musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

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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

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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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Finding One’s Clan

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I was walking around in a strange city. I heard music being played, in a few different places. I followed one of the songs and discovered a band playing in a clearing, in a small public park. At first, I sat on a ledge above where they were, as I saw that others had done this. But immediately after I sat down, a strange man sat down next to me and starting staring at me, so I got right up and left.

I walked down to where the band was and stood near them. There were iron bars that separated the band from passersby.

The band was extremely good. They had a violin player, guitars, drums, etc. I don’t recall how this happened, but the show had ended and I was now at the home of one of the musicians, sitting and chatting with them on an outside patio or front porch. There was a man with long hair and a woman. At first, I thought they were together, but I think they were just friends or bandmates/housemates.

It was a very cool-looking neighborhood, with many tiny houses lined up like row houses, and some people had their beds right in the front yards, with hippie types of decorations. It had a Scandinavian vibe, very lose and free-spirited, so I was thinking that this was somewhere in Europe.

I asked them if this area was special to them, if they enjoyed living there and if it had some special meaning for them. The woman answered that it wasn’t the place, but the people. She said something about this other woman she knew, and I got the feeling this girl was her partner. Then I responded with something like how I hadn’t “found my clan” yet, and I mentioned how my best friend was really my only close friend.

They said, “it’s not too late,” and I explained that I was in my ’50s, but they still thought it wasn’t too late for me to find my clan. They were very nice and laid back, and I felt that I could be happy there.

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Unprepared for a Bowie Rehearsal

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I was in a very large room. But it wasn’t just a room — it was a huge, wide tower or majestic structure high off the ground, and I sat with a few hundred others around the rim of this enormous cavern.

The room was rectangular in shape, and at the far side, standing on a ledge facing us, was David Bowie. He was working with us on some sort of project he was doing, acting as our choral director, as he led us in performance, singing something from his last album — or possibly a new work.

He spoke for a while. I was trying to take it all in, but it was quite heady and sophisticated, so I didn’t completely understand everything that he said.

Then everyone started singing. The place had amazing acoustics, since it was a giant chapel or church tower. I wasn’t familiar with the song and didn’t know the words, but somehow, I figured them out as we went along that first time. It sounded incredible, like a huge professional choir, and it was extremely moving.

We must have been chosen to work with him on an album or live show, and we were rehearsing our parts. Then something happened. He was talking to us some more, and then we were to sing again. I’m not sure if a bunch of new people had joined in or what it was, but when we began again, we were all out of tune and not in sync with each other. I could no longer recall the words, and others struggled as well.

Bowie must have been frustrated with what he was hearing, because after a little while, he spoke to us again and said that he decided we should work with someone else until we were comfortable with the music, before working directly with him again. He went on to say that obviously not everyone had listened to his new music and some weren’t familiar with it. It was like a scolding or accusation. He said he was handing things over to some woman who would work with us instead.

I felt disappointed, of course, but it was completely understandable. I mean, why should he waste his time, when we were obviously so unprepared? Though I couldn’t figure out what happened, since we sounded so wonderful earlier.

It was as though the magic had been lost.

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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.

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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

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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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The Missing Dog

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I was in a large school with different floors, walking around and looking into various classrooms, all of which were very different in mood and purpose. One room was air-conditioned with a tranquil bedroom layout. Others were more traditional. Some were art studios, psychological evaluation rooms or sensory labs.

At one point, I was holding a small dog. I was supposed to bring it somewhere. It was light colored and shaggy. Then suddenly I didn’t have it and I freaked out, wondering where it was.

There was a professor, maybe a doctor or psychologist. I may have been trying to find his office. Was it his dog? And then there was a closet, or perhaps it was the doctor’s small office, and there was a big water leak at the entrance and another large leak inside. Water was spraying everywhere. I ran to tell someone, and soon there were plumbers or janitors looking at it.

I was roaming the hallways, looking for the dog. I saw other dogs running through the hallway, but not the dog I was trying to find. In several locations, I also saw cats. A few were running after mice. Another was sunning itself in one of the rooms. It was quite strange.

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The Bowie Installation

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A facility, a gathering, a celebration
a myriad of different rooms,
though I gravitated to a room where there
was David Bowie music playing.

Was it a memorial?
The music was challenging—some of his more obscure work
I was alone, listening, standing in this installation.

There was a structure, a large archway,
where speakers had been set up.

As I stood underneath the magical archway, entranced,
others came into the room.
Somebody marveled at the obscure, unusual music.

We all moved to a round table in a banquet hall,
next to where this installation had been mounted.
I carefully set up 4 or 5 place settings of drinks,
and then placed a dish of nuts in the middle.

My movements, as I did this,
felt precise and purposeful,
as if with spiritual intent.
We all sat down at this table,
to talk about David and share our stories.

[10/11/17: This may well have had something to do with Dale Perry’s My Bowie Story collection — it’s out now! Purchase it at Amazon.com — Proceeds to Save The Children]

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

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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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