Category Archives: Interviews

‘FALSE PRIEST’ PREYS UPON KEVIN BARNES’ OF MONTREAL

Named after a former gal pal from Canada’s French-speaking capital, Of Montreal is the nom de plume for brainchild Kevin Barnes’ fascinatingly prolific Athens, Georgia-based indie pop combo. Initiated in the late-‘90s, Barnes soon recruited Derek Almstead and Bryan Poole, two likeminded artists that helped anchor Elf Power (a nifty Elephant Six collective whose crucial underground brethren included Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Beulah).

After Of Montreal’s ambitious ’99 breakthrough, The Gay Parade, gained college radio attention, Barnes settled in with fellow multi-instrumentalist James Huggins and keyboardist Dottie Alexander for the next decade, creating an eclectic blend of eccentric British Invasion knockoffs, spirited Vaudevillian vagaries, spiffily giddy ditties, and spunky funk gunk.

But while Gay Parade’s naïve childlike whimsicality engendered more complicated romantic compulsions and skewed schizoid cynicism, joyous piano-strolled euphony, “Old Familiar Way,” Farfisa-driven psych-punk bop, “Fun Loving Nun,” mellifluent Beatlesque twee-pop sop, “Tulip Baroo,” and novel gypsy cabaret spoof, “The March Of The Gay Parade,” proved perfectly incipient.

Following three more rendezvousing long-players, Of Montreal reached another pinnacle with ‘05s uniformly upbeat The Sunlandic Twins. Barnes puts an extra bounce in his step on a few easily accessible tunes, including the rubbery disco-pop getaway “Wraith Pinned To The Mist” (differently-worded for an Outback Steakhouse jingle) and sensational new wave seduction, “The Party’s Crashing Us.” Strangely, Barnes’ most recognizable advertising gimmick, the catchy paisley pop posy, “Everyday Feels Like Sunday” (an affable B-side stuck at the end of a bonus 4-song EP), helped promote NASDAQ through TV ads a few years hence.

More often than not playing the convoluted naïf who’s tangled up in blue with a ‘fractious heart,’ Barnes nonetheless began ‘07s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? on positive terms as per love-smitten adulation, “Suffer For Fashion.” Still employing contorted titles as confounded descriptive metaphors, he constructs several bohemian rhapsodies full of spry twists and clever turns. On hooky Squeeze-like new wave detour, “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse,” he derides the insufferable antidepressant chemical dependency felt firsthand.

One year later, the re-energized and soberer Barnes, perhaps inspired by Hissing Fauna’s apoplectic “Labyrinthian Pomp” or abstruse closer, “We Were Born The Mutants,” went for broke with baroque Epicurean suite, Skeletal Lamping. A complex maze-like patchwork consuming bittersweet manifestos, flippant laments, and wry asides that’d scrape the ‘darkest corners of his psyche,’ its flush with heightened emotional anxiety and multifarious moodscapes that dug further into Barnes’ insecure subconscious being. As usual, Barnes loves playing with sexuality in an off-handed manner, going ‘both ways’ on the surrealist soft-core sashay, “For Our Elegant Caste.”

When Barnes’ troupe returned in 2010, our convivial host had hooked up with respected producer, Jon Brion, showing off newfound vocal confidence and utilizing a real studio to open up the sound of the surprisingly conventional roundabout, False Priest. His typically downcast confessional allegories reap deeper discontentment while the cheerier counteractive exaltations gain effervescent fervency from gorgeous Prince-like falsetto flights of fancy.

On jaunty opener, “I Feel Ya’ Strutter,” Barnes confesses to being ‘so freaked out and depressed/ but now I see I was blessed,’ singing the blithe mid-verses in a giddily conversational David Bowie-via-Anthony Newley English accent. Hilariously snubbing spoken word stanzas bash a ‘crazy girl’ on “Our Riotous Defects,” where he laughingly hooks up with her commiserating cousin (for spite?). Resoundingly trippy constellation, “Coquet Coquette,” rises out of the ashes with stammering 6-string bursts, soaring above synthesized intergalactic oscillations in a brilliant display of lustful teenage urgency.

Endearingly moping escapist teen-dreamed epics seem to suit Barnes fine (even if he’s presently married with children). He’s willfully sympathetic when it suits him to be. But not when he’s the casualty getting marginalized and sabotaged by some miscreant libertine during “Famine Affair.”

A glossier textural sheen covers the entire easier-to-grasp 13-song set, making False Priest more appetizing to mainstream tastes than Of Montreal’s previous cinematic full-length ventures. These maddeningly deranged odysseys are the work of a truly gifted composer whose piquantly puzzled peculiarities and prodigiously expansive catalogue shouldn’t be ignored or short-changed.

Who were some early influences?

KEVIN BARNES: I was living outside Detroit before moving to West Palm Beach to finish high school. At the time, ‘60s pop interested me. I was a big Beatles, Kinks, and Pretty Things fan. Initially, I home recorded. All I could afford was a cassette 4-track. Then, I was able to get a ½-inch 8-track reel-to-reel machine. The fidelity was lo-fi and I was experimenting with mike placement but didn’t have a compressor. I tried figuring out Beatles-Kinks arrangements.

Since The Gay Parade, I’ve noticed the arrangements becoming more complex, colorful, and multi-textural.

 

 

I realize there’s rules people follow composing pop songs. I decided not to follow the rules because it was boring. It’s more exciting not having typical pop templates as the Holy Grail. There are many great non-traditional arrangements the Beatles and Kinks used. You may not catch it unless you have your ear to it. Some Kinks songs, especially during the Arthur era, were pretty complicated. I don’t stay with the same groove, key, or time signature for every song. I fuse them together one part at a time. I get the skeleton of a song and intentionally rework predictable parts to make it exciting to me.

How does the live band keep up with all the changes? Are they Classically trained?

 

 

It’s deceptively complex. You just gotta get the arrangement down. By now, they understand my style. None of us are classically trained. Only a handful could read music. It’s intuitive.

How’s the post-REM/ B-52’s Athens scene?

 

 

When I first moved here there were a lot of great local bands home recording. Most had a theatrical element that attracted me. I got more into electronic music with programmed drums, breaking unspoken existent rules in the Elephant 6 scene, where everyone was very much anti-commercial radio. They wanted to be esoteric, obscure, and do their own thing. When I got into glam-electro-disco freaky things, that alienated me from their ethic. We were still friends. But everything has a life cycle. There’s definitely an Athens scene I’m not part of. The Whigs are best known.

How do you move so easily from wrist-slitting depressives to sunny uplift within the course of a song?

 

 

Love’s very complex and relationships are sunny one day and challenging the next. I may be emotionally bipolar. It’s natural to look for escape and give voice to that human experience. It’s organic. When I’m composing, I feel captured by another spirit. I don’t think about it from an outsider’s perspective.

You enjoy working dichotomous titles into album and song titles. You go from a gay parader to a skeletal lamper to a false priest.

 

 

(laughter) False Priest came from a writing exercise. I was reading these Dylan Thomas poems and then closing my eyes to let that influence me and do some automatic writing. I wrote a bunch of titles. I had this vision after Hissing Fauna that I’d have three records using those titles with no deeper meaning behind it.

You seem to have temporarily stepped away from the collage-like settings previous LP’s relied on for the more straight-ahead False Priest.

 

 

After all these years, I feel more relaxed. I’m trying to connect more with mind and body. When I sing, I wanna feel the things I’m singing about. In the past, I’ve been distracted or lacking confidence in the studio. I put my heart into trying to emote better.

How’d producer Jon Brion help out?

 

 

I made the whole LP in Athens and went to California, replacing certain things. He basically produced the mix from rough mixes. He likes the songs but didn’t think I was getting the most of them. He added instrumentation to make it sound fuller. I only cut two vocal tracks in California. There’s something magical about your own home studio; a place you’re comfortable with to do certain things. But we couldn’t use my California vocal sessions. For me, it’s being able to lose myself in the recording process in a little bubble, maintaining security.

I believe the stress track for indie radio is “Coquet Coquette,” a hard-driving rocker with Who-like guitar flanging.

 

 

Yes. It’s the first single. I wrote that at a friends’ studio outside Athens. He had Orange amps, a sitar, and vintage gear. I used instruments lying around and put them to use. Jon Brion played a bunch of synths and keyboards. That was a great contribution.

“Hydra Fancies” has an irresistible lounge pop faux-Jazz feel reminiscent of obscure ‘70s pop icon Andrew Fairweather-Low.

 

 

It’s a love song to the Wonderland Arts Society – a group of artists, like Janelle Monae – whom I met when I started writing False Priest. I had a great collaborative experience with them. That song’s about discovering these inspiring people. But the bridge is more fantasy. I wasn’t gonna put it on the record, but Jon loved it. I had 18 songs and figured which ones to work on. He campaigned for that song and put funky synth action to it and changed my mind.

The carefree glissando strings accompanying the whimsical “Sex Karma” reminded me of Todd Rundgren’s dramatic ‘70s synth-pop.

 

 

It’s hard to talk about the songs. That was the first song written while working in my attic studio at my former house. I was listening to Estelle and Kanye West’s “American Boy.” That was a big inspiration for “Sex Karma.” I like Todd Rundgren’s collage pop. It’s influence is less on this album, but more on Gay Parade or Skeletal Lamping. I discovered that initially from Brian Wilson’s Smile - what he did with the parts. Every 16 bars were a complete change and feel – like a different song. I realized the exciting potential. If you get bored after the verse-chorus, you piece together different elements. That’s very liberating. But you can’t do that all the time because every record will sound the same. I like bouncing back and forth between writing that way and then trying to be more conventional.

I’ve noticed the eye-grabbing kaleidoscopic artwork donning each album. That contradicts trendy MP3 downloads, where visual art gets blind-sighted.

 

 

We thought it was important early on. My brother, David, before I got signed to a record label, made art for my little cassettes. We had a natural connection and it’s great we’re involved with each other’s lives. When he’s making the art, he’s dedicated to listening to the record. My wife, Nina, has a cool original style that differs from his. She cares just as much about the music. So the last two records they got together. I love looking at crazy parliament-Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone art. It always connected with the record. When I remember the Beatles’ Revolver, the cover image comes to mind. Sgt. Pepper it’s hard to think about without recalling the colorful military jackets and packaging. Even Bob Dylan’s artwork. The Elephant 6 collective wanted the artwork to have a force that connected with the musical experience.

How have laptops helped make your music more dynamic?

 

 

I started recording digitally up ‘til Sunlandic Twins. Then, I used a computer. Once you go to computer, there’s no limitations except the processor. Like if Todd Rundgren had a computer, God only knows what he’d done. It’s scary. The computer allows more experimentation and editing. It makes the Beach Boys Smile that much more insane to image as well as Pet Sounds and Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow or Os Mutantes early stuff. Back then you had to do it with tape splicing and studio manipulation.

You’ve always seemed more connected to soul music than your former Elephant 6 brethren.

 

 

R & B, soul, funk. That’s definitely a driving influence for False Priest. I’ve immersed myself with it and embraced it. I’m naturally drawn to the classic records. It’s also helped me vocally. Sly Stone’s got natural emotive instincts. There’s no self-consciousness getting swept up by the musical moment. Let it take you wherever it goes.

Are you an avid record collector?

 

 

I’m a music collector. But I never had the vinyl bug. You really need a good turntable to make records sound better than CD’s. But I do listen to music all day long.

LIARS ANGUS ANDREW TRIES SURVIVING CITY OF ANGELS’ ‘SISTERWORLD’

Rangy world-traveling Australian-reared vocalist-guitarist Angus Andrew came to America in the ‘90s, settling in New York City to form the Liars with a few aspiring local musicians. Now residing in the Los Angeles area betwixt Venice Beach native, Aaron Hemphill (guitar-synths), and Highland Park resident, Julian Gross (drums), Angus recently moved out of his second floor apartment (atop a medical marijuana dispensary) after a few dangerous crimes informed the Liars latest undertaking, Sisterworld. Yet these post-punk revivalists have always relied on volatile discordance to put across their decadent missives.

The precariously satirical title of 2001 debut, They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, matched caustic deconstructive dissonance to superstitious anecdotal phantasms. A primal inaugural effort less formally structurally than each subsequent studio session, the Liars debased abstractions struck a chord within Brooklyn’s thriving avant ‘no-wave’ underground community. Dense lo-fi production and a distant sonic tonicity give this ambitious prelude a deliberately askew design. Angus’ vengeful boast, ‘we’ve got our finger on the pulse of America,’ is part braggadocio confidence and part tongue-in-cheek snicker. His static-y disfigured vocal snarls, purposely buried in the muddy mix, plow forth with ranting rage. Clamorous pings, pangs, clinks, and clangs reinforce the percussive clamor forcefully heightening the downcast fervor.

Original bassist Pat Noecker and drummer Ron Albertson (replaced by Gross) left by the second full-length, a cataclysmic noise-rock affair inspired by European witchcraft and filled with inharmonious calamities. Recorded in a supposedly haunted New Jersey cabin, the twisted poetic bloodlust, cacophonous electrode bleats, and discombobulating disconnect prodding They Were Wrong, So We Drowned left wandering indie rock heads bewilderedly bewitched.

Relocating to Berlin, Germany, the Liars pit drums against electronic noise on ‘04s Drum’s Not Dead, where Angus, Aaron, and Julian create a fictional thematic thread connecting mysterious catacombs to cathartic eruptions on an ominously subterranean journey beyond the abyss. Big toms and clicking percussion inundate spellbinding cinematic drama, “A Visit From Drum” and wiry guitar shimmers through death-marched grumble, “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack.” Transcendent Africano dirge, “It Fit When I Was A Kid,” and tribal bass-drummed mantra, “Hold You Drum,” append the allegoric calamity.

The Liars then headed to L.A. and brought back the nervy delirium of their earlier recordings on a bravely whimsical self-titled ’07 album containing more perceptive lyrical notions than previous endeavors. Starting with the menacing organ-bleated guitar-frazzled drum-charging “Plaster Casts Of Everything” and moving on to the psychedelic fuzz tones infiltrating “Sailing To Byzantium,” this retro-styled dance punk maneuver found the investigative trio broadening horizons while finding a convenient middle-ground between melodic accessibility and abstruse digressions.

Soon living atop a La Brea marijuana dispensary, Angus received all the inspiration he needed from the criminal activities taking place below his loft apartment. A security guard he knew was killed. Then, a few souls with the Jaws Of Life tried stealing a weed dispenser. Later on, Angus’ apartment got sledge-hammered by an unknown pot bandit. These gloomy real life misadventures instigate the eerie upheavals heard on jarringly penetrating prog-rock depressant, Sisterworld. For the first time, cello, violin, as well as bassoon (by Angus’ girlfriend, Mary Pierson, of the High Places), bring orchestral anxiety to the Liars severe guitar-bass-drum landscape.

Right off the bat, storming lead cut, “Scissor,” explodes outward as buzzing six-string, rumbled bass, and slashing cymbals abut lilting Beach Boys harmonies until its murky neo-Classical organ meltdown diverts the phantasmagoric dread. Nearly as combatively incensed, chilly diatribe, “Scarecrows On A Killer Street,” stammers along a clamorous Industrial setting as bleak as the City Of Angel’s seedy underside. The slow-burned string fervor of “No Barrier Fun” and the trippy piano sullenly soldering depression-bound nightmare, “Drip,” counter the louder ramshackle outbreaks with low key atmospherics. And unison reassuring chant, “I Can Still See An Outside World,” begs to escape urban grief in one seismically foreboding whirlwind.

 

Since you’ve lived on both Coasts, how does Los Angeles compare to New York City?

ANGUS: When you talk about Manhattan and compare the two cities, even geographically, the idea of L.A. is so difficult to grasp. It’s downtown, many areas are just homeless shelters in this big sprawl.

AARON: You wanna go to New York to experience people being rude and in your face. You’re gonna move into a shit hole with roaches and the pizza guy’s gonna call you a fuck head, but he’s gonna get your order right. You’re prepared because you know it’s tough. Out in L.A., it’s the exact opposite. The weather’s nice. You could get a job standing in front of a camera. When we moved here, you’re amazed when you order a coffee and bagel and the guy asks if you want sun-dried tomatoes. You’re like, “What the hell is this?’ Whereas in L.A., the greater majority of what you experience is, ‘You want sun-dried tomatoes with that?’ It’s so gigantic from top to bottom it’s a two hour drive.

ANGUS: It’s the cars and the freeway. The way the city works has more to do with America than it does in Europe. It’s fascinating. It’s an arrow everyone looks to in order to see where everything is going. It’s pretty frightening.

“Scissor” may be the most dynamic song the Liars ever did.

 

 

ANGUS: It’s about a dream I had about coming home and my girlfriend’s cut herself with scissors. The kick of it is how I reacted. It wasn’t heroic. I felt incapable of dealing with it and had no powerful, admirable reaction. I sat there and let it happen. At the end, she wasn’t actually dead. If she had died, she wouldn’t see how badly I reacted to her death. The fact that she was alive and witnessed it all made me feel doubly worse.

“Here Comes All The People” sounds like Pink Floyd with violin.

 

 

AARON: That song took forever to make and doesn’t sound very complicated. But the little cello-violin breakdown was written on guitar in Prague. It’s actually titled in incorrect English as a paranoiac response.

ANGUS: This was our first chance to takes the melodies further by experimenting with strings.

Much like fellow post-millennium New York no wave noise-rockers such as Black Dice, Oneida, and others, the Liars treat each album as a separate entity roughly unrelated to past studio sessions.

 

 

ANGUS: We got fed up with the idea of people seeing our records as more of an intellectual endeavor that had more to do with the concept than the music itself. We do a whole years’ worth of interviews to hear ‘Who’s Drum and who’s Heart Attack’ (referring to Drum’s Not Dead). It felt like we were talking about a lot of stuff we didn’t need to reveal so much. With the self-titled album, we worked on completely stripping away all meaning from our songs and throw them together to see what it felt like. It was a great experiment. But we realized we appreciated doing a project as a whole in terms of conceptualism. It brought back some of the raw, manic freneticism of yore – but more discernible song ideas.

Our records are all different. But we’re more interested in songs and the language. In the past, we avoided the traditional way of putting things together. But when you allow yourself to – especially if you haven’t done it before – play a Blues riff, it feels amazing. You think, ‘Wow. Maybe Jimmy Page did this once.’ You feel some connection. Before, we seemed to be severing all attempts to create our own sound. This time, we connected with our past and what we like about music and that carried over to this record. The idea of songs is important to us. It’s quite experimental for us to work on a song and its structure as opposed to when we first started and it was all about the sound.

Who were some formative influences?

 

 

ANGUS: At seventeen, after high school, I left home to go to the Big Apple, where I felt it was the center of the world. My early influences were nothing spectacular. I didn’t have an appreciation for music until I met Aaron. I was always intimidated by musicianship and hadn’t been introduced to a more artistic side of creating it. The band, Suicide, was so awesome. That way of approaching things where it didn’t have to be perfect was where I was coming from

JULIAN: I was born in what is now a scientology building. I grew up in Venice not far from where Aaron now lives. I also loved West Coast music, like Suicidal Tendencies, as a kid. I remember them before I even knew their music. I remember the hats and how people dressed. Iron Maiden was another huge one in elementary school.

AARON: I think more about doing music kinetically. If you could imagine your body movements when you approach your instrument, generally the sound will match. If you approach a guitar with a rigid posture, the sound is like DNA’s Arto Lindsay. Whereas, Jimi Hendrix’s kinetic motions are smooth and buttery and the sound is effortless. With drumming, especially, there’s a direct kinetic relationship with a bunch of objects and the pattern which you approach it, if you flip it, it’s more naïve to create a different pattern from stylistic whims.

ANGUS: Primal drumming’s instinctive. You don’t need a musicology degree to hit it hard or hit it soft.

-John Fortunato

SHE & HIM GO HEAR & THEY’RE ON ‘VOLUME 2’

Living in the modern world without forsaking a charmingly typecast retro spirit sometimes tied to theatrical familial roots, old-fashioned composing thespian, Zooey Deschanel, amassed a number of eclectic original tunes ultimately given fuller arrangements by indie rock lynchpin, M. Ward, under unassuming moniker, She & Him. Inspired in part by stalwart Tin Pan Alley tunesmith Cole Porter and jazzy Broadway icon George Gershwin, Deschanel displays a real flare for anything from nightclub cabaret to Brill Building whimsicality to antediluvian folk.

Deschanel, whose mother, Mary Jo Weir, starred in Twin Peaks, took a variety of acting roles before trying her hand at recording, receiving parts in sitcom, Veronica’s Closet, and a few movies (‘99s Mumford; ‘00s Almost Famous – as a ditzy ‘70s-styled stewardess; ‘06s Failure To Launch). Musically, she evokes the same dramatic propensity her father, celebrated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, brought to the big screen for ’79 comedy, Being There.

Partnered with fellow West Coast studio hound, M. (Matt) Ward, Deschanel’s lithe alto truly resonates, showing equal proclivity towards ‘60s girl group pop, baroque neo-Classical orchestrations, and traditional County & Western. Meeting during the filming of The Go-Getter, the harmonious twosome initially collaborated on a jubilant cover of Richard & Linda Thompson’s “When I Get To The Border.”

Forming a contagious union of music and words, Ward got his reluctant accomplice to hand over some homemade tapes with songs saved since childhood. On ‘08s wonderful entrée, Volume One, the burgeoning Los Angeles-born starlet proved to be stylistically diversified, never beholden to any one type or era of music, but proficient enough at each to be delightfully eloquent.

Besides replicating some long lost cabaret Jazz diva for “Take It Back” as well as carefree Western stylist Lucinda Williams on the choral linger climaxing Beatles cover, “I Should Have Known Better,” Deschanel makes herself at home inside Ward’s percussive Phil Spector-derived Wall Of Sound during innocent trinket, “Sweet Darlin.’” Tinkled boogie piano anchors strummed acoustic ditty, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” – a smiley-faced happy-sad adolescent anecdote perfectly attuned to The Wizard Of Oz with its windswept lullaby glaze. Simple hymn-like whistled reminiscence, “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today,” becomes a mesmerizing elegy the Beach Boys could’ve harmonized a cappella. Similarly backdated, “I Was Made For You” dupes ‘60s pop gal pals like the Shangri-La’s and Ronettes.

But the striking debut also ventured into material conspicuously mimicking singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell: pedal-steeled “Change Is Hard” and temperate retreat “This Is Not A Test” (which nearly slips into Mitchell’s sensual “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”). Proving to have one of the best crystalline pop voices since Aimee Mann went solo in the ‘90s, the multitalented lass (and Death Cab For Cutie front man Ben Gibbard’s sweetheart) really hits it out of the park on clear-voiced near-soprano gusher, “Sentimental Heart.”

If she wanted to, Deschanel could easily do commercial jingles for a living. But that’d lower the expectations she has fulfilled alongside pen pal Ward with She & Him’s superior Volume Two.

Herein, Ward’s fuller arrangements allow more colorful textural flavoring and richer symphonic embellishments to shine through. And Deshanel’s cuddly tender-hearted sentimentality never sounds better than when she challenges Lesley Gore’s sad girl deliverance on gorgeously summery cello-string devotional, “Don’t Look Back.” Then again, hazily misty-eyed ‘70s-related piano-strolled walk-in-the park, “In The Sun,” couldn’t be anymore catchier.

Onward, bittersweet tearjerker, “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” (a Teresa Brewer original redone by Country headliner, Skeeter Davis, and bubblegum kiddie-core siblings, Patience & Prudence, in the ‘50s), revisits the Cowboy Junkies celestial hushed tonicity with stellar results. Gentle bossa nova ukulele and forlorn “O Sole Mio” motifs underline the carefree Jimmy Buffett attitude swaying tropical trinket, “Lingering Still.” And the sedate beauty of enraptured ballads, “Thieves” and “Me And You,” cannot be denied. Moreover, are there many contemporary vocalists that can top the breezy romantic guilelessness given buoyant twee-pop sop “Over It Over Again” or majestic comforter “Home”?

It’s true. Several actresses have tried their hand at music. But most were unoriginal and less than inspiring, though Juliette Lewis’ Siouxsie Sioux neo-punk styling and Scarlett Johansson’s alluring synth-pop almost lived up to the hype. But it’s doubtful they could match Deschanel’s focus, clarity, and compositional skill.

I spoke to She & Him’s feminine half during one hot June afternoon.

 

I believe in a fair world, “Don’t Look Back” would top the charts. It reminded me of Lesley Gore’s cushion-y pop treatments.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Thanks. I love Lesley Gore. Generally, when I write music, I go for the more Classic songwriters like Carole King and Neil Sedaka – Brill Building writers. These people really appeal to me.

Did your Hollywood parents inform your musical tastes?

 

 

Definitely the stuff I grew up with influenced my taste. I heard a lot of great stuff on the radio. Radio’s always been a fun way to discover music. I always listen to oldies. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, records were becoming obsolete. My father had quite an extensive collection I was allowed to explore.

Is there a specific template you use when composing a song?

 

 

In a lot of ways, when I write songs I’ll think of a Classic singer. I love to think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to write a song for this or that artist?’ That gets me inspired.

Why’d you choose “In The Sun” as the first single?

 

 

These decisions are by committee. I can’t remember exactly why it was chosen. It’s energetic. I really like them all. I try not to get too sensitive about what song is better than another, but I think people will like it as the first single.

Which version of “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” were you most familiar with?

 

 

I had the Skeeter Davis version. I’ve always been a fan of hers. Matt and I both liked the song. Usually our covers are what we both like.

How has She & Him moved forward since the debut?

 

 

We’re more comfortable in our roles working together. It made the process quicker and we were able to experiment with the production. Also, Matt got into arranging strings. I love doing and laying down backing vocals. I was able to add more complexities. We had the time and energy to make the second album more lush than the first. Sometimes a song needs very little, but it’s all about preserving the stories within the song. A lot of the songs on Volume One were older. “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” I wrote as a teenager. But a lot of the songs on Volume Two were new, except one or two that are six years old.

You spoke of multi-tracking backup voices. Multifarious singer Harry Nilsson was great at that. Is he influential?

 

 

I love Nilsson. He’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters – a fantastic singer with wonderful orchestral vocal arrangements. I love Harry all-around. Definitely Nilsson, Beach Boys, and the Zombies were vocal influences.

Did you ever think of doing TV commercial jingles?

 

 

I hadn’t thought about it, but that’s not a bad idea. I love being able to write music and watch a song come alive. It’s a privilege to make a living composing music.

 

MORNING BENDERS REACH DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT WITH ‘BIG ECHO’

You don’t need to have a sunup hangover or dawning erection to ‘get’ the Morning Benders sly moniker. One of the coolest baroque pop units to hit the scene since the Elephant Collective went South ‘round 2000, this spellbinding SoCal quartet integrates orchestral labyrinths with quixotic lyrical melancholia in a dearly Epicurean manner.

Though founding front man Chris Chu started his first band during college in Berkeley, California, he never intended on being the main singer-songwriter.

However, when the laptop recorder hooked up with a few fellow Bay Area artisans (settling on bassist Timothy Or, drummer Julian Harmon, and soon after, Chu’s brother Jonathan), the Morning Benders were ready to go beyond the escapist dream-pop comprising two formative ’06 EP’s.

A meritorious full-length ’08 debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, surged forth with sparkling melodies that resonated inside surrealistic catacombs, greeting a readied underground audience immediately. Its rudimentary production, possibly the source of the album’s satirizing ‘Tin Can’ reference, added a distinctive primitivism somewhat reminiscent of ‘90s indie wunderkinds, Neutral Milk Hotel. Comparisons to the Shins easygoing tunefulness are merited and the engaging Beatles harmonies (via XTC on sympathetic alleviation, “Patient Patient”) never falter.

Returning to the studio with more gumption and finesse for ‘10s ambitious allegorical anodyne, Big Echo, the Morning Benders fashion fresh stylistic tones without abandoning the recreational adolescent guilelessness that got ‘em on the map.

On opening cut, “Excuses,” spiffy Spanish guitar winds its way into Spaghetti Western faux-strings as subtle South of the Border folk harmonies gently sway. ‘60s-styled rock guitar reinforces the acoustic-strummed uplift of percussion-doused mediation, “Cold War,” where pots, pans, forks, spoons, toy piano, and timpani underscore a hand-clapped chorale that’d maybe suit Crosby Stills & Nash. Chu’s high-registered hushed tenor navigates across unhurried dirge, “Pleasure Sighs,” a sullen death march nearly as ominous as haunting guitar-stammered lament, “Hand Me Downs.”

Chu’s impressive contextual designs may be rooted in simple Chamber pop eloquence, but so are Dr. Dog’s – another worthy contemporary band banking on steadfast traditionalism and ably plying engagingly dulcet harmonies to ringing melodic intrigue. He embellishes the Morning Benders latest compositional batch with a truly refined classicism, pitting contemplative quietude and somber ethereality against the ascendant existential rage fueling the fieriest fervency consuming Big Echo.

I spoke to Chu via phone one muggy summer afternoon.

Who were your early musical influences?

CHRISTOPHER CHU: When I was growing up, it was ‘60s music like Pet Sounds and the Beatles. As I got older, I listened to everything. When we were making Big Echo, I listened to a lot of Talking Head, Kate Bush, Big Star and Blur – even new music by Dirty Projectors.

Were you shooting for hypnotizing dramatic grandeur with Big Echo?
 
 I had some semblance of an idea in my head. But more than that, my goal was to go in the studio and take advantage of what that space had. So it’s all the result of using the space we recorded it in and the old gear they had and the mood that unified the theme.
 
You had self-produced Morning Benders debut. How did Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor help transform the second album through his knob-twisting techniques?
  I actually planned to produce the second album as well. We started recording in San Francisco, but when we were finished tracking the album and had all this tape I was deeply in the middle of it all, wearing all these hats, and couldn’t get any clarity or objectivity listening to it. Around that time, I sent some of these songs to Chris and he wrote back saying he’d help mix it. That was the perfect role we needed him for. So he got involved in the mixing stage and had us focus in on what we were looking for – choosing some of the sounds and making it crisper, stronger and more dynamic.

Morning Benders have been compared to the Shins, but I think your compositions are headier, developing more complex twists and turns.
 
(laughter) It’s hard to say how the songs come about because it’s always different. For me, the songs do get worked out early on and stay in my head and I try to find a mood. Especially with Big Echo, a lot of the songs when I wrote them, I had an idea already what the sound should be and the amplitude and the space it needed to be recorded in.
 
Did you choose “Promises” as the first single because its climactic choral crescendo, reminiscent of the Beatles via Apples In Stereo, was less complex than the arguably better and more exhilarating “Excuses”?
 
We put out those two songs at the same time (prior to the albums’ release). I’m hesitant to say why one became the first single over the other. The idea was to take two songs we wanted to do something with – one was the video and the other an MP3 – and give them away. I really wanted to pitch the first two songs and not take the record out of context. That was my main impulse behind that decision. I figured if we had to give it away on MP3 in this day and age, we’d use the opening two tracks so when people got the album they’d continue on their on way.
A non-LP track, “Go Grab A Stranger,” caught my attention on-line. It sounded like “In The Court Of The Crimson King” on a drunken Radiohead bender. 
I’ve had that song for awhile. I wanted to put it on Big Echo, but I was never happy with the arrangement we did. We could never figure it out exactly. I had the chance to go back in the studio a few months ago and finally got something I was happy with. There’s a lot of dark songs on Big Echo, but that had a combination of darkness and aggression I really didn’t think fit the record.
 
One of the more aggressive Big Echo recordings was “All Day Day Light,” an enthusiastic guitar rocker.
 
I wrote that to sum up the feeling you get when you realize how insignificant you are in the scheme of the huge world we live in and how much is going on and being experienced. There was the double-edge sword where you feel anonymous but comforted by the fact you’re not alone. People have been dealing with that all the time. I was thinking about Talking Heads when arranging that.
 
Your mixture of loud and soft as well as dreamy mysticism versus nightmarish realism exemplifies the shift in dynamics taking place on Big Echo.
 
There’s usually these dynamic curves to the songs that are accentuated in the studio. That’s where I have the most fun building songs.
 
How have the new tunes developed live?
 
We’ve been playing mostly Big Echo songs, changing up the arrangements. We knew there was no possible way to re-create the album so when we play live we had to switch it up. The live show’s more blunt and to the point – more epic – bashing people over the head to keep it exciting. I get the songs from so many places. We took the title, Big Echo, because it matched the sound of the album and the way we recorded it. Big spaces we wanted to embrace – that roominess with echo. We also wanted the title to reflect how we pulled the music from all these different places and times. We wanted to take all these different types of pop music and throw them into space and see how they bounce and echo off each other.
 
What’s the local Berkeley scene like these days?
 
To be honest, we’re removed from that doing our own thing. I love Berkeley but it lacks venues outside the pop-punk Gilman Street scene that Green Day came from.
 
 
 
 

 

 

HIGH PLACES SQUARE OFF AGAINST ‘MANKIND’

Challenging folk-derived electronic duo, High Places, tie artificial percussion sounds and syncopated disco beats to scintillatingly climactic acoustical dreamscapes with the same glistening pastoral splendor that kept Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill.” Learning the bassoon at an early age before joining a few local musical troupes, heavenly vocalist Mary Pearson once believed her high vocal register conflicted with the prototypical rock compositions her former band mates constructed. But she simply managed to adapt.

A Kalamazoo native, Pearson originally met Classically trained multi-instrumentalist (and Pratt Institute educator) Rob Barber through mutual friends while finishing a music degree at hometown institution, Western Michigan University. Barber initially made Pearson a 3-hour mixtape featuring psychedelic-influenced ‘60s combos such as Incredible String Band and Jefferson Airplane alongside primitive Olympia-based lo-fi eccentrics, Beat Happening (and their rudimentary post-Nirvana brethren). Pearson claims unheralded Hawaiian guitarist Bobby Brown’s obscurity, The Enlightening Beam Of Axonda, proved indispensable as well.

Settling in New York City during 2006, the delightful keyboard-manipulating duo developed the creative urge to make homespun music without obsessing over details. Utilizing bright and pastel musical colors to envelop their intriguing textural atmospherics, High Places debuted in ’08 with formative singles compilation, 03/07 – 09/07, issued months ahead of the formal self-titled long-play entrée that’d create a widened underground buzz. The latter contained warm-weathered travelogues like tropical calypso spellbinder, “Vision’s The First,” and tribal Techno transience, “From Stardust To Sentience.” It served notice to the indie scene pronto.

Now living in the warm comfort of Los Angeles with Liars front man, Angus Andrew, Pearson’s muse seems to have benefited from the journey West. Her wispy melancholic melodies and operatic mezzo-soprano hold firmer against the massive polyrhythmic percussive pileups.

Oft-times, she dazzles listeners with the same rapturous urbane lilt and lighthearted approach as glorified diva, Kate Bush. In tandem, Barber’s drum machines, treated samples, and turntable twists weave synthetic tonicities to Pearson’s clear-voiced hush-toned sentimentality. On top of that, exotic elements such as chimes, kalimba, clanged pipes, clinked glass, and bongos frequently embellish Pearson’s spellbindingly serendipitous affectations.

On 2010’s moody seasonal treatise, High Places Vs. Mankind, High Places again cast a spell, devising a serious headphone experience out of hazy windswept sketches given shady titular descriptions tersely congruent to the verbose “On A Hill In A Bed On A Road In A House.” Pearson’s echo-laden lipstick-traced whispers resonate through disco-sliced silhouette, “The Longest Shadow,” a vibrant opener with a liquefied groove. Middle East percussion flavoring accents cooing ballad, “She’s A Wild Horse,” and eerier mantra, “On Giving Up,” dips into danceable New Order machinations. The remainder drifts into dewy meadows, ethereal catacombs, and cryptic jungles with equally exquisite results.

As boyfriend, Angus, tended to outdoor gardening, I spoke with the gracious Pearson via phone in early June.

Why move away from the fertile Brooklyn scene to the cozier comforts of sunny L.A.?

MARY PEARSON: There’s a lot of inspiring artists in New York City and it’s incredible to think how many albums they’ve done. There are incredible museums too. We didn’t pick up so many sonic influences, but instead, created an environment that was a retreat from all the hustle and bustle. We’d talked about moving to California because we loved the landscape. We have friends there from touring. The decision for me was a mental health one to get out of the cold weather and dark nights of winter. Plus, Rob likes to surf. We’re so inspired by nature, but nearly every song in New York was about being completely away from people. What you don’t have could be very inspiring to your art. Being slightly unhappy is always good for business. When we moved to L.A., I wondered how I’d compose music being at such a lovely place without sounding like hokey bubblegum music. That was something to figure out. I don’t know if the new record is so much inspired by Los Angeles as it is just spreading out.

There’s a moody seasonal theme threading High Places Vs. Mankind.
 

 

 

Maybe we created it from what we don’t have out west – bad weather and four seasons. Our music has a lot of recurring themes, at least lyrically. There’s also the idea that the music we wrote in New York City was creating our ideal environment. So being in L.A. is reverse escapism.

I’d be remiss to not ask if you were a fan of Kate Bush’s dramatic Classical pop arrangements.
 

 

 

Any women making music would be honored getting compared to Kate Bush. It’s not intentional. I played in a rock band in Michigan. I was kicking and screaming not to be the singer because my voice was so choral-y. I thought it should be a dude singing. It’s taken awhile to accept the voice I have and do what I’m doing. On this record, I figured out how to write in a vocal range that suits me better in a key that’s easier to find. It’s a learning process.

Could High Places drop the synthetic electronics and go completely acoustic if need be?
 

 

 

Yeah. We’re interested in the whole idea of acoustics versus electronics. We get called an electronic act but neither of us feel that’s what we do. We saw it more as two people filling in spaces with electronics to take care of ourselves onstage. We like the idea of an acoustic record. The whole thing with us is the duality of inorganic versus organic. This record goes deeper into the idea of the natural world versus manmade things. Live we use samples.

It’s a great headphone experience.
 

 

 

We like to use a lot of stereo ideas so the sound bounces around a bit.

Syncopated disco beats juice up a few of the more accessible tunes.
 

 

 

That wasn’t a conscious decision. But we both really love dance music and wanted to have a few unabashed dance songs on the record. The record is supposed to be about the life cycle of a person. It feels like different chapters in a book with dance beats going against challenging experimentation. For us, High Places wasn’t about a specific sound. It’s more about what happens when a collaboration between Rob and myself results in all the tracks working together to form a complete story.

What’s up with “Constant Winter” and its verbose family tree thesis?
 

 

 

I had Tom Waits in my head. I remember him in the Jim Jarmusch movie, Down By Law. I was thinking of someone leaving home to lead a new life but maybe being conflicted about starting a family while still wanting to be wild. It’s a bit of a universal feeling about turning into an adult. Is it made by choice or does it just happen? That song’s more of a rock number.  

Perhaps the following track, “On A Hill In A Bed On A Road In A House,” with its cadaverous profundity and distant voicing, exposes that loss of freedom best.
 

 

 

That’s a bit more introspective. It contains my favorite beat Rob made.

Did Joni Mitchell’s lyrical prowess serve as inspirational in any way?
 

 

 

She’s my go-to inspiration. I always liked the Canadians – Neil Young. My sister and I performed Joni Mitchell songs in high school and I do some at soundcheck. Her storytelling is impeccable. I also listened to a lot of Jazz. Rob was into punk and hardcore. When I was in college I was into folk-punk acoustic stuff. I did house shows with homemade instruments and honest heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Early on, High Places straightforward lyrics were noticeable. Growing up, my mom was a music teacher and my grandfather was a university choral music instructor. I fought the theatrical influence but ended up in a lot of high school musicals. So there was Classical music around offsetting my Weezer and Green Day rock stuff.

Obviously, there’s an appreciable theatricality informing many High Places tunes.
 

 

 

We’re real interested in not being confined to rock clubs – the whole idea of playing art galleries and mixing different art forms together. A theatre piece would be great. We were thinking of doing incidental music for plays. I’d always sung in choirs so it’s hard to take the choirgirl out of me.

How’s the current Michigan scene looking?
 

 

 

In Kalamazoo, scenes pop up then die quickly. The noise scene in Michigan is still alive and kicking. Awesome Color. I was proactive there. Great café scene and moped riders. Brooklyn bands like Japanther and Matt & Kim loved coming through. Unfortunately, a lot of people moved away since Michigan suffered with the bad economy and housing market. The paper and auto industries are tanking. Still, Detroit’s always interesting. Many empty lots left have become farming areas. That appeals to artists wanting cheap rent.

 

TYPE O NEGATIVE’S PETER STEELE MEMORIALIZED VIA ‘OCTOBER RUST’

“When I find myself useless by my own standards, I’ll take my life. I will take a swan dive off the World Trade Center hopefully on top of someone I hate,” Type O Negative brainchild, Peter Steele, quipped while promoting his greatest commercial accomplishment, ‘96s October Rust. Coming on the heels of ‘93s fascinating Goth-metal breakout, Bloody Kisses, this gloomy rhapsodic follow-up gave the band an East Coast stronghold fortified by Steele’s naked Playgirl photos. But Steele never got to end his own life by way of his own hand, as jokingly promised.
 
A well-schooled, well-mannered giant of a man, Steele’s imposing frame hides the fact he was a sensitive individual with a waveringly thick Brooklyn accent. Born in the Red Hook section of Kings County, the heavily pierced body builder seemed to be straightening his life out before dying of heart failure, April 14th, 2010.
 
Expressing his insecurities through song, the ex-drug abuser was a composing vocalist-bassist who spent free time routing, welding, and doing home improvements. The sixth child of a Russian-Icelandic family whose grandfather’s cousin was Josef Stalin, he was the youngest and only male offspring. Taking guitar lessons at age twelve, he moved to bass six months hence.
This interview took place at a Brooklyn eatery when Steele was 34 years of age. He died at the tender age of 48. He will be missed by a legion of Goth fans still unearthing Type O Negative’s worthy catalogue.
You seem to be a diehard romantic affably posing as a loony psycho-killin’ Goth rocker.
 

 

 

PETER STEELE: I am. The Goth term was thrust upon us by the media. People, in general, need to know where to put product. It’s like trying to hammer a semi-circular piece of wood into a circular hole. We kind of fit, but kind of don’t.

Do you think because you’re a big man with a deep baritone register that you’d have to contrast that image by being an incurable romantic? Otherwise, you’d be exploiting what’s obvious. 
 
Ah, genetic engineering. I’ve always been very sensitive. That’s always contrasted greatly with my physical appearance. Sometimes people are taken aback by the contrast – which I find pleasing. Someone who’s big is expected to act a certain way. But when I act nice – I’ve become a good actor (insert sarcasm) – people are impressed.
 
You talk a lot about getting your heart broken in song.
 
Everyone does, though. Everyone gets screwed over. It’s part of being young. I’ve had many different girlfriends. I prefer tall women so I don’t have to bend down to kiss them because I have back problems. The incomplete evolution rears its ugly head. (laughter)
 
Is “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” based on a true romantic tryst?
 
 
 First, there’s the lesbian snicker. Then, there’s the comically absurd statement about what people’s beliefs are and what the true situation may be. The song was actually based on a few true life experiences which turned out to be quite pleasant. There are no philosophical implications. It’s purely flesh and fantasy. You definitely have to be up for (the menage a trios).
You’ve picked a few ‘70s tunes to cover on the last two albums: Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze.” How’d they fit in?
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Both songs are only four chords – which is all we know. Those are obvious choices.

You use lush instrumentation to lather each track.
 
 Reverb drowns out all the errors. What people think is Goth and genius and depth is just layers of mistakes. The reason we cover those songs is because being born in 1962 with five older sisters, each with their own stereo, I was always subjected to different music. The light sounds of the ‘60s/ ‘70s became some childhood favorites. When you hear these songs on the radio, I think of fond memories and good times. Like Frank Sinatra said, I wanna do it my way.
 
When will you do a Sinatra cover?
 
Like “Old Green Eyes” (mocking Ol’ Blue Eyes)? Maybe we’ll save that for last.
 
Do your fans misunderstand or misinterpret your satirical sense of humor?
 
I’d say yes, especially since my humor’s based on sarcasm. You need a working knowledge of English to even pick up on it. When I’m sarcastic with people in Europe, sometimes they print it as I say it and it looks very strange. It’s all a mind game. Five years ago, I got completely screwed over by a woman and realized I had nothing to live for so I might as well use myself as a tool to see where my breaking point is.
 
You became the perfect existentialist.
 
If I don’t break, I’ll go far. That which doesn’t destroy me makes me crankier. People think I’m into metaphysical spiritualism. But I’m a serious science book fan and like physics and chemistry and ‘How To’ books. I refuse to pay money for something I could potentially do myself. When I’m home, that’s vacation. I like to work on my house and cars. I have weights to work out with. In between, I like to eat, sleep, and shit.
 
Was the weightlifting…
 
Purely vanity. Low self-esteem. Feeling like a piece of shit all my life probably because I’ve always been really tall. But as a kid, I was kind of heavy. I was the perfect punching bag. I was big, but didn’t know how to fight back. I looked fifteen but I was ten. I was completely introverted playing with HO trains in the basement. At fifteen, something happened, my balls got really big, I grew a foot, and gained a hundred pounds – but it wasn’t fat. The people who picked on me became best friends. Of course, with friends like that, who needs enemies. What I really wanted was a girlfriend. I was nineteen and felt unattractive. Even to this day, the mirror is my worst enemy. I was born 24 inches long and ten pounds. My mother said it was like giving birth to a pumpkin.
 
You’ve become a touch political on the last two releases.
 
Yes. I’m definitely pro-government. But there’s a pro-life party. I’m pro-death, for capitol punishment, pro-abortion, pro-Euthanasia – kill everybody. I have many sides.
 
Conversely, there’s an emotional conviction that’s more personal than social.
 
Having five sisters taught me quite a bit about women. I’d rather be around women than men. My best male friends are in the band.
 
Do you write and arrange all the bands’ songs a la Pete Townshend of The Who?
 
It’s an understanding the band doesn’t have a problem with. I write ‘em, tell’ em what to play, and the band doesn’t have a problem. If they want to add something, that’s OK. As long as it doesn’t stray away from the point.
 
What’s your archetypal song?
 
Hard to say. All my songs are like my children. Some are bad, but you love them equally because they all stem from myself. The whole first Type O record, I exposed my weaknesses to the world. I told them I got fucked over. It was therapy. I didn’t think that album would actually be pressed. It was a demo the record label gave us 30 grand for. Capitalist that I am, I took the money and handed them the tape. For awhile, people thought I was a psychopath.

How was October Rust a learning experience?

I learned to listen to my heart and not the business minds of people who’d rather do things for financial gain instead of a dignified reason like personal satisfaction. I’m going against the wishes of the record company and sometimes the band. I’d rather prostitute myself and be to blame for my own destiny. The record company wants more sensationalism, more sex, perhaps a pornographic booklet. I’m on a small label thriving on sensationalism. They need shock value to sell albums. I hope I’m passed that. The highest form of art is civil engineering and architecture. It’s not just something that looks good, but also is functional as well.

Art should have function. It shouldn’t sit on the wall and do nothing. Art should have an organic function. Paintings should be so imposing they change the room.

Definitely to make a statement and not sit there.Timothy Leary was an interesting role model. He lived his life, didn’t try to be politically correct, and did his thing. He never backed off of advocating psychedelic drugs.

In this society that kills creativity, you need some kind of emotional rollercoaster to just stand outside the prism, look at the colors, step back inside, and remember what you saw.What about drug abuse inside the art community?

I think people do drugs because they have too much time on their hands. Lately, with technology, the quality of life’s improved. 200 years ago you tended fields for 12 hours, drank wine, and went to sleep. Life to me is work, coming from a father that implanted that in my head. If I wanted to, I could make my life one continuous party schmoozing. But I’m not the life of the party, I’m the death of it.

-John Fortunato

 

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE’S DEATH DEFYING ‘FORGIVENESS ROCK RECORD’

See the source imageA utopian collection of Canadian friends and associates, whose side projects also draw attention, Toronto’s Broken Social Scene came into fruition under the tutelage of de facto leaders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. Both singer-songwriters also scored big time indie rock points with their solo debuts while related projects by Feist, Stars, Land Of Talk, Do Make Say Think, and lead guitarist Andrew Whiteman’s Apostle Of Hustle have gained prominent underground attention.

Broken Social Scene’s formative ’01 debut, Feel Good Lost, featured intimate ambient instrumental jams of varying success, but universal breakthrough, ’02s You Forgot It In People, validated these tuneful venturing mystics. Though still reticent to share vocal duties, the distended troupe relies on basic artful designs and persuasive melodic uplift to create ravishingly picturesque baroque vistas. Fragile violin, relegated sax, and timid flute augment the incidental cinematic vibrancy underscoring its moody entirety. Diffuse U2-like ballad, “Lover’s Spit,” offers rarefied romantic restraint.

Heartier harmonic articulations scuttlebutt their contagious self-titled third album, embossing diligently ornate mini-epics with swirled textural dreamscapes that lighten the midnight sky ‘til horn-drenched anthemic finale, “It’s All Gonna Break,” triumphantly rides out. Better integrating ancillary elements into richer arrangements, this ’05 release trades any leftover atmospheric dawdling for intriguingly sentimental songcraft.

Two years hence, Kevin Drew’s guest-studded Spirit If traveled along pastoral pathways and windswept back roads on a stunningly mesmerizing trip. For an unexpected changeup, Dinosaur Jr. guitarist, J. Mascis piles screechy reverb into Drew’s Pavement-like ‘slacker rock’ slanted enchantment, “Backed Out On The…” More uniformly detailed with suppler neo-orchestral sweeps than Canning’s upcoming solo disc, its spectral soft-focus illuminations and eloquent laid-back depressants retain pastel hues.

On Canning’s solo entrée, Something For All Of Us, he expresses foggy notions with murkier deep-toned timbres, duskier bass bottoms, and louder guitar feedback. A few sophisticated art rock gestures envelop the ethereal majority, but frayed edges rough up the valiant remainder, led by surrealistically striking new wave shimmer, “Churches Under The Stars.”

Image result for BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE FORGIVENESS ROCK RECORDAllusive 2010 re-entry, Forgiveness Rock Record, finds Broken Social Scene back together again, dealing with mortality through splendidly furtive acquittals meant to solicit manifold reactions. Lead track, “World Sick,” blends newfangled tribal rhythms and heavier treble into their usual lush symphonic lucidity.

Mainstreamers will coddle whimsical pop affectation, “Texico Bitches,” an easygoing emotionally streamlined anecdote nearly as accessible as viscerally hard-driven pledge, “Forced To Love.” Wispy Southern folk retreat, “Highway Slipper Jam,” and flailing guitar scrum, “Meet Me In The Basement,” diversify the strong program. And choppy motorik disco flashback, “All To All,” benefits from Lisa Lobsinger’s posh alto charm. Underneath it all, death and dying consume Canning and Drew’s pondering lyrical lobs.

I spoke to Brendan Canning one warm April afternoon.

Who were early influences?

BRENDAN CANNING: I was born in ’69, grew up on AM radio, starting with Heart, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Wonder. Then, I lived through the disco era. It’s hard to deny Andrea True, Bee Gees, and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Once I got through with that, I got more progressive at age twelve and got straight into Black Sabbath, heavy metal, death metal, then Industrial, punk, hardcore, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Public Image Ltd

The overwhelming theme of Forgiveness Rock Record seems to encompass death and dying.

 

 

I guess if you look at some titles, “Sweetest Kill,” “Forced To Love,” “Water In Hell,” all have seemingly negative connotations. On one hand, it’s death and dying, which citizens of the world live through – no different than other eras. When you get older, you realize, yeah, things are fucked up. So let’s play music. Hopefully it’ll bring some positive force to all the negativity. It’s a basic human instinct.

Were the first two BSS records, in part, thematic affairs?

 

 

There’s always a theme because if you’re together with individuals and putting all these pieces in place as a collective, when something sticks out too much as not being thematically aligned, you notice it. There’s no conversation as to what theme we’ll use. It’s not as direct. It’s a gradual process.

“Chase Scene” and “Art House Director” have a cinematic appeal you’ve previously explored.

 

 

Go back to You Forgot It In People – a lot of music we make, “Chase Scene” for sure, have a certain camp and urgency. My band mate’s seven-year-old daughter does an interpretive jig to the song. I thought, ‘Yep. That’s what this song’s about – really jagged motions, modern dance.

“Art House Director” takes us South Of The Border with its blaring brass.

 

 

That was a departure. Maybe we picked that up in Mexico when we had a Mariachi band play with us. As far as the beat, I know Andrew’s a great Latin music lover. All sorts of things come out. Whether it’s a great piece of music matters no matter what anyone takes from our songs.

Lisa Lobsinger sings “All To All,” perhaps in homage to new wave art pop.

 

 

John Mc Entire heard this Giorgio Moroder sound running through that track and I’d be inclined to agree. There’s also a “Heart Of Glass” Blondie thing going on. We thought it was a weird ode to the Pet Shop Boys. But that might be a stretch. That took a long time to develop.

Did “World Sick” take awhile to construct with its grandiose peaks and simmering valleys?

 

 

The lyrics and song title are very much in line with death and dying. You open up your morning paper and you’re confronted with so much sadness. It’s a petty problem for us living in the privileged Western world. But there’s a helpless feeling of ‘My God, what am I doing?’ I encouraged Kevin to go deep and discover the lyrics because it was a long work in progress getting words right. But the guitar licks came quick. The last thing we added was the loopy guitar preceding the tribal drums. That was the one missing element we filled in.

How does John Mc Entire’s production on Forgiveness differ from previous efforts done with David Newfeld?

 

 

It’s a new era for BSS, a time for a shift in ideas and the way to approach the record. Making two records with David was a long, enduring processes. As much as I loved making both records and am really proud of what we accomplished because he was such a big part of our sound, it was time for something different. We’re all fans of John’s work with Tortoise and The Sea And Cake. We transplanted ourselves to Chicago and were on the same page. In Toronto or Montreal, everyone’s got business that takes away from focusing on the record. John added intrinsic elements in his own magic workshop on an eight-month journey.

Going back to your solo work, Something For All Of Us, did that have a resolute conceptual design?

 

 

I think I might be more inclined to admit my influence and put my stamp on the band. It was a good experience learning strengths and weaknesses. It’s a postcard from 2007 done with my next door neighbor, Ryan Kondrat, and his partner, John La Magna.

There’s a sumptuous folk acoustic number, “Snowballs And Icicles,” that recalls Nick Drake.

 

 

I have a whole record (of these type of songs). People in the band were expecting me to make a whole record like that. I’m really into noodle-y guitar – detuned or with various tunings. Drake’s a big inspiration. But it wasn’t the right time for me to make that kind of record. That was one of two songs done at a different studio. I had this lick, we recorded it, and since we were breaking icicles on a porch that day so they don’t come crashing down, we called it “Snowballs And Icicles,” a typical Canadian theme. Someone put a gorgeous little video up online that’s very sad going along to this animated 1930’s piece.

Where does Broken Social Scene go from here? Are there any cinematic soundtracks on the horizon?

 

 

We’ve got a lot of cinematic music in the can. There’s a few movies we’re working on while we do a month of touring and festivals to promote the record. We’re involved with Daydream Nation, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, and This Movie Is Broken, which mixes Broken Social Scene live concert footage with a plot line that’s half fiction thrown in. Now’s the time to work hard, stay on top of things, and know this is our moment.

HOT CHIP MAKE THE MOST OF ‘ONE LIFE STAND’

Only the most disciplined artists of the last decade have been able to efficiently manipulate computer technology and effectively incorporate its creative innovations into ideal contemporary pop. Meeting in the year 2000, London-based multi-instrumentalists Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard have steadily improved technical proficiency while heightening the tuneful dramatic intrigue of their augmented post-disco troupe, Hot Chip.

Joined by likeminded synth-based guitarist, Owen Clark, whose provocative artwork (in collaboration with groundbreaking graphic designer, Darren Wall) decorate Hot Chip’s first four modern dance-floor escapades, plus LCD Soundsystem synth-guitar programmer, Al Doyle, and drum machinist, Felix Martin, Hot Chip’s impressionable ’04 long-play debut, Coming On Strong, proved worthy. More importantly, it opened the door for eloquent glam-disco chestnut, The Warning, which became a massively popular ’06 breakthrough and harbinger of the shape of things to come.

In retrospect, The Warning seems rather conventional and minimalist in approach. Simplex crosscut rhythms pulsate through the bustling electronica tonicity of scintillating scrambler, “Careful.” And a luminescent gleam and glitzy sheen polish up every danceable track, especially joyous celebration, “Over And Over.”

But this set the stage for ‘08s striking Made In The Dark, a meticulously accessible retro-futurist club-ready offering perfect for nighttime hip-shakin’ or hedonist headphone hoarding. Squiggly noises and squirt gun synthesizer blasts envelop kinetic ‘80s new wave mantra, “Shake A Fist.” Hook-filled smash, “Ready For The Floor,” reinforces its quipped titular refrain with nifty house beats. Burundi tribal rhythms cling to the two-note electro-disco keyboard stomp of “Bendable Poseable.” And tinselly cymbal-slashed jitterbug, “Hold On,” reaches climactically symphonic summits.

Learning to better integrate keyboards, strings, and a violin played like an upright cello into the mix, Taylor claims his “obvious next step” was to get “more disco influenced and mid-tempo.” And for the first time ever, he had a piano at his disposal. As a result, Hot Chip delivered their best devotional elegies on ‘10s domesticated romancer, One Life Stand, advancing underscored solemnity and overall sublimity to fresh new levels.

Opener “Thieves In The Night” siphons Visage’s “Fade To Grey” keyboard drone (previously espoused by The Warning’s glazed trip-hop send-up, “No Fit State”) for a retro-styled synth-pop shudder reminiscent of Yaz and ringing with enough quivering heartbroken tenderness as Alison Moyet’s best post-Yaz works. Yearlong live staple, “Alley Cats,” gets a somber Belle & Sebastian treatment just a bit less adventurously arousing than the thieving overture.

Angelic sweet-voiced euphoria guides the Euro-styled house beats of string-laden auto-tuned highlight, “I Feel Better,” which Clark claims “willed itself into being” and further asserts was “the hardest to helm and shape into existence.” Strangely, delicate keyboard-arpeggiated cradlesong, “Slush,” uses Ralph Kramden’s funny Honeymooners’ catch-phrase ‘hum-a-nah hum-a-nah’ grumble as a nifty lullaby device. Industrial-clad New Order-like bass-boomed closer, “Take It In,” loads on surreal multi-harmony sentimentality at the Thompson Twins-tagged chorus. Furthermore, Trinidadian steel pan percussionist Fimber Bravo adds a cool Caribbean vibe to One Life Stand’s majestic funk-grooved neo-soul title cut.

?

The newly waxed One Life Stand proves to be a deeply emotional affair.

OWEN: All of our songs are about common themes in music. In the past, they were all about love dressed up in heavier metaphors and had humor as their armor. Our latest songs are more bare, with the songwriting coming to the fore more.

The album title, One Life Stand, seems like a shrewd snickering spoonerism or a cunningly twisted adage.

 

We’re quite terrible at settling on album titles. Previous releases use one of the tracks’ names to catch the overall theme or sum up the mood. With The Warning, there’s lots of elements of caution and hazard. For Made In The Dark, the idea was we were composing an album slightly naively with things you wouldn’t normally put in the same set together. The quieter songs are composed without any structured bent. This one, the whole record had a mood about love and how accidental fate could be. That bound the album.

The title track seems to have a fascination with Giorgio Moroder’s robotik disco machinations as well as Kraftwerk’s avant-prog kraut-rock. But then it shifts into the hazy galactic love-struck romanticism of Roxy Music’s most hypnotic requiems.

 

Yeah. It has a powerful chorus and a nice sentiment. It really shows itself in the realm of popular music in the dance party area. That’s very much about the self – this is what I am and what I do. These are my intentions. It’s about expressing fate and love, which is rare nowadays, and that possibly stands out amongst the track’s surrounding it. The songs following keep along that idea, but expand the idea of domesticity, brotherly love, and other relationship aspects.

“Hand Me Down Your Love” and “Slush” are extremely dramatic ballads.

 

We’ve had songs that have been gentler or out-and-out ballads. The Warning had “Look After Me.” Made had “Whistle For Will.” The ballads may have stuck out more on Made, but perhaps on this album they sit more comfortably and rise out. “Slush” is the one that has a different sonic palette. The drums are less dance-y and more like an old Memphis soul lullaby. “Keep Quiet,” on the other hand, sounds like our older tracks – homey – based on careful, quiet, small spaces. But “Hand Me Down” has more of a propulsive Motown/ Stax drum element that makes it rattle along at a good pace. They fit better with the disco house numbers. The songwriting and production make them, perhaps, seem more apparent as ballads, but I thought they fit together quite well.

Beneath it all, there’s an expansive experimentalism that moves beyond mere synth-pop.

 

I think that’s because we always liked bands such as Kraftwerk. We’re less interested in the electronic scene as a way of what we ought to be doing. A band like Kraftwerk is very electronic, but still very much a pop band. Their songwriting, experimentation, and forms of production are impeccable. It’s that fine line we’re interested in.

Who were some early musical influences?

 

Mine are classic ones. But I haven’t directly referenced these in our music ‘til this album. The Beatles and Beach Boys as well as disco and old house music.

What have you been listening to lately?

 

The five of us have sprawling influences. But there’s a few things that bond us like Brian Eno’s production and bands such as Talking Heads and Devo. Those apply to everybody. There’s obviously a side that involves hip-hop. But we’ve also kept abreast of modern dance too. And I enjoy Alex Chilton’s Like Flies To Sherbet.

An underlying Jazz component slips into a few tracks.

 

Alexis has an improvised music side project with Charles Hayward of This Heat and John Coxon from Spring Heel Jack. That’s an area where the playing might be influenced by Jazz, but I’d never call the arrangements jazzy. Joy Division is an essential part of the musical landscape but I don’t know if their sound is a direct influence – maybe just the approach. New Order’s a more apparent inspiration.

Tell me about the artwork you’ve prepared for each Hot Chip album.

 

I had a hand in all the illustrations. Coming On Strong had a wanky keyboard and bold colors, which was where we were at. The Warning produced the sculptures all the photos and graphics were based on – typical accidents and the use of a wedge to damage perfect things. The idea of something being broke – as a warning that nothing lasts. For Made in The Dark I wanted something that could be regarded as cellular or some sort of old ruin. So there’s this disc that could be taken many ways and also this oxidized bronze as an old musing in the dark. On the new one, I was going for antiquity and flux. The idea of a thing either being installed, repaired, removed or destroyed. It could either exist forever or only one moment.

-John Fortunato

NEON INDIAN EXPLORE ‘PSYCHIC CHASMS’

Just outside the bohemian State Capitol of Austin lies prospering urban municipality, Denton, Texas, where an exciting contemporary music scene now flourishes thanks to visionary beacons such as Alan Palomo. Ready to breakout and now residing in musical hotbed, Brooklyn, New York, the industrious composing architect contemporaneously helms zestful solo project, Vega, and more renowned electronic rock quartet, Neon Indian.

As a college freshman, Palomo abandoned distortion-pedal Casio rap when he discovered DFA Records’ dance-punk catalogue and disco-rock French duo, Justice, forming Ghosthustler to concoct several spontaneous tracks highlighted by syncopated oscillating gyration, “Parking Lot Nights.” This premature acclaim created what Palomo termed a ‘hostile current’ amongst the band to make massive production strides in order to keep up with their electronic arts peers a la headliners MGMT or Chromeo.

But that was only the humble beginning. Graduating from electronic boot camp disciple to skillful compositional designer (and disenchanted by Ghosthustler’s counterproductive studio-infatuated mindframe), Palomo began contemporary disco venture, Vega. Though this outfit hasn’t released its debut long-player yet, Vega’s truest rivals may become synth-pop post-punks Cut Copy and Hercules & Love Affair.

Concurrently, Palomo’s iridescent ‘chillwave’ archetypes, Neon Indian, have gained serious underground plaudits. Reluctantly identified with the prevailing glo-fi scene, their spectacular sugarcoated sun-baked electro-pop synthesist bursts wide open on surrealistic spellbinder, Psychic Chasms. Unafraid to kaleidoscopically transmute ‘70s electro-pop into charmingly melodic stimulants, Palomo’s hyper-kinetic foursome (rounded out by guitarist Ronnie Gierhart, drummer Jason Faries, and keyboardist Leanne Macomber) fashioned the hallucinogenic soundtrack to ‘09s “Deadbeat Summer.”

Laser beam spurts, squiggly aquatic squirts, bleating Casio-toned blurts, and intergalactic quirks bounce around in a mesmerizing whir on Psychic Chasms. Incandescent processed voices drift, echo, waver, and swerve through each percolating whirligig and the hazy convoluted narrative ultimately contextualizes its entirety. Peculiarly, the Doobie Brothers’ cheery “What A Fool Believes” keyboard riff consumes both ready-made intoxicant “Laughing Gas” and tunefully hook-filled regurgitation, “Terminally Chill” (where Paul Mc Cartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” Moog droplets splash the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady” phase-shifting guitar in a panoramic carnival). Moving forward, floor-shaking electro-dance coax, “Local Joke,” duplicitously swipes New Order’s ‘80s-styled Industrial music maneuvers to grandiose heights.

Hoping his impending body of work will be used to complement the visual realm like movie director John Carpenter’s concisely eerie score for Escape From New York, Palomo reckons he still has ‘many tricks up my sleeve.’

What’s the genesis of Neon Indian’s luminescent moniker?

ALAN PALOMO: In high school, my friend Alicia used it as a random counteractive phrase for Ghosthustler. I started writing music, specifically “Should Have Taken Acid With You,” as an ode to her. The lyrical subject matter references a San Antonio high school periods’ mock band.

Why didn’t you take acid with her?
 
 
 
 

 

 

Couldn’t find the time. I was mixing someone’s record in Dallas. We were supposed to meet in San Antonio where our families were on a random holiday getaway that never reached fruition.

Your father, Jorge, had some Mexican pop acclaim. Who were some early influences?
 
 
 
 

 

 

I was a huge fan of Todd Rundgren’s production work as opposed to just songwriting. He’s the perfect summation of these two ideals. He writes simple, beautiful pop as well as intensely innovative sonic soundscapes that come from bizarre modular synth patterns. He exercises both sides of his creative sensibilities seamlessly. He’ll put a pop record like “Hello It’s Me” near a 30-minute instrumental. It’s a weird conglomeration of sounds and ideas. There’s a lot of old wave early ‘80s stuff I’m into. The Mute catalogue – DAF, Fad Gadget. That’s the first genre I completely inhaled during high school. I was into great synth-pop records from that time. Yellow Magic Orchestra are a Japanese Kraftwerk.

Those artists were around before you were born.
 
 
 
 

 

 

Yeah. I’ve always had a weird compulsive urge to consume as much music as possible trying to figure out a chronology behind the music I was enjoying. That sound and time stops in the ‘80s with that unabashed whimsical pop that’s dead now, or approached sarcastically. That’s the last time there was any whimsical romance found in cheesy John Hughes movies – not feeling ashamed of the sentimentality associated with it. Even disco was a very optimistic genre riffing around the notion of a romanticized futuristic wonderland. I’m influenced by the idea of creating narratives within the music. It’s not like writing a song very self-consciously.

You borrow many eclectic musical sources for Psychic Chasms.
 
 
 
 

 

 

I like how abrasive the record was in terms of its narrative. Being able to sit down for an entire month and really set goals – no more than two days on any given song. Even with Vega, I’d run along a really long stride of production tedium’s as opposed to writing a song. I’d work on compressing and EQing drum sounds. An entire day of turning knobs and looking at things on a timeline when no music was coming out was laborious. Neon Indian negated those things and was a reaction against that. I wasn’t worried about how clean and pristine everything sounded, but instead emphasized being raw and visceral. Song ideas, one after the next without stopping, creating fluidity between influences, it ended up being a showcase of a lot of different sensibilities I have in terms of specific sounds and obsessions with rock bands that have one big synth track. Mc Cartney II had that fantastic “Temporary Secretary.” Paul Mc Cartney’s a great example of a late ‘70s artist who didn’t mess with synths but was shown a Moog in the studio and decided to fire it up and get strangely effervescent, idiosyncratic sounds like the lead synth in Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes.” It’s the goofiest thing, but fantastic for Psychic Chasms. Also, the original “Strawberry Letter 23″ by Shuggie Otis was something else. The Brothers Johnson version had that flanger in the middle, but this was out of synch and came from a rougher lower fidelity studio angle – real creepy.

“Ephemeral Artery” adapted a raunchy ‘70s Parliament-Funkadelic groove.
 
 
 
 

 

 

There are two songs on the record that my guitarist in the live band, Ronnie, had ideas I wanted him to execute. I use simple frets, but Ronnie has a funky sensibility. We threw around ideas and that was the one track on the LP that was the odd man out. It had heavier low end and churning bass behind that. It had almost mockingly funky riffs that made me question the track, but that actually became our favorite song to play live ‘cause it’s executed in a very unapologetic way and becomes almost an inside joke amongst the band.

Are the segued interludes on Psychic Chasms meant to connect a semi-thematic whole?
 
 
 
 

 

 

Absolutely. The entire record has a convoluted narrative not necessarily dictated by lyrics. The ideas of creating affects that seem to exist outside the song give it context. Band like Aerial Pink and Boards Of Canada create a story around songs without lyrics directly dictating the mood. Those segues connect the more emotional, slower tracks like “Acid” and “6669.” They guide the story along. I wanted a cohesive whole instead of a collection of songs. I’ve made cassettes for girls having 90-second songs to guide ‘em into the next phase. Psychic Chasms hopefully is that mix tape. It has an introspective hyper-personal sensation complemented by the production. Obviously, this is all post-facto rationalizations. When I was writing the record, it was all very intuitive and meant to have no expectations.

Is “6669″ about the kick ass musical period between ’66 to ’69?
 
 
 
 

 

 

That was an odd inside joke about the most brutal sexual positions. Some of the albums language – having a song called “Terminally Chill” – creates an aesthetic set around a group of people and bring you into the world of deadbeat characters and weird colloquialisms that throw you into a certain mindset that gets you jiving in that wavelength. Random wording is part of the whole narrative of the last four years of my life.

“Sleep Paralysist,” a post-LP track done with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, shows more restraint, greater emotionality, and a more approachable sound.
 
 
 
 

 

 

Totally. What’s funny is I was never commissioned to do a single before. It ‘s a very interesting experience to sit down in the studio to write this very particular kind of music. There’s always been this process of continual writing, then take things from it later. For this, I stressed myself out to write something, then realized I had this great template to try a collaborating for the first time. Much of the appeal of that song comes from straying away from the idea of making a single that would hint where Neon Indian was going. It’s a strange one-off track. Expectation is a dangerous thing, but if I keep it fresh and interesting for myself, then I wanna hear that.

-John Fortunato
 
 
 
 

 

 

LOVE IS ALL ENDURE ‘TWO THOUSAND AND TEN INJURIES’

Sometimes hanging loose and taking a little time off just to relax gives musicians the opportunity to alleviate the burden of high-pressured tour travel, hefty recording fees, online merchandizing, and demanding recording deadlines. That’s what happened to Sweden’s indie pop punk darlings, Love Is All, after leaving their boutique record label for a short sabbatical following many exhausting live dates supporting a solid sophomore album.

Relaxed and recharged, composing drummer Markus Gorsch and lyrical keyboard comrade Josephine Olausson (with guitarist Nicholaus Sparding, bassist Johan Lindwall, and saxophonist Ake Stomer in tow) started casually laying down tracks with no firm plans for any of these offhandedly conceived tunes to see the light of day. Using a primal 24-track analog tape machine to capture the glorious results proved fortuitous since these song ideas formed the core of energetic breakthrough, Two Thousand And Ten Injuries.

The rewarding follow-up to a few more numerically-dubbed offerings, formative ’05 debut, Nine Times That Same Song, and its ensuing supplement, ‘08s A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night, this third set cuts like a knife when Olausson’s roughed-up yelps and banshee wails emulate snotty punk revelers of yore. Love Is All then counter such roughhewn tendencies with an innate ability to indulge tuneful melancholic pop.

A massive sugar rush conjuring ‘60s bubblegum, exhilarating highlight “Kungen” brings snappy multi-harmony choruses, loud tribal drums and ascending guitar riffs to the party, creating ecstatically orgasmic climaxes that resonate forever. Nearly as magnificent, “Bigger, Bolder” co-opts rudimentary ‘70s-styled X-Ray Spex punk vigor for nervy riot grrrl-derived vindictiveness with its charging six-string scrum, chewy bass melody, and a blurting sax wail that’s vital to Burundi beat-driven dive-bomb, “Early Warnings,” and dulcet jangle, “Dust.”

The remainder of Two Thousand And Ten Injuries has a more accessible lullaby-like dreaminess that’s just left of the finest mainstream commercialism. For starters, twee xylophone tinkles trail the echo-laden guitar leads fortifying giddy li’l ditty, “Repetition.” Then, minimalist Slits-inspired cut-up, “False Pretense,” and alluring Cathedral organ-imbibed ballad, “Take Your Time,” compete favorably against lilting no wave funk trinket, “A Side In A Bed.”

Inspiringly, Love Is All has managed to craft a dozen rewardingly eclectic numbers developed completely on their own premises and conditions with Olausson’s knob-twisting co-producing husband (and former Aislers Set guitarist) Wyatt Cusick.

 

What’s with all the numbered titles for each album so far?

MARKUS: Josephine comes up with all the names. She puts numbers in the titles for our signature. We’re working with a new record label, Polyvinyl, and when we made the album, we didn’t know if we’d ever get another record deal. So we made the songs whenever we wanted and just jammed together. We had no rules concerning what the songs would sound like. We didn’t know anyone outside the band would ever hear it. We just satisfied our own desires. Part of Two Thousand And Ten Injuries title had to do with Josephine’s tendency to injure herself by accident, falling down the stairs in a Switzerland hotel, bumping her face against the door and wearing a Band-aid on her nose when we had to shoot a video the next day. It looked ridiculous. Also, on a deeper philosophical thought beyond the accidents is the hope for something to turn out one way but it doesn’t. It deals with disappointments and accidents in a comical way. She thinks working early in the morning makes things go wrong.

Who were some of your formative influences?

 

 

I was really into heavy metal. Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock,” bands like that were my idols. They made me want to play electric guitar. Eventually I became a drummer. Nowadays, I don’t listen to that much, but I appreciate the energy. You don’t hear that in music nowadays. As for Josephine, she discovered the punk and indie DIY scene when she was young. She was into English punk like X-Ray Spex, Lung Leg, and some other obscure ones with one vinyl 7″ release. Also, the riot grrrl scene interested her. My underground punk was the Buzzcocks and The Fall – more well-known masculine punks.

I could definitely feel the Poly Styrene (of X-Ray Spex) influence on “Bigger, Bolder.”

 

 

Some people say that sounds like the Strokes. I like them, but we don’t sound like them at all. That’s not our goal.

Another highlight, “Kungen,” has an insouciantly addictive good-timey ‘60s pop uplift.

 

 

Kungen is Swedish for ‘king.’ The reason it’s called that is because it was a working title that was unchanged. We’re from Gothenburg. It’s similar in relation to Stockholm as New Jersey is to New York – a little brother with an inferiority complex. It’s a big city with great bands but no true cultural focus or art institution. It’s a backwater fun place to be. Anyway, we were on a tour bus one day and saw the royal family with lifeguards and security wearing black glasses stepping out of a building. It was very unlikely in this industrial town. Everyone was shocked seeing that outside the bus. The song points out the absurdly surreal ridiculousness of Sweden’s ancient Medieval hierarchy. Despite being one of the most progressive institutions in the world, we have a king and queen for sentimental reasons. Also, the Zombies adventurous Odyssey & Oracle was inspirational. It’s an album everyone in the band loved even though we all have different musical tastes. We wanted to do something with powerful wordless choruses. Somehow, it corresponds to the monarchic system.

A few Love Is All tunes utilize penetrating Burundi-styled rhythms.

 

 

I’m not sure I know that beat, but it’s on 60% of the songs. (laughter) As a guitarist originally, I don’t consider myself a real drummer. I’m just looking to have fun coming up with a new style of playing. In the last three to five years, I noticed popular music had that type of beat due to the minority population from Iran and Iraq working at pizza parlors playing Arabic music. I thought that beat was taking over the world and tried to incorporate and adapt that into our songs. The straight four-on-the-floor beat.

Tell me about Girlfriendo, the project you worked with Josephine on prior to forming Love Is All.

 

 

I only joined at the end and wasn’t really involved in the making of the songs. I became their drummer on a few tours. They were a poppy bubblegum band. Originally, it was Josephine, another girl, and a guy making carefree drum-machined New Order-like pop with two maniac girl singers.

What did co-producer Wyatt Cusick add to Love Is All’s sound?

 

 

We like to do everything ourselves from recording to artwork. He’s a live soundman who helped us build a studio and is a good sound engineer. It was very natural to work with him during every step of the process. He was in (San Francisco-based indie rockers) Aislers Set and we became friends during the Girlfriendo days. He moved to Sweden and got married to Josephine. We communicate well.

What new avenues will Love Is All explore next?

 

 

If we make another album, it won’t be numbered like the first few. I’m done with schemes. On a musical level, I’m not sure where we’re going. I don’t have theories. It just sort of happens.

TUNNG GO BEYOND NU-FOLK SEAS ‘AND THEN WE SAW LAND’

Attaching basic organic instrumentation to machine-made computer samples and detached rhythms may sound technologically befuddling, but London-based band, Tunng, have taken their earthy folk rooted inclinations on a space-age journey beyond the sea. Bending quirky stream-of-consciousness lyrics and a goodly amount of stately low key charm into freshly coined ‘folktronica,’ they’ve acquired a deeper emotionalism over time.

Getting together during 2003, founding singer-songwriters Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders began experimenting with electronic folk elements from the start. Though Genders left the band prior to triumphant 2010 breakout, And Then We Saw Land, the unique stylistic blend the twosome configured for developmental ’05 debut, Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs, continued to succinctly evolve as Tunng gained momentum.

‘07s Comments Of The Inner Chorus layered poignant neo-Classical string arrangements atop rural folk abstractions and foggy Elliott Smith-affected notions such as the wonderful typewriter-clicked ballad, “Jenny Again.” Lindsay’s sonorously hushed baritone hangs in the air above the dirge-y incantations. Much like Matmos’ musique concrete glitch-pop masterstroke, A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, Tunng also successfully incorporated a brittle admixture of arcane rhythmic sound affects that snap, crackle, and pop inside your eardrum.

Better still, ‘08s sterling Good Arrows brought crisper acoustical ambience and more pristine percussive clatter to the forefront. “Arms” and “Hands” sling tinselly confectionery and wiry electronic samples across crystalline 6-string enticement. Alluring piano-based ‘oom-pah’ lamentation, “Bullets,” elegant tape-looped chime, “Bricks,” and mystical proggish stomp, “Take,” attain a transcending elliptical stillness only the finest folk provocateurs – going back to Dylan – could efficiently and effectively deliver.

Reaching extreme majestic heights, And Then We Saw Land conveys a surging nautical theme to an excellent assemblage of wholly traditional folk amblers. As if that wasn’t enough, Tunng herein merge fascinating indigenous African rhythms into the incipient baroque-bound computer bleats, bleeps, and bloops that consume their anxious elegies. Bongos, shakers, traps, and kalimba deluge an accessibly versatile array of well-defined tunes. Tribal Burundi beats underscore tingly horn-driven drum-clustered hex, “It Breaks,” and climactic epiphany “Don’t Look Down Or Back.” As an explosive sidestep, Tunng scamper through hard-rocking thrasher, “Sashimi,” with the riled intensity of The Who – a magical ceremonial highlight and their most thrashing guitar shredder since Good Arrows’ Megadeth-inspired prog-rocker, “Soup.”

But the big news is Becky Jacobs, who has stepped up her involvement to fill in the gap left by Gender’s departure. Her breezily uplifting harmonies add authentic Gaelic flavoring to Gregorian-chanted hummer, “These Winds,” and posh echo-drenched seduction to spindly acoustic piano twinkle, “The Roadside.” She shares nimble dulcet lead vocals with Lindsay on gentle banjo-laden homecoming, “Hustle.” Furthermore, current band mates Martin Smith, Phil Winter, and Ashley Bates affix synths, samples, Spanish guitar, melodica, and harp to the latest cavalcade of sounds. Newest member, drummer Simon Glenister, beefs up the backend.

Put aside any doubts, Tunng’s truly raised the bar with their fourth long-play excursion.

 

The album title, And Then We Saw Land, seems to indicate musical discovery and its inherent fulfillment.

MIKE LINDSAY: It’s a compilation of a few things. There’s quite an adventurous feel to the record – its romantic journeys and nautical themes now and again – to make it feel like an excursion. It was a challenging record and the title’s a bit of a metaphor for feeling good about our situation.

Despite your latest instrumental experimentation, there’s an obvious traditional folk setting embracing each separate track.
 
Some people don’t think it’s folk enough, others think it’s funky. Maybe it just has a bigger sound. I don’t know if it’s more experimental though. Maybe it’s more accessible in a way. We never used so many layers of voices before, or electric guitars and drums. The process may have been more experimental, but I don’t know if it’s more so than Comment – just a bigger sound, which we wanted.
 
Did Tunng’s ’08 tour with respected Malian desert Blues band, Tinawiren, affect the jungle rhythms and Burundi-styled drumming popping up on a few tracks?
 
We definitely learned some rhythms from them. A few subtleties may have rubbed off. There was a way we played live with a bunch of lovely guys who didn’t speak any English at all. But we weren’t trying to make a Mali Blues record after doing the tour. But we may have secretly stolen some rhythms. (laughter)
 
Becky Jacobs was given free reign to be a front woman. Her evolution within the band has been extraordinary.
 
  She was briefly on our first record’s “Mother’s Daughter.” But Sam left so we had to dig deep and find a new lead vocal sound. She’s great. Live, she’s more prominent than you’d think on the previous records. She stepped up and it worked well. Sam’s now working on his own record. I may try to help out. Now, it’s mainly the five of us with Ben composing some lyrics.
Tell me about the 15-person choir helping out on Land.
 
They were people I know as friends from an East London school. Some are in other bands. It was a rainy evening and I got them to sing along. Hopefully, in the live setting, the audience will play their part. But that might be a lot to ask.
 
On antediluvian folk rejuvenation, “These Winds,” Becky’s Gaelic phrasing is reminiscent of the late Sandy Denny.
 
It is the most traditional tune Becky has written. There’s a virtual a cappella moment Phil put through an otherworldly glitch. It’s kind of about hurricanes. That was done in about half-an-hour. We were gonna turn it into something else but it just seemed so sweet like that.
 
On the other hand, “Sashimi” is the most explosive rock song Tunng’s ever attempted.
 
It’s actually about a weird whirlwind Parisian romance. But you wouldn’t get that from the lyrics. It’s metaphorical. I really like the ¾ time stuff. That reminds me of a cross between Cornelius and Bruce Springsteen. That was one of the first songs written for the LP – an exploding three-chord powerful beast.
During Comments, there are tender moments where you sing in a hushed moan recalling Elliott Smith’s softer wisps. I notice you adapted that type of phrasing for “With Whiskey” as well.
 
Becky and I wrote that, changed some lyrics around, and actually did another version for a French film. It was written around that and we did a different version for Land. I just wanted to have a beautifully stuffed tune. Its chorus is in homage to Morten Harket of (Norwegian synth pop band) a-ha in a ‘best ‘80s pop tune’ kind of way.
Though your nautical themes are perhaps less authenticated, they compare favorably to the Decemberists and Port O’Brien.
 
Port O’Brien are one of my favorite bands. Their newest one, Threadbare, brought the girl (Cambria Goodwin) out front as well – which I found quite interesting after we did our LP with Becky up-front. They’re a great band. 
 
Were most of your songs constructed from simple acoustic guitar designs?
  A lot of the album started with acoustic guitar. I went to India for a couple months to get a few ideas on electric guitar as well. I fit lyrics to that and built rhythms. The middle section of “It Breaks” was a nice surprise with the addition of swelling horns. All four Tunng records were put together in the studio in a jigsaw manner through trail and error. We work out how to play them live later. In India, I got a chance to breakaway from live playing around Christmas ’08, hanging around and meeting people. There was a great Classical Indian music festival. I tried turning some of those elements into bigger tunes and “It Breaks,” as well as “Hustle,” were two of them.
Would you consider Tunng part of the contemporary Nu-Folk scene?
  I don’t know what we are anymore. I guess just a pop band. Five years ago there was a scene we didn’t know anything about but we got stereotyped – which worked out well for us. In England, Adem, Laura Marling, Rachel Unthank, Beth Jeans Houghton, and Memory Band are considered nu-folk. America had the freak folk scene with Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. We just do what we do and I think it’s quite unique.
How has Tunng advanced over the course of four albums?
 
It has all been natural and organic. It’s easier to say there are differences. We’ve moved forward with production and haven’t stayed with such electronica cut ‘n paste and glitch methods.
 
Who were some formative influences?
 
My mom and dad were into the Beatles and liked Jazz. But they weren’t massive music fans. I played guitar since age nine. I was a metal head for awhile. Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and Slayer rules. I got more into Pentangle and Fairport Convention and acoustic finger-style guitar later on.

 

-John Fortunato

 

THE LOW ANTHEM MUSICALLY ANALYZE ‘CHARLIE DARWIN’

A fortuitous meeting at an Ivy League radio station partnered schoolmates Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky in a worthy musical venture that has provided some great dividends along the way. Uniting in 2002 as Brown University on-air staffers at WBRU, the dynamic multi-instrumental duo became interested in learning everything they possibly could about compositional construction, studio production, proper miking, and other technical aspects from the outset.

Four years down the road, the humble Rhode Island twosome would hit the road as The Low Anthem, finding a national audience with their sympathetic travelogues, rustic road odes, and hexed lover’s concertos. In 2007, Jocie Adams came aboard full time and the skillful troika received great underground exposure with the convincing What The Crow Brings.

By this point, The Low Anthem had secured their status as one of the best Americana-related acts, comparing favorably against en vogue folkies such as North Carolina’s Avett Brothers and New York’s Felice Brothers. A more direct contemporary comparison with Seattle’s baroque rock-oriented Fleet Foxes is fair, but the dramatic pathos wafting through the drifting rural pastures this alluring Rhode Island troupe sojourn cuts deeper and goes further on ‘09s magnificent Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

An ambitious achievement reliant on plaintive Country folk restraint and countered perfectly by feverish roadhouse Blues, Oh My God takes place in the 19th century when English naturalist Charles Darwin’s scientific theories on the transmutation of species were being developed. And despite Miller’s pragmatic lyrical perspective, his solemn requiems cannot escape dipping into spirited religiosity.

“The interest in Darwin is less with his historical figure and more with the way he challenged the idea of survival of the fittest. Especially when you look at morality and the teachings of Christianity,” Miller asserts during a phone call from a secluded Oklahoma village on route to Texas. “It’s a record about how our ideas and values are subjected to survival of the fittest. I’m not anti-religious, but the album recognizes the church has a missionary arm and the church is spreading itself and its ideas like an animal reproduces and the genes are passed on. There’s the reference that Darwin’s acknowledged that sort of analogy – looking for something to hold on to as far as values or identity.”

Miller’s parents were highly influential music informants. As a pre-teen, basic roots rock and acoustic folk artists topped the list of formative compositional inspirations.

“The stuff I heard as a kid were Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. That’s what I heard at home,” he advises. “Certainly, I found the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but Pete Seeger was always on whether at school or wherever. I learned his songs at a young age.”

Projecting gloom, agony, and longing with his strikingly melancholic fragile tenor and nasally droned baritone whine, Miller’s trembled quiver stirringly haunts stripped-down meditational ruminations such as the whispered opening dirge, “Charlie Darwin,” and desolate Cathedral-bound Cowboy Junkies-like threnody, “Cage The Songbird.”

“Those are arrangements we came up with at the end of the process,” Miller informs. “We tried them different ways, changing the tempo, instrumentation, and who’s playing what instrument. That happened right at the end of the studio session. We said, ‘OK. Let’s do them an octave higher.’ There’s this choral quality where we all sing the harmonies together. It’s just a small fraction of what we do, but it’s an important part of our sound. I’m not sure whose idea it was but it came at the end of a long process of figuring out how to (make the songs gel).”

An air of desperation also bedevils poignant muzzle-voiced maunder “Ticket Taker.” Similarly, the barren atmospherics of comforting campfire command, “(Don’t) Tremble,” and mystical yearn, “To Ohio,” recall Nick Drake’s ghostly empyreal ‘70s recordings. Forlorn train-whistle harmonica, pump organ, banjo, clarinet, and saxophone help increase the magnitude of Miller’s solitary grief-stricken hymnals.

Charles Darwin has a better live feel. What The Crow Brings was self-produced and engineered. Jeff and I did it as a duo and everything was overdubbed. We were learning to do basic production. It was a modest production,” Miller admits. “Because it was just the two of us, we spent a lot of time adjusting microphones and recording each other. Besides the first two tracks we laid down, there wasn’t much of a live feeling to the record. There weren’t as many hands on deck so we couldn’t experiment with these wild arrangements. You had to go one step at a time to see how the combination of things sounded. But when there were three of us (with the addition of Adams), you could try different things.”

Interestingly, the Low Anthem’s ethereal moniker could be seen as a teasingly sly referral to Minneapolis slo-core enchanters, Low, and the hushed anthemic lamentations thereof.

My hypothesis has Miller laughing before he jokingly quips, “That only occurred as an afterthought.”

Then again, he’s not so dismissive of my intimations that “Ticket Taker” alludes to Simon & Garfunkle’s majestic “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (via lyrical tidbit ‘I will be your arc to float across the storm’) or equally resplendent neo-Classical elegy “The Boxer” (as per the agonized ‘boxer felt no pain’).

“Those are all references I’m very familiar with. But there’s a lot of other songs about boxers like Dylan’s “Hurricane.” So it’s not a direct reference,” he surmises.

Thankfully, The Low Anthem never feel relegated to only delivering drowsy Country & Western-procured entreaties a la the reverent “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” knockoff, “OMGCD.” They prove just as successful reinterpreting Mississippi Delta Blues, tearing it up with the best of ‘em on whiskey-bent junkyard rumble, “Champion Angel,” an electric guitar-driven number that’d fit alongside the Black Keys, North Mississippi All Stars, and early Kings Of Leon.

“That song shows a seriously different side to the band. Why should we be restricted when we’re able to use so many vintage instruments,” Miller maintains.

Moreover, scraggly gravel-voiced omen, “The Horizon Is A Beltway,” and Beat-derived Kerouac poem, “Home I’ll Never Be,” indulge Tom Waits’ raspy beatnik scruff. Another mournful pledge, “To The Ghosts Who Write History Books,” begs for consolation while indirectly exorcising demons.

Perhaps Charlie Darwin unintentionally mirrors America’s current economic woes with its downtrodden hard-times-in-the-land-of-plenty proverbs. One good listen will convince the unsure, and probably uninsured, proletariat that we’re all mere castaways betwixt the Atlantic and Pacific shorelines. It’s sometimes comparable to the bleak caliginous sundowners underscoring two of ‘09s finest long-play indie releases – Grizzly Bear’s divine revelation Veckatimest and Animal Collective’s equally enlightened Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The main difference is The Low Anthem’s reliance on established roots-based folk (dust bowl balladeering and old timey Appalachian anecdotes included) instead of conventional pop techniques. They inventively redirect present-day narratives and pave the way for a looming apocalyptic future with a few choice acoustical renditions. Their grim, bleary-eyed accounts plead for salvation in a world full of fear and pain and disintegration.

-John Fortunato