Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Late Fall 2010 New Music Playlist

As soon as I finish one of my playlists, I start another. This one began in mid-October with a few songs then it sat for a bit until I had the opportunity to go to Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina. This three-day festival was full of names I couldn’t wait to see, ones I had barely heard of and others worth exploring (see tracks by The Octopus Project, Devo, Caribou, Neon Indian, and Jonsi). Add in a few new releases and all of sudden another lengthy playlist was ready to share -- lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Link to listen here.

1. "Fuguefat" -- The Octopus Project
This full throttle song kicks off this Austin based group's fourth release, Hexadecagon. The indietronic band specializes in high energy instrumentals like this one which draws you in instantly for a wild, fun ride. (See my interview posted below for more info!)

2. "Total Life Forever" -- Foals
The Foals are five guys from Oxford, England with a bent towards the catchy yet complex compositions. This song is off their second release of the same name. It delivers simple sing-a-long lyrics over a driving beat and adds in hand claps just for fun – irresistible.

3. "Mind Games" -- Devo
4. "What We Do" -- Devo

Yes it's been twenty years since anything new from Devo, but you sure can't tell by these songs. The original energy in the synth-driven beats remain intact with tongue fully implanted in cheek. Their new release, Something for Everyone, is a party not to be missed.

5. "Odessa" -- Caribou
Caribou is the brain child of Daniel Victor Snaith, a prolific Canadian musician who also embraces the indietronic label. This melodic maze over an infectious groove is the opening track off his latest release, Swim.

6. "Coquet Coquette" -- Of Montreal
This band from Athens, GA has been exploring the psychedelic side of indie pop since 1994 with a raucous party of a stage show at every stop on tour. The lyrics border on crass insanity but they're always second to the sound presented. The song is off the latest release called False Priest.

7. "Should have Taken Acid With You" -- Neon Indian
8. "Deadbeat Summer" -- Neon Indian

Texan band Neon Indian is part of the new chillwave musical movement with fuzzy chords in a laid back vibe. They also grab samples as they see fit to provide a backbone to a song or merely as a reference. (For example, Deadbeat Summer contains a snippet of Todd Ruddgren's "Izzat Love?") These two selections are off their debut release from a year ago, Psychic Chasms, which has been gaining steam ever since.

9. "Desire Lines" -- Deerhunter
Deerhunter is a four-piece band with roots in Georgia and solid indie rock credentials. This melodic creation of layers is off their fourth album released earlier this fall, Halcyon Digest. Frontman Bradford Cox provides a soundscape over a drumbeat that expands into a dreamy song about childhood.

10. "Angela Surf City" -- The Walkmen
East coast indie rock band The Walkmen released their sixth studio album with this single about the same time. The quintet favors vintage instruments and dreamy buried vocals which speak of life's disappointments with earnest poetic yearning.

11. "Reservoir" -- Real Estate
12. "Out of Tune" -- Real Estate

These two songs are part of a mini-release from this band that calls themselves psychedelic surf pop under the indie rock label. It’s a bit bolder than anything so far, which brings a welcome burst of confidence. The quartet was originally from New Jersey but are now based in -- you guessed it -- Brooklyn.

13. "Get Real Get Right" -- Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens has composed this song for his tenth release called The Age of Adz, which delves into electronica along with the many other styles he's known for, from folk to art rock. He can play banjo, guitar, and drums as well as piano so there's always has an interesting use of instrumentation. Having bounced back after serious viral infection last year has only heightened the value of spiritual themes in his compositions.

14. "Go Do" -- Jonsi
15. "Sticks & Stone" -- Jonsi

Jonsi strikes out on his own for these solo project recordings, the first off his release Go and the second from the soundtrack of the magical movie, How to Train Your Dragon. Without the comfort of his band Sigur Ros and now singing in English, Jonsi is challenging himself while his musical gifts are up for grabs.

16. "Heretofore" -- Megafaun
The easy going sound of this trio from North Carolina by way of Wisconsin infiltrates this track off their mini-CD of the same name (their third release). They list "everything and everyone" as influences as the laid back layers invite all to relax and listen.

17. "Pieces" -- Villagers
Villagers is an Irish band fronted by Conor J. O'Brien whose soulful singing illuminates the dark lyrics. This song is off their second release, Becoming a Jackal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jon Hopkins Interview @ Moogfest October 2010

I was able to set up an interview with Jon Hopkins at Moogfest through connections via my husband, Paul. He had seen him at CMJ and thought I'd find him dreamy (true) beyond liking his music. We were to meet at the Moogsplex, a dedicated space in a mall off the where workshops and demonstations were going all day and then dj sessions filled the night into wee hours of the next morning. It was there that I experienced Hopkins' music -- his set was full of ambient sound and kick-A beats, full on dj style.

He sauntered in the room and I quickly introduced myself, then gave him a moment to collect himself. We found a place to sit in the hotel lobby to the strains of Musak (photo taken there) for the interview...

My write-up as it appeared on PopMatters here.

Video clips from Moogfest 2010 below (Jon Hopkins at 4:22).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Freekbass Interview @ Moogfest Oct 2010

In the slew of emails I received as a publicist going to Moogfest, the band Headtronics caught my attention. The genre of 'funktronica' was certainly new to me but the band features the legendary Bernie Worrell and DJ Spooky along with a bass player known as Freekbass. An interview was arranged with Freekbass and I wasn't sure how things would go since he plays on stage hidden by a black hoodie. Turns out he couldn't have been a nicer guy, an open soul with a sweet mid-Western lilt in his speech. We hung in the Green Room before their show at The Orange Peel, a comfortably worn in venue on the smaller side of things. When Mr. Worrell came through to use the bathroom, there was an opportunity to meet one of music's greats and a quick photo op. Here's my interview for PopMatters here.

Photo of Freekbass with Bernie Worrell

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Octopus Project Interview @ Moogfest October 2010

The Octopus Project has been forging a new hybrid known as indietronica by happily composing with a wide array of electronic and standard rock band set up since 1999. Rarely relying on vocals to move the soundscape, each member plays all sorts of instruments even switching to another mid-song. While at Moogfest in Ashville, North Carolina over Halloween weekend, the group was called upon to quickly learn a few Devo classics to play with Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale. The very next day they sat down to catch their breath and chat.

Do you believe in fate as a band? At the performance Gerry Castle of Devo talked about how fate can come down from the sky and change things. The Octopus Project (OP) landed a spot at Coachella thanks to a fan entering you in a myspace contest, and here you’re opening up for Moogfest then you’re enlisted to be Devo’s backup band.
Yvonne: I do!
Josh: Personally I guess I just believe that we all kind of just focus on what we’re doing at any given moment and we try to stay really excited about what we’re doing which that tends to lead to good things?
Yvonne: We‘ve gotten really lucky… We’ve met so many amazing people and things have been good. I mean we’ve had a very slow but steady rise to where we are now which is better than where we started, although we’re definitely not at the top. Yeah we’re happy with what we’re doing.
Toto: I don’t think we’re fated to achieve anything in particular. But it seems important to focus on what you love to do and do it as much as you can -- that tends to lead to pretty cool places.
Josh: When we started the band it wasn’t ever like, “We’re gonna get famous! We’re gonna have hit songs! We’re gonna do this or we’re gonna do that!” It was just, “Lets write some songs that we really like and lets make the shows crazy!”Yvonne: And have fun!
Toto: We’ve been lucky that every now and then someone comes along to say well do you want to do this? And we go, YEAH! And that you would make an awesome backup band for devo… Josh: That never ever crossed my mind as a possibility!

The OP seems to embody the next wave of electronic music with your mashup of instruments. I was wondering how did you arrive at that ‘indietronica’ sound?
Yvonne: We started the band with the idea of just incorporating any and every sound: any toy, any instrument imaginable. There were no rules to making music when we started the band, which is one of the reasons why the Theremin ended up in the band. I learned what it was in 1999 when I saw the documentary on Leo Theremin so Josh and I bought one. I just happened to be the one who took to it more and have gotten better at it over the last ten years of being a band.
Josh: We saw the Leon Theremin documentary and found out that Moog was making ones that you could buy and they were relatively cheap. It was 300 bucks for a totally crazy awesome instrument.
Yvonne: Already made!
Josh: We actually bought one that was signed by Bob (Moog). We have that sitting at home, tucked away nicely.
Yvonne: We don’t take that one on tour anymore.

Your sound is such a total mash-up of electronic and real instruments -- did you do a lot of experimenting electronically? Technically you’re a four-piece group, which is a typical rock band but you use electronic and acoustic instruments or whatever.Toto: I don’t think we really distinguish so much between the two -- they’re just all with different qualities. Sometimes the song needs more of this so maybe we could do that with drums or it needs more of that so maybe do that with a synth. Its really just picking from a palette to assemble a song.
Yvonne: Working with what feels right for the individual song. Again, when we started as a band we didn’t have any intention of being an instrumental band but that’s kind of how it turned out. And it’s only recently that we’ve started incorporating vocals on some songs just because with those particular songs it seemed like it needed something more. And a vocal texture felt right so we started trying vocals ourselves.

Obviously there’s a lot of musicianship -- that’s the first thing that comes across in the first 30 seconds of watching your band. So can you talk about your backgrounds for a bit? I mean are you music school rats?
Everybody: No, no, quite the opposite.
Josh: I think we all just grew up really excited about playing music on anything we could get our hands on. Separately – I didn’t know Toto when he was a kid. We were like, “Oh I like the drums so I’m gonna try to play the drums. Or I like guitar.” Anything we could get our hands on, I think we all were excited to play.
Toto: I took piano lessons as a kid and totally hated them, as valuable as they may be in the back of my mind now. But was more excited about making weird tapes when I was younger, rather than playing the piano. So no formal training?
Yvonne: I’ve actually never had a music lesson

And what about your other band member, Ryan?
Josh: Ryan actually had some training.
Toto: I think his answer to this question is that when he was younger he decided he was going to get really awesome at guitar so he really pursued that. And it worked.Yvonne: And he’s an amazing pianist.
Toto: It’s kind of the way the songs get written: one person might write a bunch of different parts with different instruments for different songs. So we just kind of apply that to how we can do that I guess.
Yvonne: It feels like the only way it could work, to play the songs the way they’re intended to be heard, is for each of us to play the specific things that we play in what was written for the different parts.
Josh: It makes the tour a lot more fun…
Yvonne: It does!Josh: To get up there and be like, oh I get to do this and that and this!Yvonne: I do keep notes onstage and never drink before a show (laughter). And how do you write, does it begin with the instruments, a backbeat or melody?
Everybody: Every song is totally different
Josh: A lot of the times we’ll be messing around just recording sounds and stuff. Then we’ll take a one or two second snippet that sounds really cool and build a song around that. Or sometimes you’ll just be sitting playing guitar and come up with a little thing you like and then build a song around that or just play drums and write everything on top. It’s different.
Yvonne: Yeah, it’s different. And it’s totally collaborative each time?
Josh: For the most part, yeah.
Yvonne: There are some songs that Toto wrote and then we learned the parts, maybe putting our own spin on things. But there are also some songs that were mostly written by one of us, but only a few I think for the most part.
Toto: I really like the ones where one person will take someone else’s idea and chop it up and do something different with it. We do a lot of handing off saying, “Well I got these ideas but I don’t know what to do. Here you go!” And then someone will take it to the next step.
Josh: Then back and forth again.
Toto: We don’t usually learn to play it until after it’s written. It kind of gets written in the recording process. And then we’ll stand back and say well I can play that then you can play that.

It definitely looks collaborative. The new CD Hexadecagon is more of a concept album, less song driven as the others. How did that come about?
Josh: I guess we were listening to a whole ton of ambient music and repetitive minimalist stuff in the van while touring. Its just awesome put it on and start driving and just focus for an hour or whatever to get lost in your mind.
Toto: (Jokingly) WHERE AM I?
Josh: (Laughs) So we were listening to a lot of that kind of stuff and thought that it might be really awesome to take those ideas and expand them. The original idea was to have a surround sound kind of like thing as a experiment.
Yvonne: All encompassing!
Josh: We wanted to have music and sounds spinning around people -- moving all around in all different ways and then have video also interacting with that,totally synchronized. We had no idea if it would actually work but after we got home from our last tour we just really dove into writing the songs and figuring out the technical aspects of it. So we just put al these songs together and they seemed to work really well as a whole. When we started it we hadn’t thought about making a record or anything, it was let’s just try this thing because it would be really fun to do. Afterwards we decided that we really liked these songs a lot and the way they flow together, let’s make a record.
Toto: Its a concept record in that the concept for the show was in place and then we wrote the songs to go with that. So they were all under certain constraints that ended up really helping us creatively.

Then it became a hit in your hometown in Austin at South by Southwest last March, what was that like?
Toto: We decided to do it then because we knew there would be a lot of people from all over the place in town and we’d probably have a good audience. But we were definitely not expecting as many people to be there. It was kind of overwhelming when the show actually arrived and there were 3000 people in the parking lot.
Josh: We could only fit 600 under the tent so we just opened up the sides of the tent. What’s next for the band?
Josh: More touring. We have a bunch of songs that we’ve been working on for our next record.
Toto: We want to get to that pretty quickly but also stay busy touring in 2011 -- so those two things. You already have something started!
Toto: We’re really excited about the record we have out but I think everybody’s also ready to move on to the next thing
Yvonne: We’re so ready to start working on a new record even though this one’s just come out.
Josh: We’ve literally been working on these songs and this whole idea for like a year nonstop, so it’s like let’s do something new!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sufjan Stevens @ Beacon Theatre NYC, Nov 15th

Sufjan Stevens (pronounced Soof-yan) has a new release out called Age of Adz (pronounced odds) and a tour which brings it all to life. With a dozen musicians, this new foray into electonica became a bold expression of the human condition. On the second/final night in New York City at the exquisitely restored Beacon Theatre, Stevens confidently led the group through his songs from front/center stage, playing banjo, synths and guitars as needed. He went through several costume changes, silvery neon outfits that evoked space suits, while singing the melody with the occasional choreographed gesture to match the background singers who he referred to as the “Solid Gold Dancers” at one point. The three women were certainly shaking it enough to qualify, that’s for sure. Easy banter filled the spaces along the set list, as Stevens touched on subjects as disparate as physics, prophecy and musicology. A huge video screen on the back wall was as busy as the performers on stage, projecting energetic cartoon drawings, patterns of lights and films of people moving wildly. Props such as streamers, beach balls and balloons gave the evening a playful aspect throughout.

The show began with the subdued “Seven Swans,” an older song from a release by the same name in 2004. Stevens then launched into his latest collection, introducing them to the crowd as songs about “death and life.” The crunch of percussion in “Too Much” provided the foundation for layer upon layer of sound design, forming a kaleidoscope of sound swirling around the musicians. “Age of Adz” ends in an uplifting, echoing, angelic chorus of Gloria, with Stevens leading the choir in exaltation. A dance party kicked in during the twenty-minute plus version of “Impossible Soul” toward the end of the show, as people in the orchestra left their seats to groove between the rows. Earlier in the song, Stevens tipped over a snare drum and had to kick at his effects pedal to get his guitar ready for a solo so the audience was eager to show their appreciation. Balloons fell from the ceiling and hopped around as they were batted about. The carnival atmosphere continued happily until the band left the stage. Then the place rocked with applause until the encore, a full on rendition of “Chicago” -- Stevens’ beloved song from “Little Miss Sunshine.” A cartoon of the Volkswagon bus from the movie hovered above, echoing the journey taken throughout the evening.

Video off my digital camera after the party started, dancing with a camera isn't easy...

Video of the encore by PaulTSeymour who was across the room with all the balloons (lucky!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Dandy Warhols @ Webster Hall NYC Nov 6th

The Dandy Warhols are on a North American tour this fall to celebrate their new release, The Best of the Capitol Years 1995 – 2007, a treasure trove of hits from the Portland, Oregon band. Their show at Webster Hall in New York City on November 6 followed a show in Brooklyn the night before, with many in the audience attending both shows. Round white paper lanterns adorned the stage in various sizes, changing color throughout the show. Though appearing like a scrappy group, at first chord it’s apparent that this four-piece band still likes to rock it loud and hard within the alt rock parameters. They happily exist outside the new music scene, professing not to pay attention to any of it yet have had enough success to own a recording studio a quarter of a city block long called the Odditorium, with a human size chessboard and room for live gigs.

The freeform sonic landscape of “Be-In” started the show. Frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor asked the crowd how many of them were in Brooklyn the night before, saying how “it was pretty awesome.” He led the group through its paces from song to song, even allowing a smoke/bathroom break for other band members during the set. Audience participation was used to decide whether “Every Day Should be a Holiday” or “Your Ghost” should be played. (By voting with applause, the first song was chosen.) Inspired versions of favorites such as “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers,” “Bohemian Like You” and “Godless” cranked everything up and got the crowd dancing. Coming back for the encore, Taylor-Taylor announced “We are and ever shall be The Dandy Warhols” before launching into the seminal Stones song, “
This Will Be The Last Time.” 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jonsi Interview @ Moogfest October 2010

Jonsi Birgisson needs no introduction to the fans of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós – he has served as the frontman of the band since 1994. His floating falsetto is simply unmistakable and unique in today’s music scene. On tour with his own songs from his new solo release Go, he fit in a stop at Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina, over the Halloween weekend. His ipod was playing jazz from Woody Allen movie soundtracks as he stretched out in the dressing room backstage at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. The tour manager then allowed a ten minute sit down with PopMatters before announcing it was time to “unleash the Jonsi.”

What do you think of Moogfest and why did you choose to be a part of the festival?
I think it's a really cool festival and I am honored to be a part of it. They called and I was touring anyway so it all worked out. And I'm looking forward to seeing Matmos although I'm playing around the same time so I don't think I will be able to see them.

When did you first discover synthesizers?
It seems like they’ve always been around but, I don't really like synthesizers -- I prefer to use sampling, recording other things -- taking something and playing with it again. We do use some synths for bass lines in Sigur Rós because they sound so big and juicy.

Sigur Rós is 4 guys writing in a room and 'Go' is your songs that you've said have been filed in your head for over ten years while the band was so busy. How does it feel to have released and to perform them in concert?It feels really good. It’s been very different but I like it. For this tour I am playing with other people and that is really healthy for me, makes things different.

Do you like traveling or do you miss Iceland?
It's been a fun tour but I do miss my home. I was talking to my parents today and it was great to hear their voices. Reyjkavik is beautiful and Iceland has only 300,000 people and Reykjavik has maybe 200,000 so everything is close together. You really don't need a car to go out and get everything you need. Here things are so spread out, places like L.A. where you need a car to do anything. I also have a new house, so I am looking forward to going back and spending time there. But wherever I am, I am happy to be there.

After this tour while your band members have been busy starting families, it’s back home to work on a new Sigur Rós release planned for next year – what can we expect?
I don’t know! I don’t think about it because Sigur Rós is a band that does not plan anything. We sold our pool and have a new rehearsal space. The band will get together and start on some ideas and just see what happens. We had a couple of chances between breaks on this tour to get together and begin a few songs. Since the others have been on break for a long time they are ready to go.

I have to ask about your choice of music playing here – is this a “stage” or do you listen other new music too?
Well, is it a “stage” if it’s been ten years? This is the only kind of music that I really listen to. I have a very short attention span and this kind of music makes me more comfortable. I don’t listen to any new music – I think it sucks`. (He laughs and excuses himself for the choice of words, saying he doesn’t express himself well in English.)

You express yourself very well in English! So for Go you even sang in English, how was that for you and do you think you’ll continue this with Sigur Rós or go back to your made up or native language?It was a good challenge for me to sing in English because I had never done that before. But I don’t know -- I will have to see what happens. We’ll see.

Video from his performance here (Jonsi at 1:20).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Dears @ The Knitting Factory Nov. 4th

The Dears are currently on tour playing their new album live in its entirety, even passing out programs with a song list before the show. Degeneration Street, which is being released in February 2011, continues the band’s journey with another collection of full throttle indie rock songs. This Montreal band is hopelessly romantic for all the right reasons, with yearning vocals, heartfelt lyrics and a big sound that brings out the passion of the songwriting. The line up of six members (three guitars, two keyboards, drums) has changed since it was formed in 1995, but founding member/lead singer Murray Lightburn and keyboardist/background vocalist (now wife) Natalia Yanchak remain.

After treating the crowd to a choral musical intro, the band took to the stage to lead off with the new single “Omega Dog” (which is available as a download on the band’s label, Dangerbird Records). It leads off with a funky groove of heavy synth layering and a jagged guitar part, with Lightburn starting in a high falsetto before being embraced with background vocals. The song continues through a cascading swirl of chaos before returning to the theme just as it ends. This song structure is successfully employed in a few other tracks while more upbeat dance tunes that got the crowd moving. With titles such as “Blood,” “Lamentation,” and “Easy Suffering,” the band doesn’t stray from its universal theme of emotional bonds.

“You guys having a good time?” Lightburn asked. “How you liking this new shit?” The group on stage sure looked like they were enjoying themselves and audience cheered with an enthusiastic response. He mentioned that they would get to the hits “if you’re good.”

The Dears made good on the promise during the encore. Lightburn strapped on an acoustic guitar to begin the mellow introduction of “The Second Party.” Then they tore through a string of hits such as “Lost in the Plot,” “Hate Then Love,” and “Gang of Losers.” Lightburn enlisted the audience for the finale, creating male and female callbacks for “The Death of All the Romance” with the room rollicking through the line “Tell me the lies.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MOOGFEST October 29 - 31, 2010

Last weekend's first annual Moogfest in Asheville, NC featured 60 bands over three days. It was hard to pick who to see and of course some conflicts came up as the schedule between the three venues overlapped. All this was in honor of Robert Moog (pronounced with a long 'o' sound) and his Moog synthesizers (almost always pronounced with with a short 'o' sound) -- Bob Moog didn't really care, as long as people enjoyed his inventions! Here's my write up for PopMatters which felt like writing a term paper with all the detail and various subjects. T'was a crazy, busy weekend of music....

Also highly recommend the 2005 "Moog" documentary by Hans Fjellestad and its accompanying soundtrack which more like an expanded lovefest for the instruments. The music features a wide variety of tracks from synth pioneers Keith Emerson, Gary Numan, Devo and New Order to the chill vibe of The Album Leaf.