Sometimes it all just gets to be too much, doesn’t it? The walls closing in, life’s seemingly endless cacophony of instructions and tasks, status seeking and stresses. And then there’s Lárus Sigurðsson, whose ethereal, meditative music just is. Imagine a crystal clear lake in the still of winter, surrounded by stately trees covered with fresh snow, so quiet you can hear your heart beating. You feel your mind slowly come to a point of rest, devoid of civilization’s clutter. Serenity.
Being from Iceland, Sigurðsson knows a thing or two about clear bodies of water in the pristine stillness of winter. With his experimental ‘ambient guitar’ and homemade musical instruments, this talented composer and multi-instrumentalist creates a magical portal through which you can leave your reality for a little while. Step through the “Entry by the Wolf Door.”
Lárus Sigurðsson is a formally trained musician and artist. He studied classical guitar at the College of Music in Iceland, musical instrument making at Emerson College in the U.K., had art teacher training at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and studied Art Theory at the University of Iceland. He has released six albums, the latest of which is We Are Told That We Shine, just released on the Dutch label Volkoren. On it, he is joined by Ólafur Josephsson (electric guitar soundscapes), Fredrik Robertson Boulter and Laura Wolfgang (choir), Angel Welp (cello) and Claire Ouille (violin). It was mixed and mastered by Jan Borger. The album can be purchased at YouMakeMusic.com
There’s nothing whatsoever smelly about the unfortunately named Poo Poo Patrol. In fact, this Boston/New York musical project is all about dreampop and whimsy, with minimalist experimental folk, a few sprinkles of electronics, tuneful harmonies and spacy or downright silly lyrics. I’m not sure what to make of “Thieves” (“Thievery of mind, spread through time all alone in the sun, it’s fun to track, the sand beetles along my back”), but I quite like the sentiments of “Wind Music” —
All the dirt here
Can’t be found
Miles under underground
Where there isn’t any sound”
These unusual and quirky experimental folk tunes are some delightful ear candy. The band just released their debut EP Nonguise. The mood gets rather rambunctious “Deep in the Rambles,” almost turning into a wacky Broadway musical towards the end. “Mice” begins as a piano ballad and breaks out into a something akin to a rock opera. These guys are weird. I like them.
Lucky New Yorkers can catch the band on June 24 at Freddy’s Bar and Backroom.
On their latest single, “Broken Guitar,” Louisville, Kentucky band Quiet Hollers tells the story of disconnection, or so it seems, accompanied by a quiet and somewhat haunting alt-country vibe.
I wrote a song on a broken guitar
and I played it for them
they told me it was out of touch
but I thought I had my finger on the pulse
of the nation’s youth, of a girl like you
of a few home truths I thought you already knew.”
– Broken Guitar
There’s delight to be found in these quiet moments, with the personal storytelling and intricately crafted melodies and harmonies. A hint of wistfulness permeates throughout in the soft strumming, subtle strings, tinkling bits of piano and plainspoken, reverb-soaked vocals.
Quiet Hollers released their debut album I Am The Morning in 2013 and their self-produced self-titled album last October, with a few singles from the latest album, including the stunning southern gothic vibe of “Mont Blanc,” with introspective storytelling from singer-songwriter and frontman Shadwick Wilde. It also has the amazing line “Shed a tear for the books I should have read.” Oh, the regrets! So sad, so beautiful.
The band is currently working on their third album, and they’re touring all summer, hitting towns across the midwest and elsewhere. They’ll be in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin and Colorado. Check their website for details. Two of their songs, “Cote d’Azur” and “Flood Song” were used in the cable TV shows “Kingdom” and “Guilt,” both airing this summer. In the meantime, grab their new single from iTunes.
Despite the fact that he is no longer with us, the stories about David Bowie are far from over. So prolific was this legendary artist, there are many songs yet to be heard that will no doubt see the light of day in coming years. His Twitter and Facebook feeds are more active than those of artists supposedly still in existence — yet more evidence of his eternal presence and lasting legacy. And yes, the stories from those who knew and worked with him keep coming in, uncovering a depth of knowledge about his work previously unknown of by even his most devout followers. One such story is of his time working with once Salem, Massachusetts-based maverick indie label upstart Rykodisc, and in particular, their A&R and Special Projects Director, Jeff Rougvie.
Rougvie had a job that Bowie fans could only dream about, which involved digging through the Bowie archives, listening to all the original master tracks of legendary albums and putting together a “wish list” for Ryko’s David Bowie Sound + Vision reissue series. This unveiling of an audiophile’s collection of CDs began with the ambitious Sound + Vision 3-CD plus CD-ROM box set, which went on to win the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Album Package. They then re-mastered and re-released all of his RCA albums, from Space Oddity through Scary Monsters.
Recently at CinemaSalem, located in the heart of this town on Boston’s north shore, Rougvie gave a presentation, ‘Bowie, Rykodisc, Salem: The Untold Story.’ If I were more savvy with a smartphone, I might have Periscoped it for Bowie’s fans worldwide, such were the gems uncovered — in story, visuals and song. It began with a comprehensive history of Rykodisc, a brave little CD-only indie label that achieved stupendous things back at its inception in 1983, but which has fallen into the shadows of rock history. When most people think of Salem, they have images of its witch-burning history and modern day pagans that still inhabit this still rather sleepy New England seaside town. Suffice it to say, a little bit of pagentry to celebrate the good deeds of this label that brought the first compact discs to the U.S. is long overdue.
Ryko's contribution to music aficionados' collections is vast.
I won’t go into Ryko’s impressive artist roster here (Frank Zappa, the Residents, Chris Bell and Big Star, Bowie, Elvis Costello, Jimi Hendrix, Devo, Nils Lofgren, Bob Mould, Yoko Ono, Galaxie 500, Misfits, Morphine…). You can see their Wikipedia page — or, better yet, Rougvie’s ongoing online retrospective.
In this amazing presentation, what was billed as a 90-minute show turned into three hours of hilarious anecdotes and delicious behind-the-scenes stories (I was going to say ‘dirt,’ but I don’t want to get him into any trouble). This was accompanied by a slide show with rare photos and internal record company documents and two blistering mini-sets from Boston-based Bowie aficionados The Daily Pravda. After the Ryko story leading up to Bowie, the band performed four Bowie songs, in stellar fashion (they’re really quite wonderful). Rougvie then launched into the Bowie portion of the show, which included an exhaustive (and exhausting) biography, some interesting stories about RCA and other entities and what went on when Ryko took over. This was accompanied by photos of Bowie (several of which I’d never seen before) and documents like master tape track listings and album tracks which included possible bonus material, some of which remains unreleased. By hardcore fan standards, it was intense, so you can imagine what the audience thought — a mix of big Bowie fans, casual fans and regular cinema visitors. The band came back and played another four songs to seal the deal for those who were still riveted to their seats in awe.
It is my hope that Rougvie takes this show on the road, because I know of many devout Bowie fans and collectors who would have loved to be there. Until that happens, if you’d like to learn about Bowie’s collaboration with Ryko on the reissues, discover what really happened behind the scenes and learn about the rare tracks that have yet to be heard, check out Rougvie’s Bowie Sound + Vision Blog. It’s crammed full of really interesting information for the serious fan and collector. And follow him on his Twitter and Facebook for any news of upcoming posts, publications and events. He did tell me that this was “just the tip of the iceberg” and that much more is on the way.
The Daily Pravda’s setlist: (set 1) Rebel Rebel / Ziggy Stardust / Man Who Sold The World / Moonage Daydream // (set 2) Starman / Drive In Saturday / Hang Onto Yourself / Heroes
Los Angeles-based HÄANA describes herself as a sound artist rather than as a musician, and listening to her otherworldly, ethereal violin exursions, one can understand why. This latest offering is a remix of her song “Brym Al Mar” by Dimond Saints, an Oakland, California duo, whose mission it is to expand the boundaries of electronic music. This musical interpretation conjures some heady magic, as a classical string quartet is brought into an exotic overseas dance hall. The result is hypnotic.
This is the first track from an album of different remixes of this beautiful song. You can preorder it here. It comes out on June 14.
HÄANA’s original song is inspired by a traditional Norwegian folk song. Her unique sound merges traditional Scandinavian folk music with the latest electronics and her exotic, mysterious vocals. She has opened for The Rolling Stones, shared the stage with Kanye West and has performed at some high-profile events, such as President Obama’s Inaugural Ball and Michael Jordan’s wedding (now, there’s a juxtaposition!). Her discography thus far includes three singles and two EPs. This stunning music can be heard on her bandcamp site, and please support this innovative artist!
HÄANA – Upcoming Shows
5/29 Lightning in a Bottle Festival, Bradley, CA
6/18 What The Festival, Duruf, OR
7/22 Enchanted Forest, Laytonville, CA
8/5 Arise Festival, Loveland, CO
This isn’t just any old rap from Emay (a.k.a. Mubarik Adams), a hip-hop artist from Hamilton, Ontario. His latest single, ‘Israfil’ (or “angel’s trumpet”) is so named for an angel in Islamic tradition that blows his horn to signify the day of resurrection. The angel’s trumpet (also the name of a poisonous flower) is a metaphor for life, in that, as the artist says, “its contents may be ugly at times but there’s a bizarre sense of beauty to all of its chaos.” The track, in which Emay speaks of the blind race for material success and the struggle for survival in a crazy world, includes a clip from American author, feminist and social activist Bell Hooks.
This fine artist is as eloquent in his explanation of his music as he is in the music itself, which blazes with the intensity of insightful social commentary and poignant self-awareness.
“Israfil or ‘angels trumpet’ is a track in which I explore my conflict with society’s expectations upon me as an artist and an everyday worker trying to ‘make it.'” – Emay
This powerful song is the first single from his self-produced debut album, Ilah, due out later this year. On the album, he explores his personal struggle with being a Muslim and the concept of God. As he explains it, “The entire project is essentially my development in thought from early life to now. Trying to find the Objective. In the sense that I’m searching for purpose in trying to see the world more objectively from a subjective standpoint.”
Anyone who says that electro-pop is devoid of humanity has never heard the music of Ozonna. This Nigerian artist who lived in London and is now based in New York wears his heritage proudly and combines raw and honest savagery with contemporary electronic dance music, tribal rhythms, world music and a smooth-as-silk voice in his just-released video for “Wonderland.” Filmed in Africa with a large cast of furry co-stars, this compelling, dramatic video would likely make a great tourism ad. It’s incredibly beautiful and it soars along with the swelling chorus.
Raised in London after his family migrated from Nigeria, Ozonna’s music fuses the culture of his birthplace and his adopted country. He performed around London, opening for artists such as Kyla La Grange, Alice Gold and Chrystal Fighters. On early singles (which can be heard on his bandcamp), he added ukelele along with the electro, giving him a unique sound and showing his versatility. When his single “Me & You On Top” was put into rotation in a half dozen U.S. markets and received some serious blog love (in 2013), it attracted some major label attention. His debut performance in New York was hosted by Rahim Wright, an Atlantic Records exec. He ended up moving to New York City that year and released his debut EP Believe It To See It last October. The official video for the title track also featured African heritage and scenery as a backdrop.
This EP features the contributions of many of music’s heavy hitters, including Grammy-nominated producer Jimmy Greco (Paramore, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus), Grammy Award-winning producer Scott Jacoby (Alicia Keys, Vampire Weekend, John Lennon) and producer and hit songwriter Russ DeSalvo (Santana, Celine Dion, Trisha Yearwood). Listen to four of the tracks below and pick up the 5-track EP on iTunes.
For some pretty, melodic and rather day-dreamy, ethereal indie pop, have look and listen to the music of Don Vail. On this latest recording, he was joined by some talented musicians — David Dunham and Bill Priddle (whom he’s worked with previously) plus Bob Wilcox, Jordon Zadorozny (Blinker The Star), Kori Pop and Luke Bentham (The Dirty Nil).
This video of psychedelic eye candy was directed by David Dunham, with video production by DIVORCE. The video credits also reveal that the flower footage was directed by Mitch Bowden, and I’d like to say a word about that flower. I was a little disappointed that even after all that water, the glass flower did not grow. But the music is still lovely.
Their debut self-titled release came out in 2009, and they’ve just released Fades. As one swims deeper into the waters of this new album, the music takes some unexpected turns into electronic space territory. Have a nice trip.
In the cluttered landscape of musicians trying to hit upon the next big thing or clinging to past successes and never venturing far from their established sound, it is refreshing to discover an artist in a constant state of metamorphosis. Eric Bachmann is best known for his seminal 1990s band, Archers of Loaf, though he’s a man who has never stayed still, neither physically nor creatively. He has restlessly moved from noisy, edgy indie rock to instrumental film soundtracks to alt-folk and Americana to dream-pop collaborations — and at one point, he quit music altogether.
One gets the impression that he was always on a mission of self-realization, a personal quest to find his artistic voice. With his latest solo album, an honest and engaging collection of introspective songs, he may well have found it.
Formative Years with The Archers of Loaf
Eric Bachmann was born in Greensboro, North Carolina and raised in Asheville. Early on, he majored in saxophone at Appalachian State University, but instead joined forces with guitarist Eric Johnson, drummer Mark Price and bassist Matt Gentling in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1991, to form the noisy and edgy Archers of Loaf.
The early 1990s were a fertile time for indie rock and college radio stations, and the band was enthusiastically supported, developing a cult following in indie circles. They released four studio albums — Icky Mettle (1993), Vee Vee (1995), All the Nation’s Airports (1996) and White Trash Heroes (1997). They also put out a compilation album titled Speed of Cattle (1996), an EP, a compilation album and three live albums. The last of these live recordings, ‘Seconds Before the Accident’, was released posthumously in 2000.
Through their releases and heavy touring, Archers of Loaf amassed a large contingent of dedicated fans and an abundance of press accolades. They regrouped for a surprise show in January 2011 at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. This was followed by a proper club tour to commemorate Merge Records’ rereleases of their studio albums.
The Instrumental Soundtracks of Barry Black
In 1995, Bachmann collaborated with producer Caleb Southern to release a mostly instrumental album under the pseudonym Barry Black (this was inspired by an inside joke that he was “the opposite of Barry White”). An informal series of sessions recorded at home with various Chapel Hill musicians turned into a serious project of adventurous atmospheric soundtrack music. It was released by Alias Records, the Archers’ label. Bachmann performed several instruments including organ, Moog, guitar, banjo, saxophone, drums and clarinet.
The music was inspired by everything from modern classical and world music to pop, folk and jazz. There were contributions from local musical luminaries such as pianist Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five), fiddler Bill Hicks (Red Clay Ramblers), trumpeters Chris and Jim Clodfelter (Geezer Lake), percussionist Chris Wabich and on vocals, Cat’s Cradle club owner Frank Heath. Barry Black released a follow-up album, ‘Tragic Animal Stories’, in 1997.
Temporary Retirement and Crooked Fingers
Shortly after Archers of Loaf disbanded in 1998, Bachmann, who was burnt out from the business, decided to quit music altogether. It was a decision that proved to be short-lived. He moved to Taipei, Taiwan and accepted a job teaching English to children. At the time, he intended to stay there for the rest of his life, but after a few months, he wanted to start playing music again. He purchased a cheap guitar and began writing the songs that would make up the debut Crooked Fingers album.
Crooked Fingers was a sonic departure from the raucousness of Archers of Loaf. With a revolving cast of musicians, the band’s music was a rich and darkly shaded blend of indie rock, alt-folk and Americana. Their lavish instrumentation over the course of ten years included guitars, cello, violin, double bass, trumpet, mandolin, clarinet, flute, sax, percussion and lap steel guitar.
They released six full length albums — their self-titled debut, ‘Bring on the Snakes’, ‘Red Devil Dawn’, ‘Dignity and Shame’, ‘Forfeit/Fortune’ and ‘Breaks in the Armor’. On their ‘Forfeit/Fortune’ album, there were guest appearances by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa), Brian Kotzur (Silver Jews) and Neko Case (The New Pornographers).
Short Careers – Bachmann’s Collaborations and Solo Projects
It wasn’t until 2002 that Eric Bachmann released his first proper solo album, the amusingly titled ‘Short Careers’. It was an instrumental soundtrack album for the indie film ‘Ball of Wax’, about an evil baseball player consumed with greed. The album picked up where Barry Black left off, now under Bachmann’s own name, and would mark his first attempt at film scoring.
He followed this up in 2006 with his second solo album, ‘To The Races’. This austere and powerful collection of folk ballads features Bachmann’s gravelly vocals and acoustic guitar, with guests Tom Hagerman on violin and Miranda Brown on vocals. Its introspective nature and sparse instrumentation may have had something to do with the environment in which it was written — living out of his van in the Seattle area.
Though Crooked Fingers continued to be Bachmann’s main vehicle for his music, he worked on other musicians’ projects as a producer, arranger, engineer and multi-instrumentalist. He made appearances on recordings by Azure Ray, Micah P. Hinson, Laura Minor, David Dondero and Liz Durrett (Bachmann’s wife, who performed on Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor album and played with them live). He joined Neko Case’s touring band in 2013, playing guitar and piano, and continued to work on new songs for his third solo album, which saw its release on Merge in March 2016.
Boldly and Modestly into the Future
On Bachmann’s latest self-titled solo album, he openly and honestly shares his insights and contemplations with mature, introspective songs that examine such weighty topics as life, love and loss. His recent intimate performances, presented as a classy yet humble career retrospective with songs from every project and album, seem to be at once paying tribute to and closing the book on his past, to focus more fully on his solo career. His decision to retire Crooked Fingers and release this new album with his name and nothing else is the artist fully unmasked, venturing forth with newfound creativity and confidence.
After a funky beginning with jazz horns and shuffling percussion, Icelandic musician Júniús Meyvant (a.k.a. Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson) opens his mouth to sing, and it’s not what you’d expect. Instead of a Nordic growl conjuring Vikings of yore (his blond and bearded look fortifies this image), what issues forth is a smooth, retro ’70s soul vibe and some downright ethereal bits of falsetto. It’s jarringly wonderful.
This song of comfort and hope, ‘Neon Experience,’ was filmed in Stúdíó Sýrland Vatnagarðar near the harbor in Reykjavik for his Spotify Session. It comes from his debut album, ‘Floating Harmonies,’ which is due out on July 8, on Record Records. You can preorder a physical copy on Record Records’ site.
“Don’t let your mindset fool around
don’t let the whole world drag you down
new day will come, come around.”
– Neon Experience
The song reached 91,000 plays and charted at number 2 on Hype Machine. In his native Iceland, he won the Best Newcomer and Best Song Icelandic Music Awards and received nominations for Best Male Singer and Best Song. His music has been played on BBC Radio London, Radio X and Amazing Radio, and he has regularly toured around Europe. In the U.S., his debut single ‘Color Decay’ was chosen by KEXP’s programming director Kevin Cole as Song of the Year, with praise for his guitar playing, in addition to his singing. His music effortlessly melds authentic-sounding soul with folk and pop sensibilities.
For now, you’ll have to be in Europe to see a live performance. Júniús will be playing at London’s Bushstock festival with Dan Croll on June 18th, and is set to embark on a European tour beginning in September. See his official site for dates and details.
P.S. – Just released (5/17) is the official video for ‘Neon Experience,’ a fascinating ‘day in the life’ mini-documentary of an Icelander and his young son. A convincing tourism advertisement if I ever saw one!