Thursday, December 26, 2013

Live Reviews: Maya Vik + Scott Walker Tribute

Never underestimate the power of a well-placed press release and complimentary early-evening showcase. When a flyer for Maya Vik wedged its way into the multitude of daily emails received, the sultry image it contained was enough to spark further investigation. One listen (and view) of the video “On It (Kapow!)” convincingly made attendance at this late November event a must do.

Inspired to learn about an artist who was previously a mystery, all efforts were made to scour back catalogues and press history.

Maya as she appeared on stage for the November 20 show at Pianos

Two solo albums had previously been released. 2011’s “Chateau Faux-Coupe” and 2012’s “Bummer Gun.” Both present outstanding collections of driving funk-fueled tracks benefitting from the impressive production and songwriting team of Maya, Basmo Family and Morgan Phalen.

Check out the wonderful “On It (Kapow!)


The live show was just as impressive, and possibly even more so. Maya sings in soft and sensual tones while throttling her bass in true slap-funk style. Filling out her band (and also playing on her records) were virtuoso keyboardist/backing vocalist Haakon-Marius Pettersen and drummer Marius Simonsen. All three of them play at an extremely high skill level that is both passionate and intense.  While her overall sound echoes the late 80's and early 90's work that Minneapolis deity Prince produced, Maya's unique perspective transforms it into something entirely new.

With everything driven along and centered around her dynamic bass playing, keyboardist Pettersen fired off frequent solos that could have easily fit in a prog, fusion or jazz ensemble.

Simonsen's drumming was certainly equal to the task, locking in solidly with Maya's bass, clicktrack timekeeping and quick burst fills.

Prior to the performance, I conducted a spirited face-to-face interview with Maya, who answered every questions with enthusiasm, charm and grace.

Q: You live in Brooklyn now. How is this experience for you?

 A: It’s really great. I’ve been back and forth a lot when I need to do shows and visit, and I love doing both. But living in New York and Brooklyn is a lot of inspiration. We did a New York tour in April, including a residency here at Pianos for a month and a half. Then there were also our CMJ shows here, so I feel like this venue is a second home.

 Q: Do you see yourself as a funk and soul musician?

 A: A funk musician, yes. More towards the funk and R&B side as opposed to what would be called indie music.

 Q: Were you as influenced by the movie “Purple Rain” as one might assume?

 A: I grew up listening to Janet Jackson and Prince and all those bands coming out of that era. So for me it was very natural to make music inspired by what I like to listen to. Without trying to directly copy anything, it’s the sound I love the most.

Q: When you were playing with your first band back in Oslo – Montee, was it of a similar sound as to what you are doing now?

 A: Not really. It was more of a dance/pop sound along the line of Daft Punk.

 Q: In general, do you like electronic music with extended instrumental sections?

 A: I prefer vocal music more. Especially since I started to sing just two years ago.

 Q: You’ve been an out front vocalist for only two years?

 A: Yes. I don’t even call myself a singer, but rather a bass player who also sings. In Montee I didn’t really do any singing at all. Just a bit of background vocals. My purpose there was to play the bass.

Q: Then how did things develop to the point where you are now a lead vocalist?

 A: It started off very casually. Over glasses of wine I agreed with those asking me to do it. It just kind of evolved, but ultimately ended up pretty good. When we made the first album there wasn’t any definite plan or goal to move in this direction. I didn’t really want to play live shows right away as a solo artist. As things progressed, I began to realize that perhaps I could do something like this. There was a feeling of relief in becoming aware of this. I had always been in a band situation from the very beginning, so it was kind of nice to now be in this position.

Q: What exactly is a “bummer gun?”

 A: If you are having a bad day or someone is being mean, you just bring out your bummer gun and you shoot it at them.

 Q: Ah. I see. So it actually is a device that produces good results from bad ones.

 A: Yes, either the trouble is turned into something good, or the bad thing just disappears. It’s about doing good for yourself, because the ‘bummer’ is personal to you, and may not be bothering anyone else.

 Q: Did you come up with this idea? Coin that phrase?

 A: We wrote that song with a guy named Morgan Phalen who co-wrote a lot of songs on the second album. He basically moved into the studio with us and we wrote the second album. He’s a funny guy who comes up with a lot of interesting word combinations. We like things that sound cool, but have an actual meaning as well.

Q: Is there sometimes too much literal analysis placed on song lyrics?

 A: I think at times, yes. Growing up not speaking English, my focus was on how the words were pronounced and the overall sound of them, rather than their actual meaning.

 Q: I’ve discovered over the years that many artists write this way. Words that might not necessarily have a specific story behind them are fit to a melody. Oftentimes the listener then projects their own feelings on imagery that leaves much to the imagination.

 A: It’s true. Sometimes I find meaning in the songs I’ve written after it’s completed. This comes from being in one particular state of mind while you are composing it. Then listening back to it a couple of months later, you become more aware of what you were feeling at that time.

The artist and writer share a moment post-interview.

Maya has released a new EP titled "Lay Low" that not only features her own wonderful vocal performance, but collaborations with a number of guest vocalists as well.

Listen to her dreamy ambient take, that features rattlesnake ticketty high-hat and muted thudding percussion, angelic vocals and an overall spaciousness punctuated by enveloping synth pulses.

Find out anything else you would like to know about Maya via these links:

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Now in his early 70’s, Scott Walker has risen to a near mythical status. Originally emerging on pop music’s landscape in the mid 1960’s with The Walker Brothers, their massive hit “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” shares the same epic qualities as anything Phil Spector ever made.

After leaving the group, Scott recorded four extraordinary solo albums, known simply as Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 and Scott 4, in the space of three years. He has continued to study many forms of music throughout his life, including intense study of contemporary and classical music and Gregorian chant. He has distinguished himself as a composer, arranger and producer.

On November 26 a digital album "Songs from Montague Terrace (A Tribute To Scott Walker)" was released, featuring many wonderful performances from a variety of noteworthy artists. Sondre Lerche and his psyched-out take on “The Plague,” Coves wonderfully dreamy rendition of “Dutchess,” along with eight more inspired contributions. Another stand-out track is James Levy’s brilliant deep-voiced retelling of “It’s Raining Today,” which not only emulates Walker’s vocal style, but points towards his likely influence on Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Richard Hawley and David Bowie.

You can listen to all the tracks on it streaming here

On December 1 a live concert album release party celebrating those songs was held at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge.

Both the album and live show were produced by All Souls Music, the nom de plume of promoter (and musician) William Dirickx-Jones.

In addition to the all star cast of local and international performers contributing their voices to this show, a live string section was conducted by classical violinist/orchestrator Gillian Rivers.

Opening the show was Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof, who's distinctive voice immediately set the tone for each sincere and heartfelt performance to follow.

Julia Haltigan appeared early in the night, much to the delight of many in attendance.

No stranger to this blog, Julia's talent and charms have been previously chronicled here

Adam Green (of Moldy Peaches fame) followed, adding a jaunty, lighthearted touch of class to the proceedings.

His performance was animated and energetic, providing an element that was particularly appreciated by the audience.

A notable appearance was made by chanteuse, lyricist, painter, and multimedia artist Little Annie.
There were more than a few solemn moments throughout the night, and this certainly qualified as one.

Eytan Oren brought things back to a somewhat amusing level with the way he went about his performance.

Reading the lyrics from his cell phone, I couldn't help think back to the time I saw Richard Hell do a show at CBGB's reading from a handwritten pad he had in front of him.  Technological advances on this similar issue aside, Eytan's vocal rendition was a good as everything else he's done with his own band.

The duo known as Ex Cops turned in a beautiful rendition of Scott's wistful ode to the city of "Copenhagen."

Gillian's lush string arrangement and Will's gentle piano work provided the perfect accompaniment for Brian and Amalie.

Earlier this year an extensive interview and analysis was conducted with Ex Cops for The Deli Magazine, with expanded coverage here at this blog.

One of the bigger names of the night provided valuable assistance with overall show coordination.

Not only did Nicole Atkins sing brilliantly (as one would expect) but also contributed amusing banter and introduced many of the acts.

Her particular talents have been chronicled here on this blog many times, most recently here.

Invisible Familiars is fronted by Jared Samuels, a noted live and session multi-instrumentalist.

Joining Jared to lend their voices to his performance were none other than Cibo Matto and Sean Lennon.  This provided an unexpected level of charged electricity to the overall proceedings.

Things rose to an even more dynamic level when South African born composer Ella Joyce Buckley and her band delivered a thrilling avant-garde rendition of "Farmer in the City."

With the most dramatic lighting of the evening, Ella and her band took one of Scott's most experimental compositions into a uniquely psyched-out direction.

Many in the audience appeared mesmerized by the sights and sounds.

Visually there were moments that shared similarities with classic New York psych-rockers like A Place To Bury Strangers.

The whole experience was thrilling and much respect has to be given for this grand performance.

Find out more about this artist here.

For the nights final performance, string conductor and orchestra leader Gillian Rivers stepped out front to sing as Will provided piano accompaniment.

As it turns out Gillian is more than instrumental arrangements, and has a quite lovely voice.

So we can certainly add that to a resume that includes classical violinist, string arranger, in-demand live and studio session artist that has collaborated with Sonic Boom, MGMT, TV on the Radio, The Wordless Music Orchestra, Sigur ros, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nicole Atkins and The Pierces.

Gillian and this reporter during the evening festivities

Find out more about Gillian Rivers here.

An initial preview of this show was originally published here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Features: Surfing, Twintapes, Slim Wray, Fishdoctor, Kate Nash

There is an intriguing blend of pitch bended guitar textures and jazz-inflected vocals running through the Bushwick based band Surfing.

Moving the dreamgaze genre in a similar direction as fellow Brooklynites Sua (and Night Manager before them), the band's marriage of a more sophisticated vocal style (and haven’t we had enough of tuneless shouting?) with multiple layers of driving, hook-heavy guitars is surely a welcome trend. Their lone track (so far) “Hollow Sparrow” throttles along like “Mustang Ford” era Swervedriver, this comparison made all the more accurate by fluid, looser, fill-loaded drumming.

Jordan Stern’s voice is strong with a tonal quality and phrasing reminiscent of Caroline Crawley in 1992’s Shelleyan Orphan.

Surfing on The Deli Magazine by Dave Cromwell

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One can't help but notice a curiously vintage quality to the synth driven sound of Brooklyn’s Twintapes, a NYC electro pop trio brainchild of Pavel Rarera (pictured) that - without any support from the major music blogs - has recently gone viral on Youtube with a few videos.

Triggering devices that reference electronic pioneers Kraftwerk all the way up to current trendsetters The Knife, a balance between groove and chill is skillfully reached. Vocals are delivered with a more soulful approach however, positioning their sound closer to dance than the harsher textures of industrial.

Augmenting the two keyboardist is a percussionist who incorporates traditional drum set pieces like snare drum and highhat cymbals alongside electronic beats, giving the band a welcome element of human groove within these traditional rock structures.

Twintapes on The Deli Mag by Dave Cromwell

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Celebrating the release of their debut album “Sack Lunch” on November 12, Brooklyn’s Slim Wray is the latest entry in the burgeoning NYC blues rock genre.

The duo of Ryan Houser (guitar/vocals) and Chris Moran (drums/backing vocals) play a stripped down hybrid of aggressive blues that combines punk, pop and garage thrash into a larger than sum-of-its-parts sound. “I Gotta Girl (With A List Of Needs)” hearkens back to early-era White Stripes, alternating hyper-passionate verses with muscular instrumental breaks. “Reaction” tips in a more pop direction by way of a traditional chord progression and harmony background vocals. “Bear”( streaming below) is built around a “whooo hooo” vocal hook, while stretching out over chunky chords and thrashed cymbals. “House Of D” comes by way of acoustic guitar with vocals delivered in a conversational style that shares similarities with fellow new-blues Brooklynites The Dough Rollers. 12 solid tracks in all, the album includes a cover as well, with a delightfully faithful rendition of the Van Morrison (and re-interpreted by Patti Smith) classic “G L O R I A.”

Slim Wray on The Deli by Dave Cromwell

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There is an appealing retro quality to “Jackets,” the latest release from ambient croon poppers Fishdoctor. With its warm reverberated vocal wash enveloping a moderately quick paced intro, space soon emerges for clear lyrical imagery.

Hearkening back to early 80’s MTV hitmakers like Spandau Ballet, The The and Haircut 100, an unencumbered verse structure sets up the progression to follow. When the change comes, its grandiose swirl would make the aforementioned bands proud. However, a more sophisticated chord used on the turnaround back into the verse suggests greater songwriting acumen. “In the hour where we all come to life,” emerges as the dominant vocal hook, extolling a fascination with the possibilities that await us. In additional to the obvious physical garment the songtitle references, there may an intent to touch on the psychological shields we often wear in public. Or, maybe it’s just another makeout song. This too is the source of where ‘we all come to life.’

Fishdoctor on The Deli Mag by Dave Cromwell

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Playing in front of a packed out audience at New York City’s Terminal 5 on Saturday November 9, Kate Nash rewarded her adoring fans with high-energy, emotionally-charged show. Touring in support of her third full length album “Girl Talk” and subsequently released EP “Fri-End,” the evolution of Kate’s sound and stage presence is quite impressive.

Over six years ago, Kate came to our shores as a piano playing singer-songwriter touring behind her breakout hit album “Made Of Bricks.” Although there were occasional signs of an underlying defiant attitude in some of her more popular songs like “Foundations,” which boasted the lyrics “You said I must eat so many lemons, 'cause I am so bitter. I said "I'd rather be with your friends mate, 'cause they are much fitter" – the overall tone of that album leaned towards sensitive introspection.

The Kate Nash of today shows a young woman that has evolved into a determined presence, daring herself to take chances. Although many of her newer songs still appear to be inspired by personal relationships (and the heartbreak that comes from their failures – for instance the recent single “OMYGOD!”), there is now very much a feminist empowerment theme that runs throughout much of her work.

Initially stepping out onstage dressed in a red ensemble and minus her band, she opened this show with the final track from “Girl Talk,” the gentle “Lullaby for an Insomniac.”

Her band then joined her as Kate went off for an immediate costume change.

Once back, Kate was wearing what one might describe as a “heart-leaf dress.” Although there may be some deeper meaning behind this loosely draped and frankly less-than-flattering attire, that point could be lost on some. As counterpoint, her all female band wore white flowing dresses that more pleasantly celebrated the feminine form.

Regardless of the frocks worn, the band performed at a very high level, as they faithfully recreated album tracks spanning all three records. Ripping through an explosive set that featured crowd pleasers like “Sister,” “Death Proof,” “Kiss That Girl” and “Do Wah Doo,” a particular highlight of the night was the over-the-top performance of “OMYGOD.”

Just midway through the set, Kate took this song as an opportunity to enter the audience (up over the barricades and right into the middle of the crowd) jumping up and down with her adoring fans, and even letting some take a verse on the mic. That particular performance is captured in this video right here:

After that mayhem, Kate played a few songs from her debut hit album “Made of Bricks,” like “Mouthwash,” “Pumpkin Soup” and “Foundations.” Sandwiched in between was current track “Fri-End.” Things rose to an even higher level when during the song “Girl Gang” she invited a number of fans from the audience up on stage to dance around with her. Kate then coordinated a number of them out for a crowd surf, before ultimately throwing herself back into the audience once again.

Just when you thought she may never even touch the piano during this show, the lights dimmed and the road crew quickly made over the stage. With her piano now front and center (and having changed clothes again – this time a much more attractive black and white ensemble), Kate played a celebratory version of her classic song “Merry Happy.”

Post-show activity afforded me the opportunity to chat with Kate and update our photo together.


How we looked on our first meeting at the beginning of 2008

Supporting Kate on this tour is former New Yorker and current LA resident Katy Goodman and her band La Sera.

Most New Yorkers have seen Katy over the years with either La Sera or her original band The Vivian Girls. Like every other show of hers I’ve seen, it was a most entertaining experience. Katy has an easygoing personality that that shines through from the stage.

Of particular note was her last song played, which she announced as a brand new one from her forthcoming album. The band jammed out hard on this one, creating a sense of anticipation for the record to come.

During South By SouthWest in 2012 I conducted an in-person interview with Katy, which can be viewed Here

A previously published version of this Kate Nash and LaSera at Terminal 5 review can be found Here at MySocialList.  That posting features an entirely different set of photos I shot at the show.

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