Listen to this track by pianist, world-traveler, arranger, and singer-songwriter Asia (pronounced Ah-sya) Mei. It’s an early single “Big Apple Tree”, the outlier to the new album released this past summer Introverse, and her second.
Asia was born in Russia, raised in Israel, and can now call herself a one-time New Yorker too. While traveling and honing her craft, she’s thrown her hand into many phases of music making, from writing, to arranging, to autotune editing for other artists in the studio. The feelings of restlessness and movement comes through in her writing as well, full as it is of shadows and light, and boltered by playing that is the product of formal training at Boston’s Berklee School of Music.
Now in Boston with her musician husband Andres Wilson, all of her travels have culminated into this tune, a tale of reflection on the city of New York, as much a cultural presence as it is a physical one.
I exchanged emails with Asia about her career and about the Introverse record which was released this summer, and abetted by her growing fan base who helped her to fund it.
I asked her specifically about this song, which had been a single before it came to reside on the new record. This is what she had to say about it. Read more
Listen to this track by a young and hungry Athens, Georgia quartet R.E.M. It’s “Radio Free Europe”, a song that would be represented in a re-recorded form on their first album Murmur by 1983. The song would first be a single recorded on the independent Hib Tone label two years beforehand. The single was produced by Let’s Active prime mover Mitch Easter. It would eventually appear in this original form on the 1988 compilation Eponymous.
This version was recorded in the summer of 1981 before their deal with I.R.S records which would put out Murmur and set them on their path to pop greatness. This earlier take of the song moves at a faster clip, with scrappier playing, and with characteristic impenetrable lyrics that showcase Michael Stipe’s unique vocal style.
The pop sensibilities are locked into place, even this early on, helped production-wise by Easter, who knew a thing or two about jangly guitar music that hearkened back to a mythical, musical golden age, yet also infused with a modern sound.
So, how did a song that started off on an independently recorded and distributed single become one of Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 songs (at number 379) of all time?
Listen to this track by Seattle-born, New York-based singer, violinist, loop technician, Of Montreal string-arranger and touring member, and songwriter K Ishibashi, aka Kishi Bashi. It’s the sumptous-yet-spacious “Manchester”, an impressionistic and post-modern narrative about a narrative as taken from the EP Room For Dream.
The song is the opening track on the EP, an ever-expanding soundscape that is, at once, airy, organic, and with a touch of hopefulness balanced against melancholy. Musically, the song is an amalgam of pan-cultural textures, from sparse Far-East flavouring, to western classical aesthetics, and delivered in the similar kind of cinematic orchestral pop packaging as a Mercury Rev, or Flaming Lips.
After seeing Kishi Bashi perform as an opening act for Sondre Lerche (and then join Lerche’s ensemble as a backing musician on violin, guitar, and keyboards) at the Biltmore Theatre here in Vancouver, I had a chat with him via email about the business of cultural crossover, about the importance of location in the songwriting process, and about what Beethoven would have made of loop technology.
Listen to this track by London-based experimental chamber folk-pop collective Pillarcat, joined on this track by Lamb vocalist and solo artist in her own right, Lou Rhodes. It’s “The Fragile and the Few” as taken from the band’s full length album Weave.
Pillarcat is led by singer-songwriter Stephen Hodd, who seeks to mix the textures of John Martyn, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Sigour Ros, and beyond into his work. The title Weave then is honestly come by, and the resulting sound is at once cinematic, pristine, atmopheric, and evocative.
Hodd wrote and produced the record himself, drawing on a pool of guest talent that includes the aforementioned Lou Rhodes, but also violinist Ben Lee, virtuoso drummer Emre Ramazanolgu, and vocalist Gitta. Spanish guitarist Pablo Tato and Italian drummer Alberto Voglino round out the regular membership of Pillarcat, making the band something of a cultural amalgam when joined with Ireland-born Hodd.
I spoke with Stephen via email about recording an ambitious record on a limited budget, about experimenting with sound while getting an accessible feel, and about what comes next for the band.
Here’s a bit of a diversion from the norm, good people. Since I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of cool music over the last few months, since Spring is beginning to assert herself, I thought I’d do a bit of a round up here as a sort of best of winter ’11. These are the acts I’ve not had the time to talk to directly, but I’d still like to present to you.
Some of these acts I’ve talked to before which you’ve seen here on the ‘Bin, and their new records have come out. Others I would have liked to have interviewed, but the schedules didn’t jibe. Nevertheless, here’s a treasure trove of indie goodies for your perusal. There’s lots of music here from across the pop spectrum, and bound to be something here just waiting for your instant devotion.
Listen to this track by Midwestern psyche-pop masters Hushdrops, made up of John San Juan, Joe Camarillo, and Jim Shapiro. It’s “Divine” a sumptuous Brian Wilsonesque tune featured on the group’s 2003 album, Volume 1. The song reveals the band’s love for the Beatles and the Beach Boys, along with heavy dollops of late ’60s chamber pop, so much so that the Webb Brothers (sons of Jimmy) covered one of the songs (“Summer People”).
When it comes to “Divine”, this is one of those songs that you don’t so much hear, as be enfolded by, taken up to some sonic high place via strings and ah-ah backing vocals, along with drummer and co-writer Joe Camarillo’s plaintive lead vocal.
Yet, this isn’t the whole picture with the band, who regularly played shows that demonstrated their live rock chops. As such, the group seems to live quite comfortably in the ‘slash’ in pop/rock.
Well, I talked to the song’s co-writers, multi-instrumentalist John San Juan and with drummer and singer Joe Camarillo, via email about this song, about the record, about that slash between pop and rock, and about ‘making the listener feel loved’…
Listen to this track from guitar/drums duo from Durham, England Sand River, made up up of guitarist/lyricist/singer Simon Robinson, and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Guy Siviour. It’s the final track on their 6 track EP, the cleverly titled Sand River EPcurrently for sale on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Sure, these guys eschew a bass player, and have some blues influences on some tracks. But don’t stripe these guys white or make with the black keystrokes just yet.
Sand River liberally use folk picking, jazz-inflected drumming, and hypnotic time signature experiments that go far beyond what you might think of as viable for an indie two-piece. Guitar and drums are used less as blunt instruments and more like sonic paintbrushes, with Robinson’s vocals way up front. The lyrical content is also expansive, perfectly suited to music that takes its time, rather than taking no prisoners.
I spoke to the guys about the perils and pleasures of a minimalist instrumental set-up, how less really can be more, and more details about who this Emma might be.
Listen to this track by unabashed rock singer-songwriter from Sydney, Nova Scotia, Carmen Townsend. It’s a key track off of her upcoming record Waitin’ and Seein’ released January 25, “Without My Love”. It’s one of many tunes she offered to an adoring crowd on January 11 at Vancouver’s Railway Club (579 Dunsmuir Street) to ramp up the release.
I was invited along to the event to see the show and to get a chance to meet Carmen. After the show, I got to ask her about how the record came together, about how she felt free to share her songs to begin with, about how Loretta Lynn figures into her music, and about her next exciting step as a performer; going on tour with a couple of her heroes. Here are my impressions of the show, and that brief interview on video too.
Listen to this track by Hamilton Ontario psych-pop outfit with post-punk overtones the Foreign Films, a vehicle for the songwriting of former Flux A.D member Bill Majoros. It’s “Fire From Spark” as taken from the Foreign Films EP, a herald to the upcoming full length album currently in production as of this writing.
If one can pin a key musical arc onto the best of music from the Twenty-first century so far, it would be that the divisions between genres and eras of pop music have become very, very fuzzy indeed. This is perfectly illustrated by the Foreign Films, a concern that shares a family tree with acts who are pushing the pop envelope including Feist, Great Lake Swimmers, and Holy Fuck.
Putting new meaning to the word ‘pop gems’, the facets which you get on multiple listens to the EP reveals the influences of post-punk, ’60s girl group sounds, and pop-psychedelic excursions, just to start with.
I spoke with Bill Majoros, the central figure to the Foreign Films in all of the band’s incarnations on record and on stage. We talked via email about connections with pop music past, about crafting a sound as personal soundtrack to one’s experience, and about what the seemingly disparate worlds of classic soul music and modern indie music have in common.
Here’s a clip from Maccaesque indie singer-songwriter Kori Pop (her real name, kids). It’s the self-made video for her song “Nowhere Near My Heart”. For the video, Kori used scrapbook materials and paper dolls which she also made herself. You can get the full story on the making of the video when you click through.
The song is a single as featured on her debut record From The Outskirts. You can download the single FOR FREE!
Kori Pop writes pop songs that demonstrate an exceptional feel for nuance in tone and texture. Her influences that draw from a classic period of pop/rock songwriting don’t make her music sound like a cynical stylistic calculation. Rather, her music sounds like a continuation that the self-same classic pop era hoped to inspire.
I spoke with Kori via email about her song and video, about this sense of songwriterly inheritance from the heyday of singer-songwriters in the 60s and 70s, the DIY spirit needed to be an indie musician in the Twenty-First Century, and about how earning a listener on one’s own steam is a far greater reward than being a part of a calculated hype machine.