Alain Johannes, who is most commonly known for his work with Natasha Shneider and Jack Irons of the band Eleven, recently released his solo debut, Spark. Johannes is a well-known guitarist and producer in the music industry as he has worked with various prominent groups including, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan and Chris Cornell. Johannes gives a wonderful and impressive collection of tunes that together are under thirty minutes. He uses a diverse number of instruments including his homemade cigfiddle, a harmonium and a contrabass guitar. Spark is dedicated to Johannes former wife and band mate, Natasha Shneider. Throughout this short album, he explores ways in which to deal with the loss of his partner. It’s a touching reminder that sometimes, we are lost without the ones who are close to us, but find a way to move on with that love.
Released February 22, 2011–and reviewed here just in time for her show next Tuesday, April 3 at Fairchild Chapel–Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place is a dove’s chirp of folky ambiance. The Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-raised artist’s debut album was much anticipated after three hit EPs. The Magic Place is a chanting choir of phantasmal angels dipping in and out of the tiny serene lakes of your ear drums. Imagine echoes of tonal whispers one on top of the other that make you forget that there is an anxiety-filled world waiting for you after the forty-five minute record is finished. Barwick loops her own voice on top of itself again and again into an orchestration of competing hums. The occasional piano or percussion is hardly noticeable, as the sheer number of transformations of her voice are so subsuming. Off of Asthmatic Kitty Records, this ethereal pop fits the most important criteria of my music checklist: it is great for half-awake later afternoon naps. If you can plan you day around it, try to lie in bed in a room with western lighting around six pm and let Julianna dive right into your half-dream half-daze. Dinner will taste unbelievable, promise. Just to retreat to a self-promoting tangent, chances are you’ll hear her on my show, ‘Rambunctious Syllabus’, each Wednesday from 10-11 am here on WOBC.
Some other good ways to listen that I’ve tried: while drawing patterns in colored pencil; sipping a smoothie on a porch; After settling into a warm bubble bath.
It’s great multi-task music. It’ll put you in a zone, so to speak. The bath, the food, the homework, it’ll all become strokes of gracefulness. The secret about The Magic Place is that it can be anywhere that you are, it’s a state of mind. Clearly, there’s no reason to miss this album. And better to get acquainted before she comes to Oberlin so you can be alert for the scattered audible lyrics and sing along so you can join in on the chilled ecstasy. All the eye contact you might make at this show will turn into tear contact. A heightened sense of your own emotions, the feeling of your heat actually throbbing, what more could you ask for? I’ve included the title track on this point. The immense reverb and heaps of pounding joy are made for a spiritual sanctuary like Fairchild chapel. The tracks sway between one and another and the whole album makes a nine-part journey. Each one is like a new cavernous harbor of echo. Each new long-extended tone is unique and keeps you attentive along this misty pilgrimage. Definitely a gem to have here in the WOBC collection.
The Magic Place
2. Keep Up the Good Work
3. The Magic Place // Official Video
5. White Flag
7. Bob in Your Gait
Every week on my radio show, “Pitchfork vs. StereoBear,” I round up the best new music the internet has to offer. Stepping into the black hole vortex that is the world wide web is, needless to say, daunting– clicking through countless SoundClouds and RSS feeds, shuffling back and forth between multiple Google Chrome tabs, switching between “play” and “pause,” sensory overload is imminent and indeed inevitable. But through the sonic sludge, true winners emerge. Here’s what you should be listening to to start your 2012 off right:
Jangly, Italian power-pop with a MGMT Oracular Spectacular-era stomp. With a chorus made up of entirely of whirring noises layered seamlessly into singer Mauro Remiddi’s pitch-perfect “whooo-oooh’s,” this track off the album Strange Weekend, released in January by Secretly Canadian, is sure to keep you satisfied throughout the summer.
In the wake of Wolf Parade’s demise (R.I.P.), both lead singers Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug have taken on darkly catchy synth-pop side projects, Boeckner with Handsome Furs and Krug with Moonface. At only more than slightly two and a half minutes long, “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips,” manages to pack in a span of instruments- – electric guitars, synthesizers, drums, keys and bass. The thread that ties them all together are Krug’s distinct vocals and lyrics. This song, recorded in conjunction with the Finnish band Sinaii, comes off of Moonface’s upcoming second album Heartbreaking Bravery, to be released in April by Jagjaguwar.
Conservatory- trained pianist Julia Holter makes music that is beautiful, pure and simple. Maybe not classically beautiful, but surely haunting, ethereal, delicate and moving. With a backing track and a voice that would make Annie Lennox jealous, the whole song swells and then rises up again, despite only consisting of probably four lines of lyrics (don’t ask me to count, the song is almost 7 minutes long). If you like Kate Bush, Grimes or Bjork, I highly recommend you check out Holter’s blend of inspired chamber-pop.
After I found their EP Ice Levels on some random corner of the Internet, the genre listing for Ava Luna’s thrashing “Wrenning Day” curiously came up on my iTunes under the label “Soul-Punk.” While certainly quite the melange of musical styles, this categorization is actually strangely apt. Juxtaposing a thick bass line over back-up singers Becca Kauffman, Anna Sian and Felicia Douglass’s angelic harmonies, the song reaches crescendo with lead vocalist Carlos Hernandez’s outright wailing. Recently signed to Infinite Best Recordings, Ava Luna are without a doubt some of the most creative, energetic musicians performing today. See them live if you get the chance!
If you live in Fairchild House, you might have heard Usher’s unmistakable falsetto emanating through the halls of the third floor on what unfortunately appears to be an embarrassing regular basis. Uh, that was me….. Sorry I’m not sorry but this song is just too good. Partially arranged by classical music wunderkind and honorary member of Grizzly Bear, Nico Muhly, “Climax” is a perfectly constructed pop song, replete with a catchy bridge, chorus, verse, and you guessed it, climax. I am not kidding you, this song is actually addictive. If you disagree with me about this (there has been a fair amount of controversy among my friends recently as to whether this or “Burn” is actually the best Usher song, so you’re allowed), fine. If not…. you know what music to play next time I invite you to my room.
-Julia Pressman (Listen to “Pitchfork vs. StereoBear” Fridays at 9am!)
Released on Valentine’s Day, French-Canadian psych-pop-cum-rap-cum-experimental noise trio Phedre’s self-titled debut album is a wacky and weird ode to all the aspects of love and lust. Marketed on the group’s Facebook page as a “sleazy/dirty/sexy/romantic” hybrid of sound, the album combines electronic melodies with catchy and sometimes nonsensical wordplay to serve up a delicious, sweet, sticky stew of fun.
Leading off Phedre is the slow-burning noise droner “Tragique” which melts into the strangely haunting “Aphrodite,” a track whose instrumentals are partially composed of the sounds of an automated barking toy dog juxtaposed next to hymnal backing vocals. This first half of the album, ending with the bass-heavy, punky lament of “Ode to the Swinger,” firmly establishes Phedre as the Quebecoise answer to Ariel Pink, or at the very least, a goofier, less ear-splitting John Maus. The song most representative of Phedre’s oeuvre is the groovy, Of Montreal- esque “In Decay.” Accompanied by a very much NSFW music video, the song combines child-like vocals and an infectious hook to deliver what the band itself has described as a “spontaneous, half-drunken explosion.” The sense of longing explored on the following tracks “Dreams” and “Love Ablaze” are a first for the band but they connects sonically to the rest of the album through their use of ambient, head-bobbing bleeps and bloops and use of found sound. “Love Ablaze” is a stands out as an especially notable track on the album due to its lyrical content. Oddly reminiscent of 1960s’ wall-of-sound girlpop, full of swooning “oohs” and “aahs,” not dissimilar to the the music of the Shangri-La’s, the song provides an interesting detour from the rest of the fare otherwise heard on the album.
Clocking in at roughly 30 minutes, the entire album produces the effect of eating a bounty of foreign, off-brand sugary snacks–odd and full of flavors, but certainly tasty. Sure, you might get a stomach ache, but as the album’s last song “Glitter on Her Face” suggests, “What does it matter?”: You should do what you wanna do all the time, even if the whole world tells you no.
Stream all of Phedre’s self-titled album at Soundcloud.
You know Shel Silverstein, right, RIGHT? Uncle Shelby, the man who wrote “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “The Giving Tree,” “A Light in the Attic,” etc. etc. etc. AKA Children’s Story-tellter, cartoonist, performer, beat-poet, a sort of everything-talented-kinda-guy.
What you might not know is that Silverstein was a counter-cultural icon who was popular for his bawdy, sexual, drug-infused, profane, obscene, subversive and surreal performances (also wrote for Playboy. Make of that what you will). He made one studio album, the classic FREAKIN’ AT THE FREAKERS BALL (1969), which is far from being a children’s story-telling album or heart-warming poetry reading. No, Freakers Ball is one giant middle-finger to contemporary society. It’s an absurd cry in the face of respectability in which he sings about dangerously kinky sex, pornographic girls-next-door, giving heroin to your significant other (and how it’s kinda a drag), fascist pigs, sadomasochistic drag balls, double-endowed men, group sex songs, spoken-word diatribes (including the rather benign sounding Sarah Cynthia Sylivia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out) and other oddities that are still fresh. Some highlights include Liberated Lady 1999, Polly in a Porny, Stacy Brown got Two, and the rather surreal The Man that Got No Sign, a great, poignant beat poem which, amidst the album’s madcap antics, resonates.
It helps that Silverstein is a great singer, with a voice that is equal parts warbling, gravelly, smoky, and hilarious. The atmosphere is festive, anarchic, and free-form, with a healthy does of juvenile humor and potty jokes to make you feel extra dirty at the end of the day. At times you feel like you’re at some sort of late-after-hours nightclub filled with all your good friends, talking about art, politics, sex, and all that jazz in the most facetious way possible. Put on this record with a good sound system: you can almost smell thee weed emanating from the speakers.
Mostly remembered for his production on Neil Young’s albums in the late 60s, Jack Nitzsche’s varied musical talents served him well in the 70s where he rose to prominence as a film composer, which include works as varied as The Exorcist, Performance, An Officer and a Gentleman, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He initially began his career as conductor and arranger for Phil Spector, eventually having musical encounters with the Wrecking Crew, The Rolling Stones, and even Doris Day. However, Nitzsche’s musical arrangements and production skills with Neil Young were so impressive that he was given the chance to compose original orchestral music. St. Giles Cripplegate is the result.