musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Indie Music (Page 4 of 72)

A Lovely Bit of Psychedelia from Over-Thinker Mute Choir


As a fellow over-thinker, I know this problem all too well. We become so overly sensitized to other people’s ideas and opinions, to that clamoring of outside voices, that we can no longer hear the quiet but essential inner voice. Decisions are mulled over for far too long, we begin to second-guess ourselves, we hold others’ opinions in far greater esteem than our own, and before we know it, we’re lost and without a clear sense of direction.

Set against a backdrop of ’80s synth-pop that wobbles around and then happily veers off into a dreamy psychedelic excursion with string quartet interlude, “Election Season” is an exploration of ignoring all the outside voices and listening to your heart to show the way.

Election season is a song that came as a sort of emotional response to a time in my life where I had a lot of different voices around me telling me the versions of myself that I should be, and that really messed with my head for a while. It left me in a place in my music and in my life where I felt very indecisive, like I didn’t have an objective view of who I was or what I wanted. The song came as a sort of response to that feeling. The music was a result of me rejecting that notion and not really thinking too much of what the song was supposed to be, but just letting it come out naturally..”

Mute Choir is the brainchild of Sam Arion, who was born in Iran and raised in suburban Toronto. He’s a man of many moods, from the alt-pop of “The Pedestrian” to the thoughtful introspection of “Behind the Bars” to the dancy indie rock of “Minefield” to the expansive “Election Season.” This promises to be a wide-ranging and eclectic first album.

“Election Season” is the second single from Mute Choir’s debut album Behind the Bars, which will be released on June 8. Until then, stream “Election Season”, immerse yourself in its depths and listen to yourself. You have a lot to say.

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Ouch! The I Want You Gets All Beat Up


Have you ever felt that life just keeps punching you in the face? Jim Gerdeman of the Boston band The I Want You knows that feeling well. Their new song “All Beat Up” was written as part of the annual RPM Challenge that has artists writing and recording an entire album in the month of February. The video portrays singer/songwriter Jim Gerdeman getting the sh*t kicked out of him. But no worries, kids, this was an entirely artistic and not physical brawl, conceived and directed by the band’s 8-string bassist and producer Blake Girndt (who is also a member of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The video features some very realistic and disturbing “makeup” from violence artiste JoJo Lazar (also of the Broken Toys). It’s upsetting to watch, but as the protagonist readily admits, it’s his own fault.

As Gerdeman explains,

In a world of so much conflict and social media hosility I think it’s easier than ever to feel beat up by it all. But for me personally I tend to beat myself up worst of all and it’s impossible to get a restraining order on oneself.

The latest incarnation of The I Want You includes Gerdeman on vocals, Girdnt on 8-string bass, Jeff Norcross(Weisstronauts, Betty Goo, Paula Kelley) on guitar and drummer Chris Walsh(Speedfossil, Bittter Bastids). They’ll be releasing more singles and videos in the coming months. You can see their other inventive videos on YouTube.

You’ll find the “All Beat Up” single on Bandcamp, along with two interesting B-sides. “Come On’ was inspired by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students in Florida and their gun control activism, while “The Rise and Fall” is a very clever tribute to David Bowie. It’s a comprehensive biography in song that encorporates elements of his life, music and stylistic phases. Very nicely done, boys.

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Josh Knowles’ weaves violin magic on ‘Spin Without a Sound’


Passionately performed music can open up the heart and free the soul. Modern interpretative dance, in all forms, are the ultimate expression of the human form, in all its liberation and limitations. When the two combine in a symbiotic way, what’s created can be something quite extraordinary and deeply moving.

Josh Knowles is a Boston-based contemporary violinist and songwriter, with an impressive CV that includes violinist and arranger for the Boston Ballet; lead vocals, violin shredding and songwriting for Boston folk rock band Nemes; violin, voice and piano teacher at Boston School of Music Arts; co-founder, violinist and arranger for cello/violin duo String Along; teacher, composer and arranger for the Roxbury Youth Orchestra and collaborative work with professional dancers for Cirio Collective, in addition to arrangements for various artists and performances at Berklee College.

Even with all that, Knowles has found time to work on his own solo electric violin compositions, recently releasing Spin Without a Sound (which can also be listened to on Spotify). In this stark, poignant video for “Great Blue World,” his stirring and evocative music is beautifully interpreted in a powerful choreographed dance by former Boston Ballet soloist Sabi Varga.

Spin Without a Sound was inspired by and conceived during a series of marathon performances in the luscious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard. The recording seeks to capture the stateliness and beauty of that esteemed, sacred space, so that one might be transported to those special performances. For those concerts, Knowles used a D4 Loop Pedal to create multiple layers of improvised melodies from his violin, creating a constantly changing soundscape. The album was recorded from live sessions that gave the artist even more space to experiment, expanding upon the ideas he first explored at the Gardner Museum. The resulting work is “steeped in nostalgic intimacy.” The recording includes samples from his upbringing, such as audio from vintage home movies, childhood recital performances and answering machine messages from his late grandmother, for compositions that are deeply personal and intimate.

Knowles is currently working on his second solo recording, which will showcase his work as a singer and lyricist in addition to his violin.

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What we leave behind: the importance of organ donation

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (

There’s an amazing story behind this pretty folk song, “Slow Decay,” and its compelling video. Sarah McQuaid, a singer/songwriter, and Brett Harvey, an award-winning filmmaker, teamed up to create a heartwarming short film to raise awareness about organ donation. This sounds very important, but it doesn’t stir the soul — until you watch the video and learn about Bill Conner and his young daughter.

Five months after his daughter Abbey died at the tender age of 20, Bill decided to honor her memory by cycling from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation. He stopped off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1,400 miles into his journey, to meet with the 21-year-old man who was the recipient of her heart, after being given just 10 days to live. After a long hug, the man put a stethoscope to his new heart, and Conner was able to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. He was given a recording to bring with him as he continued to spread awareness about the life-saving practice of organ donation.

The body fails / These bones won’t last forever / So I ask myself what are the things we leave behind – “Slow Decay”

In the realm of organ donation, this question touches on both the physical and the spiritual — that is, what do we physically leave behind that others can use, and what do we leave behind as a lasting legacy of our lives? Giving part of ourselves, literally, so that someone else may continue to live is one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow, and it’s an act that conveys tremendous compassion and caring.

If my organs are of use, I hope they find a happy home. – “Break Me Down”

In this line from elsewhere on McQuaid’s album, the meaning is more obvious and literal. In the film, a mother, warmly portrayed by Mary Woodvine (Eastenders, Doc Martin, Casualty, Poldark, Blight, The Lark), takes the long cycle journey, which is delicately intercut with flashbacks of her daughter’s life. After the final frame, links for, and appear, so that viewers can learn more and register to become an organ donor.

McQuaid, Harvey, Conner and all the fine actors in this deeply affecting video are based in Cornwall, England. This short film was a collaborative effort to shine a light on this beautiful act of generosity and shared experience, a quiet but important story that might otherwise have never been told. As Harvey explains, “I was struck by the simple humanity of the act, and the notion that we live on through others after we pass away. I had wanted to tell a version of this story for a while, and as soon as I heard Sarah’s beautiful song I knew it was the right fit.”

Sarah McQuaid - Photo by Phil Nicholls (

Sarah McQuaid – Photo by Phil Nicholls (

“Slow Decay” is from McQuaid’s fifth solo album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, which has garnered rave reviews from publications around the world. She’s currently touring in the UK and Ireland, which will be followed by a U.S. tour in September and October.

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Maxwell Bailey — Love and Music in the Face of Hate

Maxwell Bailey

photo by Brandon Keith

Think of Maxwell Bailey’s smooth-as-silk falsetto vocals and gentle, loving guitar picking as a soothing balm against all the hate and sadness of today’s world. In “Melody,” a song from his soon-to-be-released In Between Live EP, he contemplates what can be done to fight against the endless waves of violence, hatred and intolerance. He finds his answer in his music, which he sees as an expression of his love that he tries to send out into the world.

“What type of melody can encapsulate the enmity, pity and pain we feel? How can a word be sung and spoken in love translate to medicate our wounds?”
— Melody

I wrote this song in response to America’s issue with hate. After dozens of mass shootings, incidents of police brutality, terrorist attacks and the general negligence of the less fortunate that we’ve all seen in this country, it can be hard to feel like anything an individual can say or do will have any sort of lasting positive effect. I’m a songwriter, but what good is a song in the face such tragedies? After months of writer’s block at the time, I penned these lyrics in search for an answer to this question. Through the songwriting process, the answer I came up with was, of course, in the form of more questions: ‘When we wave our lights and sway, what does it fix today? Does it make us feel inside? Help us feel alive?’ Life is a complicated web of cyclical emotions. Some good. Some bad. Many indifferent. What I found out from writing this song is that there’s good and bad in all of us. Every perspective sheds unique light on situations. Perhaps, that’s something we all can rally around. Sometimes, at least for me, confusion is comforting. We don’t know the answers, but pushing love out into the world can’t hurt.

Bailey is a Boston-based artist who sees himself as more of a communicator than just a musician, with songwriting as an outlet and a way to connect with other people. His EP was filmed live at an AirBnB in Roxbury. It’s folky, jazzy and soulful, with articulate lyrics, in search of some answers for life’s most difficult problems. Above all, how do we stay in a place of serenity, with chaos all around us, so that we can radiate positive feelings out into the world?

In addition to being a singer songwriter and guitarist, Bailey is also an MC and music promoter. He hosts weekly open mic nights every Sunday at 6B Lounge on Beacon Street in Boston, and the Noise Floor Sessions concert series at various Boston area venues. Focused on showcasing local musicians, Noise Floor Sessions has a six-month residency at Aeronaut Allston (and various pop-up Allston locations).

On June 20, they’ll be hosting Jakals, Caleb Gore and Maxwell Bailey’s EP release party. To keep apprised of future sessions, sign up to be put on the mailing list.

The In Between Live EP will be released on Spotify on June 15.

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Towers and Trees on thinking too much


I’ll be perfectly honest. These guys are way too “peppy” for me. Even their Twitter description as an “earnest indie rock from Victoria B.C.” scares me a little. Earnest? Not first thing in the morning, thank you. But this new song they’ve released, after almost a year’s hiatus, well — let’s just say I can appreciate the sentiment. Especially at this particular moment in my life. I can almost even forgive them for their nauseatingly upbeat and colorful video.

“Head Down / Heart Up” is an anthem for the overthinkers of the world; a reminder and challenge to turn the volume knob in your head down, and let your heart take the wheel every once in a while because it almost always knows where to go.

Overthinker? Me? Ok, maybe that moniker does fit rather snugly. I consider, I analyze, I fret, I second guess — in short, I thoroughly examine just about everything I do. It’s exhausting.

There’s so much noise these days, and so much information coming from every direction, that I think a lot of people identify with this anxiety and ‘analysis paralysis’ from our minds working overtime to try and take everything in and make sense of it all.

Analysis paralysis. Nice. There are certain things that I’ve now accepted I’ll never be able to make sense of, like our current political climate. No, I’m not going there. Take a deep breath, and OMMMMM.

Despite this, almost all of the things that truly matter — family, community, helping others, self-love — these are products of the heart that can be easily drowned out by the excess noise.

I’ll try to remember this before I spend an hour going through political tweets or Facebook posts, only to come away feeling soggy, stiff-necked and unenlightened.

Head Down, Heart Up!

Listen to “Head Down / Heart Up” on Spotify. And treat your poor head to a well-deserved vacation, at least for a little while.

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The Division Men (and friends) turn up the romance and mystery on Niños Del Sol

Photo by Casey Chumbley

Photo by Casey Chumbley

Our favorite desert noir duo, The Division Men is on the cusp of an exciting new album, their third full-length release. Titled Niños Del Sol, it’s a deliciously romantic stew of acoustic and electric guitars, sensuous saxophone, delicately played piano and touches of percussion that lace in and out while J. Spencer Portillo and wife Caroline Rippy Portillo spin their vocal magic. The result is breathtaking. The music strongly conjures heady, exotic desert evenings along the Southern border. Each song moves seamlessly into the next like a lush and inviting soundtrack, but particular standouts include “Heaven Knows Why”, “Fall,” “Marionette” and the title track “Niños Del Sol,” which is spectacularly beautiful.

At ‘Musings,’ we first discovered Austin-based The Division Men in January 2015. As a quick reminder, they first came together in Berlin in 2008, and are strongly influenced by their El Paso and San Antonio roots. Words used to describe their music include “romantic,” “haunting,” “dark” and “ethereal.” I’ll add intoxicating to the mix.

Niños Del Sol, two and a half years in the making, was a collaborative effort, created with the musical contributions of several close friends, who also happen to be distinguished artists. Guest musicians include Rafael Gayol (Leonard Cohen), Jake Garcia (The Black Angels), Steven Hufsteter (Del Shannon, Tito and Tarantula), Jay Reynolds (Asleep at the Wheel) and Javier Escovedo (The Zeros). Half of the tracks are re-imagined songs from Live at Clap of Thunder, their first live album.

This new album will be released April 20th, and hopefully will soon be followed by some live dates!

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Dreamily soulful Deanna Petcoff and her trust issues


Relationships can be tricky and emotionally uncomfortable, but that’s no reason not to immerse your dissatisfaction in some honey-smooth ’60s style soul. Deanna Petcoff, former guitarist and singer in Pins & Needles, is embarking on a solo career, and is out of the gate in a strong way with her first single, “Terribly True.”

Petcoff has a rich and sensuous voice that, along with a glass of bourbon, would nicely soothe any heartache. Musically, what starts out sounding wistful gradually transforms into a more upbeat mood, as she calmly assesses the ruins.

I’m not calling you a liar, but I’ll never believe you
It’s a manefestation of trust issues
I’m not saying I could treat you better
but I’ll never put in the effort. – “Terribly True”

Based in Toronto, Deanna Petcoff’s personal muse is to think “what would a 1960s soul singer do?” She embodies this kind of spirit in addressing a timeless concern — how to be honest with oneself and come to terms with a relationship gone sour. As she explains it, “I realized that it wasn’t the person I was seeing who I was in love with — it was the idea of being in love itself. I was trying so hard to make them happy that I forgot to check in with myself and my truth.”

The song was produced by Alex Stavropoulos-Laurie and recorded at Dream House Studios in Toronto. Petcoff will be performing on April 2 at The Smiling Buddha in Toronto.

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Ellevator faces their dreams in “Hounds”


A dream will often present itself as a metaphor for something the dreamer is dealing with (or failing to deal with) in their waking life. For the band’s new song, “Hounds,” frontwoman Nabi Sue Bersche of Ontario-based Ellevator was inspired by a recurring dream in which she’s chased by wolves or wild dogs. They bite at her heels and keep her from being able to stop and ask for help. She hears their whistles in her head, and they drown out the voices of others who need assistance. She has had this dream since she was a child, and it’s all-consuming. This isn’t just a personal fear — it seems to be a strong indictment of our current social condition.

“Hounds” is an acknowledgement that we need each other to survive. There’s safety in numbers. We’ve seen how ‘every man for himself’ turns out, and we need to do better. – Nabi Sue Bersche, Ellevator

Ellevator releases their self-titled EP on April 20 (Arts & Crafts). It was recorded in Hamilton with Michael Keire (Arkells, The Dirty Nil, Wildlife). They’re currently on tour to support the new music. This has included dates with Our Lady Peace and Matthew Good, and from April 12-26, they’ll be supporting BANNERS. They’re also headlining in NYC at Pianos.

Listen to and purchase “Hounds”

Ellevator Tour Dates

4/12 Toronto, Ontario – Phoenix
4/13 London, Ontario – Rum Runners
4/14 Ottawa, Ontario – The 27 Club
4/17 Albany, NY – The Hollow
4/18 New York, NY – Pianos
4/19 Vienna, VA – Jammin Java
4/20 Boston, MA – Cafe 939
4/21 Montreal, Quebec – Theatre Fairmount
4/22 Quebec City, Quebec – Palais Montcalm
4/24 Waterloo, Ontario – Maxwell’s
4/26 Hamilton, Ontario – Club Absinthe
5/11 Toronto, ONtario – CMW (Lee’s Palace)
6/3 Toronto, Ontario – Field Trip
6/22 Ottawa, Ontario – Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival
6/23 Hamilton, Ontario – Tim Hortons Field
8/19 Elora, Ontario – River Fest Elora

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Iskwe and Tanya Tagaq stand up tall for Canada’s indigenous people


It has always been my great pleasure to celebrate and support strong, talented female artists, and never have I been more proud than in these current times, when women are speaking out with a single voice against many years of injustice. When one comes across an indigenous woman making a powerful statement on behalf of her people, there’s even more reason to rejoice. Iskwe is of Irish and Cree/Dené descent, and on her new song, “The Unforgotten,” she is joined by Canadian (Inuit) throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Their creation is powerful and entrancing, with political overtones and a haunting presence. It weaves together ancient rhythms and traditions with modern sensibilities.

Written at the time of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the song is, in the words of its creator, meant to celebrate Canada as a special place to live, as well as to “remember, honour and acknowledge our dark corners as well.” Iskwe states that it is a community song “to be shared by all people – a round dance where everyone holds the hand of the person next to them, forming a circle that connects us with our ancestors, as one.” You can listen to “The Unforgotten” on Spotify.

I’m proud of who we are, as Indigenous people. I’m proud of what we’ve fought for, and how we continue to fight for our culture, our languages, our children, our women, our men, our earth and our water. But I’m also proud of all my non-indigenous family and friends who continue to fight along with us. This song is for all of us. Let’s all dance together! – Iskwe

Iskwe will be performing during the 2018 Canadian Music Week Festival in Toronto, on May 11.

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