We last heard music from Joel. (aka MaG) on his 2013 release (via RCRDLBL) Freedom, a soulful slice of American hip-hop. He didn’t go silent between then and now – those who follow him on Twitter know that Joel is a poet and a non-stop thinker, with an eye toward social progress and absolutely no patience for bullshit.
It’s no surprise to find that same spirit in the music he’s been working on. songs for charles is an independent release dropped via Bandcamp just last month, and it kicks off with a short audio clip from Jay Z in the studio, taken from the film Fade To Black. This track, titled “what Hov said…(intro),” captures Jay discussing young rappers coming up, who think they have to write about things they don’t feel and don’t know. He tells the cameraman to put the lens on him before saying, “See what y’all did to rappers? They scared to be theyself.”
Being true to himself, then, serves as Joel.’s mission here. “I can’t speak for no one else / but I’m gonna keep on being myself,” goes one of the refrains on the first song, “creston and 188th.” What follows is a personal catharsis. The next eight songs are all at least rooted in the past, even while facing the present. He looks back on his upbringing, his family, lessons learned and carried forward. “We was young / we was reckless,” he says, in the frank and unsentimental “hash browns.” The chilled out, hypnotic loop of the song keeps the mood static and, as much as the lyric, creates a vivid atmosphere, if not an especially warm one. It actually feels like a carefully constructed sound collage, pieced together from ‘70s-‘80s AM radio dials, video games, cassettes rewinding…the sounds of a childhood, running in the background.
“new, new york” brings us into the present, or at least the very recent past. But each track here, just like real life, builds on what came before. That’s why, even though this is an eight-song collection (nine tracks), I take songs for charles as an “album.” It’s not a mixtape, it’s not a collection of singles. It’s a thematic, narrative flow. And like a lot of Joel.’s work, it’s densely filled with imagery and wordplay, and almost has the feel of a play. With only a few listens so far, I have not absorbed every nuance, but I look forward to trying.
“better late than never (intermission)” is a dreamy flight, with a backing that sounds like recent Radiohead; droning chords bracing syncopated, jazz drums. The lyric is equal parts past, present, and future, and how they are helplessly intertwined, with a hook that declares, “I’d rather die than let go of one of my dreams / one foot forward, all I gotta do is proceed…It’s never too late to dream.” Hope continues to be a central theme here – aspirations for a better life, one that’s more fulfilling, one that is free from the troubled past, and one where glory is attained on no one else’s terms but your own.
Certainly Joel. knows there’s no complete escape from what came before. But songs for charles is at least an attempt at exorcism. Facing pain in stark terms, he describes a present in which personal reconciliation is already under way, and this music – in all its expressive, subtle complexity – is the conduit.
On Bandcamp now —> songs for charles by Joel.
The new album from Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits is out today, January 27th. An impressive, ambitious, and confident collection of dramatic rock and pop songs, the eponymous record was funded by fans earned by Robichaud throughout her time as front-woman of The Design and, most famously, during her thrilling run as a contender on The Voice.
There are no shortage of artists today aiming for the grand and theatrical, inspired by Lady Gaga, Dresden Dolls and the like – and surely these are influences on Kat Robichaud as well. But what makes this a special record, and Robichaud a special artist, is her natural edge. We would not hesitate to classify this as a rock and roll record, despite its polished pop production, purely for the non-stop intensity and the sheer force of the singer’s will. More Queen and Foxy Shazam than Gaga, really.
On top of this, the LP is beautifully bizarre. It is funny, clever, defiant, and plainly well-written. Sound collages recur throughout, sometimes to create or enhance a vibe, and occasionally just for a laugh. Yet this is no novelty. Veering between wrenching balladry and dynamic, piano-pounding epics, this is the sound of an artist going for broke, being completely true to herself and discovering her own essence, having tested her limits and finding only those that are self-imposed.
If you’re looking for it, it’s actually not too hard to find a new band you really dig. Most often, those artists are doing something that resonates with you because of your established tastes. It sounds familiar, it feels comfortable, and maybe there’s even an aspect of the music that’s unique. Much more rare, though, is to come across an act doing something completely different than what you might otherwise find in your music collection and still be affected by it. Such is the case with The Shills, a band that seems to blend so many varied influences as to produce music that cannot be so easily pigeonholed. Fresh off a second win in our Indie Pop channel, they are our latest Artist of the Week.
If you’re a rock fan, and especially one disheartened by the state of music as represented, say, in the recent Grammy Awards, you might find yourself thinking that the world could use an antidote, and maybe a heavy dose at that. The Fratellis might have been thinking the same thing when they titled their newest album We Need Medicine, and delivered a blast of thoughtful, authentic rock and roll. The UK trio blazed onto the US scene when their song “Flathead” appeared in a 2007 iPod commercial. They’ve been steadily building up a devoted fan base since then, and We Need Medicine, their first album after an extended hiatus, is the gem that really should put them over the top stateside. We spoke with singer and guitarist Jon Fratelli about his approach to writing songs, making videos, and how much influence current pop music has on the band (SPOILER: none).
OS: You’ve spoken about the songs on We Need Medicine in terms of how they serve the record, that you’ve written songs of a certain type because the record needed it. This somewhat business-like approach calls to mind songwriters like Paul McCartney, who can write heartbreaking or joyous songs simply having set out to fill a requirement. Indeed, many of your new songs sound positively exuberant. Has songwriting always worked that way for you, or has that ability to just sit down and do a job developed along with you as songwriters?
Jon: I think it’s really just about having a vague idea of somewhere you’d like to go. I learned that by having no idea where to go on the second Fratellis record; it ends with a mediocre album and with songs that, a year later, you don’t want to play anymore. I didn’t want that to be the case this time so only concentrated on writing in a style that know I’ll always be able to connect to.
OS: You guys are great at style or genre exercise songs, but what song would you pick from your catalogue that is stylistically most uniquely you?
Jon: I hope never to write that song. There’ll always be songs that other people connect you with more than others, but I don’t think musicians really do that with their own music. If you write something that perfectly sums up everything you’ve ever wanted to say then you have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
In 2013, Xolie Morra & the Strange Kind were selected from thousands of OurStage artists to appear as the musical guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! They taped the show later in the year and then, this Tuesday night, it all came together, as the band performed their song “Over My Head” on national television. The show will air again this Friday night. Here’s the band’s performance.
Go behind the scenes with the band as they travel to Hollywood, rehearse, visit the Gibson guitars showroom, and hang out backstage at Jimmy Kimmel Live! Watch below.
The third and final installment of our 2013 Ernie Ball Save Your Strings Competition was the search for one great artist in our country category to win a year’s supply of strings and accessories. We’ve previously introduced you to our pop winner, Biscuits & Gravy, and our rock winner, The Jellybricks. They will now be joined in consideration for the grand prize “ an endorsement deal with Ernie Ball and a Music Man guitar for each player in the band “ by our country winner, Gin House.
Gin House has a winner with their great country porch stomper Roots, a perfect title for this band, whose other songs reveal a passion for all kinds of Americana beyond country “ blues, folk, and even classic pop. The main driver behind Gin House is Brandon Clark, who sings with a voice like tarnished gold “ built for radio, but with a deep character, and sounded with conviction. Check out the appropriately slow-burning stunner The Fire Is Alive for evidence. Clark founded the band in 2011 with Paul Lynch, and the following year released their self-titled 5-song EP, which features Roots. In support of the release, Clark hit the road with Austin Renfroe, hitting colleges from the Northeast to the upper Midwest. Sad to say we missed them last time around, but we won’t that mistake again.
All of the songs from the EP are currently posted on their OurStage page “ highly recommended listening. Stay tuned for the selection of the Ernie Ball Save Your Strings Grand Prize winner.
More like this:
Biscuits & Gravy Win The Pop Edition Of Ernie Ball’s Save Your Strings Competition
The Jellybricks Win A Year Of Free Strings From Ernie Ball
Dawes Release New Single, From A Window Seat, New Album Trailer
This week’s Artist of the Week is Ciph Boogie. Ciph was the champ in our 2012 ESPN Main Event Competition, scoring a prime placement on the sports network’s Friday Night Fights. That was over a year ago, but the Brooklyn rapper has not been resting. He’s been writing, recording, and performing steadily, and has just released a brand-new freestyle, Y’all Still Don’t Get It. The track is a dark groove with a haunting, John Carpenter-esque keyboard arpeggio, punctuated with a distorted kick, and laced with foreboding samples.
Most of Ciph’s music contains an uneasy undercurrent, from his early Quiet Storm mixtape through 2008’s Black Mamba LP and the more recent Some Time In New York City EP. His wordplay sparkles on top of winding, minor-key hooks and hits, making for an irresistible yin-and-yang. Every new release from Ciph Boogie has been a remarkable progression, and we now find him at the top of his game. He’ll be featured next on the 2013 compilation from Signatrue Clothing. Check out the new freestyle below, along with a comprehensive recent interview with The Sunday Night Cook Up.
On November 19th, Bloodshot Records released Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side as a two-disc package, including a detailed 40-page booklet. Released in 1993 and 1995 respectively, these two records are crucial early planks in the bridge from The Replacements through Ryan Adams‘ Whiskeytown and to the now-established alt-country scene.
Not only do the records hold up to their countless progeny, they sound even more vital than many of today’s roots rock releases. The albums’ straight-ahead, raw and roomy production (enhanced by a fine remastering job) has nothing in common with the budget indie sound that dates so many of their contemporaries and, along with the top-notch songwriting and fearless performances, makes for an exciting listen.
We had a quick Q&A with Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann to see what he thought accounted for the great sound on these records, as well as his thoughts on touring, playing with Marshall Crenshaw, and bands on other planets.
SJ: I had never heard these two early records, and being a fan of lots of independent releases from the early ’90s, I can’t believe how vibrant these sound in contrast, with a really high production value. That can’t just be the remaster, right? To what or whom do you attribute the sound of the recordings?
Mark: John Keane produced, recorded and engineered the debut album Bottle Rockets, whereas The Brooklyn Side was produced by Eric Ambel and recorded by Albert Caiati. Although the remastering did put a new polish on those albums, it’s John, Eric and Albert who are responsible for the vibrant quality of the original recordings. The common approach they took was to record a faithful representation of the band while avoiding the audio fads/trends of the times (gated drums, digital effects, etc.) There is more production on The Brooklyn Side because there was more studio time to work with by the second album, but neither album sounds dated due to the recording methods used.
Brooklyn’s Late Cambrian is our new Artist of the Week. No strangers to the OurStage community, this three-piece rock combo has seen several placements at the top of our fan-ranked charts, as well as in the overall Best of the Best, and they first won the opportunity to appear at Maine’s KahBang Festival (to which they’ve been invited back repeatedly by festival organizers) as a result of their popularity on OurStage.
We’ve been psyched to see them grow from an undiscovered gem into one of the more fast-emerging bands on the independent scene. Their video and single Ryan Gosling was a minor hit, securing serious international airplay. The band has toured relentlessly and, having just performed a showcase at New York’s CMJ festival, is headed out on the road again this fall, supporting Wheatus.
In an era when pop-rock bands are so often disposable carbon copies of each other, Late Cambrian breathes new life into the genre. The songs are smart and catchy, the sound is jittery, angular, and immensely danceable “ yes, a rock band you can really move to. This year’s LP, Peach, expanded the band’s palette to great effect, adding more complex arrangements and lofty atmospherics to the core elements of chiming guitars, driving rhythms, and smooth harmonies. Gone are the obligatory, sometimes obvious nods to Weezer and other ˜90s power pop godfathers, and in their place is an original and clever synthesis of influences that ends up sounding like nothing but Late Cambrian; like nothing but now. Check out the video for Ryan Gosling, as well as fall tour dates, below.
As pop music is regarded more and more seriously by music critics and aficionados, its leading artists seem to be incorporating a wider palette of influences in their productions. Or perhaps the sonic expansion came first. But it’s more likely a self-sustaining cycle, the artistry eliciting a positive response, which in turn inspires more experimentation. In any case, it’s a plus for pop music, once (and still often) a one-dimensional, disposable wasteland, but now a breeding ground for ear candy with both style and depth.
So let’s get down today with one of those artists pushing the possibilities of what pop can be: Zac Smith, our Artist of the Week. Smith, a Berklee College of Music grad, has just released a trio of new songs that display an impressive array of rock, electronic, and acoustic elements, all packaged with the earmarks of infectious, radio-ready pop.
It’s Love sports a propulsive groove that resolves in a cymbal-washed chorus, before breaking down and re-building, while I’m Not Dreaming incorporates rock-EDM hybrid drum patterns and sounds. Smith takes a turn toward simplified uke-acoustic melodicism on Run, Run, Run, with sweet harmonies and roomy percussion.
Smith has a perfect voice for this kind of music “ airy and unintrusive. It often feels like another piece of the instrumentation, rather than the reason for the songs to exist. That is, the music is clearly not just a showcase for the vocal. Each part of the tracks work together to create a unified vibe, meant to be taken in as a whole. These three tracks appear to be among Smith’s first professional efforts. We’ll be interested to see where he goes next. Listen to “It’s Love” below.