Monthly Archives: September 2010

Take Five – The Autumn Almanac Edition

Another Friday, another installment of Take Five! And, oh yeah, it’s officially autumn. Here’s what the Kinks have to say about that:

LIVE MUSIC

As I wrote in a previous post, upon seeing that both John Shade and the Acorn (sorry, Basia Bulat) were going to be sharing a bill at TT the Bear’s, I was determined to overcome my early bedtime ways and get out to the show. I even brought my friend Chris.

John Shade’s album “All You Love is Need” is a real delight, and his live performance is no different. He has an endearingly awkward stage presence in between songs, but when he sings, he commands the room. His songs rang true — they seem to come from a genuine place without guile or malice.

Now, I’d heard a few songs by the Acorn, enough to intrigue me to come out to the show. I knew I would enjoy these Ottawa boys, but what I didn’t expect was to be blown away. Their performance of “Crooked Legs” completely drowned out the thumping bass seeping through the floor from the Middle East Downstairs and filled the room with electricity. My ear is untrained in this respect, but I swore I could hear the stomping French-Canadian influences infiltrating their melodies. The Acorn’s songs are epic and enthralling; they are a tight, tight group. I’m really, really glad I manned up and went to this show. Oh, and my friend Chris? Couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the show was. Rightfully so.

FINDS OF THE WEEK

  • I don’t recall if it was Ryan’s Smashing Life or Boston Accents on WFNX where I got tipped off to This Blue Heaven. But either way, after hearing the power pop delight that is “Nova Love,” I had to buy their EP. They’re part of the lineup for the Oct. 2 Mixtape show, which this time around trains the performers’ talents on the songs of 1967. Sadly, I am out of town that weekend. But they ARE also playing Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square TONIGHT, so you should go. Hear and buy their EP:
  • Speaking of Boston Accents, Dave played this old gem the other night — Digney Fignus’ “The Girl With The Curious Hand.”
  • Hooray Music Choice’s Classic Alternative, my favorite cable channel! Thanks to Music Choice, I rediscovered three awesome songs, which I proceeded to download on iTunes: Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days,” Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” and Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up.” The 80s were awesome.
  • Who said haphazard clicking didn’t pay off? I clicked on a random link via Twitter about Elvis Costello that took me to the CBC Radio 3site, and I ended up hearing Said the Whale‘s pop gem “Gentleman.” What a fun discovery — upbeat indie pop from Vancouver.

AROUND THE WEB

  • Cloud Cult released a video for “Running With The Wolves,” a song from their new albums “Light Chasers.”
  • Some neat thoughts on playlists by debcha. Do you live and die by playlists, or do you shuffle your way through life? If the former, what are some of the playlists you’ve been enjoying lately?
  • Dave introduced me to the wonders of the Fake Craig Finn Twitter account. A sampling: “She said, ‘Don’t call until you put yourself together’ / But lots of the pieces are still at her place”
  • Girl Talk and GIFs collide.
  • I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica from the New Music Collaborative at the John Shade/The Acorn show on Tuesday night.She is compiling a mixtape of Boston bands and is in search of artists to include, designers to help with a cover and any other input.
  • Spotify Poetry: poems or stories written entirely using song titles as displayed via Spotify.
  • Matt Dyson and debcha take a closer look at the National’s “Fake Empire.”
  • Andy revels in the listastic glory of Liz’s 1001 Albums project.
  • Jonathan Woolson tipped me off to a couple of fan videos for XKCD’s take on the Discovery Channel’s “Boomdeyada” video. Here’s the punk version:

IN THE NEWS

  • Amie Street, one of my favorite sources for digital music, recently announced their buyout by Amazon.com, spelling the end of their demand-based pricing model that enabled attentive, in-the-know buyers to snatch up great music at low prices. I love Amazon MP3 as a service, but I am sad to see Amie Street go. I think their model was an important option in the digital music marketplace.
  • Here’s a dream tour: Brendan Benson/Posies/Aqueduct. They come to Boston Nov. 16.
  • The next event by the Boston Societies of Spontaneity (SOS) is a reprisal of their MP3 EXP, where people are invited to download a song, gather in a large public space and hit play at the exact (and for the first) time. The event takes place at 3:30PM on Oct. 10, location TBA.
  • Jack White, hipster producer of choice for the female country legends, has produced the upcoming album by Wanda Jackson, “The Party Ain’t Over,” due out Jan. 25. Wanda Jackson is pretty badass, and White did a great job with Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose,” so this should be good.
  • The next Boston Music Hack Day is Oct. 16-17. Hackers conceptualize and build out the projects (from applications and devices) that could shape the future of music. I’ll be in attendance for the hack demos on the 17th and will report back here.
  • I recently stumbled across RootMusic‘s Bandpage, a service that offers bands a better way to create Facebook fan pages. It’s not bad. The only thing that’s kept Myspace holding on is what it offers musicians. Looks like between Bandpage, Bandcamp and whatever comes next down the pike, that grip may loosening.
  • New release news for two Johns (though not They Might Be Giants): 1) John Wesley Harding has a new collection of acoustic demos out, “John Wesley Harding Sings to a Small Guitar Vol II.” 2) John Vanderslice, nice guy that he is, released a free digital EP, “Green Grow the Rushes.”

SECOND THOUGHTS

The other day, I was thinking about the music I listened to in high school. I really started coming into my musical own around 1995 (which, coincidentally, is when I started coming into my own in general). My childhood love of R.E.M. would be the foundation of a (t0 date) lifelong fixation on modern rock. But as of 1995, I was still dependent on what MTV, VH1 and commercial radio fed me (granted, back then they were pretty damned good — Jen Trynin’s “Better Than Nothing” even made it to the airwaves in South Florida and was one of my favorite songs).

I was an avid Columbia House customer, and one of the purchases I made was the 1993 No Alternative compilation, created by the Red Hot organization to raise money to fight AIDS. The songs on this collection just blew me away, and looking back, I realize how much that album really laid the groundwork for my future musical explorations. It featured my first exposure to Bob Mould, Mark Eitzel, Uncle Tupelo, Jonathan Richman and Buffalo Tom, artists that are now (or spun off artists that are now) mainstays of my catalogue. It showed me a Breeders beyond “Cannonball” and a Nirvana beyond “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It introduced me to artists like Barbara Manning and the Verlaines that, while they would not resurface in my collection down the road, broadened my musical horizons at the time.

A similar album (also acquired through Columbia House) was DGC Rarities vol. 1, which introduced me to Teenage Fanclub, the Posies and the Sundays. I enjoyed the offerings by Nirvana, Weezer and one of my favorite bands at the time, Counting Crows. Looking back, DGC Rarities vol. 1 provided more in the way of genre exposure than artist exposure. It was full of early 90s pop gems and their more grungy counterparts. I have to say, there are few things I wouldn’t do to get a DGC Rarities vol. 2. Sadly, there was never a second installment released.

It’s interesting to think of how these amazing collections were made possible by the powerful bankrolls and distribution channels of the major labels, and how that model — for this kind of music, at least — has totally shifted. Nowadays, it’s much easier for an isolated 15-year-old in South Florida to get her mind blown by new music. But back in the day, I made do with what I had. So, thanks, Columbia House, for helping sow the seeds of a life of music nerdery.

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Take Five: The New Music Industry

In my grand editorial plan, this post was supposed to be a recap of Rock Shop 7: Meet the Press, where music writers from papers all over town held court with local rockers. Alas, I got whisked into the #140conf world one day earlier than I had anticipated and had to miss it. However, at #140conf, I did get to hear the “Rock Stars in Real-Time” panel, moderated by podsafe musician to the stars Matthew Ebel and featuring digital publicist Ariel Hyatt, TAG Strategic’s Ted Cohen and none other than Amanda Fucking Palmer, the poster child for self-made, net-fueled rock stardom. Here is video I shot of the event (in two parts):

I was heartened to hear back a lot of the same things I’ve been hearing from DJs and music bloggers at the Rock Shop panels I’ve been (intermittently) attending and covering: the old model of stardom is dead and artists need to work hard and tour hard to succeed; musicians need to gain a modicum of marketing savvy and take responsibility for their own success; opening up and breaking down walls can make amazing things happen; be listening so you can take advantage of the golden moment when someone mentions you in order to build a relationship.

One really great point the #140conf panel made was that music is returning to being a service from being a product. Implied in the provision of a service is that the recipient of the service — the fan — is now at the core of the enterprise. To the other points made by the panel, it is incumbent upon musicians to capitalize upon the serendipity of the web to make connections and not just have a fan base, but forge relationships with fan. Yes, the music business, now more than ever before, is about relationships.

And what better way to connect with people than, well, music? I am seeing more and more music released for free (or at a name-your-own-price model, or perhaps a song for the price of an e-mail address) than I know what to do with, from John Vanderslice to John Shade. (And guess what? Having listened to his album, I’m totally going to a John Shade show next week.) My friend Mike’s band, the Daily Pravda, is performing this weekend at the Middle East Upstairs, and you’re going to be able to download their new single at the merch table. Tools like Bandcamp and Soundcloud are making it increasingly easy for bands to make their music social and to take control of distribution and sales. The Sheila Divine are financing a new record themselves via Kickstarter. With his Musicians for Music 2.0 initiative, Well-Rounded Radio’s Charles McEnerney is working to create a mechanism to fund the next generation of these music discovery and taste maker sites/technologies:

In short, it’s a really exciting time for music, I think. It’s a really a big bang, with an entirely new way of doing business taking shape centered around the two most important elements of the equation: fans and music. With that in mind, I can’t overstate how much I am looking forward to Rock Shop 8: All Access Arts. Just the idea that a music-focused event is a part of FutureM‘s week of web marketing events pleases me to no end. But to make it a real laboratory of how music performance and social media can interact to build buzz about a band is exciting and curious. The fact that it poses more questions than it answers makes me psyched to attend.

And there are lots of open questions about how this new dynamic is going to work. Heck, if I’m this curious, and I’m just a fan, the musicians must going nuts trying to figure it all out. But this is the time to keep asking, and keep suggesting answers. Who knows what great ideas are out there? All I know is that there is a lot of great music. Imagine what could happen if the two match up.

Next week: A new digest, full of fun links and commentary. Woohoo!

Take Five: For the Sake of the Song

Boston-area singer-songwriter Patrick Coman moved to Boston last September and wanted to recreate the DIY music scene he had enjoyed in Nashville and Berlin.

“Those shows were always the most fun because the atmosphere was more laid back and more communal between artist and audience,” he says. “It also seemed like a great way to learn more about the music scene here in Boston and to get to know more bands and musicians.”

So he launched a series of house concerts, For the Sake of the Song, highlighting local folk, Americana and roots music. This Saturday, Sept. 11, the series celebrates its one-year anniversary at the Armory in Somerville. Coman performs alongside Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing the Debutantes.

I asked Coman to talk about the origins of the series and how it has evolved.

Why did the name “For the Sake of the Song,” from the line by Townes van Zandt, stick out to you as a name for this series?

To me that phrase “For the Sake of the Song” is really what I wanted this series to be all about. I try to pick artists that I think are excellent songwriters, which can obviously mean different things from instrumental stuff with Flightless Buttress to more traditional singer/songwriter material from guys like Dietrich Strause and Brendan Hogan, and give them a venue to perform in where people can really focus on the stories they are telling with their music.

You portray FTSOTS as an opportunity to give new and upcoming artists visibility. How has this worked out, for the series and for those musicians?

That’s an interesting question and you’d probably have to ask some of the artists to get a better idea from their perspective. I’d like to think that through the series, these artists have been able to connect with a whole new audience of people who might not want to go out to bars or clubs to hear live music but will come to our shows because there is a unique atmosphere to the house concerts. We’ve also gotten some press throughout the year for some of the bigger showcases we’ve done and I think that has certainly helped get our name out there and hopefully the names of the groups involved as well.

What makes a house concert special? What have been some standout moments from the past year of FTSOTS shows?

House concerts are great and if people have never been to one they should really seek them out. There are tons of DIY venues and house concerts here in Boston but sometimes you have to go out looking for them (I didn’t know that for a long time after I moved here). They are special because the wall between performer and audience is basically nonexistent. You’re together in a small room and it feels more like a conversation back and forth than a “concert”. When I think of standout moments, they come back to that idea. For instance ,we had one group called The And Company, who is this great trio of songwriters that play all kinds of percussion instruments and switch back and forth between singing lead and back up. They were really great about getting the audience involved, to the point of actually passing out shakers and things to everyone and getting us to play along. Our first show with Brendan Hogan was also great because I think the people that came had no idea what to expect, and so it was a huge relief when Brendan, who is just a great performer and writer, blew everybody away and people definitely went away saying “Oh, that was great, I definitely want to come for the next one.” Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing The Debutantes, who are both playing our one year anniversary show, were both awesome as well and it was fun to see them cram all their instruments into our tiny living room and somehow make these beautiful sounds come out.

You’ve had some milestone shows at O’Brien’s and the Middle East Upstairs. Why did you take the series out of the living room for those shows?

This was a difficult decision in some ways, because we wanted to plan a few bigger shows to make the changing of the seasons (spring for the Middle East and summer for O’Brien’s) but we obviously didn’t want to lose what makes these shows special by moving to a venue. Ultimately, though, it was a great opportunity to plan a show with a few more acts on the bill and to get the name of the series out there to hopefully draw people to come check out the house shows. Clay at the Middle East and Kerry at O’Brien’s were really great in helping both of those shows come together so that we could do something that was still intimate and focused on the songs while still bringing them to a more “typical” venue space.

What has been the reception to your series from the Boston music community?

So far, the reception has really been great. Living in Nashville for awhile, I got used to musicians tearing each other down a lot, so Boston has been refreshing in that way. Clay and Kerry, as I mentioned above, were very kind and gracious in helping us bring the showcases to some area venues. Another person who has really helped get the word is Tom Bianchi, who runs the open mic at the Lizard Lounge (among many, many other things). From the first time I met him, he has been super supportive and has helped me connect with so many great musicians that have played one of our shows. Musicians who have played the shows have also been great about passing along suggestions of other performers, which I suppose is a good sign that they would recommend our shows to other musicians.

You recently released your first full-length album, “Southern Storms.” How has the FTSOTS experience influenced your own musicianship?

In some ways it just helped me raise the bar. Seeing all these great performers month after month forced me to practice more, play more, and hopefully write better songs! I’m sure I’m not unique in this way, but when I hear good music, it makes me want to make good music of my own. On a practical level, a song like “Nights Like Tonight” is completely taken from the idea of these shows. It’s all about enjoying the moment and enjoying playing music for the sake of playing music instead of worrying about things like success and failure which in the end aren’t as important.

What should people look forward to at the Armory show? And why the Armory?

First, we picked the Armory Cafe because it is a great intimate venue with a vibe very similar to our house concerts, so it just seemed like a perfect fit. In addition to our two featured acts, Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing The Debutantes — who would be worth the price of admission on their own — we are also raffling away some band goodies like CDs, merch, and even a potential song written in your honor. We want to be half show/half celebration as a way to say thank you to everybody that has been a part of the series over the last year.

What’s in store for the second year of the series?

There are some big changes in store for the second season. The first is that we recently moved from a house to an apartment so we’ll be running shows from a series of “foster homes” until we try out a few places to see what will be the best fit. Also, in addition to our regular shows, we’ll also be putting together a few themed shows which will focus on a particular album, artist, or idea, which I think will be a lot of fun.

You can friend FTSOTS on Facebook. Photos courtesy of the FTSOTS blog.

Take Five – New School Year Edition

Grab your Trapper Keepers and pencil cases, kids. It’s time for another Take Five digest! There will be a quiz later. Well, not really. Only if you misbehave.

NEW RELEASES

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina, but the region is still in need. Here’s your chance to both help out and get some amazing music. The “Dear New Orleans” compilation (available for just $8 (on Amazon MP3, with all proceeds benefiting Sweet Home New Orleans and the Gulf Restoration Network) features 31 exclusive songs from the likes of Laura Veirs, Thao Nguyen, Allison Moorer, Mirah, The Wrens, Steve Earle and much, much more. Most of the songs evoke the spirit of New Orleans, as felt or perceived by the musicians, so it is not just a thrown-together B-side compilation intended to rake up some bucks for a cause. It is a thoughtful, high quality collection of songs. Grab it.

In other news, I finally snagged Marching Band’s new album “Pop Cycle,” and it is true to its name – a delicious cycle of pop that you can ride for hours. I also picked up the new School of Seven Bells, “Disconnect from Desire,” which I like even more than their first album. Very poppy, shimmery and fun.

LIVE MUSIC

  • My good friend Dave was in town this weekend, and we had a blast. While exploring shows to possibly attend, I came across a great lineup at the Lizard Lounge: Juston Stens (ex-Dr. Dog), with John Shade opening. I’d heard a lot about John Shade from Brad, who raved about him during his residency at the Armory earlier this year. Sure enough, upon downloading his album “All You Love is Need,” I discovered something approaching acoustic pop perfection.

    John Shade
    is performing Sept. 21 at TT the Bear’s, opening for Basia Bulat and the Acorn, another recent infatuation. That’s not a lineup to be missed.Oh, what about this past weekend’s show? We ended up not going to a show at all, though we did partake in karaoke at Joey Mac’s in Cambridge which resulted in two dozen people standing arm in arm singing “Piano Man.” I think that was worth the trade-off.
  • If you feel like trekking to the Blue Hills next weekend, the Life is Good folks are putting on a decent music festival. Interestingly, the acts that interest me the most are not the ones with top billing: OK Go, Mavis Staples, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Will Dailey and (in kids’ music form) They Might Be Giants.

Around the Web

In the News

  • On Wednesday, Apple introduced Ping, a new music-oriented social network that comes pre-baked into its extensive iTunes network. The stated goal of Ping is to allow users to follow their friends and favorite artists (which begs the question, what’s in it for us?), but of course the ultimate end for Apple is to sell more music. This Mashable post portrays Ping as a Myspace killer, which is an interesting thought. Myspace has been holding onto the music scene like a branch along the rapids that are rushing it out to irrelevance, and by the looks of Ping, it could loosen that grip. Where Myspace fails with design and usability, Apple wins in spades. However, this initial review of Ping indicates that success may not be so easily won. What really interests me is how Ping, assuming it catches on, lines up against the independent spectrum of music media and services. Prefix Mag titled its brief blog post about Ping, “Apple Introduces Ping To Make Blogs Like This One Irrelevant.” Amusing, but accurate? What could this mean for blogs like Prefix Mag, and services like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Rdio? Will Ping fail because it doesn’t churn up awesome user data like Last.fm, or will it be a killer app because it blends consumption with connection in the most powerful way? The commenters on the aforementioned Prefix Mag post don’t seem to agree with the latter. “I think it’s cool. And besides, it can’t replace my favorite blogs or standardize them. That’s boring,” one wrote. “yeah, it won’t replace content sites. well, not yet anyways,” wrote another. Not yet, indeed. Time to wait and see. In the meantime, here’s a list of what one guy wishes Ping actually was.
  • Jeff Tweedy is producing Mavis Staples’ upcoming album, “You Are Not Alone,” due out Sept. 14. Check out their cover of John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone.”

Second Thoughts

There are rumors flying around that Boston pop/new wave legends the Cars are on the threshold of reuniting and going on tour.

Let me tell you a little something about me and the Cars.

The Cars were my first favorite band. I listened to them in the womb. Every Christmas until about 10, I asked for a Cars album I didn’t yet own. I spent sacred hours alone in my mom’s bedroom at the tender age of 6, listening to her 8-track copy of “Candy-O” and doing some odd penguin dance to “Double Life.” My favorite song was “Lust for Kicks,” so by second grade, I was asking my mom what lust meant. In 4th grade, I wrote a fan letter to the Cars, in care of the record label address on the back of one of my Cars tapes; it was returned to sender. In 6th grade, we were all asked to bring music to play at a dance; I brought my Cars greatest hits tape and asked them to play “Drive.”

I love the Cars. That said, I don’t need to see them live. Not without Ben Orr. Not post-Weezer and everything else Ric Ocasek has had a hand in. The Cars were one of the most influential bands in my life and helped stoke a lifelong love of music, but I’d pass on a late-in-life, last-gasp-for-glory tour, and maybe even album. For me, that time has passed. The letter was returned to sender. I’d much prefer to hide out in my mom’s bedroom, put on “Candy-O” and penguin-walk the night away. That’s how I will show my abiding love for the Cars.