Friday, September 30, 2011

CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival, NYC October 18 -22

Get ready NYC area music fans! The CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival continues to grow to epic proportions since its debut back in 1980.  This year includes over 1300 artist performances and dozens of cutting-edge films at 80 venues, nightclubs and theaters around New York City.  Notable bands include Wild Flag, Neon Indian, Portugal. The Man., Active Child, Weekend and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. but it’s the bands you haven’t heard of that give this festival its raison d’ être.

There are also close to 70 panels, seminars and special events to keep things going around the clock.  Topics include A&R, Artist Management and Publishing/Licensing as well as anything to do with social media.  A CMJ Full Festival Badge costs $495 (with a CMJ Student Full Badge priced at $295) but new this year is a CMJ Show Pass for $149 which allows access to all CMJ Music Marathon Showcases and Film Festival Screenings – based on venue capacity on a first come first serve basis. For those not planning to attend, I will be part of a PopMatters team spreading out over the city to bring the event to life online.  More info at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Interview and Concert Review @ Bowery Ballroom September 24

Listening to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s studio recordings, their songs are carefully crafted pop tunes full of traditional harmonies but with quirky electronics and fuzzy guitars thrown in for fun.  In live performance however, the band puts the emphasis on the fun as those elements rise to the forefront along with classic concert experiences like multiple lighting cues, costume changes and bubble machines.  This duo from Detroit, Daniel Zott and Josh Epstein, provide all this without losing site of who they are – two wacky musical dudes from Motor City.  At the Bowery Ballroom September 24, they shared lead vocals, instruments and commanding positions on stage to bring their music to life for their fans.  As their lyrics pronounce, “Life’s too short to play it safe.”  When Zott calls out “Come on, let’s dance,” he doesn’t exclude himself as he leaped around the stage, shaking his hips and playing guitar.  And Epstein could still sing out while hopping along with the crowd without missing a beat.  Drummer Michael Higgins provided the high-energy backbone required throughout the night. 

Epstein and Zott entered proudly wearing baseball jackets of the first place Detroit Tigers, not the NASCAR jumpsuits the band has been sporting onstage during previous gigs.  Motioning to their fans to get their hands up and smiling to each other, they began with the steadfast melody of “Morning Thought.”  By the third song the jackets were off, revealing matching short-sleeved shirts with bowties.  “Hello NYC,” Epstein said, introducing the band.  He then launched a discussion of things Detroit shares with New York, which mainly included basketball stars such as Isiah Thomas, Allan Houston and Chauncey Billups.  The band then offered “When I Open My Eyes,” with Epstein banging on a big drum downstage along with other surfaces found nearby.  Later, he began the opening lines of LCD Soundsystem’s “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” to huge cheers.  This heartfelt rendition was a nice nod to the city. 

The band then continued their own compositions, including a new song “Don’t Tell Me” which was written during a week-long break at home.  The ending of their single, “Simple Girl,” became a full-blown explosion of sound, disintegrating to a halt.  Another cover, “We Almost Lost Detroit,” by Gil Scott-Heron, became an impassioned plea for their hometown while rocking out the chorus.  For the encore, the pair returned sporting their neon checked jackets from the photo above to bring the 80s hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” back to life as the venue became one big dance party.  The night ended past midnight with the more-measured “Nothing But Our Love,” and the lyrics “I get more then I deserve.”  This band is getting everything they deserve and more.  Ending a week that began at the Austin City Limits festival with stops in Charlottesville, Virginia, D.C. and Philly, there was also time for a quick call to chat with me via PopMatters. Full write up with interview here.

Onstage with bubbles!!!!!!!
Introducing myself to Josh Epstein before the show...
for a quick photo op with another interview subject!

Friday, September 23, 2011

AM & Shawn Lee @ Mercury Lounge September 22nd

With AM & Shawn Lee before the show
LA singer/songwriter AM and London-based producer/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee began writing together after AM contacted Lee in admiration of his music.  A friendship grew over email and soon the two had enough tunes to fill an album called Celestial Eclectic, released earlier this monthIt’s full of funky jams and AM’s laid back, lilting falsetto. (AM was born in Tulsa and grew up in New Orleans while Lee is from Wichita, Kansas.)  Together with drummer Pete McNeal and Brett Bixby on keyboards, they took the stage at Mercury Lounge to present their new songs in live performance.  “How’s it going New York?” AM, before the band started with the rim shot drums and fuzzed-out guitar chords of “Can’t Figure It Out.”  A driving beat and synth-punctuated vocals of “Lonely Life” followed as the pair dug into the music before offering the opening track, “City Boy.”

Between songs AM and Shawn Lee switched instruments and glances of recognition, as the band proceeded to win over the crowd.  For the single, “Dark Into Night,” a sing-along was rehearsed beforehand even though it only required a few notes.  But this sweet, layered melodic track filled the venue and the audience participation only made things more transcendent.  “Turn the wrong into right/Turn the dark into light.” The group hit their stride chugging along with the next song, “Somebody Like You,” before Lee took over the drum kit for “Dillon’s Song.”  A radiant cover of “Jackie Blue” fit in perfectly with the retro magic of their compositions.  The final song, “The Signal,” allowed for more introspective lyrics, as well as an explosive ending of power chords and drums.

I don’t care what this scene is or
What the future has to say
Is your image in the way?

Hear AM & Shawn Lee play live on KCRW -- link on previous post.  

AM & Shawn Lee @ Mercury Lounge "Dark Into Light"

AM & Shawn Lee @ Mercury Lounge "City Boy"

AM & Shawn Lee @ Mercury Lounge "Promises Are Never Far From Lies"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Motopony @ Mercury Lounge, September 15th

During a recent interview with PopMatters, Motopony’s frontman Daniel Blue promised how their live show takes the music to next level.  His band made good on this promise at Mercury Lounge on September 15, where Blue could strut his stuff on stage and the instrumentation came alive despite a sub par sound system.  Buddy Ross was in command at the keyboards as the mastermind behind the production of their self-titled debut along with a few new entries during the set. 

From the moment Blue introduced this Seattle band with his unbuttoned shirt and tousled hair, every composition was another opportunity to communicate with the crowd.  He is a poet, so lyrics are words with meaning behind them. His gestures helped to tell the story as well as flat out sell each song.  Blue also is quite a dancer, getting into the groove from the first song, appropriately named “Get Down.”  Quieter songs such as “June” and “God Damn Girl” allowed Blue to croon softly at the microphone with audience members singing along. However, it was two tunes getting the most airplay that really got the fans moving: the jaunty “King of Diamonds” and the folk rock explosion of “Seer,” a perfect pick for their final song.  

Motopony @ Mercury Lounge 9/15/11 "Seer"

Motopony @ Mercury Lounge 9/15/11

A hug from Daniel Blue before the show
Buddy Ross & Camera Guy Paul
Dancing gal pal with boyfriend

Me & new guy Mike Notter

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Story Behind MTV's Moon Man Music

I've known Ray Foote as "the guy who did the guitar on the original MTV station ID" for decades now, ever since my husband Paul worked with him at NYC's Elias Associates back when synths needed tuning.  When MTV's 30th anniversary came around this summer, there was plenty of 80s tunes dusted off which I could still remember the video as it scrolled in my mind.  For those there in the beginning, the chunky crank of solo guitar called out a new era of experiencing new music with a visual accompaniment.  The moon man became icon for the fledging station, and he still appears on MTV's video music award statues even while the station rarely plays such things.  Anyway, I thought it'd be fun to ask Ray for details about how he came to play on this epic moment of music history.  Turns out it was a lucky convergence of college chums and rock 'n roll.

PopMatters post here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Collabo Alert -- AM & Shawn Lee

Yesterday, I heard a song that had been catching my ear lately playing on KEXP's John in the Morning show.  Though dj John Richards is good about announcing each song and adding interesting info about the band which is certainly not a given these days, it is handy to have the playlist online.  I scribbled down the name of the song, "Dark Into Night" which is on a new release called Celestial Eclectic by AM & Shawn Lee.  It's a lovely, meditative track with floating vocals (Turn the wrong into right/Turn the dark into light) which will be perfect for the slow-paced resolution of my next playlist.  Happy to have captured another fave song, I went about my day.  

Tuning into KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic later, who should be in studio for a live session but AM & Shawn Lee.  This collaboration between LA singer/songwriter AM and London-based producer/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee actually began when AM heard a song by Shawn Lee on the radio.  AM Googled him and a friendship formed over email.  It wasn't until AM gave Lee a ride after a previous KCRW session that they decided to work together.  The two traded tracks long distance and are now on tour with Thievery Corporation (tour info here).  Watching the video is always fun, as preconceived notions of what musicians look like go right out the window.  It's clear, however, that these two musicians enjoy each other's company in every way.  As Lee put it during the interview with KCRW's Jason Bentley, "We upped each other's game."

KCRW session here

Free download of "Dark Into Night" via Rolling Stone here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Late Summer New Music Playlist

It always seems that just as you’re trying to get in some final seasonal fun during the last weekends of summer, the weather turns in sheer mockery of such a plan.  Add in a rare earthquake plus a nasty hurricane here on the East coast in the same week, and you can’t blame me for wanting to call this playlist Late Summer 2011.  After all, the official start of autumn isn’t until September 23rd this year. With thoughts of calmer skies and more warm days ahead, I offer another compilation of new music to enjoy.  From German electro to laid back bands from the Northwest and some new chill wave, recent releases are featured in a streamlined listening session with notes below. Link to listen here!

1. “Up Up Up” - Givers
This infectious indie pop tune is the single off the Givers’ first release, In Light.  The quintet from Lafayette, Louisiana met during high school and college to form a band which made this year’s hot list at SXSW.

2. “2 Hearts” – Digitalism
Digitalism is an electro pop duo from Hamburg, Germany who just released their second collaboration, I Love You Dude.  The pair, Jens “Jence” Moelle and Ismail “Isi” Tüfekçi, formed a friendship from hanging out at a local record store and are now known worldwide for their remixes as well as their own dance music.

3. “Puzzle Pieces” – Saint Motel
“Puzzle Pieces” is a rollicking single by this indie pop quartet from L.A., where it was on heavy rotation even before it was released in May.  The additional production value with horns and percussion only adds to the over the top giddiness of the track.

4. “Go Outside” – Cults
5. “Abducted” – Cults
Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin formed Cults as NYU students just last year, writing for themselves and playing for friends. These two confident tracks are off their self-titled release, which is making ‘best of’ lists already.

6. “Bury Me Standing” – Handsome Furs
7. “Repatriated” – Handsome Furs
Handsome Furs is a husband and wife team from Montreal.  Dan Boeckner is the singer for Wolf Parade so the vocals seem familiar, but together with Alexei Perry it’s a totally different sound.  These two tracks are favorites off their third release, Sound Kapital.

8. “So American” – Portugal. The Man.
9. “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now) – Portugal. The Man.
10. “Sleep Forever” – Portugal. The Man.
This psychedelic rock band from Portland doesn’t stray far from its roots in Alaska with themes of nature and family for their latest release, In the Mountain In the Cloud. The expansive treatment for these songs finds a timeless groove, backing up soulful vocals by singer/songwriter John Gurley.

11. “Shangri-La” – YACHT
“Shangri-La” is the title track of the new release by Portland’s dance pop duo known as YACHT.  Claire L. Evans takes the vocals to a Utopia of choruses and Jona Bechtolt joins in while overseeing their melodic electro-universe.

12. “Eyes Be Closed” – Washed Out
13. “Amor Fati” – Washed Out
With easily the raciest album artwork of the summer, Washed Out released Within and Without, a continuation of the chill wave surge Ernest Greene defined two years ago.  He no longer buries his vocals, confidently singing out with an expanded sound in various songwriting structures.

14. “Blood Never Lies” – Thurston Moore
Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore released a collection of pared down songs as a solo project recently, highlighting his songwriting skills and glistening acoustic guitar.  Produced by Beck, Demolished Thoughts also allows Moore to focus on softer, compassionate vocals.

15. “Glowing Mouth” – Milagres
Brooklyn’s quintet Milagres has been streaming this elegant tune, which is the title track of a release due mid-September.  Singer/songwriter Kyle Wilson’s soaring falsettos float above an ambient musical landscape.

16. “Weightless Memories” – Ulrich Schnauss & Jonus Munk
German electronic mastermind Ulrich Schnauss recently teamed up with Dane Jonus Munk, who is also known by the band name Manual.  “Weightless Memories” is the opening track of their collaboration, creating an expansive soundscape of guitar and synths.

17. “Black Water” – Apparat
Apparat is the vehicle for Berliner Sacha Ring, embracing electronic music of all forms since the mid-90s.  “Black Water” is a free download from the newest release, The Devil’s Walk, due in late September.  Lush layers of vocals and synths build in this lovely melodic composition.