Tag Archives: mike viola

Take Five – The Birthday Edition

What’s my favorite song this week? If I was corny, I’d say “Happy Birthday,” because that’s what tomorrow is. But actually, my favorite song this week is Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp.”

Without further ado…


Sunday nights are the big night for local music on the radio. WFNX’s former New England Product show has relaunched as Boston Accents, airing 8-10PM, and WZLX’s Boston Emissions is still going strong from 10PM-12AM (which sadly falls in the “Mad Men” time slot).

As a former college and community radio DJ, I love keeping tabs on this stuff. That’s why I’m jazzed about the next Rock Shop, which features Boston Accents’ Dave Duncan, Boston Emissions’ Anngelle Wood, WAAF’s Carmelita of Bay State Rock and WMBR’s Tim Kelly of The Hidden Capital. The event is at 7PM on Aug. 23 at the Middle East.


  • I arrived back at the office after a four-day weekend and was greeted by Christmas in my mailbox: The new Mike Viola/Kelly Jones EP and the new Cloud Cult album, “Light Chasers,” had arrived! The Viola/Jones effort is sublime, as per usual, and I am beyond pleased to have a recording of their haunting duet of Viola’s classic “A Way to Say Goodbye” (now the third version of the song in my possession). “Light Chasers” is no “Feel Good Ghosts,” but what could be? It’s still a powerful, unabashedly honest rock record.
  • One of my favorite bands, Girlyman, has finally released an album consisting solely of tuning songs — the spontaneous nuggets of genius they always come up with during their live shows, usually while someone is tuning a guitar. The live compilation is $15, which may be a bit steep, but consider part of the payment as going toward this awesome promotional video:
  • Jens Lekman has a new song out, “The End of the World is Bigger than Love.” It’s typically epic, heartbroken and charming. Lekman also releases a mixtape, “A Summer in 3/4 Time” [.mp3]. Some more background on Chromewaves.
  • After much urging and promotion from the likes of Brad and The DP, I snagged the new Versus album. And it is as fun and awesome as those Merge fanboys say it is 🙂
  • Speaking of Merge, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the new Arcade Fire album. I’m not an Arcade Fire fangirl (true confession: “Neon Bible” is still in the shrinkwrap, though I listen to “Intervention” on iTunes a lot), but I snagged it from Amazon MP3 for $3.99 and was pleasantly surprised. Probably their most accessible (is that a dirty word?) record yet, and very well crafted.
  • I finally acquired the best of The Alarm. I recommend you did the same. They are much more than “The Stand.”
  • Josh Rouse has releases a new live EP, “El Turista en la Radio,” for free download.



  • An awesome Facebook post by Hallelujah the Hills the other day: “Dear bands & musicians, do you have recordings of songs without any vocals on them? I’ll make up melody, lyrics, and record vocals on them if you send them to me. If I get enough tracks we’ll put out an album for free online. Send to band AT hallelujahthehills dot com.”
  • Fast Company provides some interesting data on “The State of Internet Music on YouTube, Pandora and Facebook.” Thoughts: 1) Fans/followers/friends are important, sure, but what are theydoing for the musicians they are fanning/following/friending? 2) I totally buy YouTube > Apple when it comes to music, because iTunes isn’t a social or a learning platform; it’s purely a purchasing platform. 3) I’ve never gotten into Pandora — I have other recommendation engines that are more human that work for me. I’m sure it’s great for some, but just not me.
  • Cassettes are back! Obvs. So glad I still have my 5 disc CD changer with dual cassette deck that I bought in 1999 — the thing is practically a hipster recording studio, nowadays.
  • Hello Music is a service that connects musicians with “real industry opportunities.” Not sure how useful it is, since most of the entries read “[Song] by [band] is now in rotation on the Unsigned & DIY station on Yahoo! Radio,” but in this Bandcamp era, it’s nice to see one more option for artists trying to make it on their own steam.
  • Rdio, the music streaming service by the creators of Skype, is out of invite-only mode and live to the world. For just $5 a month on your computer ($10 on your smartphone), you can have access to a streaming equivalent of your music collection.  Seems like a good option if you want to listen to your own music at work or on the go. However, I own an iPod and listen to KEXP, so, I have no need for Rdio (yet).
  • It’s no replacement for the mix CD (and it’s more expensive), but file this under nice-to-know: you can purchase and send an iTunes playlist to a friend, so long as all of the songs are available in the iTunes store.


The Boston Phoenix’s On the Download blog linked to this video from Lollapalooza of Lady Gaga crowdsurfing during some crappy band’s side stage set.

The video itself is pretty uninteresting, as such things go, but one thing caught my attention. Of everyone in the crowd who had their arms outstretched, the majority of them were clutching cellphones and cameras. It depressed me.

Of the crowd shots I’ve seen from stadium and festival concerts over the years — Woodstock ’94 and ’99, other Lollapaloozas, Glastonbury, you name it — what has always impressed me is the sea of people, arms raised in exultation, reaching out to grab the moment. No matter how far they are from the stage, they are always reaching up, reaching out, trying to hold on to ecstasy one note longer.

But here, at Lollapalooza, with Lady Gaga’s barely attired flesh passing just above their heads, so many of those hands clenched devices to record the moment, and so many eyes were trained on the LCD screens of those devices, making sure the moment was in frame, clicking the shutter or hitting record.

But there she is! Lady Gaga! The experience is happening right next to you, right above you. Reach out and touch it — it’s right there.

But your hands and eyes are removed from the experience. You’ll have amazing media later, but is that a memory? Is that sweat on your palm, or a bruise to the temple you’ll be bragging about for days? What are you really holding on to?


Take Five

Live Music

  • This past weekend, I had the delightful occasion to go to central New York with some awesome people to celebrate a friend’s birthday and graduation. Among the hostess’ friends in attendance was one Benjamin Costello, an Ithaca-based singer/songwriter. I had seen his name linked and touted in various outlets, but hadn’t yet pursued his music. I now know that the ideal way to get exposed to a new artist is on a back deck with a good drink and an intimate audience not exceeding a dozen. He’s a soulful singer and a talented musician, and a fun guy to boot.

Here’s an original I had the good fortune to see him perform live, “The Little Left Behind”:

And here’s a cover of the Weepies’ “World Spins Madly On”:

He often does live streaming video concerts, which I think is a pretty great way to spread your fan base. I look forward to the next one. Follow him on Facebook to learn more.

  • I am going to see Stars at the Paradise this Tuesday, thanks to Jay Breitling at Clicky Clicky. I won one of his Twitter contests. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter for great content, and contests. Thanks again!

Second Thoughts

Last week, Jennifer blogged about memory and song, and she specifically referenced R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People.” When she described that “bright yellow tape,” I was immediately propelled back into 1992. I was in full-on angsty teen mode then, and I remember sitting in the green armchair in the corner of the living room, scowling and scrawling horrible poetry into a spiral-bound notebook, listening to that album practically nonstop, flipping the yellow cassette over and over as if the next time I did so, I would discover the answer to some burning adolescent query.

The other day, “Find the River” came on my iPod, and I was instantly transported back to that green armchair — but not in a bad way. Rather, I saw where I had been when that album meant the world to me, and I saw where I am now, where the album still means a whole lot but my life does not seem to hinge on the integrity of the plastic-encased tape reels. And I felt pretty good about who I am, even who I was, and how a song like “Find the River” really epitomizes the journey between there and here.

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve.
Don’t be shy. Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.

It was a nice moment.

New Releases

  • I was excited to learn via a free song offered by Amie Street that We Are Scientists are releasing a new album, “Barbara,” on June 15. I am a tremendous fan of their pop-perfect rock, and that free song in question, “Rules Don’t Stop,” is quite promising.
  • I’m not really jazzed about the movie “Get Him to the Greek,” but Mike Viola always excites me, and he wrote a bunch of songs for the soundtrack, which is available via Amazon MP3 on Tuesday. Also, Mike is doing some limited touring this summer, so check him out if you can.
  • I am really enjoying the new LCD Soundsystem. It’s a party in a box.

Finds of the Week

  • Via Andrew Careaga, Filter’s 8th Coachella sampler, featuring free downloads of new tracks by Broken Social Scene (who may finally be growing on me), Tokyo Police Club, Hot Hot Heat and more.
  • Speaking of summer festivals, SPIN compiled a mixtape for Bonnaroo, which you can download for free. Great songs by The National, Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, Mumford and Sons and more.

Around the Web

  • Normally, I wouldn’t hype a newborn blog. But I’d really like to see my friend Annie keep this one up, because I think she would have some fun observations about music. And I thought that maybe blogging about it would apply a little pressure. So, here’s my plug for Music Moves my Feet, which begins with Annie describing a contest win that feeds her love of New Zealand (Zealander?) music. The second post is about knitting, but what can you do? Go, Annie, go!
  • One year ago, Jay Bennett died. Soon, the Jay Bennett Foundation will launch in his memory, supporting music and education. On July 10, a posthumous album, “Kicking at the Perfumed Air,” will be released as a free download and a CD for purchase. In the meantime, Paste links to a free download from the Bennett Foundation’s compilation, “Twice a Year.

Take Five

Finds of the Week

  • WERS did it again. The other morning, I was sitting at my desk when a vaguely familiar tune began playing. It was crisp, delicious power pop, with an early ’80s sound. I quickly went to WERS.org and saw that the song was “Whenever You’re on my Mind” by Marshall Crenshaw. Before I left for work, I had ordered a two-disc, 30-song collection of his work from eBay.It never ceases to amaze me. Certain songs, even if you’ve only heard them once before, can leave such a profound influence that, even upon hearing them years later, they are raised to the surface and freshly recalled as if the album has been in heavy rotation for years. Or maybe those songs simply contain elements so universal and essential that they sound familiar, like a root language. Either way, when I make those discoveries (or rediscoveries), it’s always a treat.
  • I’ve always been a fan of bargain bins. I love the thrill of possibly unearthing a gem for a pittance. I was lucky enough to do this on Saturday, when I found two Del Amitri albums — “Change Everything” and “Twisted” — for $1 each at Planet Records. I also found a copy of the Mike Viola/Candy Butchers‘ EP “Live at La Bonbonniere,” which I already own but am hoping to offer to a fan who doesn’t have it in their collection. (Any takers?)

New Releases

I couldn’t muster love for the Bird and the Bee‘s Hall & Oates tribute album, and I didn’t know why. It just sounded same-y and uninspired. All of Hall & Oates kitschy, quirky glory had been whitewashed with a muted, hipsterrific veneer. Then, Matt Dyson (@dirkler on Twitter) made me realize why I felt that way. Because it’s true!

When you have The Bird and The Bee take Hall & Oates and treat them as elder statesmen for a tongue-in-cheek society that wants to be taken seriously, what ends up happening is similar to when you watch a bad movie that is in fact much too bad: you watch and giggle for about a half hour, then suddenly get bored with being ironic about it and just want to be entertained.

Second Thoughts

The other evening, I was walking home from work when Roxy Music‘s “More Than This” came on my iPod. I was nearly stopped in my tracks by the all-consuming need to, at that moment, watch the movie “Lost in Translation.” So what did I do? Shortly after I got home, I popped it in, of course. What choice did I have?

I’ve always been a huge fan of that movie — it’s probably in my top 10 of all time. Not just any movie can hold me emotionally rapt even when the viewings have likely entered the double-digits. One of the most compelling things about “Lost in Translation” is the music. Each song so profoundly aligns with the emotion of the scene which it accompanies. The scene featuring “More Than This” — when Bill Murray’s Bob Harris sings it in the karaoke lounge, obviously directing it toward Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte — is taut with longing, and that song represents exactly what both of them are feeling at that moment. No wonder simply hearing that song on my iPod instantly connected me to the movie and tapped my affection for it.

Music has always been an emotional interest for me. I invest a lot in a song — maybe too much — but songs help me understand the world and my own weird life. That said, when I make a mix CD for somebody, it’s rarely just a random collection of recent songs, or genre songs. It’s an emotional journey across the entire arc of a series of events or feelings, whether it’s graduation or moving or finding true love or losing true love. Essentially, it’s storytelling. I’m just using the words and music of others to craft the narrative — as much for myself as the recipient.

The other day, I was preparing to head out to celebrate a friend’s moving to Boston from DC to be with his fiancee. With just a short amount of time before we needed to go, I remembered that I had wanted to make him a mix CD. Somehow, I quickly pulled together a pretty decent mix that reflects a lot of the themes at play — starting a new life in Boston, finally being someplace he considers home, being with his true love, his faith and some other relevant topics.

After I’m done making a mix, I like to listen through it from the perspective of the recipient. I like to consider the reasons I picked a song, then wonder how the recipient might react to that song selection. Do they get what I was trying to say, or not?

I guess it doesn’t matter. I just hope he enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.


Of all my Amie Street grabs recently, I love The Kissaway Trail‘s “Sleep Mountain” the most. This Danish band has an unpretentious grandeur and a full and lovely sound. They remind me of one of my favorite Norwegian bands, Poor Rich Ones. I really can’t recommend them enough if you want something earnest, fresh, powerful and musically solid.

Looking Ahead

It’s been a great couple of weeks for advance streams of highly anticipated albums. Upcoming albums by the New Pornographers (May 4),  The Hold Steady (May 4) and The National (May 11) have all been available for preview from fine media establishments such as NPR and the New York Times (which also did a really cool profile of the band). Early returns are all positive, and I will be at Newbury Comics with my debit card on the appointed Tuesdays, ready to purchase.

Also, I’m working on a compilation of my favorite songs of the year so far for the Higher Ed Music Critics blog. So stay tuned for a link to that.

Larger Than Live

I don’t go to as many concerts as I used to, but still, by the standards set by many of my friends and peers, I was never that rabid of a concertgoer to begin with. Don’t get me wrong — I love a good live show. But I was never the type to spend multiple evenings per week hanging around the Paradise or TT the Bear’s, and I also have never been particularly inclined to see a band live more than once unless I was particularly fascinated by or obsessed with them.

There are a couple acts, however, where I will almost automatically buy a ticket to see them no matter how recently I saw them last or whether or not they have any new material. And while I am huge fans of their work, their music is really only part of it. Thanks to the scheduling gods, I was able to see both of those acts in the past week.

IMG00372-20090927-0115One of the acts in question is Mike Viola — of Candy Butchers fame, one of the lesser known statesmen of power pop who is now quietly making his mark producing albums by the likes of Mandy Moore and Rachael Yamagata and writing music for movies like “Walk Hard.” I am not sure how I first heard of Mike Viola, but I remember seeing his major label “flop” “Falling Into Place” in Nuggets’ infamous $2 room week after week. At some point I snagged it, and over time I picked up the rest of his catalog, including some hard-to-find EPs. But it wasn’t until a few years ago when I first saw him live, in the intimate environs of the Lizard Lounge.

Mike Viola is an incredibly gifted and prolific songwriter. He spits out pop gems like most of us change our socks. So hearing him pick through a repertoire that stretches back to his years as a teenage phenom from Stoughton playing the hot clubs in Kenmore Square is a treat enough. But the reason why I will go see Mike Viola rain or shine isn’t just for that repertoire. It’s for the repertoire he creates on the fly — jokey songs like “Nashville is for Losers” (about frequent collaborator Kelly Jones’ imminent move south) or a ditty pleading that the audience members he just asked to keep quiet don’t throw a dart at his neck. It’s also for the the atmosphere, as if we’re all friends in the living room sharing the same inside jokes. Last week’s concert was no different. Someone brings out a birthday cake because it’s Mike’s birthday. Mike offers the crowd his e-mail address so we can bug him for some old recordings. He demonstrates for us, with open reverence, the chords to the chorus of Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy,” and he asks us to sing along to “Rocket Man” and “Purple Rain.”

I think part of it is Mike’s genuine enthusiasm for performing — you get the sense that he is showing you a real part of himself, not a front. He comes off as unembarrassed and unrepentant, yet accessible and not aloof. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen him use a concrete setlist. He just plays what he feels like it, for as long as he feels like. The show last Saturday? Lasted three hours and fifteen minutes of solid, un-intermissioned Mike. It just makes you feel good. I might enjoy other concerts, or perhaps feel inspired, energized or enlightened. Mike Viola shows just make me feel comfortable, relaxed — good. Like spending time with friends. It’s hard to explain, but even harder to bottle.

A close second, though, is Girlyman. Girlyman, it would seem, is a band outside of my normal indie bailiwick, falling more in the folk category. But when my friend Lis introduced me to them, I fell in love with their harmonies and their compelling songwriting. Little did I know that I hadn’t seen the half of it.

IMG00379-20091001-2140The members of Girlyman — they are a trio, two women and one man — are some of the funniest people I have ever encountered. Their sense of humor doesn’t often come through in their songs, but on stage is another story. Stage banter is a dicey proposition for any live performer — far too often, musicians will attempt to banter with each other or with the audience and it will fall painfully flat. With Girlyman, though, it is nothing short of comic gold — in a completely authentic, unforced way.

A standard of Girlyman shows are the “tuning songs,” often penned by Nate while Doris or Ty are tuning their guitars. On their live album, they saw fit to include a number of these tuning songs, some of which devolve into “Hava Nagila” while others pick up on some joke made at an earlier point in the evening. (In this week’s show at the Somerville Theatre, the band talked about touring in Canada where milk comes in a bag. This led to several “bags of milk” — or udder — references for the rest of the evening.) A lot of times, during a live show, the audience can become restless between songs if there are delays for tuning or adjustments. At Girlyman shows, you actually look forward to them.

Whether they are joking about (and actually improvising) a “dance remix” of their plaintive ballad “Viola,” interspecies love, things that are only “funny in the van” (and not funny on stage), or developing the idea for “Therapy: The Musical,” this band never fails to amuse. When you consider that these moments are just blips in a stream of completely stunning songcraft, you wonder how you became fortunate enough to be sitting there, taking it all in.

In my experience, you can have bands that perform well live, bands that are good at cracking jokes and carrying the audience through a set even between songs, and bands that simply hypnotize the audience into complicity by virtue of their aura or status. But to have acts like Mike Viola and Girlyman that can almost effortlessly entertain and engage, bridging the gap between audience and stage with each wisecrack and anecdote, all while sharing windows into their most personal moments or tragedies — a wife dying of cancer; a good friend’s suicide — is rare and special. I feel particularly privileged to, in the span of a single week, have seen them both live for the umpteenth time. And all I can do is wonder when they’re coming back to town.