musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: June 2015

Introducing… Nora Konstanse

First impressions: a gliding voice that soars and dips over a wide tonal range; a chorus of voices and grand anthemic composition a la Monsters and Men or Sigur Ros. At the next moment, a quiet interlude with strings, accordion and Norwegian lyrics drifts across. This is the music of Nora Konstanse, an alternative folk singer/songwriter with kind of a Joni Mitchell vibe at times (she’s also compared to fellow Norwegian Ane Brun). It’s gentle and powerful at the same time, with musical accompaniment that sounds both fresh and timeless.

This heartwarming video is her first, for the single “Wonder,” and was released back in February. It features two amazing little girls, Lisa and Konstanse, and was produced by Jørgen Nordby.

Her delicate, intimate voice and big orchestral soundscape complement each other nicely, and there are elements of traditional Norwegian folk music that give it a rootsy, earthy quality. She’s now based in Liverpool, and that influences her sound as well. She relatively new on the scene, but for the past year has played shows and festivals in England and Norway. She and her band are currently touring around their homeland.

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Introducing… Slow Molasses

With a band name like Slow Down Molasses, you might expect something dense, incomprehensible and dirge-like. However, this Canadian band, while basking in dreamy, psychedelic and shoegaze atmospherics, is decidedly upbeat and complex, musically exploring the vast expanses of their Saskatoon homeland. And speaking of origins, their song “Home” is the second single from their new album Burnt Black Cars, just released last month on Culvert Music/Caroline International. What begins as a sweet melody becomes more thickly layered as it goes along, with multiple voices joining in towards the end as a choral celebration.

This third full-length release follows the quintet’s 2012 album Walk Into the Sea. In these new songs, there are pretty melodic interludes and heavy synth excursions, woven into intricate compositions deserving of deep immersion and repeat listens. Dreamy vocals drift in and out, tying it all together. The inspiration comes from a series of photographs taken by the father of Tyson McShane (guitar, piano vocals) that captured the anti-capitalist protests in Paris in 1968. Its overriding themes are “the chaos and wild-eyed optimism of the time.” He explains, “Much of my adult life has felt as though it’s taking place in a time that’s at least as conflicted as the one my dad documented. Burnt Black Cars takes inspiration from May ’68, but it’s more about the way conflict and struggle are an omnipresent backdrop to modern life, and about the normal, human moments that still manage to shine through.”

The album was produced by Jac Lasek of the Besnard Lakes, and is their first album to have a proper international, actual label release. They’ve been playing and performing together since 2007, and have played at many international showcases and festivals, including SXSW, The Great Escape, NXNE, Halifax Pop Explosion, Nouvelle Prague and CMJ. They’ve also toured across Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Introducing… Old Baby

It’s quite appropriate that this Louisville southern gothic ensemble should call themselves Old Baby. As one listens to the opening track “Someday,” from their just-released 8-track album New Music, one gets the impression of an old soul embarking on a newborn’s journey, bringing traditional tools of the past into unknown galaxies in search of adventure.

Old Baby began with singer and writing Jonathan Wood and Evan Patterson (singer and guitarist in Young Widows) and they bonded over music from the 60s and 70s, along with Wood’s collection of traditional country. Those influences certainly shine through in their latest effort. Songs like “Someday,” “Take Heed” and “Me Dying” have a delicious southern swamp psychedelic vibe running through them like a nourishing river, while “Hovering Toll” is a sonic experiment deep into intergalactic space.

In addition to Wood and Patterson, there’s bassist Todd Cook (a veteran of many Louisville bands, such as Dead Child and The Cutters), drummer Drew Osborn (Workers) and keyboardist Neal Argabright (Sapat), though it’s less about their albeit rich lineage than the new territory they’re now exploring together. Their first release was Love Hangover, in 2013.

In New Music, there are personal contemplations about spirits, dreams and death, “Necessary” traverses into torchy blues territory, and Wood has the sort of voice that effortlessly stretches out in this context. “Visions” begins as a quiet subconscious reflection, bursting into an hallucinogenic dirge, awakening.

“It’s a dreamer’s dream
trying to find a voice
one that’s not been spoken
one that’s not a choice

visions of a red sea channeled through me
dreams take to the sky absorbing the light

so close to home all hope is gone

man must become a whole other being
never truly awake without knowing sleep

so close to home all hope is gone”

– Visions

The mystical journey comes to a trance-inducing conclusion with the quietly haunting “Coming Down.” Soft guitar pickings, soft synthesizer drones and gentle bells, whisperings of tribal percussion and honey-poured vocals makes this one of the album’s most beautiful moments, and it’s a glorious conclusion to some deeply affecting music.

“Some cower in fear of the unknown
some embrace the mystery and go it alone

coming down again

imagine floating out in the stars
nowhere to be nowhere too far
the chaos among us
the patterns we create
full of swirling colors we dissipate

coming down again”

– Coming Down

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Introducing… Jamaican Queens

photo by Katie Chow

photo by Katie Chow

Listening to the first track off the new album from Jamaican Queens, you might pick up on the retro-sounding crooning and think this is harmless though very strange glam and electronica influenced loungy pop music. That is, until you catch the lyrics:

“I’ve got four little girls
so i cut my heart into
four little pieces
and still you want more
… and even though we’re lovers
you’ll learn
you can fall in love with anyone”
– You Can Fall In Love With Anyone

“Like a bird
tricked by a pane of glass
i smashed through the window of your love”
– Love Is Impossible

These are not your typical love songs. Clearly there’s something far more sinister (and interesting) at work here. As we get farther in, it goes farther out on that ledge with an edginess and experimentation in melodies that nicely complement the insecure, off-balance and Morrissey-morose sentiments. If there is such a thing as “feel good music,” then Jamaican Queens’ second album, aptly-titled Downers (on Freakish Pleasures), could be considered feel uncomfortable music.

At first I imagined Jamaican Queens, name-wise, to be a clever bit of wordplay from a hipster New York band, but as it turns out, these guys are from Detroit. The name came out of lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Spencer’s love of Jamaican dancehall music. He’s joined by Adam Pressley, Ryan Clancey and Charles Trees. While their debut album Wormfood focused on the subject of death (bet you never would have guessed that), this latest one centers its contemplations on the darker side of love and relationships, depression and anxiety. Stylistically, it’s all over the place, though the results is intriguing rather than disjointed. If you’re still on the fence with these guys, their hilariously disturbing video for “Love Is Impossible” should put you firmly on one side or the other.

The Jamaican Queens are currently entertaining and cheering up audiences across the U.S., so if you’re looking for a little something to restore your faith in humanity (or lose it entirely), check them out. They’re in Boston at The Sinclair on June 20th. From there it’s on to the Midwest, South and Texas. See their schedule for details.

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Introducing… Most People

I’ll be honest here, at the risk of someone saying, “what on earth are you talking about?” As soon as the silky vocals and wistful world view kicked in over the happy, poppy melodies on this new song called “Falling Apart” from Toronto-based Most People, an instant wave of recognition come over me. Though this electronic pop duo embraces exuberant synthesizers in their upbeat sound, their overall vibe and winning combination of bouncy music with rather melancholy lyrics strongly reminded me of a beloved New Zealand jangly guitar band, The Bats. It may be the vocals, which to my ears are eerily like Robert Scott’s, or the happy-sad dichotomy which I’ve always found irresistible, but whatever it is, it’s delightful.

Most People is comprised of Brandon Gibson-DeGroote and Paul McEachern. Their eponymous debut album, released in 2012, swam in exotic waters that bordered the lands of both electronic ambient music and psychedelia. Refreshing and dreamy, the music and delicately woven-in vocals alternately drifts, bounce, sails and glides its way through the ether. I’ve seen others compare them to The Cure, mentioning their 90s influences, which I think is also at times valid. Since their debut, they put out the 3-track EP Stay Here Forever In The Night (2014) and Violet Spaces, just released last month. That latest release features seven tracks, four of them remixes, and a heavy percussive element which has a tribal rather than synthetic feel (especially on “Release” and “I Just Might”), blending nicely with the inviting vocals and intriguing instrumentation.

If you’re in the Toronto area, they’re performing at The Garrison on July 9.

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Introducing… Sun Blood Stories

photo by Kate Grosswiler

photo by Kate Grosswiler

Are you looking for some spacey, densely-layered primordial psychedelia to accompany you on those long nomadic journeys across the desert range on your trusty black stallion? I have just the music for you. It’s Sun Blood Stories, so named for the annual Boise phenomenon whereby the smoke of forest fires gets trapped in the valley and colors the sky pinkish-brown, transforming the low-setting sun to a eerie blood red orb. That seems quite fitting for an exotic pilgrimage where mystical melodies have invaded the mind and taken it on a mind-altering road trip. Along the way, ethereal, haunting and otherworldly voices weave in and out of these complex sonic hallucinations like long-lost entities looking for a home. Why not yours?

Sun Blood Stories rose out of the solo experiments of Ben Kirby. He released an EP and then eventually found other musicians with whom he had that tribal interaction he had been searching for. On a winding aural excursion, he’s now joined by the vocalizing voodoo of Amber Pollard, Judah Claffey’s supernatural viola, Nik Kososik’s haunting bass lines and tribal drumming courtesy of John Füst. Suffice it to say that none of these instruments sound like anything you’ve heard before. Especially not the “vocals.” They’ll be releasing Twilight Midnight Morning on June 23, and you can preorder now on bandcamp, with different configurations available.

They’ll be touring to support the new album, and have a few shows scheduled for now. On June 13 they’re at Neato Burrito in Spokane, Washington; on June 23 they’re in hometown Boise, at Neurolux; on July 3 they’re at Crazy Horse, also in Boise (performing with Ancient River, whom we’ve also enjoyed here at ‘musings’). They’re off to Denver on July 23, performing at the Underground Music Festival. Follow them on Facebook to hear about other gigs that pop up.

This is quite an adventure. By the way, if you listen to this music in the car, you may wish to be safely parked first. But what’s a little brain melt between friends?

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Introducing Bon Wrath

This is certainly very different from the last project we covered from Cambodian-born guitarist and singer/songwriter Bonarath Bory, which was the quirky and noisy garage band, Downtown/Union. As Bon Wrath (meaning “good fury”), he released a soaring, poetic and powerful 4-track debut EP called Wind Horse (on Sherpa Music MGMT’s label, in association with Jawsey Bruce Records). Blending acoustic and electric guitar, traditional wisdom and modern sensibilities, it’s deeply personal and quietly haunting, music and words coming together and packing a hefty emotional punch.

In the opening track, “Where The Scars Never Heal,” Bory tells the heart-wrenching story of “a Cambodian farmer who survived the atrocities of the genocide, only to realize that he is still living a life of oppression by a corrupt modern day government.” It brings together three generations of Bory’s family. His nephew plays guitar, while his mother introduces the song with a reverential Khmer version (the EP closes with a full acapella version). The release of the song back in April marked the 40th anniversary of the fall of Cambodia and the beginning of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Also included on the release is an exclusive Haunted Summer recording and mix of “The Future is Here.” The second single, “For All You Do,” is sweetly sung and softly played, with a delicate melody. This is a gentle song of love and appreciation, and is described by the artist as simply “a song about gratitude.” It’s in stunning contrast to the poignant “Scars.”

Wind Horse can be listened to in its entirely and purchased on bandcamp. Bonarath Bory will be performing at The Lexington in Los Angeles on June 12 and at Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco on July 19.

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Introducing… Grounders (and their video for “Secret Friend”)

photo by Laura-Lynn Petrick

photo by Laura-Lynn Petrick

If you’d like to have some interesting dreams this evening, consider this curious and rather psychedelic new video from Toronto-based Grounders for their song “Secret Friend.” What begins with a pleasant dip in a pool located in outer space morphs into an important telephone call in a hallway full of doors, a marimba ensemble, a parade of bicycles led by a circus elephant, disappearing cheerleaders, a man without a head directing pedestrian traffic, a man with a growing and shrinking head in that mildly disturbing hallway full of doors (seriously, I’ve had dreams like that), which then dissolves into kissing couples and telemarketers, a baseball game and synchronized swimmers, people dancing and working out and walking all over the place. There’s also a presentation of many different repeating patterns and shapes, any of which would make very nice holiday wrapping paper. This is a track from their self-titled debut album, just released on Nevado Records.

Grounders will be performing in Montreal on June 11, at the NXNE Music Festival in Toronto on June 18 and in Chicago on June 20, in addition to other dates that includes Rifflandia in Victoria, B.C. in September. See their full schedule for details.

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Introducing… BRONCHO

photo by Courtney Yip

photo by Courtney Yip

Here’s something upbeat and poppy for your summer festivities. It ain’t Shakespeare, but BRONCHO has the sort of punky irreverence and attitude that seems just right for hot and hazy beach parties and warm summer evening drag races down the boulevard. Or whatever you do after you’ve had a few frosty beers. Consider this a little break from all the heaviness and big deep thoughts you’re likely to find here much of the time. You’re welcome.

This is from the Oklahoma trio’s second album, Just Enough Hip to be Woman (Dine Alone). Their debut was Can’t Get Past the Lips, released in 2011.

BRONCHO Upcoming Shows

6/8 New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks*
6/9 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West At King Plow*
6/10 Asheville, NC – New Mountain Theatre, Asheville*
6/11 Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
6/12 Cincinnati, OH – Fountain Square
6/13 Columbus, OH – The Basement
6/14 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
6/16 Athens, GA – GA Theatre Rooftop
6/17 Jacksonville, FL – Jack Rabbits
6/18 Charleston, SC – The Charleston Pour House
6/19 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
6/20 Dover, DE – Firefly Music Festival

6/27 Berlin, Germany – Comet
6/29 Hamburg, Germany – Molotov Bar
6/30 Rotterdam, NL – V11
7/1 London, UK – Dingwalls
7/2 Madrid, Spain – El Sol
7/3 Isla de Arousa, Spain – Festival Do Norte
7/4 Belfort, France – Eurockeennes Festival

07/18 Louisville KY – Forecastle Festival
07/24-07/26 Oro-Medonte, ON – WayHome Festival
07/31-08/02 Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon Festival
8/22 Los Angeles, CA – FYF Fest

*w/ The Growlers

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Introducing… Fire/Works

Photo by le Petit Russe

Photo by le Petit Russe

I’m not sure if it’s the law of attraction or just a series of happy accidents, but I’ve recently come across a number of acoustic-folk-electronica hybrids lately that have blown me away. The latest in this delightful trend is Fire/Works, a duo from Montreal, and their lovely song “Elephants.” Acoustic guitar and what sounds like a herd of electronic elephants traipsing across the wilds are joined by gentle harmonizing, folklore-flavored storytelling that unveils a magical tale, celebratory accordion and propelling percussion. This then leads into a full-on whimsical, enchanting and slightly edgy woodland extravaganza. “Anything can happen in the forest.” Indeed.

Fire/Works is Jonathan Peters and David Lagacé with a cornucopia of acoustic instruments and exotic sounds. Appropriately, this partnership had its beginnings in a remote cabin in the woods. Their name arose naturally from the heady combination of an open camp fire, fresh air, creativity and beer. Their musical influences include Bon Iver, Timber Timbre, Radiohead and Feist. Their debut 5-track EP was released in 2011. There was the full length Grand Voyageur in 2012 and the follow-up, Shenanigans, in 2014. If you like what you hear, you can buy it on iTunes. They have a show coming up at Divan Orange in Montreal on June 14.

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