Oberlin students Nathan Swedlow (bass), Matt Gold (guitar), Saul Alpert-Abrams (guitar) & Julian Cartwright (violin)
Sporting the playful moniker Beards and Bass, this Oberlin quartet has been seen and heard playing hot club jazz (or gypsy jazz) tunes on a regular basis around campus and in town, including at the twice-monthly Observatory Open House events on the rooftop deck of Peters (pictured above).
On April 9th, WOBC jazz director Adam Hirsch invited the group into Studio B to play live on his show, Shades of Blue. You can listen to the three classic standards they played below. Fans of Django Reinhardt will be right at home.
Daniel Rossen, the guitarist/composer of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles acclaim, has been relatively inactive in the record world in recent years. Since the release of Grizzly Bear’s electrified masterstroke Veckatimest in 2009, Rossen has released a collection of old Department of Eagles demos and contributed a cover to Crayon Angel, a Judee Sill tribute album. After a three-year drought of new material, Rossen has finally released his long-awaited debut release as a solo artist on Warp Records: Silent Hour/Golden Mile, a five-track EP of all-new Rossen originals.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this release is that Warp gave Rossen free reign over the creation of the music; besides the help of some brass players, a lap-steel guitarist, a drummer on one track, and the masterful mixing of Nicholas Vehrnes at the Rare Book Room in New York, Rossen played almost every role on the record: composer, producer, performer, and engineer. The result is a personal, intimate product of Rossen’s solitary creative process.
“Up on High” kicks off the EP in classic Rossen style: soft acoustic guitar and vocals reverberate with huge force, painting a wide-open soundscape filled with fresh air and soothing chords. Other instruments are gradually brought in and out of the mix: tom-toms pound, a bowed upright bass moans, cymbals sizzle and fade away, all suddenly filling up the space and clearing away like waves on a shore. The whole situation seems like an expression of Rossen’s new freedom to create holistically, without any pressure from producers or collaborators; he seems to be talking to himself when sings, “In this big, empty room / Finally feel free / To sing for me”.
The whole EP really sticks to this idea of the music being a kind of emancipation for Rossen. Compared to the earlier music of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles—in which Rossen’s vocals are double-tracked and muddled beneath electronics and his own slippery articulation—Silent Hour/Golden Mile is a crisp, clean statement of his lyrical and musical ideas. The record tables a lot of the more abstract sounds heard on previous Rossen releases and adheres to a stripped-down, acoustic presentation of his songs. You can really hear this restrained economy of ideas on “Saint Nothing”, the fourth track on the EP: the slow, steady pulse of three simple piano chords recalls “Herring Bone” from Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park, while a gorgeous array of french horns, trombones, and trumpets meander softly in the background, confirming and responding to Rossen’s solemn vocals. The music is infinitely spacious and reposed, breathing in the fresh air of the blue desert twilight pictured in the EP’s cover.
Although Rossen has been hard at work developing his solo material, he is still keeping busy with his other projects. He has commented that some of the music on the EP was originally supposed to be on the new Grizzly Bear record (which is currently in the works), so we may expect the band’s new music to be influenced by Silent Hour/Golden Mile’s stripped-down vibe. The new EP, while showcasing a newfound spaciousness in Rossen’s sound, is also a great example of his development as a producer and engineer. With this release, Rossen is joining the ranks of people like Sufjan Stevens and Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi), who play the solo musician-as-producer role better than most. With Rossen’s growing versatility as not only a musician but a creator of records, we can only expect his other projects to become more diverse and independent as a result.
You know the financial crisis has been going on for too long when bands as generally uplifting as Passion Pit can’t help but write songs about it. That’s not to say Passion Pit, founded and lead-singered by Michael Angelakos, did not just release a soundly uplifting and catchy new single. “Take a Walk” continues to perfect the upbeat, unabashed pop sound of the band’s music but is captured through a wounded and more personal filter.
The song opens with a sober introduction of flutes, accordions, and bells, that together sound sorrowful but are almost immediately replaced by a loud driving kick, happy organs and synths, and toy pianos. The song is not disjointed. It’s well-written, well-arranged pop, that leaves room for dancing, singing, reflecting, and most of all listening. In my opinion one of the best aspects of Passion Pit’s debut EP, was that it interested me as a student of music theory and player of music and as a dude in car with loud speakers. In an interview with Pitchfork, Angelakos mentions his love of trying to craft perfectly written songs, cited his major influences as Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen, among others, and mentioned his love of honesty, which apparently he claims is more and more absent from indie music nowadays.
Angelakos writes from the point of certain players in the recent financial meltdown, singing of ‘cowards’ blaming ‘socialist pigs’ for not ‘[admitting] they’re in need.’ It may sound contrived but he pulls it off simply through honesty in his lyrics. He’s telling the story of which we’ve been all been a part over the last few years and manages to convince us we might be okay, though times are still pretty shitty.
Remember when this guy came to the Sco? You know, everybody’s favorite DIY pioneer, R. Stevie Moore! You don’t know who he is? That’s probably because he’s “criminally underexposed.” Here’s a brief timeline of some of the (really cool) things he’s done throughout his life and also some of the sad things that have happened along the way.
1952: born in Nashville, TN
1968: started smoking, lost virginity to a 39 yr-old married woman, 1st job at Lazy Suzan Restaurant
1971: dropped out of Vanderbilt University
1975: recorded Beatles’ instrumentals
1976: first album Phonography released by Uncle Harry, toured midwest with Billy Anderson’s band
1978: released Delicate Tension, with new songs and sound experiments that he wrote after moving to Montclair, New Jersey
1981: began fulltime DJing at WFMU (Jersey City)
1982: launched the R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club
1988: got first VCRs, began making home videos, cocaine era
If you’re like me, then the idea of attractive, young-looking, Irish man-twins launching a semi-successful pop career through various music contests and the obsessions of ten year old Irish girls is like the best thing ever. Fortunately for us, Jedward exists. Made up of 20 year old (its okay, they’re legal) twins John and Edward, Jedward rose to a mild level of fame among tween girls in the UK and Ireland after their appearance on The X Factor in 2009. They were described by then-judge Simon Cowell as being “Not very good and incredibly annoying” (which is actually how most people would describe Simon Cowell, so whatever), and lost the competition. Then they released a CD of all the songs they covered on the X Factor, and did some other stuff, including releasing another album, modeling, doing charity whatever, being real cute, and representing Ireland in the 2011 and 2012 Eurovision contests.
No, they cannot sing well. No, they cannot dance well (although they do cartwheels and handstands and stuff sometimes). Yes, you will want to mute your computer and pretend to be looking at something else when you watch the videos below and someone walks past. But, if you are like me, you’ll probably enjoy it all the same. And if you dig it, don’t worry. They have another album coming out next month.
The four members of Philadelphia band Son Step draw from their diverse backgrounds in jazz, rock, folk and music from around the world to write and perform tight, rhythmic pop songs. Pat Lamborn, Matt Scarano, and twin brothers Jon and Chris Coyle all attended Temple University in the jazz studies department and now each have their feet in a wide variety of projects in the Philly music scene.
In April they toured the midwest, stopping in Oberlin between shows at The Happy Dog in Cleveland and at The Empty Bottle and The Burlington in Chicago. The band recorded some live takes of a few songs in WOBC’s Studio B, including a couple of new ones slated for an upcoming full-length album. Listen to those recordings below, and check out their Bandcamp page to listen to their past releases!