Monday, August 23, 2010

Pitstop: Hello Mtn

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Anyone whose heard Horse Feathers knows its members are all incredibly talented musicians but what you might not know is that several of them have their own side projects/other musical endeavors. That's where Hello Mtn comes in. Composed of Horse Feather's cellist Catherine Odell and one Matthew Morgan, the Portland-based duo are apparently making a record according to their MySpace page. In fact, that's really all that's on their page. But lack of information aside, their music (which you can hear in small little snippets) is in a similar folksy, Americana, orchestra pop style as Horse Feathers but ruggedly different. Featuring Odell's sweet come-hither vocals, occasional appearances of cello, and Morgan on guitar I'm eager to hear more from them and to get my hands on the eventual record. You can check out Hello Mtn on their MySpace page here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard (2010)

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Ra Ra Riot's sophomore release The Orchard is a valiant effort for what a sophomore album should be. Following in the footsteps of their vivacious hit-laden debut The Rhumb Line, the band instead shifts gears and focuses more on quiet introspection. Lead/title track "The Orchard" sets an example for what the listener can expect as it plays like a lazy Sunday in musical form and makes remarkable use of each of the band's components: A stunning string section that creates just the right atmosphere for Wes Miles' wispy wide-eyed innocent tenor, and band members weaving together to form mostly reflective, sometimes sorrowful musical tapestries. Lighter, more energetic tracks like "Boy" and "Massachusetts" provide nice interludes from the mostly contemplative nature of the album. In them, the band channels what could be called their signature sound creating tracks that are bound to please everyone.

The Orchard, with its stellar arrangements, manages to do what so few sophomore release fail to do. It manages to give long time fans something they'll like while also offering up new musical ideas and changing the formula a bit (like "You and I Know" and its female lead vocals). Where some tracks might not be the most lyrically compelling, they more than make up for it with balls-to-the-wall energy, catchiness, and seemingly effortlessly virtuosic string parts.

Give the album a taste with the music video for "Boy"

Ra Ra Riot - "Boy" from Barsuk Records on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stricken City - Songs About People I Know (2010)

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Earlier this year, London pop rock quartet Stricken City released their free/donate Animal Festival EP to ease the wait for their debut full length expected to be out sometime this fall but before that, they released a mini album by the name of Songs About People I Know. Lo-fi quality track "Gifted" starts the album with Rebekah Raa's melancholic solo vocals before the band enters to liven things up on the energetic "Pull The House Down". "Small Things" employs a time-tested method of consecutively introducing each instrument before Raa enters on vocals and korg pondering a life of boredom. The song has some of my favorite music moments, featuring several little melodic moments both vocally and instrumentally on guitar and korg. "Killing Time" shambles about like one pacing about in a room emphasized by Raa's repeated rhythmic "eh's" like the ticking of a clock before gaining a sort of freedom with Raa's lyrical rubato against strict time-keeping drum beats and manages to experiment with varying time itself without drawing undue attention to itself. "P.S." with its brassily anthemic intro: "You're so boring/You're so normal/I don't ever want to talk to you again", Raa wages full out war on boredom and its perpetrators but in a manner that's charmingly sweet and drives the sentiment home with an appropriately placed modulation. "Sometimes I Love You" has Raa soloing over a blanket of harmony and when she makes use of dissonance, you really feel the tension she conveyed with beginning lyrics: "Sometimes I love you/Sometimes I hate you/Sometimes I don't know what to think". "Five Metres Apart" follows the rather somber preceding track with a resolute declaration of love with the similar build up fashion of "Small Things". Album closer "Terrible Things" parallels the start if only in its intense focus on Raa's beautiful vocals. Combine that with an accompanying piano part that's amazing in its own right and you've got dreamily wistful masterpiece that's bound to make your heart swell and break at the same time.

The mini-album gets its name only for the its length. Each tracks is almost depressingly short, the longest clocking in at about 3 and a half minutes but the musical ideas are as developed as some of the most drawn out concept albums. The songs artfully swing between shiny happy-go-lucky party pop and the brittle-as-glass emotional introspection you might find in seasoned singer/songwriter repertory. The way Raa's voice works with the band is so effortless hypnotizing that you're left hanging on her every word and vocal riffs. Don't be surprised if you find yourself repeating it from start to finish several times.

Listen to the mini-album in its entirety here:
<a href="">Gifted by Stricken City</a>

Friday, August 13, 2010

tUnE-yArDs clears up some setlist questions.

So about two weeks back I got to see the magnificent tUnE-yArDs in concert along with St. Vincent at the Central Park Summerstage. At the time, I knew she played several news songs but wasn't exactly sure as to their names. Well, Merrill got back to the message I sent her and I can tell you the new songs she played were "Party Can" also unofficially called "Do You Want to Live?" by fans, "You Yes You", and "Bizness". That along with "Gangsta" and another song I believe is called "Powa" (but which is still unconfirmed) formed the backbone of her Summerstage set.

Janelle Monae releases video for "Cold War"

Janelle Monae's video for "Cold War" is unlike a lot of music videos. Its simple, direct, yet heartfelt and poignant. Instead of highly developed storylines, plots, characters, and high production costs, the video features Janelle Monae in front of a camera, her face always visible, as she sings to you, standing naked and laying her soul bare for all to see. Instead of the flashy, quirky performances she's know for you see a softer, more real side of her as she tears up while singing but still maintains powerful soul-gripping eye contact. Enjoy Janelle Monae's "Cold War"

Yeasayer premieres new video for "Madder Red"

Brooklyn psychedelic pop rock outfit Yeasayer who released their sophomore album Odd Blood earlier this year in February, have a new video for "Madder Red" that follows in the same weird but awesome footsteps as their videos for "Ambling Alp" and "O.N.E.". However this one features something the others do not: Kristen Bell. The video stars Kristen Bell as an actress with a odd but somehow dissarmingly sweet one-eyed blobbish monster pet. Thorough the video, the pet gets sicker and sicker and Bell pulls out more and more of her acting chops to create an awesome though weird (did I mention it's weird?) video. Watch the video here:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Margaret Cho teams up with...Andrew Bird!?

Comedienne Margaret Cho has many friends but one friend I didn't know she had was Chicago musician Andrew Bird. The two have teamed up to create a song for Cho's forthcoming comedy album Cho Dependent titled "I'm Sorry". The country sounding track features Bird's trademark whistles and details an obsessive and psychotic relationship with an ex-lover. In the video, Cho kills her lover (played by Bird), gets sent to jail, manages to escape, and creepily craddles the dead body until cops arrive. Enjoy one of the most unexpected match-ups in music history.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Random Musing: New tUnE-yArDs songs

This post was inspired by me trying to find out the new songs tUnE-yArDs played at the Central Park Summerstage show and stumbling upon a bunch of new songs. Enjoy these songs that you won't find on the album!

Live at The Rock Shop

"You Yes You"

Two songs the second of which is "Gangsta". No idea what the first one is but it's new and she played it at Summerstage as well.

Live at Soundscapes

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pitstop: The Voluntary Butler Scheme

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I first found out about The Voluntary Butler Scheme on Eardrums Music blog about two years ago when they first featured. The Voluntary Butler Scheme is Rob Jones, a veritable one-man band using every tool at his command to create lovely indie pop gems with seemingly effortless ease. Since first leaving UK 60s-inspired indie pop group The School, he has released a number of singles and released his debut album At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea late last year.

In this video of Jones performing "Multiplayer" at the Oakford Social Club, you sort of get to see his queue-ing up of other instruments and such.

Hear the seamless product in the music video for "Multiplayer"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Weepies release new video for "Be My Thrill"

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Today, married folk duo The Weepies had their music video off their forthcoming album Be My Thrill premiere on The New York Post's PopWrap.

The video for title track "Be My Thrill" is illustrated by Lauren Briere, features everything from dragons to flying cows to jetpacks and depicts two lovers trying to get to each other after a chance meeting. The track itself features the delightful harmonic lacing the duo is known for and is upbeat, summer, and everything you want and more from the duo. Check the video out here:

The album is out August 31st on Nettwerk Music. You can preorder the album here.

Wildlife to release Strike Hard, Young Diamond EP

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You might remember me mentioning Toronto-based five-piece Wildlife a couple months ago where I revealed they were working on an album. Well, last month the band had a CD release party at Horseshoe where they released a their Strike Hard, Young Diamond promo EP. The band originally intended to only sell the EP at their live shows but after numerous online requests have decided to make it available online through Paypal and iTunes. The EP is supposed to tide fans over until the band releases a full-length album so stay tuned for info on that.

You can check out Wildlife's music as well as follow the Paypal link on their Myspace here.

Sleigh Bells - Treats (2010)

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A couple months ago I don't think I would've given Brooklyn duoSleigh Bells a chance. Being described as noise pop, electro-pop, even dance-punk would've been enough to keep me away but curiosity led to give them a listen. Sleigh bells for many denote that time of Christmas cheer of silence accompanied by the far-away tinkling of those characteristic yuletide bells that signify the coming of the red-suited jolly fellow. Well Sleigh Bells channels some of that cheer and also focuses on what happens when those bells aren't so far away and can be heard all year round. The genre names hardly do Sleigh Bells a service so I'll attempt to what it is they do exactly: Take equal parts of hip hop beats mixed with some hard-rock guitar and add Alexis Krauss' ethereal voice floating over and you have Sleigh Bells or their debut album Treats in particular. Clocking in at about 30 and some change minutes, it's a nonstop hit fest. There's so few albums nowadays where each song is as engaging, energetic, and done as the one that preceding it. "Tell 'Em", "Kids", and "Riot Rhythm" form this perfect album starting trifecta maintaining this arc of high energy and clustered sound before "Infinity Guitars" kind of comes down (but only a little bit) and there's suddenly a vacuum of space where you hear silence. "Run The Heart" continues to strip things down to their bare essentials allowing Krauss' voice unencumbered travel while some drums and effects tie it to the rest of the album's crash-bang sound. "Rachel" resembles at its core some sort of old school beach-pop song or lovelorn 60s girl group ballad. "Rill Rill", which samples Funkadelic's "Can You Get To That" is another balladic track; a sort of ode to high school days long passed. "Crown on the Ground" combines the smooth lyrical melodies that you could hear in the past couple of sounds with the busy banging-on-a-can effects that you heard in the album's first couple tracks. "Straight As", the shortest track on the album, is punky in both sound and energy and would fit seamless into a fight scene in a movie. "A/B Machines" is one of those tracks that if you started playing it randomly somewhere would have people turning there heads, start head bobbing, and break out dancing if they were truly adventurous. "Treats" closes the album with this epic end-of-the-video-game like foreboding complimented by Krauss' siren-like vocals.

Sleigh Bells is definitely one of those bands that defy explanation, the genre labels people have attached to them conjures of visions of poorly done dance music when in fact, Treats is dance-y while also remaining musical and interesting. I'm glad I was able to suspend disbelief long enough to find them and hope to hear much more from them. No official music videos exist for the band so instead enjoy this live video of Sleigh Bells performing "Crown on the Ground" at SXSW.

Now Streaming: Newport Folk Festival 2010

So NPR in their infinite awesome were at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island this year and streaming live. Well now that the festival's over, NPR has archived the shows to be listened to or downloaded at our leisure. So if you couldn't make it to the festival and/or had no time to listen to the live streams, never fear NPR is here to help. Shows from artists like Horse Feathers, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Swell Season, The Avett Brothers, The Punch Brothers, even Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are available here.

Watch: Sondre Lerche - "Dear Laughing Doubters" live at WNYC

This past Tuesday on July 27th one of my favorite artists, Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche, dropped by WNYC to play a couple songs and give a brief interview. I unfortunately missed the show but thankfully it was archived and you can listen to it here:

Sondre Lerche also played a new song he wrote for the recently released summer comedy Dinner For Schmucks called "Dear Laughing Doubters" and it was recorded on video. Watch it below.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Live!: tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent at Central Park Summerstage

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of catching tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent at the Central Park Summerstage in Manhattan. The concert was part of a series of free concerts put on in Central Park and actually featured one other artist by the name of Basia Bulat but me and my friend missed it in our efforts to navigate through the city and to find the Summerstage which we had never been to before. tUnE-yArDs (aka Merill Garbus) and bassist Nate Brenner, took the stage and started with an audience partipation song which had the crowd screaming "Yeah" each time she asked "Do you want to love?" and then asking everyone to jump out and down. Following her first song was another song I hadn't heard before, followed by another new song about lullabies that sizzled with Marvin Gaye-like steaminess. She invited a slew of musicians from all over to join her onstage to perform the energetic "Gangsta" (another new song but a live favorite of hers) which had the audience cheering practically from start to finish. The musicians helped to replicate the layering effects off her album (one song required two guys to play the drums). She also played "Fiya", "Real Live Flesh" and "Hatari" before finishing up with another new song. Seeing tUnE-yArDs live you get to more or less see her music making process as you watch her sing and drum into her mics that capture all the sounds into the looping petals and get to see her experiment with what kinds of sounds she wants (hitting different parts of her mic stand before deciding on which one she liked best). In addition to being an amazing performer with a gigantic voice, she also had a remarkable stage presence regaling the audience with little anecdotes when time allowed and inspiring even the most steadfast of buzzkills to dance along with her.

I had gone into the concert without actually listening to that much St. Vincent. I had listened to Actor about once all the way through and never really listened to it again but had heard she was amazing live. What St. Vincent's music is like is hard to explain: Sort of quirky indie pop music with experimental electronic effects and distortion. She had a full array of instruments of stage and all of her band-mates proved to be skilled multi-instrumentalists. Her violinist was also a guitarist, her flautist also playing synthesizer when needed, her bassist occasionally whipping out a clarinet and also some strange instrument I couldn't see but still managed to vibrate your organs when he played it. On that note, I should mention there was so much bass power during her set that every time he played, the audience was shaken to their very core and despite audience requests to "Turn down the bass", this continued for the whole set. Not being familiar with St. Vincent's music and albums I can't provide a setlist but I do know she performed a track from Actor called "The Party" live for the first time at this concert. In order to execute it, she had another set of musicians come onstage to assist: another violinist, violist, cellist, french horn, even a bass clarinet made an appearance. Her set was for the most part pretty mellow and Annie Clark said practically nothing except to ask for her mic to be turned up, to introduce her band-mates and guest musicians, to thank everyone and wish them a fond farewell but there was something awe-inspiring about her performance. How each little thing fit together to form this grand tapestry of sound and how Annie could start and stop it all with just so much as a laser-focused glance in any one direction. While not as energetic and dance-inspiring as tUnE-yArDs, there was totally a sort of magical mystique to St. Vincent's set and in Annie Clark's overall demeanor and to say I didn't enjoy it would be a boldfaced lie. I know I plan on revisiting her albums and giving them another focused listen.

The concert as a whole was pretty interesting in only for the juxtaposition of the loud, energetic, skillful banging and crashing tUnE-yArDs and the calm, tranquil yet foreboding St. Vincent. It was obvious that those who hadn't heard of tUnE-yArDs before were certainly hooked but concert-goers might've been a bit disappointed by St. Vincent. One friend claimed to be underwhelmed by her performance but my theory is that St. Vincent meant to neither overwhelm nor underwhelm but merely create and capture a magical moment, to make you really listen and pay attention to what was occurring on stage and if that was in fact her goal, she succeeded in the most artful manner I've seen thus far.

Now Streaming: The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

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Canadian indie pop ensemble The Arcade Fire is back with its third full-length album The Suburbs. Released stateside tomorrow, the album is part of NPR's First Listen where you can stream the whole album in its entirety. So go ahead and listen to it here.