As I type these words I listen to a soft, rapturous intent-filled debut of an album called High Twilight from Daniel Isaiah Schachter (who goes by Daniel Isaiah on stage.) The results are beautiful and kind of chilling. I can't say enough good things at this early stage and now I can't apologize enough. High Twilight (Secret City Records) doesn't emerge until June 7th. That's a long time to wait, but I couldn't help myself.
Isiah sings on the new album with Charlotte Loseth (the Canadian recording artist known as Sea Oleena) whose soft voice and distinct sound help to elevate this project from simple debut, to a serious candidate for best albums to come out of the North this year. Stay tuned, there will be more on this guy ahead. Daniel Isaiah is definitely ONE TO WATCH in 2011.
We don't know anything about Leonidas, but we do know is we like these tracks. Leonidas reassembles the material of TheBeatles - allowing the music (which is oddly treated respectfully in regard to artistic context,) reach new ears. Warning: Purists will not be impressed. The basis of the music is modification of mood through artistic alteration. If you give it half a chance, the track can take you places. Agree - Disagree, here it is. If nothing else, we know now that Leonidas is One to Watch in 2011.
OVER THE RHINE - Touring this year behind new fan-funded album, The Long Surrender, the new studio album from the southern Ohio-based husband-and-wife multi- instrumentalists Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist played a hugely popular set at The Red Room at Cafe 939 in March. Produced by Joe Henry and released on their own label, Great Speckled Dog, Over the Rhine's new record showcases the duo's soaring sound and celebrates their two decades on playing together.
RSL Streaming Photo Album Over The Rhine at the Red Room at Cafe 939 - Boston
Handsome Furs Sound Kapital - Tour Kickoff in Boston
As we speak, the sonic assault of husband- and wife-team Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner are making their way across Eastern Europe. It's their latest world tour in support of their new album; "Sound Kapital." We caught up with the couple here in Boston for the tour opener... And getting there early, I had a few minutes to jaw on with Dan & Alexei. I first met the pair about 3 years ago. Perry flashed a warm, loving smile when I quipped about visiting with Dan and the guys from Wolf Parade backstage at the House of Blues Boston last July.
That summer night, when Alexei's name was raised in casual conversation, Boeckner's face truly lit up. He told me about her work with children in China and that he soon hoped to join her there. And they soon would. Imagine my joy in knowing just weeks later (soon after the Wolf Parade tour ended) Dan would make good on his promise to join his love in the East.
There Handsome Furs were reunited for a series of shows witnessed by many thousands of fans in China. And then there was this new album to write. Perry loves the story and remembers the time fondly - adding stories of her own. Then as she looked up to look at Dan, standing nearby. It was clear then, if not before, that this is the best love story in rock.
From the beginning, you know that All At Once is going to be a major departure from what you thought you knew about The Airborne Toxic Event. The title track is an epic masterpiece about the stages of life, from birth to death, and sudden, perception-altering change. All At Once is enormous in scope, in its message and execution, and features the Calder Quartet, (who also play on "All For a Woman" on the new record.) The song revisits their beautiful arrangement of this lovely song, first heard at their 2009 Disney Hall performance, in all its orchestral, sweeping grandeur...
“Then we long to be loved, in the rush we become some things we thought we’d never be. We were surprised by our heart, left wary and scarred, from the nights spent feeling incomplete. And all those evenings swearing at the sky, wishing for more time.”
GROWING PAINS - I’ve been enjoying The Airborne Toxic Event since first listening to demos in 2008, and followed their steady ascent, which for me began at a downtown Boston Irish bar for about 150 people. They released their wonderful debut album on Majordomo, and proceeded to tour for the next 36 months in support. That album grabbed hold of my ears and wouldn’t let go, yet I now find myself approaching their follow-up, nearly three years later, with a curious mix of anticipation and trepidation. Why? Because in that time, they signed with Island Records, amassed a large audience of “casual listeners” with their radio hit, “Sometime Around Midnight”, and spent 2010 in a fancy Hollywood studio with world-renown producer Dave Sardi (Band of Horses, The Walkmen, Oasis). It made me a little nervous. This is the first time I stumbled upon a band early on, and not 10 years after everyone else, so I’m new to this whole “grappling with success” thing. I’m not sure how the band is coping, but as for myself, not terribly well.
In Stores Today:
1. ALL AT ONCE 2. NUMB 3. CHANGING 4. ALL FOR A WOMAN 5. IT DOESN'T MEAN A THING 6. THE KIDS ARE READY TO DIE 7. WELCOME TO YOUR WEDDING 8. HALF OF SOMETHING ELSE 9. STRANGE GIRL 10. ALL I EVER WANTED 11. THE GRAVEYARD NEAR THE HOUSE
“All For A Woman” is an unabashedly romantic ballad which slowly builds into a heart-swelling, soaring eagle of a song as singer Mikel Jollett contemplates ‘the muse that inspires the art’ (“It was all, it was all, for the look in her eyes / for the promise, and the lie, of a woman.”)
“It Doesn’t Mean a Thing” is a sweet, heartfelt rockabilly-folk tune for Mikel’s hippie parents, in their youthful innocence, trying to understand life’s mysteries and injustices. - “it was a loneliness they would confess, like the world had gone bad I guess, so they’d hold hands, look into the eyes of God / they’d say, ‘tell me why’d you hide from us, why’d you fill this world with wickedness, why’d you spare us from your grace but not the rod?’”
In “The Kids Are Ready To Die,” Mikel examines the making of a soldier, how society exploits a young person’s pent-up anger and restlessness for the purpose of warfare, turning inner rage outward, and addresses the repercussions - “But the day will come when it falls like a cheap house of plastic / and the cards that were dealt will be tossed like a storm in the sky / ‘cause you can only lie for so long before you get something drastic / and the kids are lined up on the wall, and they’re ready to die.” This song, slowed down from its original fast-paced punk tempo to a somber funeral march, carries enormous gravitas.
Confrontational and explosive, “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” has an exotic feel with a punk rock aesthetic. It recalls the news story of a predator drone accidentally hitting an Afghani wedding, and points out the hypocrisy of U.S. words and actions, combining a Middle Eastern melody with a war march of American aggression and bravado – “It’s another fine day of nation building / Let’s have a parade / You can dance on the graves and the bones of the children / If you know what to say”.
For all the chaotic fury that begins All At Once, the album closes with the quiet fragility of “The Graveyard Near the House”, about sharing one’s life and growing old with someone, fears of loss, commitment, and disconnection (“And it left me to wonder if people will ever know each other or just stumble around like strangers in the dark. 'Cause sometimes you seem so strange to me, I must seem strange to you. We're like two actors playing our parts.”). A perfect marriage of music and lyrics, it features Mikel on acoustic guitar and soft vocals, with Anna’s beautiful harmony, a simple piano melody and viola adding an emotional layer at the end. It’s a beautiful close to an amazing achievement.
My Thoughts - My key criticism of this album is with the production. The trick, now that they have access to a professional studio and a full array of technology, is to know when not to use it. That cavernous big studio sound and liberal use of reverb gives the music an austere feel, and makes the band sound like they’re a great distance away. Sonically, it’s like being at the back of a giant hall, and perhaps it’s to prepare us purists for that very experience, though it’s not one I look forward to. Their performance is passionate; the music is 1,000 times more powerful.
But as a fan, I no longer feel like they’re playing in my living room, and that saddens me. The addition of synthesizers gives the album a distinctly ‘80s feel, and while I’m a fan of those days, it contributes to the austerity. Everything seems a little too perfect, too polished. Playing so much in the past three years, I expect them to sound tight and accomplished, but this is different. For stark contrast, check out their “Bombastic Series” – acoustic, one-shot, one take video clips for each song.
Marketing the Music - For better or for worse, the band is being marketed to a more mainstream audience now. “Changing” and “Numb”, U.S. and UK singles respectively, are very radio-friendly and far more commercial-sounding than anything else on the album. Even the production on the new album is designed to give them a bigger sound, which seems to further ambitions toward stadium-sized success. It’s ironic, then, that the two major rock publications, Rolling Stone and NME, both quickly dismissed the new album, and that the most thoughtful review so far is from fellow blogger Drowned in Sound. Sophisticated songwriting, complex arrangements and weighty subject matter does not make for an easy ride. It’s the sort of music that requires something of the listener beyond passive reception, and not everyone cares to make that commitment. It remains to be seen if mainstream music fans are up to the challenge (I hope they are).
The Airborne Toxic Event Somerville, MA - 9/8/10
photos by rslblog.com's Kira Doucette
The Future - So here I am now, faced with the prospect that my beloved little indie band who could do no wrong is now involved in an increasing number of mainstream trappings, and I must look past all that to focus on the music, and only the music. Never mind slickly-produced videos (“Changing”), appearances on godawful tv shows (“The Daily Habit”), mainstream music fans and “alternative radio” naming them alongside bland manufactured bands, and ill-advised marketing decisions that currently have hardcore fans grumbling about having to buy multiple copies of the new album for various bonus tracks poked individually into each configuration like Easter eggs. I’m preparing myself for their foray into ‘herd-em-in-like-sheep’ stadium shows, and anything else that puts distance between me and my favorite band. If this were anyone other than Airborne, I might have already bolted. But there’s the music, you see.
Those painstakingly crafted little gems that take my breath away with artistically woven melody and poetry. Individually and together, this band has developed over the past few years in a beautiful way. From Daren Taylor’s heart-pounding percussion that drives the music and perfectly punctuates every phrase and nuance, to Noah Harmon’s jazz bass groove, picking up a bow to become half of the band’s makeshift string section. There’s Steven Chen’s minimalist lead guitar heroics, with each melodic line and flourish lingering in the air, and the stunning fragile beauty of Anna Bulbrook’s viola, equally comfortable romping through a Johnny Cash cover. Anna’s ethereal backing vocals as the perfect counterpoint to Mikel’s moody baritone and poetic storytelling. This ragtag gathering of sensibilities and styles combine in a symbiotic way to create sonic magic and cathartic release, elevating their live performances into special events. For all that, I’ll gladly drink the kool-aid.
The Return of the Rock 'n' Roll Rumble - perhaps the best regional battle of the bands in the United States - clearly meant a great deal to the sellout audiences at TT the Bears in Cambridge. It has been two years since the city has last seen the contest run and you could tell by the looks on the faces (and the bar tabs) that Boston and Cambridge were rejoiced to see the annual epic event back on its feet. The evening was won by John Powhida International Airport.
Powhida, who was in the finals some five years ago with his old band, The Rudds, got the job done on Friday night - sealing up the strongest tournament by any band. (OldJack - in this writer's eyes, may have actually had a stronger final night. Spirit Kid were undeniably tighter and tougher to beat in each round and were making strong headway, reminding that what the audience's and judges saw was subjective and much - if not all - was just brilliant.) And in that regard, awarding just one winner is impossibly difficult and truly unfair. But, as they say, there can be only one...
With the win by Powhida and the Airport, the beer-soaked frontman took the crown worn by Jason Dunn of The Luxury - who won the prize in 2009. Powhida's stage mannerisms and strong-front man charisma were keys to victory but so were the inspired play by his band. While the judges votes were tallied, another key Rumble tradition - the special guest band, played for a capacity audience. This year Rumble curator Anngelle Wood tapped The Shods to entertain - and that they did. The Rumble finalists from 1999 helped steer the night's attention, rightfully, from it's battleground setting to a celebration of past, present, and future of the Boston Scene. Mission Accomplished. And for another year, a job well done.
RSL STREAMING PHOTO ALBUM John Powhida International Airport at the '11 Rock 'n' Roll Rumble Finals
If somewhere along the way you lost the ability to recognize pure unadulterated awesomeness, I’d say you should get that checked out. Or start listening to The Kills. Some people just exude coolness, and as far as the rock ‘n’ rollers out there right now, Alison Mosshart is the biggest badass of them all. And Jamie Hince doesn’t hurt the cause either.
The Kills don’t make mind-blowingly inventive music. Their lyrics aren’t going to change your life, their drum kit and electric guitars clearly draw from all the other grungy rock acts that came before them. But listening to Mosshart’s deep and lusty vocals will turn your stomach anyway, and maybe even give you a tickling feeling in the back of your throat that you just can’t shake.
They were at their rawest back in 2003, on their first full length album Keep Your Mean Side On. Tracks like “Black Rooster” and “Fried My Little Brains” define their blues-garage sound, and dance on simplistic. Keyword: Dance, because there remains something inescapably captivating about Mosshart’s crooning on the track “Wait,” hidden near the end of the album. The song pulls their performance together and adds a surprising level of intimacy to a band that otherwise seems so focused on sticking to the basics. On No Wow, the band’s second coming in 2005, The Kills upped the ante. The album is less bare and tracks like “Murdermile” and “Rodeotown” begin to toy with the more electronic and playful sounds found on their next release Midnight Boom.
And, Midnight Boom is a force to be reckoned with. While purists may have been disappointed with the turn away from the barebones raw music of their first two releases, Midnight Boom is a more creative and beat-heavy pursuit. To put it bluntly, this album should make you want to rip all your clothes off and run through the street. In fact, if you can make it through the slow build-up of “Last Day of Magic” without doing so, consider yourself a very controlled individual.
Blood Pressures, The Kills latest album just out this month, has garnered only mediocre reviews. I can’t say the album is their best ever in my eyes, but to write it off isn’t fair either. “DNA, “Damned If She Do” and “Nail In My Coffin” are armed with sharp edges, and “Heart Is A Beating Drum” is pretty damn catchy.
Regardless of how great Mosshart sounds collaborating on The Dead Weather with the only male rocker out there as badass as she is, Jack White, The Kills should not be written off. She has enough badass in her to power two bands at once. You better believe I’ll be at her feet when The Kills bring their energy to the Royale on April 26th, hoping some of her tangible cool can be transmitted through air. Or, ya know, sweat.
The best live set I saw this year unfolded in Austin on St. Patrick's Day. A smoldering, wild, elastic band set delivered by Atlanta's Baby Baby - lingers with me still today. I was delivered on the steps of the Midriff Records / Liberty and Union showcase at Momo's at West 6th with considerable energy in the air. An unbelievable bill awaited: The Beatings, Baby Baby, Louder My Dear, These United States, Dallas Higgins, Eldridge Rodriguez, Kingsley Flood, Greg Lyon and Get Help. (Easily one of the best lineups I saw at the Festival this year.) The room would be completely lifted off its foundation, however when Baby Baby came out to play. By the end of the second song, the back of the room had emptied to the front and passerby had been drawn in from the street.
Seeing Fontez Brooks, Kyle Dobbs, Colin Boddyv and Grant Wallace explode (closest word to describe what I actually saw unfold) on stage was unbelievable. Fontez could be the best front man in Southern Indie Rock and to see him and Kyle cross axes during an exceptionally high-energy, high-kicking set will always remain with me. Grant devastates his drums. The crowd goes wild...
Baby Baby - On the Way Back from Austin, Baby Baby's Van bit the bullet. They have initiated a Kickstarter fan campaign to raise the $2K they need to kick off an East Coast Tour. (I will be bringing them to the Northeast to play some shows if this happens.) There are only five days left to donate. Please do!
Band News:May 21st, Baby Baby releases their new album, Money, which you can get for free by attending the show at the Drunken Unicorn with our old friends from Parachute Musical. The band is working with Director Terence Rushin now on their new music video for the track, "Kidz" (a song that celebrates the efforts of the underdog.) We can't think of a better song to help break this truly stellar live act into the big-time. Don't say we didn't warn you.
RSL Streaming Photo Album Baby Baby at Momo's in Austin - SxSW 2011
WELCOME TO THE LIBRARY - Perhaps the most important thing about being admired on any music scene is to remain a little obscure, a little hard to understand, and a little unpredictable. You need to leave us wondering about where you’re really coming from, and what might be next. Michael J. Epstein sits at the very center of our scene because he has done all of these things very well indeed. All this doesn’t even allow for how prolific he is, and – oh yeah – it’s worth mentioning that the music is really good too.
EPSTEIN IS A MASTERMIND - The twists and turns of his different musical projects show really well what I mean about being unpredictable. After the more digestible rock of “The Motion Sick,” he joined “Neutral Uke Hotel,” helping to give us a whole new spin in the seminal 90’s band of a very similar name. Then there is his work with his wife Sophia Cacciola (also of MJEML) on the art-rock, ‘no-wave’ band “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” (thrashing, howling art-punk rock that just won them all the way to the Rumble Semi-Finals), before we arrive at his other current group, the strangely titled – in fact strange all round – project called “The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library.”
The Library's Debut looks an Awful Lot like a Book
VOLUME ONE - This last is perhaps his most odd group to date. Founded only last summer, after Epstein went searching for collaborators on craigslist, this nine piece band are about to release their debut, called “Volume One” (the least surprising part of the project), on May 10th. They have a perfectly crafted image of library themed shots of the band, and a website which proudly states that we should “please bear with our electronic card catalog system while we complete our upcoming downgrade to a physical card catalog.”
I suppose the risk with this kind of image building is that it could obscure the music that the project has to ultimately be about. I was relieved to discover then, that “Volume One” is full of really well produced, soft-spoken music. It’s an album that gently pulls you in until you find that you’ve been listening to it for hours. Even the darker songs, like their cover of The Bad Seeds “The Weeping Song,” are reformed into the bands gentle tones.
I have only recently finally met Epstein, having seen him pass through many, many shows around the city that I’ve been at over the last few years. It’s no surprise that he knows very well what’s going on around Boston – in one form or another he’s been involved in much of these developments. Not only has he been involved in at least four big bands over the last few years, but he and Cacciola also were among the founders, in '08, of the excellent Boston Band Crush blog.
All these worthy contextual extras help to provide a definite creative heft to all of Epstein and Cacciola's work. And it's certainly audible again here with the Memorial Library project. Skilled musicians, often friends have gravitated to working with this New England music power couple and the results speak for themselves.
Perhaps the most fun part of listening to any of Epstein’s musical work, is wondering what-on-Earth he’s going to dream up next! The Memorial Library will be playing with Neutral Uke Hotel and Golden Bloom on April 20th, and then heading out on six more tour stops after that.
MICHAEL J EPSTEIN MEMORIAL LIBRARY TOUR with NEUTRAL UKE HOTEL and GOLDEN BLOOM
Reminiscing about her childhood fascination with drums and all-things percussion... "Finding out a band like Granchildren exists sure does satisfy my inner 10-year-old's need for banging on things."
Thoughts from Photographer Emma Dessau:
"O'Death are the perfect hybrid of punk rock energy and old school backwoods bluegrass spirit. With with their electric fiddles, thumping bass and banjo - They can take a crowd from polite listening to moshing, all in a matter of seconds!"
Viral Videois a periodic series we run celebrating music and moving images. Today we introduce you to Path of Blood. An entirely gruesome but paper world where one man's deadly blade is all that separates him from meeting his maker. This is the work of Eric Power, the man behind ericpowerup, and the creator of the new music video for Black and White Years, Cold. We like what this guy is doing, both creatively, stylistically and (of course) how he is incorporating music into his work...
THE SONG OF THE SWORD - The soundtrack for Path of Blood, for instance, is original work from another Austin band, Many Birthdays. What's next for ericpowerup? The director waxes online that he would like to do a full-length Path of Blood piece that would develop characters and plot. That is something we would very much like to see...
Night 3 Winners John Powhida International Airport performed another wicked night of artistic pop rock and character-filled rock banter on the last night of the 2011 Rumble Semi-Finals last Friday. Taking home the victory, which assures them a final three spot in the Rumble Finals on 4/22 * (RSVP + BUY TICKETS), the band were forced to defeat some tough competition. Black Thai (Wildcard) Walter Sickert, Old Jack (Wildcard advancing with the exit of Night 1 Winner Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents) each played very strong sets. Each will likely be considered for the Finals Night Wildcard spot - to be announced live on-air on Boston Emissions (WZLX radio) tonight at 10. (A special guest band playing the Rumble Finals - this Friday, will be announced by host Anngelle Wood tonight.)
RSL STREAMING PHOTO ALBUM Rock 'n' Roll Rumble Semi-Finals at TT the Bears
This was a double-counting kind of night for the judges, which reflected what was transpiring up on stage. Powhida and the band were wild, soulful and sharp -- indeed one of the best bands that have come to my ears this year. They have already won a tournament of their own - if you will, but the Rumble still isn't finished. So much more is yet to come this upcoming Friday. Rock History is in the making. Phenomenal stuff!
This is a story about music and song that carries message. For the last ten years, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam has earned his place as one of the finest contemporary storytellers in music. Much of that truly profound audience love came after touring behind, The Shepherd's Dog - an album which became firmly locked in the hearts and mind of critics and fans some three years ago when it was released. The release of that record marked a clear turning point for Beam.
Prior to that his efforts had certainly been beautiful but much more sparse in their arrangements. In other words, if you let him into your heart - you were his. But with The Shepherd's Dog, he came calling on fans to listen. The sounds and experiences were more round and encompassing - and his reach, all the more textural, deep and powerful. This is the path that Iron & Wine walks today.
Beam is playing with a full band in support of his new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard Charts in January. As the band makes their way around the country - from venue to venue, from festival to festival, the legend grows. This is a highly recommended tour for you to catch. It's what's happening right now:
LIVE REVIEW - We’ll see if tonight’s semi-final matchup proves to have as memorable a finish as the show last night. We can at least console ourselves that the Rumble is not turning out to be a dull event in which the victories are predictable. Let me begin by making very clear that all four bands (Spirit Kid, who were the Night 3 wildcard, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Sidewalk Driver and Mellow Bravo) each have already proven their skill in front of audiences this past week. We can all be proud here in Boston by what the audience witnessed on Friday night.
Wild card entry Spirit Kid’s opening performance was extremely solid and to some it was their best performance of the Rumble. They warmed up the crowd with a series of airy 60s pop songs that had even some still sober audience members shuffling their feet.
Though Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling performed better last night even than in their first round victory, a band as experimental as they were always going to find it difficult to compete in a show like this. They have soared throughout though, and on Thursday they managed to seize audiences with a mesmerizing set.
Putting my own preference for the simple, driving elements of the excellent DNFOMD to one side then, it looked like it would be a close run thing between the sensory extravaganza of Sidewalk Driver (lasers, confetti, outfits to put Elton John to shame), and the massive, blasting, whirling rave of the members of Mello Bravo.
So universal seemed the consensus that I made a serious error, and started to think about how I could write this piece right after the show had finished. It was sure to be a close thing I felt, since these two of the four bands in particular had blown the roof off with their performances.
SYMBOLIC MOMENT EARLY - In an moment that was telling, to someone as obsessed with the symbolic as me, during the Do Not Forsake Me set a single piece of the confetti that had exploded out of Sidewalk Driver’s singer Tad McKitterick’s top hat earlier (yes, you read that right) drifted slowly back to the ground. Despite Sophia’s vicious vocals, and Michael’s wall of industrial bass tone, Sidewalk Driver’s presence on stage was still felt and, I thought to myself, they had taken the night.
The Sparks (and the Confetti) Flew
But then Mellow Bravo arrived, and everything seemed in doubt again. It was hard to deny that they had the most fun on stage, and it was infectious. It felt like the audience was with them, and their crowd-surfing front man, who had played on the roof of his car during the band’s first round set, still seemed like the most intriguingly unpredictable performer of the night. Between songs he saw someone he knew from his day job in the audience, and shouted “You! I know you! I’m the guy you speak to at the library!,” demonstrating an almost lackadaisical obliviousness to the pressure of the event.
In my mind it was a real two-horse race then, and based on the buzz in the crowd I was not alone. We settled in to see which of these bands we would see at next week’s final showdown. After some thank you’s and promotion of Friday’s second semi-final, Rumble organizer Anngelle Wood (who has done an absolutely brilliant job resurrecting the rumble and acting as emcee) announced the Judges’ decision: Spirit Kid.
Spirit Kid played very well and were worthy of praise. But it was at that moment when the announcement was made, the room - for a time - seemed disheartened. The instant after SK's name was read the realization of what had unexpectedly come to pass washed over the room. Much of the room was left to wonder if the judges had just seen the same program unfold that they had.