musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Indie Music (Page 1 of 66)

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.

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Other Imaginary Friends Video

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

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Introducing Tunisian singer-songwriter and activist Emel

Emel Mathlouthi

Photo: Alex + Iggy

Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, known as Emel, is a visceral artist who prefers that you connect with her music on a purely emotional level, rather than study it in depth. But it is nearly impossible not to want to translate and analyze her Arabic words, once you know her story. With her unique blend of traditional Tunisian acoustic music, electronic beats and fiercely independent lyrics, her work gained widespread recognition after she recorded “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” in 2007 and it became an anthem of the Arab Spring. She found herself being called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and was invited to perform at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

On Ensen, her second album, she incorporates diverse musical styles, with influences such as Joan Baez, Massive Attack, Björk and Egyptian protest singer Sheikh Imam. The album, released in February on Little Human / Partisan Records, was recorded across seven countries on two continents with several producers. This included her primary collaborator, French/Tunisian producer Amine Metani and Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros). The music has an expansive, cinematic feel that accompanies Emel’s powerful, heartfelt vocals.

Here is the official video for “Ensen Dhaif (Human, Helpless Human).”

Emel Mathlouthi now lives in New York, where she relocated after living for a while in Paris. In 2008 during the rule of Ben Ali, she was forced to move from Tunisia after her music was banned for her messages about personal freedom and government corruption. Her debut album Kelmti Horra was released on World Village in France in 2012. NPR covered her music in 2013, in a piece called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution,” and fellow Tunisian singer and composer MC Rai said, “She has so much courage to sing that around that time. When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.” Four years later, her music was once again at the center of a grassroots uprising, as she sang “Kelmti Horra” in the streets of Tunisia, hours before Ben Ali fled the country. Here are the lyrics, translated from Arabic.

You can learn much more about Emel Mathlouthi’s life, music and inspiration from an in-depth Pitchfork interview.

Emel is currently in Europe on tour, and she’ll be performing a string of dates across the U.S. beginning on May 3 in Washington, DC. See the list of shows below. Her new album can be purchased from Partisan Records (CD, vinyl or digital) or on iTunes.

5/03/2017 – Washington, DC – DC9
5/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
5/05/2017 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/06/2017 – New York, NY – (Le) Poisson Rouge
5/09/2017 – Evanston, IL – Evanston SPACE
5/10/2017 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
5/13/2017 – Seattle, WA – Seattle Meany Center
5/14/2017 – Vancouver, BC – The Rio Theatre
5/15/2017 – Portland, OR – Newmark Theatre
5/16/2017 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
5/17/2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo

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Introducing… Nano Stern

Nano Stern

If this year has a “global theme,” then it most certainly has to be the issue of immigration. Nearly every day we hear of the struggles that so many people face when trying to flee war-torn regions or hopeless economic conditions for a better life for themselves and their families. The world’s artists who speak out against injustices and celebrate our planet’s diversity are providing an essential public service, especially in our troubling times of rising xenophobia and nationalism.

Nano Stern is one such artist who uses music to celebrate diversity and denounce intolerance. An internationally recognized Chilean human rights activist, poet and folk rock artist, Stern recently released “Festejo de Color” (“Festival of Color”), from his recent album Mil 500 Vueltas. In this beautiful and timely song, he addresses the subject of migration and speaks of the mixing of different cultures in a far more positive light than current news stories.

(see an English translation of the Spanish lyrics, courtesy of Google Translate)

The song was written as a tribute to his grandparents, who had to flee Eastern Europe during World War II. What began as a personal story became a recognition for the journey of all migrants, as they overcame challenges and celebrated their new lives in their adopted homes. Issues of intolerance and nationalism are pushed away in favor of the colorful mixing of races, cultures and ethnicities. Fastejo is both the Spanish word for “festival” and an Afro-Peruvian music and dance that the song is based on. In the song, you’ll also hear traditional rhythms from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

In writing “Festejo de Color,” Stern used décima, which is improvised poetry from Spain and Portugal that dates back to the 17th century. This form of poetry was first introduced by Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra, but Stern is one of very few artists who are using this ancient form. On the album version, he’s joined by Peruvian Festejo legend Susana Baca and celebrated Argentine and Columbian musicians Pedro Aznar and Marta Gomez. These three musical guests represent the most common origins for immigrants moving to Chile, so this song really “walks the talk” of bringing disparate cultures together to form a single voice.

In this KKUP interview, Stern discusses the personal meaning behind the song.

As the grandson of Jewish refugees who fled persecution to resettle in Chile, Stern’s upbringing is rooted in his own family’s musicial traditions and activism as well as the highly influential Nueva Canción movement, which was spearheaded by Chilean musical activists as a protest to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those who suffered at the hands of this oppressive regime still inspires Stern’s artistic vision. At 15, he joined Chilean underground band Mattoral, which added the South American rock and punk tradition to the mix that included jazz and classical elements along with folk traditions. This results in a powerful stew of indigenous Chilean, European and African musical languages.

Stern’s many admirers includes Joan Baez, who said “[Nano] may be the best young Chilean songwriter of his generation. With his lyrics, melodies, message, delivery, humor and heart, he gets my vote.” And in fact, he was the only Latin artist to be invited to perform with her at the Beacon Theater in New York City for her 75th birthday celebration, which was aired nationally last year.

“In the measure that I’m able to vibrate strongly, other people will resonate. If that frequency is intense, other things around it will vibrate together with it. Music in the end is that. We can put aside words, and genre, and tradition. In the end, it is all about a movement of air that makes our bodies move. It’s the most mysterious thing.” – Nano Stern

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Introducing… The Northeastern Railroads

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With all the heavy shit going on in the world right now, sometimes you just need to zone out with some pleasant dream pop. So, if you’re feeling rather overwhelmed and yearning for simpler times, The Northeastern Railroads can help you out. This shoegazy goodness is courtesy of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Tony Moureilles. He has just released his debut album, quite aptly named Hope, which is something we could definitely use more of. The first single is “Wet Streets Before Dawn.”

The album was engineered, mixed and mastered by Ian Van Opijnen, who previously worked with Boston’s Funeral Advantage. He and Moureilles shared producer duties. As for the album cover, I’m not so sure that a half empty beer glass is the best illustration of “hope,” but keep in mind that this is, after all, a Boston band. Maybe that glass is actually half full? Nah.

The Northeastern Railroads had their premiere in January of last year. Their musical inspiration comes from bands like The Radio Dept., Slowdive, Ride and The National.

You’ll find Hope here (sorry, couldn’t resist). The limited edition CD includes lyrics and notes. If you’re in the Boston area and would like to catch the band live (Moureilles has a few friends who join him for shows), they’ll be in the following places:

​Saturday, April 22, 2017 – Out of the Blue Gallery, Cambridge, MA
Saturday, April 29, 2017 – East Coast Block Party in Lawrence, MA
​Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Plough and Stars, Cambridge, MA
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 – PA’s Lounge, Cambridge, MA

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Emay releases Ilah and the video for Bakkah: The History of Humankind

Emay

Last year, we introduced you to the powerful social commentary of Emay (Mubarik Adams), a hip-hop and experimental artist from Ontario, Canada. His new album, just released, is Ilah (on Star Slinger’s Jet Jam label). It picks up from where lead single “Israfil ‘angels trumpet'” left off — trying to make sense of a senseless world, envisioning a society where one can be the master of one’s destiny and not a victim of circumstance. In other words, it’s about life. His breathless prose is startling in its literary prowess and poetic deliverance. Phrases twirl around the musical accompaniment like beautifully twisting vines. They rise elegantly from the rich compost of hypnotic beats, experimental soundscapes and otherworldly voices, woven together like a timeless tapestry. The listener is alternately drawn into the depths of aural seduction and then popped awake with a powerful metaphor or turn of phrase.

“As a son, I inherited heavy talismans.
Pallid, invalid purposes. Set for the many challenges.
Studied what He told us and parroted many passages,
Only to duck embarrassment – Barren of any sacrilege.
Required to wear tradition as a blindfold.
Only admire, never petition when a lie is told.”
– Son

“The History of Humankind” is exactly that — a modern chronicle of civilization, with a sharp eye and piercing perception. As he catalogues humankind’s accomplishments and failures with adept precision in an abandoned gas station, an urban soldier in riot gear performs fragmented krumping like an alien sign language.

“To me the video is a battle displaying my ideological development and the conflict of ideas taking over and building off of one another. Much love to Aaron Hall and Dujean Williams for creating that with me. My beliefs and ideas about the world are constantly evolving and developing; this isn’t an overnight process, but one that takes a decade or maybe even a lifetime.” – Emay

Consider distilling the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Noam Chomsky, Dostoevsky, Lenin, Kwame Nkrumah plus the writings of the Quran into a rap/hip-hop album, and you’ll begin to comprehend the headiness and ambition of a work like this. An interview Adams gave to The Paper Street Journal delves into his inspiration, from religious texts to political leaders to grassroots social movements. He offers up no answers, just an avalanche of questions and the intense desire to stimulate dialogue.

“My goal for this project was to depict the progression of my ideological development as a child up until now as an adult. My main focus being to depict how one’s experiences directly influences one’s ideas about the world.” – Emay

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Introducing… Singer Soldier

Singer Soldier

“Bones to Ashes” comes from the second Singer Soldier album, Illusions of Stability. It is a song of fragile beauty, beginning with softly strummed acoustic guitar and delicately floating male/female vocals. Chiming guitars and steady, purposeful percussion follow, as the story is told of a haunted soul (“When I close my eyes, I pray to god I will survive”). From snippets of lyrics like “time to move on, time to be strong,” one surmises this is about a failed relationship, but it’s a pretty song that sparkles with determination and hope. Toward the end, the guitars melt into a hypnotic electronic trance, perhaps signaling a “moving on” of sorts.

 

Singer Soldier is the alternative country project of Nick Marko, a multi-instrumentalist from Detroit, Michigan, who has played guitar, drums and piano for bands like Gutwrench (his first band), The Holy Fire (produced by Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins), Leaving Rouge, Singer & Soldier and Levagood. With The Holy Fire, he’s performed on bills with bands such as TV on the Radio, Metric and the Constantines. Marko is also a savvy entrepreneur with his music publishing company ALP Music. His eclectic background includes studying fire science in school and working as a roofer in Texas and as a cook in Santa Monica, California, before focusing on his music full-time. His influences are diverse, from Bob Mould and other indie rock to hardcore punk, thrash and hip-hop. Favorites include Pixies, Ramones, Hüsker Dü, Motörhead, Metallica, Misfits and Public Enemy.

Illusions of Stability features luscious instrumentation — piano, drums, bassoon, violin, cello and mandolin, in addition to guitars. This is certainly not your standard “alt country” music, weaving artfully between alternative rock, alt folk, classical and electronic.

web | bandcamp | youtube | reverbnation | purchase at CDBaby

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Holly Miranda and Friends Record Midnight Oil, for Standing Rock

Midnight Oil - for Standing Rock

This beautifully uplifting song, “Midnight Oil,” was originally written in 1978 by Cris Williamson, an American singer-songwriter and political activist. Fast-forward almost 40 years, and the song is stumbled upon by Detroit-born musician Holly Miranda at an upstate New York record store, just a few days after the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting. Deeply moved by the song and its message of hope, she decides to record it.

“Don’t let the midnight oil burn low, no don’t let it burn out, let’s see how things turn out in the end.” – Midnight Oil

Miranda learns more about Williamson — that she was a teacher who became an underground folk legend, feminist and activist, founding Olivia Records, the first female-owned and female-focused record label. As the new version of the song came together, with accompanying musicians and The New Asylum Choir, the two women got together to find a worthy cause to dedicate this powerful anthem to. They chose Standing Rock, because of the ongoing need to stop the Dakota pipeline and the importance of safe drinking water, which is about as basic as it gets.

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

“Midnight Oil” can be purchased at CDBaby, with all proceeds going directly to Standing Rock and the North Dakota Sioux Tribe. A huge assortment of talented musicians volunteered their time and talents to show their support and make this song a reality. This includes Ani DiFranco, Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata, Jaime King, Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio) and actress Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation, The Grinder).

Musicians:
Garrett Lewis – Piano
Josh Werner – Bass
Jared Samuel – Mellotron
Jon Ulman – Drums
Maria Eisen – Bari Sax
Ginger Dolden – Violin
Pete Lanctot – Violin
Holly Miranda – Vocal

The New Asylum Choir:
Jared Samuel
Garrett Lewis
Stevie Weinstein-foner
Sasheer Zamata
Ani Difranco
Kyp Malone
Jesse Smith
Nico Turner
Lizz Winstead
Natalie Morales
Laurel Sprenglemeyer
Joan Wasser
Ambrosia Parsley
Ximenia Sarinana
Sally Kohn
Gracie Coates
Rachel Ruggles
Sharon Sulami
Jenny Wade
Cyrina Fiallo
Marnie Herald
Simone van Seenus
Trish Bendix
Jen Rosenstien
Lacey Story
Meg Ghiroli
Jaime King
Libby King

As it stands now, the fight for indigenous peoples’ rights and the universal right to clean drinking water unfortunately seems to be far from over. Take a stand by supporting this important cause and enjoying some fine music at the same time.

Standing Rock: web | facebook | tumblr

Holly Miranda: web | facebook | twitter

PURCHASE “MIDNIGHT FOR OIL” TO BENEFIT STANDING ROCK

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Sun Blood Stories and their Strange New Journey

Sun Blood Stories

We first introduced you to the cosmic sounds of Boise-based Sun Blood Stories back in 2015. Their music should warm the heart of anyone with a special fondness for ’70s spacey prog rock. We’re pleased to announce their upcoming (third) album, It Runs Around the Room with Us, which is due out on April 21. If you’re not afraid to lose your mind for about six minutes, feast your eyes and ears on the first single, “Great Destroyer.” This mind-melting video is by Jason Sievers.

The new album begins as an ocean odyssey, drifting along in mysterious waters, as one can feel oneself being slowly engulfed by subconscious thoughts and distant memories. There are languid contemplations like “Step Softly Ghost” that gradually build to epic proportions, with tribal rhythms ushering in wailing guitars, keyboards and other less familiar sounds. Gentle human voices offer calming and a tether to the shore amidst a maelstrom of aural exploration. At times peacefully drifting, at other times violently shrieking, It Runs Around the Room with Us stretches to the farthest reaches of the imagination and then says farewell, to venture out to explore new galaxies. The musical environment is otherworldly. Some of the songs become quite intense (most especially the aptly named “Burn” and the closer, “The Enemy”). What begins as a friendly and comforting choral gathering is infiltrated by swearing belligerence. It’s a strange yet enjoyable ride.

It Runs Around the Room with Us can be preordered on Bandcamp. It will be available on vinyl, cassette and compact disk, in addition to digital download.

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Introducing… Sarah Beatty (and Belle Starr)

Sarah Beatty

In her new album Bandit Queen, Sarah Beatty tells the story of 19th-century American outlaw Belle Starr, who provided the inspiration for this sultry new music. By all accounts, Ms. Starr was one tough lady, convicted as a horse thief in 1883 and shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1889. She’s pictured in her Wikipedia entry wearing long skirts and holding a revolver. This title track, the lead single from Beatty’s upcoming album, conveys an appropriate mood of danger and moxie.

Based in Hamilton, Canada, Beatty’s debut album, Black Gramophone, was released in 2012. Her style is a smooth blend of folk music and country with touches of jazz. Her delivery is bluesy, soulful and a bit wicked. You can hear the devilish gleam in her eye. On the new album, she’s joined by co-conspirators Matty Simpson on electric guitar and Justine Fischer on upright bass (both are from The Fred Eaglesmith Band), plus Dave Clark (Rheostatics, The Woodshed Orchestra) on drums.

Beatty’s mission on Bandit Queen, and in particular on this first single, is to help listeners discover their own “inner outlaw” and to share the historical account of a woman who was both powerful and flawed. It’s the kind of story not frequently told about women, even now. As she explains it, “I wanted to invite the dark parts into the storyline and inspire listeners to be their whole, real, bodacious, outlawed selves.”

Bandit Queen can be ordered on iTunes.

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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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