October 29, 2009

News: Google launches new music service

Do you frantically type "google.com" when you need to find something online? Just when you thought the search engine couldn't make your life any easier, it did. Since "lyrics" and "music" are some of the top 10 most searched terms, it would only seem logical for Google to eventually one-up the competition and provide it's own music service.

Google is teaming up with music sites Lala and iLike, which is owned by MySpace, to create OneBox, a music search feature that will stream and sell songs. Don't fear if you don't know the exact song title, because you can also search by lyrics.

OneBox will also have links to Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody, so you can discover more music similar to what you are looking for. Basically, not only can you find what you want, but you can find some new bands to love.

The site will be slowly introducing these new features over the next few days, but if you want to check it out now, go to www.google.com/landing/music. The site has a video showing exactly what the new feature can do.

Record Review: Trevor Hall // Trevor Hall

Laguna Beach, CA
Produced and arranged by Marshall Altman // Mixed by Eric Robinson // Recorded at the Galt Line in Hollywood

Newcomer Trevor Hall has burst into the music scene with his self-titled album, mixing the right amounts of reggae, folk, pop-rock and soul, creating a one-of-a-kind sound and intriguing listeners of any genre. The 22-year-old South Carolina native now resides in a Hindu retreat in Laguna Beach, an obvious influence for his music.

On tracks such as “Unity” and “The Lime Tree,” Hall sings about love and community; about forgetting the band and embracing one another. At times, though, it seems as if Hall stretches his message over all 13 tracks and the music starts to sound similar.

Hall’s husky voice is truly important to his songs. He’s channeling his inner Bob Marley and mixing that with his inner Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon). He also collaborates with many artists on this album, including Colbie Caillat and Matishyahu. His music leans heavily on pop and this album shows plenty of passion. (Vanguard Records)

Sasha Patpatia

Record Review: Derek Stroker // Rise and Shine

Nashville, TN
Produced, engineered, edited, and mixed by Stephen Gause Invertigo Productions // Additional engineering by Ben Phillips // Recorded at Invertigo Productions in Nashville // Mastered by John Mayfield

This latest release by Nashville’s Derek Stroker is a terrific example of how he has grown as an artist with complex song arrangements, skilled musicianship and heartfelt lyrics enriched by stronger, smoother vocals.

The music on Rise and Shine is diverse and captivating – owing to Stroker’s influences from blues, jazz, soul and rock – and are masterfully interwoven throughout each song. The opening track, “Rescue,” features varied tempos that eventually merge, swirling together in a rhythmic dance. “Move Your Feet” is an up-tempo jam song that encourages the listener to feel the music. The soft, easy flow of “Sweet Dreams” is enhanced by the gentle wail of the cello throughout. The call and response between the guitar and organ on “Believe” makes it a standout track.

As with his earlier release, Take A Picture, Make A Promise, Stroker mines his innermost thoughts and feelings for his lyrics, taking the listener along on an introspective journey of life, love and loss. In “Rescue,” Stroker contemplates life’s mysteries: “I've been meaning to sort things out / my mind is in the clouds / why is everything so complicated?” The simple, but very important message in “We’re All In This Together” is love, a major theme in his lyrics. The EP closes with “Be Strong,” a slow, tender song of loss: “No one lives forever / they will live on / with the words of this song.”

Stroker crafts timeless music and it only takes one listen to become hooked. (self-released)

Kat Coffin

October 27, 2009

Live Review: Larry Keel & Natural Bridge

New Earth Music Hall // Athens, GA // Oct. 9, 2009

Bluegrass has never been my favorite style of music. Although I understand the down-home vibe it channels, it’s always seemed to me a restrictive genre, and most of the bands I’ve heard blend together indistinctively. So when I ventured out to a bluegrass show at New Earth, I wasn’t exactly holding my breath.

Fortunately, the Virginia-based progressive bluegrass band Larry Keel & Natural Bridge completely surpassed my expectations. Whereas I expected a concert filled with predictable, countrified chord progressions and an emphasis on overly cheery vocals, these guys turned the usual conventions of the genre on its head.

Larry Keel & Natural Bridge

Comprising Larry Keel (acoustic guitar/vocals), Jenny Keel (upright bass), Mark Schimick (mandolin/vocals) and Jason Flournoy (banjo), the instrumental setup was very much akin to a traditional bluegrass band — making the musical contrast all the more unexpected. Of course the foursome incorporated some of the sunny, homespun vocal harmonies that define the bluegrass genre, but they were sparsely utilized. Refreshingly, they focused on intense instrumental jams, during which they tossed solo passages back and forth at dizzying speeds.

Larry Keel & Natural Bridge

Larry Keel, Schimick and Flournoy all displayed stunning virtuosity on their respective instruments. Keel, replete with a beard that could house a bird’s nest, was the clear leader of the group, driving each jam with rapid-fire melodic lines and arpeggios that would be challenging to replicate even on an electric guitar. Schimick and Flournoy pulled their weight as well, rising up to match Keel’s insane speeds. This three-pronged attack created a flurry of motion in the group’s sound comparable to flamenco music. Jenny Keel’s pulsating bass lines provided a firm anchor to the whirlwind, and she also served as the group’s mouthpiece onstage.

Larry Keel & Natural Bridge

To everyone in the audience’s surprise, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge even got heavy, with a sudden surge of distorted guitars and vigorous, off-kilter riffage that recalled progressive rock.

And in the vein of the freewheeling, all-embracing nature of bluegrass, the band invited no less than 10 musicians onto the stage for the explosive encore, who wielded instruments ranging from tenor saxophone to melodica.

-Review and photos by John Barrett

CMJ Report: Beats and Rhymes panel // Global Hip-Hop Thrown-Down

NYU's Kimmel Center and 92 Y Tribeca // Manhattan, NY // Oct. 22, 2009

Behind big, cocoa brown eyes and the uniformly sized, tightly rooted dreadlocks of my smiling elevator companion, was the moderator of my first CMJ panel. I noticed him before, in his austere light brown blazer. We registered side-by-side and he seemed quietly content, yet unabashedly intrigued by his surroundings. He's the kind of man who presses impatiently on the "close door" button in the elevator, but upon selling you a copy of his book he'll humbly encourage you to contact him if you didn't enjoy the read (and not in that pretentious way, but quite sincerely).

Blitz the Ambassador

When I walked into the panel entitled "Across Cultures: Beats and Rhymes Worldwide" I was overcome by a sense of comprehension and satisfaction when I saw my stair-defying friend sitting in the front of the room behind a name card that read "Dalton Higgins." Author of the newly released book Hip Hop World, Higgins is also a broadcaster an international music booker. The panel that he was guiding today was an exploration of international hip-hop and an analysis of its place and abilities within the U.S. market. More importantly, the panel discussed how U.S. hip-hop is heard globally and how our artists – hip-hop or not – can (and should) begin to be a part of that globalization process.

At Versaris

The remaining panel members consisted of a diverse and accomplished group of industry professionals including publicist and promoter (and global marketing guru) Fiona Bloom of The Bloom Effect, filmmaker Magee McIlvaine of the international, fair trade record company Nomadic Wax, lyricist and radio show host MC Melodee of Amsterdam's hip-hop group La Melodia, and music writer/blogger and photographer Matt Sonzala.

The discussion was poignantly focused, beginning with different ways to break out of your hood while emphasizing the undeniable necessity of networking. One thing that all five panelist agreed on wholeheartedly is how generating revenue should take a back seat to investing in the experience of brand-building and traveling to make connections. They encouraged their audience to spend their time and money going to specific places and pounding the pavement – whether in international cities or known music meccas in the States.

MC Melodee of La Melodia

"So many people think that the world is inaccessible, and it's not," said Bloom. In a day where CD sales are plummeting and technology is shifting the trends and realities of all industries, she's right on. The ability to reach out globally by the strength of your connections and the universality of your art is, indeed, quite the staying power.

The panel also discussed how sometimes creating an educational or creative package to go along with your show will give you an interesting edge. Have many artists thought about workshopping before or after a set (or creating a show where this is comfortable and comprehensive)? Whether it is an educational element or not, the panelists encouraged artists to specifically package themselves and their live performances to fit their brand, their audience and the quickly changing market.


After all, isn't every musician selling their personality just as much as their music? Creative merchandising and packaging is key to getting people interested for more than just a few minutes, especially if your target is (and very well should be) global.

Panelists Bloom and McIlvaine also produced and promoted a showcase that was happening later that night. It was CMJ's only international hip-hop night, located at Manhattan's 92 Y Tribeca. Hosted by Blitz the Ambassador, the global throw-down featured the warm, fierce MC Melodee and her group La Melodia; expressive, high-energy rap duo from Barcelona, At Versaris; Israel's Coolooloosh, a band with soul, flowing rhymes and just a little bit of Klezmer; Moroccan afrobeat and modern rap group Alfaress; and the rough, multi-lingual rhymes and complexly oriented, organic beats of supergroup Nomadic Massive.

Anybody who attended the show was surely converted. All you have to do is expose yourself to world music to realize the language barrier that seemingly restricts us from getting close is really just a fence we can choose to open or close.

-Words and photos by Amanda Macchia

New CDs in the office today...

Modern Skirts – all of us in our night
Nanyana Summer – My Rock Your World
John and Rachel Nicholas – Here You Are
Talk Modern – People Noises
The New Collisions – Invisible Embrace
Lowell & Behold – Volume 2
Robbie Rivera – Closer to the Sun
Yeh Dede – Freedom
Baliset – A Time For Rust
Ana Egge – Road to My Love
Pants Yell! – Received Pronunciation
Animal Collective – Campfire Songs
Rotten Belly Blues – Self-titled
Tom McBride & the Whig Part – Like a Lion
Exsanguinette - …And the Creek Don’t Rise
Josh Grider – Sweet Road to Ride
The Beets - Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to be Cool
The Oh Sees – Dog Poison
The Seedy Seeds – Count the Days
Bel Air – Pole to Pole

October 26, 2009

New Records in the Office Today

Trent Dabbs- Your Side Now
Jon Shain- Times Right Now
Underworld vs. The Misterons- Athens
Ashley Beedle & Darren Morris- Mavis
Disastroid- Life or Death
Hail the Size- I Can’t Die in L.A.
Kingnaldo- Organic Antidote
The Only Michael James- The Fraud
Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes- The Friend Ship
Reverse- Monkey Mind…
Paul Edelman- Shed
Festizio- Festizio
Wrinkle Neck Mules- Let the Lead Fly
Arms and Sleepers- Matador
Jen Murdza- Good Little Worker Bees
Holy Boys Danger Club- Lessons for Liars
Matthew Ryan- Dear Lover
Nine:Fifteen- Electric Blanket
Afromotive- Simbo
Appletown Gun Shop- Ghosts of Green
Quoting Napoleon- Absence
Paper Scissors- Present and Contingent
Susan Torrey- Moody Bridge Road
Carcrashlander- Where to Swim
Cast of Thousands- Applied Mythology
J.D. Souther- If the World Was You
Zac Mac Band- …Don’t Look Down
Careless Hearts- Joselina
Fishhawk- Bells Underwater
Kinjac- Seven Addenda EP
Carla Ulbrich- Live From Outer Space
Forgetful Jones- Sub-Atomic Philharmonic
Six Ft Sissy- The State of New York
Hey Young Believer- Invisible By Day
Gemini Cricket- Gemini Cricket

Live Review: Owen at CMJ

The Bell House // Brooklyn, NY // Oct. 23, 2009

The second Mike Kinsella – tour-de-force of solo project Owen – so much as hinted he was getting ready to go on, the crowd in the Bell House swarmed towards the stage. By the time he had played his last chord, those remaining – many fewer than had gathered forty minutes earlier – were left scratching their heads.

Owen’s CMJ appearance had been hyped through his MySpace as “playing with a full band,” which, for the usually-acoustic performer, was an enticing announcement for fans. Playing electric, with a guitarist, bassist and drummer, Kinsella ripped into the set’s first song. But the track, while familiar to some, wasn’t what most had been expecting: “Hello” by Oasis (yes, that Oasis). Kinsella and band spent the entire set playing Oasis’ What’s the Story, Morning Glory in sequence. Not an Owen chord was so much as hinted at.

Of course, the lack of Owen songs – Kinsella’s stripped-down, signature croon over thoughtful composition – was at the crux of the disappointment (and for some who had traveled to the out-of-the-way Brooklyn venue at Second Avenue and 7th Street, disappointment turned to infuriation). What’s perhaps more irksome, though, was how Kinsella seemed to disregard the fact that the crowd was gathered to see him, absorb his music, and be touched by the opportunity to see Owen songs live – something not often an option. A cry of, “Play some Owen songs, please!” was answered with a sneer while Kinsella looked down at his guitar and tuned up. Even the set that he was playing could have been simply good live music, but throughout the night, Kinsella often turned his back on the crowd, laughing with the other band members, and fumbled lyrics out of carelessness. Watching his raw smiles as Owen is a moving thing; his connection to the music and natural stage presence is what’s made him the stuff of idol for many. But during the cover set, Kinsella’s grins merely said, “The joke’s on you.”

With most subway service in Park Slope suspended after 11:30 p.m. on Friday for track repairs, the saving grace of Owen’s set was that it ended early enough to hop over to the Fourth Avenue-9th Street station before the trains stopped running.

-Review and photo by Meredith Turits


Live Review: Motel Motel at CMJ

The Bell House // Brooklyn, NY // Oct. 23, 2009

It was a short hop to the Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for hometown five-piece Motel Motel, who are currently enjoying a stint near the top of New York’s new music radar. Branded by shimmering notes and meticulous vocal harmonies over an eclectic, Americana-esque backdrop, Motel Motel’s set for CMJ’s Polyvinyl Records showcase provided a nice overview of the band during their expansive six-song set.

While Motel Motel’s opener started quietly, their set kicked quickly into gear. As the song progressed and the audience crept closer in towards the stage, lead singer Eric Engel harnessed the room’s energy, fusing it into his vocal lines and movements on stage. The placid atmosphere of the venue was broken once Engel took charge, viewers captivated by the vocalist on his tip-toes, his neck seeming to Gumby-twist around the microphone as he sang. Guitarist/bassist Timo Sullivan nurtured the on-stage chemistry with a delightful back-and-forth between he and Engel over the guitar twinkle and pedal steel pushing the song forward.

Despite encountering a few technical issues, and performing on a stage that in a few instances seemed hard for the band to fill with their lo-fi, indie groove, Motel Motel’s playful, well-constructed compositions showed strength. The minimalism of the songs pushed through without seeming sparse and shining, plucked notes and subdued drums provided a frame for viewing the contrast between Engel’s curious, sometimes slurred vocals and the meticulous harmonies members Erik Gundel and Mickey Theis added. The band’s fifth song showcased the three-part vocals best and proved to be the most memorable moment of the night.

Motel Motel closed with not only a strong track, but with all the energy they’d been thriving on all night. Drummer Jeremy Duvall lifted himself out of the background, rhythms romancing with the melodies from Gundel’s keyboard – everything coming together. The entire set demonstrated range, while still feeling cohesive through the overarching palette and rhythms. It was a decidedly solid showing from Motel Motel, who even while displaying immense maturity, still allowed hints of youthful, Brooklyn energy to kick through. They’ve created a niche that’s markedly theirs.

-Review and photos by Meredith Turits


Live Review: David Bazan

The Drunken Unicorn // Atlanta, GA // Oct. 14, 2009

By now, the post-Napster musings of arts critics and quantitative studies of academics have well-documented the consequences of digitizing art and entertainment, giving music writers a fresh premise to initiate any new conversation about the sound world around them. One of the greatest tragedies of this bittersweet state of affairs is the loss of fidelity between deserving artists and their fans, whose rampant musical ADD is ironically encouraged by the very same bloggers and P2P gurus who purport to devote themselves to the best of the music makers. As a consumer and writer, I'm guilty of both counts, which perhaps indicates the bewitching nature of the beast.

In spite of the digital milieu, David Bazan, whose new record Curse Your Branches (Barsuk) continues a 12-year-old conversation with God that started with Pedro the Lion's Whole EP (Tooth & Nail), has maintained a devout following in and out of religious circles. Sure, he's lost fans over the years, but this is largely for an opposite, deeper reason – Bazan's loss of faith in the evangelical narrative of the Lord.

For every departed fan that had heard enough tales of sexual deviance and drunken restlessness, however, Bazan has enamored scores of new listeners who are attracted to the same honesty and holy inquisition that's kept his earliest believers hanging on. Heavy-handed lyrical disputes aside, Bazan is equally revered for his compositional and harmonic sensibilities; throughout his songwriting career, whether by synthesizer or acoustic guitar, he's honed a sound that is unmistakably his own. It's unfortunate that Bazan's iconoclasm often disguises the simple fact that the man could make "Casper the Friendly Ghost" sound reverential.

Having seen Bazan perform in various iterations six other times that I remember, walking into the Drunken Unicorn prepared to "review" the show was somewhat akin to Buzz Aldrin handing me the keys to a spaceship and wondering if I'd be happy about it. For me, whether it's Radiohead, Bazan or more recently Deerhunter, the question wasn't so much "if" he would be good live, but "how" would he execute that goodness throughout Curse Your Branches' new Americana-tinged territory. Backed by Seattle stalwarts Blake Wescott (guitar, backup vocals), Casey Foubert (drums), Eric Elbogen (guitar, backup vocals) and Andy Fitts (guitar, keys and backup vocals), Bazan played a tight, harmony-drenched set that was, at times, the heaviest I've ever heard his deep catalog performed. Perhaps since this tour is the first Bazan's played with a band in over four years, there's an itch for rhythm and texture that's been absent from his equally moving acoustic house show tours.

Relaxed, confident and at times playful, Bazan and his band gracefully stomped through material from every release since Pedro the Lion's Control album, each song garnering the sort of wheels-off-the-tracks rock charisma that I almost forgot Bazan was capable of embracing. In now-expected Bazan style, he also intermittently took time for questions and answers, though these brief moments spurred no surprises. After the very educational Curse Your Branches press onslaught, asking Bazan if he still believes in God is at best irresponsible; Bazan answered the question, "not in the way you mean," in the most rote manner I've ever seen him speak. Ironic for a set that was otherwise more raucous and joyful than I've ever seen him play.

-Review by Ryan Burleson; photos by Richard Solomon