29 February, 2008

28 February, 2008

Umbabarauma - Jorge Ben

Forget the Yazz Flute

It's unusual to find a contemporary jazz vocalist who doesn't dabble in sweet covers of old standards, which is why I'm writing about Raya Yarbrough. Her self-titled debut cannot be described as jazz alone, but more of a fusion of gospel, blues, and jazz with plenty of instrumental explorations and vocal obstacle courses in the mix. The second song on the album - "You're So Bad For Me" - strums away with a reggae groove behind Raya's precise and tormented vocals. She sings: "You're so bad for me, but the thought of you keeps me company...", and you can hear her dilemma and her personal resignation to broken-heartedness. This song is far from anything I've heard in the Jazz genre in a long time, and it's only the tip of the proverbial Raya Yarbrough iceberg.

"Early Autumn" makes orchestration a jazz-friendly pursuit, while "Lord Knows I Would" (video below) is a heavy blues ballad with jazz improvisation. Raya's earthy vocals soar on top of the steady groove, but in places she almost wails like the woman on the Pink Floyd track, "The Great Gig In The Sky". "Vice and Vanity" starts off with gentle guitar meanderings that sound vaguely Latin, and Raya's voice follows the guitar in concentric and melodic circles. "'Round We Go" borders on the Regina Spektor-esque, as Raya gets a little violent, let's say masochistic, with the piano. Then there's "Better Days" which finishes the album with a jaunty, almost schizophrenic piano clash and a funky guitar.

As with any musical exploration, Raya's album has highs and lows. Not every song showcases Raya's voice in its most pleasant form. In fact, on some songs Yarbrough sounds like an altogether different person. What would music, or life for that matter be like without a little variation and a spectrum of sounds to choose from? Personally, I think I would be incredibly bored, so I'm happy that people like Raya Yarbrough are around to mix up the mundane and reach for the spectacular.

27 February, 2008


I was not greatly surprised to discover that Fernando Otero is a composer. I bumped into his name while enthusiastically scanning the Joe's Pub performance calendar, and Fernando and I immediately hit it off. On his most recent album - Pagina de Buenos Aires - Otero spends a lot of time creating dramatic piano-driven songs that could variously set the mood for thrillers, comedies, or romances.

I really enjoyed listening to this album for a few different reasons. One reason was that the songs elicited an emotional response that I haven't felt so deeply since I first listened to Alan Menken's Disney soundtracks (I guess this would mean that I haven't felt this emotional about my music since last fall when I went to see Enchanted. Go figure.) Another reason that I love Pagina de Buenos Aires is that the music is just well-written. The songs have a clean quality that is not over-polished or over-instrumentalized. I find it draining to listen to music that utilizes many unusual instruments and layers loud sounds upon loud sounds. At some point, you're just making noise. Fernando Otero walks that fine line between boring and overpowering, and he succeeds in creating music that is interesting and emotionally accessible.

Enough about the album as a whole; because, although the album should be listened to as a whole composition - like the soundtrack to a movie or play - there are great individual songs that succeed particularly well in creating a specific feeling. The very first track - "Chirimbolos" - is a playful and syncopated introduction to the varied sounds that follow. "La Vista Gorda" is both South American in feel and also surprisingly Eastern European. It's a moving song, a traveling song best used as the backdrop for a Gypsy caravan. "Piringundin" is the next song that really makes my ears tingle with excitement. I recently watched Hitchcock's North By Northwest, and I personally think that "Pirigundin" would fit perfectly in the soundtrack. It sounds like danger, and it intensifies like a swiftly beating heart. "Musico del Circo" is like a mobius strip of sound. It loops upon itself in multiple dimensions, and vividly captures feelings of both playfulness and ominousness. "Calendario" is the song that I find most entertaining on the entire album. It's sad really: a sad, slow song that never drifts away from the piano. It seems to swim along the bottom of life, never really surfacing for air or sunlight, always viewing the world through a blue-green lens.

There's nothing incredibly happy to be found on Fernando Otero's album. It's a roller-coaster of emotion, but never did I come across a sound that's undeniably celebratory or even inherently pleasant and "sunshiney". It's an edgy album, that is thrilling, and funny, and lustful, and dark, and circuitous at different notes. Otero makes great music, but it may be the kind of music that you want to listen to when the snow has melted and the world is a bit less harsh.

24 February, 2008

All I Want Is You (JUNO) - Barry Louis Polisar

Awesomeness. Total awesomeness.

22 February, 2008

Searching for Spring

I can deal with the cold and the wan sunlight. It's easy enough to make yourself warm. The lack of color is what really gets me down, and the smell of nothing, of dirty snow and rotting wood. I miss the life that comes with Spring.

I've been listening to Spring Awakening. The music is gorgeous, the lyrics thoughtful, the sentiment freeing and stifling at the same time. "Don't do sadness" has become my mantra in the past few days, and "Blue Wind" has kept me from drowning in all the white and brown that surrounds me. There are colors somewhere, and warm smells, and I can just see the jonquils and the morning glories to come. John Gallagher Jr. sings like the rock star that he is on Spring Awakening, and I find myself liking his voice and delivery more and more as I listen to the album. With Spring Awakening far from any stage near me, I did what any music-lover would do, I googled John Gallagher and found his Myspace profile. It's about as interesting as my own Myspace page, except that our Mr. Gallagher has more playful answers to his profile questions, a trait I admire in all Myspacers. Levity is something that's needed everywhere, but especially on social networking sites where people tend to take themselves way too seriously. On Gallagher's page I enjoyed his "About Me" section where he writes:

"i can't hold my chopsticks properly. i can't hold my knife and fork properly."

Neither can I, and I was immediately bonded to this Broadway superstar with that simple confession. Here is where my cyber-stalking turned decidedly interesting, Gallagher it seems was recently a member of the band Old Springs Pike. I looked them up, and what do I find but a new obsession in musical form.

Old Springs Pike are excellent, truly excellent. They are one of those bands that you hear and think: Wow, I wish I had a record company so I could record these guys. They make music, not just sound. Lyrically they are very intense, quite clever, and exciting. I can't do justice to their sound with all my little words, so I guess I'll just have to let you listen for yourself. This is a new song called "Goodbye Midnight". I get chills when I listen.

I Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind - John Gallagher Jr. and Lauren Pritchard

19 February, 2008

Rock Steady

The Lions is a supergroup. It's a happy mix of Orgone, Breakestra, and other contemporary soul, funk, R&B, and jazz groups. With all of that sound injected into the mix, you'd expect The Lions' new album - Jungle Struttin' - to be a big mix of eclectic musical sounds. Instead of a mix, The Lions toss out a fairly straight-forward album of Reggae tunes with a Meters-ish riff thrown in here and there for a little funk flare.

Jungle Struttin' isn't a bad album, in fact it's quite catchy. "Thin Man Skank" starts off the album with a funky strut and chill guitar wobble, then "Ethio-Steppers" (video below) bounces in with horns and electric squeals. "Jungle Struttin" is a reggae-filled jazz improvisation session, which supplies both bass and percussion in dramatic doses. "Sweet Soul Music" is a deeply groovy ode to love, while "Hot No Ho" is heady and slippery with brass sound. The highlight of the album is "Think (About It)", a gospel-influenced reggae gem of a cover that makes the rest of the album seem a little lackluster. Noelle Scaggs sings her heart out on this song, with the funky "it takes two to make a thing go right, it takes two to make it outta sight" interlude that adds so much swing to the mix.

In the end, Jungle Struttin' isn't a genre-making album, but it is a sick recording of some amazing musicians laying their sound down in a comfortable environment. If you want to hear something fun and well-made, listen to Jungle Struttin'. If you want to hear something fresh and extraordinary, then you should probably look to some of the bands whose members make up the Lions. Whatever you listen to, groove on and rock steady.

Paper Planes - M.I.A.

18 February, 2008

Ain't No Other Man - Christina Aguilera


Kirsten Price dropped an album last fall entitled Guts and Garbage. It sounds messy and unappetizing to say the least: grungy and masculine in the best circumstances and horrifyingly dirty in the worst. Fortunately, Kirsten Price exceeds the expectations she sets with her album title. Guts and Garbage is a spunky soul album with alternative leanings. It's not Amy Winehouse or Sharon Jones, its leanings are more contemporary, where KT Tunstall meets Christina Aguilera in a dive bar and they both connect over Betty Davis.

Starting with "Magic Tree", Miss Price whispers over some vampy rhythms and then belts the chorus to a funk guitar. "All Right" takes a smooth and soothing view to life, as Kirsten sings that everything is all right, and "Fall" follows with pop-rock accessibility that makes the song slightly disappointing. On "Fall" I was looking for more spunk and exploration, but I found a song that's just a little too cookie-cutter to get my adrenaline up. "Crazy Beautiful" is the song I wanted to hear all along. It's funky, but not bombastic, and the jazz horn simply complements Price's vocals instead of hiding them. "5 Days Old" takes a detour to '90s singer-songwriters, but then it gets bassy and redeems itself on the chorus. "Freedom" (video below) is a belted tune that isn't overwhelmed by vocal ability, and "Bring Me Back" applies sweet similes to love. "Let Me Go", "Red Hot", and "Possibilities" finish off the album with aplomb. They stick to the same old soul/R&B formula, but there doesn't seem to be a sound better suited for Kirsten's voice.

With her current headquarters in Brooklyn, this soulful young singer can be heard throughout the Northeast with frequent trips South. It's a wonder that songs like "Magic Tree" and "Fall" aren't on popular radio, but it makes me very happy to know that Price's songs are receiving some airplay on alternative stations. Keep your ears open for Price, as soul music makes a comeback in both contemporary and anachronistic forms.

17 February, 2008

I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious...

I have this thing about my birthday where I'm not happy on it...

I guess it's the time of year when I take stock, when I measure myself against the me of one year before, and when I'm generally a little grumpy, a little disappointed, and a little frustrated. It's really quite unfair to the people who love me and who spend the days around my birthday trying to make me happy, but my guilt at feeling this way only adds to my dissatisfaction. I'm ready to break the mold and appreciate the lengths that my family and friends go to to make me happy on my birthday. This year I received many thoughtful gifts of music, but I got one mix in particular that was incredibly thoughtful and cheerful. I have to share this mix with all of my blog-readers in the hopes that other people who dislike their birthdays will be as cheered by mixed musical magic as I am. Many thanks to ICL, who is always extremely thoughtful!!

"Lovely Day" by Bill Withers

"Taking Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

"Discipline" by Dead Prez

"It's My Life" by Talk Talk

"Aerials" by Enter the Haggis

"Dream Police" by Cheap Trick

"Nothing Is Real But the Girl" by Blondie

"Jumpin' Jive" by Cab Calloway

"Saturday Night's Alright" by Elton John & Anastacia

"Jumpin' at Pauly's" by Out of Control Rhythm and Blues Band

"Fiesta" by the Pogues

"Stand Up" by Gary Moore

"The Changes" by Bruce Hornsby

"Nothing's Impossible" by Depeche Mode

"Wonderlust King" by Gogol Bordello

"Doctor's Orders" by Aretha Franklin & Luther Vandross

"I'm Ready" by Paul Kosoff

"Tea" by Sam Brown

Gods of the Sea and the Sky

Neptune is a planet, a Roman deity, and an album by the Duke Spirit. If you guessed that I'm most excited about the last of these three Neptunes, then you'd be correct. The Duke Spirit make noisy rock from across the pond, and Neptune is an album to make some noise about.

"I Do Believe" introduces the album with the warbled mantra: "I do believe in something you know..." It sounds like it could have been recorded underwater or out in space. The first real song, "Send A Little Love Token", jangles at high-speed while lead-singer Leila Moss growls about a relationship where she feels unappreciated and needs a simple sign of affection. "The Step and the Walk" (video below) is a little marching tune that's both spunky and dark. "Dog Roses" rumbles along while Leila croons again about disinterested boys, broken hearts, and girls too independent for their own good.

"Into the Fold" and "This Ship Was Built to Last" follow the same jamming pattern, with disorganized and distorted guitars and sulky-sweet lyrics, but "Wooden Heart" breaks the mold. This song is a slow duet where a male voice shadows Leila's, and where the sentiment is a hope for understanding rather than anger at being dismissed. There is genuine confusion and regret between these lovers, and on "Wooden Heart" you can feel their pain. This song is also the turning point in the album, where the songs move from sulky and heartbroken to energized and spurred on by heavy feelings. "My Sunken Treasure" is practically perky and also very spirited. The album finishes with the hopeful sighing goodbye of "Sovereign", which laments the transience of love even as Leila expresses her hopes for continued friendship. The album seems to be built around the roughness of life, but it's never about bitterness; instead, the Duke Spirit make Neptune an ode to life experiences: the good hand-in-hand with the bad.

16 February, 2008

15 February, 2008

When The Levee Breaks - I Am The Bison

This is Sam of Apollo Sunshine performing as I Am The Bison. He can now be heard in a subway terminal near you...if you live in NYC. Check out this Led Zeppelin cover and be awed by Sam's musical greatness.

12 February, 2008

More Than A Feeling - Boston

"...When I'm tired and thinking cold
I hide in my music, forget the day
and dream of a boy I used to know
I closed my eyes and he slipped away
he slipped away..."

Sugar Mountain (LIVE) - Neil Young

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

It's so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad.
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

There's a girl just down the aisle,
Oh, to turn and see her smile.
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note.
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

Now you're underneath the stairs
And you're givin' back some glares
To the people who you met
And it's your first cigarette.
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

Now you say you're leavin' home
'Cause you want to be alone.
Ain't it funny how you feel
When you're findin' out it's real?

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

Young and Idealistic

The music of Neil Young has never alienated me: not when he was in Buffalo Springfield; not in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and no time yet during his solo career. Of course, I haven't enjoyed every song that he has ever made. Young's catalog is a little large for me to claim to be an avid fan of everything, but I do believe that Young is an excellent songwriter - probably one of the best around - and I know that with understated grace he can turn a phrase, wrap his unusual voice around a melody, and acoustically reach your heart and soul.

I wasn't surprised to learn that Young's music was being covered by female artists to raise money for breast cancer, despite the fact that the man himself has no breasts (as far as I know). On the extremely self explanatory album entitled Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity, country music stars and riot grrrls unite to sing the heart out of some intense tunes. On "Heart of Gold" indie queen Tanya Donelly makes the edges a little softer, but keeps the form the same. The incorrigible harmonica line marches along when Tanya's voice is resting, and shadows the Young original. "Comes A Time" performed by Kate York takes on a more meandering air with a little less Southern string sound. It sounds more Seattle coffee-shop, than Alabama whiskey bar. I had a difficult time listening to "The Needle and the Damage Done" because I think it's one of those songs that cannot be improved. Lori Mckenna doesn't ruin this Young classic, in fact, she performs it so well that I really have no quibbles except for the fact that it isn't the original.

The whole album follows this basic pattern, and my reaction to each song is basically the same. The music is well-produced and I can't find a song on the album that has been completely butchered or even poorly played, but the sounds are superfluous when the originals are just so good. I do particularly enjoy "Everybody Knows This Nowhere" by Carmen Townsend, which applies a carefree spirit that Young has never exhibited to a song that deserves some enthusiasm. "Sugar Mountain" by Louise Post is also a gorgeous cover, and Post's voice strikes just the right balance of wistfulness and anguish. If you're looking to donate money to breast cancer research, then I would donate your $21 directly. If you're just looking to experience a little Young, buy the originals, because a cover of genius work doesn't often live up to the original.

11 February, 2008

Proselytizing Pop

I'm not opposed to religion, but I was a little put off by The Evangelicals' name and album title, The Evening Descends. I sat wondering if this band was trying to write an album inspired by revelations with a big "R" or a small "r", and then my constantly music-starved mind won the battle and I found myself listening to songs with titles like "Paperback Suicide" and "Stoned Again". Suffice it to say that I was incredibly relieved, and even a little impressed by The Evening Descends. It's a mess of sound that haunts like some unearthly combination of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Band of Horses' Cease To Begin. To put it plainly, it's sweet, but a little creepy.

The title song, which also happens to be the first song on the album, is a sonic hymn. It's full of chorus vocals and softly saluting horns, and the lyrics are pulled together by slightly-biblical and heavy-handed imagery like shadows and light. The almost a capella nature of "The Evening Descends" makes the following song - "Midnight Vignette" - slightly jarring. It's a bouncy pop song with a chorus of "do do do do"s for any non-believer, and a jangly guitar for music snobs like myself who have a hard time swallowing completely synthesized music. "Skeleton Man" follows with Arcade Fire-like percussion precision and roundabout orchestral exploration that leaves a careful listener with an acute case of sensory overload. It's not a bad song, but by the third listen, I have the beginning of a headache. "Skeleton Man" is luckily followed by "Stoned Again", that sounds fast and slow at the same time. Actually, I think the most appropriate metaphor for "Stoned Again" is a strobe light. The light flashes fast, but makes everything feel slow, and your mind is left slightly disconnected from your body. The song succeeds in being both catchy and psychedelic enough to be adventurous. It doesn't plod along like "White Rabbit" or soar like "Little Wing", but it ripples across the sky like water in a pond.

At this point, The Evening Descends becomes a little choppy. "Party Crashin'" which screams along at high speed and is backed by a barely audible police siren could actually be a great dance song. It's followed by "Snowflakes" which is greatly inspired by church hymns, and is as soft as its name implies. The next four songs are jolting, paranoid, and high-strung, but absolutely dissimilar in every other way. "How Do You Sleep?" is a veritable cascading sheet of sound that doesn't let up, while "Bellawood" echoes and shuffles along at the same speed as an unknowing victim in a horror movie. "Paperback Suicide" is a yelled song, punctuated by gentle guitar melodies and crashing cymbals. "Here In The Deadlights" is spooky and relentless, but slightly melodramatic with alternately smashing and echoing guitar. I am pleased to write that this album ends on a high note. "Bloodstream" is a tight song that probably best exemplifies the psychedelic pop music of the Evangelicals. It isn't jarring, it's pleasing to the ear and it's far from boring. For the first time on the whole album, I felt like the percussion and melody of the song were working together to create a unified sound, instead of battling for priority and control. "Bloodstream" maintains a haunting feeling, while using synthesized effects and classic instruments to its advantage.

Overall, The Evening Descends is a little uneven. There are musical gems on this album. "Midnight Vignette", "Stoned Again", "Party Crashin'", "Snowflakes", and "Bloodstream" are all excellent songs that are adventurous and attractive. "Skeleton Man", "How Do You Sleep?", and "Paperback Suicide" try to fit too much sound in one song, and become caustic in the process. This sophomore album is decent: sometimes blowing my mind, sometimes falling quite short of excellence, but definitely worth a listen.

10 February, 2008

"What's Left of the Flag (LIVE)" - Flogging Molly

When it rains, it pours. When it snows, it fluffs?

I can't find an appropriate word for what snow actually does when it falls excessively. This bothers me because snow has been falling excessively for the last couple of months, and this new month seems to be no exception to the rule. As I write, I'm watching those vicious flakes precipitate all over my backyard, and I'm listening to two bands from New York who choose to ignore our current weather phenomena and write songs that threaten to make Afro-pop relevant again.

If you read any music blog, magazine, listen to semi-alternative radio, or subscribe to a newspaper with a music section, then you've probably heard of Vampire Weekend. Their name makes them sound ridiculously emo, but their sound is actually a linear progression of the post-punk movement reinvented by the Strokes. When Joy Division was being grumpy and lachrymose, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel were stealing sunny syncopation from the continent of Africa. Vampire Weekend combines a bit of that grumpiness with a little sunshine, and suddenly they're the new saviors of music. I guess I'm exaggerating a little bit, but Vampire Weekend really doesn't do anything particularly original, not even currently original. Bedouin Soundclash brought back Afro-pop three years ago, and they did it from Canada, a country even further from the golden rays of the African Savannah than cold and mean NYC. As you can see, I'm not particularly impressed by Vampire Weekend. "Mansard Roof" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" are two catchy songs that succeed in creating a certain ambiance, but overall I find the songs on Vampire Weekend disappointingly lacking in the rhythm that makes African music so interesting and energetic. These songs are simply weak Northeastern substitutes for strong and brilliant sunshine, and they don't have me dancing.

The Epochs are my second New York-by-way-of-Malawi band, but they mix up the sound enough on their self-titled debut album to keep me interested. Drama becomes the Epochs, and every song that sounds epic (epochal, if you will) is a winner on the album. "Thunder & Lightning" starts things off with a flash and a bang, then saunters toward "Opposite Sides" which is the cleansing, high-falsetto rain after the storm. "Love Complete" is the song that first reminds me of 1980s Afro-pop, but it succeeds because the sound is heavy, orchestral, almost symphonic. The execution of "Love Complete" stands up to the idea, where many of the songs on Vampire Weekend fall down like houses made of straw. My one major complaint about The Epochs is that the songs tend to be a little lengthy. Sometimes, less is more, and when you're just beginning, a short and catchy song can be the difference between global recognition and a few dedicated fans. If you're Radiohead, you can spend six minutes breaking rock 'n' roll boundaries because you consistently bring something new and exciting to the table. If you're reinventing sounds that have already been reinvented, you may want to spend more time on your hooks and less time on your album cover art.

The snow has stopped fluffing outside my window, but I still can't hear the heart of Africa in any "new" bands. I guess it's time to get back to Bedouin Soundclash, Angelique Kidjo, and Antibalas. Let's hope this cache of musical sunshine will keep me warm until the spring thaw.

"I Feel It All" - Feist

I am tired of Leslie Feist hype, yet every time I really listen to her music, I am blown away. Her vocal control on this song is technically excellent. The "oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh" descends the scale without her voice breaking at all. It's awesome!

08 February, 2008

Gasoline (LIVE) - Enter the Haggis

Probably the rockingest kilts I've ever seen! I especially like the spiderwebs.

05 February, 2008

The Kids Were Alright

There's some music so powerful that it must be shared with the world. Some music transcends all preconceived notions of what music is and who it should be made by. Some music is just too damn good to be ignored.

Enter Kashmere Stage Band. High school students in Texas came together as a student band with soul under the guidance of their Otis Redding-inspired music teacher, Conrad Johnson. This student band wasn't playing jazz standards, or at least not recognizable standards. From the 1960s to 1978, KSB played great funk instrumentals with a big band sound. Most of their music was original and all of it was deeply influenced by R&B, Funk, and improvisational Jazz. Texas Thunder Soul (1968-1974) is a collection of thirty-two KSB songs that highlight the professional ability and powerful presence of these musicians.

This collections opens with "Boss City", a groovy horn-driven track that follows a melodic guitar and whams through your headphones, and ends with an alternate take of "Getting It Out of My System" that jangles and syncopates like the best New Orleans funk. In the middle, cementing these two tracks together, is the glue of KSB. There's the inspired "Take Five" cover that rearranges chords, but still comes out on top. There's "Scorpio", a song fit for any Quentin Tarrantino gore-fest with a groovy soul. There's a live version of "Ain't No Sunshine" that just floats mournfully through your speakers. Then there's "Super Bad", where the beat is all-important and any improvisational melody-work is tightly connected to the heartbeat of the piece. As I listened to "Super Bad", I started wondering about the recent film of the same title. The music on the Superbad movie soundtrack owes an awful lot to the Kashmere Stage Band and other denizens of funk. After all, there are only so many times you can use the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" cliche on a high school movie soundtrack before the listener starts to feel a little cheated.

Listening to a hidden treasure like Texas Thunder Soul (1968-1974) makes you wonder what kids are hiding up their musically gifted sleeves these days, and how many groovy music teachers it'll take to inspire another Kashmere Stage Band. For now, it's good to know that those kids were alright.

04 February, 2008

"That Time (LIVE)" - Regina Spektor

Hey remember the time when I found a human tooth down on Delancey
Hey remember that time we decided to kiss anywhere except the mouth
Hey remember that time when my favorite colors were pink and green
Hey remember that month when I only ate boxes of tangerines
So cheap and juicy, tangerines

Hey remember that time when I would only read Shakespeare
Hey remember that other time when I would only read the backs of cereal boxes
Hey remember that time I tried to save a pigeon with a broken wing
A street cat got him by morning and I had to bury pieces of his body in my building's playground
I thought I was going to be sick, I thought I was going to be sick

Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Parliaments
Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Marlboros
Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Camels
Hey remember that time when I was broke
I didn't care I just bummed from my friends
Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum...

Hey remember that time when you od'ed
Hey remember that other time when you od'ed for the second time
Well in the waiting room while waiting for news of you I hallucinated I could read your mind
And I was on a lot of shit too but what I saw, man, I tell you it was freaky, freaky

03 February, 2008

Organized Chaos

A few weeks ago, I posted the video and lyrics to a song by the Hold Steady called "Stuck Between Stations". One of the lines in this song goes:

"...Most nights it's crystal clear, but tonight it's like it's stuck between stations, on the radio..."

This lyric sums up my feeling when listening to the band Dragons of Zynth. Their name conjures images of online multi-player games and the more fantastic Led Zeppelin songs that draw from Tolkien, but their sound is multi-layered psychedelia with a white noise background. At first I was a little put-off by the messiness of their sound, but as I've listened to Coronation Thieves, I've come to see some vestiges of organization, some fossil-like threads of intention that run through the songs on the album. To paraphrase another Hold Steady song, this music isn't just the white noise that boys and girls in America spin while they kiss, this is an album worth an extra listen.

"Anna Mae" is the single on Coronation Thieves, if you can call any song on this album a single. It's a fuzzy ode, that sounds like something Trent Reznor could produce if he was ever in a good mood. "Anna Mae", despite its lack of cohesive melody, is a sight more accessible than "War Lover", which sounds like a marching band playing in a swamp, with and inebriated Phil Collins on vocals. No lie. "Get Off" waltzes along with an indiscernible instrument that could be string or horn or demented combination. The chorus blasts through obnoxiously, and slams that indiscernible instrument out with blasting percussion. "Take It To Ride" and "Funky Genius" are both hip-hop influenced, but their sound could not be so polar if they were Forro and Scandinavian death metal. "Take It To Ride" is the chaos of a busy street-corner, the mental distraction of a city full of strangers: dark and vaguely dangerous. "Funky Genius" is soft and thick with sound, the flow of a beat-poet rippling over a synth loop.

Coronation Thieves is messy and layered. It trips along to its own musical rules and only attracts those listeners who find something beautiful in chaos. Although they've often been compared to contemporary noise-rockers like TV on the Radio, Dragons of Zynth's sound is much grittier and less cohesive. In fact, after listening to Dragons of Zynth for an afternoon, TV on the Radio seems positively hook-filled. If you really want to hear something different, pick up Coronation Thieves, otherwise be warned that this is terra incognita and "here there be dragons".

02 February, 2008

Back In The Caravan

I have a problem. I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with anything pertaining to Gypsy culture. Music, film, literary explorations, poetry, non-fiction, folk-tales, food, language, fashion; I love it all. I have no good reason for this cultural obsession, except maybe my innate wanderlust that's so easily transferable to that Romani ideal of no-strings-attached to land. The constant traveling makes sense to me, as does the constant celebration of life over work instead of work over life. I like the fact that the Romani are so family oriented, that they paint their homes in wild colors with crazy flowers, and that the direct translation for a Romani request for a kiss is "may I eat your face?".

I've already lavished praise upon Django Reinhardt (the father of Gypsy jazz), Chocolat, Gogol Bordello, and Devotchka in this blog. Can you lovely readers see a trend? All I can tell you is, if you're bored with the Gypsy sound, then you better find another blog to read, at least for today.

Yesterday, I came across a band called Fishtank Ensemble. They've been around for a few years now, and they released their second album in the Fall of 2007. This album, Samurai Over Serbia, is an exploration in the cross-pollination of world music. With instruments as varied as the shamisen and violintrombo, the seven musicians that currently make up Fishtank Ensemble celebrate the sounds of the East and the West, and bring the cultures closer together with their music. On "Turkish March", the Fishtank Ensemble apply their travels to a much-loved Mozart tune, with solos from their many instruments and a spirit of recklessness to their playing. It's as if their instruments could just fly off if they don't play them fast enough, and with enough vigor and violence to almost break them. "Spirit Prison" is a wailing song that cashes in on Gypsy jazz with a decidedly supernatural bent. "Face The Dragon" is the looping soundtrack to a caravan-chase scene through mountainous terrain. Within the celebratory nature of the playing there is an almost nihilistic intensity. Again these instruments are producing fun but almost threatening music, and the sound resembles that of a summer storm that's threatening a lightning strike. "Gitanos Californeros" is desert music, that dances around Devotchka territory; while, "Youkali" is operatic and definitely influenced by Bizet's Carmen, appropriate given the fact that Carmen herself was a gypsy woman.

Enjoyed as a group, the twelve songs on Samurai Over Serbia are musical excursions that make up a long and nonlinear journey. Just as Django played the rhythm around the melody and found a melody of his own, Fishtank Ensemble plays around the countries they claim to visit. In this way, the Ensemble creates a country of their own. The terrain is rugged and treacherous, but the promise of adventure is worth all the danger.

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Bob Dylan

"Take what you have gathered from coincidence..."

Try (LIVE @ Woodstock) - Janis Joplin