Category Archives: Artists

Alvin Band – Rainbow Road

rainbowroadOne of my favorite bands officially released his second album called Rainbow Road. Rick Shaier (of Miniature Tigers) the creator and sole member of Alvin Band released his first album Mantis Preying in 2009. The first 9 songs are incredibly complex compositions using only Rick’s voice. The last 6 tracks on the album are from an EP called Lady Portrait which uses more traditional instruments.

In his most recent release Rainbow Road Shaier moves away from using his voice as the only source of sound but does not hold back on complex composition in the least.

As you might be able to tell by the name of the album Rainbow Road (a race track from Super Mario Kart) Shaier doesn’t hide the source of his inspiration for this album. You can also tell by the amazing track names such as, “Bowser’s Castle”, “Dry Bones”, “King Boo”, and there is even a track for the great “Stanley Kubrick”.

A quote from Alvin Band website about Raindbow Road:

Rainbow Road is meant to give the listener the multi-sensational experience of actually living vicariously through the [super mario game universe]. The album experience is meant to push the boundaries of imagination and sensory stimulation. In this concept, fantasy meets reality in the audio-visually intense imagery within the colorful music of Rainbow Road.

But it’s more than a soundtrack to Super Mario. It’s a soundtrack to a generation that has grown up entrenched in gaming and technology.

You can listen to the entire album right here on Alvin Band’s website.

Check out the music video for “Transcendental Meditative Mutant Ninja Turtles” from his recent release of Rainbow Road

And check out the music video from the opening track on Mantis Preying called “Temple Pressure”:

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The Silent Sounds

On July 4th of 2012, I saw a band at a backyard show in Nacogdoches. Struck by their unique live performance, I asked to schedule an interview with them. Both band members worked full-time and in different cities; it took several months before I had enough material to merit a post, and by that time the blog reboot was underway. Though the band is now nebulously defunct, one member having moved to Austin, I think how they conducted their live shows demands mention.

Silent Sounds

 

If Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, the Live Music Badlands of that world are East Texas. It is a land divorced from civilization; a land the soothsingers bid travelers to avoid in hushed voices, where phonascetics go to test their faith. The few musicians, eking out a living in the elements, are either jazz crews catching a break at the patio of a hotel bar, country bands pushing through another round of Texan towns, or evanescent groups of 16-year-olds playing music only other 16-year-olds could appreciate.

Chris Ahrens and Adam Lamar make up the The Silent Sounds, a different kind of band. Their style of music is heavy on guitar and samples, and could be compared to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai or Stars of the Lid. But what truly sets them apart is the way their music reaches the audience. Instead of using speakers, they transmit their music by radio to their fans, who are asked to bring receivers and headphones. This allows them to play practically anywhere, without violating the Noise and Vibration laws of Chapter 34 Article V of the Nacogdoches Code of Ordinances. They’ve played small, singularly personal shows in the middle of neighborhoods, in local stores, coffee shops and in the middle of parks, without a peep.

 

How did the headphone idea develop?

Adam: It would probably be cooler to say something like, “Since most people these days digest music through an iPod, blah blah blah,” but honestly, it was more of a joke when we first talked about it. The idea just kept growing on us, and then one day I got a message from Chris that said, “Well, I just bought a transmitter.”

Besides avoiding city ordinances, does it allow you to do anything that would be difficult to pull off using speakers?

Adam: Even what’s in the live sets now is always going to be more noticeable in the headphones as far as left/right separation goes. It’s also easy for us to do guerrilla shows since we can get in and out of a place quick, and no one really knows what we’re doing unless they saw the Facebook post and brought a radio.

What’s it like running a band in a small town?

Chris: The main problem with operating in a small town is the lack of music venues. In Nacogdoches there are bars that have bands, but none that were designed with musical performances in mind. One of the best things about a small town is the community. We know most of the producing musicians around and the small community lends itself to many collaborative projects.

Adam: It can be frustrating when people don’t go to a bar to see a band. They just go to the bar and you just happen to be playing there.  We’ve both played in regular, you know, band-type bands, so we’ve been through that. This project is different enough that there’s a level of novelty to it that creates a general interest, but it’s also different enough that a lot of people just don’t get it. We’ve got a handful of people that like what we do and they really like it. As long as you’re making music you enjoy, it doesn’t matter how many people come out to the shows.

List your equipment.

Adam: Our setup is super simple — two guitars, a Macbook running Ableton Live and another one running Mainstage. We control Ableton during the set with a Novation Launchpad, and I’ve also got a Morley A/B switch in my guitar line so I can change presets during songs. The second Macbook is also running an Ableton session with more vocal samples, and it’s all MIDI mapped to a couple of KORG Nano controllers.

Where do you find the visuals for your shows?

Adam: From the $5 DVD bin at Walmart. Anything that has four or more black and white movies for $5 is a must buy.

Where do you guys draw inspiration from?

Adam: You can usually tell where my head’s at by keeping an eye on what I’m adding to our Spotify playlists. But good music always inspires me. Not necessarily in an “I’m gonna copy that” way, but more like the opposite of not wanting to work on music after having to listen to a shitty pop station for eight hours at the office. And then there’s days when Chris hands me a stack of 10 songs and says, “This is what I did this weekend.” I guess you could call that inspiration by demoralization. But if I had to just list people who use loopstations, then Dub FX and Lowercase Noises would be near the top.

Chris: Adam and I draw a lot of inspiration from each other. He has a more mechanical precise approach to music. I’ve never seen someone more focused on achieving a specific sound. He has an idea and he has the ability to reproduce it with tools. I, on the other hand, have a much looser approach. I like to push buttons and turn knobs. I may not know what I’m looking for but I always know it when I find it. I try to stay loose so that I can create happy accidents.
When it comes to music I would have to say that my musical inspirations are drawn mainly from the Butthole Surfers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Built to Spill, the Mercury Rev and Dan Deacon.

Anything else you want to mention/promote/give advice about?

Adam: I’m mixing a record for The Sabotage Manual out of Austin. It’s good. You should get it when it comes out.
Also, Tim and Leela Bryant at The Runaway Mule have been big supporters since day one. They sell our CDs as well as stuff from other Nacogodoches artists. And they let us play live in their store. Go buy stuff from their website. There’s a page of links on our website. Everyone on there are pretty cool people.

 

Check out their website at TheSilentSounds.com and listen to their latest album below.

“Drench with your splendor me”

I could listen to this all day.

The man in the video is Douglas Shaw aka Sleepy Doug Shaw aka Highlife. His music career seems a bit sparse from the research I’ve done; recording things here and there and performing with groups such as “Gang Gang Dance” (website) and “White Magic” (listen here). He released an EP as Highlife called “Best Blest” (read about it here).

The instrument he is using is called a shruti box.

 

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Sixto Rodriguez Is No Longer Missing

My ears have been increasingly inundated over the years with the smooth, and not-so-smooth, melodies of the great Indie music machine. But sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes I can’t take the musical aptitude of so many cusp-artists, and the excitement of musical exploration crashes, and I give up.
It is only fitting that the last time this occurred, and my desire for the inevitable search of “the new” subsided, a man of Detroit’s own 1960s motown glided, oh so sensually, out of history and into my lap. Well, maybe not my actual lap. But here’s to hoping.

Sixto Rodriguez, known by some as “Sugarman”, is finally entering musical stardom some 40 years after his original album and first attempt at breaking onto motown’s scene in the late 1960s.
The catalyst for Sugarman’s resurrection was “Searching for Sugarman” — a Swedish-British documentary directed by Malik Bendjelloul. The film won a number of awards, including an oscar for Best Documentary in the 85th Academy Awards as it detailed the journey of Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, two Cape Town Sugarman fans bent on solving Sixto’s enigmatic disappearance. And apparently they did. Finding him alive, a Sugarman revivial took hold and landed Rodriguez, at 70 years old, back on the stage.

Sixto’s work began early. He recorded his first album, “I’ll Slip Away”, in 1967 on the Impact label. Sadly, to no musical avail. He then joined sexy forces with Funk Brothers’ bass player, Bob Babbitt, and in 1969 recorded “Cold Facts” which would be released finally in March 1970. It included the hit aptly named “Sugar Man.”

The Facts piqued interests much more than his first attempt, as the album explored a psychadelic realm that the likes of Led Zeppelin hadn’t yet ventured.

In the golden age of governmental and societal protest through song, before misguided anarchy and angst spilled out of the mouths of babes like Green Day’s nauceously iconic “American Idiot” (don’t even attempt to defend them), Rodriguez stood among classic anti-establishment artists with songs like “Establishment Blues” and “Hate Street Dialogue.” He encapsulated the social unrest of the time in lines like “I’ve seen Hate Street’s hanging tree.”

And Establishment Blues proves to be a canon of Rodriguez’s own social disapproval — sentiments shared by many then and now.

“Garbage ain’t collected, women ain’t protected
Politicians using people, they’ve been abusing
The mafia’s getting bigger, like pollution in the river
And you tell me that this is where it’s at.”

“Gun sales are soaring, housewives find life boring
Divorce the only answer, smoking causes cancer
This system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune
And that’s a concrete cold fact.”

His “inner-city poetry” and political jabs written so long ago can still be applied to topics of our time, “Like his poke at the pope’s stance on birth control, and his plaints about corrupt politicians and bored housewives,” as a Huffington Post entertainment article explains.

While now back on some stages, Rodriguez’s current fight persists in his demand of the royalties accrued during his absence, when his music became increasingly popular in South African culture and society. But Rodriguez isn’t giving up or leaving anytime soon. He tried that once and it only worked for 40 years. I am hopeful, even at 70 years old as he struggles to reach those notes he once slid out so perfectly, that Rodriguez will regain his footing again in music’s history.

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Turning Things into Musical Things

Eight years before ex-Talking Heads member and general weirdness guru David Byrne was collaborating with St. Vincent on Love This Giant and four years before he reunited with Brian Eno to make Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, he was busy scurrying around a warehouse in Minnesota, setting up small machines at different parts of the building.

Byrne installed air compressors, hammers, and motors onto the water pipes, heating systems, plumbing, and metal girders in the infrastructure of the Aria, a historical warehouse in Minneapolis that serves as an event center. Each of these machines corresponded to the keys of a centrally-located, retrofitted organ to make an instrument capable of making a variety of mostly unsettling and echoey whistles, clacks, rattles and hums.

Byrne repeated this process with three other buildings across the world: at the Färgfabriken in Stockholm (2005), the Battery Maritime Building in New York (2008), and the Roundhouse in London (2009).

The one that remains my favorite aesthetically is the Roundhouse.  The organ lies in the dead center of the bottom floor of the cylindrical building, out of which the wires explode out and hang on the small machines Byrne installed, creating a polychromatic spider’s web.   It goes a little something like this:

This set-up makes me want to see what you could do visually with this concept.   Instead of motors, the keys could be connected to projectors that display different constellations on the ceiling against a projected sea of stars, or spectrums of light on a central object.  I’ll keep thinking about it.

I was reminded of “Playing the Building” – the name of this series of installations – by this video of the pianist Hauschka playing his augmented piano in InCase’s Room 205.  The Room 205 project, which sets up venues to the unique specifications of each episode’s featured artist, has a few other neat videos as well.  I’d at least suggest checking out Daedelus’ very blue videos.

Keep it tasty.

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This Was a Triumph

 

Area and state regulations do not allow the Companion Cube to remain here, alone and companionless.

 

One of my favorite places to find new music is in the soundtracks to video games. While even indie flicks can pull in big-name acts to fill their track lists, for the most part game developers don’t have the same money to sink into music. The upside is that the artists who write music for video games are usually little known and often very talented. Here are a couple of artists and tracks from console and PC games that deserve some lovin’:

1. Darren Korb: Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme) (from Bastion)

Korb describes the style of music he composed for Bastion as “acoustic frontier trip-hop.” The sound is so effective that you wonder why no one else is writing music like this. “Setting Sail, Coming Home” is from the game’s finale, and while I won’t give anything away for those who might play it, I will suggest that it may or may not have made my boyfriend cry. If you like this track, I strongly suggest giving the rest of the album a listen – it’s available through Spotify. Follow the link to listen to the song through youtube.

2. Tomáš Dvořák: Mr. Handagote (from Machinarium)

If you aren’t already familiar with this Czech composer, go to his website where his whole discography is available to listen to for free and familiarize yourself rightnowrightnow. Dvořák, who also distributes music under the name Floex, learned clarinet as a child, and starting writing electronic music in 1996. The soundtrack for Machinarium was his first breakthrough with American listeners. His compositions make the game, matching perfectly the whimsical, post-apocalyptic city of robots where the narrative takes place.

3. Jonathan Coulton: Still Alive (feat. Sara Quin) (from Portal)

It’s impossible to write a blog entry about video game songs and NOT mention the infamous closing theme to Valve’s mega-hit adventure-puzzle game, Portal. While this particular song became an anthem declaring one’s internet citizenship, the rest of Coulton’s work has been unfairly ignored. His catchy and well-penned pop songs are a sort of hybrid of They Might Be Giants and Ben Folds, with a twist of nerdy humor. “Re: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey” are just as addictive as “Still Alive,” but without a super-powered internet phenomenon to draw attention to them.

Tasty Rapid-Fire

TA-KU

Regan “Ta-Ku” Mathews is a Perth-native hip-hop dude who studied with the likes of Onra and Bun-B at the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona.  Following March’s encouragingly successful tribute album in honor of J-Dilla called 50 Days for Dilla, August saw an album released called RE ϟ TWERK featuring 2 parts original work to 1 part remixes.  All tracks are attention-worthy, but “Hey Justin” and the Snakadaktal remix are particularly dope. Click above to visit his bandcamp.

HALLS

Halls is the moniker of South London wunderkind Sam Howard. As with all young, comparatively successful figures that enter my range of perception, Howard lights the inspirational synapse in my brain nestled ambiguously within the lobe responsible for both my admiration and competitive responses. An individual simultaneously capable of singing, in touch with his nostalgia, and handy with music software who’s capable of synthesizing these elements into one cohesive sound brings me new hope for my own projects. If I devote all my energies to them it couldn’t take longer than Hall’s example of 21 years to become as musically eloquent, right? Halls already has an EP out; I put a track from his forthcoming album Ark above.  Look for it tomorrow (Oct 22nd.)

GEOTIC

Geotic – Riding Thermals

Will Wiesenfeld, possibly better known as Baths, has an ambient side-project that I was very happy to have recently come across.  All of his work on this project he provides free for download at this place.  Since downloading most of his work, I’ve discovered it’s particularly conducive to studying, sleeping, and existing (the albums Mend and Bless The Self are particularly tranquil.)  Wiesenfeld hasn’t put up anything new for Geotic since February of 2011, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.  And even if it is, he’s already put out some calm and wonderful things.  I can learn to be happy with what I’m given.

Celentano Woodworks

Ukuleles are the best. My brother Ben introduced them to me a few years ago. They are small, accessible, have wide price ranges and are surprisingly diverse. I found out there is such a thing as a banjo ukulele (or banjolele) and well, that’s just freaking awesome. I searched the nets and found a banjo uke on ebay that I really wanted.

I lost the bid. I shook off my sorrows and researched the DIY route. I watched a few videos on how to make an instrument with frets and it was clear that I was not going to be able to produce what I really wanted (at least nothing of great quality). I remembered there was a shop on etsy called Celentano Woodworks. It is run by Paul Celentano – who makes amazingly awesome fretted instruments. He does a lot of custom work so I approached him and asked if he could make me a banjo ukulele.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks we emailed back and forth discussing materials and plans. Paul was really awesome and helpful during the whole process – making sure that I got the instrument that I wanted. To save on cost and time we used an eight inch hand drum off ebay for the body of the ukulele. The banjolele turned out amazing and I am super pleased with my custom instrument from Celentano Woodworks.

Applele

Paculele

Paul is truly a gifted artist and craftsman. This man does amazing work and is super creative. Check out his etsy shop and like his Facebook page. He deserves recognition and is extremely inspiring. He is also a talented musician. Check out his youtube channel – and below is a video of him playing MY banjolele before he shipped it to me.

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Phil Collins and Really Great Cover Songs

Spotify is amazing. OK – I understand that streaming services like Spotify can be controversial, and I don’t mean to take a stand here: by “amazing,” I mean “amazing for me,” because a few days ago I was able to listen to Phil Collins’ full discography for free on my computer. And I discovered a track I’d never heard before – a cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles, on Collins’ 1981 album “Face Value.” The track clings close to the style of the original, with Collins’ vocals layered over a psychedelic sound-wall containing strains of melody and discord, punctuated with a drum loop (hey – it is Phil Collins, after all). My only question regarding this track is: what is the point of it?

Cover songs are unusual creatures. The idea of recreating a piece developed by another artist is unique to performance art – imagine someone repainting “Starry Night” or rewriting Pride and Prejudice (fanfiction and insert-zombies-here versions not withstanding). There’s no audience for it. But Johnny Cash’s 2003 cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails sold over 500,000 units, and I defy you to find someone under 30 who first knew “Mad World” as a Tears for Fears song, rather than a piano ballad from the soundtrack to “Donnie Darko.” Clearly, we love this stuff.

Why do we validate musicians who copy the work of others? Because Really Great Cover Songs make us think about the original song in a new way – show us that a melody, lyrics, an instantly recognizable hook or iconic solo are the parts of a song, but they are not what a song is. Covers show us this by taking material we’re familiar with and creating something that feels, sounds, and communicates in an entirely new way.

Collins’ cover doesn’t do this. His version of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is homage. It says “OMG I heart The Beatles,” but it doesn’t make the song new for a listener. (At this point, I’d like to apologize to Phil Collins. I’m sorry, Mr. Collins. It’s not that I don’t love your music – because I do. In fact, I have this fantasy where I meet you, and you let me rub the top of your head for luck. I’m also sorry if that’s creepy. Ahem.)

All of this is to say, cover songs are awesome. When done well, they teach us something about music that original work cannot. Here’s my hard evidence: a few cover songs I’m really diggin’ lately, that I think qualify as Really Great Cover Songs.

1. Pomplamoose: “Makin’ Out” by Mark Owen

The original is a Brit-pop-y love song with a somewhat repetitive melody – the kind of track you get tired of hearing on the radio after the third or fourth play. Pomplamoose’s version is quiet, paired down to a single guitar behind Nataly Dawn’s earnest, breathy voice. If you hear this version and your heart doesn’t ache even a little, you might be dead.

2. Mr Little Jeans: “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire

The Arcade Fire version of their song sounds like looking at a black and white photo of a 1950’s suburb, and wondering what happened to the children playing in the photograph when they grew up. Mr Little Jeans’ electronic reimagining sounds like walking through the empty streets of your old neighborhood, abandoned after the end of the world.

3. Rogue Wave: “Everyday” by Buddy Holly

From the soundtrack for Stubbs the Zombie, an album comprised of cover songs that are fun but mostly novel, Rogue Wave’s version of Buddy Holly’s iconic hit stands out, retaining the sweetness of the original but investing it with a real sense of melancholy.

Tell me what Really Great Cover Songs y’all are listening to!

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Menomena – Moms

I’ve always really liked Menomena. They have an experimental edge that somehow always gives way to great hooks and catchy rhythms, making them at once accessible and yet continually rewarding upon repeat listens. I can’t tell you how long I’ve had Friend and Foe in my car, listening to it over and over again without getting tired of it in the slightest.

In their latest album, Moms, Menomena continues to utilize complex composition and experimentation without sacrificing melody and rhythm. From this starting point, each song can sound incredibly different and yet they come together in a way unique to Menomena. Standout tracks include “Plumage,” with Menomena’s excellent vocal hooks and breakdown into the bari sax, and “Pique” with its rich sounds, dramatic buildup, and fat horn section. Menomena manages to bring in crazy looped sounds in “Giftshoppe,” strings in the plodding “One Horse,” and an organ in “Baton” to great effect. Nothing seems forced here though. Complexity without pretention. Simplicity hiding under experimentation. Driving rhythms and great melodies. The kind of stuff that really inspires me. Its all great fun.

Moms is a great release from Menomena. I don’t think it has quite the standing power as Friend and Foe, but is still a great introduction to the band, and definitely one to pick up if you’re already a fan.

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