musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Erin Pellnat reminds us to pick up those pennies

Erin Pellnat

Erin Pellnat

There’s something delightfully nostalgic and soothing about Erin Pellnat’s vocals on her new song, “Pennies” that can calm even the most troubled mind that has been caught up in the rough tides of these disturbing times. I don’t know if it’s the gentle accordion and soft percussive shuffle or her 1950s Patsy Cline vibe, but this song takes me back to simpler days. As she and her band sweep us away into a more carefree life (or at least the wistful illusion of such a life), she reminds us that, despite the craziness encircling us, we can still find joy in our lives.

I know, I know that sometimes it seems
this nightmare is swallowing our dreams
But there is never ever a doubt
we’re gonna turn this nightmare inside out.

And I still bend down to pick up pennies
reasons to smile, you don’t need many
and I still skip stones,
still balance on the guardrail on that long walk home.

Pellnat is a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to her solo work, she sings in the band Caretaker. “Pennies” was written by Christopher Pellnat, a fellow singer-songwriter and guitarist in The Warp/The Weft. He has a recent song of his own, titled “Ode to Olivia Rhodes,” inspired by a fictional character whom he “met” in the virtual reality game, Lone Echo. Erin sings backing vocals.

You can listen to “Pennies” on Spotify. “Ode to Olivia Rhodes” can be found on bandcamp.

Don’t forget to pick up those pennies — we need all the luck we can get!

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Christopher Pellnat: soundcloud | bandcamp

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Jason Ebbs Pays Homage to some Familiar Villains

Original photo by Ingrid Angulo

Original photo by Ingrid Angulo

Ah, the exuberance of youth! At the tender age of 20, Bostonian Jason Ebbs is already writing and singing rambunctious rock and cheery pop songs about feeling isolated and relationships gone wrong. On his debut EP, Familiar Villains, there’s a grungy garage tune with a bit of experimentation (“Stone in the Road”), dreamy indie-pop (“First Trip to the Ocean” and “Atlantic Pathfinder”) and charmingly folksy storytelling (“Average Joe”). But a standout track, in all its goofiness, is “Please Have a Seat (on a Cactus).” For a ‘she done me wrong’ song, it’s a pretty funny one.

You don’t have any moon rocks to hold yourself down
I’m hanging up on Mars but you’re stuck on the ground
I’m in the mountains of Saturn looking down at your face
While you’re crying in the desert cause you left me in space
I know it’s all an act
Cause you treat all our fights like it’s practice
So please, have a seat on a cactus

Ebbs is a Northeastern University student and independent artist who has been making music for more than 10 years (9 or 10 years old? not too shabby). He’s inspired by the classic rock and psychedelic music of the ’60s and ’70s, which he blends with modern styles and sensibilities. He started releasing music in November of last year and the EP came out in mid-May.

Familiar Villains (is this a pointed reference to old girlfriends? I wonder…) can be streamed on Spotify or listened to and purchased (name your own price) on bandcamp.

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Places Erupt Lampoon Online Trolling in “Bloggers”

PlacesErupt3

Well now, this is timely. Canadian orchestral pop sextet Places Erupt have beautifully orchestrated their own eruption on their upcoming 45 EP. It’s scathing commentary on the times we find ourselves living in, with the accompaniment of deliciously evil gypsy violins. The first single, “Bloggers,” is an acerbic treatise about online trolling, the political divisions in our country and the ability to use the internet as a cloak of anonymity that allows one to freely breed hate and poison ordinary discourse, with no personal responsibility. And it is spot on.

“Bloggers” was filmed by Pedja Milosavljevic of Balkanada, a Toronto-based independent production house. I’m tempted to say that this video is hilarious (and it is), but it’s also incredibly sad.

In the video, our defiant protagonist, firmly in the purple and orange camp, is surrounded by co-workers and strangers on the street who are yellow and blue button wearers. Meek and well-mannered, he undergoes a frightening transformation once he sits down at his computer. He’s a man “who shies away from expressing his extreme political beliefs face to face with people, just to go home and rant at nauseam online — unhinged and uninhibited.” Know anyone like that? The over-the-top exaggeration is what makes it so amusing, but it really isn’t an exaggeration at all, is it? The video purposely doesn’t name a specific issue, but rather “a polarity of political opinions that exist between him and everyone else.”

On their new EP, Places Erupt have chosen to focus on current events and topical issues on their new release. As they explain,

Our forthcoming 45 EP both lashes out and laughs at the terrifying times in which we are currently living in. Its lyrical content covers everything from Tinder to tourists to trolling, returning time and again to the villain at the centre of our current collective nightmare — the 45th president of the United States of America.

The band will be celebrating the release of “Bloggers” on June 9 at Junction City Music Hall in Toronto, and they’ll also be performing on June 15 at the Church of St. John the Evangelist (Cinquefoil Series) in Hamilton, Ontario.

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In “Defenseless,” Blackpaw Ponders The Importance of Connecting in a Disconnected World

Blackpaw

At some point in the future (perhaps in the very near future), we’ll remove all the risk and all the unknowns of meeting new people by choosing to socialize only in a virtual world. One might argue that with Facebook and Twitter and an infinite number of other social network platforms, we’re there already. But as far as I know, we can’t yet have a complete virtual experience that in any way rivals the full sensory adventure of really being there and interacting with others.

In their debut video for their song “Defenseless,” Blackpaw, the alter-ego and artistic project of Los Angeles songwriter and musician Adrian Rodriguez, considers this possibility. In doing so, he offers some poignant social observations about L.A.’s dating scene and our need to connect with someone on a deeper level. The song, as its title suggests, is about opening yourself up for whatever comes and taking a chance. What possibilities lie beyond your fear?

BLACKPAW – DEFENSELESS from BLACKPAW on Vimeo.

After watching this hypnotic and slightly sad video, with its surprise, goosebump-inducing ending, I found myself Googling “Connect” to reassure myself that this wasn’t actually a thing. Google Connect, anyone? But no, if you look carefully at the packaging in the video, you’ll see that the manufacturer is Blackpaw. Whew!

The film is cleverly crafted by Blackpaw and Mitchell deQuilettes. It’s an engaging story with subtitles, giving it a French New Wave film vibe, while the song is like a narrator’s commentary. It features the spellbinding couple Mani Yarosh and Quincy Banks as two people who are searching for connection and intimacy in the wilds of Los Angeles nightlife, from the safety and comfort of their own apartments. Is it worth taking a risk for a chance at love? We’re left with that lingering question.

The video was originally premiered by Live FAST Magazine. “Defenseless” is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.

This summer, there will be two more singles ahead of Blackpaw’s much anticipated debut EP. They have a few shows scheduled — June 15 at Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles with Harley Cortez (for his release party), June 16 at the Supergloom Fest in Long Beach and June 29 at Zebulon in L.A. with The Big Pink and Marc Baker.

In an interview with Noisey, Rodriguez explained the inspiration behind the song:

‘Defenseless’ is the inner monologue to the idea of letting yourself feel something no matter what the outcome, good or bad. It’s about having your preconceived notions and having your guard up. Once you let it all go and get lost in it, you’re truly able to experience the moments that become memories. I think it’s important to cherish as well as let go. No matter how good it feels, or how much it hurts. These energies build us.

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Miele Explores the Human Condition and Offers Sweet, Flowing, Therapeutic Sustenance

Miele

Music, for me, has always been therapeutic, a way to cut through unpleasant, undefinable emotions to get at the underlying truth of a situation and be more in touch with myself. Boston’s Miele likely understands this on a deeper level than most, since the band is entirely made up of mental health and special education professionals. Their music focuses heavily on mental health themes, such as in “Anxious Ghost,” a single from their upcoming Kickstarter-funded debut full-length album, Transience (out June 22). The song was first premiered at Sound of Boston.

“Anxious Ghost” begins at a frenetic pace and varies between edgy nervous energy and slow yet tightly-wound moodiness. It is the perfect musical expression of an anxiety attack, and feels like both a raging battle and an exploration of the darker mysteries of human existence. The ghost is one’s anxiety that haunts the spirit and lingers inside.

Miele formed in 2014, when therapist, keyboardist and lead vocalist Melissa Lee Nilles met fellow therapist and guitarist Joseph Spilsbury in graduate school. Miele, Italian for honey, is an appropriate name for the band, both as an apt description for Nilles’ velvety, supple vocals — and because the band is known for drinking the yummy substance from the stage. Their fans even bring them treats.

Musically, the band is beholden to no singular style, but instead they honor wherever the personality of the song takes them. At times, it’s hard-driving rock with propulsive drums and electric guitar; at other times, the music is slow and dark, melodic and mysterious, with gently picked guitar and piano trickling like a meandering stream. Nilles’ vocals travel effortlessly through their many moods — frantic and biting, forceful and determined, melancholy and dreamy, exotic and magical. It is one wild ride through the ebbs and flows of human experience.

The complexity, depth and fast-changing moods of the songs on this ambitious first album makes perfect sense for people who work closely with human emotions. Besides which, any band that has a song titled “Klonopin Automatons” (a standout track in a sea of discoveries) instantly has my heart. They describes the inspiration behind their album thusly:

As a unifying artistic vision for the album, Transience aims to explore the passing of ephemeral experiences such as anxiety, dreams, love affairs, travel, connection, existence, and the creative process.

The band has played Boston-area venues such as the Middle East Downstairs, ONCE Lounge and The Plough and Stars, and they’ve received airplay on WMFO, WAAF, WEMF and elsewhere. They’ve also gotten some attention from WBUR, The Boston Globe and Cambridge Day, in their efforts to save Cambridge rehearsal space EMF from closure.

Miele celebrates the release of their debut album on June 22 at The Burren, along with other female-fronted bands Man Trouble and Boketto The Wolf.

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The Dollhouse

TheDollhouse

In the 1950s, it was a home of the future. There were shiny linoleum floors and wall-to-wall carpeting, with gleaming appliances and a neat lawn. The child’s dollhouse, much the same, designed to make a little girl’s dreams come true. She imagined it as her own private place — just the same as the home she grew up in.

In her land of make-believe, the rooms were handsomely appointed, neat and tidy. The master bedroom had as a regal, golden bed and elegant headboard, with a baby sleeping in a wooden cradle. A gleaming tile bathroom was right next door. There was a child’s festive bedroom, with a circus elephant, various plush toys and clowns waiting patiently for children to play with. The home, though it was modern and pristine, seemed sad and empty.

TheDollhouse2

TheDollhouse3

The living room, too, awaited inhabitants. A comfy red armchair, upholstered in a rich Asian fabric, kept company with a sparkly blue-black chair and round, low black marble coffee table. A white silk divan stretched out luxuriously, all under the watchful eye of a stately white marble grandfather clock, which presided over the glamorous décor with a sense of haughty importance.

TheDollhouse5

This was a room imagined for gracious dinner parties, and a cocktail trolley stood waiting to entice guests with refreshments. Upon more careful inspection, there was one single child, who sat alone on a red leather sofa.
But where were the parents? In the kitchen, there was no one, and the table, sink and counter were oddly free of plates and dishes.

TheDollhouse6

The little girl who was busy playing with her imaginary family wondered this also. Would the children be left unattended in such a well-appointed home? Surely not?

Her young, innocent gaze pulled back from the individual rooms to take in the entire structure. And it was then that she saw her. The woman of the house was harried and staring off into space. She sat slumped in a chair against the outside wall of the small patio on the second floor, with a look of distress on her movie starlet’s face. Her hair was untidy, and she wore a dirty dress that had a blue and white blouse and white skirt. Her bright red shoes were the only indication that she was once a great beauty who lit up dance floors and loved to spend the evening sashaying to big band music. This was when her life was more carefree and the world, a simpler place, was filled with limitless possibilities.

I can tell you that her husband was busy at work, researching and designing medical equipment that would one day save many lives. He loved his wife and their children, of course, but he was so involved in his work, it was so all-consuming, that it might have, at times, seemed like he suddenly awoke and found himself in a family unit not of his own choosing.

It is now that fantasy and reality merge, as the young girl, playing with the dollhouse, wonders about her own parents and her upbringing. Pictures of the dollhouse, being sold in an estate sale, stir something undefinable deep inside her. She allows herself to feel the grief of her recent loss, pushed out of the way to make room for endless probate papers, settling of bills, clearing of family possessions and all the other hard work that accompanies grief.

She asks herself these questions:

  1. Why was mom so sad? (it was likely related to the physical abuse she suffered as a young child)
  2. What could she have done differently to make mom happier?
  3. What questions could she have asked to show dad that she was interested in his work?
  4. Was she really uninterested in his medical research, or did it just seem too far over her head for her to comprehend? (she probably felt intimidated by his superior intelligence)
  5. Why did dad feel at a loss in relating to his young daughter until much later in life?
  6. What was it exactly that made dad so mistrustful of people? (very likely the knowledge that he was a “mistake,” an unwanted child)
  7. Did she do enough to support them?
  8. What can she do, now that they’re gone, to properly honor their memory?
  9. What would they have wanted the most? (for her to be happy, as they often said, but how does one achieve that?)

She is left gazing at the dollhouse, surrounding by sadness and unanswered questions. But a small voice inside implores her to continue, to push on, to work through it — and to write it all down.

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A Lovely Bit of Psychedelia from Over-Thinker Mute Choir

MuteChoir

As a fellow over-thinker, I know this problem all too well. We become so overly sensitized to other people’s ideas and opinions, to that clamoring of outside voices, that we can no longer hear the quiet but essential inner voice. Decisions are mulled over for far too long, we begin to second-guess ourselves, we hold others’ opinions in far greater esteem than our own, and before we know it, we’re lost and without a clear sense of direction.

Set against a backdrop of ’80s synth-pop that wobbles around and then happily veers off into a dreamy psychedelic excursion with string quartet interlude, “Election Season” is an exploration of ignoring all the outside voices and listening to your heart to show the way.

Election season is a song that came as a sort of emotional response to a time in my life where I had a lot of different voices around me telling me the versions of myself that I should be, and that really messed with my head for a while. It left me in a place in my music and in my life where I felt very indecisive, like I didn’t have an objective view of who I was or what I wanted. The song came as a sort of response to that feeling. The music was a result of me rejecting that notion and not really thinking too much of what the song was supposed to be, but just letting it come out naturally..”

Mute Choir is the brainchild of Sam Arion, who was born in Iran and raised in suburban Toronto. He’s a man of many moods, from the alt-pop of “The Pedestrian” to the thoughtful introspection of “Behind the Bars” to the dancy indie rock of “Minefield” to the expansive “Election Season.” This promises to be a wide-ranging and eclectic first album.

“Election Season” is the second single from Mute Choir’s debut album Behind the Bars, which will be released on June 8. Until then, stream “Election Season”, immerse yourself in its depths and listen to yourself. You have a lot to say.

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Ouch! The I Want You Gets All Beat Up

TheIWantYou

Have you ever felt that life just keeps punching you in the face? Jim Gerdeman of the Boston band The I Want You knows that feeling well. Their new song “All Beat Up” was written as part of the annual RPM Challenge that has artists writing and recording an entire album in the month of February. The video portrays singer/songwriter Jim Gerdeman getting the sh*t kicked out of him. But no worries, kids, this was an entirely artistic and not physical brawl, conceived and directed by the band’s 8-string bassist and producer Blake Girndt (who is also a member of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The video features some very realistic and disturbing “makeup” from violence artiste JoJo Lazar (also of the Broken Toys). It’s upsetting to watch, but as the protagonist readily admits, it’s his own fault.

As Gerdeman explains,

In a world of so much conflict and social media hosility I think it’s easier than ever to feel beat up by it all. But for me personally I tend to beat myself up worst of all and it’s impossible to get a restraining order on oneself.

The latest incarnation of The I Want You includes Gerdeman on vocals, Girdnt on 8-string bass, Jeff Norcross(Weisstronauts, Betty Goo, Paula Kelley) on guitar and drummer Chris Walsh(Speedfossil, Bittter Bastids). They’ll be releasing more singles and videos in the coming months. You can see their other inventive videos on YouTube.

You’ll find the “All Beat Up” single on Bandcamp, along with two interesting B-sides. “Come On’ was inspired by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students in Florida and their gun control activism, while “The Rise and Fall” is a very clever tribute to David Bowie. It’s a comprehensive biography in song that encorporates elements of his life, music and stylistic phases. Very nicely done, boys.

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Josh Knowles’ weaves violin magic on ‘Spin Without a Sound’

JoshKnowles

Passionately performed music can open up the heart and free the soul. Modern interpretative dance, in all forms, are the ultimate expression of the human form, in all its liberation and limitations. When the two combine in a symbiotic way, what’s created can be something quite extraordinary and deeply moving.

Josh Knowles is a Boston-based contemporary violinist and songwriter, with an impressive CV that includes violinist and arranger for the Boston Ballet; lead vocals, violin shredding and songwriting for Boston folk rock band Nemes; violin, voice and piano teacher at Boston School of Music Arts; co-founder, violinist and arranger for cello/violin duo String Along; teacher, composer and arranger for the Roxbury Youth Orchestra and collaborative work with professional dancers for Cirio Collective, in addition to arrangements for various artists and performances at Berklee College.

Even with all that, Knowles has found time to work on his own solo electric violin compositions, recently releasing Spin Without a Sound (which can also be listened to on Spotify). In this stark, poignant video for “Great Blue World,” his stirring and evocative music is beautifully interpreted in a powerful choreographed dance by former Boston Ballet soloist Sabi Varga.

Spin Without a Sound was inspired by and conceived during a series of marathon performances in the luscious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard. The recording seeks to capture the stateliness and beauty of that esteemed, sacred space, so that one might be transported to those special performances. For those concerts, Knowles used a D4 Loop Pedal to create multiple layers of improvised melodies from his violin, creating a constantly changing soundscape. The album was recorded from live sessions that gave the artist even more space to experiment, expanding upon the ideas he first explored at the Gardner Museum. The resulting work is “steeped in nostalgic intimacy.” The recording includes samples from his upbringing, such as audio from vintage home movies, childhood recital performances and answering machine messages from his late grandmother, for compositions that are deeply personal and intimate.

Knowles is currently working on his second solo recording, which will showcase his work as a singer and lyricist in addition to his violin.

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What we leave behind: the importance of organ donation

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

There’s an amazing story behind this pretty folk song, “Slow Decay,” and its compelling video. Sarah McQuaid, a singer/songwriter, and Brett Harvey, an award-winning filmmaker, teamed up to create a heartwarming short film to raise awareness about organ donation. This sounds very important, but it doesn’t stir the soul — until you watch the video and learn about Bill Conner and his young daughter.

Five months after his daughter Abbey died at the tender age of 20, Bill decided to honor her memory by cycling from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation. He stopped off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1,400 miles into his journey, to meet with the 21-year-old man who was the recipient of her heart, after being given just 10 days to live. After a long hug, the man put a stethoscope to his new heart, and Conner was able to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. He was given a recording to bring with him as he continued to spread awareness about the life-saving practice of organ donation.

The body fails / These bones won’t last forever / So I ask myself what are the things we leave behind – “Slow Decay”

In the realm of organ donation, this question touches on both the physical and the spiritual — that is, what do we physically leave behind that others can use, and what do we leave behind as a lasting legacy of our lives? Giving part of ourselves, literally, so that someone else may continue to live is one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow, and it’s an act that conveys tremendous compassion and caring.

If my organs are of use, I hope they find a happy home. – “Break Me Down”

In this line from elsewhere on McQuaid’s album, the meaning is more obvious and literal. In the film, a mother, warmly portrayed by Mary Woodvine (Eastenders, Doc Martin, Casualty, Poldark, Blight, The Lark), takes the long cycle journey, which is delicately intercut with flashbacks of her daughter’s life. After the final frame, links for donatelife.net, organdonor.gov and organdonation.nhs.uk appear, so that viewers can learn more and register to become an organ donor.

McQuaid, Harvey, Conner and all the fine actors in this deeply affecting video are based in Cornwall, England. This short film was a collaborative effort to shine a light on this beautiful act of generosity and shared experience, a quiet but important story that might otherwise have never been told. As Harvey explains, “I was struck by the simple humanity of the act, and the notion that we live on through others after we pass away. I had wanted to tell a version of this story for a while, and as soon as I heard Sarah’s beautiful song I knew it was the right fit.”

Sarah McQuaid - Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

Sarah McQuaid – Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

“Slow Decay” is from McQuaid’s fifth solo album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, which has garnered rave reviews from publications around the world. She’s currently touring in the UK and Ireland, which will be followed by a U.S. tour in September and October.

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