Posts Tagged alternative music
Although I’ve ostensibly been a music critic for several decades I’m not on the press lists I used to be so I rely on spotify to find much of my new music. So there are some favorite artists and bands here as well as new discoveries. Music that appeals to me must speak to my heart, soul, mind. The melodies are mostly dark, swirling, moody with unusual arrangements and instrumentation. Sometimes it’s folk or electro-pop. Mostly dark alternative. I favor female vocalists with varied range, strength and style.
Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss [Sargent House]
–I love Chelsea Wolfe. always and forever. dark, swirling, atmospheric and emotive.
Beach House, Depression Cherry [Sub Pop]
–a rich, beautiful album that I can [and do] play again and again.
Chvrches, Every Open Eye [Glassnote]
–electropop. energetic and powerful. one of my favorite bands.
Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon [Interscope]
Sasha Siem, Most of the Boys
–a bit of Bjork, a bit of Florence and the Machine. quite beautiful, swirling and beguiling.
The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World [Capitol]
–another favorite band that I find both comforting and subversive. extremely talented and inherently beautiful songwriting.
Lauren Peacock, Euphonia
–what I said in my August review: “combines piano with lush arrangements for memorable, moving melodies. The vocals shimmy and simmer.”
Torres, Sprinter [PTKF]
–Singer/songwriter Mackenzie Scott possesses maturity and presence beyond her years. beautiful, raw, haunting. echos of PJ Harvey and Amanda Palmer.
Science and the Beat, Future Blue
–skilled duo of multi-instrumentalists Tasha Katrine and Rob Zilla that create the cool sounds and eclectic arrangements. moody, strong, electro-pop. read the review.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
–powerful, outspoken and rocking
Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp [Merge Records]
Bjork, Vulnicura [One Little Indian Us]
–orchestral arrangements with Bjork’s cool weirdness. a bit slower than other albums and it’s fantastic.
Wolf Alice, My Love is Cool [RCA]
–heard the single on a British radio station and was hooked.
Grimes, Art Angels [4AD]
–unusually arranged songs about being weird, being an outcast. angelic vocals. what’s not to appreciate?
Ellie Goulding, Delirium [Interscope]
–beautiful pop songs
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit [MOM & POP MUSIC]
–past, present and future infused with her witty lyrics and alt-pop melodies.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty]
–cool soothing folk. open and lovely.
Furniture Girls, Chaos
–kick ass garage rock. review here.
Callaghan, A History of Now
–happy, optimistic Americana/ folk/ alt-country mix. when it came out I wrote: “A History of Now will definitely make you feel 10% happier after listening to it.”
Julia Holter, Have You in my Wilderness
–combines retro with current arrangements. gorgeous vocals.
Wind Burial, We Used to Be Hunters
–immediately caught my attention as it manages to convey intensity, danger and beauty. review.
founded in Montreal in 1977 by Ivan Doroschuk (vocals, keyboards) with Jeremie Arrobas (keyboards & electronics), as well as Ivan’s brother Stefan (guitars). Struggling for recognition in Canada, Men Without Hats broke out in Europe and then in the United States effectively shaping 80s music when Men Without Hats scored a top ten hit with “The Safety Dance” in 1983 and then again in 1987 with “Pop Goes the World.” The band’s videos are a slice of 80s glamour, excess and fun. Just look at Ivan’s luscious locks back then. Men Without Hats broke up and reformed several times in the mid-90s and again in 2010. The current line-up includes keyboard players Lou Dawson and Rachel Ashmore and guitarist James Love.
On tour now, the band will be at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Wednesday, June 17.
sound: 80s new wave, electronica, upbeat fun
Rhythm of Youth 
Folk of the 80’s 
Pop Goes the World 
The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century 
No Hats Beyond This Point 
Love in the Age of War 
Saturday, June 13 Montage Music Hall, Rochester, NY
Monday, June 15, World Café Live, Philadelphia
Tuesday, June 15, Open Arts Theatre, Bordentown, NJ
Wednesday, June 17, Johnny D’s, Somerville, Mass.
Friday, June 18, Revolution Bar and Music Hall, Amityville, NY
Saturday, June 20, Iridium Jazz Club, New York, NY
Favoring female vox atop swirling melodies anytime any day and gravitating toward darkness, Wind Burial immediately caught my attention as it manages to convey intensity, danger and beauty.Varied instrumentation combined with sweeping arrangements resonates with atmospheric moodiness. It’s a compelling folk, alternative, psychedelic mélange that the Seattle band dubs desert-psyche.
Vocalist/Moog player Kat Terran provides a sonic depth with vulnerable and bold vocals. Her vocals sound similar to Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe and Valerie Forgione. from my favorite 90s band Mistle Thrush. “Sleeping Giant” gloriously spirals and shimmies and immediately reminded me of Mistle Thrush. “Crown of Bones” features ominous lyrics and dazzles, twists and rocks a bit. Into the depths for the exquisitely wistful “A Story from the Sea.” The band effectively starts with gentle melodica and churns to a heart-pumping crescendo on “We Used to Be Hunters.” Terran showcases her stunning vocals yet again on the slower emotional “Traveler.”
The band recorded the album in an old wooden church in the historic seaport of Anacortes. Sounds like a cool setting. This is an album to play on repeat. Wind Burial quickly became my new favorite band.
We Used to Be Hunters
Release date: March 17, 2015
In 2013 I had a list of 30 best albums. I’ve managed to take it down to 20 this year. There are a lot of women on my list. 17/20 female-fronted bands or female artists. Female vox, darkness and swirling rhythms appeal to me. That’s why I adore Field Mouse so much. Lana Del Rey, Zola Jesus and Lykke Li are dark and dramatic. While I never liked The Pretenders all that much, I appreciate Chrissie Hynde and listened to her powerful solo album over and over. Megafauna is heavier rock than what I generally listen to but with a female singer– a feminist and lawyer– it’s kick-ass. Some are more electronic dance music [EDM] like Banks, Yaarrohs, Phantogram and FKA Twigs. Paloma Faith and Lilla incorporate world music, vibrant beats.
1. Field Mouse, Hold Still Life [Topshelf Records]
2. Dum Dum Girls, Too True [Sub Pop]
3. Lykke Li, I Never Learn [Atlantic]
4. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence [Interscope Records]
5. Banks, Goddess [Harvest]
6. Zola Jesus, Taiga [Mute]
7. Phantogram, Voices [Republic]
8. Morrissey, World Peace is None of Your Business [Harvest]
9. Paloma Faith, A Perfect Contradiction [Epic]
10. Bee vs. Moth, Shelter in Place [Aggraveire Music]
11. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager [Warner Bros.]
12. Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm [Caroline]
13. Lilla, The Awakening [Lucky Records/karisma music]
14. Megafauna, Maximalist [Danimal Kingdom]
15. Karen O, Crush Songs [Kobalt]
16. Yaarrohs, Flesh and Blood EP [Glass Air Records]
17. The Kooks, Listen [Astralwerks]
18. FKA Twigs, LP1 [XL Recordings]
19. Jen Wood, Wilderness [Radar Light, New Granada]
20. o’death, Out of Hands We Go [Northern Spy Records]
Suzanne Vega at The Sinclair–May 30
–I’ll see Suzanne Vega peform anytime, anywhere. She’s magnificent.
Field Mouse/Wild Ones at Great Scott– August 10
–love this band’s new album. outstanding high energy cool live set.
Retro Futura Tour with Howard Jones, Tom Bailey, Katrina and the Waves and Midge Ure, Wilbur Theatre– August 24
–nostalgic fun that took me back to high school. I remembered the songs even though I’d not heard them in years. Did not love this venue.
Shonen Knife at Middle East Upstairs– September 5
–quirky songs, spunky women and frenetic set.
Lykke Li at House of Blues– October 3
–emotional, dark, theatrical. visually stunning sets. everything I expected and more.
WMBR Anniversary Show #9 with Orangutang at Middle East– October 4
–saw numerous Orangutang shows in the 90s and these guys are supremely talented and the set was perfection.
The Paperhead at Middle East– October 27
–what a cool band with a laid-back retro vibe. wonderful set.
High Highs (with Avi Buffalo) at Great Scott– November 8
–electronic. sweet. slightly charming.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing [November 11, 2014]. Memoir. Hardcover. 336 pages.
“I’m thirty-eight. I started my first band, The Dresden Dolls, when I was twenty-five, and didn’t put out my first major-label record until I was twenty-eight, which is, in the eyes of the traditional music industry, a geriatric age at which to debut.”
Amanda Palmer has accomplished quite a lot as an independent alternative musician and artist in slightly more than a decade. She might not be an uber-recognized name or international superstar but she’s adored by many. She’s worked hard to express herself through her music and through her performances. When you see Amanda Palmer perform it’s a complete show borrowing much from cabaret acts. Years ago, I’d somehow found out that Palmer would be performing at her former high school, Lexington High School along with some students. I went to the show with a then close friend. It was an event. Quite theatrical with an electrifying and mysterious air about the entire thing. I grew up in Acton, two towns over from Palmer’s native Lexington, Mass.
I’ve been a music critic for maybe too long. In the 90s national publications published my work and I was occasionally paid for my efforts. Never full-time. I’m slightly known in Boston but that’s about it. The only instrument I played was the flute for four years in elementary school and junior high. I’ve hung around with lots of bands. I’ve dated musicians and I’ve hooked up with plenty of musicians. In the 90s, I let a band stay at my parents’ house while they were away. I knew this band pretty well, or thought I did the Durham, North Carolina band Queen Sarah Saturday had been opening for The Charlatans UK on the current tour. Don’t think they asked. I think I just offered. Maybe that was the problem.
In her brilliant and revealing book, The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer talks about couchsurfing a lot. Even crowdsourcing meals from fans. She asks people to let her stay at their homes while on tour. She asks them to bring food to the venues at which she’s performing. She says she always gives them CDs, t-shirts and other merchandise in return. Recently at Great Scott a band announced from stage that it needed a place to crash that night. I was a little miffed that they said “we have nothing to offer you.” Really? A CD or a t-shirt might be just the thank you a fan might appreciate. Andy from the wonderful 90s indie band IVY made a point of letting me choose a t-shirt because he so appreciated my reviews and my relentless support for the band. And this was the 90s, pre-Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Think of the damage I could do now.
“There’s an inherent, unspoken trust that happens when you walk through the door of your host’s home. Everybody implicitly trusts everybody else not to steal anything. We leave our phones, our wallets, our laptops, our journals, and our instruments lying scattered around our various mini-couchsurfing campsites. To my knowledge, I’ve never had anything go missing.”
I had a crush on one of the guys from Queen Sarah Saturday [bassist Chris Holloway—it’s always the bass player or the drummer, occasionally a keyboardist] so as a young naïve 23-year-old I was kind to this band. I made them cookies. I was in graduate school for journalism at the time and didn’t have extemporaneous time and money to spend. I was just starting my music/entertainment journalism career. I let them sleep anywhere they wanted in my parents’ house. My two girlfriends and I all slept in my bedroom. I’m pretty sure I even got the band bagels for breakfast in the morning. Here’s the thing: lead singer/guitarist Johnny Irion TOOK one of my The Charlatans CDs right out of the case. I think it would have been better if he’d taken it case and all. I might have thought I’d lost it somewhere. I was appalled. How could he do such a thing? After that I felt they took advantage of me that entire night. Perhaps the entire tour.
For the most part not many people take advantage of Amanda Palmer in her thousands of moments of asking and trusting. However once a woman touched her inappropriately as she let fans sharpie messages on her naked body. Another time her red ukulele got stolen (later returned after a call to action via twitter). She tells about a few other incidents when someone wasn’t all that cool. For the most part you put your trust in others and expect the best. And Amanda Palmer’s response to the unexpected bad events: “Some people just suck.” So, 20 years later I’m saying you suck Johnny Irion.
After she posted “A Poem for Dzhokhar” to her blog, Palmer received nasty messages and death threats. I read the poem and didn’t think she was supporting his terrorist acts. I think she was expressing her empathy for a young man caught up in something horrific. Artists express themselves in good times and in bad times. It’s an outlet. Palmer wrote: “To erase the possibility of empathy is to erase the possibility of art. Theater, fiction horror stories, love stories. This is what art does. Good or bad, it imagines the insides, the heart of the other, whether that heart is full of light or trapped in darkness.”
As a feminist and a Boston-based music journalist, I love everything about this memoir. It’s absolutely engrossing. I liked Boston’s The Dresden Dolls and always appreciated Amanda Palmer for her outspoken nature, her feminism and musicianship. Now I truly admire Amanda Palmer and feel we’d be friends if we ever met. I’m wondering if we were ever at a party at the same time at Castle von Buhler—my artist friend Cynthia von Buhler’s former Boston home. The Art of Asking illustrates the importance of making lasting connections through art, love and creativity.
“Our first job in life is to recognize the gifts we’ve already got, take the donuts and show up while we cultivate and use those gifts, and then turn around and share those gifts—sometimes in the form of money, sometimes time, sometimes love—back into the puzzle of the world.”
“Our second job is to accept where we are in the puzzle at each moment. That can be harder.”
In the Art of Asking, Palmer shares what she’s learned to succeed as a musician and artist. She details her career and interweaves the story of how she and her husband Neil Gaiman met and fell in love. She includes song lyrics. It’s quite impeccably done. Engrossing from page one. Not too much of anything at once. Evenly distributed throughout the memoir. Both inspirational and comforting—[I can do it and she’s like me]! Palmer chronicles her days as a street artist to being in The Dresden Dolls to her solo music career to being and artist and an individual. It’s mostly about asking for what you want, asking for what you need and accepting the outcomes.
“Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us. Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.”
“Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation, or weakness.”
“It has to start with the art. The songs had to touch people initially, and mean something, for anything to work at all. The art, not the artist, is what fundamentally draws the net into being. The net was then tightened and strengthened by a collection of interactions and exchanges I’ve had, personally, whether in live venues or online, with members of my community.”
A few things Amanda Palmer revealed in The Art of Asking:
1. Amanda Palmer was reluctant to marry author Neil Gaiman. After they’d dated for a year, Neil wanted to get married. Palmer panicked a bit and worried about losing her independence and defying her feminist core. There were some practical reasons for getting married. She said to Neil: “I want to live and work alone. If we get married, do I have to live with you?”
“I felt my hard insides, my desperation to stay independent, and the irony of it all: the girl who stood on the box for five years, falling in love and merging with a million passing strangers, yet remained staunchly resistant to an actual human merger. My inner feminist was also rolling her eyes. Just date, for chrissake. Maybe move in together. What is this, the fifties?”
2. Palmer moved into a low-income cooperative for artists in Boston called Cloud Club decades ago when she worked at Toscanani’s ice cream and performed as The Bride in Harvard Square. The Dresden Dolls would practice on the top floor. She still keeps the apartment.
3. I knew Amanda Palmer had a fervent fanbase but didn’t know how far some of her fans would go to help her. Amanda has not only asked for food and places to crash but electric pianos to record music, costumes for video shoots, equipment and rides to and from the airport. The payback is a hug, her music and her art. How many mailing lists have you signed up for at shows and never heard from the band or artist again? Palmer knows the value in the mailing list.
“Explaining how I use Twitter to those who’ve never used it is difficult. It’s a blurry Mobius strip of love, help, information, and social-art-life exchange.”
4. Despite stripping off her clothes and baring her body at numerous gigs Palmer admits “I’m still vain. I still cringe when I see my belly after a monthlong muffin-and-beer binge, spilling over a waistline that’s too tight.” She doesn’t shave her armpits or legs which is kick-ass feminist.
5. The Kickstarter for Palmer’s full-band album Theatre Is Evil raised a recording-smashing $1.2 million. She’d set an original goal of $100,000. Naturally a woman in music simultaneously garners criticism, skepticism and praise for this.
“As I launched my campaign, I walked right into a wider cultural debate that was already raging about whether crowd-funding should be allowed at all; some critics were dismissing it out of hand as a crass form of “digital panhandling.” Apparently, it was distasteful to ask. I was targeted as the worst offender for a lot of reasons: because I’d already been promoted by a major label, because I had a famous husband, because I was a flaming narcissist.”
6. Palmer’s closest friend is her former neighbor, Anthony, a therapist. He still lives in Lexington where her parents live. She calls him her mentor and advisor. He’s several decades older than her and she talks to him regularly. They take walks around Walden Pond discussing anything and everything. He got cancer and Palmer took time off a tour to drive him to chemo appointments and spend time with him.
“Anthony was also one of my patrons. He gifted me books on Buddhism and pocket knives. Occasionally, when he knew I was broke, he’d include a crisp hundred-dollar bill in a letter.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Grand Central Publishing.
Several years ago I saw Sallie Ford and The Sound Machine (her then-band) at the Newport Folk Festival. Energetic, fun and eclectic. She’s got a cool way to combine retro with present mingling in jazz, folk, rockabilly and rock. On this new album, Slap Black, Ford’s steering away from the retro and charging forward with the altrock vibe. She also split with The Sound Machine and has a new all-girl backing band. Sallie Ford grew up in Asheville, NC always playing music. In 2006, she relocated to Portland, Ore. where she met her band The Sound Outside. Together they released three albums and an EP then parted ways in 2013.
I recently interviewed Sallie Ford via email, the worst possible way to conduct an interview because there’s an inability to connect, to ask follow-up questions or clarify one’s questions. But that’s the only choice I had. The result: some rather prickly answers.
Amy Steele: Absolutely fantastic that you have an all-girl band.
Rare these days. I did see the Retro Futura Tour
recently and Tom Bailey [Thompson Twins] had an all-girl band. I was
impressed. What effect has an all-girl band had on your music, on
Sallie Ford: I love my new band. The new effect they have on my music and touring
has nothing to do with how they are women, it’s ’cause they are awesome people and hard working!
[AS: I find this answer interesting and evasive. It’s clear women are still having issues as women in the music business. It’s rare to have an all-girl band. And I’d read that Ford intentionally formed an all-girl band. in fact here’s a quote from her publicist: “The beginning of this year Sallie fulfilled her dream of starting an all-girl rock n’ roll band and in February of 2014, the band went into the studio with producer Chris Funk to begin recording Slap Back.” ]
It worked out well that they are into being healthy on tour which I think is extremely important. We eat very well (lots of veggies and no junk food), and today we are gonna stop in
Theodore Roosevelt National park and do some hiking. Staying healthy on tour is so important, ’cause touring is an extremely difficult job. It’s very annoying to hear how most people romanticize touring. I know I’m lucky to do it and I love playing music, but I just don’t think
people have any idea how hard it is. As far as the music, it’s great to play with new musicians and learn from them.
Amy Steele: You say that this album is an “ode to all the babe
rockers.” Who do you admire and who has influenced your music over the
Sallie Ford: I have been influenced by sooo many different things over the years.
When I first started writing music, I loved Tom Waits, Regina Spektor,
Fiona Apple and more. Then, I remember I played with this band called Basemint from Tacoma,
like four years ago. They were a high energy garage rock band and I was
smitten. My guitar player at the time said “Well if you like that, you
should listen to The Sonics”. I did and discovered a bunch of other
music from the ’60s that I hadn’t heard before. So the second record I
made was more influenced by surf and garage rock. Same as the “Summer” EP I made with The Sound Outside.
The new record has lots of influences, like Skeeter Davis, The Monks,
Link Wray, T Rex, PJ Harvey, X, Heart, The breeders, The Pixies, Joan
Jett and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.
It’s just _______ rock. Fill in the blank. It all has cross-over.
Amy Steele: Do you feel like a solo artist now with a new backing band
or as someone in a new band? What is your writing process and how does
the new band participate in songwriting?
Sallie Ford: Definitely feels like I’m in a band. [AS: yet going by your name like a solo artist would and not calling the band a band.] That’s why I’ve always gravitated
towards playing music as an art form, because it’s collaborative. This album was different ’cause we brought in Chris Funk to produce. I wrote all the lyrics, guitar chords and melodies, and the band
figured out their parts and Chris helped with the arrangements and
style of the record.
Amy Steele: Your sound was definitely retro and you can hear it on
some songs on your new album but you’ve brought in many other
elements. What made you decide to mix it up?
Sallie Ford: I will forever want to mix things up. That’s the point of creating
music. Challenging yourself to do something different and learn. I didn’t really like being stuck in the retro box either. Most bands are retro anyway, ’cause I bet a lot of their influences are from the past. I make my music, and that can be whatever I want it to be.
Amy Steele: How is your live show different from your album?
Sallie Ford: We play some of my old songs and the energy is different I guess. We
blend the old sound and the new I guess you could say.
Amy Steele: What makes a good song?
Sallie Ford: Honest lyrics and a catchy melody
Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs on the new album, Slap Back. Tell me how you came up with
Sallie Ford: I’m guessing you mean lyrically? [AS: not necessarily. it’s whatever you want to tell me about the songs but it was email and I couldn’t explain that.]
Sallie Ford: Is about games people play in new relationships.
“Workin’ the Job”
Sallie Ford: Is about being funemployed.
Sallie Ford: Is about the crush I have on the state I live in.
Sallie Ford: Is a song for my best friend.
Sallie Ford: Is about lettin’ loose and partying.
purchase at Amazon: Slap Back
Sallie Ford kicks off a North American tour tomorrow, November 5, in St. Louis and will be in Boston on November 12 at Great Scott.
11.05.14 – St. Paul, MN – Turf Club*
11.06.14 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle*
11.07.14 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme*
11.08.14 – Toronto, ON – The Great Hall*
11.09.14 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa**
11.11.14 – Northampton, MA – The Parlor Room*
11.12.14 – Allston, MA – Great Scott**
11.14.14 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade**
11.15.14 – Philadelphia, PA – Milkboy**
11.16.14 – Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel**
11.18.14 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle**
11.19.14 – Nashville, TN – Exit/In**
11.20.14 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway**
11.21.14 – Kansas City, MO – Record Bar**
11.23.14 – Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge*
11.24.14 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
11.25.14 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
12.02.14 – Arcata, CA – Humboldt Brews
12.03.14 – Felton, CA – Don Quixote’s International Music Hall
12.04.14 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
12.05.14 – Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
12.06.14 – Santa Barbara, CA – Velvet Jones
12.09.14 – Eugene, OR – Cosmic Pizza
12.10.14 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
12.11.14 – Bellingham, WA – The Wild Buffalo
12.12.14 – Vancouver, BC – Media Club
12.13.14 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
* with Crooked Fingers
** with Crooked Fingers & And The Kids