musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: January 2015

Introducing… The Division Men

Back from our foray into the dance clubs, it’s time to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and the hushed and forboding dark plaintive Americana of The Division Men. This quiet, shimmering beauty is created by vocalist and guitarist J. Spencer Portillo and vocalist/bassist Caroline Rippy Portillo. Caroline’s vocals come in like delicate old lace laid softly over J. Spencer’s dusty and windswept desert regrets, with wistful piano tinkling mixed sprinkled in here and there. “Whiskey piano blues,” indeed.

This Austin-based husband and wife acoustic duo originally formed in Berlin, Germany in 2008. Caroline, hailing from San Antonio, played bass in bands such as Tito and Tarantula. Her husband is a California native raised in El Paso, an influence that exerts itself strongly in both the music and lyrical content of these darkly romantic songs. They released their Under The Gun album, recorded in their home studio, in May of last year.

The Division Men have shows coming up this month in Texas, California, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado. They’ll be touring with The Black Market II.

web | facebook | twitter | soundcloud | bandcamp

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Introducing… Mmmmaven

No, this isn’t the name of a hip new downtown restaurant or a particularly delectable new band. Oddly, the word maven has a Hebrew origin, meaning “one who understands,” as in an expert who passes their knowledge on to others, so I suppose it’s the perfect name for this Central Square, Cambridge-based music studio and DJ/production school. If you’re sitting there thinking that hip-hop beats and scratching techniques aren’t the most widely covered topics on this blog, you’d be right, but we’re giving our music creators of the machine persuasion a little love this year. After all, computers are people, too.

Mmmmaven offers instruction in DJ techniques and electronic music production. They have state-of-the-art production labs and the latest technology and software. They also offer a career development program, youth programs, summer camps and classes conducted in Spanish. Their classes meet twice a week and on weekends. No prior experience is necessary. Students range from college students to older adults and professional musicians wanting to pump up their skills. The styles of music explored are as diverse as the students and include all kinds of house music, hip-hop, country, electro-swing, soundtracks and tunes for video games. Mmmmaven sponsors special events and an annual electronic music festival. For a comprehensive profile about this unique music production school, check out this special on Chronicle.

If you’re in the Boston area and you’ve always dreamed of spinning discs at a club or staging your own rave, check out what Mmmmaven has to offer. Contact them for a FREE DJ lesson and a tour of their studio!

Learning the tricks of the trade, from one of their 'Sip & Spin' events

Learning the tricks of the trade, from one of their 'Sip & Spin' events

web | facebook | twitter | instagram | Together Boston Festival (annual celebration of music, art and technology)

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It’s Time – by RNA The Messenger Ft. Zeles and Modern Day Midas

This extremely important piece of poetry comes to you courtesy of N/A Hip Hop (previously profiled here at musings from boston) in the guise of one of his two alter egos, RNAtheMessenger. “It’s Time” was produced by Brandon Bula and also features Zeles and Modern Day Midas. It was released to commemmorate Martin Luther King Day and, as usual, I’m a bit late in posting. But (sadly) this message will likely be relevant for some time to come, until everyone hears it and gets on board. This track features artists from Boston, San Antonio and Austin who use the hip-hop genre to “stand in unity with those fighting for equality throughout the world.”

 

It’s Time

(Hook – Modern Day Midas)
It’s time to change the game
So much death and destruction
It’s time to change the game
New slaves chained to injustice
It’s time to change the game
So much pain we endure
And the rich still take from the poor,
So it’s time we even the score

RNAtheMessenger:
I wrote this song the morning Hopsin left
There’s a prophet down, do we got options left?
Called Zeles told him spit that realness
We rap to change the game swear the people gon’ feel this
If there’s a silver lining hidden in the Ferguson verdict,
Eric Garner’s lack of breath and the rest of these murders
There’s a renaissance embryonic
See the mirage and we get beyond it
Demonic nonsense, atomic bomb it
Everyday I see students struggle to balance
Social Darwinism and discovering talents
Hip Hop is culture, it’s more than just rap music
Snapback and Tattoos, you listen to that music?
Bull shit! What, you emptied a full clip?
Know this, we the new age poets
Put the POTUS on notice
We’re sick of social approaches that hold the hopeless diplomaless
So let’s go with this and know that it’s

(Hook)

Zeles:
Straight up i got money for the W lobby
but it’ll take a couple mill to go to DC to lobby
Prolly get some attention, when this thang hits YouTube
Just to have the next 3 seconds looped on Fox news

I’m tired of dem saying this happens to white kids too
True, but dude but mark my words
black and brown deaths make up the bulk of the bell curve
and my ears still ringin from the gun shots ya heard,

Thugs in the street, even more in the building
pinstriped up got they fountain pens wit them,
The food kills us and the medicine creates illness,
Let’s ban Chicano studies no need for cultured children

Won’t let the beat breath I’m just being honest
NY politicians discuss what this flow garners
We want justice so how could you oppose it
if you lookin at a timex or a rolex just know it’s

Bridge:
It’s time to make a change
It’s time to change the game
It’s time to make a, time to make a, time to make a change

Bridge – Zeles / RNA (2x)
So lets stop! Judging by the shade of our skin
And let’s stop! Perpetuating media myths
And let’s stop! And recognize we all human
So Let’s start! Today let the new era begin

(Hook)


N/A Hip Hop (a.k.a. Greg Matthew) goes by two names: RNA The Messenger and DNAtheG. Originally from Dorchester, MA, he graduated from Boston College in 2011 and is now based in Austin, Texas. DNAtheG released his debut EP, “The Code” (Echo Studios) in September 2013. RNA The Messenger’s upcoming LP “Here Cometh the Dreamer” is set for release early this year.

web | facebook | twitter | youtube

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Introducing… Ian Coss

If you can’t get away right now for a trip to East Asia, here’s the next best thing. Boston-based musician Ian Coss made that journey in 2011. He lived in Indonesia and Japan for a few years, creating a sort of travelogue through the eyes of a stranger in a strange land, as his own personal fantasies, concerns and anxieties wove their way through his daily encounters. He speaks of the lives of ordinary people and everyday experiences, but through a foreigner’s perspective, one who is grappling with remembrances of home and relationships he left behind. This curious narrative would become his starting point for An Act of Imagination, just released on his own Fashion People Records. The music has a bright pop sound with bits of spritely Asian pop flavor and a little Americana and even R&B mixed in, quite fitting for an American on a far Eastern adventure. The crowning jewel, in my opinion, is the song and accompanying video for “Ten Days,” a delightfully quirky observation of the final days of his physical and emotional journey.

Ian Coss isn’t just a guy; it’s a band. The album features the string arrangements of Michael Vitale, with drummer Bill Carbone (Max Creek, Melvin Sparks) and bassist Alex Chakour (Charles Bradley, Eric Krasno). Jared Sims adds a bit of saxophone, while Kelsey Tyssowski is on vocals and piccolo. Their music is highly literate and sophisticated, with the instruments in a lively and engaging conversation.

Ian Coss (the guy) is a songwriter, audio engineer and music scholar. His musical pursuits in high school, creating less than cheery Christmas albums for his family and friends (some of this can be heard on the band’s bandcamp). After returning from his exotic journey, he joined up with like-minded musicians, recording the album and creating Fashion People Records. The label was founded with musicians Alex Chakour (Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley) and Howard Feibusch (of Brooklyn trio Howard, recently covered here).

In addition to his band and label, Coss has spent several years studying Balinese gamelan music, performing with his own gender wayang quartet and Boston-based Galak Tika. He also worked on a PhD in ethnomusicology at Boston University. Not too shabby.

About Fashion People Records

The label, located in Chakour’s Amherst, Massachusetts studio, enables the founders to record, market and distribute their own music. They hope to develop a reputation for top-notch artists and high-quality recordings. So far. they’ve released Coss’s “An Act of Imagination,” Howard’s “Religion” and the debut from fellow Western Mass. band Temporary Friends.

web | facebook | twitter | bandcamp | youtube | fashion people records | hartford courant article

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Modest Mouse Returns! (with Strangers To Ourselves, coming soon)

This is about when we last saw them.

This is about when we last saw them.

Typically we’re all about struggling indie bands here, but I do on occasion make an exception or two for my favorites. Here’s one of those. The good thing about covering a better known band is that I can dispense with the background information, cut to the chase with the new music and call it a night. Modest Mouse are back, their new album Strangers To Ourselves comes out on March 3 on some obscure little indie label called Epic Records, and for now, you can listen to “Lampshades On Fire” (because, you know, it’s not being played anywhere). It really chugs along, doesn’t it? Assume there will be a tour announced soon.

That’s all, bye.


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Ajda the Turkish Queen and her Beautiful Boot Leg

For those of you unfamiliar with Ajda the Turkish Queen, she’s one of Boston’s musical treasures, best known as the compelling frontwoman of the dark and mysteriously stunning Black Fortress of Opium. After many requests through the years for a solo album, this extremely talented multi-instrumentalist has finally dipped her toe into the waters with a 15-track live album titled Beautiful Boot Leg — Live at Rick Walker’s. It was recorded July 13, 2014 by her friend Rick Walker at Rick Walker’s, a Boston institution and supplier of “rock ‘n’ roll cowboy clothes” since 1932.

It’s an eclectic musical selection that features some of her solo work, first ever debuts, some new and unreleased Black Fortress of Opium songs and a Johnny Thunders cover. She accompanies her gorgeous voice on guitar and mandolin. Though I’ve seen her perform with ‘BFOO,’ this is my first time hearing her solo, and she’s just stunning. Her sound is beautifully influenced by her Turkish heritage, though she surprisingly gets a little country in the aptly titled “Mighty Fine Day.” This heaping helping of Ajda and the promise of more to come makes it a mighty fine day indeed.

Have a listen, buy a copy and keep an eye out for a studio solo album at some point in the future, when she’s able to “rustle up the funds.” Hm, do I sense a crowdfunding campaign coming up?

Originally from Houston, Texas and now based in Boston, Ajda has been performing since 1997. Between her solo and band projects, she has appeared alongside such artists and groups as Andrew Bird, Franz Ferdinand, Bill Laswell, The Dresden Dolls, John Zorn and His Name is Alive. Her styles have included psychedelic pop, goth rock and cabaret, and has recorded everything from pop and electronic music to modern classical music. She also contributes to film soundtracks.

Ajda the Turkish Queen will be celebrating the release of Beautiful Boot Leg – Live at Rick Walker’s with a show at the legendary Plough & Stars in Cambridge. Details follow.

Saturday January 31st, 2015
Plough & Stars
912 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
10PM, 21+ | ::: Facebook Event :::
10:15PM Ajda’s New record!
11PM Anubis Pop melodic psyche-pop
11:45PM The Freeways ~ sun-gaze, psych-haze

Ajda the Turkish Queen: web | facebook | twitter | bandcamp
Black Fortress of Opium: facebook | twitter | bandcamp

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Introducing… Dorthia Cottrell (of Windhand)

Photo by Jordan Vance

Photo by Jordan Vance

In the dark of night with a cold wind howling is the perfect setting for listening to the songs of Dorthia Cottrell. As lead singer for the doom metal band Windhand, Ms. Cottrell usually sounds like something crawling out of a dank crypt to seek revenge. For her debut solo album, however, due out on March 3 on Forcefield Records, she’s considerably softened it up into a somber prayer. The dark Americana music complements her hypnotic voice, and the sweet graveyard dirge that minimally accompanies her on “Gold,” the first single, is spot-on perfect.

She grew up with music as an integral part of her family life, playing piano and singing with her grandmother or her father while he played guitar. She learned guitar as a teenager and began writing songs. Moving to Richmond, Virginia, she joined up with Windhand in 2009, and they released their debut album in 2012. They signed with Relapse records in 2013 after releasing a split album with fellow Richmond band Cough on that label. They toured steadily and released their highly regarded Soma album in 2013.

Stereogum has just premiered “Kneeler,” another track from Cottrell’s forthcoming album. I don’t see mention of a tour yet, but keep an eye on her Facebook page.

tumblr | facebook | bandcamp | forcefield records | Windhand

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As We Sat Watching The Oven Fire: The Year In Review

I don’t know what it was about 2014. Throughout it, as the steady stream of disturbing news stories flowed by, I remained more fortunate than many others, in both my situation and circumstances. And yet, it felt like I was battling an ever-vigilant adversary at every turn. I was inevitably a day late and a dollar short in every aspect of my life, and this was the year I came suddenly face to face with my own mortality and worse still, my physical and emotional limitations. I’ve never felt completely invincible, especially not where my mental faculties are concerned, but at least I thought I could withstand the usual stresses and maintain a certain level of physical fortitude to get me through long work hours and multiple concerns. This year, for some reason, it felt like all bets were off.

Anxieties and broken sleep got the better of me and for the first time in my life, I felt fragile and unable to do anything about it. I found it unfathomable that the general populace could go on about their business while everything seemed to be quickly unraveling. So much war and strife, terror organizations and fleeing refugees, racism and militarized police forces, uncontrollable diseases, self-serving politicians and widening wealth disparity, climate change beyond the point of no return, general malaise and a feeling of powerlessness. And even with how much I felt I wanted to “do something,” I woke up most mornings feeling like I was not quite caught up and on board with my own life, let alone able to take on something else.

The fire in my parents’ oven last autumn was a good metaphor for how I felt all year. It was while I was visiting them, possibly in November. I don’t recall what my dad was cooking. Suddenly we noticed a raging fire in the stove from where we sat at the kitchen table, a few feet away. The odd thing is, for a good 20 seconds, we both sat there and watched as the flames shot out through the open door, as if absorbed in an engaging PBS special. Dad had just been telling me how he felt overwhelmed caring for mom day and night, while a confusing parade of nurses and aids came and went, sometimes helping but mostly making his life even more exhausting. I was at a complete loss and did not know what to suggest, though I heard myself casually ask, through the haze, “do you have any baking soda?”

He slowly stood up and retrieved it and in a fog, tossed a few handfuls into the oven, which quelled the flames. The other issues would not be so straightforward and easily solvable.

Entering into 2015, I felt some of the bone-tired weariness and pessimism lift, just a little. It was enough to feel like I might have some minor degree of control over my destiny, or at least perhaps the power to make some necessary adjustments. For that, I remain hopeful. Maybe it is a year to selfishly concentrate on my own well-being first, and only then, see what I can do to send help out into the world, from a more mentally and physically stable place. I’m reminded of the oxygen mask instructions for emergency airline procedures — “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own mask first, and then assist the other person.”

For all of you and everyone else out there, I wish a peaceful, purposeful and more loving and compassionate 2015. And for those who are responsible for the well-being of others, and for those of you who wake up in the middle of the night, like I do, anxious and worried about the general state of things, remember this. Be good to yourself. Find time for what’s most important, for you. Secure your own mask first.

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