musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Author: julie (Page 1 of 100)

Introducing… Minor Birds

Minor Birds

To give yourself over to the music of Minor Birds is to feel yourself in graceful flight across a wide expanse of open sky. Make that a sky under the cool, watchful eye of a full moon, with a crisp autumn breeze. Their Alchemist EP is a hypnotic weave of baroque-style classical piano, mournful cello, minimalist percussion and soaring, supple vocals that beckon you to follow them into a magical soundscape.

Minor Birds, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the artistic project of singer-songwriter/pianist/multi-instrumentalist Chelsea Wilde. This classically trained pianist is self-taught in other instruments such as guitar, banjo and accordion. Since childhood, she has composed and performed music. Tragic life events in 2008 was the catalyst by which Minor Birds was hatched, exploring life’s darkness and myticism. Her music spans various genres, including baroque pop, folk rock, electronica and even grunge. Her expressive voice can be sultry, theatrical and explosive, refined and sophisticated, dreamy and solemn.

Earlier Minor Birds releases include Live at Metate Hill Lounge, Light as a Feather/Straight as an Arrow and Hold Back All My Dark.

The Alchemist can be purchased on Bandcamp, either as a digital file or as a 3-song EP CD, with 3-D glasses (a digital download is included). It is also available on iTunes. As we enter into the darker half of the year, stretch out and luxuriate in Minor Birds’ haunting, mesmerizing music, and enjoy a most delightful journey.

As hypnotic and otherworldly as “The Alchemist” is, Wilde says of the title track, “When I wrote this song… I had come to this conclusion that ‘magic’ is a thing we grow out of. I didn’t want to be looked at like magic anymore,” Wilde explains. “I wanted to be looked at like a person with faults. Not some mystical entity.”

Minor Birds will be performing at the Ivy Room in Albany California (near Berkeley) on November 11, and at the Silverlake Lounge in Los Angeles on November 27.

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Introducing… Winter Witches

Winter Witches

Photography by Zac Svendsen

As we enter the darker half of the year in the northern hemisphere and the trees, once full of life and bird nests, strike forth with one final brief burst of energy and then dissolve into the stillness of winter, it is time to explore the more thoughtful, withdrawn and melancholy side of human existence. But then again, when isn’t that the case here at Musings from Boston? Winter Witches provides the perfect soundtrack for this time — quiet, thoughtful and reverent.

This South Australian band beautifully brings forth authentic sounds of orchestral, medieval and electronica traditions. Their just-released single, “Train/Water” (Observable Universe) are two stunning compositions of somber piano, strings and soft percussion, with stately, haunting vocals. This duo refers to itself as “a queer conjuring of electronica, melancholia and experimental sound,” and it’s simply breathtaking.

Winter Witches is described as “a creative and life partnership” between Sweeney and Em. Though Australian borne, ancestrally speaking they hail from Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Holland. And for this artistic soul partnership, ancestry is important. It informs their music and their being.

Winter Witches has enjoyed airplay on stations around the world, including Radio Adelaide and 3MDR in Australia, Radio Deepland (Brazil), JXFM Radio Tokyo and Independent Radio Berlin. They have performed around Australia at such events as the 2016 Adelaide Vegan Festival, queer club nights Bona Drag and Wild Style and at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. They’ll be performing in their homeland in December. Although, of course, since this is Australia in the southern hemisphere, it will be at the height of their summer season. One hopes to one day listen to this gorgeous music against a peaceful, solemn backdrop of falling snow.

If you like what you hear, “Train/Water” can be purchased on Bandcamp. These songs were written, recorded, produced and mixed by Winter Witches at Observable Universe Studios, Adelaide, Kaurna Land. The Kaurna are an indigenous people whose ancestral lands include the Adelaide Plains of South Australia.

Winter Witches acknowledges the Kaurna people as the traditional and prevailing custodians of the lands on which this music was created.
— Winter Witches

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Introducing… Brenda

Brenda

Frightened of clowns? If so, you might want to view this video from Brenda, for their song “Children,” with a companion. At first glance, it’s an innocent home movie by artist Sarah Ann Watson, filmed at an annual church service in East London to honor Joseph Grimaldi, the father of modern clowing. However, when paired with the song, this friendly gathering takes on more sinister undertones, and as it builds, the viewer is half-expecting this inoccuous scene to turn into some sort of B-grade slasher film. Which it never does, or at least, not that we know about.

On the surface, the song is about friendships, but it’s also about people losing their childlike innocence. It examines the idea of wanting to escape from reality and “run away to a place where it seems as if time doesn’t exist and age doesn’t matter” (such as the circus, perhaps?). As Brenda explains further, it’s a song “about manipulation and the inevitability of growing up.”

Musically, the song starts out childlike, with sweet little girl vocals, which then morphs into something twisted and demented, accompanied by heavy guitar riffs and driving percussion. It goes on to veer dangerously back and forth, creating a stimulating aural experience with a vaguely unsettled feeling. Think of it as psychedelic garage rock with a neurological disorder. It’s captivating, while at the same time unnerving. Much like the vision of people past their prime in white face, round red noses and floppy clown shoes.

Based in Toronto, Brenda has been part of the city’s punk scene since 2015. “Children” is from their upcoming aptly titled EP Creeper, to be released later this year.

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Introducing… Sarah Cripps

Photo by Ryan Nolan

Photo by Ryan Nolan

Penetrating and haunting, Sarah Cripps’ new song, “Leave Behind,” seduces and intoxicates with its eerie and mournful guitar and the deep shadows in Cripps’ voice. It is the lead single from her upcoming album.

During the making of this album, I was going through a turbulent transition in my life. I was struggling with the perception of who I thought I was supposed to be, and who I truly am. It left me feeling pretty dark at times. It was making this record that helped me decide I would embrace the darkness and the weirdness. – Sarah Cripes

Based in Brigton, Ontatio, Cripps is a Toronto Independent Music Award winner and a powerful new talent in the mainstream country music realm. However, country music is only part of her story, and you can hear the richness of her musical vision in this one song. As she herself describes the search of her strength as an artist, “I pulled myself out of the perfect box I thought I had to fit into. I found a way to create my own narrative and not subscribe to the one that is often forced on young women. Although “Leave Behind” is a reflection of losing myself and some of my lowest moments, ultimately, it’s the turning point that gave me the guts to just embrace the weirdness.”

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Introducing… Andi

AndiMusic

Ah, the optimism and fortitude of youth! And yet, Toronto-based Andi, in her most recent new song “Half Home,” sounds lonely and not so certain about her chosen life as a musician. She also sounds not so certain about her own abilities and none too excited by her current lifestyle of traveling between recording sessions and rehearsals, alternating between sleeping on friends’ couches and crashing in her car. “Half Home” suggests a state of flux, a sort of earth plane “bardo,” where you don’t really belong anywhere. Meanwhile, there’s change in the personality and progress is being made, but it’s not always perceptible. For an impatient youth, the clock might not seem to be moving at all.

“I call on the phone just to reach a busy tone
I call on the phone just to feel like I’m not alone.

I’m calling just a little bit older, a little bit bolder
and still I’ve got nothing to say
I’m calling just a little bit older, a little bit bolder
and still I’ve got nothing to say
I’ve gotten just a little bit colder
I needed a shoulder to help get me through the day.
I’m afraid, I’m afraid
I’m the same girl as yesterday.”

– Half Home

Andi’s Sketches EP, released just last year, was her debut. It made the top 4 in Canada’s national CBC Searchlight competition. She describes the inspiration behind the new single as “being young and in a transitionary stage of life.” The song has a pop feel, but with touches of other genres that include an R&B swagger that adds dimension and gives Andi her own unique sound. In her early 20s, Andi writes and produces her own music. Along with supple, smoothly sliding vocals, the instrumentation, with its neat, tasty guitar and bass lines, raise the level beyond the average pop song to something more progressive.

Andi is currently working on her full-length debut, inspired by weighty world issues and her personal connection with them. She tackles subjects such as women’s empowerment and autonomy, sociey’s ideas about masculinity, LGBTQ+ issues and her life experience as a bisexual woman. She observes and writes about the human condition, including emotional struggles, self-conflict and love, while championing the individual’s quest for empowerment and acceptance.

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Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos introduces new album and becomes an advocate for mental health

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

It’s brave to write from the heart and let strangers learn about your inner thoughts and insecurities. It’s braver still to openly discuss your life honestly, in an effort to help others. Michael Angelakos has “come out” (so to speak), shedding his front man role in Passion Pit and his focus on being a commercial artist to become a highly visible advocate for those with mental health issues. To coincide with the release of Tremendous Sea of Love, he has founded The Wishart Group, an artist-driven organization focused on developing “programs and services that better serve and promote the mental, physical, financial, and creative well-being of artists.”

The group will be bringing together professionals from all disciplines, from researchers and scientists to lobbyists and advocates, to generate funding for mental health research, develop healthcare for artists, support new therapeutic treatments for mental illness and more. To introduce this campaign, he has been sharing his personal struggles with bipolar disorder, including this interview with NPR.

Angelakos is putting his money where his mouth is. Royalties from the sales of the new album are being donated to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From first creating Passion Pit in his Emerson College dorm room 10 years ago to realizing considerable success with their unique brand of romantically-tinged synth-pop (thanks in no small part to Angelakos’ dreamy falsetto), the band has come a long way, giving him a strong platform of support from which to champion mental health awareness. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

And the music? It’s classic Passion Pit, steeped in their distinctive sound that has won them an army of fans, from Boston to far beyond. It can be streamed via Apple Music and on Spotify, and is available on Amazon. This is the band’s fourth album.

web | facebook | the wishart group

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Reeves Gabrels and his Imaginary Friends Summon Mythical Beings at Cafe Nine

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Technically, I’m retired from this sort of thing (“covering” shows and uploading a pile of videos to YouTube), but I couldn’t resist the temptation to do it one last time for some truly mind-bending guitar wizardry from an old friend. Sorry, Reeves — what I meant to say was a friend whom I’ve known for a long time.

Reeves Gabrels has an impressive pedigree. Originally based in Boston, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was in several stellar and highly-regarded bands, including Life on Earth, The Dark, Rubber Rodeo, Atom Said (thanks, lazyelvis, all my stuff is analog), Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Although people might be a little more familiar with his later collaborations, David Bowie (starting with the brilliant Tin Machine) and The Cure (of which he is currently the lead guitarist). But on this night, Reeves was bringing his imaginary friends to a tiny but ferocious little dive bar in New Haven, Connecticut called Cafe Nine.

Cafe Nine looks like a cozy neighborhood corner bar, and it indeed is that, but from what I understand, it’s also a well-known venue for some rather formidible bands. The evening began with local boys The Outer Side (Jeff Maleri, Paul de la Reza and Ryan Boudreau). They were an enlightened choice of support act for Reeves and friends, as their guitarist is quite impressive as well, flying all over his instrument. Their set was in two halves, the first one being a marvelous prog rock, King Crimson-esque voyage to the beyond, and the latter half a harder punk set courtesy of their other guitarist/bassist, who not coincidentally was wearing a Mission of Burma T-shirt.

Reeves and his imaginary band mates (not so imaginary actually — Kevin Hornback on bass guitar and Marc Pisapia on drums and backing vocals) came out onto the small stage and quickly proceeded to shred the place apart in front of a deeply appreciative audience. With awesome creative prowess, mind-numbing chops and an arsenal of magic little boxes, it was a kaleidoscopic journey through exotic aural soundscapes and tightly wound rock tracks on steroids. Hornback and Brown kept an incredibly tight ship while Gabrels galloped and meandered all over the place. They played a good selection of Reeves’ solo and Imaginary Friends songs, including tracks from their self-titled album. They even played an old Tin Machine favorite, “Bus Stop,” and an unreleased Modern Farmer song, in honor of fellow farmer Jamie Rubin, who was in the audience.

It was a great honor to see these world-class musicians at the height of their powers in such an intimate, casual setting.

TheOuterSide
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Other Imaginary Friends Video

Clip 1 | Clip 2 | Clip 3 | Clip 4 | Clip 5

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Introducing… Luke De-Sciscio

LukeDeSciscio2

It’s the delicacy of his voice and the remarkable fluidity and range that draws you in. Luke De-Sciscio is a U.K. singer-songwriter who creates a warm, beckoning place where he tells stories of life and relationships with gentle yet accomplished acoustic guitar pickings and a suprisingly supple voice. On his newest collection of songs, Moonraker, De-Sciscio presents the artist, and the creation, laid bare. As he explains, it is the inspiration, the precise moment when the ideas form into a coherent structure — chords, melodies, lyrics. It begins with a wavelength, a feeling in the gut. And from there, it’s merely a matter of trust. But trust is not a simple thing.

To trust one’s vision is to do what De-Sciscio did, which is record his idea, what some would consider a demo, innto his iPhone. And that is precisely how it was released — no reworkings, no re-recordings, no reconsidering and above all, no processing. Just the initial creation, direct to his audience. Is art really that easy? The hard part, of course, is to trust oneself. That alone might take a lifetime.

As De-Sciscio explain, “Demanding greater of yourself, supposes that YOU, as you stand, are not good enough. Releasing your heart into the wild supposes almost the entirely opposite thing.”

LukeDeSciscio

Previous releases include his Winter, Spring 3-song EP (Oct. 2015), Gossamer Rose (Nov 2016) and Meadow Queen Journey Moon Tied Blue (June 2017).

Listen to Moonraker on Spotify.

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Introducing… Yuliya Tsukerman, Man, Woman, Friend, Computer (and some insane handmade marionettes)

ExordiumOutgrown2

Amazing things can happen when you combine quiet, haunting music with remarkably soulful marionnettes. This stunning film by Yuliya Tsukerman is set against the evocative and otherworldly music of Man, Woman, Friend, Computer. This is not actually a quartet, but rather the musical project (and astonishingly, the debut) of composer, lecturer and classical guitarist Thomas Echols, who has recorded and toured with Grammy-nominated DeVotchKa and Grammy-winning choral group Conspirare. What results from this curious union is a symbiotic match made in heaven.

Tsukerman sets her marionettes into scenes no larger than a tabletop that seem to be entire unfamiliar worlds that seem both intensely personal and alien. The expressiveness of the puppets draw the viewer immediately into the story. In “Exordium/Outgrown,” a spaceman deals with his own loss and isolation as he lovingly cares for an injured creature on an alien planet. She combines traditional Czech marionette techniques that are centuries old with materials of today plus found objects. She creates, in her words, “an analog reimagining of the space age that points to the the loneliness of the digital world, and to the new distances we create as we try to conquer the old.” The music is taken from the first and final tracks of the Man, Woman, Friend, Computer debut album, with a newly-composed interlude that connects the songs, musically and narratively, into a cohesive piece that beautifully complements the film. Music and visuals elicit feelings of sadness, alienation, loss, and oddly, tremendous compassion.

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The film was handmade using “tabletop interstellar landscapes with marionettes made from paperclay, cast resin, ribbon, hot glue, latex, felt, and pieces of space blanket.”

Currently, Tsukerman is an artist-in-residence at Mana Contemporary. Visit her vimeo page for more jaw-dropping puppet adventures and her other projects.

yuliya tsukerman: web | vimeo
thomas echols / man, woman, friend, computer: web | bandcamp | soundcloud

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Poor Prognosis: The AHCA and America’s Mental Health Care

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[This article was originally published on The Depression Army blog. Thank you, Dr. R., for editing. Note – this was originally written May 29. Three and a half weeks later, the Senate has indeed written their own AHCA proposal, and their “discussion draft” can be seen here].

People who struggle day-to-day with a mental health issue don’t usually spend a lot of time following politics. When the world is closing in, it becomes necessary to shut out all that extraneous noise, push away the distractions and focus single-mindedly on one’s well-being. However, with a new administration comes proposed changes to the American health care system that may make it more difficult for the less wealthy among us to find adequate mental health support.

Difficult as it is to take in all the information, ignorance is not bliss. People who are struggling need to be informed about — and sometimes even stand up for — one’s basic right to decent mental health care.

Mental Health Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

On HealthCare.gov, the official site of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a mental health and substance abuse coverage page that clearly states the legal requirements of all ACA Marketplace health care plans. This includes behavioral health treatment (for example, psychotherapy and counseling), mental and behavioral health inpatient services and substance abuse treatment. Specifics depend upon where you reside and your health plan, but the law states that all ACA plans prohibit spending limits and must cover pre-existing conditions, which includes any mental illness. The ACA also provides “parity protections” for mental health services. This means that it enjoys the same protections as any other kind of health coverage in terms of deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket limits, treatment limits and care management.

In fact, there’s an entire government website devoted to mental health, with clear information about how the ACA has improved access to mental health services for many people, regardless of where they live and what type of plan they have. This official source says, “As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans also must cover mental health and substance use disorder services. These plans must have coverage of essential health benefits, which include 10 categories of benefits as defined under the health care law. One of those categories is mental health and substance use disorder services.” In the ACA program, mental health care is seen as an essential health benefit.

Despite the improvements to mental health care since the ACA first went into effect in 2014, a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center found that mental care access in the U.S. is still inadequate. Nearly one in 10 Americans who had mental health problems in 2014 didn’t have insurance that would allow them access to treatment. For approximately 10.5 percent of people, there were delays in receiving professional mental health treatment due to insufficient coverage, compared to 9.5 percent in 2006. In 2014, 9.5 percent of those suffering with mental health issues couldn’t afford to pay for psychiatric medications, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

The AHCA – Just Passed by the House of Representatives

The American Health Care Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, seeks to roll back federal guarantees of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment, instead leaving it to the discretion of individual states. Under the new plan, states can also opt-out of requiring that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Other Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) left to the states to provide or not provide include emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, chronic disease management, pediatric services and prescription drugs. The AHCA, as currently written, allows insurers in states that have opted out of covering EHBs to charge people more for their health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions.

What Do We Stand to Lose?

The ACHA bill leaves critical mental health care treatment and prescription medication coverage for poorer people up in the air. Depending on where you live, there may be state-provided financial assistance for psychiatric evaluations, counseling and potentially life-changing psychiatric drugs — or not. Should this bill go into effect, coverage that you’re currently receiving from your insurer, whether it’s through your employer or through the federal ACA marketplace, might go away. In a worst-case scenario, those families who need certain medical coverage for pre-existing mental health conditions may have to consider moving to a state where insurers will cover them. Unable to get proper care in their community, people with a serious mental illness are increasingly ending up in local jails, a sad development that is straining law enforcement. Mental Health America states that 1.2 million people living with mental illness are in jails and prisons every year. The Sentencing Project study referred to in the article found that six out 10 of those states with the least access to mental health care (Southern states) also have the highest incarceration rates.

The New Health Care Proposal: Here’s What Happens Next

As the House’s AHCA bill moves to the Senate for approval, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) has issued their findings on the House’s proposed bill. The CBO estimates that the AHCA will leave 23 million more people without insurance by 2026 than if the ACA were to stay in place. They also discuss the dangers of leaving coverage decisions to the states. A CBO breakdown confirms that a state opting out of covering mental health care and prescription medicines, as well as pre-existing conditions, could cause out-of-pocket expenses to significantly rise for that coverage, leaving many priced out of the healthcare marketplace. The good news is that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to approve the House bill and in fact, they’re writing their own version. The bad news is that there are senators who may not heed the warnings in the CBO report.

What Can You Do?

First, don’t despair! There are many people who are aggressively fighting these radical changes to a healthcare system that, although flawed and in need of fixing, many people rely on. However, if you’re someone who is especially sensitive to mental health issues, it is imperative that you add your own voice to the choir of discontent. Indivisible is a nationwide organization that encourages people to take local action to express their concerns and tell their personal stories. Town Hall Project has an interactive database of town hall meetings by members of congress that constituents can attend. Add yourself to the mailing list of upcoming events in your area. If you’re unable to attend a meeting in person, you can also contact your senators directly to tell them how important mental health care coverage is for you and your family. You can also contact your House Representatives. When your representatives aren’t legislating in Washington, they should be back in their states to meet with their constituents. You can view the senate schedule and house schedule for 2017.

Above all, keep yourself well-armed with information! Important decisions are being made right now that could impact your mental health care and essential support services. If you believe that healthcare is a basic right, and that those living with mental illness should have the same rights as anyone else who suffers from a crippling affliction, Speak Out and Speak Loudly!

Your voice matters, and the voices of millions of sufferers will be heard in the voting booths!

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