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.