Archive for category Music

new music: Tomten; American Opera

Tomten, “Weissnichtwo”

I’ve been listening to the new Ride and Slowdive albums quite a bit lately and this song falls in nicely with its Brit-influenced shoegaze, swirly sound. There’s lots of layers with the opening part establishing a gentle calm while an underlying guttural churning bubbles up to maintain the soothing vibe. The Seattle pop band also mixes in organ, electric piano and analog synthesizers for its electro-folk sound. The artistic, eclectic result works on several levels on the upcoming album—some songs ring a bit clearer than this track, others are much more upbeat and there’s lots of wistfulness. Tomten is: Brian Noyes-Watkins (keys, guitar, vocals); Jake Brady (drums) and Dillon Sturtevant (bass, vocals).  The trio will release its third full-length Cremation Songs [ Plume Records] on July 7th, 2017 on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.

“I first thought of the name Cremation Songs as a bit of a joke to poke fun at our previous record The Farewell Party,” says Brian Noyes-Watkins. “It later dawned on me that it fit the songs well, seeing as most are vaguely about death in some way or another, excluding ‘First Song of Spring’ and ‘Mette’s Tune.’ I just hope our next record doesn’t mark the Born Again / Embracing a Cult phase.”

“I became obsessed with drawing extended arms (usually blue) posing inside of little boxes,” Noyes-Watkins reveals about the cover artwork. “I did a few versions: a hand drowning in the sea, another with a crystal ball, one juggling a rainbow. I settled on the apple/applecore because I liked the idea of having a sunrise/sunset theme on the jacket. I’m hoping to complete a collection of 20 or so to release in a booklet for a limited edition of the record.”

American Opera, “Monsters Among Men”

A beautifully melodic and thoughtful song with powerful vocals and an urgency in its message, reminiscent of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”  American Opera is New York singer/songwriter John Bee’s project. He said that  “Monsters Among Men” is: “about getting older while trying to stay true to who you were when you were young. I was raised in the church. Three things happened in my life that made me question everything I ever believed. My friend took his own life, my cousin’s life was taken from him, and the Sandy Hook shooting. I still don’t know what to believe. But I know what I want to believe.”

American Opera’s full-length album Small Victories is out June 30, 2017.

 

 

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new music: Swarming Branch; Luca D’Alberto

 

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Swarming Branch, “Zsazsur’s Real Estate Song

Upbeat, catchy and quirky single. I get a bit of a Folk Implosion and OK Go vibe from this Columbus, Ohio based experimental electro/indie/folk project of singer/songwriter Andrew Graham, drummer Lon Leary and a rotating group of collaborating musicians. The new album from Swarming BranchSurreal Number— (SofaBurn Records) is out now. The album was produced by Rob Barbato (Drinks, Kevin Morby, Peaking Lights).

 

 

Luca D’Alberto, “Endless”

Full throttle new wave classical music in this gorgeous, atmospheric song. Luca D’Alberto is a classical composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist [violin, viola, violectra, cello and piano] from Italy. Endless [7K!] is out now. The album was produced by Martyn Heyne (Nils Frahm, Lubomir Melnyk, Peter Broderick, Tiny Ruins and The National).

About the album title, Luca said: “Endless is a secret place, a place where we can be free to remember everything, without being afraid, without limits. A place where we can let go of ourselves, without thinking, where we can allow our bodies to rest peacefully and find the courage to live the noisy silence of our lives.”

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music review: The Charlatans

 

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My heart belongs to several bands and artists but two bands will permanently possess a special spot: Jesus Jones and The Charlatans. I followed both bands in the 90s and befriended them as best one could without having sex with any band members. Kudos to singer Tim Burgess and bassist Martin Blunt for keeping The Charlatans going and the music flowing after the deaths of keyboardist Rob Collins in 1996 and drummer Jon Brookes in 2013. Different Days is the 13th album for The Charlatans, who formed in the late 80s.

For Different Days, core members Burgess, Blunt, guitarist Mark Collins and keyboard player Tony Rogers collaborated on this album with former Verve drummer Pete Salisbury, Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, Johnny Marr [featured on several songs including the lead single ‘Plastic Machinery’], New Order’s Stephen Morris, Paul Weller [“Spinning Out”], as well as spoken word contributions from Ian Rankin and Kurt Wagner. The Charlatans have never really hit it big in the United States like other contemporaries such as Oasis and The Stone Roses. In 2015 Q Magazine gave the band a lifetime achievement award.

In many aspects over the years, the band has transitioned from Britpop to indie rock. On Different Days, a California vibe definitely seeps into these songs. There’s still swagger and a bit of Manchester as well. It’s overall pretty laid back, sunshiny and optimistic. There’s the pretty and soothing “Hey Sunrise” with its jangly guitar. On the contemplative and catchy (the brilliance of Tim Burgess’s writing) “Solutions,” grooving percussion and a deep bass line propel along with gentle keys propel the melody. It’s one of my favorites. Maybe because I’m looking for one. The songs “Plastic Machinery” and “Not Forgotten” feature more guitar than keyboards with fierceness and swaying beats. “Plastic Machinery” tackles fleeting popularity and superficial happiness. “Not Forgotten” approaches how we evolve and what we learn from relationships: “I’ve taken every opportunity. Tried to be everything you wanted me to be. So why do you have to talk like that?” This is a spectacular album. It pulls me back in and can easily be filed alongside 2001’s Wonderland or 2006‘s Simpatico in its overall sound.

RATING: 5/5*

The Charlatans
Different Days
BMG

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ON TOUR: Chastity Belt

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In 2010, Chastity Belt formed  when the band members were studying at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. The Seattle band writes cool, moody, edgy songs which challenge the status quo. Chastity Belt’s third album I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone will be released on June 2, 2017 on all formats and streaming services. They recorded the album live in July of 2016 with producer Matthew Simms (Wire) at Jackpot! in Portland, Oregon. Chastity Belt will tour in June with a stop at Brighton Music Hall in Boston on June 19, 2017. There aren’t all that many all-female bands so get out and support this one.

Chastity Belt is:

Julia Shapiro – lead vocals, guitar
Lydia Lund – lead guitar
Annie Truscott – bass
Gretchen Grimm – drums

TOUR DATES:

06.01.17 – Seattle, WA – Record Release show at The Crocodile
06.14.17 – Milwaukee, WI – Cactus Club
06.15.17 – Chicago, IL – Subterranean
06.16.17 – Detroit, MI – Jumbo’s
06.17.17 – Toronto, ON – Longboat Hall at the Great Hall
06.18.17 – Montreal, QC – Bar Le Ritz
06.19.17 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
06.20.17 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
06.22.17 – Philadelphia, PA – PhilaMOCA
06.23.17 – Washington, DC – Songbyrd
06.24.17 – Durham, NC – The Pinhook
06.25.17 – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight
06.27.17 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade (Purgatory)
06.28.17 – Nashville, TN – DRKMTTR
06.29.17 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
06.30.17 – Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s
07.01.17 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th St. Entry

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire

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The songs on the latest album, Bones Will Last, from Portland singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire exude gorgeous melancholia through violin and strings-based arrangements. Lovely, bold chamber/folk music. The opening track reminded me of the heartbreaking violin melodies played by a character on the television show Treme.  Meaningful, profound lyrics delve into existentialism and our place in the world. Just the type of songs to which I most connect. Claire’s deep vocals combine with exquisite layered orchestrations. These dark, provocative, thoughtful songs engage the listener and elicit deep emotions. Claire collaborated with Portland musicians Zak Borden (mandolin), Allen Hunter (upright bass), and Don Henson (piano) on this album.

I spoke with Kathryn Claire by phone last week.

Amy Steele: What do you like about the Portland music community?

Kathryn Claire: So many people are playing music. A lot of people are based out of here and touring extensively. It’s great when I am home because it’s such a thriving scene. It’s a great place to write, perform and record. and be inspired. I love it when I’m out in the world because people are aware of Portland and in the last ten years it has become a popular well-known city. It’s cool to be from Portland. I’m proud of the scene we have here.

Amy Steele: When did you develop an interest in playing music and in songwriting?  I think you had some classical training when you were younger

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always been drawn to music and have been very musical from a young age. There was a lot of music in my family growing up. I’m the first person in my family to be a professional musician. My mom was a public school music teacher. My father was a gypsy jazz violinist as a hobby so that is what got me into that instrument. I started studying violin at the age of seven and singing in choirs. I taught myself guitar as a teenager and I started writing. I’ve always been a journal writer and a creative writer. I can’t remember my life without music in it. It is always a vital part of my life. It developed into something that I now do as a career.

Amy Steele: Have you always been a solo artist?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always enjoyed collaborating. My career has been interesting. Part of what has allowed me to do this full time, to make a living, is that I’ve worked as a side person a lot. The violin is a versatile instrument in that way. I read music. I also have a really strong background in harmony singing. I’ve been hired by a lot of groups and to sing with other singer/songwriters. I like playing solo but I love having a few different instruments and sounds to work with and the energy for collaborating has always been inspiring to me.

Amy Steele: How did the (music) experience you had, working on other people’s projects, help with your own?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve put out solo albums but this album has been huge for me. It really is my own. I’m totally fronting it. I wrote everything on it. It was my vision. I made all the decisions. I didn’t even work with a producer. I had this vision that evolved. It was my own and my own voice. I feel that the way I arrived at such a clear place was from working as a side-person for so long because I really have developed an ear in how to accompany other people. I have developed my own clear voice as far as being a side-person and I’ve developed a good ear for listening. I took a lot from other people and I’ve been influenced by my classical upbringing. I’ve played a ton of Celtic music. I’ve played with amazing songwriters. I’ve played in a rock band. I think that gave me an eclectic base and I synthesized that into this album. I feel like it’s a unique sound, totally my own, but inspired by all this work I’ve done with other people.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Kathryn Claire: Lyrically I tend to like it when you have a personal connection to the imagery and poetry of the connection. You’re writing from something that’s touched your heart but you’re not overly explicit so it allows the listener to make their own connection to the words and images that’s completely their own. I tried to be specific and close to me but letting there be openness to it so there can be some universality.

I think over time I’ve learned how to edit. Not trying to cram in so many words. Editing down so there’s a bit more simplicity in it. I’ve come to value that in a song.

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Amy Steele: It seems that a lot of the songs are sad and a bit darker. Is it an outlet or your general mood and temperament? I listen to a lot of dark music but I think I’m very dark and gravitate towards that music. I was wondering what draws you to make that type of music.

Kathryn Claire: I definitely do have a darkness or a pensive side to me but as a performer I have a lot of energy and joy on stage and I really do feel that in my own life. I have a more positive and joyful energy. This music has been a way for me to express sadness and melancholy. The world is really beautiful and really sad. I tend to be compelled especially on this album in tapping into that darker nature in myself and in the world. I put the violin at the center of the album in the sound –it’s a violin/strings-centric album—and the violin has a deep sad melancholy to it as well. I tend toward darker music. I like minor keys. I like haunting melodies. I can get behind a major up-tempo song but my heart is really with the darker music.

Amy Steele: The song “Bones Will Last” you wrote about thinking about death and dying. How did you write that?

Kathryn Claire: It’s a really personal song that I initially wrote reflecting upon a loved one. The chorus got written a little bit later. I was just thinking of that image –“we’ll be gone but our bones will last.” The passing of timed. The ephemeral nature of life. That was central to what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about death a lot and trying to be present while I’m here. I’ve had a lot of people pass away. Not just grandmas and grandpas but people my own age. You never know when it’s our time. In holding that and looking at that I think what are those things that last? That we leave behind? What are the bones of who we are? It became the theme of the album overall.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Sweet Chariot?” What inspired that song?

Kathryn Claire: One of the famous cemeteries in Paris where Jim Morrison was buried [Père Lachaise Cemetery]. I was in Paris in the fall of 2013 walking through that cemetery just reflecting on all these people that have gone before us. In the end that’s where we all go. The first verse of “Sweet Chariot came”—when I was imagining Jim Morrison. What would it look like to see his skeleton? Just ruminating on our bones. I wrote that first verse there and worked on that song for over a couple of years. I got to be in India doing some work [artist-in-residence at the American School of Chennai in 2015] there and I finished some more there. I wrote it in my journal and I’d sit with it and find a melody for it. I’m also grateful for our iPhones because I can collect these little pieces. That first verse felt like it came though me. It’s an interesting song and people have responded to it on such a deep level.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Never Be?”

Kathryn Claire: That is such a heartbreaking song. That was a breakup song. That one I wrote super fast. I was looking at this person I’d gone through a difficult breakup with. I’d seen some stuff on social media. You see images you don’t want to see. Unfortunately these are aspects of our time. Breaking up is even harder because you have all this access to people’s lives. I wrote the whole thing in a sitting.

I started playing around with my violin and a little loop pedal and that’s where I came up with the actual orchestration of that song. It starts with the pizzicato. It’s so strings-central. That was built on this loop pedal. Everything on that track is me. I’m playing the guitar and the violin and there’s no other person on that track. In the end I love that song so much.

Amy Steele: Over the years how has your music evolved?

Kathryn Claire: As a writer I have become a better editor. I went to Boston University for my freshman year and that’s when I got into writing and going to Club Passim and hearing singer/songwriters. I wrote a lot that year in Boston but I never edited. The songs were like journal entries. I’m now able to write a lot more universally. My voice is deeper and relaxed. My voice sounds like is has dropped into itself. It’s settled. The orchestration of the violin has evolved and grown and changed. I’ve just gotten to be such a better musician by playing with other people.

Amy Steele: Aren’t there fewer music programs in schools now? I played the violin and then I played flute. I didn’t continue it because in my high school it was required that you play in the marching band and I rode horses and it conflicted and also I just didn’t want to play in the marching band. Music and arts are so important in public schools.

Kathryn Claire: I will continue to do work in that direction throughout the course of my career. I believe in music education. We had such a killer music program in Eugene, Oregon. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. In that era you could join orchestra in fourth grade and by the time you’re in high school you’re playing symphonies with your friends. That was normal.

It becomes this elitist thing. Portland is cool to have these alternative programs. I’m grateful to have done that basic classical training.

Amy Steele: What type of challenges have you faced as being a woman in the music industry? I listen to a lot of female artists. I try to support women in music and all arts. women are still not the majority.

Kathryn Claire: It is challenging. The thing is like any work environment is still very male-centered. I get to collaborate with women but when I started out I played in a band and didn’t know how to set up a PA. It has been so important to me to work a PA, to know how to speak the lingo when you go into Guitar Center and there are all these dudes and they make you feel stupid because you don’t know what an XLR cord is. I went through the time to learn all the technological jargon to function. It was important to me to know it. I was talking to a female musician friend and I asked her if she knew of any well-known female music producers. In the studio I’ve never worked with a female engineer. These things make you realize that the music industry is really still male-dominated.

Amy Steele: I’m curious how many women study the business side of music/ the production side of music at Berklee or other schools. [note: Fader piece: Why Aren’t More Women Becoming Music Producers?]

Kathryn Claire: I’m in my late 30s. There probably is a lot of movement forward. I’m basing this on my experience as coming up in this 15 or 16 yrs ago. In that time it is changing but it is also women being able to shred and own it and front-women and to speak the language of music. I know for me in high school so many guys were in bands.

It can be intimidating and that’s where Girls Rock Bandcamp and other programs can get girls past that. I would have loved to have played in a rock band but I was intimidated. Where does that come from?

Amy Steele: our patriarchal society and assumed gender roles.

Bones Will Last is available now.

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music review: The Light Gathering Lens EP

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There’s a bit of comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our despair, sadness or frustration. Meditative Shoegaze-y instrumentation and layered arrangements safely engulf you and transport you into a beautiful aural solace. The Light Gathering Lens is the music project of singer/songwriter and wildlife scientist Eric Burnham. He was in the 80s/90s bands Weather Theater and Ministry of Love. 24 years ago he recorded these songs and re-discovered them and decided to release the EP which comes out on April 21, 2017.

“Shenandoah” with its humming base and relaxing tone reminds me of some music that accompanies guided meditations. Overlapping vocal rounds on “Seeing Stars Part One” harmonizes like Buddhist chanting. That blends into the psychedelic tinged instrumental of “Seeing Stars Part Two.” Beautiful murky vocals and Middle Eastern elements gorgeously blend on “The Terror Time” which is Burnham’s stunning interpretation of a folk song first written by Ewan MacColl. I’m positive I could mediate to this. The songs on the EP provide the soothing, meditative timbre that we sometimes (or often) crave and that possibly will connect with your chakras [if you dig that sort of thing].

Eric Burnham explained:

 I started playing the trombone when I was seven years old, but I didn’t pick up a guitar until my freshman year in college. I first learned to play classical guitar, and a little bit of flamenco. Flamenco music still is an influence for me, along with near and middle eastern traditional music. I have always loved psychedelic music, and the first album I bought was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was 10 years old.

I have struggled with clinical depression for all of my adult life, and this has affected my art. I believe that my music is about all of the struggles with mental illness, and about finally finding redemption after many years of bleak desolation.

I had been a wildlife scientist and my research had been aimed at conserving gray wolves in the western U.S. I had spent much time alone in the wilderness tracking wolf movements, and analyzing their kill sites, and I think that this experience also inspires my art.

 

 

 

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show preview: Alex Dezen at Middle East Upstairs, March 9.

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The Damnwells have disbanded after 16 years together. Alex Dezen is on tour in support of his second solo album, II. The newest album features upbeat, grooving melodies with a retro vibe. Of the new album, Dezen said: “In many ways, the job of an artist is to re-examine what came before. That informs what we do next, My intention when I made this record was not to make an ’80s record. But as soon as I got the guitar in my hands and started messing around with chords and getting further along into the production and the writing, it just went that way — and it felt very natural to me.”

In 2010, Dezen  earned a master’s degree from the University of Iowa after completing two years at the institution’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He writes material for other artists and has worked with  Dave Grohl, The Dixie Chicks, Justin Bieber and Kelly Clarkson. In 2015, he collaborated with the American dance company Pilobolus Dance Theater, composing the music for the dance piece “Wednesday Morning, 11:45 (2015).”

$10, Thursday, March 9, 7 p.m., Downstairs, Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub, 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, mideastoffers.com.

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