musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Indie Music (Page 1 of 65)

Introducing… Workman Song

Workman Song

Photo: Sakare Anderson

When literary prowess meets golden throated tones, it’s a beautiful thing. Sean McMahon of Workman Song will likely remind you of Bob Dylan, except that McMahon can actually sing. Heh. Sorry Bob, that’s harsh. But seriously, this guy is really something. He’s the sort of storyteller that can really draw in an audience — warm and engaging. In this wonderful video, he sits down for a One on One Session in the Garden during The Outlaw Roadshow in New York City on October 20, 2016.

Based in Western Massachusetts, singer-songwriter Sean McMahon spent five years in Brooklyn, where he created his alter-ego Workman Song. As a member of Brooklyn/Auckland indie-folk band Streets of Laredo, he toured with bands like Cults, Albert Hammond Jr. and The Kaiser Chiefs. He is now back in his hometown of Northampton, MA. He has released two EPs, Lamb (2014) and Ion Zelig Vol. III (2015), and is now working on his full-length debut with his bandmates Monte Arnstam (Outer Stylie) and Marc Seedorf (Seth Glier).

And a salute to Boston impresario Ryan Spaulding’s brave and fearless The Outlaw Roadshow, which defies the odds in today’s mean and treacherous music biz to give the world’s brightest indie musicians a shot at greatness. Or at least the ability to pay their rent.

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Boston’s Bearstronaut gets especially dreamy with “Begonias”


Although they’re technically from Lowell, I’ve always thought of Bearstronaut as a good ‘ol Boston band. And I probably don’t cover Boston bands as much as I should. So let’s catch up with them. They released a full-length album Telecoast last June, which has a strong dreamlike quality in addition to being deeply satisfying for those who enjoy their take on shoegazey Brit-pop that incorporates elements of electro for today’s dance floors. What does this mean? It’s my lame way of saying that their music has considerable heart and soul while still being infectiously dancey. Put it this way: these songs wouldn’t be out of place with flashy strobe lights, but at the same time, it’s not completely inappropriate for a romantic evening at home.

It’s good to see the band still going strong and putting out good music seven years after their debut album Broken Handclaps back in 2009, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago. Here’s the latest single from that album, titled “Begonias.”

The current band lineup is Dave Martineau (guitar, vocals), Paul Lamontagne (guitar, synth, samples), Phil Boisvert (bass, synth, vocals) and Nate Marsden (drums). They’ll be performing at The Sinclair in Harvard Square on January 24 with Austra and LAFAWNDAH.

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Introducing… Lily Virginia

Lily Virginia

photo credit: Mark Jaworski

To immerse oneself in the music of Lily Virginia is to sink luxuriously into an aural hot bath, and then to be quickly dried off and taken on a breathless road trip. Her soft, supple vocals and symbiotic musical accompaniment slide expertly over, under, around and through each other. There are many moods here, from dreamy nostalgia to quick, astute assessment. Soulful vulnerability, proud self-assuredness, sharp and cynical street smarts, wistful nostalgia — all human emotions are on display here in this wide-reaching collection of songs and stories.

Brooklyn-based Lily Virginia’s Play Me Twice audiovisual album is an ambitious effort. It comprises nine songs, a series of in-studio music videos and an interactive Play Me Twice Podcast hosted by Lily Virginia and her producer, Alessio Romano. In each episode, they discuss the creative process behind a particular song on the album in addition to discussions with peers about what it’s like to be an indie musician in the current music biz environment. They also invite listeners to comment on what they hear. The podcast serves as “digital liner notes” that are ideal for our super-connected times. Fans are encouraged to ask questions via social media or texting as each song’s video is released, forging a strong connection between artist and audience.

Lily Virginia’s musical heroes are diverse, from St. Vincent and Bon Iver to Little Dragon, James Blake and Celia Cruz. Genres are seamlessly blended, including rock, folk, pop and world music touches. She and her band have performed around the U.S., including New York venues like Rockwood Music Hall, BAM and Highline Ballroom, and at special music events like SXSW, NOLA and Sofar Sounds.

Virginia’s inspiration for this album was to explore how vulnerable and intimate she could get. It’s clearly a personal album, confessional and poetic. It was inspired, as she says, by “wanting to write bluish purple songs with silver-gold shimmers.” Her live band, who can be seen in the in-studio videos, features Berklee alumni Alessio Romano (drummer and producer), Andre Vasconcelos (guitar) and Scott Kapelman (bass).

If you like what you see and hear, you can listen to Play Me Twice on Spotify or buy it on iTunes.

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Introducing… Hana Oceans

Hana Oceans

It is difficult, if not impossible, for an artist with any sensitivity to create in a world that is so troubled and not be affected by what happens around them. For Swedish singer-songwriter Hanna Nilsson, who goes by her stage name Hana Oceans, the plight of European immigrants fleeing war in their native countries is impossible to ignore. For her recent single “Invincible Borders,” she tells their story with a powerful video that was directed by Natalya Holley and produced by Holley London/Lauren Holley. It immediately personalizes what can all-too-easily become just a series of newsreel images from some distant, foreign land.

“So let’s break these walls, these invincible borders,
crushed we feel small but we can’t live by their orders,
so we march march to the sunset, fight fight til the day ends
There is a fault, that’s always on their minds but never outshined
there is a people that never are heard but will always rise, will always rise

– Invincible Borders

In a premiere feature and interview with Atwoods Magazine, Oceans explains what inspired her to write this song:

“I can’t be happy in a world where people have to risk dying at sea for the hope of a better life, only to be blocked by borders if they are lucky enough to reach dry land. It upsets me that over 60 million citizens of the earth are fleeing from conflicts.,” says Oceans. “Nobody should have to live in fear and the more that people start to organize, the more chance we have of affecting the politics that have led to so many people facing uncertainty every day. However, I want people to know ‘Invincible Borders’ is not about all of the negativity surrounding this political crisis. This song is a reminder that there is hope in the world, and that hope is represented by unity only.”

Traveling the world at a young age, Oceans became interested in the idea of inspiring people through music. She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston before releasing her critically acclaimed debut EP Dust (OStereo) in 2015. As for her own inspiration, her favorites include Florence and The Machine, Ane Brun and Highasakite, in addition to pop and cinematic music.

Hana Ocean’s Dust EP (which includes the single) can be found on iTunes. You can listen to “Invincible Borders” on Spotify.

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Introducing… Soto Voce

Soto Voce

photo by Eddie Chacon

In this stark, chilling video for “Better” — a single released by Soto Voce earlier this year — disturbing images of violence and atrocities around the world becomes the backdrop of a more immediate, front-and-center persecution. The song received some attention when it was used in an episode of the ABC-TV drama series, How To Get Away With Murder, and recently a tech/deep house Speaking in Tongues remix appeared, but the original track is a darkly shaded, angsty stunner that requires no reinterpretation. Enjoy the slow burn.

Soto Voce, now based in Los Angeles, is the collaboration of Kenny Soto, a trans woman from the inner-city of Oakland, California and Miguel De Divo, an immigrant from Colombia. Their music, a smooth yet ferocious blend of R&B, ’80s new wave and ’90s industrial music, with elements of pop and hip-hop, was born of harsh and explosive upbringings. For Soto, it was growing up in tough Oakland schools as a female soul trapped in a male body, and learning to fight back against the constant bullying and persecution. Music became a sanctuary and an outlet. As Soto explains, “By the time I was 16 I had a lot of angst and I was rebelling and music was the thing I could go to to release a lot of pain and anguish and shit like that.”

For Miguel De Vivo (formerly with Villains), musical inspiration came from the sounds of his native Colombia (Spanish salsa, merengue and vayenato), and from family hardships when they were forced to escape to L.A. after his father, a port official, refused to collaborate with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s trafficking cartel.

Kenny and Miguel were introduced by a mutual friend and immediately bonded over their musical influences. They combined Soto’s soft and sultry to ferocious vocals with Miguel’s shimmering to incendiary synth-fueled production. A furious three-year period of creativity culminated in the birth of Soto Voce. The duo’s name is derived from the Italian phrase sotto voce, which means to purposefully lower your voice for dramatic effect. Says Soto, “there’s also the mafia situation, if the big boss walks into the room it’s like ‘be quiet’ and there’s the idea that me or the band could have that kind of effect.”

Their spirit and sound lies in the duality of what Soto calls her “hyper-sensitive feminine personality” and the resilient varrior who has had to endure life’s slings and arrows. As one grows more comfortable in one’s own skin, power and creativity can take hold and flourish. The message is “perseverance, preservation and positivity.”

Soto Voce will be releasing their debut album in 2017.

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The Rebel Light’s Goodbye Serenade feel-good newsreel

“Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”
– David Bowie, Space Oddity

Are you feeling a little down? Boston lads The Rebel Light have created an amazingly inspirational video for their emotional song “Goodbye Serenade.” As they said in the email accompanying this breathtaking masterpiece —

“It has been a very dark and divided few days, so in the spirit of trying to remain positive in the face of so much adversity and negativity, we would like to share with you the video that we put together ourselves for our song Goodbye Serenade.

“We wanted to visually create something that highlights the power of the human spirit and the incredible accomplishments that mankind has achieved…

“It’s about how great we as a human race can truly be when we focus our energy into creating something positive in this world. It’s also a reminder that regardless of our differences we are all brothers and sisters.

“Our greatest achievements in history have come from tearing walls down… not by building them.”

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Live from the Caprice – Overdue Films’ New Boston Music Web Series

Live from the Caprice

Overdue Films, a Boston-area film collective, is launching a new web series that puts the spotlight on Boston music. “Live from the Caprice” isn’t a slickly produced television music program filmed in a swanky nightclub. Rather, this series documents musicians performing in the back seat of a 1985 Chevy Caprice as it takes us on a guided tour around the Boston area.

Their first installment features indie duo FBGM, who performs three songs while on a leisurely Sunday drive down route 117 from Waltham to Bolton. It’s a low-budget production with lavish musicianship. Check out their first song, “Dog Collar.”

This very cool ‘music on the move’ series was masterminded by filmmaker Jean-Paul DiSciscio and sound designer Ross Matthei. DiSciscio explains how their movable venue came to be.

“Ross and I had the idea to film mini-concerts in my 1985 Chevy Caprice after recording sound effects for our film, Bloody Henry, which features the car prominently. I tried to sell the Caprice for a hot minute, but only received low-ball offers. It made sense to just keep it on the road — it’s pretty much like driving a couch with wheels. The enormous size of the car fits five people, various instruments, and recording gear comfortably.”

And with that, a star was born. And hey, the musicians aren’t too shabby either.

FBGM hails from Arlington, Massachusetts and consists of Matt Jatkola and D. Orxata (formerly of Boston synth pop band, The Bynars). For the cruise in the Caprice, they performed, along with “Dog Collar,” their song “Sassy Fran” and a cover of the Breeders’ “Fortunately Gone.” The rest of the session can be seen and heard on the series’ website.

Follow the exploits of Live from the Caprice for future sessions. Vrrrrrooooom!

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Introducing… Anna Atkinson

In the first single from her new album, Anna Atkinson takes us on a trip down memory lane. Wistful nostalgia never sounded so good, with her angelic voice and sparse, old-timey strings. It’s a quiet story, beautifully told, of being a descendant of family members who were craftspeople and creators, whether it was a pair of shoes, wood carvings, visual art, quilts or a family feast. Through the ages, they survived war, poverty and suffering. As we watch her revisit her family home, now boarded up and derelict, we see a quilt being sewn. It’s sad and hopeful at the same time, filled with sweet remembrance, admiration and a lot of love. It seems to be a celebration of humankind’s enduring spirit, to continue to create through hardship, and especially the idea of creating a vibrant and meaningful life together as a family.

“When we weave our sad stories together
Maybe we could knit a sweater
Gather silk scraps and cashmere
Embroidery threads
Morsels of blankets all tattered, in shreds
And the quilts that our mothers unfurled on our beds
When we were young”

– When We Were Young

As Atkinson explains,

“When I was a child, my mother had a subscription to ARTnews, and one edition had an article about a Canadian artist — Janet Morton — who knit a sweater for a house on Ward’s Island. I thought it was the most amazing concept and it was the initial inspiration for the song — its working title (Sweater For A House) came from that.”

Her new album is called Sky Stacked Full, and it features David Occhipinti. She wrote the songs over a 10-year span and spent five months recording at CBC Studio 211 in Toronto.

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Introducing… Jono Josh

Jono Josh

It’s a confusing exercise, trying to find one’s place in the world and a sense a purpose. All the distractions that take us farther from ourselves, to the point where we have to fight our way back. Jono Josh understands this type of yearning, and it’s what inspired his song “Birds” from his Outside EP, being released this month.

“Birds do not need the world to be explained. But I do.”– Birds

As sung by a cast of friends, “Birds” becomes everyone’s story — a shared experience of one’s search for identity and meaning in a world that can often feel overwhelming and incomprehensible. This yearning is beautifully expressed — when not with raw honesty, with a searing guitar solo.

Musically and emotionally influenced by the time spent with his mother in Canada’s Juno award winning Toronto Mass Choir, Juno Josh sings with an old soul gravitas, infusing his soulful, gospel tinged music with pain, joy and a lot of heart. His musical heroes include Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Son Lux, James Blake and Amy Winehouse, and his mission is to “paint a picture of truth for people to connect to.” In addition to his personal songwriting and heart-tugging vocals, he is also a choreographer and dancer.

As a choreographer, Jono Josh has worked with artists such as Jesse Labelle, manifest and Kirk Franklin, and he choreographed a piece to raise awareness for the problems in Haiti, which aired on Canada’s CBC in 2015. He has performed with a diverse collection of artists including Aleesia, Sean Desmond, Toronto Mass choir, Marianas Trench, Psy and many more. It’s now time for him to step into his own spotlight.


He describes his musical upbringing and explains the meaning of “Birds” —

“I grew up in a family where everything seemed easy. I didn’t know otherwise. It wasn’t until I grew up that my realized how hard my parents worked to put food on the table when I was little. We were always singing and dancing, no matter what happened that’s just what we did. My brothers and I would break dance and my mom would sing to us. Music was our way of pushing through the storm… my song ‘Birds’ is about that —

“When I wrote ‘Birds’ I was looking for answers to questions that I felt most people ask. Looking for an identity, purpose, self-reliance. At times when I asked these tough questions it felt overwhelming but I realized that the only way I would find the answers was if I kept asking and looking. I hope that ‘Birds’ at the very least opens a dialogue about finding resonance in a world of dissonance.” — Jono Josh

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Introducing… Jackson Reed

Jackson Reed

The thing about nostalgia is: it belongs firmly in the past. If it’s a wistful regret, this means that either we’re romanticizing the past or we haven’t put sufficient energy and attention toward creating a satisfying present. If it’s a shuddering remembrance of mistakes made years ago, then it’s time to learn from those mistakes and move beyond them into a wiser tomorrow. In the case of Jackson Reed’s “Generation Vietnam,” it’s a little of both.

JACKSON REED – Generation Vietnam from Southern Souls on Vimeo.

He describes the song as being “about U.S.A’s military conscription in the 1960’s and imaging men my age being chosen randomly for the Vietnam War. Living in the music and drug culture of the 60’s would be fun, but on the other hand, incredibly scary if you were forced to go to war.” Sadly, it seems that our world’s history is built upon the wars fought and as such, a reality where young men (and women) are sent off to fight someone else’s battles is just one dangerous leader and one bad decision away. This simple fact gives a song like this a contemporary dark undertone.

With his solo album The November Gales EP, Reed returns to music after a three-year hiatus. The album was engineered by Jonas Bonnetta at Port William Sound, mastered by Gavin Gardiner at Lacquer Channel and artwork is drawn by Kyle Field of Little Wings. It comes out on October 14 on Deadplant Records.

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