Rarely do I get absolutely transfixed by the visuals of a video, but the animated clip accompanying “World Send” by Eulogys is one of that rare breed. The minimalist, groove-laden indie-pop tune (reminiscent of Architecture in Helsinki and Peter, Bjorn, and John) is also impressive.
Bleeding Rainbow’s “So You Know” is also engrossing, but this time for the excellent narrative. I almost forgot the BR song was playing.
“Spirit” by Flowerglass is another narrative gem. Make sure to watch the whole thing.
The spastic, jazzy post-hardcore of “Astrionics” by Hyrrokkin give the filmmakers a chance to play with visual grammar. Certain images are pegged to certain sections of sound, and the expansion of those themes in the music leads to an expansion on the corresponding themes in the visuals. This is a fascinating piece of work.
Dingbats is the fourth & newest album by Athens, Georgia’s Casper & the Cookies. This album is a fun romp through a cemetery late at night (the lanterns would give us away), a secret crush on a hundred year old man (the one from work with the pickup truck) … an atrocious notion of swallowing the ocean.
Back to the full-band swing of 2006’s The Optimist’s Club, the Cookies are hitting it straight out of the park–a long fly ball, all gloves flipped on hips–with Dingbats. The album opener, “Improvisamente Ardito,” walks the listener through the fears and fun of deciding to do something “one more time” (the ringing, resounding, sing-it-all-week reverberation). One more album from C & the Cs? Yes, please, with walnuts and jimmies this time. Quickly, we have to get to the show!
Jason NeSmith (former of Montreal contributor) offers the strongest song with “Lemon Horses.” The sheer bravado is felt fully in this tune: the runt–changed forever, hazed, picked up off the ground by the back of his belt–becomes the big talker. Jason tells us a story of being pulled over on the way to the show…about being a big shot in Athens, about getting high on animal spirits, about being powerful. Blowing smoke in a cop’s face, he could have anything in the back of the tour van, so what do YOU want it to be? Ballads are hard to pull off without hearing a “shave and a hair cut… that sucked” at the end. This is a truly well-delivered story. The words fit the music so masterfully and vice versa. Experience this song!
Kay Stanton (current Supercluster contributor) offers another one of her ultra-real, super-exciting pop gems with “Jennifer’s House.” It sounds a bit like “Meredith,” a Kay song from the Cookies’ third album, Modern Silence, but this tune serves up more details. Why does this person stink, Kay? Why do you still love them? What is giving up worth?
This reviewer’s favorite song is “Thing for Ugly.” While having a great sense of humor in that it’s about what it’s about (one’s kink being ugly people), the song delivers a lot more. Jason’s best vocals, where he sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook, lie here. This is a lost Squeeze song for sure: the early UK Squeeze. It’s like “Out Of Control” with a Nels Cline Singers, electrified sewer grate breakdown from the other side of the moon… not Earth’s. Way out there: Callisto. The Cookies throw out some more memorable thought-bites, “Where’s your sense of humanity? Somebody’s got to love them!” Good fun.
Here’s some adjectives and where to find them. Frantic: the vocals in “Omni” – a cracked trip in all directions. Huge: the keyboard in response to the group vocals in “Sleep Defense.” Compelling: whoever’s speaking in “When The Moon Was In Command,” the album closer. This album delivers a lot of interesting (like new lifeforms discovered in Antarctica) and fun [like an all super-villian rollercoaster that becomes a cannon at the end: POW! (into the Sun)] songs that a lot of ears should hear. Bullet point: Their last three albums were great; Dingbats is even better. It comes out on vinyl, CD, & digitally on February 25th co-released by Wild Kindness Records (Pittsburgh, PA) and Stuff Records (Athens, GA). –Gary Lee Barrett
When this blog started, I wrote about high-school emo bands making ridiculous racket in an Oklahoma hole-in-the-wall venue that was later razed. On Valentine’s Day, I saw a woman make beautiful, artful ambient music in a North Carolina local art gallery. (Oh, how a decade can change things!) Julianna Barwick’s performance was a gorgeous one, made memorable by its unique setting.
The Carrack, a fascinating zero-commission art gallery, hosted the event. The organizers of the Carrack are strictly there to facilitate the existence of the space; they turn control of the space over to local artists to create the exhibitions in the gallery. Each artist gets the space for two weeks, organizing it however they want; any and all sales of art exhibited there go directly to the artist, with no cut for the gallery. You should definitely read up on its goals and strategies if you’re interested in community art.
The small gallery was a perfect space for Barwick and opener Vassilus to play. Both artists used a projector to show looped images that corresponded to their sounds: Vassilus’ images were dark and eerie, while Barwick’s were pictures of outer space similar to those from the Hubble Space Telescope. These images were complemented by the art on the walls and a view of downtown Durham out the windows behind the performers. It was a cool set-up.
Vassilus and Barwick make good touring partners because both are focused on the primacy of the voice in ambient/electronic settings. Vassilus’ take on that formula resulted in dystopian soundscapes populated by dark, mystical lyrics that invoked feelings of uneasiness, dread, and doom. The synth-heavy textures that formed the foundation of the tunes were never abrasive; they moved lightly in contrast to the brash baritone voice that powered the songs. I’m not sure if Vassilus would call themselves witch house, but fans of that sort of dark, claustrophobic, eerie mood would find this oddly-difficult-to-Google group right up their alley.
Although both bands were vocal-centric, their sets were night-and-day opposites. Barwick invited the audience to sit down in front of her on the gallery floor, creating a warm, inviting environment for her beautiful, ethereal music. She loops her own voice repeatedly when she performs, creating whole choirs of point, counterpoint, and harmony. She would occasionally play a note or chord on keyboard to ground the tunes, but the focus was squarely on the arching, soaring vocal performances. Barwick’s wide vocal range made her work even more impressive, as she could swoop from the highest soprano to booming alto with ease.
Barwick’s lush, sweeping sound was a perfect fit for Valentine’s Day; cuddling couples were present in high number. Instead making me uncomfortable (as it would in most shows), it made the atmosphere even more peaceful and romantic. Her set was graceful, unbroken by much stage banter other than the occasional “thank you.” The show was beautiful, and the evening was thoroughly engaging.
So, it’s the first date of tour. Defend Yourself is fresh; SeBADoh is ready. They come out triumphantly with “Beauty of the Ride,” a crowd-winner. Between the first two songs, Lou Barlow realizes he’s resolved to always have a bottle of water on stage, and he is without. Jason Lowenstein doesn’t know any jokes as Lou leaps backstage. I offer up, “Jason, Jason, ask them if they heard about the fire at the circus.” Jason bites, offers the set-up, and waits for me to hand over that sweet punch line. Groans already mount. “It was in tents.” Lou is back: “Magnet’s Coil.” It’s one of those more intimate shows with about 200 or so weeknight indie-goers braving the snow and hangover tomorrow–way worth it!
Jason swears mid-set that they put a lot of time into learning the new songs as they bom-bom all askew. I heard only two or so off the new album; “State Of Mine” definitely caught my ear. “License to Confuse” knocks off the kids’ knit caps. They clobber with a lot more from the you-love-that-song-because-you-know-it back catalog. It is a brilliant, short-but-sweet set from one the most revered bands in the business. Encore: “Skull.”
If there was any kind of mistake made at this show, it was Jason, Lou, and Bob’s choice to follow their opener, San Diego’s Octagrape. Because THEY RULE! They come out on the stage like someone just murdered an alien with oranges on the ceiling. Escape! Square-wave time bombs… half-bird half-doctor, fuse lit underwater by flare to explode pomegranates into goose feathers and lice. Probably the best band I’ve seen take over a stage in a long, long time!
More importantly, their new album, Red UFO, is so interesting and arresting… ah! I just can’t stop listening to it. It is by far the best thing to come across my desk… and then eat the desk, and whine all day about how its name is now Desk and how small the holes in the screen door screen are.
There are NO straps on their guitars; they’re jumping off amps like 1994’s Justin Trosper and landing like 1999’s Eric Paul on Prince’s perfectly woven 1999-gold-sequin tapestry rendering it confetti. Miles runs the voodoo down.
You can say that they sound like a Truman’s Water tributary that indeed leads to larger, more expansive, permanent things. One might say it’s the second coming of Brainiac with mind-melds hourly, making sure all craniums are crammed with silly-string nightmares. Some might say they fall right in between the unabashed abandon of the weirder Guided By Voices vignettes and the living-like-it’s-summer, psycho-swell of Kill Atom Smasher-era Pitchblende. Um … they are a great opening band.
The tour continues with both bands in the US until February 25th. Then, Sebadoh is off to Australia and New Zealand in March. –Gary Lee Barrett
Bunches of MP3s have come my way recently, and I’m happy to share some with you. Come back on Friday for the Spring/Summer mix!
1. “Reno” – Shareef Ali. Anti-folk, acoustic-punk, and country converge on this memorable, attitude-filled breakup tune. (Ali’s CD release show is tonight, if you happen to find yourself in San Francisco.)
2. “Blankets” – Matthew Fowler. Fowler has a smooth, soothing voice that sounds far more mature than his 19 years. Fans of Josh Garrels and Ray LaMontagne should take notice.
3. “The Lampolier” – Grover Anderson. As fall moves toward winter, let’s move from pretty singer/songwriters to the haunting, backwoods Appalachian murder ballad tradition. The production here is particularly notable.
4. “Down to My Soul (The Music)” – Kate Vargas. When a woman says she’s influenced by Tom Waits, that gets my attention. Vargas delivers on that promise with raspy, soulful, inspired folk full of banjo and danger.
5. “Strugglin’” – I Am the Albatross. This one also starts out as a Tom Waits-ian folk ramble, but it transforms into a Gogol Bordello folk/punk/polka blaster complete with vengeful religious imagery. All aboard!
6. “All Walks of Life” – Mike Dillon. I’m used to Mike Dillon’s unclassifiable madness played at 3 zillion BPMs. This unclassifiable madness includes a significantly chiller body before a naturally madcap coda but is no less weird: it still includes vibraphone, trombone, drums, and Dillon’s crazy vocals.
7. “Alta / Waterfall” – Fear of Men. Jangly indie-rock urgency married to the rich, dusky landscapes of Bowerbirds and the like.
8. “Blight ft. FatRat Da Czar” – We Roll Like Madmen. Very smooth, dark, crisp electro here. FatRat Da Czar raps some really nice flow over it, really making this track.
9. “Ruin” – Vedas. The PR for this one calls it a “hollow depletion of hope,” which makes me want to try and cheer them up. Their James Blake-ian electro-pop/R&B/indie/whatever stuff is definitely attractive, though. All is not lost, yo!
10. “Reset” – Maggie McClure. Here’s a cathartic, female-fronted, piano-based pop tune for those who never stopped secretly loving The Fray and The Goo Goo Dolls.
11. “RaVe (feat. Kris English)” – Cloud Seeding. Is it folk? Is it electro? The lines keep getting fuzzier. Either way, this one is a lithe, easy-moving track.
12. “There Was a Time” – Corea Blue. Lo-fi can always get grittier, y’all. Props to this track for creating a zen-like mood and tone while using tape hiss as an instrument.
In the new music landscape, traditional models are modifying, morphing and changing. The record label is one of those pieces that is stretching. Neil Sabatino, owner of Mint 400 Records and songwriter in the band Fairmont, was kind enough to give Independent Clauses a long interview about the pros and cons of digital labels. (Mint 400 is the label of The Duke of Norfolk, whom I manage.)
How did you start Mint 400 Records?
Mint 400 Records was originally a joke. I would use it as my fake label that I said Fairmont was on when we were in between labels. I didn’t really intend to start a record label at the time when I first came up with the name. Then as I started working with a digital distributor he had told me he was signing me up to digital distribution as a label because Fairmont had so many releases at the time, and it got us around a loop hole that allowed us to control the digital distro for every record we had ever put out.
At first I planned on only releasing my own band’s material. I finally asked the question to our digital distro, “Can we help our friends put out their records through our digital distro deal?” The answer was yes, and the rest is history.
How does a digital label like Mint 400 differ from a traditional record label? What do you offer bands?
Mint 400 basically is focused on keeping the bands out of debt, hence releasing very little physical content and being about 95% digital. Occasionally the label has put out physical records for a select band or two and has helped other bands who have pressed their own material to get physical distribution but because of the way that the industry has changed it doesn’t benefit small bands anymore to press anything. One of the things I wanted to do when I first started out was to be able to sign a band, bring them to my home studio and engineer and produce their record for free. Then I wanted to be able to use my art background to design their album art, web page, and other media.
In addition Mint 400 tries to help here and there with PR and tour dates. So basically without costing myself any money only my time, I was able to give a band that had nothing a pretty good start. That was in the early days and now that we have grown we also started working with Pirate Radio Promotions who were nice enough to give us a very indie friendly rate to promote our records to college radio and specialty radio.
This in addition to licensing deals set up specifically for Mint 400 Records artists have been the things we offer bands that a lot of other labels can’t offer. Through a lot of trial and error I have found the most cost effective ways to spend on a band’s release without breaking the bank for them or for myself. I honestly believe that through being on a label like mine, prolific, talented bands are given a chance to grow exponentially and with my help can elevate themselves to the point where they can continue on as a band for many years. For some I will be the stepping stone for them to get to the next step bigger label.
Why should bands get involved with a digital label? What would they benefit? What types of bands would benefit?
I think bands who are prolific are the bands who will benefit the most from a label like mine. A normal label wouldn’t dream of letting you release more then one thing a year because they like to be paid back before moving onto the next thing. Through Mint 400 because we try to handle everything in house we encourage bands to release as many things as possible and they reap the rewards by having that material available for licensing and for radio. For this reason we have a lot of amazing songwriters that have the ability to record their own material and this limits them only to how much material they can write in a year. The bands who won’t benefit from my label are the ones who think they are the next big thing, we don’t buy into any aspect of the major label or even major indie label way of doing things. I would say my label is the most punk rock label that releases almost no punk rock music.
Digital labels get maligned as not as good as traditional labels. What would you say the biggest misconception about digital labels is? I have been in my current band for 13 years now and have released something in every year of our existence, some years we even did two releases. My concern has always been to hone my craft and release as many great records as possible. That is all I really care about and is what I want the artists on my label to care about. The point for me is I have been able to have my records heard by people for over a decade and most bands can’t say that. I want to offer that gift to like minded songwriters who know that their humble songs deserve to be heard.
We are willing to get involved with an artist even if they only have recorded in the bedroom and never done anything else. Amazing songwriting is our concern, and I feel at some point there will be a backlash against the bands who spend millions on records to sound like a perfect robotic auto tuned version of themselves. It will always come back to tremendous musicians who write tremendous songs. I would never hold it against an artist who wants to work the stable 9 to 5 job, have a family and a house but still write records. Just because an artist is stable and doesn’t want to tour and be away from his loved ones for months on end doesn’t mean his work holds any less merit then a major label act.
If someone wanted to start a digital label, what would it take? What goes into creating a digital label?
If someone was looking to just start a digital label I would say all that matters is you have bands that you believe in. For me it helps that I have a background in art which translates to the ability to be able to help bands with everything from videos to web & album design. The other things like producing and engineering records took a lot of hard work to get good at and if you are hoping to do what I do and produce and engineer your label’s releases then I suggest putting in ten plus years in an indie band where you learn from seasoned veterans.
It doesn’t hurt that being in a band you get to learn what kinds of things get you heard more, like radio campaigns, and which things are wastes of time and money. However I would never discourage someone who has drive from attempting to start a digital record label. The only thing that really matters is how good your ear is and will you know an amazing songwriter when you hear one? I pretty much started the label with no cash up front, I mean it did help though that I had already spent thousands on the Fairmont records that became the initial first batch of what Mint 400 released. For the entrepreneur, I would say get good at everything so you can do it in house and cheaply and then you are ready to start your own label. The distro, the radio, the licensing will all come later if you have quality bands.
I don’t want to misrepresent the label at all, so I will disclose that you are going to need to pretty much spend all of your extra cash for a very long time on things for the label. However if you are smart about it and don’t exceed your limitations, then you can pretty much spend what you make to keep upgrading the label. I would say the label has grown tenfold with respects to earnings over our 8-year history and we try to then grow that money by putting back into the label.
I don’t listen to Rocky Votolato much anymore, because the intensity of his emotion deeply impacted me at a pretty pivotal point in my life. Rocky is stuck as a historical moment for me, but Austin Miller has a similar vibe that I hope to listen to for a long time.
More Than One Way sees Miller in thoughtful troubadour mode, dispensing calm, comfortable songs with an easy gravitas. “When the Rain Comes” sticks with me long after I stop listening to it; the melodies are arresting, but it’s the tone of his voice and the lyrics that keep coming back to me. “When the rain comes / I will welcome it with open arms / what else am I supposed to do?” Miller posits, and it’s the delivery that turns that from a prosaic statement into a haunting-yet-optimistic one.
Miller doesn’t traffic in overwrought emotions: he’s no Damien Rice, or even Damien Jurado. Miller pulls me in with his calm appraisals of actions, people, and emotions. There’s a lot of action in this album, despite it being a quiet, walking-speed collection of tunes; the titles “Moving On,” “Moving Along,” “I’ll Walk,” and “How Far” show his concern with all things going. His arrangements aren’t big, but they flesh out and differentiate the songs: “How Far” features a pedal steel guitar, “Moving On” includes harmonium, and “Where We Fell” displays piano and stand-up bass. No matter what he uses, it sounds sweet and winsome; Miller sings and plays with beautiful candor.
I’m reminded of Iron & Wine a little, in the tender way which the songs come off, but the arrangements and vocals aren’t that similar there. It’s a mood sort of thing, I suppose. Rocky Votolato really is the best comparison, which is why I started with him. But I don’t want to sell Miller short; these songs can stand on their own, without any RIYLs. If Miller had invented the genre, it’d be quite a nice genre indeed. Those into earnest, calm, beautiful singer/songwriter tunes should go for More Than One Way.
PR and management are two aspects of a professional career that can be non-obvious to a band first venturing into those territories. They can seem mysterious, nonsensical, towering, or even inaccessible to a band looking for representation. To clear up some of the confusion about the two related but separate functions of the music business, Brian McKinney of Crooked Houses PR + Management gave Independent Clauses a helpful interview. Below are some of the big themes that McKinney outlined.
Three things to know about PR
1. You need to get a PR person three months before your release date.
“A lot of bands don’t understand that publicity needs to happen before the album release. Lead time is involved. It takes magazines three months to look at it, decide if they’re going to review it, write it, edit it, publish it, and send it out to newsstand. If you’re working with Pitchfork or even Independent Clauses, it can be a month to six weeks. Having these conversations while you’re demoing the album is good. I’ve turned down some releases from great bands and great albums because I can’t [promote] it after it’s released. I just can’t get it to work.”
2. Results are not guaranteed with PR blasts.
“No matter how much you spend, even if you spend thousands of dollars on publicity, the results you get aren’t always the results you expect. I’ve worked with bands that are working with very little and got them some pretty good stuff–and they weren’t satisfied. The number one misconception is once you hire someone, your album will be on Pitchfork or reviewed in Spin. There’s so many other bands, so many other labels with marketing budgets, and there’s only so many places to get reviews.”
3. PR takes up a lot of time on the PR person’s part.
“There’s a lot of writing involved, that’s part of it. There’s a lot of thought that goes into who you’re going to contact and follow-up e-mails. If you’re doing physical mailing, there’s hours on hours printing pages, stuffing envelopes, printing address stickers, and affixing stickers.”
Three things to know about managers
1. You need a manager when the business becomes big enough that you’re running out of time to make art.
“[Managers] need to keep an eye on a whole bunch of different aspects of the band. Really it’s about freeing up the artists to perform art. If a band has enough time to send e-mails to every blogger and magazine and label, then I don’t think they’re practicing enough. I think they’ve got too much time on your hands. You can’t be good enough, there’s so many other bands that are going to be better than you. Focus on your live show, focus on your music.”
2. Management is about making business connections; PR is about making press connections.
“The job of the publicist is to get media attention, and the job of the manager is to get industry attention. That means label, A&R, and booking agents for setting up tours. That is one reason I don’t do PR for the bands I manage, because I like to spend as much time as possible working those connections. Otherwise I’m just being a free publicist for a band, which isn’t helpful to anyone. When [bands I manage] have an album coming out, I make sure that they budget to hire a publicist.”
3. It is expensive, but it’s valuable for those trying to make a career.
“It’s expensive, don’t get me wrong. It’s a hard sell. Bands don’t understand how much work is involved [in management], and how necessary it is to have someone represent you. That’s why I’m trying to keep things as upfront as possible on my website.”
I think we have a true folk voice here. I had never heard of Brook Pridemore, hailing from Brooklyn, New York. (By the way, the title of the live cassette I’m reviewing here is My Name Is Brook Pridemore, And I Live In Brooklyn, NY). I had the chance to talk with Brook, and I think the answers write this review. After sampling his music, I decided to get to know this artist.
Bill Callahan, Thee Headcoats, Tom Waits, The Mountain Goats…
I can see that Brook gravitates toward very real, natural artists. Brook once got to show Bill “Smog” Callahan his Bill Callahan tattoo! Similarly, Brook writes in a true folk tradition. He writes about the immediate, foregoing the struggles of song construction and ambiguity that songwriters often labor over. I ask Brook about performing solo with the type of concrete material he has.
“I am not a ‘singer songwriter.’ Brook Pridemore is a band. It happens to have the same name as I do. It has always been a band, there have just been long patches where I’m the only person playing. I have learned, through thousands of solo shows, how to perform under any circumstances. I could go on for days regarding the weird spots I’ve been in. I got used to running out as soon as the band before me was done, and shout my name and where I was from, and start to play. Fewer people left, if I did that. It has still always been a tough slog. But I wouldn’t trade it for the easier route.”
Brook says his home state of Michigan has nothing to do with his lyrics, but that where he is now does.
“A good bit of my lyrical inspiration comes from years of seeing Kerouac’s America, that is, big wide open spaces, taken through a windshield, the clack-clack of the interstate beneath the wheels, getting stranded atop mountains, making out with strangers, rocking out in Austin after spending the previous night in jail, never giving up, never surrendering, always on the go, always on the run, until you stop and breathe, and realize that the feeling that you’ve been running away from is in your own head. And you stay home (Brooklyn) for a while, and you learn how to occupy the space you’re in. So, yes, location matters a lot in my lyrics.”
Bill Callahan says in his song, “Seagull,” “A barroom may entice a seagull like me right off the sea, and into the barroom. How long have I been gone? How long have I been traveling?” I ask Brook if he is married, single, or happily involved. Also, if he meets a lot of hotties because he makes music… or because he’s at bars more than an average person (performing)… or after performing …after a sweaty rave-up (which are what songs like “Chocolate Cake City” and “The Year I Get It Right” from this new live release are: drenched roof-rockers).
“I’m not in a relationship at the moment. I learned the hard way that I’m not going to meet my wife at a bar. I’m an odd duck. I need to get to know a girl.”
The reviewer interjects. “But, if you’re like (Brook) you run like hell and get to see the world, ‘til you find yourself in Brighton… missing a girl.” -directly from his own song “Oh, E!” – the reviewer’s pick from this release.
I guess we all want to know, then, why did Brook Pridemore start writing songs or, rather, start just putting his reality right on the line… an open book? “I was drawn to music from an early age. I was looking for a creative outlet, and I’d missed the boat on marching band. I got my hands on a guitar in 1993, and have never really looked back. Music is so much more immediate than poetry, or fiction, or acting. It’s also so much more personal.” One can pick any song on this live cassette and just know that you’re going to hear a great story, well-told. It’s really an exciting listen also, because you can hear the die-hards in the front rows near the recording device singing along. Brook finishes, “I didn’t realize until I was much older that the big reason for writing songs is so I could make people listen to what I had to say. And because I wanted to make people dance.”
He gets them dancing around track four of the live cassette (recorded at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan in 2011), and he only has to suggest it once.
Discover Brook Pridemore. Check out the new live cassette. I hope to see life in the very in-the-present way Brook does. It seems like a great way to exist, experience, and then move forward. -Gary Lee Barrett