Review: Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful

Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful is available July 31, 2012

Country and folk music is beloved in America as much for the storytelling as the music. These accounts of folk heroes, lost loves, and miraculous events fashioned the oral storybooks along the branches of family and community trees. These days, tall tales and epics seem few and far between – fighting a constant battle against apathy and cynicism. However, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of the band Shovels & Rope remind us all that there is still some down home magic if you’re willing to go along for the ride. The duo formed in Charleston, S.C., in 2010 and performs harmony steered songs while playing guitars, a snare drum, some tambourines, and a harmonica. They share the fervent passion of a preacher at a tent revival with the pluckiness of a snake oil salesman zigzagging across the country in their van that doubles as their sleeping quarters.

O’ Be Joyful, rocks and roars between traditional Southern themes and taxing toils fought between themselves and against all odds. The song “Birmingham” recounts the story of Hearst and Trent founding the band after meeting one night in Athens, GA, nearly splitting up along the BQE, traversing through the country trying to carve out a living, to their eventual ascendency.

“Made a little money playing in the bars,
with two beat up drums and two old guitars.
From the Crescent City to the Great Salt Lake,
it ain’t what you got, it’s what you make.”

Take a listen to “Birmingham”

Hearst and Trent both handle vocal duties, but Hearst is the real star as her voice rustles with a whiskey-soaked confidence.  And much like a star or sun, the rest of the sounds, slams, strings, and songs satellite around her spinning in perfect synchronicity. Take a listen to the title track, as Hearst’s sweet and sour vocals take charge.

Title track: O’ Be Joyful

Shovels & Rope are legacy performers, one more rung on a ladder of success stories reared in the Southern condition. Their sound has dents and wobbles and bruises but also a resiliency able to rebound from any impediment. This album is the love child of being backed into a corner and coming out swinging.

Trailer for upcoming Shovels & Rope Trailer documentary

Shovels & Rope will be performing at Mercury Lounge on Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: Junk Culture – Wild Quiet

Junk Culture – Wild Quiet is available July 31, 2012

Deepak Mantena is releasing his first LP, Wild Quiet, and yet he expects us to believe that he is the entirety of the band Junk Culture. Considering how much talent is showcased on this album between the lyrics, vocals, and instrumentals I’m waiting for Mr. Mantena to let us all in on an elaborate inside joke.

On their two previous EPs, Junk Culture did not resemble what it is today. Those albums are heavily sampled and coincide with a period when Junk Culture was touring with fellow label-mate, Girl Talk.

“Some of my older stuff could be a little cold so I wanted to change that up and introduce some warmer, rawer elements to the sound.”  Source

This album delivers on that promise. The overall theme of this album is the connection between the beginning of one’s life versus the end. You don’t need to be Joseph Campbell to see that tracks entitled “Dwell”, “Ceremony”, “Growing Pains”, and “Young Love” dive into these eternal life cycles.

Wild Quiet reminds us that as children we can’t fully comprehend our own mortality. Combine that inability with the fact that we have our entire future unwritten and we feel invincible. The song “Ceremony” places us in the perspective of someone who has just lost someone to their mortal inevitability.

“I see you lying there, your body’s not moving at all.
Shake shake shake shake shake your arms – I want you to wake up.
Shoes off to enter your room, tubes are swirling around your neck.
Remember the way that you were, I want you to be you.”

When we first feel pain and rejection from life we create powerful memories that we look back on as we age. Mantena channels that pain into songs that seem like he walked out of an 8th grade classroom yesterday. That is not to say his lyrics are juvenile or insignificant, but rather so fresh and unsullied by the bitterness of age that they resonate with the listener almost immediately.

The song “Oregon” is about that moment in our lives when we start to make our own decisions, no longer led by our parents or educational environment. However, Mantena playfully adds a caveat to this freedom, reminding us that we always have some attachment or preconceived tenet pulling at us.

“She said that I think it’s time to move to Oregon.
I know, I know, I know, I know I’m not free.”

Take a listen to “Oregon”

Retracing our steps to figure out just how we got here is part of the human journey. After listening to the entire album, I’m glad my journey intersected with Deepak Mantena.

Review: Ice Choir – Afar

Ice Choir – Afar is available July 31, 2012

With a last name like Feldman, maybe it’s simple destiny to play music gushing with the 1980’s. Kurt Feldman’s newest project is Ice Choir and today marks the release of the debut album Afar. After listening to this album, I believe Kurt Feldman’s whole existence should be questioned. What do we really know about Mr. Feldman? Do we have proof he was born on earth and not in the fever dreams of a programmer for the popular video game franchise Final Fantasy?

Afar is an appropriate title – the longer you listen, the farther and farther you sail away from the present in both time and space. Unfortunately, I can already hear people complaining about how the album is a simple dedication to 1980’s synth pop, perhaps even bordering on parody. However, my counter argument is why penalize someone for doing something so expertly? Especially when you listen to past Feldman projects like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart which sound nothing like this latest incarnation. The album does not include any songs one would consider to be breaking new barriers and even Feldman’s voice mimics those who came before him. My advice is to not over-analyze, but rather to enjoy the album for what it is trying to accomplish. In a recent interview, Feldman offers an explanation:

“It’s electronic but it doesn’t really sound like contemporary music. And I’m sure people are going to be turned off by that, but I don’t really care. I just make music that I would like to listen to. And a lot of it happens to be kind of an homage to the stuff that I love from eras that I appreciate. A lot of those guys I think criminally never really made a living, but I think they’re really worth listening to. If this record inspires to dig into my influences or discover any of that, then I feel like I did a good job, maybe.”
Source

For example, the track “Bounding” conjures up visions of flying through the skies on the back of Falcor to save Fantasia from The Nothing. The track “Two Rings”, the album’s first single, slathers itself in cosmic imagery and pseudo-modern mechanics:

“I had found you like a monolith,
five speeds to my exhaust.
Tearing through the moonlit desert salts,
obsidian-eyed and lost.”

Take a listen to “Two Rings”

This album is a battle between nostalgia and appreciation where the victor may win by sheer attrition. I think most will come away impressed with what Feldman has accomplished: an album that sounds so perfectly tuned to an era that seems so far away.

You can catch the record release party for Ice Choir’s Afar, tonight at Tribeca Grand.
To attend, simply RSVP by emailing events@grandlife.com

Ice Choir will also be performing at The Maze in Brooklyn on August 2, 2012.

MIX TAPE – Weekend of July 27-29, 2012

Enjoy the weekend! The NYMN crew will be at Catalpa getting video, interviews, photos, and sunburn. Click the photos to hear the songs!

Today is the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics. A time where we come together as a nation to care about sports you couldn’t have paid us to watch between now and the last Olympics.
I’m excited to see the U.S. Woman’s Soccer team because I have crushes on half the team, especially Hope Solo and Alex Morgan.
Never underestimate the power of women. Bruce Jenner was considered the greatest athlete on earth after his gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics. He becomes a Kardashian and look at him now. Don’t take away his canoe, Kris! (@sklarbrothers)
Table tennis is an Olympic sport, but baseball is not. That’s like having foosball as an Olympic sport, but not soccer.
In the 1900 Olympics, they had live pigeon shooting as an event. “Actually, the worst job I ever had was a janitor at the Olympics. Clean-up after some of those competitions was terrible.”
Also in 1900, Ballooning was an Olympic sport. The first person around the world in 80 days was awarded the gold medal.
A competition called “surf lifesaving” was once a demonstration sport. Basically, lifeguards were Olympic athletes. My favorite event was Fastest Whistle Twirl Around Finger.
In 1912, Glima (Icelandic folk wrestling) was an event. Even I’m not bored enough to try and explain this sport, but there is a belt involved.
Roller hockey was a demonstration sport in 1992. This was directly related to the popularity of The Mighty Ducks movies.
Croquet was played once in the Summer Olympics. I demand we bring back croquet! I am so good at it and I should be an Olympian.

I have a beard right now…unlike Tom Cruise.

new beardI mention this because I want to get any and all possible conflicts of interest out in the open. I have a new beard and I’m listening to the new album New Beard City by New Beard. I’m one of those people that IMDbs a movie after watching it because I love knowing odd facts and reading about anecdotes about filming or problems with casting. There is nothing more exhilarating than dropping a rando movie factoid on some unsuspecting fool’s dome

-“Harvey Korman is so freaking hilarious in Blazing Saddles.”

“Did you know his final live-action film was The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas?”

-“You disgust me.”

So before reviewing New Beard City, I did some research and read this blurb from their record studio: “Combining catchy songs with brilliant production and orchestration, people have compared it to Of Montreal, Belle and Sebastian, Ween, and Tool.”

Comparing bands to other bands is tricky business and often terribly inaccurate (except when I do it). Of Montreal screams zany hijinks and a sparkly flair. Belle and Sebastian conjures up female house cats named after persecuted woman from Herstory or pagan goddesses, cruelty-free teas, and spiral notebooks bursting with a prep school girl’s secrets. Ween translates into rowdy mixed with a booger eating contest. And Tool is a go-to band used for comparison by unimaginative people who are basically trying to say if you don’t like this then you’re the idiot, not us (and who incidentally don’t like Tool, but know they should). Also, I was a bit surprised they didn’t include Polyphonic Spree, Flaming Lips, or Ben Folds after giving it a listen. Those bands would have been just as accurately incorrect.

I fully agree with the catchy songs with brilliant production and orchestration part. I could see Brain Wilson getting out of bed to listen to this album. If anything this band reminds me of Sufjan Stevens, as a multi-tiered expression that seems to pull instruments out of thin air, but not without purpose. There isn’t sound or noise for the sake of bragging.

“Hey everyone, look at how talented we are! We used a shakukachi which is a traditional Japanese end-blown flute. Suck it, Arcade Fire with your overplayed hurdy-gurdy and glockenspiel!”

Or I could easily compare them to the Swedish band Dungen, which is convenient considering Gustav Ejstes, who happens to write all the music for the Swedish band Dungen, helped produce the album.

This album is a Dagwood sandwich. It is piled high to the sky and you’re shocked it can all fit within two pieces of bread. There are highlights on this album which will vary by taste and musical preference. “My People are Around” had me literally clapping along with the song during the middle of it as my head bobbing simply wasn’t getting the job done. “Arizona Angels” has a beauty not unlike the gleefully desperate topiaries in Edward Scissorhands as there is a painfulness reflected back to you the listener. You should like this album, but I can see where some might say it’s too scatterbrained. I love albums where expert vocal harmonizing and impeccable musicianship are obvious to even the causal music fan. This album bounces between the coordination of chamber pop to a jazzy bounciness that makes it as unique as the array of instruments used from song to song. Ending the album with the charming “Lord of Japan”, sung in Japanese mind you, is your fortune cookie at the end of this audio meal. Domo arigato, New Beard.

Getting Ready!

 It must be nice to get a seal of approval from David Byrne. And that’s just what happened with the song “Uncanny” from the self-titled EP from People Get Ready. Having listened to the EP, I feel confident why he picked this band and is recommending them to the masses. It may have something to do with his connection to Steven Reker, who is both a member of People Get Ready as well as one of Byrne’s touring dancer/guitarists. But I would wager it has more to do with Byrne’s appreciation of music as more than just notes, beats, and words. This is dance music, but not the kind of dance involving apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur. This is dance music requires the New York Times to describe because my words would be in comparison a baby in a high chair with a bowl of spaghetti dumped on their head.

“People Get Ready” is an experience beyond hearing music in a club or viewing a dance; it is a moving meditation that suggests dreams — each song is a miniperformance — that then dissipate. While they’re sweet, taken individually, they’re not all that lasting. Mr. Reker’s music shifts from shimmering to galvanic with little effort.

Song-and-Dance Man Shows His Two Sides

The music they played the night was a performance piece named after his band and not the actual songs on their EP. But that’s the culture of this band. Music is one portion of their delivery which also includes lights, movements, and dancing, which makes a review of their album daunting and possibly incomplete.

The four track EP is skillfully composed and has that stark yet experimental tone you imagine someone like David Byrne or Phillip Glass would gravitate towards. Of course, I then see that the band played in a live adaptation of Phillip Glass’ Einstein on The Beach with the help of my good friend, The Internet.

The first track “Uncanny” is the band. It is stark. It is haunting. It is emotional without being able to assign it an emotion. It is a syllable stretching, vocally driven song that sounds like it should instantly transform your listening environment to a cloudy and cold beach where the sand and the sky are almost the same color.

“Disappear”, the second track on the EP, is more frenetic and paced like skipping rope. It adds some levity to the album which can be dominated by an almost joyful melancholy. The remaining songs “Cathedral” and “Side Saddle” close out the album admirably with a playfully trailing musical scale at the end of “Side Saddle”.

I look forward to seeing the final product of a full-length album. I only wonder will a Get Ready People performance become less a concert and more a performance piece.

DZ Deathrays, Bloodstreams

There was a primal urge in my past which grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and chucked me across the room to detonate music at inaudible levels, assault walls, and function like I had a bulky bush of pubes that made Robin Williams’ arms look like the victim of a Nair attack. Those days of pent up aggression are gone, but some people never tame that silverback that lives in the dark recesses of their brain and occasionally needs to wreck shop. My ears are softer now; less rutting stag, more wobbly kneed fawn. Blame Bon Iver. Blame Belle & Sebastian. Hell, blame microbreweries which have me believing that trading in my 12 pack of Bud Light and Zeppelin for a growler of a locally brewed Double Reverse

Bavarian-Style Copper IPA purchased at the corner Co-op paired with some St. Vincent is part of growing up. For those who never lost their Zeppelin ears, DZ Deathrays is here and they brought model airplane glue and whippets.
When I went to high school, my teachers would always comment on having previously taught one of my siblings in his or her class. It didn’t bother me as much as it did some other kids, but I knew why it would. No one likes to be typecast – especially as something they are not. When you have a two person band like DZ Deathrays (Shane Parsons on guitar/lead vocals and Simon Ridley on drums) you’re going to be compared to other famous duo bands, chiefly The White Stripes, The Black Keys and in this band’s case – Death From Above. The real question isn’t: Which band we should compare them too, but rather Why can’t we let them be themselves? I took a break from listening to the album and looked up DZ Deathrays on Youtube to try and find some live or studio performances. Watch this:

No masks, no smoke, no lights. Just two Aussies pounding our rock and roll in a setting that looks like it’s just for them.
 I listened to Bloodstreams and liked the deeper cuts more than those you would identify as potential singles. “Dollar Chills” is very listenable which is why the record company is pushing it as a single. My perfect description of the song is: “Likely to be heard on an X Games commercial”. The song “Gebbie Street”, which was the favorite song on the album by the reviewer at Pitchfork, was another song which I think could be a crossover hit. Personally, I found it to be one of the more mainstream tracks on the album. If you like this band or this style of music I think you would prefer tracks like “L.A. Lightning” which gives drummer Ridley more of a chance to compete with the shrieking guitar and ricocheted distortion created by Parson. “Dumb it Down” shows a unique range of talent to make a song that is on the verge of explosion yet teases you like a faulty firework. There is a lot of promise here and these guys are in the early stages of band gestation. This is a good debut album, but its missing focus. This band needs a visit to the ophthalmologist. I would rather see DZ Deathrays live than listen to their album because that’s their essence. They are a self-described garage band…and that’s not a bad thing.

Shonen Knife talks to New York Music News @ The Bell House | 少年ナイフのインタビュー

Shonen Knife talks to New York Music News before they take stage at The Bell House In Brooklyn New York, USA.  | 少年ナイフのインタビュー | ニューヨークの音楽ニュースに少年ナイフの話はブルックリン、ニューヨーク、米国ではベルハウスでステージを取る前に