Tag Archives: up-and-coming

Spring Cleaning and that Fresh Feeling

do you have your ducks in a row?
are your ducks in a row? (photo courtesy coyotemercury.com)

Cleaning. It’s not just a way to help you find a quick, uninhibited pathway to the nearest exit in case of emergency. It’s a process that can inspire a renewed state of purpose, satisfaction, and accomplishment. It can be as mentally and psychologically refreshing an activity as it is a physically involved task.

It’s been a good few days of spring cleaning around here. Clearing out the mental cobwebs and making space and time to reassess, reorganize, and recommit to the people and things that are important. Like the physical upkeep of a home, it’s not so easy to get at every inch, crevice, and crag of the space at once, and somehow you tend to underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to complete the job. But eventually you make it.

Just like cleaning the house it’s good to check in with yourself from time to time as new furniture is added and new challenges arise. And just like cleaning a house, it’s important to have a few helpful tunes to give you some extra sage words of wisdom to carry you through the process.

1. Nickel Creek – Rest of My Life

Nothing like waking up the morning after a rocking good party to the sight of trashed couches and smell of stale beer to make you reassess what your priorities are. Often times, if you haven’t swabbed the deck recently– If you haven’t had that personal check-in for a while– you might feel like this too.

First things first: get yourself a fresh glass of water, assess the situation at hand, and then start picking up the place.

“It’s one of those endings / No one claps ’cause they’re sure that there’s more.” Turns out that life doesn’t stop or take breaks. Dreams and sleep aren’t even breaks: they’re more like connectors between conscious moments– and pretty active ones at that when you consider the sorts of complex situations they conjure up. The best thing we can do is roll with the punches. The blemishes and missteps are part of the continuum, and, if we’re smart, we might even learn something from them. “The battle is over / We lost but we’ll live to call off the war.” It’s not about sweeping up every speck of dust– it’s about getting to somewhere that feels like progress.

2. Father John Misty – I’m Writing A Novel

This one’ll definitely get you going. Heck you may find yourself even whistling while you work. Equal parts “Paperback Writer ” rockabilly sensibilities and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”-esque mashup of images and metaphors this wild romp of a tune makes quite the statement about what’s really “normal” in this life. The world’s a spinning mess of curious, crazy creatures, and what’s normal to you might actually be ridiculous to someone else. Likewise, what’s crazy to you may be status quo for someone else. All we can do is accept the madness, be ourselves, and keep our own reality together. And keeping track of the stories that come about (read: keep a journal… maybe even a blog!) is a good way to do this. “I’ll never leave the canyon ’cause I’m surrounded on all sides / By people writing novels and living lives that look like mine.” Everybody’s got stories they’re trying to tell, but nobody can tell our own stories better than we can.

3. Leif Vollebekk – Cairo Blues

This song’s as airy and light as a breezy spring day making it a fitting companion for all manner of housekeeping. The story may focus on the careless indecision and the mounting insecurity of one unfortunate girl he left back in the sleepy midwest,  but he’s got a good head on his shoulders, preferring to look ahead to better, brighter days. She may not clean up well, but at least he can. Though he may not soon be able to completely let go– “it don’t drown out those Cairo blues for good”– he’ll ride on, kicking out the cobwebs bit by bit and making room for sunnier, more promising plans on the horizon.

And speaking of easy and breezy…

4. Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World

Oh yeah. Even when taking on the toughest tasks, the deepest stains, the hardest truths– turn this one on and see those troubles lessen just enough to make it manageable. How can you argue with these guys? Their musicianship and groove alone should be enough to take you to a higher place. But if that’s not enough: just remember: “Looking back we’ve touched on sorrowful days / Future pass, they disappear.” You’ll pull through. You’ll get there. “Plant your flower and you grow a pearl.”

5. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – We Get Along

And remember- you’re not alone. Taking the more straight-forward, narrative approach, the message here is plain: we’ll make it through. We will. We all have tough days, tough months– tough years even. But we’ll make it. We’ll muddle through somehow. And if we can find a way to muddle through together– actually working together to make things better for ourselves and for others– well then we’ll all benefit. Enough great visionaries, thinkers, and doers have said it, so there must be something to it: do well for others, be good to others, work with each other– and we’ll all succeed. Sounds good to me.

New Music Tuesday: Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

lake street dive - bad self portraits

Seven weeks into the new year and already I’ve started compiling my Top 5 Albums of 2014 starting with these lovely folks and their excellent, brand new album Bad Self Portraits. Call it premature if you will, but then again this was the same band that made me totally reconsider my top concert picks of 2013 only moments before the end of the year, so it’s probably worth proactively saving them a spot this time around.

These guys are something special and you don’t have to look at their upcoming tour of sold out shows to know it.

The album is their second full-length record and is, at its simplest, a testament to what this band does so well: blending the sounds of 60’s Motown and early 70’s rock and roll with modern arrangements and sensibilities.

Suffice it to say this album is a treat. It’s a house party wrapped up and neatly delivered in a 40-minute package that’s vibrant and playful but won’t leave a mess, eat up all your food, or require you to power wash the premises when it’s over.

Producer Sam Kassirer’s contributions are nothing if not complimentary to the group’s talents, wonderfully extending the depth of every moment, both sunny and somber (of which there are a few– life’s not all fun and games, after all). On the track “Better Than,” for example, the steady dose electric piano and added light reverb on Rachel Price’s voice beautifully illustrate the isolation and sorrow felt by the song’s protagonist. On the flipside, the combination of layered horns and just a touch of extra electric distortion gives the driving, bluesy anthem “You Go Down Smooth” the juice it needs to take it soaring straight out of the stratosphere.

Most of the time, however, it’s not about studio enhanced wizardry or soundboard tricks– it’s about letting the band do what it does best: kicking the jams and having a good time. Nowhere is this more apparent than it is on the track “Seventeen,” in which the rich vocal work of Rachel Price, the explosive bass lines of Bridget Kearney, the cool guitar riffs of Mike Olson, and the deft percussive stylings of Mike Calabrese all share center stage. Add to that solid foundation some honeyed vocal harmonies, a clever application of syncopated hand claps, and even a breezy little vocal solo by drummer Calabrese, and you’ve got one serious groove machine that deserves every bit of its burgeoning following. Playful and flirtatious– that’s this band to a T.

At the end of the day, this band of fun-loving, talented musicians is first and foremost a band of friends: a group of individuals who met nearly a decade ago at the New England Conservatory in Boston and nearly immediately started working and playing together. Over the years their sound has changed (they originally formed as an alt-country/jazz band— who knew?), but their love of each other has not. It’s this love and friendship that shines through on every track of their album and in every performance and every show.

Whether charming audiences nationwide with a totally awwwshucks adorable interview on their network television debut, dressing up and paying homage to the 2-guy/2-gal bands that came before on Halloween, or just sharing their goofy moments with their fans in the in between time, this is one band who’s talents, chemistry, and energy will keep giving for years to come. I’d bet on it.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Signature Sounds Recordings, 2014
Grade: A+
Listen Now: “Stop Your Crying”, “You Go Down Smooth”, “Bobby Tanqueray”, “What About Me”

New Music Tuesday: Looking at Lorde – Pure Heroine, One Year Later

Lorde Pure Heroine

By Jon Muchin

For something so many people can so easily identify, pop music is hard to adequately define. It doesn’t conform to any real type of genre; the Beatles (at least in their early days) and Daft Punk could be reasonably described as pop artists and yet – perhaps I’m blowing some minds here – their respective music exists in entirely different sonic strata. Folk, R&B, rock, country, rap, even jazz all can coexist within this manufactured label. The name pop comes from an external definition (technically, pop music is music that is popular, in the same way that fan is short for fanatic), but pop, in its most common construction, belongs to that class of definition through distinction in much the same way as the Supreme Court defined pornography: we know it when we hear it. There is undeniably something “pop” about pop music.

And for most of my life, I haven’t really cared for pop music. Sure, I like early Beatles (and late Beatles and pretty much anything even tangentially related to Beatles) and I like Daft Punk and a lot of pop artists in between, but by and large I don’t like pop music. If you were to ask me what I listen to, I would never answer with pop. I just can’t really explain why.

But pop is genre-amorphous! I like many of the styles it incorporates, and yet I don’t identify as  liking “pop.” Some of my distaste is probably the commoditization built into the music, but I’m aware that’s an inconsistent position. Commoditization has never stopped me from blasting the fuck out of some Hendrix, even though his estate would put his likeness on Electric Ladyland Vibrating Condoms if the abundant jump in safe sex didn’t mean risking the next generation of Jimi fans.

So, in the spirit of new beginnings, I’ve decided to use 2014 to throw myself into pop music present and past to try and see what all the fuss is about. Maybe it will turn out that I’m just not a “pop guy,” but I have a feeling I’ll find that I haven’t been giving it a fair shake. This idea is loosely based on (fine, ripped off from) Nathan Rabin’s year-long series of articles acquainting himself with country music, though I don’t know how often I’ll follow up or where this will take me.

First up: Pure Heroine, the debut album from teenage megastar Lorde.

The things I knew about Lorde before yesterday: she’s 17, she writes her own songs, and “Royals” is catchy as all hell. This would be an early test – could I identify what’s pop about her sound and “Royals” in general?

That track stands out for a few reasons. The beat is monstrous from the get go, a booming bass and clipped snare sound and a simple hooky vocal over the top. On Pure Heroine Lorde spends a lot of time in a mid-alto, a place in her range where her voice sounds relatively bland. It’s in the lowest depths of her register that Lorde really stands out, and that’s where “Royals” lies. “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” she struts in her Adele-light voice, kicking off with a burst a song that is both indictment and celebration of the aesthetic pleasures of being alive and a teenager. The song has you from there.

Structurally, “Royals” is pretty similar to almost every track on the album. There’s almost no instrumentation beyond a drum machine heavy on the booming bass and a dub-step-reminiscent synth that pervades nearly every song. The first I remember anything to break up that combination was the on the tenth track, “A World Alone,” which starts off with a mellowed-out Strokesian guitar riff. Otherwise, Lorde and her producers have constricted the Pure Heroine’s instrumental palette in a way that unfortunately begets monotony (the album has some hypnotic qualities, but I found my attention flagging more than falling into reverie).There’s only so much you can do with so few sounds, especially since all the songs lie in roughly the same place in Lorde’s voice (if not in the same key). In lieu of instrumental variety, Lorde offers up stacked harmonic vocals, which propel the chorus of “Royals,” but elsewhere come off sounding like nursery rhyme. Befitting that theme, she is enamored of repeating lyrics, another tactic that occasionally pays off. “White Teeth Teens” turns a repetition of its final few phrases into a beautiful swelling fugue, but also contains cringe-worthy lines like “We got the glow in our mouths. White teeth teens are out.”

The album’s main themes, the alienation-cum-celebration of modern life and consumerism, are well-worn pop tropes; Frank Ocean’s breakthrough Channel Orange returned again and again to these ideas, among other, just last year. There’s a certain sweetness, too, in the childish poetry of Lorde’s songs (and the song titles like “Ribs” and “Swingin Party”). She seems, for one, to have little idea of how to construct imagery. In “400 Lux,” she sings “you drape your wrists over the steering wheel,” though maybe she simply wasn’t old enough to drive when she wrote the track. In the interest of fairness, “Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks” is a great lyric.

Pure Heroine is ultimately a fusion of folky singer-songwriter music – some of these songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jenny Lewis or a Feist record if you swapped in a guitar – with pseudo-dub-step instrumentation. I’m not saying that give her a guitar and she’d run off with Sufjan Stevens to write an album about a rural New Zealand province, but she’s not too far from that world either. Most of it works, and what’s more, she’s 17 and has plenty of time to grow. A solid first effort.

Lorde – Pure Heroine
Motown / Universal, 2013
Rating: A
Listen Now: “A World Alone”, “Ribs”, “Swingin Party”, “400 Lux”

Jon Muchin is a Boston-based musician, blogger, music enthusiast, and self-professed sports junky. He intermittently posts random word associations about athletic goings on at thewhole42minutes.blogspot.com and tweets @allormuchin.

Friday Live Wire: Winter Concert Preview 2014

fine folk (& rock, & pop &...)
what  a bunch of fine folk (& rock, & pop &…)

On Monday it was cold, by Wednesday it was nearing 50, and now we’re looking at the chance of snow this weekend. And just when I was ready to talk about how things were “really heating up.”

Oh well. It’s better this way I suppose. More seasonal.

I don’t really mind the colder weather anyhow, though the uncontrollable shivering that starts from the moment I step out the door in the morning and lasts until I’m just minutes away from my destination is a little much. Perhaps that’s more a function of having an aging, rickety car… hmm…

One thing that definitely is heating up in spite of the strange, wintry weather is the schedule of awesome music festivals on tap for the first half of the year. Lineups have recently been announced for big name shows like South by Southwest in March, The New Orleans Jazz Fest in April, and The Governor’s Ball in June, as well as the smaller, not as widely known ones like the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington state, Shakey Knees in Atlanta, or the Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas. Big or small, these shows all boast impressive lineups.

Of course, if you’re like me, you can’t necessarily afford to jet yourself to a different festival each weekend beginning in March (or, as in the case of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, starting two weeks from now). Lucky for us there’s no shortage of great musical acts coming to towns near us this season, allowing us to save on hefty travel costs and protect us from the temptation of raiding hotel minibars the nation over.

To this end I’ve added a concert calendar page to the site so you can get a taste of what’s coming up on the Boston-area scene and what concerts I’ll be heading to. If you’ve got a concert you’d like to suggest, promote, or go to with someone– let me know, and we’ll be in touch.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the shows I’m most looking forward to seeing this season.

1. Swear & Shake – Friday, January 17 @ Great Scott in Allston, MA

I’m tremendously excited to see these guys tonight. They’re a fun little foursome out of Brooklyn whose brand of peppy, genre-bending indie rock has been pounding the pavement of the northeast for the last few years, gaining them a number of followers and admirers. It’s admiration that’s well placed as they’re wonderfully talented songwriters and versatile musicians, emulating, shifting, and combining musical formats from bluegrass to grunge to driving dance pop rock. The track above is from their forthcoming album Ain’t That Lovin’, due out sometime early this year.

2. A Great Big World (w/Secret Someones) – Tuesday, January 28 @ The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA

If 2012 and 2013 were any indication, these guys are on target to have a bang-up 2014 as well. The last two years have seen them playing some shows, putting out a few singles, and catching the interest of Ms. Christina Aguilera, who brought them on NBC’s The Voice to perform one such single, “Say Something,” with them. This subsequently catapulted both track and these two lovable, recent NYU grads into the hearts and minds of TV producers and loving public nationwide (not to mention adding thousands of views to their YouTube channel). They’re also releasing their first full-length album next week. Their music is nothing if not catchy and the messages are universal, making it understandable how their other song “This Is The New Year” got its share of national airtime as well (the track conveniently fits in perfect with a New Year / New Beginning theme, so if you’re still looking for that one last track to put on your New Year 2014 mix… I highly recommend it).

And if that all wasn’t enough to raise my excitement  and anticipation for this show, my friends from Secret Someones are supporting these guys, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing them at a more big-time Boston venue. What a treat.

3. Josh Ritter – Wednesday, March 5 @ The Somerville Theatre

In March Ritter released The Beast In Its Tracks, arguably his most personal and reflective release to date, dealing as it  does with his recent divorce, the isolation that ensued, and the slow, bumpy road to normalcy, new beginnings, and new love. Then he went out and toured it mercilessly in true Josh Ritter fashion.

Ritter is the consummate performer, and his shows never fail to delight and entertain. I’ve seen him 5 times over the last 3 years— twice last year alone— and each time it’s like seeing him for the first time. Euphoria, love, and compassion— these are the hallmarks of his every show. Touring has always been profound catharsis for him, and is no doubt one of the big reasons that’s he’s now able to face 2014 with open, loving arms and continue sharing his stories with all who wish to be a part of the story with him.

4. Snarky Puppy – Friday, March 14 @ The Berklee Performing Arts Center

As much as I’m looking forward to these other shows, I might be most excited, if not most intrigued and downright curious, to see this group in action. This impressive crew of marvelously talented musicians is known to put on a show that is a full-on hyper-sensory experience. With that in mind, although you can probably get a decent taste of by listening to the track above, you really need to see it to believe it.

Just think: if they can fill your computer speakers with such beautiful grace and form— imagine it live. In my mind, I’m already at the show, cheering in uncontrollable gratitude and ovation.

5. Milk Carton Kids – Wednesday, April 30 @ Brighton Music Hall

Still want a little more? That can be arranged. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers are well placed, even if the “Kids” themselves would have you believe they don’t know what you’re talking about. Comparisons aside, these guys are ridiculously talented flatpickers in their own right. Both of their albums are lovely stories, concise yet vivid tales accompanied by dueling arpeggios and galloping runs. Just two balladeers, their instruments, and their delicately wavering voices. It’s a performance that’s perfectly suited for the intimate atmosphere that a small venue like the Brighton Music Hall provides.

Still want a little more? Check out the full playlist of samples from the bands I’ll be seeing, and check out the calendar itself for a look at what else is coming to town.

above photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): swearandshake.com, ianaxel.tumblr.com, joshritter.com, snarkypuppy.com, and glidemagazine.com.
photo collage courtesy of fotor.com

Friday Live Wire: Lake Street Dive @ The Sinclair

photo

Another night at The Sinclair in Cambridge, another excellent show. I know last week I said that the November Devil Makes Three concert at the House of Blues was the best concert of 2013, but I think this one may have beaten it out. And coming in just at the buzzer no less. Well done, up-and-coming, surely-next-big-thing performers… Well done.

The Sun Parade, an indie rock outfit out of Northampton, MA, opened the show. They’d recently made an addition to their personnel, introducing a new drummer (Noam Schatz), and though they played a pleasant little set it was clear they were still working on hitting their stride in their new configuration. Chris Marlon Jennings (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Jefferson Lewis (backing vocals, electric guitar, mandolin) clearly asserted themselves as leaders of the band but still looked a little stiff in front of a sold out crowd.

All told, they put down an enjoyable set that sounded to me a mish-mosh of later-years Beach Boys instrumentation and The Cars’s early vocal stylings. As for any lasting impressions of their on-stage demeanor, Lewis at least did appear to loosen up as the evening progressed, but their drummer could definitely have been accused of stealing the show. It was kind of a shame we were so close to the stage as I could only get fleeting glimpses of him, but it was clear that he was wasting no time in displaying his talent and flair.

And then– Lake Street Dive. In a word: tremendous. In four words: best concert of 2013. And in nine words: go see theses peeps as soon as humanly possible. They will not disappoint.

The first thing that hits you is the rhythm and groove: a jazzy concoction with hints of zydeco and New Orleans funk, brought forth masterfully and faithfully by trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney, and drummer/percussionist Mike Calabrese.  Then there’s the voice, which singer Rachel Price delivers with a soulful, bluesy alto that has all respects paid to the great female vocalists of the 20th century (Ms. Franklin, Ms. Holiday– I’m looking at you).

Combined, this band makes a heck of a statement, and it’s a statement that has gained interest and a considerable following in the past year and shows no signs of stopping in 2014.  The band played tracks from their 2011 self-titled debut album of original material and their 2012 6-song EP Fun Machine as well, but the main focus of the night was the presentation of selections from their forthcoming full-length album, Bad Self Portraits, due out in February.

What was particularly impressive to me is that there was not a timid bone in any of their bodies. Each musician gave 110% of their best stuff, and it showed at every turn, whether it was Kearney’s precise walking bass lines done at break-neck speed, Olson’s crisp and clear trumpet solos, Calabrese’s superhuman control of all rhythmic pieces and patterns, or Price’s deep and resonant sounds or soul-singer swagger at the mic. And they’re effortlessly personable too, wasting no time getting to know their audience, sharing stories with them about the origins of their songs and other anecdotes from the road. Obvious crowd-pleasing stuff, but not stuff that every band can do well. (As if that wasn’t enough, each member, it turns out, has a song or two to their name as well. Talent for days with these kids).

It’s no wonder they’re playing to increasingly more sold out venues. With the New England Conservatory (NEC) where the band met being just a stone’s throw from the venue, Price gushed to the crowd that she was glad to be ending the year playing for a “hometown crowd.” She then mentioned that they’d be back at the Sinclair in February to celebrate the release of their new album. Within 24 hours of the reminder, that show too was sold out. This group is definitely going places.

Their story is pretty clean cut: each band member hails from a different part of the country– Minneapolis, Philadelphia, just outside Nashville, and Iowa– each a talented musician in their own right, and each came to the NEC where they met and began playing together.

The next part of the story is also pretty normal, at least it is in this day and age of online information exchange. After a few years of light gigging and appearances at festivals, it was a host of YouTube versions of covers they’d recorded for their 2012 EP (particularly the one below) that gave them the notoriety they needed (and deserved) to put them on a year of cross-country and trans-Atlantic touring and exposure.

If there was one less-than-stellar piece of the evening I could point to, it could either have been the six dollar hard cider that my lady friend and I shared or the fact that, being a sold out show, there was no extra space to jive or groove along with the performers. But of course, those being the only detractors, there’s no need to complain. If the band deserves the attention and excitement as much as Lake Street Dive does, then I’ll take overpriced, watered-down beverages and a filled-to-the-gills sold out crowd any day.

Listen Now!
– The Sun Parade – Sometimes Sunny + Need You By My Side
 Lake Street Dive – Hello? Goodbye! + Wedding Band

IMG_2965
The Sun Parade

IMG_2968

IMG_2987
the lady friend & I between sets.
IMG_2989
the lady & i again after realizing that the concert lighting makes us look like siblings of Violet Beauregard
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Lake Street Dive
IMG_3041
feeling good about their set.
i'm with the band.
i’m with the band.