musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: May 2015

Checking In with C.P. Stelling

photo by Jenn Sweeney

photo by Jenn Sweeney

For regular readers of musings from boston, this soulful troubadour should need no introduction. Christopher Paul Stelling is an old friend, and he’s up to some stuff this year. His new album, Labor Against Waste (a fine bit of advice, by the way) is due out on June 16th on Anti-. He’ll be performing on CBS This Morning (yes, that’s network television) on Saturday, June 13th. He was featured in Rolling Stone and on NPR, he’s currently on a major tour across Europe, and on July 26, he’ll be playing at this small gathering called the Newport Folk Festival. In other words, he’s doing OK. And this should come as no surprise, if you’re at all familiar with Stelling’s compelling songwriting, jaw-dropping acoustic finger-picking guitar chops and ‘venerable old soul’ vocals.

A few entrancing videos of songs from the upcoming album have been released recently. Here’s one called “Warm Enemy.”

A recent press release from Anti- describes the inspiration behind “Dear Beast,” another offering from the new album. “The song offers a moving examination of personal faith lost and then redefined. As Stelling explains, ‘It’s about turning the mirror back on itself. It’s about excepting our flaws completely, and moving on from there with them in our full embrace. It’s about taking responsibility and caring for the beast that lives in all of us and for the metaphysical beasts that we’ve created because of our inherent need to feel watched over and protected… Mostly it’s a lullaby.'”

And because there was no way to decide between the three of them as they’re all simply breathtaking, here’s “Hard Work” (though C.P. makes it all look so easy). If you think all this is impressive, you should see him do it live. This humble picker and folk singer is one of the warmest, most engaging performers I’ve ever seen. After returning from Europe, he’ll be performing around New England (starting with Newport), though sadly I don’t yet see a Boston date. For details, see the tour schedule on his official site.

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Introducing… The Hunts

photo credit: Victoria Stevens

photo credit: Victoria Stevens

With the warmer weather, we should all be in a more jovial mood and in this mindset, the joyous pop sounds of The Hunts fit right in. These seven siblings specialize in exuberant harmony-driven tunes that sing out like a warm summer day. Their debut album, Those Younger Days comes out on Cherrytree Records/Interscope on June 9th. Intricately woven acoustic string instruments, percussion and tight harmonies give the lead single, “Make This Leap,” a light and bouncy feeling, even though the song lyrically dips into some serious melancholia. However, just as the winter snows melt and the sun shines again, things fortunately end well.

“You called me out from the dark, and brought me into the light.” – Make This Leap

Ranging in ages 17 though 25, The Hunts have all been performing since they were children, brought up in a household filled with music. Their mother, a classically trained violinist, ran a music school, and their father, an arborist, had taught himself to play guitar, which he passed along to his kids. They performed frequently, both with their folks and on their own, in their their hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, a vibrant musical community. Twin sisters Jessi and Jenni, along with their five brothers Josh, Jonathan, Jordan, Justin and Jamison (born to parents who obviously have a thing for “J-names”) all sang and played violin as youngsters. They added other instruments like piano, mandolin, banjo, ukulele and drums to their arsenal and began writing songs together. Their music has an indie folk and Americana sensibility, with the kind of tightly knit harmonies that seem to only come from blood relatives. They performed at festivals and in theaters around the U.S. and released their debut EP Life Was Simple last August.

For their debut album, they wrote all the songs, and it was recorded in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was produced by Chris Kuffner (A Great Big World, Ingrid Michaelson). The video was filmed in Chesapeake with a few moments shot on the family’s property. It was directed by Michelle Peerali, who has worked with The Black Keys, The Cult and Moby, among others.

As part of their summer U.S. tour, they’ll be performing at the wonderful Cafe 939 on June 22nd.

East Coast Dates

6/16 Annapolis, MD – Rams Head on Stage
6/17 Vienna, VA – Jammin Java
6/19 Dover, DE – Firefly Music Festival
6/21 Philadelphia – World Cafe Upstairs
6/22 Boston, MA – Cafe 939
6/23 New York, NY – Joe’s Pub

From there, The Hunts will be in the Midwest, Colorado, Utah, the Pacific Northwest, LA, etc. See their official site for details.

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Introducing… Matthew Connor

If you’ve been missing someone lately or if you’re wistfully nostalgic about some other aspect of your life, have I got the soundtrack for you! Matthew Connor is a Boston-based classic jazz crooner with an impossibly smooth, beautiful voice and deliciously dark undercurrent. He sings about melancholy, longing, unrequieted love and regrets — in other words, the perfect accompaniment for a lonely date with a bottle of bourbon in a dark corner of a smoky jazz club. His debut album, Farewell Motel, released last October, is a mournful stunner. All songs are written, performed and produced by Connor, with guests contributing pedal steel, upright bass, violin and viola, electric bass and backing vocals. The instrumentation, while gloriously lush as it ebbs and flows, is kept simmering in the background, perfectly complementing Connor’s rich-as-molasses vocals and highly visual, introspective storytelling.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama and brought up in various small towns in Virginia, Connor began at a young age to write music on his parents’ upright piano, went on to play guitar and clarinet, and after being given a karaoke tape machine, started making demo tapes and mailing them off to label executives. He left high school to attend the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, training in operatic singing. While there, he performed and toured in various theater productions. He soon realized that he wanted to perform his own music and relocated to Boston, joining the electronic dance-pop band Provocateur as frontman and releasing Bad Blood and Brushfire (2010). Farewell Motel, his first solo album, was released on October 14, 2014. His video for the lead single, “How Is July Already Over?”, filmed by New York photographer Marc McAndrews, was nominated for Music Video of the Year at the 2014 Boston Music Awards.

Connor just released a new video for “Limestone and Yew,” directed by Anthony Grassetti, which is as minimalist as you can get and breathtaking in its simplicity.

Those in the Boston area can see Matthew in person, as he’ll be performing at The Middle East Upstairs on Friday, June 5, as part of Doom Lover’s Vaudevillian Spectacular, also featuring Cordelia & The Buffalo. If you’re ever nostalgic for old-fashioned romance and the classy elegance of a bygone era, you’ve found a kindred spirit.

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Gearing Up for a Haunted Summer

Haunted Summer are old friends of ours here at musings from boston, having covered them several times in the past few years. Based in Highland Park, California, the band was born under rather odd circumstances, having first come together in 2012 for a Halloween show at The Echo in Los Angeles, where they performed Animal Collective covers. From those curious beginnings, a new band was born. They went on to record a 5-track debut EP called Something In The Water in 2013, and then their debut album, appropriately titled Birth, in July of last year. I should say it was a rather quiet release (or I was really out of the loop at that time) as I’m only just listening to it now. It’s quite lovely — dreamy and ethereal, spacy and mysterious, like a pleasant swim through magical waters in some underground cavern. If that sounds like an enjoyable time, you’ll be interested to know that they’ll be making their way East very shortly, stopping in at T.T. the Bear’s Place (which will sadly be closing this summer, so get there while you still can!).

Haunted Summer, led by the husband and wife duo of John Seasons and Bridgette Eliza Moody, have performed with bands such as The Polyphonic Spree, Olafur Arnalds, Laura Stevenson and The Radar Brothers. More recently, they’ve toured with Islands, David J. (Bauhaus), Jacco Gardner, Deafheaven and Geographer, in addition to performing at Los Angeles music festival Culture Collide.

East Coast Shows

May 26 – The Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
May 27 – Cake Shop – New York, NY
May 28 – Baby’s All Right – Brooklyn, NY
May 29 – Elvis Guesthouse – New York, NY
May 30 – North Star Bar – Philadelphia, PA
May 31 – T.T. the Bear’s Place – Cambridge, MA
Jun 01 – Beachland Ballroom and Tavern – Cleveland, OH
Jun 02 – Musica – Akron, OH

From there, the band will be performing in California, Oregon, Idaho, Oregon and Washington (June 20-August 8). Check their Facebook for more info. A new album is apparently in the works, which is said to more closely approximate their live sound. We’ll be on the lookout for it!

facebook | twitter | youtube | soundcloud | bandcamp | tumblr | interview with Tucson Weekly

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Introducing… Ancient River

Imagine a psychedelic journey though a vast and dense enchanted jungle of mysterious moods and sounds, propelled along by hazy percussion and fuzzy guitars and softly guided by dreamy vocals. Your perfect breezy summer soundtrack, right? This is the music of Ancient River as performed (surprisingly) by the duo of James Barreto and Alex Cordova. Four tracks in to their new album Keeper Of The Dawn, the magic mushroom mindset is informed by a slightly foreboding spaghetti western desert vibe, and things then begin to take on a darker, murkier, edgier tone. This may be due to their Gainesville roots or their travels across vast American prairies to Austin, Texas and then somehow ending up in a cold dreary London in the wintertime, but whatever it is, it makes a nice counterbalance to the spaciness to produce something quite addictive and intriguing.

Have a listen to the opener, “This Is The Time.”

Ancient River flowed from its beginnings in 2000, when singer-songwriter and guitarist Barreto was performing with his instrumental psychedelic band The Ohm and creating home studio albums on his 4-track tape recorder. In Gainesville, where he recorded and produced albums for local bands and created music for independent films, Ancient River first took shape. Barreto’s home studio and rehearsal space became a gathering place for musicians in a similar mindset, its sounds ranging from shoegaze to psychedelia to Americana. A few years later, he began to perform as Ancient River, accompanied by psychedelic visuals. Alex Cordova joined him in 2011, and they went on to record several albums in the garage-psych, fuzzy guitar rock vein, touring nationally in 2014. Appearances have included the Austin Psych Fest, Los Angeles’ Psycho De Mayo and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. They’ve performed with Rosco (Spaceman 3), Heartless Bastards, Dead Skeletons and Ringo Deathstarr, among others.

In addition to in digital format, Keeper Of The Dawn is also available in limited edition vinyl and cassette.

With their new release, they’re embarking on a national spring and summer tour, with stops on the East Coast. Here in the Boston area, they’ll be performing at the cozy and intimate art space, Lilypad. Both band and venue are very highly recommended. Get there early — it’s tiny in there!

Ancient River Discography

Under The Sun 7-track EP (Jan 2010)
O.D.D.S. – album (13 tracks) (Dec 2010)
Songs from North America – album (10 tracks) (Aug 2011)
Polaroid 4-track EP (Oct 2011)
Let It Live – 3rd full-length album (10 tracks) (Jan 2012)
On The Other Side – album (9 tracks) (Sept 2012)
Before Dawn – 1st album from 2007 (7 tracks) (Sept 2014)
Keeper Of The Dawn – album (10 tracks) (April 2015)

East Coast Dates

05/26 Baltimore, MD ~ The Sidebar Tavern
05/27 Philadelphia, PA ~ Kung Fu Necktie
05/29 Brooklyn, NY ~ Kings County
05/30 Boston, MA ~ The Lilypad (Inman Square, Cambridge)
06/03 Washington, DC ~ The Lab
06/04 Richmond, VA ~ Strange Matter

web | facebook | twitter | soundcloud | tumblr | youtube | bandcamp | summer moon

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Introducing… Steve ‘n’ Seagulls

Photo Credit: Jaakko Mannien

Photo Credit: Jaakko Mannien

We’re not in the habit of covering heavy metal music, but I had to make an exception for Steve ‘n’ Seagulls. Once you check out this Finland band’s cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” you’ll immediately know why.

Yes, that’s right. A bunch of crazy hillbillies from Finland doing Appalachian bluegrass versions of heavy metal songs, dressed as deep South rednecks. Originally meant as some friends having fun goofing around in their front yard, which they had a friend of theirs film (no doubt accompanied by a copious amount of hooch), this country bumpkin take on the AC/DC classic turned into a YouTube sensation. Before they knew it, the damn thing went viral. Weirder still, they were instantly embraced by well-respected metal media such as Loudwire, Blammermouth, Revolver, Guitar World and Metal Sucks. So as it happens, 12,700,000+ views later (that’s twelve million), they find themselves on the revered metal label Spinefarm Records with a debut album called Farm Machine and bookings through the autumn, including festival appearances. Oh, and they happened to grab the #3 spot on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album chart. Truth indeed is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this is no mere novelty act. Pukki Kaalinen (double bass, vocals), Wild Till Hiltunen (accordion, mandolin, Casio), Herman de German (banjo, guitar, vocals), Remmel (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin) and Puikkonen (drums, percussion, vocals) are quite simply astonishing musicians. You’ll laugh like hell and your jaw will drop simultaneously. Never has cheesy metal music sounded so good.

They’re performing shows in Sweden, Finland, Germany and elsewhere in Europe through the summer and into the fall. See their official site for all the dates and more info.

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The Rise (again) of Music Discovery Sites


If you’re a struggling unsigned band, it can be a jungle out there. You create your music, put it online via Soundcloud, Bandcamp or some other online music service, make videos and put them up on YouTube and send mp3s out to as many blogs as humanly possible in the hope that someone, anyone, will hear your music, like it and maybe even buy it, so that you can start to create a buzz. With so many bands out there vying for the same listeners’ ears (and hard-earned cash), the odds are stacked against you. All you have to keep you going is your belief in yourself and a love of the music. Or at least, you’d better have a love of the music, because if you don’t or you’re not sure, there are definitely easier ways to make a living. Truth be told, being a music listener is no less daunting. Where do you go to hear new bands? How do you wade through all the, let’s face it, utter dreck out there to find those songs that give you goosebumps, or at the very least, find music that sets itself apart so that you stop thinking about the half dozen other things on your mind and really listen?

There are so many places to learn about and listen to new music, it’s mind numbing. Terrestrial radio is a thing of the past, gone the way of the dinosaur (though I still listen to it in my car). There are countless online stations, there’s iTunes, there’s Spotify (and all the others of that ilk), there are zillions of music blogs and of course, your friends on Twitter, Facebook and wherever else recommending bands. For musicians trying to promote their music, the possibilities are endless. This is both wonderful and horrible at the same time. Wonderful, because there are so many places where you can promote your music online, opening avenues of promotion and marketing to those with little to no funds. Horrible, because the listening audience is incredibly fractured and all over the place. It’s impossible to hit every music discovery platform, every blog, every social networking site. An army of marketing firms specializing in this wild frontier have risen up to represent those bands that can afford them, because seriously, a musician’s time is best spent creating music. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be involved in your business and oversee every aspect. Anyone who’s serious about getting their music heard and being a musician for a living these days has to be fully involved. It’s more the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day.

In 2008, it was internet radio — Pandora, iLike and Last.fm. By 2009, people were talking about Shazam, The Hype Machine and many other music discovery sites like Stumble Audio, which has since bitten the dust. On the “hottest music streaming and discovery sites” list for 2010, Bandcamp joined the scene, as did TheSixtyOne. In 2011, it was 8Tracks, an internet radio station, and Blip.fm, a social network/internet radio blend. Soundcloud made the lists in 2012, and We Are Hunted, a music aggregator, joined forces with Twitter on their own music discovery project, Twitter Music (which was shut down in 2014). Over the past few years, the introduction of new music discovery sites has continued unabated. Mixcloud is a place for both amateur and professional DJs to share their mixes and radio shows. Discovr Music is a service from music reference site AllMusic. It shows you related artists for a particular band, and you can drill in to get more information, their biography, song streams and videos. You can also track your favorites. Songza suggests music to fit your current mood, and you can see what’s trending and popular. And that’s just a very small sampling.

In the already chaotic scene of music discovery portals, places where musicians can post projects and fans can discover new bands, a few more have appeared in recent months. Consider this the eighth or ninth generation of music discovery sites.

Tradiio

Tradiio, a Portuguese startup, first launched in the U.K. on March 2 of this year. This music discovery platform is a little different, in that it’s reward based. It’s an interesting little twist to distinguish itself from the many others, and a pretty cool concept. It can be accessed via the web, IOS and Android. Not only are Tradiio users able to listen to new bands, but by “investing” in them with virtual coins, they’re able to be talent spotters and tastemakers, helping their favorite acts rise up the ranks into recommended and trending lists, gain exposure and credibility, and potentially go much farther than just online accolades. The more popular bands are given real world rewards and opportunities, such as a performing slot on the Tradiio Stage at Field Day, access to studio time through Tradiio’s partnership with Moloco Studios, benefits from Tradiio’s label partnership with Believe Recordings and the chance to make a music video with Radar. Tradiio is open to both new bands and more established artists, and it’s a free service for artists and music fans. This music discovery site has worldwide impact. In Portugal, Universal Music Portugal selects artists from Tradiio’s top 50 chart for worldwide distribution.

Listeners on Tradiio are encouraged to use the service with “missions” and “challenges,” turning the music listening experience into a fun game. Social engagement includes being able to follow other users to see their musical picks and the ability to share your discoveries on other social networks. There are also real life benefits for music fans. By investing in artists you like, you earn credibility and virtual coins which you can then redeem for Field Day tickets, Bleep download store vouchers, AIAIAI headphones and Sonos speakers. While in the Tradiio Market, you can also get Add-Ons, which let you earn coins more quickly.

Tradiio: web | facebook | twitter | instagram

WorldArts

WorldArts is a music discovery and opportunities platform, based in Los Angeles. Their mission is to change the way musicians connect with fans worldwide, and to offer bands huge opportunities for wider exposure. Like many of these music discovery sites, WorldArts levels the playing field for new bands, making it easier to get started without having a manager, record label or publicity company. The Artists section is a listing of World Arts artists. Select a band, and you can read their bio, listen to music, watch videos, look at photos and see who’s a fan. You can share and follow your favorites. From the Discover page, you can watch videos from new artists and choose to follow or share. The Opportunities page is how bands can win big career boosts by submitting their music. Current opportunities include music video production, a recording session, a professional photo shoot, the opportunity to record a track at NightBird Studios and airplay on KROQ’s “Locals Only” radio show in Los Angeles. Previously they’ve chosen artists to perform at a SXSW showcase, which was then live-streamed, and one musician was selected to attend and perform at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, which included a studio recording and vinyl pressing of a single. WorldArts Live regularly live streams concerts and festivals. In the News section they offer original and aggregated content that helps you keep up to date with music business news, items of interest for working musicians and upcoming events. There are also artist profiles, Q&As and other music-related content.

WorldArts: web | facebook | twitter

Busker

Busker is the newest of these music discovery sites, about to launch this summer. Busker, with headquarters in NYC, is calling themselves a “next-generation discovery and booking platform for musicians.” This service will feature live music videos from musicians, letting users browse artists, view their videos, create playlists and follow their favorites. Channels will act as guideposts — they give the example of a Julliard channel for students and alumni of the prestigious music school. This music discovery site will go one step further to help musicians get gigs so they can build a sustainable career. There’s a booking platform for anyone interesting in hiring musicians for any type of performance, from private parties and events to venues and large festivals. It is said to function like an airbnb for musicians. Busker’s “Musician on Demand” service will allow potential hosts to text a request, and the Busker team will line up a musician for their event. Their mission is to show people that it’s not as expensive as one might think to hire musicians, and to give musicians help in finding work. The long-term goal is to “use technology to help musicians make money,” which would include not only online bookings, but direct links to purchase music and merchandise, including concert tickets.

Busker is being guided by a group of people with impressive pedigrees — a Harvard MBA and Sydney Law School graduate and advisors from Berklee, Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Google, Kickstarter, Grooveshark, Spotify, MTV, ABC, Sony and others. You can check out the beta version right now. Musings from Boston readers can use the code “BSTNSURV” for VIP status when you sign up (as a user) or submit videos (as a musician). They’ll add you to their mailing list and will keep you informed about the launch and their services.

Busker: web | facebook | twitter

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Introducing… Brontosaurus

A brontosaurus (derived from the Greek “thunder lizard”) suggests a heavy, plodding creature devoid of the more delicate sensibilities of modern society. For the band Brontosaurus, nothing could be further from the truth. Comprised of Nicholas Kelley and Nicholas Papaleo and hailing from Chicago, Brontosaurus is a heady mix of electronic and organic sounds, intricately woven to create a mini-symphony of varying moods and environments. This is sophisticated, elaborately constructed chamber pop, lush and powerful (as on “Safe to Surface,” from their upcoming album) but never plodding. There are also moments of refined beauty, such as “Dry Run,” a complex mix of melodic harmonies and bass, acoustic guitar and driving percussion.

Brontosaurus stepped out into the world in 2010, releasing their 6-track debut EP, Cold Comes To Claim (Plustapes) in 2011. Their musical pedigree includes indie rock and classical (Papaleo), prog rock and metal (Kelley). Unlike the 4-limbed dinosaur, these guys make use of 8 limbs to perform all the music themselves, though bassist Josh Miller is now on board to assist and perform with them live. They’ve played with bands like Maps & Atlases, Young Jesus and The Soil & The Sun, have done SXSW and recorded an Epitonic.com live session. Back in December, they released four songs from their upcoming full-length album, titled Our Animal Ways. It’s due out June 9, but you can pre-order now and enjoy the four songs while you wait.

For those of you in the Chicago area, you can catch Brontosaurus live on June 6 at The Burlington, where they’ll be performing with Campdogzz and Moritat. Keep an eye out for the new album next month and presumably many more shows!

web | facebook | twitter | soundcloud | bandcamp | youtube | interview with Chicago Reader

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