Archive | August, 2013

N8 ST9 Has Come Full Circle

28 Aug

N8 ST9

N8 ST9 (Nate Stein) has been on my radar for some time. The post-electronic artist mixes skilled instrumentation with dreamy electronica to create a delicate sound that, while heavy on the electronic percussion, is harmonious. Now, on the heels of his new album Full Circle, I believe it is a good time to introduce him to the readers of this blog. This aforementioned mixture is musically intriguing.

Perhaps most engaging about the new album is its vibe. Electronica and instrumentals sometimes conflict when haphazardly paired together, but N8 ST9 combines the two elements competently, thus creating a cool, euphonic atmosphere that surrounds the listener. The album is split between pure electronic instrumentals (like the two reviewed below) and pop-fueled tracks like “Light Up Myself,” which ST9 wrote for a close friend who is a recovering alcoholic.

Aside from the imprecation outburst to begin the song, “Light Up Myself” is a diverse song that has three distinct parts. The song begins with an ethereal guitar riff that transitions into a Paul Simon-esque verse with creative percussion, which continues even when the song shifts to a modern Indie rhythm. In only two minutes the song effortlessly shifts back and forth from different musical elements and inspirations. This is just accentuated towards the end of the song with the airy piano bridge fit with melodious vocalization. ST9 takes listeners through a musical parade, successfully evoking the ups and downs of his friend’s life.

The above two tracks are the diverse instrumentals I mentioned. “Intention for Bliss,” the opening track on the album, features the fluffy keys reminiscent of an Owl City song. “Watching” features more driving electronica (something I don’t usually go for). In this case, though, I am lured by the 80s beats that blend well with the melody ST9 successfully introduces to the listener.

It’s an impressive release for the young artist, and I am looking forward to listening to more of his music.

Check out the rest of the album and follow ST9 on his Facebook and Twitter

Suzanne in Montreal – Safe Voyage

18 Aug

Montreal

In the 19th century the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Montreal’s Old Port became a mecca for sailors who would make offerings for “good help” for sea voyages. It still functions as an active cathedral in Old Montreal and come this upcoming weekend I hope to make my own pilgrimage to it. My girlfriend and I will be traveling to Montreal and Quebec City for a calm end-of-summer sojourn. Before I leave, though, I must highlight my favorite song related to Montreal – “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen.

Cohen, a Montreal native, has accomplished a rare feat in his career – awards in both songwriting and literature. The daedal wordsmith has been crafting poetry and music since the late 1950s. He is the Da Vinci of Folk music – a renaissance man who rivals Bob Dylan and Paul Simon in talent and inventiveness.

“Suzanne,” a poem/song inspired by a friendship with Suzanne Verdal, is one of my favorite Cohen songs. It’s subdued potency echoes with Cohen’s soft acoustic guitar. The lyric rises with strings and angelic harmony. Clearly, as a Cohen song, the lyric is the absolute strength. The song memorializes Cohen and Verdal’s peregrinations to Old Montreal, past the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Despite its documentation of a platonic relationship, the song possesses a sweet intimacy – something warm that captures the listener. The song concludes with this passage:

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

I bolded the particular section that always gets me. The imagery portrayed by the opening line of the bolded section is perhaps the strongest in the song, a line that balances personification and metaphor. One almost feels that Cohen, like the heroes and children, will lean out for love forever. The song ends with the motif of travel represented in the repeated closing verse segments, and, as the verse before this suggests, Suzanne maintains a Jesus-like power of trust and perfection – platonic or not, this song rings with passion and love.

Looking Forward to End-of-Summer Albums

12 Aug

End of Summer

Doesn’t it seem that summer passes by quicker than any other season? For those (like me) who live in a state that experiences distinct climates, it is easy to become ensconced in the warm weather just to have it ripped away from you quickly. I should stop complaining. Summer still has more than a month to bathe us in beach weather. As we continue to enjoy the fading rays of summer, let’s take a glimpse at some end-of-summer albums music lovers should be looking forward to.

August 20

John Mayer – Paradise Valley 

The crooning bluesman is fully recovered from his vocal surgery and has hit the ground running after the delayed (2012) release of his fifth studio album Born and RaisedParadise Valley abides by a similar formula as his last release: mixture of folk and country rock. The first single is evident of that.

Mayer’s airy croon does not disappoint and the song carries a relaxed rhythm. It’s a pleasant listen – and the embedded video is hilariously odd.

August 27

Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

Franz Ferdinand

It has been almost a decade since “Take Me Out” hit #3 on the UK charts. Wow. The 2004 self-titled album sold more than three million copies and engendered worldwide popularity for the Scottish band. The band has always been able to stay relevant with its tunes, but the music has not been frequent. After a quick follow-up in 2005 it took the band four years to release its third LP and another four years to release the most recent album. The early reviews are proclaiming that it is well worth the wait.

September 17

Five For Fighting – Bookmarks 

Bookmarks

John Ondrasik – a.k.a. Five For Fighting – has penned some pretty substantial hits on his piano including: “Superman,” “100 Years,” and “The Riddle.” Slice, his last album, was released four years ago, and it is about time for the lifelong L.A. Kings fan to release a new album (I wonder if Bookmarks will celebrate the Kings 2012 Stanley Cup victory). One thing I can presume is that the new album will feature Ondrasik’s original, infectious piano pop that continues to impress.

MGMT – MGMT

MGMT

It is not usual for a band to have a self-titled third album, but, well, MGMT is not usual. This eccentric psychedelic rock band is on the cusp of the much awaited release of its unique third album, and fans of the band are in for a wacky treat. The band did tell Rolling Stone that they “are not trying to make music that everyone understands the first time they hear it.” It is refreshing to see two musicians carrying on the rich tradition of good psychedelic rock, and I have always been keen to the band. Just recently the band released its second single from the album, “Your Life is a Lie,” and…it’s…uhh…this:

Festivals vs. Gigs

9 Aug

Image

We are now well in the middle of the UK festival season. Glastonbury is now a glorious, beer-soaked memory, V Festival is approaching fast while Leeds & Reading is still a couple of weeks away, marking the symbolic end of the summer. Meanwhile, mini festivals like Y Not and Lee Fest are popping up left, right and centre.

What’s strange is how well it seems to be going. When the recession hit, we were assured that festivals were now a thing of the past thanks to shrinking incomes and soaring ticket prices. Many people saw gigs as the way forward – you get exactly what you pay for and don’t have to stand through dozens of bands you’re not interested in or sleep in a tent that size of a small Alsatian. Yet gigs seem to be the ones that are struggling. Iconic music venues like the 100 Club are regularly faced with closure. So in these money strapped times, I thought I would decide once and for all which are better – gigs or festivals.

Having been to a couple of both, I would say my money is mostly – but not entirely – on gigs. My favourite one was Foo Fighters in 2010, performing in the enormous outdoor National Bowl in Milton Keynes. There was a palpable sense of build up all day. The crowd was very supportive of the warm-up acts, Biffy Clyro and Jimmy Eat World, even if those weren’t the ones they came to see. When Dave Grohl and co. finally arrived, there wasn’t a single person in the 65,000 capacity stadium who wasn’t cheering. But the icing on the cake was the special guests. When John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame and Seasick Steve joined Grohl on stage for the encore, I and many of the people near me nearly lost our voices. What was great was that the audience knew who they were; by attending a Foo Fighters concert, you could almost guarantee they admired idols such as these. I don’t think it would have quite the same effect had Foo Fighters been performing at Glastonbury, which attracts fans of a wide range of genres. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but prevents that same feeling of community.

Festivals, in my experience, are quite different. You spend the whole weekend bouncing from tent to stage and back again in order to catch your favourite bands. This pinballing inevitably means you’re always near the back and barely get chance to enjoy the performance before you’re dragged off by impatient friends somewhere else. Choice can be a curse as well as blessing. No matter what you do, you’re going to miss things you want to see. There’s also the problem of tourist-fans – people who go to see bands just to say they were there, regardless of whether they want to see them. I’m lost count of the amount of times I’ve been wedged against people who are stood motionless, looking as though they’re waiting for an advert on YouTube to finish playing. It kills the mood to say the least.

That isn’t to say that festivals don’t have their place in British music. Despite soaring ticket prices – a standard weekend ticket for Glastonbury costing £216, often being resold for much higher – they are still far and away the best value for money. With plenty of energy drinks, you could see up to twenty bands in the course of a weekend. There’s also the fun of camping with your friends. While a gig can be a great night out, a festival can feel more like a holiday.

Nevertheless, for the truly special moments, I’ve found you have to stick with gigs. When I see Arctic Monkeys in November – an event I’ve been waiting five years for – I know there won’t be any tourist-fans, hangers-on or people who wandered into the wrong tent, just true fans. Call my standoffish, but that seems like the purer musical experience.

NOVI is here to Make A Scene

6 Aug

NOVI

Back in 2011 when Los Angeles-based pop singer Novi released her debut EP Now I’m Here she raised eyebrows with her brazen, imprecation-filled single “Blackbirds.” Underneath the ribald lyric, though, was an artist ready to break out. NOVI, the moniker of Carolyne Neuman, is no stranger to success – her first release, “All the Way” was featured on One Tree Hill – but with the forthcoming release of her second EP Now I’m There I think it is about time that the country started learning more about NOVI.

Remember when Florence and the Machine first released “Kiss with a Fist” in 2008. The debut single went on to foreshadow the success of the band. I mention this track because I believe its brash nature best reflects NOVI. NOVI reminds me of a young Florence Welch – unconventional, fearless, and skilled. Those are three qualities that are particularly necessary if you want to succeed in the industry.

Now, NOVI’s music is different from Florence’s music. While Florence – besides from “Kiss With a Fist” – focuses on creating an ethereal atmosphere with her songs, NOVI mixes an in-your-face attitude with a touch of Lana Del Rey’s sun-soaked voice. The music itself covers the spectrum of effervescent and blunt to emotion-saturated and harmonious. One thing remains constant in all of NOVI’s music – it is good. Yes, this seems rather simplistic – especially in a review – but the music is diverse, stimulating, and, well, good. Let’s put it this way – once you listen to a track you want to continue exploring the esoteric world of NOVI. Let’s listen to two tracks from the new EP.

“Whisky and FireFlies” begins with an infectious whistle opening – much like “Good Life” by OneRepublic – and that bleeds into NOVI’s verse – which almost acts as a singing rap. The percussion carries the song into a Florence-like chorus. NOVI’s voice is deceptively good. The vocal play in the song is skillful.

“Make A Scene,” though, is where I see true star quality. While “Whisky and FireFlies” is a nice song, “Make a Scene” is a powerhouse – a true force that has mainstream and Indie attraction. The beat is ridiculous. The listener is fully drawn into the song from the start and NOVI helps suck the listener further into the piece with her eclectic vocal. The hook is potent. Featuring a Mika-like instrumental rise, the chorus is the song’s core. This is a 2:45 bundle of goodness, and, if it is any indication of NOVI’s future, much like Florence, it looks very bright.

 

Keep in tune with NOVI – Website, Facebook, Twitter

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