screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: March 2016

Introducing… Small Awesome

Photo: Mr. King / Chris Hall

Photo: Mr. King / Chris Hall

A small number of people making some rather awesome music. What better name to call yourself, then, than Small Awesome? Their new album Songer (Sickroom Records) takes minimalist lo-fi electrified indie rock to scraggly new heights.

Based in Chicago, Small Awesome is Faiz Razi on strings and vocals and Jim MacGregor on strings and hi-hat. That’s it. And that’s enough. Though for the new album, they’re joined by Matt Engstrom (Pro from Dover (?)) and Brent Mix (saxophone therapy). Their previous recordings are two EPs, Awesome (2011) and Still (2012).

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Pretty Music and an Ugly Video from James Edge and the Mindstep

Up for a little adventure? Meet James Edge and the Mindstep. It’s an appropriately named band, as this music definitely has an uneasy edge, and when you listen, if you fully trust and let the music transport you, that first step your mind will take is mighty steep. But it’s well worth the journey. This is experimental chamber folk, taken to the extreme. Edge (that’s James Edge, not to be confused with the Edge) has gathered together a room full of skilled instrumentalists and provided them with just enough musical notation to give them a rough idea of the song’s structure. And… GO! What you hear is spontaneous composition and experimentation in its purest form. As for the video, that’s something else entirely. If you think the music is completely unhinged, you’ll definitely want to buckle up for the video. It was a collaboration with animation genius Ross Butter, and let me just say, this dude is one sick bastard. And I say that with great respect.

Based in London, James Edge has a background in composition, studying with Joe Duddell (arranger for Elbow and New Order). In 2010, he formed James Edge and the Mindstep, they recorded their debut In The Hills, The Cities, and have worked with engineer and sometimes co-producer Tom Aitkenhead (Bloc Party, Laura Marling). The jazz-folk trio — Edge, double bassist Andy Waterworth and drummer Avvon Chambers — borrows from modern classical, jazz, folk and punk, to create music that’s compelling, raw and more than a little unnerving.

Their On A Red Horse EP will be released on April 15th on award winning Folkstock Records.

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Eric Bachmann Returns To Tug at the Heartstrings, Again

photo by Jeremy M. Lange

photo by Jeremy M. Lange

It’s been 10 years since Eric Bachmann’s last “solo album,” To The Races. Included in that collection of masterful songwriting was “Man O War,” which I had the pleasure of witnessing live at a Cooked Fingers show at TT’s back in 2011. Though I respected Archers of Loaf as a seminal band of the ’90s, I was never very familiar with their deeper catalog. My appreciation for the heartfelt singing and songwriting of Eric Bachmann was solely due to his musical forays as a solo artist and with Crooked Fingers. On Bachmann’s new album (released March 25 on Merge Records), he continues his introspective and heart-tugging compositions, though perhaps from a somewhat older and even more contemplative perspective.

“Kill your idols and your fables
take your weapons off the table
it’s only mercy now, that you need in your world
lay your burdens on my shoulders
for a while until it’s over
I’m going to love you like we’re all each other have.


Are we seeing a more peaceful, more resigned Eric Bachmann as he approaches middle age? Not quite.

“But don’t you dare believe them
when they try to tell you everything happens for a reason
because it doesn’t mean a goddamn thing
there’s chaos in the violins
and it’s so insensitive to claim
when there are those who suffer
suffer for no reason every day.”

Here’s a man grappling with life and love and fate and the concept of destiny, not quite accepting, at least not at face value, any of it. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. In the end, and it’s pretty corny but ultimately true, love really does conquer all. And that’s despite everything not being perfect. As for those idols and fables, they help us cope with the seemingly impossible to take on board. Like those unfathomable truths of death and loss. I have a feeling he’d be the last one to say he has the answers, but he definitely has some valuable insights to share, and he does so without preaching or casting judgement, as one would with a close friend.

“Carolina,” another song from the new album, makes the heart swell with sentimental regret and longing, Bachmann’s warmly caressing vocals making the song instantly personal, before you even know what he’s singing about. It’s an extraordinary gift.

In a recent session for the A.V. Club, Bachmann performed a gorgeous acoustic version of “Dreaming” (also on the new album) with a string quartet.

Bachmann will be touring with a 5-piece band beginning on April 13 in Athens, Georgia and winding down on June 5 in San Diego. He’ll be performing in tiny clubs, which is exactly the type of place where you want to hang out and share life’s experiences with a trusted comrade.

04/13 — Athens, GA — 40 Watt
04/15 — Arlington, VA — IOTA Club & Cafe
04/16 — Carrboro, NC — Cat’s Cradle Back Room
04/17 — Asheville, NC — Mothlight
04/19 — Portsmouth, NH — The Music Hall Loft
04/20 — Pawtucket, RI — The Met Cafe
04/21 — Cambridge, MA — Lizard Lounge
04/22 — Philadelphia, PA — Johnny Brenda’s
04/23 — Brooklyn, NY — The Bell House
05/06 — Grand Rapids, MI — Pyramid Scheme
05/07 — Chicago, IL — Schubas
05/20 — Seattle, WA — Sunset Tavern
05/21 — Portland, OR — Mississippi Studios
06/03 — San Francisco, CA — The Chapel
06/04 — Los Angeles, CA — Bootleg Theater
06/05 — San Diego, CA — Soda Bar

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A Fitting and Festive Eulogy for Johnny D’s!

The closing of a legendary neighborhood institution after 47 years (2 months, 13 days) seems too big to try to sum up in a lowly article. There’s the importance of this fine club for the many bands that graced its small stage, artists that somehow fell outside of the usual rock fare of most of the other venues around town. These were bands that were rootsy, country, bluegrass, folk, world music, singer-songwriter and others that were ‘none of the above’ (Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, anyone?). Johnny D’s was also extremely important for, ok, I’ll go ahead and say it, the older folks who still love live music, but can’t deal with the bootcamp atmosphere of Boston’s rock clubs. Johnny D’s had a comfortable homey roadhouse feel, with tables where you could enjoy a nice dinner and an intimate musical performance. They had an amazing history of artists, both local luminaries and world-famous names, and they will be greatly missed. However, the stellar send-off for this wonderful venue was done in pure New Orleans style, with fantastic music from local legend Ken Field and his phenomenal Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, the equally stellar Harpageddon and a traditional second line parade around Davis Square.

Ken Field and the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Ken Field and the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Harpageddon -- and one melodica

Harpageddon -- and one melodica

My personal remembrances of magical evenings at Johnny D’s date back to pre-blog days, when I worked at Northeastern Records. Several of our bands played shows there (Barry and Holly Tashian, John Lincoln Wright, Shirim, the impossible to classify Bud Collins Trio and the equally impossible to classify but definitely not country or bluegrass Cul de Sac, and those were the heady days for me during my brief stint in the music business. Johnny D’s was also where I had the great honor of seeing people like Butch Hancock and the inimitable Townes Van Zandt.

Johnny D’s was also the place where I unwound for a low-key but deeply satisfying evening with a few exceptional cover bands, such as Rust Never Sleeps.

In the absence of this home for rootsy rock, Americana, country, folk and bluegrass, it’s uncertain if any other venue will step up to take its place to welcome those kinds of bands in a smaller setting. Let’s hope so! In the meantime, we’d like to wish owner Carla DeLellis and her loyal staff the very best in their future pursuits. And do check out the official Johnny D’s site, which for now has been left up as a tribute, with much gushing praise and many articles. Share your own memories on their guestbook!

Queen of the Festivities, Carla DeLellis

Queen of the Festivities, Carla DeLellis

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Iggy Pop Returns with Post Pop Depression

Leave it to Iggy to just cut through all the shit and release a new album that is, at once, muscular and delicate, crass and sophisticated, buoyant and sardonic, in your face like a giant bear and cunning as a panther.

Iggy Pop’s new album, Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista) comes out on March 18. It’s an amazing collaboration with Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age). Homme co-write and produced the album, and he contributes guitar, bass, piano and backing vocals. They’re joined by guitarist Dean Fertita (QotSA, The Dead Weather) and drummer Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys). Not too shabby a lineup, and the result is suitably ferocious.

But suffice it to say (and no disrespect at all intended to these fine musicians, who are really spectacular on this album), if he had Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Aphrodite supporting him, it would still be an Iggy Pop album. Such is his immense personality and formidable paw print, you understand.

Besides the fact that the man positively slays it and puts every other “dangerous punk rocker” to shame at age 68, the album is deliciously, wickedly diverse, surprising at every turn. It’s frightfully literate and introspective, shiver-enducing and musically bold, with elements of hard rock, gothic-chamber, experimental, spoken word, blues, punk — and maybe even carnival music and dark cabaret. Holy fecking crap. It has all the wistfulness and whimsy, thumb-nosing and gravitas that comes from such an important artist looking back at such a long, wild ride.

It’s impossible to choose highlights from such a masterwork. Let’s just say “most jaw-dropping moments” — the oddly Asian old warrior reflections of “American Valhalla”; the layered guitars to vaguely African percussion to prog rock to breathy angels to classical dark circus music of “Sunday”; the harrowing spoken word and wailing lament of “Vulture”; the visceral chant followed by the angst, longing and massive modern world purge of “Paraguay.” Truth is, the entire album feels like a full-on purging of all the crap of our world and a desperate search for what is real and true. Bless you, Iggy.

As for the title itself, word has it that Iggy may be retiring, which, if true, is no doubt the reason for the critical look back and blunt appraisal of today’s reality. Let’s hope that ‘Post Pop Depression’ is mostly tongue in cheek and is just Iggy being clever and messing with our heads, which he’s so damned brilliant at doing.

“There is nothing in the stars, if you fail to move
there is nothing in the dark, it’s just some old excuse.
hanging on, let it go!”

– Chocolate Drops

They’ll be touring around the U.S. and in Europe starting on March 28 in Seattle, with a stop at Boston’s Orpheum Theater on April 11. In the meantime, pick up this amazing album immediately.


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Introducing… Lila Rose

photo by Daniel Garcia

photo by Daniel Garcia

Soulful tribal animal magic, anyone? Lila Rose, originally from Canada, now resides in Oakland, California, though you’d be forgiven if you thought she just stepped out of the Amazon rainforest. For her completely entrancing music, she combines delicate synthesizers, minimalist percussion, repetitive chant-singing and her otherworldly vocals into a musical prayer. Her latest album, WE.ANIMALS., was released last year (on OIM Records), and she just released the curiously childlike and triumphant “All The Beauty.”

“All the beauty that awaits
At the end of the struggle
It’s worth it it’s worth it
All the beauty that awaits
At the eye of the storm
Well it’s perfect I’m stronger now

– All The Beauty

The song, speaking as it does to the struggles and joys of life, is both fragile and triumphant. As she says in her interview on Yahoo! Music, she is both blessed and cursed with extreme sensitivity to sound, which gives her a special gift in her music creation, but which can also be very uncomfortable. As she says about her latest song, “All The Beauty”:

“For me, music is a kind of therapy — so the words came out as a way of reminding myself to hold on, to trust that good things were/are on their way. However, in order to get to the good stuff, sometimes you just need to let go, and be immersed in all the grief, sadness, and confusion a situation might provide. Sort of like a mantra, I would say to myself over and over again ‘the beauty is coming, the beauty is coming, the beauty is coming’ (repeat repeat repeat repeat) as a way of somehow giving the emotions a meaningful and important place in my life.”

“WE.ANIMALS. is a concept album about the interconnectedness of all life, including our Earth. It is a call to action, it is a plea, it is a lullaby, it is a love story between my heart and all creatures everywhere. Including you. ‘We’re animals lest we forget it.'”

Purchase “All The Beauty,” “WE.ANIMALS.” and Lila Rose’s other music via her Bandcamp and support this amazing artist!

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Introducing… RKCB

Here’s something a little different from what we typically cover here, but which has us properly entranced. From Los Angeles, RKCB specializes in an indie-soul sound that sounds a bit retro, in all the good ways. Their music has a futuristic vibe as well and is definitely steeped in synthesizers but, unlike most other music in that genre, it’s rather minimalist, tasteful and doesn’t take away from the smooth as molasses warmth of the vocals. Rather, it enhances it. Nice job, guys. Their latest single is “Future Being.”

If you like what you hear, they’ve also released their 6-track Short Films EP, which is available as a free download.

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