musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: September 2014

Introducing… Rendezvous (and Automatic Toys)

In my quest to find happy humanist electronic music that I can get behind, here is my next offering. Let me explain. Since I emerged more or less unscathed from the 1980s, I have gravitated towards the organic side of the musical spectrum. This has sometimes taken me to extremes, as in preferring lo-fi acoustic sounds to anything even remotely “produced.” To my ear, much of today’s dance music and electro-pop sounds generic and devoid of any soul, a quality that, for me, is essential. So off I went in search of electronic music with personality. I recently discovered Boston’s St. Nothing, and now I just stumbled upon Rendezvous.

Rendezvous came into existence in 2003 after Hagai Izenberg (analog synthesizers) met Itai Simon (bass guitar) at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Israel. They bonded over an interest in electronic music that had more of a “warm and enveloping sound” rather than the harsher, colder tones of today. Having grown up on the music of Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, these are the more prominent influences, but they’re also influenced by such diverse bands as King Crimson, Coldplay, Jethro Tull, Suede, Portishead, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. They’re inspired by current electronic music coming out of the UK but also the electro-pop of the 1980s. Their music blends electronica and jazz with some experimentation. What’s especially key here is that they record and perform live on analog instruments, rather than digitally with computers, which gives their sound a warmer and more emotionally appealing quality.

Simon has performed with other Israeli bands such as The Relics, Utopia, Missing Points, the Butterfly Effect and SugarPlumBaby. He produced and arranges music and plays bass for various artists, and teaches at two Israeli music schools, Ulpan Le Muzika – Giv’at Brenner, and Beit Ha’noar – Ra’anana. On Rendezvous’ debut album, Another Round Please (2011), they worked with David Bascombe, who has produced and mixed albums for Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears, in addition to The Verve, Kylie Minogue, Moby and Korn. The album was a big success in the UK and Europe, and the single “The Murf” reached number 5 in the UK club charts. The video, beautifully animated by Scott Benson, generated a gazillion hits on YouTube, deservedly so.

This year, they’re gearing up for a new album. In this first single “Dragon Without a Flame” (available as a free download) they collaborate with Los Angeles singer Automatic Toys, bringing a moody alternative rock sound to their electronic soundscapes. It’s a lovely combination. Have a listen.

Here’s a little something from Automatic Toys, who also absolutely deserves a good listen. Their mission is “reliving rock ‘n’ roll with a soulful electronic sound and playing raw music with truthful lyrics.” Nice.

I’m not sure about a release date for the new album. They say “upcoming,” so we’ll keep a close eye out!

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Introducing… Frogbelly and Symphony

(credit: Juha Hansen)

(credit: Juha Hansen)

Ohhh, they’re strange. Strange in a gloriously quirky, curious, hypnotic, mildly disturbing, ethereal and ultimately mind-expanding kind of way.

Coming together just last year, Frogbelly and Symphony is a melding of traditional folk and modern noise influences, filtered through consummate musicians with classical training who like to dabble in experimentation. There’s violinist and keyboardist Liz Hanley, who studied at NYU and frequently performs in traditional folk ensembles. Benn Trott studied jazz and classical guitar in the U.K., and is involved in the traditional folk music scene there. He blends traditional playing with jazz improvisations and rock influences. Ray Rizzo, their drummer, was co-founder of Louisville’s Motherlodge Festival. He’s drummed with artists such as Ben Folds and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Bassist Tom Hanley, who also handles composition and production for the group, collaborates with engineers and studios in Sheffield, UK and Brooklyn, NY. Philip Schewe, on guitar, keyboards and drums, provides additional tour support.

They played on the East Coast and throughout Europe early in 2013, and released their debut EP, the EYE (Labelship, UK). They just toured the East Coast and Midwest, after performing in Finland and Estonia. Not surprisingly, judging from their eclectic and sometimes wild sound (not to mention their curious name), Frogbelly and Symphony usually put on a theatrical live performance. Their shows are said to often involve the audience in improvised pieces. They also perform shows with all acoustic instruments in intimate environments to pay homage to their folk roots.

There are also literary influences that weave their way into the music. Some author’s works that have left their mark include Rumi’s Ache and Confusion, John Clare’s An Invite, To Eternity and Langston Hughes’ Vari-Colored Songs. Explains Tom Hanley, “Nowadays we’re blessed with the possibility to take the inspirational tint from centuries of musical and lyrical repertoires. You may describe our work as a subjective look on an inexhaustible miracle.”

Last summer, they recorded their forthcoming debut full-length album with esteemed producer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, Dresden Dolls, Bill Laswell) at his legendary B.C. Studio in Brooklyn. It’s due out on Labelship Records at the end of the year.

web | facebook | twitter | bandcamp | soundcloud | labelship records

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Introducing… If and It

It’s something in the meandering, out for a walk in the woods twinkling and vaguely melancholic strings and rolling percussion, the naked and vulnerable meditative chant of the vocals, the examination of dreams and directions, of relationships, of thought processes and conversations, that makes If and It‘s fifth release, Asleep In The Forest so hypnotic and enchanting. Yes, fifth release, so one might ask, “where the hell have I been?” Obviously not in the same sphere as this fine Maine-based alt-folk foursome, but I’m here now.

“Directions they just keep failing me,
an empty pamphlet of broken misery.
My feelings they just keep leaving me
they’ve packed every hope with them
they just don’t believe in me like i believe in you.”
– Potions

If and It began in a Portland basement, where Evan Parker recorded Buffalo Heart (Peapod Recordings, 2010). Drummer Chris Dibiasio and bassist Tim Alan Walker then joined him in a Southern New Hampshire cabin, where they recorded the Ratpig EP. They continued in that configuration through three more albums and two more “cabin EPs” (an annual fall tradition). In 2013, steel/guitarist McKay Belk joined them, moving to a South Portland garage for this latest offering.

Back to the music, and specifically to the brilliant final track on the new album, a song called “Letting Go.” It’s a stream of consciousness study of daily survival, the fear of commitment and the difficulty in letting go.

“your heart turns to rust to hold to cold and afraid to give love after you have been hurt and the closer you stand when you are together the more alone you become once you fall apart, there’s more to this life than just falling, this whole world it’s a real work of art…”
– Letting Go

The Portland Phoenix called their music “modern Appalachian post-punk,” others may have described them as “indie post folk pop americana garage alt-country art rock” (or that may have been a tongue-deep-in-cheek acknowledgement by the band of the absurdity of labels). I just call it “damn fine.”

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Introducing… Anjimile

(credit: Leah Corbett Photography)

(credit: Leah Corbett Photography)

Here’s something nice and honest and raw for you, from Boston band Anjimile. Fronted by Anjimile Yvonne, singer/songwriter and multi-instumentalist, they’re set to release their debut full-length album, Human Nature in late November, put out by local artist collective and indie label Human Nature Records. they’ll be releasing singles and videos up until that time, so keep checking their various sites. First up is a rambunctious, spoken-word punk live version of the title track.

Anjimile began as a solo acoustic project but is now a 5-piece collaborative. The band features Anjimile on guitar and vocals, Drew Wilcox on Idiophones and Membranophones, Jason Smith on bass, Ryan Garvey on guitar and Lee Schuna on keyboards. She/they have glided through different musical styles. Previous recordings include the 6-track In the Garden (December 2012), a collection of pretty acoustic guitar with woven vocal harmonies and stories bursting with life and lust, and the “Intertwine” single (from last summer), a brief but beautiful hazy pop daydream.

Upcoming Shows

10/25 – The Murdock Manor – Brighton, MA (message her on Facebook for the address)
10/29 – Milky Way Lounge & Bella Luna Restaurant – Jamaica Plain, MA
11/11 – T.T. the Bear’s Place – Cambridge, MA
11/17 – AfterHours – Boston, MA

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Introducing… St. Nothing

StNothing2014-500

I came upon St. Nothing while watching the live web feed of the most recent Boston Calling Festival. This Boston-based electro-pop trio won a SonicBids contest to perform at the festival. Now, anyone who has perused this blog will know that I’m not a huge fan of electro-pop — or at least, there isn’t a whole lot of it represented here. However, these amazing musicians completely blew me away. What makes them different (or maybe not, but it’s the first time I’d heard it done) is that they integrate lush live strings in with the beeps, boops and beats. What results is much warmer and more emotionally engaging than I’ve found electro-pop to be. This puts the humanity back into the music, and it’s hypnotic. For me, it’s the missing link.

St. Nothing is Marco Lawrence, devices and vocals; Sophia Carreras, guitarist; and Meredith Nero, strings. In February 2013, Lawrence self-released the Begin EP under the name of Hall of Mirrors. It featured a collection of demos that he wrote in late 2012, with cellist Jenna Calabro accompanying him. Lawrence started writing music at age 14, after music theory and improvisation training from his classical flute instructer. Five years later, he began playing electro-pop and eventually joined up with Carreras and Nero, changing their name of their collaboration to St. Nothing. In addition to the Boston Calling set, they’ve headlined at Great Scott and have performed with Young Galaxy, Juana Molina, Alpine and Freezepop. Fast forward to now, and they’ve been nominated for two Boston Music Awards this month, for ‘New Artist of the Year’ and ‘Electronic Artist of the Year.’ They’re currently recording their debut album.

They’ll be playing at the Middle East Downstairs as part of a special Shiner Beer Presents show, along with Small Black and Condor. It’s FREE, but you need to RSVP. They’ll also be at Pearl Street Night Club in Northampton, Massachusetts on December 6. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the new album.

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Introducing DIA and Tim Carr from Venice, CA and Los Angeles

DIA (Danielle Birrittella)

DIA (Danielle Birrittella)

Tim Carr

Tim Carr


Completely indicative of how this year has gone, I first heard of these two West Coast-based artists back in July, when they were passing through on a brief New England tour together. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get it together soon enough to promote the shows, and months later, here we are. However, they sufficiently impressed me that I wanted to say a few words.

DIA is the musical project of Los Angeles-based composer and singer Danielle Birrittella. She has an exotic background and an exotic sound to match. Her songs have a hypnotic mix of influences, from 1950s and 1960s oldies to art songs to wartime ballads. She writes and performs on piano and ukulele. To listen to her is to be swept away in a time machine to exotic, unfamiliar lands, but it’s not a jarring experience, not in the slightest. It’s soothing, calming and simply delightful.

A native of New England, Birrittella was born in a Hindu ashram and was introduced to Indian instruments and ceremonial Sanskrit ragas from an early age. She went on to study Western classical singing and trained as an opera singer in the U.S. and Europe. This influence comes out strongly in her gorgeously flowing vocals. She studied at New York University and California Institute of the Arts and has worked as an actor and singer in New York, France and Italy. She performed in Disney Hall’s REDCAT Theatre, La Musica Lirica in Italy, The Chautauqua Institute in New York, La Main d’Or in Paris and The Ludwig Foundation in Cuba.

Her latest release is Tiny Ocean. She has performances at Archangel in London on October 31, and at Distrikt Nightclub (formerly Club9one9) in Victoria, British Columbia, on November 11.

Tim Carr, also from Los Angeles, is a multi-instrumentalist who has a warm and intimate style. His songs have a feeling of expansion and joyousness, performed simply with crisp acoustic guitar fingerpicking and occasional delicate touches of pretty harmonies and light percussion. Marvelous.

He’s inspired by the melodies of 1960s pop and the French Romantics and by African rhythms. As a member of The Americans, he’s performed on Letterman and has toured nationally, opening for The Secret Sisters and Ryan Bingham. He also sings and plays drums in Fell Runner, an experimental group inspired by African rhythms and melodies. He has also played drums for HAIM, composed and arranged music for Taiwanese pop musician Yen-J and has produced for other songwriters. Beginning before he was eight years old, he’s studied guitar, piano and drums, and studied at the California Institute of the Arts. He’s been featured on their annual Capital Records recordings.

DIA: web | instagram | facebook | bandcamp

Tim Carr: web | instagram | facebook | bandcamp

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The Mix from Germany Gives Autism a Voice on Upcoming U.S. Tour

The Mix has a compelling and powerful classic rock sound. They have an even more powerful message. Based in Braunschweig, Germany, this 11-piece rock ensemble (guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocalists) is comprised mostly of people with autism and other disabilities, and their goal is to promote inclusion and equality while celebrating and showcasing each band member’s individual talents. Founder Peter Savic says that the group uses their musical gift “to develop a reputation as ambassadors for people with disabilities.”

The Mix will make their North America debut beginning with a show at Pianos in New York City on Sunday, September 14 (see dates below). Members of The Mix believe that writing and performing music offers those with disabilities a sense of creative expression which they are often deprived of. The rock music platform gives this unique band the chance to “liberate their souls.” Their motto is “Let me be the way I am.”

The Mix group shot

The Mix group shot

As you listen to their music, you’ll quickly realize that this is no mere novelty act, but rather professional and gifted musicians. They currently enjoy a solid fan base in Germany, England, Denmark and even Africa. There are plans for tours in France and Australia. But for now, they’re poised to conquer North America.

The Mix September Tour Dates

Sunday, Sept. 14th: Pianos (New York, NY)
Monday, Sept. 15th: The Fire (Philadelphia, PA)
Tuesday, Sept. 16th: The Electric Maid (Washington, DC)
Thursday, Sept. 18th: The Cave (Toronto, ON)
Friday Sept. 19th: Zaphod Beeblebrox (Ottawa, ON)
Sunday, Sept. 21st: The Middle East (matinee) (Cambridge, MA)

The Mix: web | facebook

Wo geht die Reise hin (Where Are We Headed?)

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