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Friday, July 26, 2013

I have art stuck in my head





video

The above video is something that I made myself.  Yes, the quality sucks.  And yes, it's not the most technologically advanced or innovative.  But, I made it in order to silence (yes silence) the images that are constantly streaming through my head at hearing songs.  Not every song stirs up an image, but many of the songs that I listen to again and again play their own music videos in my head.  In fact, many of the music videos I have in my head, I believe, are better that the actual music video for the song in question (if indeed there is one available).  Maybe I should have gone into sound engineering or fiddled with making soundtracks.  I could direct music videos in my other life.  I mean, I know a little bit about directing.  I also know how to read music and I have composed short pieces before.  But I was always too lazy to learn music theory.  In fact, I could have been a music minor if only had I taken the year long theory class (which I avoided like the plague).  I do, however, understand the concept of basic and even medium level music theory.

I dont' know what to do with this gift of mine, though.  This gift of visual synesthesia. In general, I do consider it as such, a 'gift'.  Not many people visualize little plays and episodes at hearing music.  In fact, I have created whole plays, dialogue just based off of a few songs.  Music inspires me to create.  Music helps me think.  When I had reading for college classes, I always needed some symphonic music to help me concentrate.  Doing homework in high school had to be accompanied by some rock.  Fact is that even as I write this now, I have my Itunes library open.  I cannot create without music.  Music is my muse for everything artistic.

Some would say I am blessed with having so many artistic gifts.  I, however, a lot of the time, consider it a curse.  I get really depressed when I am not creating.  An artist friend once told me that true artists can easily get depressed and morose when they are not creating.  So, I always have to be crating something.  I have many projects going at once.  That's the only way I can do it.  I have multiple collections and hobbies.  I feel like my head is a giant finger painting with smears of multi-colored paint.  I  flit from one project to the next.  One minute, I'm making hemp jewelry, the next I'm decoupaging an old jar from old calenders. 

The fact is that I find many things beautiful and interesting.  For instance, I like taking photos.  I'm addicted to getting the perfect shot/composition.  My dad taught me a lot about photography and used to give me old Japanese cameras to practice with.  So, I guess even though I never got any formal training with photography or took any classes (like my sister did), that I have been into photography since the age of 11 or 12.  We would take family vacations and my dad (who knew boatloads on photography) would give me photo books and show me how to find the right light and get interesting shots.  So I do have my dad to thank for all my knowledge and love of photography.  A lot of people don't know this about me, that I love photography and though I've never been in a dark room, I'm obsessed with taking pictures.

But that's not all.  I also love to write.  Fiction, plays, stories, even essays.  I used to write stories upon stories starting at the ripe old age of 5.  Even though my physical writing ability developed slowly due to my slower fine motor skills, I still had creativity oozing out of my pores.  Even before I could write full sentences, I would draw.  I would draw and draw.  Sometimes purple/blue trees and pink skies and green people (stuff from my dreams).  Sometimes I'd try to replicate the same picture as the kid sitting across from me.  I guess I had a good concept of artist replication.  When I learned how to write, however, I came up with oodles of stories.

I still have journals from first grade where I made up stories about mushroom people who lived under rainbows in the forest (trippy stuff).  My teachers always encouraged it too, the writing, not the trippy stuff.  They noticed my creativity and love for writing.  My fifth/sixth grade teacher told me that one day I'd be a writer.  And I was always the teacher's pet in English class.  Even those pesky essays where you had to get supporting evidence and write a thesis; I was good at those too.  I've taught writing and feel the most comfortable sharing what I consider to be pointers to young and aspiring writers.  I've helped many students who hated or struggled with writing to come to love it.  Many of my former students are writers, some are working on books of their own.

There's more, though.  I like photography and writing but I also like acting/theater.  In my other post, I discussed how it used to be my life.  I wanted, at one point, to be an actor.  I was told that I was more of a television actor; I had a face that would work better on a sitcom.  I was convinced that one day I'd have my own talk show or better yet, a variety show, where I played a multitude of different characters.  I'd be the male version of Carol Burnett.  Just a wacky and quirky, but not quite as intense.  But it doesn't end there.

I like so many artistic aspects that I cannot pick just one.  What's more is that I always thought that any artist, like me, dabbles in many different types of art.  However, that is not the case.  Usually artists pick one focus.  They sew and crochet or get into making things out of wood.  But not me.  I want to learn everything I can.  I've turned what was once an attempt to make hippie hemp necklaces into something that is more similar to fine jewelry.  I pick the beads out with care and refuse to use cheap, plastic beads or leave the ends of my jewelry unfastened.  I once sold my wares on Artfire but switched to Etsy because I realized that my jewelry was more serious.  People always make comments on it saying that if it was online, they'd buy it.  I get lectures from strangers telling me that my stuff isn't crap and that I should have more confidence in what I make.  That and I should sell it for more money.  But I don't do it for the money. 

I just love the sheer act of making art.  I just love to create.  I do it for the sheer purpose of making something that formerly did not exist.  Being an artist like I am is like giving birth thousands of time (without the epidural and nine months of aches).  If I had the time to do it, I'd learn how to make clothes.  I would take scraps and make them into a jacket or skirt and try to sell them with my hemp jewelry on Etsy.  I'd take my old t-shirts and make them into a blanket or a quilt.  If I could, I'd learn how to make pottery or paint.  When I took a class at the Worcester Art Museum in pastel drawing my instructor complimented me that I had a lot of natural talent and could not believe that I had no formal drawing/painting instruction whatsoever.  She kept telling me that I had a great eye and could take a photo and do it justice.  She was sad when I moved out of Massachusetts because she wanted me to take her advanced class.  I bought pastels and since the class, I haven't really used them at all which is a shame. 

But I create because no matter what kind of mood I am in, it makes me feel better.  Art is therapy.  I never feel bad after creating something.  I write, and I feel better.  I draw or sing and it helps me cope.  In fact, during classes, I used to doodle because it helped me focus and concentrate.  This is why, as a teacher, I do not stop kids from doodling during class.  I know that, like me, they might be concentrating harder.  And often, when I was studying for a test, and reading my notes, I'd see a doodle and remember exactly what the teacher said about Napoleon or what x equals.  Visuals are very evocative for me.  I can see a painting and remember circumstances about the last time I saw it.  I know how to get places based on visual markers.  The fact is that I hunger for visual stimuli.  My walls of my teenage room were plastered with posters and photos.  The same was true of my room in college.  Art and music makes me feel safe.  It makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself.  It connects me to the universe.

The frustration comes at realizing that my creativity is not really getting me anywhere at the current juncture in my life.  I live outside the box.  Hell, I take the box and create a whole new shape that I could contribute a lot to many fields and vocations but without official training or experience I'm looked over for someone with the right credentials.  I hope that in the future, as many predict, or with Daniel H. Pink's book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  The book discusses how many professions like business and medicine are now pulling art into their training.  The future calls for everyone to be more artistic and right brain thinking.  If this is true, then I'll rule the future.  The right side of my brain dominates my existence.  And with that being said, I'm gonna go make some more hemp jewelry.  Or maybe I'll come up with a new playlist mix.  I need to switch hobbies/activities or else I'll get bored.  I'd be yawning at writing this post if it weren't for the Dunkin Donuts coffee that I just drank.  The music stopped.  Switch projects!

On to the next one,

~R~

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sounds of Summer: Part 1




Summer hit 2013 'I Don't Care' by Icona Pop

 
Icona Pop is made up of a couple of DJs from Sweden, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo (say that five times fast) who formed in 2009.  They have two albums, Icona Pop and This is..Icona Pop (very original).  Their debut hit single was a song called 'Manners' but it was 'I Don't Care' that got them into every American household.  This annoying but catchy song was number 21 on the Itunes dance chart.  The song has been in seemingly every commercial and tv spot/show.  To name a few: Girls, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Glee, Good Morning America, Dancing witht he Stars, The Vampire Diaries.  It has also been in ads for shoes and phones.  It is everywhere this summer!  And the band is currently touring with Matt&Kim and Passion Pit (two of my faves) so that gives them a little more street cred' in my book.  I like the song; it's catchy and has a beat you can dance to.  It's a little more edgy and indie than typical summer hits.  But, I'm certain that 'Icona who?' will be the catch phrase of summer 2014.

Summer hit 2012 'Call me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepsen

This song is definitely annoying as hell, so it must be a summer hit.  That is the number one rule for summer hits.  The first time you hear it, it's a smash but by the 130th, it's old hat.  Carly Rae Jepsen is Canadian; she's from British Columbia.  Damn, even America's summer hits are imported.  What happened to good ole' fashioned Americana like Nelly (with summer hit 'Hot in Herre' from 2002) , Sisqo (with 'Thong Song' in 2000), Hoobastank (with 'The Reason' from 2004), or even Kelly Osbourne (with 'Papa Don't Preach' in 2002).  I realize that Kelly Osbourne is British but she was on an American reality show, 'The Osbournes' which aired from 2002-2005.  The song is a direct result of that popular show.  Before it, she was nobody in the eyes of the American public.  By default, she's 'American'.   And like the other past hits mentioned, they're all popular choices at Saturday night karaoke! Jepsen, however, is a product of Canadian Idol; she came up third on season 5 of the show.  On Canadian Idol, Jepsen covered the greats like Bob Marley, Queen, Melissa Etheridge, and Janis Ian. She came out with a single, a cover of the John Denver song 'Sunshine on my Shoulders'.  I won't put a link to it because I actually like John Denver.

  Jepsen's debut album, Tug of War came out in 2008.  Then the album, Kiss, came out in 2012 which contained the hit of that summer.  There were parodies everywhere, all over the Internet like wallpaper, but mostly on YouTube.  And like any summer hit, I liked this song the first couple of times I heard it.  By the 200th time, I wanted to vomit.  And like most summer hit phenomenons, Jepsen is nowhere to be found in the summer of 2013. With that being said about summer hits, I will recommend some alternative downloads/bands to follow this summer.  And just because the 'back to school' adds are all over TV does not mean that summer is over.  Not even close!  Summer ain't over til the fat lady (guy) stuffs a corn dog, fried oreo, and funnel cake into her mouth during the Labor Day air show!

  Crystal Fighters:
Crystal Fighters official page    

This high energy British/Spanish indie/dance-electro-synth alt. pop band was formed in Navarra Spain in 2007.  There are six members in the band: Sebastian Pringle (on vocals and guitar), Gilbert Vierich (on guitar, percussion, electronics, and txalaparta), Graham Dickson (on guitar and txalaparta), Eleanor Fletcher (on vocals), Andrea Marongiu (on drums), and Nila Raja (on vocals).  PS: the txalaparta is a real instrument; it's a xylephone-like wooden percussion cider board from the Basque region.  The band also uses the txistu (a Basque pipe whistle) and a danbolin (rope tuned snare drum).  They combine the stylings of Spanish punk, electronica, Basque folk music, and indie dance-pop.  The band envisions their sound as something of the stylings of The Velvet Underground and The Gypsy Kinds going back in time to the 1980's in the Pyrenees and utilizing Skream or Luciano on the production.  The band's first album, Star of Love was released in 2012 and their second album, Cave Rave was released in 2013.  

  I first heard them through my Iphone app, Songza.  I then downloaded and immediately fell in love with 'Love Natural'.  It is bouncy and you cannot be in a bad mood after listening to it.  'Champion Sound' and 'LA Calling' are equally uplifting.  They have the same fresh, unique sound of bands like M83 and MGMT.  I'd love to see them live because I cannot imagine a more high energy concert (other than The Polyphonic Spree).  What I love most about the songs of Crystal Fighters is that the tempo and feel of the song changes just like the topography of a great road trip.  And speaking of road trips, this is a great band to bring with you.  Just download Cave Rave from Itunes, put it in the car CD player and drive down the highway exploring every corner of wherever you are.  This band is fantastic and I highly recommend giving them a listen.  Soon, I expect and hope them to be everywhere.  Just tell everyone you heard about them here, first!  

A great show would be if Crystal Fighters and Ginger and the Ghost got together with M83 and Arcade Fire.  That would be AMAZING!!!!


 Crystal Fighter's video for 'Follow' (from Star of Love)
 
'Champion Sound' (from Star of Love)
Live performance of 'Love Natural' in LA (from Cave Rave)
'You & I' (from Cave Rave)
  
Chloe Charles:
I first heard of Chloe through the 'Twittersphere'.  Lately, many musicians/artists have been finding me through Twitter which makes me feel legit.  I don't know if they first find my blog or if they just see that I'm really into music.  Whatever the reason, I have found some amazing musicians/bands through social media.  And I promised Chloe that I'd do a write-up about her music because she is amazing!  Take my word for it!

Chloe is a Canadian (from Ontario) singer-songwriter and classically trained guitarist (self-taught to boot).  I am always impressed with musicians who teach themselves instruments and write their own lyrics.  Chloe's debut EP was 'Little Green Bud' which came out in 2011.  Since then, she has performed around 300 shows in eight different countries.  Chloe is definitely a rising star!  Soon, she will be releasing her first full album, Break the Balance.  She has been compared to Adele, Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys, Billie Holiday, Bjork.  What got her feet wet into musical genius was when her father married Cynthia Lennon and then Chole became Julian Lennon's step-sister.  However, this does not mean that only because of this marriage that her luck changed.  Sure, it helped.  But Chloe would have been a talent and star on her own merit, and believe me, she is.  Her vocals mix with classical sounds of the violin and cello, and I'm always a sucker for strings.  Her voice stands on its own but with the added strings, she is a powerhouse of emotional charisma.  Her voice is liquidy and soft, melodic and complex.  To me, her vocals are similar to the 90's greats Natalie Merchant, Mazzy Starr, and Tracy Bonham.  She is a name that you will not soon forget!
 
 'Water' (2011) by Chloe Charles
 

 'Soon on a Snowflake'

'Business' (from the upcoming album Breaking the Silence)

Jazzahead (in Bremen, Germany) Chloe Charles cover of 'So Far Away' (by Carol King)
 Note: I didn't like this song until I heard this version.  Sorry, Carol King, but this version is better!  And those who know me well know that I RARELY say a cover is better than the original.  

The Loom:
The Loom is a Brooklyn band.  YEA BROOKLYN!  I always have to plug at least one Brooklyn band.  C'mon!  And The Loom is sensational.  They formed in 2006 and include instruments such as French horn, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, ukelele and of course the classic guitar, keyboard, and percussion.  You know how I love bands that use various instruments that aren't the 'usual suspects' of rock (guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals).  The Loom's debut album (EP) At Last Light came out in 2008.  Their second album (first full length album), Teeth came out in the fall of 2011.  They went on a tour across the US in 2011 and 2012.  They are now working on their third album (second full length album) with producer Kevin McMahon (who manages: Swans, Real Estate, and Titus Andronicus).  They have been gaining a foothold after playing at SXSW music festival in Austin, TX in 2010 and Paste has hailed them as the 'best of what's next'.  If Paste gives your band that title, then it's significant, believe me.  I've discovered a lot of great bands because of Paste. 

I would say they're similar to Mumford & Sons or Badly Drawn Boy.  Maybe a newer Nick Drake.  The vocals remind me of the bass vocal stylings of Bill Callahan.  They are up and coming for sure.  I first downloaded, 'For the Hooves that Gallop, and the Heels that March' which I put onto a 'NYC badass mix' that I made for friends.  I also have the songs 'For All My Friends In Spring, For All My Friends In Fall' and 'The First Freeze' (which I guarantee will make it on my winter/holiday mix for 2013).  What I like most, aside from the many instruments they use, is the fact that some songs are high energy, and some low.  Most of their songs have a winter/fall feel and I imagine walking through the snowy, leaf barren NYC streets.  Check them out.  If you like folk and slower indie like Iron and Wine or Red House Painters, then you'll  love this band!

 The Loom at SXSW in 2011
  
Lindsay Katt: 
Lindsay Katt is another musician who found me via Twitter.  She grew up in Montana, near the mountains, 'with music in her head'.  The 'voices in her head' prompted her to share music with the world and came with her on the journey to the nitty gritty city of New York's jungle.  Like Stevie Nick's inspiration for 'Landslide', the mountains inspired her music.  Later, the sounds of NYC inspired her sound.  I like that she finds art/music everywhere.  She has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple, and I would agree with this comparison.  Heartfelt and honest, she is the real deal.  Her music has been featured on shows like MTV's The Real World and Teen Moms but also ABC's show Castle and the LOGO film 'Sneakers & Soul'. One of her songs is featured in a Macy's advertisement (the best way for budding musicians to get their music out to the American public).  Her song' Heart Place' is the theme song for a Texas public radio show, called 'The Appetizer' that features new music. 

She plays guitar and piano, sometimes singing a cappella (without any instruments).  What's more is that she writes music to evoke social change.  I love this!  Her song 'My Home' was written for a same sex couple she knows and holds dear.  The funds raised from the song went toward Freedom to Marry (www.freedomtomarry.org).  The fact that she uses her music as a platform for activism aligns her with greats like Joan Baez or Bob Dylan.  She is the real deal!  I have many of her songs in my Itunes library which include 'Shout!', 'Diamond Dogs', 'Stick By Me', 'Not a Mistake', and 'Two Part Game'.  Some of her stylings are somber and borderline industrial rock of bands like Garbage and Poe.  Some of her songs have the pop, upbeat stylings of Sara Bareilles and laid back sophistication of Nora Jones.  Yet what I like is that her music is raw and soulfully honest like Joan Osborne and emotional like Elizaveta or Marina and the Diamonds.  Her vocals are airy like Priscilla Ahn.  The most noble, however, is that Katt isn't in it for the money or the fame.  Katt wants to use her music as a platform for activism and for spreading a message that transcends teeny bopper crap.  I will be keeping my eye on Lindsay Katt, and so should you!
 Lindsay Katt performing 'My Happy'

 Lindsay Katt performing 'Stick by Me' at The Bitter End


Watermelon:

I first heard this band live last summer at The Bitter End in NYC.  One of the lead singers, Jules Barringer, is the sister of a very good college buddy of mine.  However, I'd be doing this write-up regardless of this fact.  I know how to distance myself from any personal relationship I have with a band.  This band is amazing, hands down.  There is nothing like them out there today.  They are based in NYC and play a lot along the East Coast (in Philadelphia, NYC, DC).  The band is made up of four individuals: Alex Stewart and Jules Barringer (on vocals), Thomas Griffith (on guitar), Danny Dahan (on bass), and David Karr (on drums).  Their look and sound merges the psychedelic late sixties with the early to mid soulful seventies.  They fuse blues with funk, jazz, and boogie.  Their concerts are a hootenanny, and if you go, you will be dancing and gyrating as if an electric current is running through your body.  Their stylings have been compared to the likes of Sly and the Family Stone.  They definitely would have played at Woodstock.  Even better would be to send them back in a time machine to the late 60's/early 70's to open for the Grateful Dead in Haight/Ashbury.  They are right out of a bygone era of funky afros and groovy bell bottoms.  Dig it!  

Barringer and Stewart combine vocals in a harmony unlike most duets.  They use scat and free form growls and screams to create a lyrical conversation like a ping pong match on LSD.  Blues and jazz scales make up a lot of the vocals and the two singers high energy and synergy compliment one another.  Dahan on drums reminds me of Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  He flails around and never sits still.  He dances and writes with his bass.  His feet hit the floor and bounce to the music creating a new dance move called 'funk the junk'.  I'm sure it will catch on soon.  Karr on drums keeps the band together like the engine of a machine/car.  Griffith's guitar riffs are highly technical and skilled yet they play with the fast and loose style of funk/blues.  He is fast and loose but not sloppy joe.  Watermelon came out with their first full length album, Sleepover, at the beginning of 2013.  I have a feeling that Watermelon will make it big (as if they haven't already).  I can see them playing all the late night talk shows (Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O'Brien.  I do not have their songs downloaded but it's only because I'm waiting to see them again live and get an autographed copy of Sleepover.  But know that I would buy this album ten times over and give it out to friends for gifts.  
'YOWWYCH' from Sleepover

'Shrug It Off' (live) at Dark Star Jubilee 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
So that's pretty much it for my recommendations at this time.  But know that this is only part 1 of 'summer sounds'.  I have too many band suggestions for one post.  So look for part 2 on the heels of this post, and open yourself up to some new summer sounds.  

Rock on,

~R~

Friday, July 12, 2013

A 60's & 70's Summer Sensation

dazed and confused #1
When I was a teenager, every single summer started with me watching the 1993 film 'Dazed and Confused'.  It was a ritual that I associated with the beginning of summer.  The movie is all about life within a small town outside of Austin, Texas.  The movie by Richard Linklater chronicles the life of high school and junior high (transitioning into high school) students during the summer of 1976.  It featured up and coming stars like: Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Jason London, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Wiley Wiggins, and Marissa Ribisi.  The soundtrack (which I still have) has artists like: Alice Cooper, Steve Miller Band, Black Oak Arkansas, Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, ZZ Top, War, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  It is definitely my top pick for movie soundtracks and it helped get this film to cult status.  

I love the film not only for the music but because it captures the lack of innocence teens had during the 70's, when music was bitchin' and every kid longed to live in the previous decade.  The movie shows kids smoking pot and drinking beer.  Everyone listened to Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith seemingly.  Even though funk and disco were creeping onto the airwaves, the kids in this Texas town only liked good old Southern classic/hard rock.  1976 was a fascinating time in music and counter-culture.  By this time, kids were not 'hippies' anymore.  

The sixties were long gone and 70's fashion and music has already established itself as its own entity.  Bell bottoms, halter tops, hot pants, baker boy hats, moustaches, and platform shoes.  Music was transforming from psychedelic hard rock into arena rock, progressive rock, bedroom rock (music that you'd lay down in your bedroom and listen/make out to), and eventually disco.  There was also soul/R&B/funk which easily bled into the disco category at times.  Music and fashion were transforming.  

So with that being said.  Here is a collection of 10 songs that I'd put on a swinging soundtrack that show the transition from the sixties to the seventies.  Everyone knows that if I had to choose to live in another decade, it would be in the mid to late sixties and early to mid seventies.  That, to me, was the golden age of rock n' roll music.  Yes, of course there's the fifties with Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens.  But the fifties were too uptight, slow, and well segregated for my taste.  So I'd jump to the sixties to experience an age like no other.  The 60's and 70's were full of protest and angst.  

The anti-Vietnam war movement, Civil Rights and Black Panther movement, American Indian Movement (AIM), gay movement, environmental movement, feminist/woman's rights movement, and Chicano movement all were signs of the times.  I would have been part of probably all of the above and I would have fought for everyone's rights.  I'm an activist and an artist, so it's obvious that I'd be at home in the 60's and 70's.  For now I'll just listen to the sounds of those times and have them take me back to a time when altruism and revolution were givens.  



So here is my 60's&70's soundtrack:



1) 'In the Summertime' by Mungo Jerry (1970)

2) 'Hot Fun in the Summertime' by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
                                    


3) 'Summer Breeze' by The Isley Brothers (1974)  
                                   

OR

The Seals and Croft version from 1972

4) 'Guitar Man' by Bread (1972)

5) 'Jim Dandy (to the Rescue)' by Black Oak Arkansas (1973)
(original by LaVern Baker in 1956)

6) 'It Wouldn't Make Any Difference' by Todd Rundgren (1972)

7) 'Dust in the Wind' by Kansas (1977)

8) 'Summertime' by Janis Joplin (1968)
(original by George Gershwin 1935 for Porgy and Bess)
 

9) '(Love is Like a) Heat Wave' by Martha and the Vandellas (1963)

10) 'Summer in the City' by Lovin' Spoonful (1966)


I hope you enjoyed my selection of sounds from the 70's and 60's.  I might also pop in 'Dazed and Confused' and continue my ritual.  If  you haven't seen the film before, I strongly recommend watching it.  They had a little shin-dig in the town they filmed it in a few years ago.  I wonder if they're doing anything for its 20 year anniversary.  Who knew that such a little indie film would gain such prestige and launch many careers.  Cheers to the 1960's and 1970's!

Groovily and bitchin'ly yours,

~R~




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Follow the Day and Reach for the Sun!


 http://weirdestband.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/polyphonic-spree3.jpg 
This photo is appropriately from a site that features the weirdest bands.  I'm definitely weird and eccentric so if you are too then read the rest of this post.  




                'You Don't Know Me'- from Yes, It's True (due out Aug 6 2013)
                      

Past History and Anecdotal Context of The Polyphonic Spree:
(Note: If you find this part boring, you can skip ahead to the review of the actual show)

So there are not very many bands nowadays that I feel extremely connected to through their music.  What's more is that there are few modern bands that I've liked for more than five years.  There is one band that defies my typical band relationships.  And note that my relationship with any band is just as serious as my own marriage or any friendships.  I can break up with a band after a bad album or get back together with them after a sincere reunion show.  

The story I'm about to tell is about a relationship with a band that has been going strong for the last ten to eleven years.  I was in college and I was listening to a lot of Phish, Ben Harper, and Bella Fleck.  However, I still remember the magic moment where my love affair started.  I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  I picked up a music magazine at the Union Square Barnes and Noble while visiting New York City.  It may have been Paste but I think it was something a little more obscure, something you can't find in the Midwest.  I remember reading an article about this multi-member band from Texas who wears robes and play many instruments.  I knew I HAD to check out their debut album, 'The Beginning Stages Of'.  A voice inside of my head told me to get this album and I knew at that moment that I'd never be the same.  I wasn't.

I love this band so much that in college I owned a Spree robe.  It was white with orange at the bottom (I'll put a picture in this post).  I've seen The Spree a total of four times.  If first saw them in Columbus, Ohio in 2003 during my senior year of college.  I saw them next in 2007 in St. Louis, when I moved back home to teach.  I saw them again in 2012 at Webster Hall in NYC and in 2013 at Bowery Ballroom.  Every single time I've seen them, it's an amazingly high energy show that I'm never let down by.  Every show is different with different incarnations of the band.  People come in and out.  I've seen the band with 30 + people and with about half of that, 12-15 members. 

I LOVE The Polyphonic Spree.  Ever since I listened to their debut album, I have been smitten.  Yes, they are the band with like 30-40 members who play many different instruments (harp, trumpet, cello, flute, tuba, etc).  The members all wear robes and the concerts feel much like religious revival events (minus the Jesus talk).  No, they are not a cult.  No, they are not a Christian rock band.  The Polyphonic Spree is more than a band, more than music.  I have had significant emotional and spiritual things happen while listening to their music.  At one point I had a theory that their music could melt the soul of any black hearted person.  In other words, I believe that their music is so filled with light and love that people who absolutely hate their music are probably bad people.

Case in point.  During college, my friends and I used to take drives into the Ohio countryside.  Sometimes I was alone, and I'd either be playing The Polyphonic Spree or Sigur Ros, depending the season.  The Spree was great for emerging spring or descending summer.  I would drive around with my friends packed into my Ford Taurus and go exploring.  Well, one of these times, when I was playing the Spree, one of my friends at the time, Liz, complained that the music made her think of death.  She literally thought she was going to die.  I thought it was a strange reaction, especially since my other friends loved the music.  

Most people, including me, would associate positive and beautiful things with their music.  So I consider The Polyphonic Spree to be a litmus test to see who uses their powers for good as 'light workers' and who doesn't.  I'm being serious.  I've always felt that I was a part of something large with The Spree.  That I'm actually in this 'fragile army' spreading light and love by turning people onto their music.  Also note that my friend Sarah and Laura who went with me to the Columbus and St. Louis shows respectively didn't really know about Spree beforehand.  After the concert, they were both madly in love and told me that it was one of the best concerts they've ever attended.  What's more is that one of my friends actually put 'Follow the day and reach for the sun' on her van that was painted.  I inspired her to write this, as I turned her onto the band and also became associated with the essence of The Polyphonic Spree.  I talked about them all the time back in college.  I guess I really was spreading the gospel of 'reach for the sun'. 

Another point is that at every single show, I make friends with people who were previously strangers.  Not the same people either.  I've seen them twice now in NYC, and both times, I made friends with people who had similar interests and hobbies.  And that's NYC.  I have made concert friends before but never in NYC and usually only at Polyphonic Spree shows.  In fact, those shows are the only in which I feel comfortable going alone because I know by the end I'll have new friends.   

                              
This is a picture of my friend, Denise's, van.  On the side on neon orange it says, 'folow the day and reach for the sun'.
                                       
      
Me with my Polyphonic Spree robe (2004).  The other guy in the photo is also named Bobby.
                    
                   
        

Review of The Polyphonic Spree show at The Bowery Ballroom:

So, as I mentioned already, i was lucky enough to see The Polyphonic Spree in concert at The Bowery Ballroom last night, July 10th.  It was an epic show to say the least.  What I love about this band is that they might play the same songs but the actual show is never the same.  It's a lot like how Shakespeare is meant to be seen.  If you ever have the chance to see Shakespeare performed at the Globe in London, you can see the same play 100 times and it's never ever the same.  That's how a Polyphonic Spree show is best described.

So of course I was in anticipation for the main event but I always give opening bands a chance.  What's great is that I was at the Bowery Ballroom and for the first time.  I think I'll go back to that venue, as I like the intimacy and laid back atmosphere.  Even though you can't really hang out after the show, and they kick you out, they aren't as nasty as some other venues (ech em Terminal 5).  See, I'm a groupie, I like to hang out with fans after the show and talk to the band.  Anyway, so the opening bands were AVAVA and Harper Simon.

AVAVA:
  I liked this band a lot.  They had this hard edge but also a very trippy, psychedelic sound infused into what they were doing. It was a good blend of techno, rock, pop, synth, indie, and psychedelic rock.  It was three guys who were dressed in white jeans and white t-shirts.  The three guys played drums, bass, and keyboard.  Their sound reminded me of Spirtualized, Animal Collective, Brother's Past, and The Doors.  They had this neat fusion of sixties underground psychedelic rock with slow seventies bedroom/progressive rock (like Bread or ELO).  Then throw in the raw power of early Foo Fighters.  The vocals sounded just like Anthony Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon.  The lead vocals had a solid tenor tone and at times you could see the veins popping out from the singer's neck.  The vocals were smooth and liquefied.  It was never screechy or whiny though, as often rock tenor can become.  I'm a tenor myself, so I know.  I liked that the vocals and other instruments with synth was a sick blend of sound. 

It was definitely a unique and new indie sound.  There was an interesting blend of 50's, 60's, and 70's rock.  Some of the songs had a pop-like dance beat and others were more dreamy and hypnotic.  The sure thing was that every single song was unexpected.  Yet, everything flowed together.  There were themes and rhythms which repeated.  Parts of songs weaved into one another at times.  I liked the fact that some songs were intense and some were more relaxed.  And I couldn't believe that there was not guitar.  The drummer picked up a shaker at one point, and the keyboardist had a trumpet, but no guitar.  The lead singer played bass confidently and was well adept at handling both singing and strumming at the same time.  He definitely held the band together. 

The transitions were seamless.  The songs weaved in and out much like The United States of America, a late sixties' psychedelic rock band.  The instrumentals, at times were like Radiohead's 'Kid A' album.  The synth experimented with different sounds.  There was a good harmony of what I call masculine and feminine musical interludes/sounds.  What's more is that the entire band didn't really interact with the audience not because they were cold and distant, but because they were so into the music.  Not once did any of the members look up or snap out of their musical trance.  They were all in sync and fully connected to the sounds coming out of their instruments/bodies.  They were one, as a band unit.  You could jump inside of their music and shoot off into a different reality or galaxy.  I recommend checking them out.  You will not be disappointed seeing them live, and I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a lot from them.  You can find them on FB.

                                  AVAVA at Bowery Ballroom on 7/10/13
                         

Harper Simon: 


 There were six members in this band: 2 guitars, 1 bassist, 1 synth, a drummer, and a keyboardist.  At one point, during the middle of the set, a string quartet was brought out and played an arrangement by Gillian Rivers. The only critique is that at times the vocals were too soft.  It was difficult to hear the lyrics and words being sung.  It reminded me a little bit of the stylings of Elliot Smith or Andrew Bird.  The sound of the music, though had a distinct late 80's/early 90's vibe.  They kind of remind me of Hum, Polaris, The Pixies, Red House Painters, early REM, or Dinosaur Jr.  They were kind of like a harder rock version of Tripping Daisy, which is fitting since that was Tim Delaughter's band before The Polyphonic Spree.  There was this nice blend of country twang with blues and surf rock going on too.  I loved the instrumentals.  Not that the vocals were bad but I could have just listened to the instrumentals alone.  No vocals were even necessary. 

On the song, 'Division Street', there was a blues and rockabilly sound.  The vocals didn't really match twangy instrumentals, but it worked.  The lead guitarist (Mike Beum sp?) was incredible.  As I looked around, people were dancing to the music.  Not polite dancing but full getting down.  There were couples swinging each other around and others clapping and bopping along.  I liked the country twang which, on top of the soft alternative rock sound made something pleasantly new.  By the song 'Just Like St. Theresa', the string quartet was added.  It was a nice element of formal and informal.  I liked the infusion of the 2 violins, 1 electric violin, and the viola.  The sixth song, '99' was very very early 90's.  This is where it sounded a lot like The Pixies or even a pop/blues version of Dead Milkmen (with a lot less punk attitude).  Then on 'Dixie', it was a little more rock n' roll.  It had a faster beat.  The vocals were not aggressive at all.  The instrumentals definitely were the powerhouse.  I liked the infused stylings of country and blues with some of that 90's nostalgia alternative rock.  They are another band worth checking out and seeing live.

Harper Simon- 'Wishes and Stars'
                                      

                Harper Simon performing 'Just Like St. Theresa' at Bowery Ballroom 7/10/13
                                        

The Polyphonic Spree:

The review here is going to be very short.  And it's obviously not because I don't like this band.  I write more extensive reviews (from my notes) for bands I've never seen before.  When I've seen a band more than once and when it's one of my favorites, I talk about general things from the show.  I don't evaluate the music and talk about the sound because I already like the band.  And with The Polyphonic Spree, we've had a love affair going strong for ten years now.  

Their set list was comprised of the following songs:

Opener (with banner and white balloons)

Light to Follow
Hold Me Now
Younger
Popular
2000 Places
Get Up & Go
Running Away
Hold Yourself Up
You Don't Me
Light & Day
Best Part
We Sound Amazed
Soldier Girl
Sonic Bloom
Umbrella

Closer- Lithium

I loved that the start of the show started with a big white sheet banner across the stage.  Tim DeLaughter, lead singer of the band, wrote #benwillwin.  He explained toward the end of the show that a former bandmate of his from Tripping Daisy, Benjamin Curtis, is fighting cancer and needs all of our love, prayers, and support.  At one point, Tim got out his phone and recorded the whole audience chanting 'Ben..Ben..Ben' and 'Ben will win'.  It was definitely a testament to the power of positive energy intention.  And I'm sure everyone went home after the show and said a prayer for Ben, as Tim asked us to.  I also loved the white balloons that dropped from above and got tossed around like beach balls.  I had to pop some of them, honestly, because they were taking up leg room on the floor.  I was all the way up in front.  I was so close that I kept getting spit on by the trombone player.  Not literally but his spit valve would leak onto my head.  Yea, I was that close.  It was insanely and amazingly awesome!

I truly loved every Spree song, and I was glad they played old stuff and new stuff.  Of course what stands out for me are the songs: 'Light to Follow', 'Running Away', 'Light & Day', 'Soldier Girl', '2000 Places', 'Hold Me Now', and 'Sonic Bloom'.  What's more is that they even played songs that are off their upcoming soon to be released album, 'Yes, it's True'.  It comes out August 6th.  There were songs from Tim's Tripping Daisy days.  I loved every minute of the show to be honest.  Though the band was smaller for this tour, the sound was as if every single member was present.  However, I did very much miss Megan, the amazing flutist for the Spree.  Despite the truncated band size, from beginning to end it was a party.  When it ended, it was like waking up from a good dream.  I felt lighter and happier afterwards. 

What I like even more about Spree shows is that the audience is comprised of many different people.  There was a girl with a partially shaved head, platinum spiky hair, piercings, and tattoos.  She was getting into the music and much as me.  And right next to her was a guy who looked to be in his sixties, very much a caricature of a younger Mr. Magoo or something.  There were frat looking guys and grandmas.  There were hippie chicks and hipster dudes.  The thing about The Polyphonic Spree is that you cannot typify their fan base.  And I think they want it that way.  There is no label to their music and none for their fans.  Every single show is like this too.  The fans cannot be thrown into a box like other concerts I've been to.  I always observe the fan base and look around to see what other types of people like the same type of music I do.  With Polyphonic Spree, it is impossible to do this.  Their fans are as eclectic as their music.  And I love them for that. 

    Discography (condensed)- 
Beginning Stages Of (2002)
Together We're Heavy (2004)
Thumbsucker soundtrack (2005)
Wait (2006)
Fragile Army (2007)
Yes, It's True (Aug 6, 2013)


The Polyphonic Spree 'Light and Day' music video

The Polyphonic Spree- 'It's the Sun'

The Polyphonic Spree- 'Running Away'

Polyphonic Spree opening of show 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom
 

Polyphonic Spree performing their song 'Light and Day' 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom

Polyphonic Spree performing cover of Nirvana's 'Lithium' 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom




Here are some photos of The Polyphonic Spree set:









      

  


 

So yea, you can kind of see my fanaticism for The Polyphonic Spree in this post.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this band.  There is only one other band that counts in my top two current bands and that's the Scissor Sisters.  Funny thing is that one of my new friends from last night, Amy (out of the many things we had in common) said she loves both of these bands too.  Amy actually reminded me of my friend Laura (who was with me at another Spree show) and even gave me a present (something that she made which reminded me of my friend Jessa, who also loves Spree).   In fact all the friends I make at Spree shows are people who I feel like I've known forever.  The only other times I've had this experience of meeting long lost friends is at Bonnaroo and at an Of Montreal show.  It's uncanny the type of connections and friendships I make at Spree shows.

 To me it's part of the band's charm and magic.  Especially since I also feel like I'm part of this big family.  The Polyphonic Spree is a big family.  Sure it was always my dream to actually be in the band and sing or play an instrument (which I can actually do) while donning a cool psychedelic robe.  I can live vicariously through my audience experiences, since The Spree really try hard to make the audience part of the show, part of the band, part of the whole experience.  Last night, Tim DeLaughter invited the whole top floor to come downstairs.  Then we all sat down while he came out into the audience and sang to us.  Yes, it's a family.  And I'm glad to be part of the Polyphonic Spree phenomenon and kindred fanbase.

Their new album Yes, It's True is due out on August 6th.  Reserve/buy your copy NOW!
 The Polyphonic Spree (New Fumes Full Album Mashup)
I'll leave you with some Polyphonic Spree wisdom:

Follow the day!  And reach for the sun!

Have a day!  Celebrate!  Soon you'll find the answer!

Polyphonically yours,

~R~

 "Still a man.
It seems the time has gone away but all at once you knew your mission well.
You're civilized it seems soon to paralyze.
The thought became the mission of your life.
The best place is to find your home.
The coolest is to find your way.
The best place is to find your home in time til' when the fool becomes a king." 
  -'When The Fool Becomes a King' (from the 2004 album Together We're Heavy)

"Well you know where you're going
And knowing is a comfortable fight
And your wish is pretending to slightly move over the light
And you sigh at the rainbow
That's coming from the other side
And you slide with the message
This trouble seems to give me some life
You're hanging around the day
You're fooling yourself with blame
You're taking it all to a future sight
Hanging around the day." 
-Hanging Around the Day (from the 2002 album The Begninning Stages Of)