Finally, part III of my ‘band roundup’, which includes The Willowz, The Bloody Beetroots, Har Mar Superstar, Yacht, and John Forte. If you’re in one of the bands I’m profiling and there’s new information, please let me know, and I’ll add it in.

Part III – The Willowz, The Bloody Beetroots, Har Mar Superstar, YΔCHT, and John Forté.

The Willowz

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Based in Anaheim, California and first formed in 2002, The Willowz features Richie James Follin, Vocals & Guitar; Jessica Anne Reynoza, Bass Guitar & Vocals; Loren Shane Humphrey, Drums; William-Lewis Mclaren, Guitar & Vocals. Their influences include ’70s and early-’80s punk, ’60s garage rock, blues-rock, and soul.

They contributed two songs to the soundtrack of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004 (and he worked on their music video “I Wonder”). Two of their songs, “Making Certain” and “Ulcer Soul” were used in the 2006 film The Science of Sleep. They’ve released several albums on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label and did a split single with the band Scarling. Their sound has been compared to The White Stripes, with a Stooges influence.

Their new album, “Everyone” (Dim Mak/Downtown Records) will be released November 17. For now, have a listen to “Repetition”.

The Willowz: “Repetition” mp3

Discography (albums)

Chautauqua (Dim Mak, 2007)
Talk in Circles (Sympathy for the Record Industry, April 2005)
Are Coming (Sympathy for the Record Industry, February 2005)
Willowz (Dionysus, 2004)

Official site | MySpace

The Bloody Beetroots

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Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo, an Italian producer from the hamlet of Bassano del Grappa, founded the Bloody Beetroots, his electronic alter ego, in January 2007. In the Beetroots live and dj sets, he’s joined by DJ Tommy Tea, and he’s recorded 45 remixes and has performed on several world tours. In 2007, he was signed to Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak label, releasing the EPs Rombo, Cornelius, and Warp (featuring Aoki). Rifo and Aoki recently formed a hardcore punk band called Rifoki, with plans to release an album in 2010.

Bob Rifo’s early influences include Seventies comics, classical music, rockabilly and Eighties punk, electronica and new wave, which all comes through in his musical experimentation and live performances.

(from their press release): “Whether Rifo is channeling the spirit of Beethoven, The Misfits, or something in between, The Beetroots’ primary objective is to incite a dancefloor riot.”

Bloody Beetroots’ debut album, Romborama (featuring appearances by The Cool Kids, Vicarious Bliss, Justin Pearson from The Locust and many more), is due out September 8th. The album incorporates all musical genres from pop, punk, electro, acid and hip hop to classical music, house and techno. Have a listen to “Awesome”, which features The Cool Kids.

The Bloody Beetroots: “Awesome” feat. The Cool Kids mp3

Discography

Cornelius (Dim Mak Records, 2008)
Romborama (Dim Mak Records, 2009)
Warp EP (Dim Mak Records, 2009)

Upcoming Shows

Sep 3 2009 6:00P – Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo + Peaches DJ Set @ Diesel Radio – On Air, World
Sep 4 2009 1:00A – The Bloody Beetroots DJ Set @ Magnolia Parade -Milano, Italy
Sep 11 2009 1:00A – The Bloody Beetroots DJ Set @ Bestival – Isle of Wight
Sep 12 2009 8:00P – The Bloody Beetroots Live Appearance + Skunk Anansie @ MTV Day – Genova, Italy
Sep 26 2009 8:00P – The Bloody Beetroots DJ Set @ Kindergarten – Bologna, Italy
Oct 31 2009 8:00P – The Bloody Beetroots Hallo DJ Set @ Telus Theatre – Montreal, Quebec

MySpace

Har Mar Superstar

HarMarSuperstar

Sean Tillmann – the singer, songwriter, and producer behind the Har Mar moniker
indie and Top40 dance music – croons his way through 70’s and 80’s style synth-pop, R&B and dance music, paying a comical but I think not insincere homage to those genres, as exemplified by such artists noted as his influences – Prince, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner & Elton John. Looking at the guy, you really wouldn’t match him with his voice, and yet he can definitely sing. The Independent said of his live act, “The (glorious) humour to his act led many to dismiss him as a novelty, but make no mistake: this guy’s got what it takes. He can write a killer tune, sing a mean falsetto, and do it all – literally – standing on his head.” He pulls this off quite convincingly, but his lyrics give a nice counterbalance and tells you he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“Lookin’ out in the crowd, I see a lot of hotties
Tell me, which of you will be my mommy?…”
“I’m resisting the urge and turning on the telly
Baby, don’t you have something to tell me?
It’s 4 a.m., my brain has turned to jelly
Come on, baby boy, pick up your celly.”
– DUI (Club Mix)

His upcoming album, Dark Touches, includes a song called “I Got Next” (featuring The Bird and The Bee‘s Inara George), which details Tillmann’s practice of asking women to sign contracts that put him next in line to date if they ever leave their current boyfriend. The ladies’ anthem, “Girls Night,” a track intended for The Cheetah Girls, maintains the original lyrics, written from a female perspective.

His previous albums include Har Mar Superstar (2000), You Can Feel Me (2002), and The Handler (2004). Dark Touches is due out October 13th, and includes many guests such as producer John Fields (Andrew WK, Jonas Brothers, Rooney), Clark Baechle and Jacob Thiele of The Faint, singer-songwriter Adam Green, P.O.S. of the Rhymesayers collective, Neon Neon’s Boom Bip, Flowers of Doom, and Samaire Armstrong. Greg Kurskin of The Bird and The Bee co-wrote “Tall Boy” (listen below), a track originally intended for Britney Spears.

Har Mar: “Tall Boy” mp3

Tillmann is also about to make his Hollywood debut in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It, and is actively developing his own movie scripts and sitcom pilots.

Upcoming Shows

Sep 5 2009 5:00P – FYF Fest @ The L.A. Historic State Park – Los Angeles, California
Sep 6 2009 10:00P – Hotel Congress – Hoco Fest 2009 – Tucson, Arizona
Sep 13 2009 9:00P – The Uptown Bar – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sep 26 2009 9:00P – Pappy & Harriet’s Palace – Pioneertown, California
Oct 6 2009 8:30P – Casbah – San Diego, California
Oct 8 2009 8:00P – The Echo (w/Boom Bip & Ke$ha) – Los Angeles, California
Oct 9 2009 8:00P – Sandbar (New Noise Santa Barbara Festival) – Santa Barbara, California
Oct 10 2009 9:00P – The Uptown (w/The Heavenly States & HotTub) – Oakland, California
Oct 12 2009 8:00P – Club Vegas – Salt Lake City, Utah
Oct 13 2009 8:00P – Hi-Dive – Denver, Colorado
Oct 14 2009 8:00P – LaunchPad – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Oct 15 2009 9:00P – Emo’s (Inside Show) – Austin, Texas
Oct 16 2009 8:00P – Lounge on Elm Street – Dallas, Texas
Oct 17 2009 8:00P – Super Happy Fun Land – Houston, Texas
Oct 21 2009 8:00P – The Drunken Unicorn – Atlanta, Georgia

Official site | Har Mar Superstar’s MySpace | Har Mar’s MySpace | Sean Na Na’s MySpace | Wikipedia page

YΔCHT

photo by Sarah Meadows

photo by Sarah Meadows

I’m not quite sure what to make of these guys. YACHT (which stands for “Young Americans Challenging High Technology”) consists of Jona Becholt and Claire L. Evans, who, from the looks of things, seem to be trying to channel David Byrne and Annie Lennox (as much as one can channel living, breathing, vital people). I’d be very careful, guys, as you’ve chosen two unique and brilliant artists to model yourselves on, so you better have something really, really interesting to say. [and yes, the triangle in their name is intentional; see their official site or MySpace for the explanation.]

Their just-released new album, See Mystery Lights (DFA Records), had an interesting inspiration. From their press release:

“Two years ago, while traveling through the West Texas desert on tour, YACHT experienced firsthand a paranormal phenomenon called the Marfa “Mystery Lights.” This experience was a catalyst, and they soon moved to Marfa, Texas, to work and develop their already-acute interest in religion, ritual, and mystery.”

Reading their biography on MySpace… “YACHT is a Band, Belief System, and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans of Marfa, Texas and Portland, Oregon, USA.” The rest of it is quite funny, and more than a little creepy. “Strictly speaking, YACHT does “perform music.” YACHT provides inspiring Teachings of constantly changing elements: PowerPoint presentations, immersive audio, live audience audits, and shamanistic video environments.” Live audience audits?? They end with “YACHT IS NOT A CULT.” and “No additional information will be divulged for the time.” Hoo boy. And I say “hoo boy” as a person who has been interested in the paranormal, metaphysical subjects, and spiritual discovery all my life.

I suppose the real question is: are these guys for real, or is it a mockery of the New Age movement and religious dogma? Is it an art project making some sort of socially relevant statement? Surely, this is the first band I’ve come across that has a Mission Statement.

Now, if this was being done with tongue firmly in cheek (see Har Mar Superstar above), I’d say “Awesome, that’s hilarious. Great.” Problem is, I don’t think they’re kidding. I believe that they think they’re making a serious statement here. Their new video for “I used to live in a psychic city” shows a priest and a pagan performing various rituals. They address the hypocrisy of religion, as these two symbolic figures attack and fight each other at the end. And then they (literally) kiss and make up. Aw, that’s nice. This really isn’t anything terribly new, and yet they present it with a reverence that suggests it is. It’s less that religious people might be offended; I’m all for that, when one has an important message to convey or something interesting to share. But I don’t think this has either.

Psychic City

“I used to live in a voodoo city
where every little thing happens in a secret life
and I’d be washing up the dishes
and the kitchen might say
hang around baby baby, hang around baby baby, hang around baby,
we’ll be baking a cake for you.”

These are the type of lyrics (along with electronic music that includes this periodic, incredibly annoying “water drip” sound) that accompany the religious symbolism in the video. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition that’s the point here, but it doesn’t do anything for me. It seems cheesy and hokey (and not even fun cheesy and hokey, like the ’80s bands Soft Cell and Romeo Void), and I don’t think that’s the intention.

So let’s strip away all that shit and have a listen to the music. Simplistic and “throw-away” lyrics, which is fine; that’s a valid songwriting style if there’s something underlying… but there doesn’t seem to be, unless it’s so subtle that I’m missing it entirely. The electronic beats and composition, while there are some high points, doesn’t sound like anything new or interesting. “Summer Song”, for me, is one of their stronger tracks. This one sounds like more an amalgam of influences, though according to their Pitchfork review, the track was written as an homage to LCD Soundsystem. This song is hypnotic with a good beat, though lyrics like “move your feet to a summer song” sound kinda inane, and I’d prefer to hear more obtuse vocalizations ala Dead Can Dance. Perhaps it’s because I’m a lyrics person, I get caught up in listening to them as words and phrases rather than an instrumental sound, so for me it breaks the spell of the music. I also understand the comparison to The Tom Tom Club, but I think they lack the musical and lyrical sophistication of that band.

I’ll give them one major compliment here – I’ve gone on and on and discussed their music much more than I have other bands I’m profiling, so obviously they inspire, be it perhaps in a negative sense. And that’s never a bad thing.

Upcoming “shows”

(or whatever one would call them)

+ = with Yeah Yeah Yeahs
& = with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Breeders

Sep 4 2009 – Brooklyn, NY @ Glasslands
Sep 7 2009 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom+
Sep 9 2009 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theatre+
Sep 10 2009 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theatre+
Sep 11 2009 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle (12am set)
Sep 12 2009 – Portland, OR @ Old Town Block Party (FREE) (9:30pm set)
Sep 13 2009 – Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue+
Sep 15 2009 – Pomona, CA @ The Fox Theatre+
Sep 17 2009 – Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre&
Sep 18 2009 – Madison, WI @ Orpheum Theatre Lobby, 11:30 pm set
Sep 19 2009 – Urbana, IL @ The Canopy Club, 11 pm set
Sep 30 2009 – Exil – Zurich, Switzerland
Oct 2 2009 – Nuit Blanche – Metz, France
Oct 6 2009 – Club Folamour! @ Point Ephemere – Paris, France
Oct 7 2009 – Katapult @ Studio 80 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oct 8 2009 – Make Up Club – Gent, Belgium
Oct 9 2009 – MC2 – Grenoble, France
Oct 10 2009 – Bicycle Film Festival – Milan, Italy
Oct 12 2009 – Nasty Mondays @ Apolo – Barcelona
Oct 15 2009 – Misfits Club @ Redrum – Helsinki, Finland
Oct 16 2009 – Rust – Copenhagen, Denmark
Oct 17 2009 – Prieka Maja – Riga, Latvia
Oct 24 2009 – San Diego, CA @ The Loft – UCSD, 10 pm set
Nov 14, 2009 – Miami, FL @ Electric Pickle

Official site | MySpace

[Additional information if you happen to enjoy these guys. They’ve released a “Psychic City” digital single with seven tracks (which includes three remixes, a song called “Suicide” and two mixes of “Waste of Time”). The “Psychic City” remix by Joe Goddard from Hot Chip can be streamed or downloaded from RCRD LBL. Also, they’ve posted (free) instrumental versions of the songs from See Mystery Lights. Finally, there’s a mixtape of music by other artists that inspired them while recording the new album.]

John Forté

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From the bizarrely esoteric and emotionally removed to the gutsy, down to earth and personal. Brooklyn, New York-based John Forté is a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer, and classically-trained violinist. He’s also an ex-con, having served seven years for drug trafficking, pardoned by George Bush (of all people) in November of 2008. He’s best known for his work with The Fugees, having co-written and produced two songs on the their Grammy-winning 1996 album, The Score.

His songs are a mix of rap and softer R&B, with some reggae flavoring, and even ballads. Very wide ranging, with a stark honesty and introspective quality.

Rap isn’t a genre I’m very familiar with, but at its best, it’s social commentary and personal storytelling at its most hard-hitting, as valid in a literary sense as a Dostoyevsky novel. Unfortunately, the rap music that has made its way up from the underground into mainstream consciousness, for the most part, has been tremendously watered-down or in the cliched realm of violence-provoking, misogynist, or at least, meaningless tripe. This, however, isn’t any of those things.

John’s songs range from highly intelligent, powerful raps about his revelations while incarcerated (as in “StyleFREE” and “Play My Cards”) to soft folk/R&B, love songs and personal introspection, as on “Best That Love Could Be” (featuring Ben Taylor) and “Life Has Just Begun”. A bit of reggae comes in for “What A Difference (feat. Dinah Washington), the theme of redemption continues, but with a different feel and sound, nicely put together with a touch of horns, backing vocals, and the contribution from Dinah Washington. After a lovely piano ballad, “All The Pretty People”, I realize that this guy is really different. And immensely talented. In fact, I see he’ll be performing at the Paradise here in Boston, so I’ll try to go see him. Not sure if all the musical and vocal nuances will come through in that setting, but we can give it a try.

He also does a remarkable if unlikely rap cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. His life experiences and history gives the song an added poignancy, and in addition to the lyrics being fantastic, musically it flows like honey from the familiar chorus to the rap verses. Very impressed with this.

His newly released “StyleFREE the EP” includes hip-hop tracks as well as ballads like “More Beautiful Now” and “There We Are” with honest, heartfelt lyrics and powerful insight. Listen to “Play My Cards For Me”:

John Forté: “Play My Cards For Me mp3

Since his release from prison last December, Forté has been working on his music, writing his memoir for a recently signed book deal, has performed with various artists (including Ben Taylor and David Saw) and he works with at-risk youth at “In Arms’ Reach”, a Harlem-based arts, counseling and mentoring program for the children of incarcerated parents.

Official site | MySpace

John Forté’s Rap (Rolling Stone, August 27, 2002)

Upcoming Shows

Sep 9 2009 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, Massachusetts
Sep 10 2009 – Highline Ballroom – New York
Sep 17 2009 – Bohemian Caverns – Washington, DC
Sep 18 2009 – World Café Live – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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