl with a Dickens-esque name, Sophie Buttercup! Our narrators’ reaction, “I dropped my phone, left all alone in my home, all alone,” all the time the near punky music just driving both the sense of camaraderie in the bromance and the sense of dejection of a woman coming between them.

In “The Smell of Pregnancy,” he acknowledges losing the bromance, surrounded by young couples (whose “smell of pregnancy was genuinely over-powering”), and finally meets “an alcohol-fuelled Peter Pan,” whom he goes on tour with to obscure German cities. Time elapses before the final track, “Cyclying Holidays in the Ardeche.” After putting on his favorite jeans, he is surprised by a call from Dennis, who wanted to meet up: “It was good to see him, can’t deny I’d missed him; glad I didn’t kiss him, but we hugged like men.” Dennis came to ask the narrator to be his best man at his wedding, and at the wedding (after his speech) he (the narrator) falls for the maid of honor, whose name is Denise.

The moral of the story: the final line of the song says it all, “Life is what you make of it my friends.” As we never know the ups and downs and twists and turns that befall us, it is best to just ride it all out and appreciate every moment.

Track Listing: Oh Dennis / Croydon Fernandes / The Smell of Pregnancy / Cycling Holidays in the Ardeche

[“Oh Dennis” from the Free Swim Bandcamp page.]

Keep up Free Swim at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and download all three EPs.
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17 January 2012

The Big Pink: "Future This"

Despite my head cold, I sat down and listened to The Big Pink’s “Future This” (16 January 2012 in the UK, 17 January 2012 in the USA); it played through – the first thing that I struggled with was the idea of expectations. In the wake of their debut album, “A Brief History of Love,” and the slight success of the single “Dominos,” would The Big Pink avoid a sophomore slump and record an album that would take them one step further? In the weeks leading to the release of “Future This,” I could not avoid hearing all the expectations that people had, and, upon my first listen, I realized that most of them would consider this album a sophomore slump – a few friends told me much. But, I listened to the album again, putting aside expectations (theirs or mine). After a second (and third) listen, I am here to give you three reasons why “Future This” is not a sophomore slump, but rather an album you should pay close attention to.

First, both the debut and sophomore albums share a lot of the same underpinnings and references – noise pop, shoegaze, and electropop. That is perhaps why “Dominos” and “Stay Gold,” the lead single from “Future This,” have a lot of similarities (I have not sat with a guitar or keyboard and played around, but I would not be surprised if there is a bit of musical interpolation going on here). While “Dominos” boasts that “hearts collide and smash any dreams of love … these girls fall like dominos,” “Stay Gold” admonishes to “[f]orgive your lovers, but don’t forget their names and let their spirit remain.” There is one important thing going on here: growth. There is an obvious growth in maturity in terms of social skills and conduct, but the maturity is seen throughout the album, a sort of conscious awareness of self and actions. You can say that “Stay Gold,” in essence, is the continuation of “Dominos” – the obvious growth, from complete reckless carnal passion to conscious reflection on relationships. And this could be applied to the entire album – “Future This” is the mature outgrowth of “A Brief History of Love.”

Second, keeping in mind the personal maturity, there is also musical growth. “Future This” uses much of the same ingredients as “A Brief History of Love,” but mixes them over again in a more prudent and mature fashion. There is not that recklessness of sound going on, everything seems more directed, more precise. Much of the growth derives from looking backwards; for instance, “Hit the Ground (Superman)” is a definite throwback to 80s new wave and “Lose Your Mind” has some of the sophisticated flair of the new romantics with a touch of post-punk. The most obvious growth musically is in the rhythm section. While the debut album pretty much capitalized on variations of indie rock beats, “Future This” frolics in the beats of electropop and breakbeat – a dramatic difference from their debut.

Third, this is not your traditional pop album in the least, nor is it a carbon copy of the indie album with feigned anthems. The Big Pink could have easily dropped the noise pop references and/or carried them stereotypically like bands seeking pop success. But they choose a different, quite disarming (discomforting?) approach; where most bands try to jam-pack albums with forty minutes of upbeat tracks and sing-along anthems, The Big Pink chose to be more introspective. This is most obvious with the closing track, “77.” Even though this is the last song of the album, it is not a stadium ready anthem, not even an arena ready one; this final track is more of the brooding kind, as the line “77 ways to say no” is droned repeatedly in the chorus. On the journey towards the end of the album you encounter “The Palace” (electronic noise pop), “1313” (sweet musical cacophony), “Rubbernecking” (proto-industrial meets electro-rock with choral singing), and the titular “Future This” (a modern day post-punk pop track with a harsh ostinato), but what you never encounter again is the same bubbly feeling as the opening track. Instead, you are lead through contemplation, mediation, and more musical experimentation than the debut.

Since The Big Pink’s “Future This” is probably not what people expected, and I can conclude that there are many that feel the same way about the album as some of my friends, I can already imagine people disagreeing with me. But expectations are a funny thing; they impose a measuring post that more often than naught are unfounded. And, of course, I refuse to argue with anyone who has already decided not to be convinced. Nonetheless, the fact remains that artistically this is no sophomore slump; it may not project the band into the stratosphere, but something tells me that is not what The Big Pink wanted anyway. “Future This” is a solid sophomore album, and anyone who disagrees should take another (close) listen to the album.

Track Listing:
1. Stay Gold
2. Hit the Ground (Superman)
3. Give It Up
4. The Palace
5. 1313
6. Rubbernecking
7. Jump Music
8. Lose Your Mind
9. Future This
10. 77

Keep up with The Big Pink at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Stay Gold” and “Hit the Ground (Superman) from TheBigPinkVEVO YouTube Channel.

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16 January 2012

Monks of Mellonwah: "Stars Are Out" (EP) and "Neurogenesis" (Single)

My thanks to Independent Music Promotions for keeping me in the loop. (Check out their link on the side bar under “Other Stuff.”)

As I have said countless of times before, I was raised (dragged!) on an overdose of post-punk and just about everything associated with it – from dream pop to shoegaze, industrial to dark wave. That is the root of the stereotype that I only listen to dark, brooding (often time tragic) music; this could not be farther from the truth. The real problem is that when I hear the bulk of musicians that have been influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and 90s (American) “alternative” rock, it all sounds the same – a smelting pot of sub-mediocrity, with the same five chords, over and over and over again. But every time I think I am done with “alternative” rock, a band surfaces that simply sucks me in. Sydney’s Monks of Mellonwah is the most recent band to draw me back in with their complex web of alluring arrangements and astounding soundscapes. I am not usually drawn into a band simply because they are up for an award, but Monks of Mellonwah are up for two awards (Best Indie Rock Band and Best Rock Band) at the upcoming All Indie Music Awards (held at the Key Club in Los Angeles, California USA on 10 February 2012); if ever a nascent band deserves such accolades, this is the band.

Of course it is impossible for me to keep up with every new band and/or release, as hard as I try, but when I was first told about “Stars Are Out” (18 June 2010), a five-track EP, I sat down and listened and was completely smitten right from the opening track, “Fire in the Hole.” From the simple, syncopated opening, to the infectious guitar arrangements, the song is simply amazing. With out-of-the-box lyrics (“Time is twisting everywhere, falling off the page…”), it becomes obvious that though MoM was influenced by such aforementioned greats and 90s “alternative” rock, they are not reproducing these sounds. From the opening track, there is no feeling that the band is trying to reproduce someone else’s sound or attitude; MoM is more intent on showing off their own chops and they do so beautifully with these five tracks, each demonstrate a different side of the band; from the sensual guitar arrangements of “Swamp Groove” to interplay between passive and aggressive music of “Stampede,” the band keeps offering up something different track-to-track. My favorite track is definitely “The Calling.” The fifth track on the collection, by this point it was already hook line and sinker for me, but I was blown away by this song. Compared to the other tracks, the musical arrangements are simpler, the soundscape thinner, and the lyrics more straightforward, but it is that simplicity that generates this amazingly visceral undertow and you can’t help but to react physically to the chorus.

Their most recent single, “Neurogenesis,” definitely takes the band in a new direction – again, another side, a new dimension, of the band. Darker than any of the tracks on the “Stars Are Out” EP, the lyrics opens with “The salt will clean the exit wounds…” If you have never had salt on your wounds, you have no idea how sadistic this line is, but the song is one of lost love (“so you’re gone, you’re gone…”) in which, at the end of it all, “salt can’t clean this exit wound.” And this is a universal truth: purity after love is impossible.

So here are two reasons (other than I said so) for why you should take the plunge and listen to Monks of Mellonwah. First, if you love good ole rock ‘n’ roll, that does not suffer from the prepackaged angst and cookie-cutter mentality that is prevalent in music right now. MoM is the band for you. Second, with each successive song, MoM is demonstrating songwriting chops that allow them to never come near to reproducing the same song; the luscious diversity track-to-track is a godsend. Check out “Stars Are Out” EP and their newest single, “Neurogenesis”; I am sure you will not be disappointed. Then support Monks of Mellonwah. Head over to the All Indie Music Awards and show your support for the band by casting your vote.

Track Listing of “Stars Are Out”:
1. Fire In The Hole
2. Swamp Groove
3. Stars Are Out
4. Stampede
5. The Calling
6. The Neverending Spirit, bonus track

Keep up with Monks of Mellonwah at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “Swamp Groove” and the audio their latest single, “Neurogenesis,” from the MonksofMellonwah YouTube Channel.

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Comfort and Old Videos

It was a Thursday night; I had spent a stressful day at the good ole 9-5, then drove my niece to the airport, and finally headed to my mother’s house for a late dinner. When I finally reached my home, and I inched to the door, I immediately discovered something out of the ordinary – to make a long story short, to my chagrin I walked in on a burglary. Nothing quite prepares you for knowing that your home has just been “invaded” – “violated” even – and what followed was over a week of sleeplessness. I never thought that I would be terrified to walking into my own home. But the first night alone, realizing that my door (which literally leads to the outside world) was far from functional (the burglary entry) and that the back window (the exit) was also compromised, I sat at my dining room table staring at the canary yellow wall for quite sometime. After feeling sorry for myself, I threw on some music, and as I look back at just over a week ago, I realize that during those hours I totally forgot about everything other than the music playing.

I listened to a lot of the music that filled the hours of my youth and annoyed my downstairs neighbors to no end. And as I look back at it, there are two things I realized that I don’t think I ever mentioned in this blog. The first is that our favorite music is usually not the “best” (whatever that means) music or the most popular, but rather those artists, albums, and songs we have attached memories to – that takes us back to yesteryears as if they happened yesterday. The second is sometimes music can be comforting, a source of immense alleviation and solace, as it soothes away the anxiety and brings you to a new place.

I listened to music for many hours that first night, much of which is simply not officially available on YouTube or elsewhere: Alien Sex Fiend, Aztec Camera, Clan of Xymox, The Cult, Front 242, Psychic TV, and The Wild Swans to name a few. But I set out to share at least ten of the songs I listened to that evening, and was able to accomplish that goal. It is funny how, at a pretty bleak moment, I ran directly for some of the darkest music in my collection.

The last thing I would like to say is thank you. I would like to thank my friends and family who have really helped me through this situation (including putting in a new door!), and thank you to life in general for given me another lesson in humility – though I would never wish this kind of experience on anyone or want to go through it again, it has definitely toughened me up a bit more and really given me some much needed perspective.

On that note, enjoy the videos!

Lords of the New Church’s “Dance With Me” from the emimusic YouTube Channel.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s (OMD) “Electricity” from their MySpace Video Page.


OMD | Myspace Video

The Cure’s “Fascination Street” from their MySpace Video page.

Fascination Street

The Cure | Myspace Video

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s
“Head On” from the RhinoEntertainment YouTube Channel.

Nitzer Ebb’s “Lightning Man” from their MySpace Video page.

Nitzer Ebb - Lightning Man

Nitzer Ebb | Myspace Video

Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Peek-a-Boo” from the bansheesofficial YouTube Channel.

The B-52’s “Private Idaho” from theofficialb52s YouTube Channel.

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” from the KateBushMusic YouTube Channel.

David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from his MySpace Videos page.

Space Oddity

David Bowie | Myspace Video

Depeche Mode’s “Stripped” from their MySpace Videos page.


Depeche Mode | Myspace Video
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03 January 2012

Top Albums of 2011

These are not just collections of random songs; these are albums in the traditional sense that we lost ourselves in hour after hour. (Just a note, all of the albums are in alphabetical order according to album title, but we decided for the first time to single out our top pick at the bottom of the list.) Enjoy!

Golden Gardens’ “Between the Amulet and The Siren”

[Video: “Ghostwood” from the gossamerruby YouTube Channel.]

Brett Anderson’s “Black Rainbows”

[Video: “Brittle Heart” from the BrettAndersonVideo YouTube Channel.]

Second’s “Demasiado Soñasores”

[Video: “N.A.D.A.” from the secondmusic YouTube Channel.]

PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake”

[Video: “Let England Shake” from the letenglandshake YouTube Channel.]

Architecture in Helsinki’s “Moment Bends”

[Video: “Contact High” from the ArchitecureIHVEVO YouTube Channel.]

Kevin Pearce’s “Pocket Handkerchief Lane”

[Track: “Don’t Fall Down” from Kevin’s Pearce’s Soundcloud.]

DONT FALL DOWN by kevinpearcemusic

Matthew Mercer’s “Pianissimo Possibile”

[Video: “And the Sky Opened Up” from the matthewdmercer YouTube Channel.]

Amazing Electronic Talking Cave’s “Radio Psylence”

[Video Teaser: “Permanent Black Marker” from the aetcvideos YouTube Channel.]

Erasure’s “Tomorrow’s World”

[Video: Live Rehearsal of “I Lose Myself” from the erasureinfo YouTube Channel.]

Album of the Year: Diego Garcia’s “Laura”

[Video: “You Were Never There” from the diegogarciaTV YouTube Channel.]

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