Sunday, December 26, 2010

MAKE OUT - Live Review & Interview

Danish music veteran Jesper Mortensen and New York upstart Leah Hennessey brought their glam-punk rock band - MAKE OUT - to The Mercury Lounge on December 16 and the results were nothing less than spectacular. Capably assisted by band mates Anders Christiansen on bass and Olivia Aliminiana on drums, the thrash, bash and pop delighted a dancing, animated and sometimes moshing audience that included non other than NY Doll David Johansen as well as members of bands Hooray For Earth and Zambri. What this star studded collective witnessed was the pretty and youthful Hennessey confidently taking command of center stage, while brains-behind-the-project Mortensen slashed pop chords and harmonized to the lyrics he wrote. Their just released single "I Don't Want Anybody That Wants Me,"finds Leah singing with a sneer in her voice about being on the prowl to "find a lover tonight," only to petulantly reject all interested parties. Jesper's four chord chorus (and primary hook) precisely marks out the vocal melody as Anders strong bass line is punctuated by Olivia's sharp percussive accents. Their debut EP is due out February 2011.

Meeting Leah pre-show for interview

and also Jesper

Leah sports warm winter hat

While Jesper rocks a "festive" sweater

The Drums - as punk as you can get

Olivia and Leah

Jesper masterminds it all

Check out the band live:

It's short punk n' pop blasts from this collective:

But what do they have to say for themselves?
Read on:

You have a debut record coming out soon. What are the details on it all?
It's a three song EP called "How To" (MAKE OUT). We have a lot of songs written, but we just haven't recorded them all yet. Our next single will be called "What You Doing Later." Jesper wrote the bulk of the early material, but we're going to start collaborating more now.

What was the vision behind MAKE OUT and how is making music in New York different from making it in Denmark?
There are talented people in Denmark but sometimes finding someone who wants to do the same thing as you isn't always possible. When we met here in New York we discovered that we all had good, eclectic, wide tastes in music. Because of that we can simply try to think about what each song needs and what would make them fun and exciting. As opposed to trying to sound like any one specific style.

How did you go about developing the songs?

We didn't start off with a concept or anything. Like all the songs should be short and fast and only two minutes. We had these songs and we just practiced them and realized what makes them exciting was this jump cut mentality. Cutting out all the boring stuff. We had some songs that were much longer. Almost like prog-rock with all these beautiful parts but we didn't want it to be boring so we cut things down to their essential core.

How would you describe what you do in your live show?

We don't have any gimmicky prepared routine. Its not predictable and different all the time. Sometimes we go completely insane and other times its been more serious. Were totally in love with all this poppy stuff but were just having fun with it all. It looks the same as when are practicing with each other, when were playing by ourselves. Playing the songs puts us in a mood to project how we are feeling.

What was the inspiration behind the cake image that goes along with your "I don't want anybody that wants me" single?

We thought it would be fun. We always make cup cake jokes because practice across from a cup cake place. Also were always saying that we want it to be poppy and light. When we talk about pop we never think about what is pop now. When we think pop, I think we mean actual cake and the image of 16 candles and teenage lust

What are some of your favorite authors and what are you currently reading?

Leah: I'm a philosophy student, so my favorite author of all time is Nietzsche, and currently I'm really into the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. I also read and write fiction as well. The Wizard of Oz series are some of my favorite books ever written.

Jesper: I'm a bit of a music nerd, so I read a lot, but mostly about music. Starting 10 years ago I read all the biographies at the library.

One more live - "Come On Over Tonight"

Origins: Denmark and New York City

What it is: MAKE OUT is melodic, hooky pop with a punk edge to it all

For those who like: Bikini Kill, Free Kitten, The New York Dolls
Relevant info: Played showcase at The Mercury Lounge to both critical and fan acclaim. Featured in SPIN, Virgin Mobile Live and East Village Radio.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grandfather - Why I'd Try - the Album Review

It is a bold move for the band Grandfather. Having grown tired of hearing everyone and anyone with access to a home digital "recording studio" pump out one plastic, tech-manipulated and all too often lifeless collection of songs after another (much to the gushing delight of Pitchfork devotees far and wide), the band chose to go in the opposite direction.

And so it was this past July, when the three members of Grandfather - guitarist Michael Kirsch, drummer/vocalist Josh Hoffman and bassist Jonathan Silverman - sold off all of their home recording equipment and headed to Chicago to make their album "Why I'd Try."

However, it wasn't just any random destination in the windy city they were headed to - but in fact had arranged to record their album at Electrical Audio with the wizard of analog recording himself, engineer Steve Albini.

Steve's legendary accomplishments have been chronicled for the three decades he has now been involved in making recordings (both his own and for other people). Anyone who doesn't know who he is and what he's accomplished already, I suggest you google his name and spend some time finding out. The fact that Grandfather chose to record thier album with him speaks volumes about their own integrity and intelligence.

The opening track, “You’re Strange” merges heavy, near prog-rock-like sound structures against earnest, impassioned vocals. “If it’s all for nothing – none of us win,” is how the lyric goes. Despite this desolate outlook, the response of “I’m all in” indicates a desire to somehow make it all work. With an emphasis more on vocals, lyrics and the storytelling, the track peaks with an explosive instrumental conclusion, leaving the listener wanting more of this part of the song. Perhaps in the live environment?

Yes. This is exactly where these sonic explorations are expanded.

Fortunate to be able to catch the band at a recent live show, the explosive end-out was expanded on - much to this listeners satisfaction.

“Tremors” has a clackety percussive propulsion, while the guitar builds a tension behind more sincere, questioning vocal. “Is the pressure too much, not for nonesuch” is typical of the lyrcial content that frequently presents itself in riddle cadence. A particularly tasty drums and bass rhythmic undercurrent lays the ground for creative guitarwork on top - in particular, some nice rubbery string manipulation.

“AWOL” continues the rumbling, chugging rhythms with guitar lines echoing the vocal melody. A riff driven piece, the lyrics-to-music ratio is better as vocal lines keep it simple, while aggressive guitar textures rise to the front. The only complaint here is, at a mere 2 minutes in length, its all over before it actually gets started. Again, one could picture this stretched out considerably more in the live setting.

"In The Shadow of a Doubt” repeats the vocal refrain “if you go down there, you can’t come back.” Sung softly with simple accompaniment, it then followed by big, bold (bombastic) musical emphasis inbetween these passages. Somewhat dirge-like (in a Black Sabbath way) there are impressive drum rolls providing much needed motion underneath. The guitar then creates a rising sensation up to the songs quick stop ending.

“Caught Off Guard” delivers more slow-moving, vocal emphasis, against deep, thumping drums – interspersed with bursts of aggressive guitar strumming. It all builds up a to passionate vocal wails of “it’s all gone now,” that would not be out of place on, say, a Soundgarden record.

"By Myself" presents an angular progression that quietly changes tempo and brings everything down to feature the vocals and lyrics as the initial point of focus. The drum rhythms and guitar patterns are particularly tasty. "Down to the core - where they want more," is the lament. The wiry, textured guitar work at the center is most welcome indeed. As is the bass guitar and heavy thundering drums that follows.

"It's Good Enough Now" introduces an interesting sonic texture behind the vocals. Sounding almost like a keyboard (though we know none were used on the record) the long, extended notes are not unlike something Robert Fripp might do. Similar to previous song structures on the record, the lyrical tale is presented prior to the band kicking in with the good, heavy stuff. The live drumming in particular sounds quite appealing.

"No One Knows No One" clocks in at a robust over six minutes in length. Leaning on bass guitar to mark out progression and structure, the now familiar straightforward vocals recount an angst filled tale of how, well, no one (really) knows no one (anyone?) The heavy instrumental end out is sublime.

Michael goes for a stage roll in the live scenario.

Gentle guitar plucking, more clackety percussion and doom-heavy bass guitar thudding create a sonic bed for the album closer - "The Outcome."

"How come we're all dying if all we have is living," is the existential question asked. The guitar solo is a brilliant blend of choppy aggression and controlled mayhem.

The band is offering a digital download of this, their debut album - entirely for free at:

You owe it to yourself to grab this baby while you can.

Additionally, Michael Kirsch has written a fascinating 4 part series on the making of this record.

You find all that via this link here:

Enjoying the pure analog listening experience on vinyl

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CMJ 2010 - The Wrap

CMJ 2010 - The Wrap Up

Moving on to the CMJ shows I attended on Thursday, October 21, 2010

First stop was Pianos on Ludlow Street in the heart of New York City's Lower East Side.

Super manager and show promoter Steven Matrick was keeping everything humming there at a furious pace.

I caught a band from Los Angeles called Pepper Rabbit, who went on at the tail end of the daytime events.

I found their Paul McCartney-esque sound to be pleasant and appealing.

I couldn't dawdle at Pianos for long, though as I had to get over to The Living Room (fortunately, only 2 doors down) to catch the opening featured acts for The Deli Magazine's Thursday night showcase.

Living Room owner Jennifer Gilson chats preshow with Deli Publisher Paolo DeGregorio
First up was an act I was quite curious about - Octant

The "band" (really a solo artist and his incredibly unique, hand-crafted machines) delivered a wistful sound via sad, yearning vocals and sparse arrangements. Of particular note was the robot percussion. Can hammers be programmed to emote? It almost seems possible. As you find yourself (via his lyrics) with a "shipwrecked feeling on garbage island" with "hummingbird hands." As weird as it is wonderful.

Next up was breakout artists Buke & Gass

Two amazing musicians, with the female having an equally brilliant voice. They are prog, art, jazz, rock, rhythmically twisted and everything needed in music today.

Have a listen:

Following that was a singer I had seen previously (January of this year at Glasslands), Kendra Morris. Her set at that show leaned heavier on slower, soulful burners. And despite a somewhat flashy appearance, the dancing was kept to a minimum.

Not so for this go round.

On this night Kendra did the bump and grind through her set with an energy level one might expect from a Las Vegas showgirl. With all that going on, it was still her voice that was most impressive.

This being CMJ marathon, however, I had to dash out of The Living Room and head down the street (down below Delancey) to catch the Fleck PR Showcase at Fontana's

I arrived just in time to witness the short burst blasts of bluesy punk band Two Tears

Singer Kerry Davis told me after her set that she keeps everything short, rather than "playing the same thing over and over" - makes sense to me.

Inbetween sets I managed to touch base with Fleck PR's Jo Murray

Cromwell and Jo - taking a moment at the DJ table
Up next was the much anticipated set from punk-injected southern garage rockers Gringo Star

The band had an absolutely brilliant light show (especially for a relatively small venue like this).

They had different tones and textures for nearly every one of their songs.

The green lighting was particularly stunning.

They also sounded great.

Have a listen:

Saturday - October 23

With shows scheduled to begin at the un-rock'n'roll hour of 12 Noon, one had to get up early to hear some of the better bands performing.

Heading over to Spike Hill in Brooklyn for the Saturday portion of The Deli Magazine's all day presentation, I made it just in time to catch one of my favorite bands - Dead Leaf Echo

Despite the early hour, the band was in fine form.

Mysterious dreamscapes are established via their creative projections

Ana B is a multi-talented musician, accomplished on keyboards, guitar and vocals.

Their voices blended perfectly with LG's atmospheric 12 string guitar.

Shadows and Light

LG in his element

and a moment of extasy

Following Dead Leaf Echo was the chamber pop textures of Teletextile

Frontperson Pamela Martinez brings the unique texture of a Harp to their sound.

Performing as a 3 piece, live drums and backing vocals combined with bassist/guitarist and backing vocalist Caitlin, as they complemented Pamela's moving vocals.

With a delicate, emotive sound and visually attractive presentation, there is much to like about this band.

See for yourself:

"You can't escape"

Another song:

OK - but this was CMJ you know - I couldn't stay in one place for too long! There was too much to see - too much to do. Feverishly, I contemplated what was next.

Jumping into my vehicle (lovingly known as the "Crom-wagon") I raged out of Brooklyn for the horror that is trying to find a legal cost-free street parking spot in Manhattan.

Somewhere between one and two hours later I finally found one. I usually go out in NYC at night, so I wasn't aware that Saturday is pretty much the same as Monday-Friday as far as street parking goes. Now we know. Needless to say I missed the first band I was attempting to see (no need to mention them now).

One of the cool things about New York city, though (and having to park far away from you intended venue) is all the great street art you get to see.

I am continually fascinated by it all.


I never expect to see what I do.
Finally arriving at Arlene's Grocery in the heart of NYC's Lower East Side mecca,
I caught Canadian groove-enthusiasts Young Empires

The band plays an interesting hybrid of dancefloor grooves but with rock guitar embellishments.

Guitarist Robert Ellinson placed some tasty licks and textures throughout their set.

Vocalist Matthew Vlahovich and bassist Jake Palahnuk executed well-rehearsed, professionally delivered songs.

Have a listen:

Chatting with the band after their show, its always a pleasure to meet a bunch of great guys who can joke around, engage is chatter and in general not have the dreaded head-up-your-ass disease. Young Empires qualify as all around good guys.

Following them was the moderately hyped UK band Everything Everything

Having one of theirs songs on my iPod already (Lord knows which PR press release or blog I got it from) I was curious to hear them.

A fully live 4 piece band, they put on a spirited presentation and the sound was quite good. Predominantly a vocal group (and their harmonies were well executed) with emphasis on the emotive qualities of their lead singer, it was the bassist who seemed to be the "glue" in their band concept operation.

Finally it was time for the daytime portion of the ForceFieldPR / Windish Agency headliners
Shipla Ray & Her Happy Hookers

Shipla puts on an amazing show. Her band is smokin' hot and she is borderline psycho (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible).

Give this a listen and you'll know exactly what I mean:

"I know all about the woe is me" Indeed.

These two guys are amazingly great players.

I don't know how Shipla does it. Keeps her voice and screams like that.
Talent. That's all you can say.
Whew? Is CMJ really over?
I need to lie down for a while.