Lavender Diamond’s new single “Light My Way” could be described as what happens when you make dreamy electronic pop for adults who also like folk music.
Frontwoman Becky Stark is often compared to Linda Ronstadt and Karen Carpenter, but her music, over time, has become less and less “retro.”
Her voice is reminiscent of those artists, but a more apt comparison is Vashti Bunyan. Her voice has a similar airiness to it, and a similar edge to it that suggests an awareness of the stark reality under all the preciousness. She sounds less quirky and fey than many comparable singers, and she gives you the impression that she’s doing it all effortlessly.
On “Light My Way,” her thin vocals are mixed with a heavy and clear-sounding electronic arrangement. The contrast shouldn’t work, but it does. David Fridmann’s production sounds cleaner than you might expect from the man who showed MGMT how to use distortion, but he manages to make bassy blips sound organic and trebly twinkles sound strident in a way that serves the song very well.
Laura Davis’ music video features Stark dancing in a California industrial park. It doesn’t look like a typical California scene- there are no city lights or desert mountains. It looks a bit more like a Brooklyn-made music videos, many of which also often feature industrial landscapes and dance recitals by lonely girls in dresses. But it looks nothing like a Brooklyn video; the night sky in New York never has that hue, and the cute girl hopping around alone in this video looks neither painfully shy nor manic. Stark looks as comfortable with her image as she is with her idiosyncratic sound.
This review for Mean Creek’s single, “Come On, Before It’s Gone,” will be the first music I’ve ever reviewed on any type of official forum. So lucky for them, I like it. Because I have a seven week old baby at home and don’t have time for shitty music.
It starts nice and fuzzy with harmonies kicking in that sound like mint chocolate chip ice cream to the ears – sweet and cool. Mean Creek sounds similar to Yuck, what with the bendy string notes. But that’s okay, because I happen to like Yuck. I could describe both bands as 90’s alternative revival, and that’s cool
The term “shoegaze” comes to mind. But despite the distortion and ambience, this song feels shiny due to the positive slant of the chorus. Sorta like you’re gazing down at a new pair of chucks that you wish had a little more dirt on them. Still pretty comfy, though.
There hardly seems a better spirit guide to shepherd a drunken vision quest than Jim Morrison. Channeling the spirit of the Lizard King and participating in alcohol steered benders facilitates interesting encounters and hopefully uninhibited writing. This gonzo-lyricism was the genesis for Observator, the new album from The Raveonettes. Bandmates Sun Rose Wagner (who you might have met stumbling around L.A. on said bender) and Sharin Foo bring Wagner’s reality and fantasy to life through songs blurred by intoxicants and re-examined by depression. An album written in between blackouts and lucidity, Observator furthers The Raveonettes’ reputation of creating “dreamy” music.
“It’s ironic that I traveled so far to seek out ghosts from rock ‘n’ roll’s past when in actual fact, it was the vibrant living souls of today that I needed most. After the boredom of Venice Beach, I hailed a cab bound for the excitement of Hollywood. I ended up spending the next four days in a Benzo trance, drinking, eating, talking and soaking up the real lives of the people I encountered. It’s always been this way- I get a lot of my ideas when I’m out. I get drunk and have moments of lucidity where I scribble down notes and thoughts. The next day, I’ll start channeling the thoughts I had the previous night. I once read that Lars Von Trier writes his films in a similar kind of way. He goes home, gets super drunk and then he starts writing and all his inhibitions disappear. That’s sort of always worked for me too but this time, I had to go the long way round to remember that.”
There is of course the obvious problem of doing any creative work while on mind-altering substances: Is it any good? The most profound ideas are later realized as banal observations when the drugs wear off. But Wagner was on to something, stumbling over truths and eschewing the first impressions that so many of us make.
I wanna know her, I wanna ask her, I wanna know where she did go wrong.
Is it Valium, is it all drugs? Or is it just every day fun?
“She Owns the Streets” was written in 20 minutes after Wagner’s conversations with a woman who streetdances down on the Bowery; her knowing she must be perceived as either crazy or on drugs, while she views herself as an artist. There isn’t pity, but rather a tragic admiration for this woman, who doesn’t live her life based on what is and isn’t socially acceptable.
“The Enemy”, sung by Foo, is a confession of duplicity veiled in apologetic tones. On this track, Foo’s vocals are feathery, floating faintly atop the music.
If I could be a professional in any endeavor in life, it would be as an uncle. I’m the youngest of six and due to my parents’ lack of rhythm when it came to the rhythm method, I was our family’s “little miracle”. This result of poor planning by Mom and Pops meant that by age 7, I became an uncle for the first time. I now have 13 nieces and nephews and I treat them all like co-stars in my personal version of Jackass. With me, they guzzle sugar an hour before their bedtime, spin down hills until they puke, learn new and interesting swear words, and leap off couches into giant pillow forts constructed moments earlier. I do this not because I don’t love them, but because of how much I love them. My brothers and sisters, the same people who dared me to jump off the roof and told me if I kept my finger in my belly button for an entire day I would gain the power of flight, expect me to teach their kids to how to be kids. I’ll never impart great wisdom to them in a paternal sense. There won’t be any “dining room table talks”, where my dad would sit me down to discuss life’s big milestones like colleges and careers. But I can let them know that you work hard so you can play hard, you don’t have to follow all the rules, and just because something is stupid doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
And if I were to be made a professional uncle, I would declare The Sheepdogs to be music’s uncle. We at NYMN have met the guys and watched them live. You can watch our interview with The Sheepdogs for a taste of how much they rock and how they seem like genuinely nice guys…which they are. Are they long hairs who wear tight jeans and make the ladies scream? Damn straight. And God bless them for all they do. They’re throwbacks – like Coors Banquet beer, straight razors, and ratchet sets. But just like those seemingly archaic devices, they do the job better than their modern counterparts and are putting the musical landscape on notice. By eschewing current trends, they’re accomplishing what the bands our uncles and our uncles before them achieved in an era before a laptop was an instrument. This music is blunt and rowdy and puts a scowl on your face. They may be sheepdogs, but I see four gamecocks – spending their early mornings rousing us from bed and their night-times fighting for their lives with file-sharpened claws and metal spurs.
These Saskatoon serenaders show all sides of the Loonie on this album. The first track, “Laid Back” is a Southern sing-along which sets in perfect motion an album that reminds you of the all the reasons why you first fell in love with the Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard, and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Uncles are great at teaching life lessons. Your uncle teaches you how to open a beer with your belt buckle or how to shoot a BB gun. He’ll also never let you win, because what good will that do? Want to learn a lesson? Have your ass handed to you while trying your best. In their music video for “The Way It Is”, we see the boys beating the snot out of some youngsters born into an era of kids playing games where refs don’t keep score and everyone is a winner.
The Sheepdogs also includes an acoustic song “Javelina!” to allow the boys to do some on-site exploration and later share earnest harmonies on the track “Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?”. This is an album that is classically fresh with nostalgia built on a single listen. A novel experience, yet comfortingly familiar – aural déjà vu.
The guys start their first coast to coast U.S. headline tour on September 16th and will be playing the Bowery Ballroom on September 22nd. They will also be playing several shows with Buffalo Killers, who NYMN profiled last month. Check out our interview with Buffalo Killers here.
If Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is present in your world, I imagine you fall into one of two categories: the person who is begging your friends to listen to their albums or the friend being pestered by an APHG über-fan. I have been both these individuals so I know how annoying it can be to fend off Ariel Pink army members and later enlisting and serving multiple tours of duty. With the release of Mature Themes, expect both sides to replenish their forces with a multitude of new troops added to the ongoing battle.
It is hard not to talk about the band’s last album Before Today in this review. That album established the band as leaders of scatterbrained pop and had singles that shone independent from the album. In fact, the song “Round and Round” was named the 2010 Track Of The Year by Pitchfork. Needless to say, Mature Themes has a foaming sea of hype, hysteria, and haters anticipating it’s release. And while some might sight Before Today as the band’s most accessible album, Mature Themes is the band’s most complete album. What else would you expect from a band who deconstructs and rebuilds pop songs like a frenzied auto mechanic and then closes the album with a cover version of a silky soul song you’ve most likely never heard? Tracks on this album show the diversity of a city farmer’s market. Like a guest at a giddy get-together with people playing Twister, you will later find yourself at a poetry reading in a independent bookstore. “Only In My Dreams” is both classic and present-day APHG. The song’s lyrics are straight out of a Pop 101 textbook and yet performed with such expert musicianship, you feel like both the band and you are in on the joke.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti will be playing at Webster Hall on September 14th. Mature Themes (4AD) is available today for purchase.
People must have thought I was colorblind as a kid. When I first started dressing myself, I basically put on the first thing that my hand touched in my dresser. Part of this was from wearing a uniform for school and not really understanding the concept of dressing socially. The flip side was that I was a little kid who just wanted to play. Little kids forget to wear coats when its cold outside and own ties that clip on. They also laugh when a dog enters the room and farts. The amazing thing about that dog’s fart is your dad laughed too despite the fact that he was a “grownup”. You’re never truly a grownup, unless your an asshole. We still have that part of our brain that makes us laugh at corny jokes or puns and get excited by fireworks. Occasionally, we need a reminder that behind our laptops and lattes, we’re still little kids who like to chase after the ice cream truck. Our friends in Apache Dropout are behind the wheel of that ice cream truck, speeding through your neighborhood and blasting an airhorn in their second album Bubblegum Graveyard.
This follow-up album to last year’s self-titled work, is the result of three grown men who still get a tinge of excitement around fires and a rush when sneaking candy into a movie theater. Sonny Alexander’s vocals are sung with the capricious confidence of a naive teenager beset by the occasional pubescent voice cracks. The unworldliness of teens was exemplified in the Archie comics, which make for a perfect subject on the opening track of Bubblegum Graveyard, “Archie’s Army”:
This is a punk album, but with a playful expression. Even a song about showing someone how to rob a bank seems more like a harebrained scheme as the only direction is really “Stick ’em up!”. I half expect ants to start marching towards your speakers as sucrose spills out through each song. Much like a bag of Skittles or a roll of Sweettarts there is no nutritional value to Bubblegum Graveyard, but you’ll definitely enjoy the sugar rush.
Bubblegum Graveyard (Trouble In Mind Records) is available now.
The NYMN Investigative Team is known for hard hitting journalism that cuts through the bull pucky and gets to the heart of the story. We try not to get into politics because we believe music is our democracy. However, we’ve uncovered that even musicians like Matthew Dingee, of the band Lorelei, have been part of the political machine for so long that they no longer see themselves as what they have become: a Beltway Boy. Maybe we’re over-reacting? Maybe we watched The Manchurian Candidate too recently. But what we do know is that this group took an 18 year break between full length albums and are releasing Enterprising Sidewalks today. What were they doing in those years? No one knows. What we do know is the same week they decide to come out with a new album, a new movie with a new lead actor in the Jason Bourne saga is released. Are these simply “coincidences” or have we uncovered something that goes all the way to the Governator?
NYMN: This is Lorelei’s first full length album since 1994. Back then, I stored all my CDs in a Case Logic binder and displayed my jewel cases like trophies on a CD rack I purchased at Pier 1. The way I consume music has completely changed. When I talk to my nephew about a life lived pre-iPods, he laughs at me. Were there advantages to being a musician in a pre-internet, pre-iTunes world?
Matthew Dingee: We could sneak up on you! I suspect more folks came out to our shows in the past having not heard our music as it was harder to get a hold of. That could work in our favor in that we could potentially surprise folks. Now it’s a lot easier to stream or download a snippet of our music and make a quick decision to go out, or not, to a show. Thus now when we headline it sometimes feels like we are preaching to the converted. We have a tiny, devoted fan base for which we are eternally grateful. But it’s more difficult to reach the potential audience who might be on the fence when deciding to spend their finite entertainment dollar on a bunch of old guys like us.
NYMN: Also, how have you evolved since those days when we were all glued to the TV to see what the Taylor Family was up to on Home Improvement?
We’re better at keeping our mouths shut. Sometimes.
NYMN: Also back in 1994 it seemed like most bands had four or five members – your standard lineup of lead guitar, possibly rhythm guitar, possibly keys, bass, and drums. The trend nowadays is bands either have two or three people or a stage full of people playing multiple instruments. Were you ahead of the curve when you went from five to three members in Lorelei?
It didn’t happen by any particular design. Trends tend to come and go. I concur though that there seem to be more two member bands than ever before. I suspect Nord Express to have been the catalyst.
NYMN: And if you can predict the future what can you tell us about the possible Mayan apocalypse in December?
The end is extremely fucking nigh. But it’s only just begun.
NYMN: I’m always interested in reading band bios provided by their record company. Your record company describes your albums as “subtle” which according to the definition you choose can mean different things. It can mean delicate, elusive, refined, expert, perceptive, or even obscure. All that being said, is Enterprising Sidewalks subtle?
I’d like to think it fits that description, but having had a hand in creating it I’m less optimistic. Someone tweeted this Robert Hughes quote the other day: “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”
That’s probably the height of arrogance to quote. To be clear I don’t consider myself a great artist. However, I do have a healthy amount of doubt regarding how the tracks will be perceived. That’s probably also tied to my strong desire to always be creating the next track. I suffer from wanderlust. In other words, I’m the wrong person to ask.
NYMN: When you go into the studio and you have an idea for a song is it this little acorn of an idea that grows and grows when you all start playing together or is it this large, hulking tree that you have to prune back and shape into something that isn’t overgrown?
Well, we usually create together and play the songs out to an audience and then make subtle refinements before we go into the studio to record. For this record we created 5 songs quickly between October 2006 when I returned to DC from the SF Bay area. We played a show or two, and then recorded the basic tracks in a studio in NYC in December 2006. Then we worked on overdubs for awhile on those tracks (6 months to a year). Then we wrote 6 more songs, recorded those in DC, and again went through a long period of time of slowly building up the tracks. Despite the length of time we were actually pretty restrained in what we added. During that time Stephen and I both went thru some massive life changes. We both got married, had children, and Stephen moved to Philadelphia. All that kept us from dwelling on the tracks and gave us a new perspective each time we returned to them.
But, yes, we grow the tree. Quickly at first, then slowly adding each leaf. We don’t prune until the end at which point Stephen and I usually need a third party to keep us from strangling one another.
NYMN: “Washington D.C.-based” is an adjective I see in a lot features about the band. Can you fill us in on the D.C. music scene? What are some not so obvious advantages to being a musician in D.C.?
Well, the scene is small in that the degrees of separation are tiny. There is a core group of people (musicians, venue proprietors, DJs, writers, etc.) who have made DC their home for a long time and they keep the scene going and tightly knit. For example, folks like Mark Williams & Les Talusan who put on the “Taking the Piss” monthly DJ night. That night was started by Mark and Alex Hacker (of Lilys and Ropers fame) ages ago. The fact that it continues is a testament to both a stubbornness of the organizers and the DJs who come to fill the guest slots each month as well as to the bar owners who begrudgingly let it continue despite not being terribly well attended (there is another night there as well, “The Big Takeover” put on by Rick Taylor and Brandon Grover which is also very cool). It gives us a place to fly our freak flag. That’s invaluable.
NYMN: Also, is there a D.C. band or musician you think we folks in NYC need to start following?
We seem to have a good collection of instrumental bands right now. Buildings, The Orchid, and Tone in particular. Stephen’s project Chessie and mine LU are both instrumental as well so we’re pre-disposed to paying attention to bands going that route.
NYMN: When are you coming back to NYC to perform?
October we hope. Our friends Dead Leaf Echo are setting something up. We’re trying to play more to support the record so we hope to be up to NY more often in the future.
Better state to border D.C.: Maryland or Virginia? Our practice space is in VA and Davis lives there. Stephen grew up there. Also, when I first moved into my neighborhood in NW DC there was a steady stream of Maryland residents driving down my street to buy drugs. Thus we’ll have to go with VA. But they are both on notice. They both need to start paying more for the Metro.
If you had to choose between these two D.C. natives, who would you pick as the Godfather of Washington D.C. music: Marvin Gaye or Duke Ellington? Neither. Chuck Brown. RIP.
Better movie to take place in D.C. which does not have the government essential to the plot: Wedding Crashers or The Exorcist? Neither. True Lies. Arnold and co. used the record store Stephen worked at (Smash, then in Georgetown) as their dressing room for some of the shooting there. Stephen sold Arnold some Dr. Martens and played him the first Lorelei record which he really dug. Arnold is a Lorelei fan! Sadly Stephen did not give him a CD. A shameful act that I will never let him live down.
Enterprising Sidewalks is available today for purchase.
Niki & The Dove have a secret. At first, I was hoping that they were a cleverly named Hootie & The Blowfish tribute band. Since “I Only Wanna Be With You” was not featured anywhere on Instinct, I kept searching until I found what Niki & The Dove have been hiding all along. This is not the electropop album from Sweden you’ve all been waiting for. This is the electrodance album from Sweden you’ve all been waiting for.
Instinct is a ceremony honoring the voice of lead singer Malin Dahlström, proving her potency as a calm ocean breeze shifting into a terrifying hurricane knocking down trees and toppling buildings. Sometimes I thought of Florence Welch, other times Stevie Nicks – her voice in such stark contrast to the metallic melodies and unyielding drum beats.
The album begins with “Tomorrow” as the first notes echo the beeps and boops of computers in pre-CGI science fiction movies. After a few seconds, you’ll be convinced they’ve traded in the studio for a spaceship. Apparently, the director of the video for “Tomorrow” and I are at that genius level few achieve because we both came to the same conclusion.
“The Drummer” is a Madonna mid-80’s track if remixed by MGMT. Much like Madonna, the lyrics aren’t poetic prose, but dance music is not meant to be deep and thoughtful.
Niki & the Dove will be performing on September 27th at Webster Hall. Instinct is available now.
Afrobeat music is again in the zeitgeist as Fela! reverberates through the city after a successful run on Broadway. Although some might say Afrobeat music is back, for members of Brooklyn-based Antibalas, it never left. Since 1998, Antibalas has been a mirror image of the music it performs – diverse, unapologetic, relentless, and spiritual. The group features African, Asian, Caucasian, and Latin musicians with ages ranging from 21 to 54 and playing music touching on social awareness while producing a CDC-quarantined amount of infectious dance music. You may not have heard of Antibalas before, but you have probably heard their music as many have performed in the Dap Kings (Antibalas is a Daptone Records artist) or with The Roots, Iron and Wine, and TV on the Radio. Much of the success of Fela! must be attributed to members of Antibalas who made up majority of the pit band for live performances. Antibalas is often the band behind the scenes, but this album takes them front and center with music designed to start an impromptu dance party.
New York City’s Zuccotti Park was a battleground during the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the first song “Dirty Money” could be an anthem for the 99%. The song tells two stories of a man meeting his ultimate fate by either being weighed down by money or by using money as a rope which eventually snaps. Despite the Sesame Street aesthetics, the music video has an underlying social ethos.
This album isn’t funky, because funky is too shallow of an adjective to describe this album. Day old milk is funky – this album is Limburger cheese sitting outside in August. This album is a musical swamp that makes you sweat just by listening. Trumpets burst like cannons while drums bomb rhythms making this a perfect late summer album as we fight off the weight of another NYC summer.
Come see Antibalas on Saturday, August 18th at Williamsburg Park for free.
Tonight at Ginny’s Supper Club, located in the basement of The Red Rooster in Harlem, Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang celebrate the release of their new album En Yay Sah. Normally, record release parties are celebrations of triumph over egos, time, and engineering. Tonight will be a celebration over tyranny, hopelessness, and injustice. All quotes below are from Janka Nabay.
“All I am for is making history”
When Janka was a boy in Sierra Leone, he was told the story of how hundreds of years ago a “Bubu Boy” stole Bubu music from witches and brought it to the people, dying in the process – an act of self-sacrifice to share Bubu with the world.
“Bubu is an old, old music, but people don’t know about it. You can add new things into the beat if you know it really well, and make your own sound out of it.”
Recording Bubu music and singing in native African tongues combined with English and Arabic, Janka became a unique artist producing music that not only honored Sierra Leone’s roots, but also crossed across cultures. Sierra Leone finally had a voice and his cassettes were sold in the thousands across the country.
“Even in Sierra Leone, we imitate a lot of Western styles in our music, in our clothes. But the African is in them. They hear it.”
This success was a blessing and a burden. While recording his music, Sierra Leone was mired in a decade-long civil war. Janka used his music as a vehicle to affect societal changes calling for peace among his countrymen. However, rebels re-appropriated his songs as their war anthems, blaring it out into villages to lure people from their homes. Sierra Leone was crumbling and Janka made the difficult decision to start a new life in America.
“People kept talking to me about coming to America. I said I was not going.”
Janka came to America, but was unable to find support for his music. One of the biggest recording artists in Sierra Leone and a national celebrity was selling CD-Rs of his music on the streets and working at fast food restaurants. Eventually, this Bubu boy was able to steal some good fortune from those witches once again and Janka formed his band, began recording, and is now sharing Bubu with all of us.
“And Bubu music is fun…once you try it, you never leave it!”
En Yay Sah is more than an album. It is a symbol that America is still a place where anything is possible. It is a memorial to crimes committed across the world that go unnoticed. It is a testament to cultural brotherhood. It is a jubilee of honoring one’s past. It is a dream made real.