Monthly Archives: June 2012

Review: “Little Sun” – Alphanaut

Electronic-art group Alphanaut’s new album Little Sun is a concept album with a slight twist: it tells the story of frontman Mark Alan’s dog Dingo who passed away in 2009.  It’s a mostly moody affair – a slow burner of an album, that reveals more with each listen.  The music is layered with strings, keyboards, jazzy detours, and occasional electronic beeps.

It could come off as a vanity project, but Little Sun is compelling: using Dingo as a frame throughout the album, Alphanaut taps into very human questions about life and death.  In an interesting twist, many of the songs are sung from Dingo’s perspective. Alan presents Dingo as a loyal companion who is eager to please his human counterpart by fetching his keys. It’s clear that the two always seem to enjoy each other’s company.

The album’s emotional pull really sets in the the second half. As Dingo’s Canine Lymphoma sets in, Alan pleads to God: “I’ll trade you his life, for all of my sins.”  On “Back to the Stars”, Dingo looks back on his life and remembers the good and the bad, concluding that “there was nothing better than the times such as ours.”

Luckily, listeners don’t need to know the back story of the album to get something out of it. It may tell the story of man’s best friend, but the truths and questions it presents are very human.

Check out “Back to the Stars” here. 

 

{Contest}: Maren Parusel & Hills Like Elephants Giveway

In conjunction with The Musebox, Hills like Elephants and Maren Parusel, Leading Us Absurd has put together its first official contests. 

About Hills like Elephants: 

Hills like Elephants are ready to make themselves visible to you. The band, which has been breaking new ground in the San Diego scene, are ready to unleash their perfect brand of indie pop onto the masses. Releasing their first single titled “Invisible Ink,” Hills Like Elephants are ready to invade your headphones. The extraordinary track is filled with thumping drum beats, carefully picked melodies, bright and resonating pianos and singer Sean Davenport’s dreamy yet upbeat voice. A little bit blues, a little bit Pavement, Hills Like Elephants seem to have the perfect blend that will immediately catch your ears.  After all, that is what they have set out to do and they seem to accomplish it flawlessly.

Check out: “Invisible Ink” here. 

About Maren Parusel: 

The gorgeous and synth filled album was created out of the ashes of disaster for Parusel in New York City last year as she had her instruments stolen. Though this was actually a blessing in disguise, what came of her sound is a revamped style of guitar-driven tones, synths, and the ability to take on the world.  Exactly what you have been waiting for.

With a voice reminiscent of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, with a dose of pop flare thrown in, Parusel brings every piece to life. The finished product can be described as a polished and danceable collection of dreamy tracks with bandmates Eric Brozgold (drums), Josh Cass (guitarist), and Chris Hoffee (bass) in tow.

Check out “Castle in the Sky” here. 

Maren Parusel Contest:

A copy of Maren Parusel’s Tightrope Walker; A CD tote personally made by Maren

Hills Like Elephants Contest:

A copy of Hills like Elephants’ The Endless Charade; Hills like Elephants t-shirt

To Enter: 

Those wishing to enter both contests should email me (matt@leadingusabsurd.com) or Melissa Nastasi (melissa@themusebox.net) with:
Their name
Their email address
Their mailing address
Tee shirt size (for Hills giveaway)
Must live in the U.S. or Canada
Contest will end next Monday (July 3rd at Midnight.)

 

Song of the Week: “Pressure Drop” – Toots and the Maytals

(This post is bound to make my brother happy, I’m sure.)

Summer time is the perfect time to listen to reggae, and Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” is one of my all-time favorite reggae songs. What sets Toots and the Maytals apart from many reggae artists is their emphasis on melody and harmony, and “Pressure Drop” is no exception. While the groove is clearly reggae, the singing is more akin to American Soul and R&B. Toots Hibbert himself has often been referred to a reggae version of Otis Redding, and this song clearly shows why.

Lyrically the song isn’t too deep (there are very few words) but it hardly matters. Toots’ declaration of “a pressure drop on you” is smooth like silk, and is anchored by the rest of the bands’ singing in “oooh yeah” in succession after him.  It’s not until the end, that Toots’ really lets go and belts out the word “pressure!” with a fiery passion that takes the song to another level.

Since its release “Pressure Drop” has become something of a reggae standard and has been covered by many artists including the Clash – who give the song their signature punk spin on the genre – and Keith Richards (with the Maytals), but none of them beat the original.

 

Album of the Week: “Pet Sounds” – The Beach Boys {Happy 70th Birthday Brian Wilson}

Pet Sounds is one of those albums that deserves every single accolade it receives, and perhaps more. Brian Wilson is one of rock’s certifiable geniuses, and it doesn’t sound that far fetched to suggest he is the closest thing that rock and roll has to a Beethoven or Mozart. Even if Pet Sounds was the only album the Beach Boys ever created, their place in rock and roll history and influence on popular culture would be cemented.

When you think of Pet Sounds, the first thing that comes to mind is the production and melodies. And certainly most of its reputation is staked on that, and with good reason. Even 46 years later, the sonic production that Wilson built is staggering and mind-blowing, especially when you consider the limited technology that was available back in 1966. Each sound is built upon the other, and every single note throughout the album feels perfect. With every listen, Pet Sounds sounds familiar and comforting, but each subsequent listen reveals something more.  I’ve probably listened to the album about 200 hundred times, and each experience has been different and I’ve found myself discovering a vocal part or sound I hadn’t heard before.

Aside from the production and melodies, Wilson was also interested in maturing the Beach Boys’ themes. Gone are the suntanned girls, surfboards and lazy days at the beach. The women are still present, but Wilson ponders his what he would do without love (“God Only Knows”), or what happens when love fades (“Caroline No”).  Even on the opener, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Wilson looks forward to growing old.  Elsewhere on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, Wilson contemplates his own life and place in it.  On Pet Sounds, it seems as if Wilson was purposely covering his emotions and questions in a sonic blanket.

With Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys raised the stakes of what an album could be and what it could sound like. Rock and roll was no longer being confined to just three chords and a bunch of guys banging away in the studio. Even the Beatles (Wilson’s biggest rivals) realized that they had to change things up a bit – which they did when they released Sgt. Pepper the following spring.  It’s still an album thats influence can be heard across genres today – whether they know it or not, any electronic dance musician or rapper who uses samples is taking a page out of Wilson’s book.

 

 

Video Premiere: “Frankie” – Keaira LaShae

Courtesy of the Musebox:

With a dash of electrifying vocals, a smidgen of gravity defying choreography and a whole lot of Superhero Swag, newcomer R&B/Pop superstar Keaira LaShae is the epitome of all-encompassing talent. Having a natural flair for music, fitness and dance, the advocate for female empowerment is gearing up to make a permanent indentation in the industry with a summer release of her self-titled EP. 

 

Exclusive Interview With Dust Engineers’ Zachary Meyer

Originally conceived to create the fictional home recordings of a nonexistent South Dakotan teenager, The Dust Engineers are in reality a new Brooklyn/Queens-based band. “Ask Bobby Zimmerman about inventing a persona,” laughs Zachary Meyer, singer and guitarist. “Sometimes romanticization is better than the real thing.” After performing at a Bowery Poetry Club multimedia exhibition, Meyer decided to makeThe Dust Engineers more than a fantasy, and enlisted Ryan Egan (bass), Sara Maeder (vocals, tambourine), Erik Rosenberg (guitar, vocals), and Jared Harel (drums) to form the band in 2011. Employing coed harmonies and twangy bottleneck slides with reckless abandon, their new EP Bail proves tough to classify. “One foot on a skateboard and the other in stirrups,” replies Meyer when asked about The Dust Engineers’singular sound.

Dust Engineers have a pretty interesting background: originally the band as started a concept involving the soundtrack for a fictional South Dakotan teenager.  How did that idea come about, and why the change?

The first song I wrote for The Dust Engineers, before we were a band and I think before the project even had a name, was a song about this teenage love/westbound trip that ends with the singer and his lover driving into the ocean, and the lyrics map out the trip as going through Wyoming and Nevada into California, and I imagined they were coming from South Dakota. The concept started with that song and grew into an identity, like an alter ego – and really this kid, whose name is Ernest Wheyton, he is still a muse for us, still a part of who we are. So I wouldn’t say we’ve ditched the concept – it’s just that we decided to keep it real, not to present The Dust Engineers as his home recordings.

I mean I was literally going to lie, build the persona up, and I even fantasized about getting exposed in some kind of “Dylan is Zimmerman!” or “James Frey is not a drug addict!” scandal. It’s fun to imagine but pretty impossible to execute, like right now I’d be doing this interview as Ernest Wheyton – let’s say I got interviewed by Chuck Klosterman, who’s from North Dakota, would I pretend to know about bean farming? The web of lies would just spiral into insanity.

Plus it would sort of deny my bandmates the credit that they certainly deserve – so we keep it more like a Bowie character, where, you know, nobody actually thought he was Ziggy Stardust, but Ziggy is a beloved character nonetheless. Actually David Bowie isn’t even David Bowie’s real name, but now I’m rambling…

The guitar tone is pretty distinctive.  Reminds me a bit of 90s alt-rock acts like Dinosaur Jr, and in some ways Sonic Youth, then there’s some heartland rock influences as well (especially with the bottle-neck slide.)  Where does that combination come from? 

Well the 90s influence is just the natural result of growing up listening to and loving that music, and the country and western influences came later, for example in college I played in a bluegrass band (with some great musicians who are still playing today, shoutout to Max Horwich aka Sewing Machines, Ben Seretan, Adam Tinkle, Jon Sirlin, Sylvia Ryerson, and Ruby Ross). We don’t seek to be revivalists, but rather it’s in the way we combine these elements that we hope to create a unique and original sound.

“Bail” was recorded live rather than multi-tracking and over-dubbing.  Did you find that process hard or invigorating? 

Invigorating for sure. I had been used to multitracking to a click and tweaking endlessly with Logic or Pro Tools, and Andrew Lappin, who recorded us, stepped into a bit of a traditional “producer” role for a moment when he said, “listen, guys, you’re a rock n’ roll band and part of why I’m psyched to be working with you is because I dig your live show – let’s just turn the metronome off and record this live.” We did a few takes like that and were totally sold on it. I mean, I wouldn’t suggest it to a Top 40 dance producer, but there’s a difference between being locked rhythmically and being sterile and in our case the live-in-the-studio approach allowed the songs to breathe and stay raw, stay human. Definitely the right call for this EP.

Your record label, No Horse Town is also made up of writers, visual artists and poets.  That’s not exactly a traditional outlet.  What attracted you to the label?

I’m one of the founders of No Horse Town – it’s a humble, low-budget collective, you know, a way for a group of artists, writers, and musicians to work together and do the occasional multimedia event without being tied down contractually or financially. A No Horse Town event at the Bowery Poetry Club was actually the first live performance of The Dust Engineers, definitely made me want to get a real band together and make this more than just a conceptual recording project. I should probably throw it out there for the record that No Horse Town wouldn’t get in the way of other labels pursuing us.

What’s next for you guys?  Any plans for a full-length?

Yeah definitely. We’re working on new songs and we can hear ourselves sonically getting deeper into the desert, into the country noir sound. More twang, more slide, and less notes. Wide open spaces. It’s in the writing phase, so no date on a full-length, but it’s coming. That said, we’re taking it one step at a time. In the more short term, we’re playing Northside Festival in Brooklyn this Thursday, and we’re looking forward to our shows this summer and releasing Bail on July 17.

Check out “Snot Nosed Dweeb”

http://thedustengineers.bandcamp.com/

Album of the Week: “No Code” – Pearl Jam

From about 92-95 Pearl Jam was perhaps the biggest band on the planet.  Their second album, Vs. set the record for most copies sold in a week, until the record was broke by Garth Brooks in 1998. Eddie Vedder was seen as something as the voice of a generation, and along with Kurt Cobain, a poster child for the grunge movement.

Like their hero Neil Young, Pearl Jam refused to play by the conventional rules. They famously refused to make videos for years, and took on Ticketmaster.  While the move was certainly noteworthy (and ahead of its time), the band was forced to play non-Ticketmaster venues for their 95 Tour, making it increasingly hard for their fan-base to see their shows.

But the real-breaking point for many casual fans was their 1996 album, No Code. Depending on your viewpoint releasing the world-music flavored “Who You Are” as the No Code’s first single was either stubborn or brilliant. The song was a stark contrast to anthems like their previous singles “Alive” and “Daughter”.   Upon its first week of release No Code sold well, but casual fans quickly abandoned it.

In some ways, that was exactly the point. Instead of making just another run of the mill grunge album, Pearl Jam (and specifically Vedder) incorporated elements of folk, punk, psychedelia into No Code, making it their most varied album musically. None of the song sound the same. Pearl Jam may have lost many fans in the process, but in retrospect it kept the band alive proving that they could outlast grunge.

Throughout the album, Vedder spends a great deal looking inward. The album’s centerpiece “Present Tense” affirms that “you’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself”, and that no time is better than now to change. While it can certainly be seen as “a reminder” as Vedder said in a 2006 concert, it also could be seen as No Code’s manifesto. “It makes much more sense, to live in the present tense,” Vedder sings in the chorus, suggesting that Pearl Jam in 1996, is entirely different than the Pearl Jam of 1992.   The Eastern-tinged “Who You Are” meanwhile presents itself as a call to arms for trying to find a place in the world.  What will you do with your life, the song seems to be asking.  Who are you, and how will your life be viewed when it’s all over?

Though existential questions and softer songs make up the bulk of No Code, there is still plenty of raging angst.  “Habit” and the minute-long “Lukin” are both garage rockers that will satisfy fans who prefer their Eddie Vedder screaming at the top of his lungs.  “Habit” is a plea for a friend’s drug addiction, while “Lukin” tells the story of Vedder’s stalker problem.  And “Red Mosquito” contains some of Mike McCready’s most inspired playing with a distorted blues riff.

Ironically, I became a fan of Pearl Jam right around this time, when they were no longer seen as cool, and No Code was actually the first full album I heard by them. A friend picked it up after school one day, soon after its release. As we listened to it in her car, I remember her being severely disappointed by what she heard. “I’m not sure if I like this,” she commented. She must not be hearing the same album I’m hearing, I thought.  This is actually really good.  

There’s certainly no denying that No Code is a tough album. Unlike their previous albums, where Vedder wove stories into Pearl Jam’s music that thousands could relate to.  Now he was forcing his fans to question everything in their lives, including the band they loved so much. It’s harder to identify with a song or album where you have look at yourself instead of seeing a version of you in the song.  For those that stuck around, we’re all the better for it.

Song of the Week: “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon

 

For the longest time, I always associated Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” with Sesame Street. How that happened, I’m not quite sure. I’m assuming one of my older brothers must have turned the channel to MTV when I was watching Sesame Street as a kid.  I vividly remember watching the video with Chevy Chase, and pretending to play the saxophone during the song’s chorus.  Twenty some years later, I would occasionally do the same move under entirely different circumstances.

After not having seen the video for years, I looked up it on Youtube and was shocked to find that there were no Muppets in the video. Apparently, my mind had intertwined both Sesame Street and the video into some kind of hybrid.  In my state of confusion, I finally sat down and listened to the lyrics for the first time:

A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard

Contrary to the song’s joyous melody and music, Simon’s lyrics come off as quite desperate. When he admits that he “doesn’t find this stuff amusing anymore” it seems as if Simon has finally unleashed his inner-crank.  This is a man, who seems on the verge of having a mid-life crisis, or at the very least some kind of identity issue.  “Where’s my wife and family?” Simon asks.  “What if I did here?  Who’ll be my role model?”

Whether the song is autobiographical or not, there’s no denying that up until Graceland, (which “Al” appears on) Simon was in a bit of a creative slump.  Recording much of the album in South Africa and using South African musicians, Graceland ended up becoming one of Simon’s biggest hits and is recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time for its mix of pop and world music.  Allmusic has described the album as “presenting listeners with that magical combination: something they’d never heard before that nevertheless sounded familiar.”

This is certainly true of “You Can Call Me Al”.  On the surface its melody and chorus are quite catchy.  And of course, the saxophone hook plays a huge part in the song’s success.  But South African influences are layered throughout the song – from the rhythm to the background singing.  South African musicians Morris Goldberg (penny whistle) and Bakithi Kumalo (who plays the impressive bass track) are also featured prominently on the track.

As a kid, I thought that “You Can Call Me Al” was a novelty song, though one I absolutely adored. It’s a song that is forever linked to my childhood, and makes me happy every time I hear it. But after learning about its origins, I love it even more.  It’s one of the many reason why music so great and appealing: a song can mean bring back memories but still manage to inspire as you get older.

New Music: “Walk Away” – The Bolts

If you’re looking for a new band that truly rocks, then you would be wise to check out California’s Bolts. With its loud and crunchy guitar sound and sing-along chorus, “Walk Away” seems destined to be played in arenas. Both The Bolts and “Walk Away” recall 1970s stadium rock, but with a twist: four lead vocalists.  This combination makes for an extremely catchy song, that gets stuck in you head.

“Walk Away” has recently been featured in a new Sobe commercial, featuring Sports Illustrated model Kate Upton.  Their EP “Fall” is due out this Autumn, will a full-length to be released sometime early next year.

New Music: “Snot Nosed Dweeb” – Dust Engineers (Free MP3)

The title might seem like a joke, but The Dust Engineers’ “Snot Nosed Dweeb” would fit in perfectly with mid-90s alternative rock.  The guitar tone sounds like Dinosaur Jr.’s classic “Feel the Pain”, but with a slightly twangy feel.  The chorus is slightly more poppy, with handclaps and harmonies adding extra weight to the song.

The Dust Engieers EP Bail will be released on July 17th.  In the meantime, check out “Snot Nosed Dweeb” here.