Here’s a clip of Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience, here in their natural habitat of Bergen, Norway. It’s “Me In You”, a track that can be heard on their most recent record, Declaration of Dependence from 2009.
In addition to being a reminder of their skills in creating melancholic, atmospheric music that seems to fuse pop, jazz, and samba-like rhythms, this clip gives you an overview – literally – of their hometown. It was the first video that the duo directed themselves, although I’m not sure whether it was Erlend Øye or Erik Glambek Bøe , the two KoC principles, who oversaw the remote-control camera (if that’s what it was!).
This clip touches on a two of my personal passions. One is accessible, intelligent pop music that pulls from disparate sources and eras, yet is still to be considered as wholly original. The other is city planning designed for humans and human happiness, not for cars, for developers, or real estate speculators. Just look at that town. Beautiful.
And there’s a point. How does one’s environment affect the way one’s music comes out? Is there a correlation? And how does it play out here? Read more
Here’s a clip of bi-coastally based power pop indie outfit Wildlife Control, aka a pair of brothers, Neil and Samul Shah. It’s the video for their 2011 single “Analogue or Digital”, the lead track from the band’s recent 4-song EP Spin. The syblings-turned- bandmates live on opposite coasts of the United States; one in Brooklyn and the other in San Francisco, respectively.
This video was created by the brothers in February of 2012, using a full day of stop-motion, time-lasped filming at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. What you’re seeing is one continuous, day-long take from sunrise to sunset.
Listen to this track by New Mexico originated, now Portland OR-based indie pop stylists The Shins. It’s “Simple Song” as taken from their most recent full-length LP Port of Morrow, their fourth, and the first release from the band for five years.
The record and the single represent something of a triumphant return for James Mercer, the principal songwriting force around which the Shins as a musical unit is based. On this long-awaited return, Mercer collaborated with producer, and performer and songwriter in his own right, Greg Kurstin. He also worked with a number of new musicians to make up the ranks of the Shins, as well as a number of sessioners to aid in filling out and building upon the sound for which the Shins is famously known.
The song itself is one that deals in transitions; a new relationship, a newborn daughter, and the evolution of a band as well, with former bandmates leaving the Shins to be replaced by new members. But, of course, there are other themes to be found here of a more universal nature.
Here’s a clip of 21st century folk-rock meets post-punk London five-piece Dry The River. It’s their single “The Chambers & The Valves”, the third release from the band’s 2012 record Shallow Bed, their first full length. The group released this song on an EP of the same name in 2009, during a time when they were building up momentum to their debut.
The band formed that year, then consisting of Peter Liddle (Vocals, Guitar), Will Harvey (Violin) and Jon Warren (Drums), later to be joined by Matt Taylor (Guitar) and Scott Miller (Bass). They’ve since signed to Sony, and Shallow Bed was released in North America on April 17 of this year. Despite being a London-based band, and having built up an audience by way of appearances at key European festivals, the band recorded this song and the rest of the record in Bridgeport, Connecticut under the watchful eye of producer Peter Katis (Interpol, The National).
The band also garnered attention starting off as a completely self-contained entity, releasing their initial EPs on their own, and making their own videos. It was one of these that caught the attention of Sony. Here’s an excerpt from an interview on NPR, talking about how YouTube led to being signed by Sony. Read more
Listen to this track by 21st century art-rock purveyors, and progressive Bristolian collective Hi-Fiction Science. It’s their Krautrock meets Afrobeat meets post-punk 2011 track “Kosmonaut” as taken from their self-titled album Hi-Fiction Science, released on their own imprint Negative Drive.
The band arose “out of the ashes” of another band, Suncoil Sect, in the late 2000s. It’s comprised of Maria Charles (Vocal), Jeff Green (Bass/Keyboards/Percussion), James McKeown (Guitar/Keyboards/Percussion), Matt Rich (Keyboards/Samples), and Aidan Searle (Drums/Percusssion).
The Bristol-based band manages to fuse influences as diverse as Public Image, Ltd. with Can and Neu!, while throwing in some groove-oriented jams for good measure.
This is an art-rock approach that seeks a wider audience, gaining airplay via Stuart Maconie on BBC6 . And more recently, the band tied themselves into a continuum of progressive British music by providing a cover version of The Pretty Things’ “Private Sorrow” on the Fruits De Mer compilation album Sorrow’s Children.
“Kosmonaut” came out of a single drum pattern, growing into a groove, and with added spoken-word material added later on.On hearing it, I was interested in the amalgam of art-rock textures against what is clearly a groove-oriented approach to composition. So, I asked drummer Aidan Searle about what inspired this track. Talking it over with his bandmates, Searle said,
‘The track was initially born out of collective improvisation triggered by the afrobeat drum pattern. Inspiration from Can and Metal Box-era PIL both fed into the track’s subsequent evolution. The spoken word passages were developed at a later point to give a sense of narrative that reflected the atmosphre of the music’.
Where did that spoken-word section come from?
The initial inspiration for words came from Hunter S Thompson’s early ’70s lament in Fear and Loathing for the failure of the ’60s to fundamentally change the nature of society.
Which is all very well and good. But, Searle mentions that this tune is a band favourite in a live setting. What makes it so fun to play?
“Kosmonaut” is one of our earliest compositions and is a consistent feature of our live set – it’s great to lock in on the ‘Death Disco’ four to floor beat in the first half of the track.
Listen to this track by modern bluesman and national steel guitar-slinging songwriter Chris Whitley. It’s “God Left Town”, a deep cut on his 2004 Internet-and-gig only album, and his ninth, War Crime Blues. The song showcases Whitley’s skill as a guitarist who is able to hold the threads of an arrangement, and of emotional currents together by the strength of six strings, and a foot stomp.
This is to say nothing of his voice, which here is like a voice of one crying in the wilderness. It’s like hearing the words spoken through a sandstorm, obscured by the noise of emotional turmoil as created by the roiling lines of the guitar. And then, the whole thing just stops.
It’s hard not to connect this song, and others on War Crime Blues (such as a cover of the Clash’s “The Call Up”) with a time of unique absurdity, when wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged with seemingly no end in sight, and for no definable purpose. By the time this record was created, George W. Bush had been inexplicably re-elected after initiating all of that. It was high time for a protest record.
Yet, really it seemed like a record or a song that crafted well-reasoned arguments as to why the war in Iraq was immoral, nonsensical, and waged clearly to protect the private interests of corporations was not really going to cut it anyway. No one was listening to reason.
Luckily, Chris Whitley’s record, and this song, isn’t about that at all. It’s about something more primal than that.
Listen to this track by St. Catharines Ontario favourite son and effortlessly awesome singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, with his former collective known as The Uncool – Steve Charles on bass, and Don Kerr on drums and backing vocals. It’s “Don’t Mind Losing”, a jubilant Moondance-era Van The Man style acoustic soul-pop gem as taken from his 1991 independently released album Grand Opera Lane.
The song, and the album off of which it comes exists as something of a prequel to his major label debut Ron Sexsmith in 1995. You can hear the decidedly different tone and approach to presentation and style characterized by more overt soul and rockabilly references.
Ron Sexsmith had spent some time living in rural Quebec, letting his dream of becoming a songwriter steep while mapping out how he was going to pay for his life in the meantime. While working out how to bring his talent to the table of the music industry, he had a wife and newborn son in tow, with a daughter soon to join them by the end of the 1980s. So, in returning to St Catharines, and then to Toronto, he had to secure a day job as a courier, wondering if his real calling as a songwriter and musician would ever really come to fruition.
It’s a pretty common tale, many versions of which we’ll never get to hear from songwriters who never found their path.
With that in mind, never has a song about feeling set upon by circumstance and existential despair sounded so bright and bouncy, gleaming with horns, a seriously groovy bassline, and ecstatic backing vocals. But, in all of that aural joy, where does it connect with where Sexsmith was going as a professional musician?
Listen to this track by Alexisonfire splinter project authored by singer, guitarist and songwriter Dallas Green, working under the moniker City and Colour (an expression of his own name – both city and colour. Geddit?). It’s “Fragile Bird”, a tale of night terrors, love, and helplessness as taken from the 2011 album Little Hell.
The song was released as a single earlier this year on this, Green’s third album under the City and Colour name. And this song is a prime cut on a record released during a year of new starts for him, with this new solo record coming out while his primary band, Alexisonfire was in the throes of a crisis, leading up to their break-up in August. Green had split his time between the two concerns, as his work under the City and Colour soon eclipsed that of his work with Alexisonfire.
“Fragile Bird” is a dark tale, a night song that pits a man against the uncontrollable forces of a fitful sleep, and not his own. This is the unrestful sleep of his wife, wrestling with her own mind while suffering from night terrors while he is forced to watch, helplessly.
This is certainly some dark subject matter. But, what else is at the heart of this song? Read more
Listen to these tracks from Hamiltonian art-rock concern The Foreign Films, as led by one multi-instrumentally inclined Bill Majoros. It’s the double A-side “Night Without The Day/Glitter”,
The new songs provide something of a taster to the upcoming album, serving as the next chapter leading up to the act’s upcoming full-length LP to be released in 2012. This is rock music on a grand, cinematic scale, yet with the intimate feel of musicians creating sounds in collaboration, balancing rock, orchestral pop, Beatles-esque psych, all the while using warm cellos and strings, bolstered with subtle electronic ornamentation.
Majoros ramps up some darker textures on these tracks when compared to the Fire From Spark EP released at the tail end of last year. I spoke with Bill Majoros in an interview with the Foreign Films around that time, and he is still concerned with telling stories in his own way through his work, with the help of talented guest musicians and friends on the extremely fertile Hamilton music scene. This time, the stories are moodier, with starker images, and a bit darker all around than before on these two songs.
This darker territory certainly isn’t a reflection of where he’s at personally or professionally, with growing interest in his work in the UK and in Europe becoming something to note. His White Album-esque song “Lucky Streak“, among others, appears on NME.com in video form, with all kinds of potential to reach an audience hungry for new sounds. This is appropriate, given how much of the music coming out of Britain, particularly ’60s British Invasion guitar rock and psych, has helped to shape what Majoros is doing in the 2010s.
The advantage Bill has with the band is that it can take whatever form he wants it to take, being its principle creative mover. Yet, he is open to seeing where the process takes the music, with plenty of input, as always, from guest musicians. To this idea of an evolving sound for the Foreign Films, specifically on these songs, Bill’s said:
“We’ve been pushing ourselves a little further, and it seems that the songs are coming out edgier. It’s been an exciting process. We might have another double A-side before the record, and we’re working on the details right now.”
This slow trickle of releases has helped Bill drive himself forward, excited about what’s coming out of the sessions.
” We wanted to find the magic in every performance,” he says. “No experimentation was frowned upon. No concept was inconsequential. We didn’t stop until every piece of our imaginative puzzle was complete.”
But, when’s the album coming out?
“I’m hoping late Spring, but I’ve still got about five more songs to complete, so it will depend on creative process a bit. Saying that, things have been going very, very well lately. ”
Here’s a clip of Burt-Bacharach-Brian-Wilson-Carole-King-Todd-Rundgren classic pop inheritor, and singer-songwriter from Montreal Ben Wilkins. It’s the video for his new single “Through To You” a tune featured on last year’s Back Of My Head EP , and now a shining gem on a full-length debut record of gems, 2011’s Ben Wilkins.
Formally trained in music at Montreal’s McGill University, and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Wilkins built up his skills in playing music for the sheer fun of it by developing a solid base of composition, singing, harmonic theory, and some arranger’s chops into the mix. A love of AM radio singles of decades past endured all the while.
As a result, his approach to arranging and recording involves a seriously sumptuous and lushly-realized sound that pulls from orchestral pop traditions which gelled and became immortal at the end of the ’60s. But, here we’re reminded that just because a sound is closely associated with an era, it doesn’t mean it’s stuck there. As such, what we’ve got here is the kind of thoroughly enjoyable contemporary pop record that we’re always complaining never gets made anymore. The decade in which it was made doesn’t really matter.
This is classic pop.
After receiving a preview copy of the record, I spoke with Ben via email about the making of this song, the video ,the album, about the spirit of classic pop, and the elusive idea that music may or may not be the universal language. Read more