Special Feature: Can’t Miss Summer Music Festivals of 2015

16 Apr

Hello Music Court readers. I am happy to re-introduce Beth Kelly to the Music Court pages who has a special feature on some excellent summer festivals. With that, take it away Beth.

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Ah, sweet summertime. While most of the Midwest is still de-thawing, it might be hard to remember a time when the air didn’t hurt your face. But with hotter days ahead and warm evenings on the horizon, soon it will be time to pack up the car, grab some friends, and hit the road for one of the summer’s best music festivals. From the small and the scrappy to the big and (let’s be honest) overblown, let us help you find the fest that fits best. Read on for a few I’m excited about myself!

Movement Electronic Music Festival – Detroit, MI / May 23-25th

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After the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival brought together hundreds of international Techno lovers from all over the globe in 2000, Hart Plaza has become home to the enormous, electronic-themed event. This year sees a diverse mix of house, techno, and hip hop among performers who include Wu Tang Clan’s Method Man, house music icon Kerri Chandler, dance-punk rockers !!!, Disclosure, and even Snoop Dogg, who, after revealing a love for “Euro tekno” last year, has been performing under the moniker “DJ Snoopadelic.” Make a trip to the Motor City on Memorial Day and witness some of techno’s pioneers in action, all set against a beautiful backdrop of the Detroit River and Ambassador Bridge. If you thought Eminem was the only musical export to come from the city in recent years, consider this an education.

Sasquatch! – George, WA / May 22-25th

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An internationally-acclaimed music festival/mythical being that emerges from basalt cliffs carved high above the Columbia River Gorge each Memorial Day weekend, Sasquatch! never disappoints. This year’s Sasquatch! lineup remains as impressive as ever, with highlights that include Modest Mouse, James Blake, Hot Chip, Tame Impala, and a dizzying list of other talented performers. Camping is your only option here, so bring enough supplies to last you and your friends all four days. A significantly smaller-scale event when compared to jumbo-fests such like Lollapalooza, with attendees numbering at about 20,000 you can expect a communal PNW vibe and maybe even this guy.

Pitchfork Music Festival – Chicago, IL / July 17th – 19th

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Chicago’s annual celebration of all things left of mainstream Pop, this 3-day party finds its home in the cozy Union Park. Coming into its tenth year (I feel old) the event is known for featuring a range of popular and critically-acclaimed performers. Summer 2015’s lineup runs the gamut from local rap act Chance the Rapper to Norwegian DJ Todd Terje. In addition to the music, Pitchfork hosts a vendor sale which includes art, gig posters, and a record sale managed and organized by Chicago’s independent community station. The shows tend to end promptly at 10pm, so do your best to fit in all the food, drinks, and fun your body can handle before sunset—but don’t forget to leave room for the after-party.

Made In America Fest – Los Angeles, CA and Philedelphia, PA / September 7-9th

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After starting the first festival small in 2012, Jay Z got together with Budweiser in 2013 to put on the first big two-day “Made in America” festival in Philadelphia. Last year, the event expanded to Los Angeles, occurring in both cities simultaneously over Labor Day weekend. Performers included Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, and the controversial Iggy Azalea. While Jay-Z is off on his own tour with Beyonce this year (you can click here for live-streaming info), if you’re looking for a hip-hop focused fest, this is surely one of the best.

Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, VA – September 10-12

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One of Raleigh’s biggest annual events, this festival was established by local newspaper Independent Weekly in an effort to bring both local and national acts to the stages of Virginia. In a “SXSW” style the bands play at various venues across town, touching on genres spanning from classical to dance and “alt-country.” Under new leadership this year, it’s safe to say we can expect a lineup even better than last year’s. Though after Spoon, De La Soul, St, Vincent, and a host of other talented musicians captured crowds in 2014, it’s going to be a tough act to follow.

Mighty Medley: Cotton Claw, Hira King, and In Sonitus Lux

15 Apr

An eclectic electric mix for your hump day. Get to listening.

Cotton Claw – “GRAINY”

Though the title may contradict it, this track is crystal clear and silky smooth. Beats bleed into one another until the dimensions shift around you. An excited theremin pipes in, giving the song a story, grounding it. “GRAINY” is cosmically down-to-earth.

Find more information about Cotton Claw on their website, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Soundcloud.

Hira King – “Hummingbird”

Please ignore that cover art. For something that looks like it came from the last acid trip of a hippie before he was sent off to Vietnam, this track exemplifies the hip in trip-hop. I have no idea what vibe I’m supposed to get from this, but whatever it is, I’d like more please.

Find more on Hira King via their website, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

In Sonitus Lux – “Her Eyes in the Morning”

I’ll save you the trouble of googling it; “in sonitus lux” is Latin for “light in sounds.” Quite synesthetic. Taking a very prominent role in the spine of “Her Eyes in the Morning” is an obscure instrument known as a hang. It looks and sounds like an inverted steel drum, and gives this chilling ambient a little pizzazz. At thirteen minutes in length, this is an odyssey, but if you have some spare time to spend with it, you should.

Find more info on In Sonitus Lux on his website and Soundcloud.

Rocky and the Goldstein: Living a Chassidic Country Dream

11 Apr

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Move over Ray Benson, there is another country musician and member of the tribe who has rolled into town with a guitar strapped around his neck and yarmulke firmly on his head. Yes, Rocky Goldstein is about as unique as you can get as a musician. As titled, he is a Brooklyn Chassidic (type of Judaism) Country Musician, which, while it seems slightly peculiar, is actually pretty apt. When you consider the tenets of good country music – pleading tales of existential journeying and other dig-into-your-soul storytelling – it fits the Jewish story quite well. As we conclude another Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt (the age-old tale of they tried to kill us but they didn’t succeed), I bring you Rocky Goldstein’s eclectic country tunes, and I am enlivened to do so, not just because I too shared bitter herbs and charoset at the seder table this Passover, but because Rocky & The Goldstein, the official name of the band profiled in this post, is an exciting band who, faith aside, plays fresh country/folk tunes that all should hear.

I had an opportunity to email Rocky a few questions for this post, and when I asked him about his musical journey, he immediately mentioned musicians like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Merle Haggard and how he can, with his music, “relate to the struggle and, of course, the joy” that these artists evince in their own tunes. That is what music is, right? A combination of these emotions that reflect the artist’s own life, which is what Rocky echoed to me in the interview. This mature foundation creates a well-rounded approach to music that Rocky, and the people who support his tunes reflect.

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Rocky is for all intents and purposes a solo musician, but Rocky & The Goldstein is made up of a select supporting cast consisting of the producers of his self-titled EP, Thomas Bryan Eaton and Alex Korinzer; Rocky’s writing partner Isaac Schapira; and fiddle player Craig Judelman, who can be heard prominently on the album’s initial track.

When I asked Rocky about the foundation of his sound, he recalled his exploration of Judaism and trip to Israel that sparked his musical inclinations.

“I played a few shows in New York and then went off to Israel for a year and half to learn in a Yeshiva, which is a Jewish higher learning institute. There, I met my good friend, Isaac Schapira. We both talked about our love for country music and started writing these mock American pride songs. Eventually, we decided to start writing songs about the experiences of what we were actually going through.  He really helped me hone in on writing lyrics with a clear message as opposed to cryptic, subconscious prose.” 

This prose and sound, as stated above, might be viewed as a bit odd, but when I asked him how a nice Jewish boy from Long Island gets into country music he explained a natural progression to the genre.

“Country music in particular always had these themes of self-deprecation, regret, and life lessons with religious undertones. Jewish identity is often defined by these characteristics. As I became more observant in my Judaism, I found songs like “Less of Me” by the Statler Brothers or “In my hour of darkness” by Gram Parsons to be songs I could relate to. They spoke about the struggle of going on a spiritual journey and the tribulations that came along with it.”

Let’s listen to some tunes.

“A Dream,” the initial track on the EP, features a traditional Jewish folk fiddle followed by Rocky’s grainy vocal that carries the piece. The guitar is plucked with upbeat intensity and the fiddle is never to far behind. I particularly enjoy the song’s simplicity, which, in my mind, is what makes good country music. It is vocal and strings mixed with light percussion, which acts like a perfect pairing.

“The Sun” is an ode to the singer/songwriter. Much in the vein of classic musicians like Paul Simon and more modern musicians like Vance Joy, Rocky’s vocal is smooth and tender and it carries the piece. The fiddle is such a great touch and it adds to the song’s dulcet sound. Using a culinary allusion, it simply tastes good, which makes sense, because when I asked Rocky to imagine a situation where he gets to dine with two musicians who inspired him, Rocky picked legends of the pen and harmony Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, a classic dinner of “melody” and “lyric.” Asked what he’d get, he figured he’d go simple, “a beer or a coffee and maybe a knish, as long as it’s kosher,” of course.

 You can find the self titled EP on rockyandthegoldstein.com and purchase at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/RockyandtheGoldstein. Feel free to like him on Facebook.

Growing Up is Not for I’m From Barcelona

10 Apr

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Have you ever gathered a few friends in one place to play some tunes? Well, Emanuel Lundgren, an uber-talented Swedish singer/songwriter, collected 29 of his closest friends to help record a few tracks back in 2005, and many of them have never left.

I’m From Barcelona, a menagerie of musicians based in Jönköping, Sweden, has been cranking out harmonious pop music since its inception a decade ago, and although the coterie of band members has swooned from the twenties to 19 current musicians, the band has not lost any of its jovial luster, and, as its recent release suggests, it has no plans for growing up.

Growing Up is For Trees, the band’s fifth studio album and first since Forever Today,which was released in 2011, is a 10-track affair featuring a diverse selection of music that will latch onto the ears of pop music lovers. Much in the vein of artists like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and even The Polyphonic Spree, I’m From Barcelona employs a wide range of instruments and sounds – from clapping to trumpets. The album’s premier track (below) is an excellent example of what I’m From Barcelona does particularly well. Instead of the wall of sound approach that many big collectives prefer to employ, I’m From Barcelona instead diversifies its musical approach, pairing a full range of vocals that stagger through the song with a consistent rhythm from guitar and percussion. The number of musicians simply leads to a fuller sound and more multifaceted vocal play. The band is so capable; it knows when to drop to fewer musicians and when to bring it all together as it does at the end of the piece in a hard-hitting collection of instruments and vocals. Oh yeah, the video is also pretty cool.

Other tracks to listen to on the new album are “Benjamin” and “Departure,” two songs that feature an agglutination of voices that is powerful and calls back to the band’s initial tracks back on its first few albums. “Benjamin” features a vocal call-back paired with an awesome pre-chorus breakdown that has horns, harmonies, and pretty much everything good in the music world.

In short, you should listen to this album. It is an organized frenzy of fun frisson that is fresh and full. It’s an alliteration of awesome music.

Check out more about the band on its website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Violent Femmes Want Love

8 Apr

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When one hears Indie Rock, he/she immediately thinks of the plethora of eclectic music that crowds the airwaves today. Violent Femmes has a lot to do about that sound you hear; the band served as a major forerunner to Indie music that bent genres and refused to give into mainstream sounds. Violent Femmes, who has developed a tremendous fan-base that can’t really be termed cult, is on the comeback train, releasing its first new music in 15 years – a 4-track EP – on April 18. The EP, HAPPY NEW YEAR, was recorded this past New Year’s Eve in Hobart, Tasmania, after the band performed a sold-out concert at the Sydney Opera House.

The EP is highlighted by a cover of Jake Brebes track entitled “Love Love Love Love Love,” a gritty track that highlights one of the Femmes’ greatest strengths – creative eccentricity. The Femmes, who returned to action in 2013 with a renowned Coachella performance, will now tour the new EP (as well as all the old stuff) as a guest on The Barenaked Ladies’ “Last Summer On Earth 2015″ tour. That’s a killer show.

The track has a neat edginess, which is amplified by the eery percussion and jazzy, deep horns. Gordon Gano’s voice has always been something special, and it is in full force with this track, which feels like it might be out of a quirky HBO crime drama. It is exactly what I would expect from the Femmes first release in years – different and infectiously unsettling. For a song about “love all around me,” there is definitely a little malicious intent hidden beneath the surface, and this, magnified by the dirty sax solo at the end, is excellent!

Great new release. Keep tabs on the Femmes on the website or on Facebook or Twitter.

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