December 2010

While on tour for 2010's Plastic Beach, Gorillaz recorded an album almost exclusively using sounds and production applications on their iPads. Probably a symptom of the times, handheld recording studios, yadda yadda yadda...

You'd expect it to sound either cheap or boring, relegated to a small number of production gimmicks and recycled instruments. But it actually sounds great. Plus, fans who caught them on tour (like me!) can see which songs they were recording while in their city. Some are more obvious than others, like "Shy-Town" recorded in Chicago or "Detroit" recorded in Detroit. "Hillbilly man," for instance, was recorded with Mick Jones (yes, from The Clash) the night I saw them in New Jersey. Personally, I think "Shy-Town" and "Little Pink Plastic Bags" are the unquestionable highlights of the record, so maybe that means that Chicago's a good town in which to write songs on your iPad. Either way, the album is a series of neat little projects that fails to reach the revelatory sensations on Plastic Beach, but succeeds as an experiment in short-term inspiration.

The album, called The Fall is available for streaming on the Gorillaz website here.

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Tame Impala is an Australian psychedelic rock band. They dropped their debut full release called Innerspeaker this year and it's an incredibly groovy and adventurous experience. Words like "trippy" and "sonic" may come to mind, but that's really selling their ambition short. Check out the opening track, called "It Is Not Meant To Be."

The song is replete with trademark psychedelia, prominent guitar pedals, wayward chord modulations and toasty guitar solos. But none of those cliches hurt the song; it's an awesome listening experience.

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Who is Jann Klose?  Let’s find out more about this singer-songwriter, musician, “citizen of the world” who has a song on an album that has been nominated for a Grammy.

Barb WYEP’s Sunday Mix Host (WYEP): Jann thanks for taking the time to answer some questions via email for the WYEP Music Blog.

WYEP:  You were born in Germany, raised in Kenya and South Africa, then went back to Germany, before going to Cleveland, Ohio as an exchange student.  That’s quite a mixture of cultures.  Is that reflected in your music?

Jann Klose (JK): Yes, I think it is... I've absorbed a lot of different kinds of music. From African roots music to American classic rock to European classical composers... keeps me from getting bored

WYEP:  Your song “Give In To This Life” is on a Grammy nominated (Best Spoken Word Album for Children) called “Healthy Food For Thought:  Good Enough to Eat”.  How did your song get chosen to be included on this compilation double-CD to be among such songs with titles like “Dirty Dishes”, “Sky Doodles” and “I Sailed on a Potato Chip Ship”?

JK: I knew Kevin Mackie, one of the team members involved with the project. I have another song on an earlier compilation, "Serenity House", that he had put together. When Kevin told me about the HFFT project I was eager to be involved again, it's such a great cause, one that I believe in from the bottom of my heart. The album raises money for the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food

WYEP: Your debut CD “Enough Said” was recorded in Youngstown, Ohio and released in 1997.  That seems to be far away from your roots, was it just the right time and place to make this first album a reality?

JK: I had just moved to Cleveland, Ohio and was getting my bearings on the music scene. I had sent out demos to various regional labels. One called 'Scream Records' - from Youngstown, Ohio - responded and I ended up working out a deal with them to record at their studios. I have been coming back to Youngstown ever since to play shows there whenever I'm touring though the Midwest. 

WYEP: Your band members have varied backgrounds;  jazz, orchestra, symphony, and chamber music.  It’s not typical of a singer-songwriter to have an oboe, violin, flute and accordion as accompaniment.  You also have arranged and produced some of your songs, including the strings.  Are you trying to bring a more “classical” sound to your music when you perform?

JK: Not really... I just enjoy hearing instruments and textures in combinations I'm not used to. I've also been very lucky to work with musicians that are into picking up new instruments and just like trying stuff. Chris Marolf, who's been in my band for almost 8 years now just started playing the Kora, a West-African harp. We've been using it on the road a lot. I call it the Harp-to-go.

WYEP: I’ve had the chance to do email interviews with other artists who have gone the “fan funding” route – like Jill Sobule and Luke Brindley.  Your CD “Reverie” was made with fan support and you are now raising money for your new album, The People Records Project. Please tell us more about that process and how well it’s been working for you.

JK: Well, we just started the fundraiser a couple of weeks ago and have – so far – raised $1200. It's amazing for me to see that there's that kind of support out there for musicians and artists. It's inspiring. It's always hard to ask for help but in this new paradigm of the music business, many, many bands have eliminated the middle man and have a much closer relationship with their fans. We still have a ways to go – so I encourage people to check out what we offer in return for a donation at peoplerecordsmusic.com

WYEP: Over the years you’ve had the opportunity to be around artists like Pete Seeger, Les Paul, Roger McGuinn, Rosanne Cash and Marty Stuart.  What have you learned from these encounters with such seasoned performers?

JK: Well, all the artists you mentioned are very kind, hard-working people. I think sitting in with Les Paul and his band was the most humbling – and intimidating experience... his band is just so badass. I felt like a novice. But Les made me feel totally comfortable and at ease. 

WYEP: Your music is being heard all over the world from the USA to England to Indonesia.  What would you like those of us in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to know about you and your music?

JK:  I love playing live more than anything... every show is a different experience for me. A lot has to do with the people in the audience and the venue, itself. A lot of my friends have played Club Cafe, including The Strawbs and Willy Porter. I'm looking forward to my first time there. 

WYEP: Thanks for your time Jann!

JK: My pleasure. Thanks for a nice set of questions.  

Jann Klose will be performing December 22 along with local songwriters Tim Ruff and Scott Schmitt

Barb S. – Sunday Mix Host

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This morning, Scott shares some of his favorites from 2010. Look for his full list in the Post-Gazette right before Christmas. Here's what we heard today:

Spoon, "Transference" - Spare, driving and still filled with smart hooks, "Transference" is another winner from the Austin band. "Is Love Forever?" shows how Spoon locks into a groove and builds around it.

The Roots, "Dear God" - The Philly hip-hop band didn’t make one great record this year, it made two — one as just The Roots, and one a collaboration with John Legend. "Dear God," from The Roots-only "How I Got Over," is indicative of the increasing crossover with hip-hop and indie-rock as The Roots take a sample from the Monsters of Folk song "Dear God," featuring the angelic voice of Jim James, and add their touch of conscious-hip-hop.

Steve Wynn + and the Miracle 3, "Resolution" - Bound to be overlooked, the latest album from the former leader of the Dream Syndicate, "Northern Aggression," could have been made back in the post-punk/paisley underground era of the ’80s. And that’s a good thing. Taking its cues from the Velvet Underground, it’s a guitar record well stocked with melodic tension and dizzying jams, like this one that leads it off.

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Scott Mervis Spoon Steve Wynn The 9:13 Buzz The Roots

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"If it wasn't for John Lennon, a lot of us would be some place much different tonight. It's a hard world that asks you to live with a lot of things that are unlivable. And it's hard to come out here and play tonight, but there's nothing else to do."

~~Bruce Springsteen,from the stage the day ofter John Lennon's murder

Here's the list of songs aired during our special "John Lennon: A Life in Song."

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MP3: Delta Spirit - "Bushwick Blues"

Delta Spirit rolled into Pittsburgh last Tuesday in support of their excellent new album, History From Below. If you haven’t heard these guys before, you're doing yourself a disservice; the San Diego natives combine folk, Northern soul, and rock and roll into a muscular sound that can hold its own against any band touring today. Continue Reading...

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper

This time, Andy shares his Top albums for 2010. Take it away Andy! ....

Here are a few things you ought to know about me:

- I hate quantifying my favorite music. Or, generally, my favorite anything.
- I don't really care that much about telling other people what to like. (I know, I know, it's my job, sort of.)
- I've always liked paying attention to the microcosmic function of the local music scene more than I like paying attention to what big buzz indie band X is up to.
- I'm not very good at following directions.

With all that out there in the open, while I was asked to provide a top ten list of the best albums of 2010, I instead present to you a dual list: five new albums by local bands that I really liked in 2010, and five new albums by not-local bands that I really liked in 2010. In no particular order. Are they the best albums that were released this year? Maybe, maybe not. But they were the albums that spent the most time in my car and/or being pumped on my MP3 player.

My local faves:

Lohio, Family Tree - A light, fun, well-written collection of pop songs from the local stalwarts. Their most exciting material to date.

Meeting of Important People, Quit Music - A more eclectic collection than their first album, this release revealss the trio's versatility and showcases some spot-on pop songwriting.

Satin Gum, EP2 - This is one of my favorite local bands: messy, fun, none too self-conscious, often profane without being overbearing. Most underrated local release of the year.

The Ceiling Stares, S/T Cassette - A great debut from a band that's doing accessible rock (maybe art rock?) that's not formulaic.

Mariage Blanc, Mariage Blanc - An immaculate-sounding full-length from the reserved local indie-pop band.

My not-local faves:

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Let It Sway - This album has seven songs I absolutely love, three that are okay, and two that I just can't get through, but that I'm glad to skip in order to get to the good ones. It's just good, hooky pop-rock.

Beach House, Teen Dream - I wasn't sure if Beach House could keep it up after 2008's Devotion; their dreamy pop could get old pretty quickly. But solid songwriting saved them from losing me.

Aloha, Home Acres - Aloha has long been one of my favorites, and Home Acres didn't disappoint: the subject matter of the songs has slowly progressed to more grown-up themes, but Tony hasn't lost his ability to find magic in the mundane.

Secret Cities, Pink Graffiti - This one came out of nowhere; I wasn't familiar with Secret Cities until this album hit my desk, then it became a spacey, weird favorite.

Poison Control Center, Sad Sour Future - It's a double-LP that probably could've been a little shorter, but I forgive Poison Control Center because a good three-quarters of the material is stellar. Add an energetic live show to the mix and you've got a band that I hope finds the audience they deserve.

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Aloha Andy Mulkerin Beach House Lohio Mariage Blanc Poison Control Center Satin Gum Secret Cities Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin The 9:13 Buzz The Ceiling Stares

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New Music Personal Picks

Enjoy the new Coldplay video ! It was filmed recently in London and features fireworks, levitation and three violin-playing Elvises. A new Coldplay record is due out in 2011.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Tady of The Beaver County Times

Today, Scott shares his Top 10 albums for 2010:

1. Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs" - A smart, stinging, vibrant and accessible essay on growing up, and then old, in the 'burbs. There's resentment, bewilderment, and equal bits respect and mistrust of rebellion, though a few rays of optimism, or at least acceptance, creep in eventually. Win Butler, the husband half of the spouse-fronted Montreal indie-rockers said he strived for a Depeche Mode-meets-Neil Young vibe. Nice!

2. The National, "High Violet" - Joy Division comparisons are inevitable, thanks to singer Matt Berninger's somber and spellbinding baritone. Textured guitars heighten the drama from these Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati rockers.

3. Black Keys, "Brothers" - The Akron, Ohio duo slips some funkiness into its raw and blistering, hook-laden blues-rock. "Next Girl" and "Tighten Up" are the best back-to-back songs on any album this year.

4. Titus Andronicus, "The Monitor" - Mine ears have heard the glory of this New Jersey punk band that sticks numerous Civil War references into its songs. Overall, though, the album is a contemporary call-to-arms, with singer Patrick Stickles rallying the troops by saying, "It's us against them, and they're winning," as his band pounds out a Pogues-Dropkick Murphys brand of defiance.

5. Sufjan Stevens, "The Age of Adz" - The alt-folk artist successfully experiments with electronica. His emotional voice is a grabber, especially on the supreme heartbreak track, "I Walked," where amid window-rattling bass thumps he fragilely sings, "At least I deserve the respect of a kiss goodbye."

6. Jason and the Scorchers "Halcyon Times." The unbridled enthusiasm is infectious on this raucous, rollicking comeback by the pioneering cowpunk/alt-country band.

7. Local Natives, "Gorilla Manor" - This L.A. band's rookie effort melds the rustic charm of Fleet Foxes with the more muscular moments of My Morning Jacket.

8. Deerhunter, "Halcyon Digest" - Dreamy, ambient pop-rock with enough feisty blasts of fuzzed-up guitar to keep you on your toes.

9. Gaslight Anthem, "American Slang" - Their "Born to Run" will come, but for now let's savor this "The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle"-caliber effort from a band that's endured its share of Springsteen comparisons because, well, they're from Jersey, and they craft songs with anthemic ardor. By the way, they've got plenty of alt-rock and punk references, too.

10.  ... will be revealed in my Sunday column (timesonline.com), though if the rest of Sleigh Bells' "Treats" is like the 6 songs I've heard from the Brooklyn noise-pop duo, then they'll be a lock. Also under consideration: Taylor Swift (sorry John Mayer fans) and Paul Weller.

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