Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December Dreams 2011

Deep into the month of December, a moment is carved out to compile some recent writing features. Four bands whose music and/or live show which has left a favorable impression.

The Parlor Mob

Expect a guitar-solo-scorched face or two when listening to New Jersey's hard rockers The Parlor Mob. Currently touring in support of their sophomore album "Dogs," which was released this past October through Roadrunner Records, and anchored by the first single, "Into The Sun," this is a record without fillers. On that single, the lyrical subject matter combines both defiance and hope, while the muscularly heavy sound of the band leads you into a chorus that's as catchy as hell. "Fall Back" comes complete with brilliant start/stop breaks that underscore the fluid rhythm section. "Practice in Patience" shows the gentler side of the band, with emotionally strong vocals paired against an uncommon piano sound. "American Dream" chugs forward on heavy twin-tandem guitar riffing, as the lyrics express this current generations confusion about "who to trust" in the government. "I Want To See You" finds the band exploring more exotic rhythms, as a slightly jazzy, latin-tinged undercurrent propels it all towards a bolder, more rock heavy chorus. A blistering guitar solo elevates everything that much higher. "Hard Enough" takes on those gut-wrenching feelings of loss, as the lyrics state that "it's hard enough to walk this loney road without you - to miss everything about you." While "Take What's Mine" playfully references Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," the track remains true to an originalty - within the classic hard rock formula - that is woven through the entire album.

Field Mouse

Sweetly sung, reverberated vocals are just the tip of the iceberg with the Field Mouse video (and song) "You Guys Are Gonna Wake Up My Mom." Young beauty Rachel Browne presents impressive imagery via pale, porcelain complexion, stylishly cut dark hair (with one carefully placed feathery blonde streak) and full ruby red lips. Strumming her guitar in a manner remiscent of iconic 90's dream-pop band Lush, the song itself is a brilliant recreation of that romantic and souful period of music. Touching the same emotionally dreamlike place that Austin's Ringo Deathstarr, Seattle's Seapony and Stockholm's I Break Horses do (all contemporary practioners of this genre) Field Mouse put their own unique spin on it, resulting in a gorgeously atmospheric sound. "Fall asleep - you might just feel brand new," Rachel sings. "I should know, I do the same thing - to," she adds with lovely clarity. Multiple images of her, the band and select footage (buildings, flames) all contribute to a visually psychedelic presentation. The overall feeling you get is one of uplift and beauty. What's not to like?


The delightfully chaotic live show that Brooklyn's badboy band Clouder presents is something that needs to be seen and experienced first hand to truly grasp it all. Frontman Eric Gilstrap already had a reputation for a loose Johnny Thunders-like presence in his previous band, Telltale. However, he has now put down the guitar and is fully focused on delivering his angst-filled tales as the rest of Clouder rumbles on behind him. The two guitar, bass and drums combo are better musicians too. In fact, as Eric screams, wails and tenderly emotes his lyrics of what one must assume is pure poetry, Max, Matt, Steve and Jim do a masterful job of creating rock sonics (and yes, sometimes sludge) with the skill of men who still want to be considered serious musicians. And they are. On "Broadcast Victim" a Peter Gunn detective groove is churned out by the boys as Eric's vocal tone and delivery resides in a place somewhere between The Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten and The Fall's Mark E. Smith. A wickedly tasty guitar solo (of sorts) leads the track to a madcap conclusion. "The Collapse" pitches delightful dual guitar and bass interplay against bright ride cymbal, as Eric wails on (in that Lydonesque way) about how relationships fall apart. An even ruder guitar outburst takes this one to its tender conclusion. Two more glorious tracks can be heard on their bandcamp page from this, their "Serious Business" EP. Clouder released their debut full-length album on 12/20 in the digital realm. Physical copies are planned for late Jan/early Feb. They recently played a big show with legendary Boston underground sensation 28 Degrees Taurus at Charleston on Saturday, December 3. A wild time was had by all.

Farewell Republic

Shredded bee-buzz guitars sawing between two chords is how Farewell Republic introduces “Wake” – the lead song off of their impending album “Burn the Boats.” The blended mixture of fluid drumming and layered guitars points to My Bloody Valentine as spiritual ancestors. The vocals come off a bit clearer than in Mr. Shield band's celebrated records - but there are similarities too: for instance the way background voices blur into icy guitar textures. A clever inclusion of backward-tape-looping tacked on the end suggests there may be more studio manipulation to this than initially realized. “Gliss” opens with a punkier feel (sneered Lydonesque vocal delivery, rough guitars and loose drumming) – but this edge is soon lost on the first chorus change. This alternating structure repeats, with the more tense passages sonically enhanced by sharp speedy guitar strumming and sprinkled with piano notes. “Just go away,” becomes the dominant repeated vocal phrase as the song is carried out via a simple piano line, ambient long-note guitar work and clacketty percussion. “Come Irene” is sparse, slower moving electronica. Deeper washes of background pads twist in unexpected ways, as vocals are delivered in a controlled manner. Acoustic guitar emerges in the mix to add a bit more warmth. “Burn the Boats” is scheduled for release in January, 2012. You can preorder the album on their bandcamp page. Additionally, there are two free download tracks to be had there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Multiple Features-November 2011 Edition

I've recently written a number of features for The Deli Magazine that are worthy of a second look (and listen) and so are now presented here.

This is music being made by bands that have found their way onto my radar this year, and who I feel are leading a creative underground that certainly deserves more exposure.

Clinical Trials

With their new EP "Bleed Me" the guitar/vocalist and drummer grrrl tandem Clinical Trials steps up the noise-rock formula through the addition of orchestral and industrial elements, boosted by confident performances and songwriting.

In the record's highlight track, the suspenseful and almost scary "Whip It", the band takes the bold step of adding an unnerving brass section to the more traditional harsh guitar and rumble-crash drum sound. The soaring female vocals start out in a controlled manner but by song's end have progressed to throat shredding screams, in an ever-growing, cathartic tension buildup. That's what rock'n'roll is all about right there... The second track "American Girl" - as tense as the previous one - touches on middle-eastern rhythms for the verses, adding alienating low-toned synth bends to the mix. "Sweet Machine" is more bass guitar heavy, with a clean lively drum sound positioned against breathy come-hither vocals. References to "beauty queens" and "satisfaction guaranteed" completes the sex-for-whatever scenario. "White Fence" makes use of found audio vocal snippets (made to sound like radio transmissions) leading into a vocal delivery that pays homage to Kurt Cobain's more confessional moments. Rich organ textures pad the sonic space as lyrical points are made about "cyanide moments." If only Frances Bean would make up with Courtney – they would probably enjoy checking out this band together.

Indian Rebound

Exploring the dimensions of New York City band Indian Rebound transports you to a world of timeless creativity. Drawing on influences that point towards the original 1960’s English invasion, there is a classic, yet still modern feel to it all. Not content to simply rework already established ideas, the band is now working on a new collection of songs that promise more creativity and a deeper lyrical imagery. Songwriter Ethan Levenson answered a few questions on just what makes this band tick.

The Ice Choir

Layers of vintage synths and buzzy analog bass lines are the new background to the smooth soulful voice of Kurt Feldman in his post-Depreciation Guild project The Ice Choir. More "passionate" than songs from the previous now defunct act, the just released new track “Two Rings” presents lyrical references to “obsidian” and “black rain”, keeping everything just mysterious enough for the dream pop genre. Kurt has masterfully encompassed the influences of New Order’s “Every-time-I-see-you-falling” bits of their classic song "Bizarre Love Triangle" (take me back to my swirling alternative rock disco dance music days!), but he is actually a much better singer than Bernard Sumner ever was. Not completely rejecting guitars, there is a sweet and slithery solo that emerges just past the three minute mark and runs under the final bits of vocals up to the end. With this new direction coming out of the NY music scene, one has to wonder if a “Dead or Alive” or “Haysi Fantaysee” revival will be next? The new 7" single is out via Shelflife joined by the b-side track "The Ice Choir."

Invisible Days

Invisible Days successfully blend gentle atmospherics, FX laden guitars, slithering basslines and appropriate rackety-tackety percussion with a vocal harmony that sets them apart from many other bands attempting the shoegazer genre. Combining that with songwriting that shows thought and precision, and it becomes clear (or less invisible) as to why they've grabbed The Deli's attention soon after releasing their debut single. On their song "Stewards" the vocals are placed far back in the mix, echo tinged, with strummed guitars more out front. It continues to build cathedral-like, while the drums stay routed in the here and now. "Daysleeping" takes the superior vocal harmonies even higher, bringing to mind the unforgettable gold age of "gaze" bands like Ride. The dream textures are still there, just not overpowering.

All the above = choice listening for modern times!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Mast - The Propulsive Dual Dream

The tandem of single name only vocalist/guitarist Haale and percussionist Matt Kilmer make up Brooklyn based duo The Mast. Their combined talents produce a music that cannot be simply classified into an easily recognizable genre or style. Hyperkinetic percussion sets the groove for well-placed minimal guitar accents. Vocals delivered in a dual voiced tandem and precise diction phrasing do share similar qualities with School Of Seven Bells, but that's where that comparison ends. Their latest album “Wild Poppies” make use of percussion recorded with distinct crystal clarity. The stereo separation, placement and prominence dominate the instrumentation without overpowering it. Guitars are there, but secondary. The voices do share equal billing, however. The only overdubs on the album were done to enhance vocals. All the instrumentation was played live in the studio, with whatever effects needed added at that time. The result is a stunningly full sounding collection of songs that are both lyrically mysterious and sonically brilliant.

The band recently performed live as part of The Deli Magazine's CMJ "Dream Pop" Showcase at The Delancey in New York City on October 18, 2011. Included below are photos (and one video) from that show.

Additionally, Haale and Matt were kind enough to answer some questions about what makes The Mast "go"

Your bio states that you built a home studio where you live in Brooklyn . Is this where you recorded the album and is it self produced? Did you find it difficult to accomplish the sound you were looking for? Or did it come easier than expected?

We recorded the album in a studio we built and did the engineering and mixing ourselves. We knew what sound we wanted, so it wasn't really hard getting that recorded. We wanted to make an album that we could play live, so we used our instruments--percussion, voice, and electric guitar--along with pedals and effects. Nothing was overdubbed except for the extra vocal layers. So recording was quite easy, we just played the songs the best we could.

Your song “EOA” finds arpeggiated guitar figures moving forward in the mix, sharing equal space with the busy percussion. The vocals are smoothed even further as the line “all hands on deck” is repeated. “And I say – EOA” becomes the primary (and mysterious) title line. What does EOA signify? What does it mean?
EOA means end of anxiety. I mention the country made of plastic waste floating in the Pacific, and armies thrashing cities, and then sing "All hands on deck"--it does seem that's an appropriate mantra these days. We have a lot to deal with, a lot to develop and implement, like biodegradable plastics, alternative energy technologies, and conflict resolution skills. I say, EOA--end of anxiety--because I think it's be easier to enact positive solutions if we do it in a state of calm--having a panic attack is of no help to anyone on a sinking ship.

“Definitions” builds around a descending guitar-line, allowing the voices to create counter-melodies. There is an almost ancient-ritualistic quality to it all. How much investigating have you done regarding music made in ancient bygone eras? Does this inspire you?

We listen to classical Indian music-- Matt studied South Indian percussion for years-- Persian classical music, Jazz that was created over the last 150 years, and Malian and other African music with roots that definitely stretch to ancient times. We've also listened to Icaros or medicine songs sung by Peruvian curanderos, which have been passed down through the generations. All this music is inspiring.

“Hummingbird” is quicker paced, but leaves space for a buzzy, bass-driven change section. What actual instrument is used there? Is it a synth or actual bass guitar? Who played it?

H: I'm playing that on my Les Paul using a POG 2 and a Full Drive distortion pedal.
“Lucid Dream” has the repeated lyric “I go everywhere – in this Empire.” Does this song reference how one has no limits in the dream world? How much of your dreams influence what goes into you music?

H: I guess waking dreams figure in to the songs quite a bit and so much in reality is dream-like. In the title track 'Wild Poppies,' I'm talking about wildflowers that were blowing in the breeze at the foot of a watchtower and a wall topped with spirals of barbed wire. It looked as if the wildflower was waving to the watchtower and the security cameras, or trying to communicate with them. Wildflower, watchtower---the words have a similar ring, but they're two opposite ends of the spectrum, in terms of what they represent. One is so delicately beautiful and one is so ominous. And with my 3-D dream glasses on, they were side by side in conversation.
As for lucid dreaming, that's a great thing to learn to do. When you lucid dream you can direct your dreams, and apparently go anywhere. You can fly over the Grand Canyon , take a spin around that diamond planet just discovered in the Milky Way, even practice your guitar, when you get really skilled at it. Not a bad way to spend an hour a day.

Your bio also states that Matt composes music for comedian Louis CK ’s television series “Louie” on the FX network. How did all that come about? How is it working with Louis?

M: Our friend Reggie Watts called me up one day asking if I could get a band together to do the music for the show. Reggie originally got the call to do the music but he was about to go on tour opening for Conan Obrien on his tour.
So I got a band together and we really clicked with Louis . He likes a lot of different music in the show, from old bop, to Jimi Hendrix , to eastern European gypsy music. All of the guys I got to play are old friends and amazing musicians that can cover a lot of territory stylistically. Louis is the kind of guy that knows exactly what he wants, so he's great to work with.

What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
The Les Paul guitar, Matt 's Cooperman frame drums, and Ableton Live.

We also have an electronic project we're working out, and for that one we also use Ableton, and Matt uses the Korg Wavedrum , and the Touch OSC pad.
Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band, and why?
We're already working on the next album but if we could pick anyone, it would be Jack White , we dig his energy.

Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound?

Haale uses a POG 2 and the Full Drive distortion pedal. The POG 2 is awesome, the bass sound you can get with it is huge, and the Full Drive just has a classic sound.

Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?
We like to get a transparent mix that still has character. The minimal instrumentation in our setup helps to get that sound. Also good mics, preamps, and mic-positioning are everything.

What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording? Why?
Recordings produced by T-bone Burnett, Ethan Johns , and John Brion , and Rick Ruben , stand out as good examples of warm, clear recordings of live instruments and musicians. The approach is really just get good mic placement, check levels, hit record, play. Simple and effective.

Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither?

They both inform each other. On the recordings, we are using the instruments that we play live. That was the only limit we set on ourselves, we weren't gonna use strings or bass or horns but wanted to make a full and satisfying sound with the two of us playing live.

Is there a piece of equipment that you find particularly useful on stage?

In our show now, we run everything through Ableton Live to really get the sound we want. We don't use it to play loops or clips, just for the effects.


With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band - fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.? Do you do these things yourself or is there someone that the band works with?
For 'Wild Poppies,' we did all the artwork ourselves. The cover is a photo collage of poppies we planted in our backyard. We photographed them, made the piece, and designed the font ourselves. The videos we've released so far we also made ourselves, though we're finally working on a director and a cinematographer for an upcoming video, which is great. Looking forward to more collaborations with directors, filmmakers, and animators.

Croms catching up with Haale after the showWhat do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?

The most challenging thing is agreeing on a final mix. The most rewarding is actually playing the music and creating the sound. The first listen after a great take is a wonderful moment.

Matt and Croms - on the mean streets of NYC

Find out more about The Mast at these links:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mahogany - Luxuriant Sound Scenes

Playing a dream-pop style of music they self describe as NĂ¼disco, Vltrarock and Echo Deco, the New York and Philadelphia based band Mahogany present a decade of recorded work as evidence. On "One Plus One Equals Three Or More" an angular bass line drives forward momentum as high-hat and snare heavy percussion rattle along side of it. Distant atmospherics soon work their way into the mix, as do handclaps and quickly strummed high-pitched guitars. The sum effect is one of a hyper funkiness. Vocals are delivered in a mostly male only or blended male-female tandem. "The View From The People Wall" continues the hyper-funk bass guitar with cymbal-emphasized percussion pattern, but features female vocals out front. While "Supervitesse" marshalls the formidable power of Cocteau Twins legend Robin Guthrie on the production chair for an as expected shimmering mix.

In addition to catching the band live during CMJ 2011
(all photos here and another video below from that performance)
I was fortunate to conduct an interview with the bands long time frontman
and motivating force, Andrew Prinz


Describe how you feel your sound has changed in the decade since releasing “The Dream Of A Modern Day” up through “Connectivity.” Is your approach to making recorded music significantly different now?

On 'Dream' there was an overall superstructure established. The double album of our singles and EPs, "Memory Column," was concepted as a linear progression. The sound has evolved immeasurably, and sometimes very quickly — I reckon the listener's journey in 'Connectivity!' is quite a bit different than the writer's. There's perhaps a lot more of it that has been pragmatic or practical than any conscious directive, but the songwriting has always been the focus.

You self-describe the Genre of music you play as NĂ¼disco, Vltrarock and Echo Deco. Could you please explain a bit more what this actually defines?

In the film we've been working for the new songs, Mahogany is sort of an imagined city-state/canton-town. These self-made genres are keyword concepts for our 'city's' collective dance music, rock 'n' roll, and luxuriant sound scenes that are the 'city's' 'local music.' Within our songwriting, these keywords and others synchronize with the things we're aiming to touch on or speak about with the music, whether it's emotional, spiritual, tactile, logical.

Your band is listed as being located in both New York and Philadelphia – or using a word you have coined – Newphilyorkadelphia. Are there any advantages to be in two separate locations like this? Wouldn’t it be simpler to be consolidated in one place?

'Newphilyorkadelphia' is a keyword we created to illustrate a rail-based lifestyle many live today. Since the band moved to New York in 1999, myself and other members are often commuting by rail to and from New York, Philadelphia and beyond. There are many advantages afforded by multiple locations. We enjoy many music scenes and traveling by train holds a different timetable and a different approach — more pastoral and romantic. There is a certain glamor about trains; there is also great opportunity for the rail passenger to absorb the meditative possibilities in train travel.

Guitarist Jaclyn Slimm
One version of your song “My Bed Is My Castle” boasts the vocal debut of Lucy Belle Guthrie (daughter of Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and Liz Frasier). How did all that come about? How was it working with Robin, Liz and Lucy?

Robin was signed to our old label as 'Connectivity!' was being finished. We were ecstatic. We were always fans of Cocteau Twins — of course we said "yes" to the label's offer for him to remix some of our songs. His involvement was minimal but warm; the atmosphere during the final mixing of the record in March and April of 2006 was electric, and a hero coming by to say hello made it feel all the more magical. We loved his remix of 'Supervitesse.' Lucy Belle sang on a track. It was an honor to suddenly be gifted this relationship at the time. All the work was done via email. It was like 'Dad' was giving us a big sonic hug and a high five as we completed something that we'd been crafting for years; 'Connectivity!' was an album we'd begun developing even before the first album was finished.

Talk about the advantages (if there are any) or problems associated with music listeners ease of access to recording artists content via internet downloads. Do you yourself engage in music downloads?

Perhaps along with downloads we've seen the proliferation of 'earbuds,' which aren't all that great for your ears. Please do yourself a favor — invest in real headphones. Anyway, there are many advantages to downloads. But I do find myself in places sometimes where the streaming music that is playing has so much digital artefact and aliasing that it hides the articulation and detail of the recording. I don't use downloads often. It can feel anticlimactic, aside from issues of quality and fidelity. The context provided by the physical record sleeve, the artwork, and the aura of mystique is just too rich and deep for me to pass up entirely. Having said that, I find online film and video an incredibly valuable resource — I suppose what I'd like to see is the dawn of an acknowledgment of music's real place within multimedia or mixed media. Music often feels embattled and isolated lately, as something that most people think they should get for free. Perhaps more listeners can explore performance tradition as well — for example, buying and learning the sheet music of a favorite song for guitar or piano. Far more fun than 'earbuds.'

What artists do you feel had a significant influence on the musicians you’ve become today?

When I was playing upright jazz bass in high school, I had the opportunity to sit in classes and rehearsals with Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Jon Faddis; those were direct experiences that taught everyone in the room about being a real star, and about endurance, poise, and longevity. My family have always been a huge influence on me, they are gifted in their own right.

As previously mentioned, Mahogany played live at The Delancey on the lower east (east) side of New York City on October 18, 2011 as part of The Deli Magazine CMJ "Dream Pop" Showcase.

Here they roll out a brilliant over 7 minute epic titled "Nite Time in Silk City"

Switching to equipment and recording questions, the interview continued:

How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?

We've worked in professional studios and also in completely ad hoc circumstances in remote locations. Both scenarios feel important.

If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?

Studios can be great crucibles of creativity and can really help a project come together. The band's work is done less often alone than as a group; perhaps the work I find myself doing by myself is usually preparatory.

What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?

I think we all share a healthy amount of enthusiasm for tools!

What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup (cost not an issue)? Why?

Well-built recording tools are always a joy to behold. I read once in Tape Op about Pink Floyd's studio located on a ship. That sounds amazing.

Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band?

We would very much like to work with Jeff Lynne

Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound?

There are obvious advantages to both. There's been a great deal of diversity and expansion in the boutique pedal market, which is great to see. Again, there's no one set way of doing things — we have an abiding respect for a wide variety of hardware.

Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?

I feel recording people could perhaps agree: our predilections and aims are really just happily engrained in our souls. I reckon I learned to record from listening, watching and participating — there's always something new to try.

What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording? Why?

I was invited to work on a recording at Warren Defever's studio in 1996, and it was great to see how music-focused it could be. I do enjoy the work of producers like Martin Hannett, Phil Spector, and Jack Nitsche.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?

There are certainly many challenging aspects, I'll agree with that! However, it is those challenges which are probably what make the recording process so poignant, interesting and full of possibilities.


Additional Info and Links:

Twitter: @MahoganyIntl

For those who like: Broadcast, Metric, Lali Puna

Mahogany's new EP 'Electric Prisms' sees a deluxe vinyl 12" release on
BLVD Records in late 2011.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spanish Prisoners - Dream Pop For The Soul

You have to admire the panache of a band who describes their sound as “tremolo-haze headphone symphonies.” Such is the case with Brooklyn’s Spanish Prisoners. Their album “Gold Fools” is set for an October release, and contains a number of outstanding tracks. “Los Angeles Guitar Dream” weaves deep toned single note guitar melodies with lively cymbal rushes. Notes struck with authority and pitch bending tremolo are emphasized. Lyrics tell a story of plans gone awry: “She put a cigarette in the tip jar. But she – she never phones home. Acid blue smoke rises. His temper gone broke. Los Angeles Guitar Dream – was a hoax.” Clear glockenspiel-like note accents (so popular these days) contribute further to the melody. There’s a spoken word segment in the middle, giving the whole thing a cinematic quality to it - as if you are watching a film. “Rich Blood” evokes a breezy, soul-inflected world (dream like atmosphere, falsetto vocals). “November Third” makes effective use of various keyboard tones allowing for dramatic sonic buildups from quieter passages. Lyrically the subject of “life and death” come up.

Spanish Prisoners are Leo on guitar and lead vocals; Amberly on keyboards and backing vocals, Michael on drums, also lead and backing vocals, and James on bass and backing vocals.

In addition to seeing them play live twice during this year's CMJ Marathon here in New York,
I conducted this interview with frontman Leo:

Is the story to your song “Los Angeles Guitar Dream” based on any kind of personal experience? Or does its lyrical content come from an observation of someone else? Or purely from the imagination?

“Los Angeles Guitar Dream” was written when I spent a few weeks one summer living in Los Angeles with my girlfriend. She had moved there for an ill-fated internship at a record label that basically amounted to her working in their factory, taking orders, and sitting in traffic. I spent most of the trip driving around by myself, getting lost in LA, and wondering if all those who had flocked to LA found what they were looking for. I began to imagine this female character that had been promised fame and fortune but upon arriving, she got trapped in this really abusive relationship and ended up blaming this “dream of making it” for her personal situation. I get very caught up in the myth of LA, especially when it comes to movies. A lot of my favorite movies take place in Los Angeles and involve the city very deeply in their plots.

What sort of inspiration might lead to the creation of your song “Rich Blood?” Is some of the softer 60’s soul music ever on your listening playlists?

I definitely love older 60’s soul music- OV Wright is a particular favorite- but I wouldn’t say that kind of music was inspiration for “Rich Blood.” This song was more inspired by a lot of 4AD / Factory records- Cocteau Twins, the Durutti Column, OMD- music that puts a lot of emphasis on texture. It was my attempt at creating this really detailed atmospheric land for you to get lost in. The lyrics are very similar to “Los Angeles Guitar Dream” in that there is an unnamed act of violence and an underlying tension, which is why we placed the two songs next to each other on the album.


One would presume the song title “November Third” refers to a significant date. Can you shed some light on and explain a bit about what this song might be about?

The date in the title is actually completely irrelevant to the lyrics. It’s just the date I started writing the song. We tried to come up with another title but that one kind of just stuck. Lyrically its one of the more ambiguous songs- a lot of our songs combine very specific imagery with very abstract situations. In this case, again there are two people who are being pulled apart- you could say the hurricane is metaphorical. Notice any trends developing?

Check out the band performing "November Third" live on the final night of CMJ- October 22, 2011


“Slow Decay” rises from the ether on cymbal rushes, clean slightly reverb enhanced guitars and crisp snarecrack. “Everything I write is a letter to the future,” is one revealing lyrical turn, while the repeated (and therefore emphasized) refrain “else, else – something else” follows. The track ultimately devolves into less-defined atmospherics. Talk a little bit about what your mindset was when writing, then recording this song. What would you like the listener to experience when hearing it?

The song was written and recorded simultaneously- most of the songs on the album were written that way. I very seldomly think about what I want the listener to experience when working on music- that’d make the process much harder. I suppose if I had to say, I’d want the listener to go on the journey this song takes- to be a willing passenger in the voyage and evolution / devolution of “Slow Decay.”
Listen in as the band performs "Slow Decay" live on the opening night of CMJ
- October 18, 2011


“Lipstick Under The Table” has a slow shuffling rhythm with alternating call and response style vocals. There are hints of funk guitar lines merged with additional atmospheric textures. Falsetto vocal segments continue the impression that an attempt at what has been commonly referred to as “soul music” is being made here. Is this a make out song?

I’ve never thought of it as a make-out song but I’d be thrilled if anyone was making out to any of the songs on this record. I think experiencing music with others is the best way to listen to music in any sense.

Some of the band “interests” listed are “rooftops,” “the ocean” and “national parks.” All are done outdoors. Even though you are city based in Brooklyn – do you consider yourselves the “outdoor type?”

I don’t really consider myself an “outdoor type” even though I love the outdoors. I think I’m influenced by images of the outdoors and experiences I’ve had outdoors even if I don’t spend much time actually out in nature. I’ve been camping once and frankly the experience sort of soured me on the activity- my best friend and I went for a few days with only one small flashlight and the battery went out the first night. In general I think I’m very influenced by my surroundings. I’m a very in-the-moment person, as opposed to a lot of musicians I know that are much spacier and live in their own heads. My brother is an architect and I think many discussions we’ve had make me much more aware of the space I’m in at all times. I need to be really comfortable with my home recording studio and everything needs to be set up just right before I feel creative. Having a window by my desk is invaluable.

How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?

Almost all of our recording is done at home- no clocks, no time limit. We feel pretty comfortable working on our own.

If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?

We recorded a few bass and drum parts at Seaside Lounge, where our bassist James works. Everything else was recorded and produced in one of our apartments, usually while drinking coffee. I like recording while not wearing shoes.

What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?

I like Apple’s Logic Pro a lot- been using it for a while now and know it inside and out. Unfortunately my bandmates are Pro Tools users. We’ve had a few heated arguments about DAWs.

What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup (cost not an issue)? Why?

It’d be great to have a nice, one channel preamp. Something like that the UA 610 I’ve coveted for a while.

Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound?

I’m a huge guitar pedal geek. I’ve spent way too much time playing with various fuzz and overdrive pedals. My bandmates make fun of me for how many different pedals I’ve had over the years. I’ve actually had several pedals custom made for me in the past. I think having a good overdrive pedal / amp combination is one of the most important things for defining a band’s sound. Specifically I like pedals by Fulltone and Throbak.

Is there a piece of equipment that you find particularly useful on stage?

One of my favorite purchases is my 1982 Roland Juno 60- a very popular synth for very good reason. It’s hard to make it sound bad. I’m a big proponent of buying a few pieces of gear and knowing them very well. It’s very comforting to me that I can get whatever sound I want out of the Juno quickly. We’ve had a few digital synths with menus in the past and I never realized how much of an obstacle that is to creativity.

Amberly, Croms and Leo

Amberly, James, Michael and the Croms_____________________________

Find out much more about Spanish Prisoners at these links:

Twitter: @span_prisoners

Saturday, October 15, 2011

EXITMUSIC - An Agitated Dream

Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church make a dreamy rock music under the name EXITMUSIC. Brooklyn based, the married couple play in a style that often starts out quietly, but ultimately winds up grabbing you by the throat. Their impressive live shows have been garnering them much deserved attention, and now the finely crafted recorded works they have been meticulously constructing will be released as their debut album "From Silence" this fall.

Listening to these recordings in advance of the release via their website, one can't help but be captivated by what you hear. On their leadoff song titled "The Sea," a tension is noticable at it lurks throughout the quieter moments. There is an unsettling pulse that is mysterious and moody. The direction seems to travel down sonic areas running against what one might associate with a more "upbeat" music.

"I don't think you can decide where your creativity comes from," Aleksa says. "I feel that there is a place that I write from, a place that needs to be revealed. And this is the mood and the tone of that place," she continues. "People often say our music is 'dark', and there's truth to that, but I don't feel like we're 'dark' people or even that our music is all that dark," adds Devon. ":We're just trying to express our experience of life as honestly and as compellingly as we can. Sometimes I get creeped out by how 'happy and upbeat' most music is. We are in the middle of 3 or 4 wars and a mass extinction, after all. After a point, this obsession with pop (especially in the indie world) begins to seem kind of insane."

Listen to their live performance of "The Sea"

On stage, Aleksa commands attention as the bands lead vocalist. She also alternates between playing guitar and keyboards. Devon stands tall as the primary guitarist, and shifts effortlessly between providing power chords, quick riffs or melody lines and even employs at violin bow on the strings at one point.

Much of their show has a solemn quality to it all. Frequently the vocals are presented like someone almost going into a trance. Of someone losing themself in the moment. "The feeling of being on stage is a really hard to remember clearly afterwards," explains Aleksa. "It's almost like you have to find the spot where you can lose yourself in the moment while still being totally aware of where you are in time. I'm not in a trance, I'm just singing the words as weighted as I feel them," she concludes.

Their live show also presents some interesting guitar interplay between them. While Devon tends to play the longer, extended melodic notes (sometimes with slide) Aleksa will execute bursts of quick, forceful strumming, that creates a fuller sonic wash. "For me, I try to combine rhythmic and melodic elements in my guitar parts, so I'll play chords that incorporate a traveling counter-melody that supports what Aleksa's playing or singing," says Devon. "I think of myself more as a rhythm guitarist than a lead guitarist, though I do play some "leads". But I almost never strum the guitar - just a few times during the set. Mostly I play arpeggios or deconstructed chords."

"It's a language that I keep developing… it's like a cast of characters or a palate of colors, each with something to say," adds Aleksa. "I often play melodies by picking one string really fast, like a mandolin. I think this tremolo style - those explosions are just as emotional as the human voice. And I use those parts to sing with my guitar, and to disrupt the certainty of measured time."

On one of the songs in their live show, Devon used a violin bow across his guitar strings, creating a unique sonic tone and effect.. "I used to play a lot with an e-bow, but I wanted something more expressive, and more guttural sounding," he offers by way of explanation. "I like the deep moaning sound that you can produce by dragging the bow over the low strings of the guitar. You risk a lot of dissonance and feedback playing with a bow and a lot of reverb and distortion, so the intent is ultimately to wrest something beautiful out of what could potentially be kind of ugly. The influence for me is more Sigur Ros than Jimmy Page, but I also think of the violin bits in early Velvet Underground," he concludes.

The two of them self-directed their video for "The Sea," using footage from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror. "We'd seen a lot of Tarkovsky's films, and when Chris Swanson (who runs their label Secretly Canadian) suggested we try cutting an existing film into a music video, we thought of him. But we hadn't yet seen The Mirror," says Devon. "When we did a google image search for 'Tarkovsky' this stark, beautiful image of a sort-of deranged looking woman standing over a basin of water came up. Then there was another image of a woman levitating and a man standing reverently beside her. They were both from the Mirror. We youtubed some montages of the film, and it was just incredibly rich with imagery. Especially the wind stuff is amazing. In a way, Tarkovsky's wind is serving the function that the sea, the water, does in our song. His images, together with the stock footage of war and revolution that he used in his film, create this incredibly menacing, dream-like, apocalyptic feeling that seemed to fit perfectly with the music."

Since then the band has released another video, this time for their song "The Hours." Directed by Will Joines, the imagery finds Aleksa singing against her reflection and possibly coming to grips with a polar opposite version of herself. Devon supports by way of slo motion guitar strumming and the overall effect is transcendent. With sonic production qualities that put emphasis first and foremost on the vocals (multitracked and uniquely enunciated) guitar lines are the appegiated deconstructed chords Devon describes, combined with a sparse percussion that makes its inclusion all the more dramatic.

The couple came together from disparate backgrounds. Devon came to New York by way of Winnipeg, Canada, while Aleksa grew up in this city. In addition to the music she has always made, Aleksa has an extensive acting career, and is currently featured in the HBO drama "Boardwalk Empire."

The band's name is a reference to the music one hears as the credits roll at the end of a film. "Everyone always mentions radiohead, but that's not where we got the name from," states Aleksa. "Exit music is the name for the last piece of music to be played in a film… the song that ushers people out of the theatre… the last piece of that 'world' they take with them. That's what we heard when we played our songs back," she continues. "Music that suggests a transition from world to another. My grandpa, Tony Palladino, is a graphic designer and has always had a unique way of making letters and words speak for themselves (he designed the lettering for PSYCHO). Anyway, he took out the space between exit and music… it fortified the whole concept. EXITMUSIC."

Cromwell chats with Aleksa post-show

Find out more about EXITMUSIC via these links here: