Thursday, January 20, 2011

Album Review: Cheat Sheet - Songs To Yawn To

Originally published January 20, 2011 in Redefine Magazine.
Direct link to article

Cheat Sheet
Songs To Yawn To
Self Released

While Cheat Sheet hails from Michigan, there is something about the duo's smoggy, laid-back songs that muster the dazed vibe of sunny Southern California. The noisy chaos and merged vocals on tracks "Customer Disservice" and "Expansive Ghosts" add a lot of energy to the debut entitled, Songs To Yawn To, which fans of bands like No Age, Japandroids and Tera Melos might dig -- but Cheat Sheet has yet to hone its very own sound. There are a lot of different ideas on the album, and it is not hard for a listener to lose interest when the sounds change direction. Where "Customer Disservice" is complex and clamorous, the following, "Community Chance," is more of a lazy summer day track. It has a hazy drone that could make it an ironic addition to Top 40 radio that becomes popular with potheads. Furthermore, "Variflex Vs. BMX" attempts to be an anthem for skateboarders and has the, "don't give a shit" attitude of The Black Lips, but without the gritty edge that would make it memorable. After a few listens to Songs To Yawn To, it becomes notable that Cheat Sheet shines most on tracks like "Neon Brown" and "Cassette Culture," which are full of melancholy and have a nostalgic feel of '90s indie rock. Cheat Sheet has respectable influences, but the duo needs to find an aspect that will make the undeniable Cheat Sheet sound. Then, in no time, the band will be ruling DIY house shows around the U.S.

Album Review: Pocket Panda - Pocket Panda EP

Originally published January 20, 2011 in Redefine Magazine.
Direct link to article

Pocket Panda
Pocket Panda EP
Self Released

Listening to the 5-song EP from Seattle's Pocket Panda is kind of like the first time that you see your older brother cry. You discover that burly men with deep voices can get sentimental too. With the band member count clocking in at seven, Pocket Panda is a conglomerate of various influences and talents. Mixing orchestral movements with indie rock, instrumentation ranges from cello to bassoon and piano. Every track starts with a soft, alluring intro, but the tranquility is slightly interrupted by the unexpected raspy vocals of Eric Herbig. It takes a while to get used to the contrast between the vocals, which are usually matched with hard rock or folk music, and the delicate instrumentation. For the most part, Herbig is able to get the tone to a point where it matches the reflective and thoughtful mood of the music. However, there are also times where emotions seem to get too high and the vocals reach a semi-aggressive tone. The harmonizing with a soft female voice helps bring balance and allow arrangements to glide and float into space easily. With the exception of "Problematic Friend," the strong vocals and melodramatic lyrics make the EP a bit heavy. Still, having formed in 2009, Pocket Panda is a young band that is not afraid to experiment. The music is honest and passionate, which can help it flourish into something more cohesive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Album Review: MiM0SA - Silver Lining

Originally published in The Deli, Issue #7 (Fall 2010).
Download the PDF version of the magazine here.

Silver Lining

There is something very fluid about the latest release from MiM0SA called “Silver Lining.” While the first track “The Higher Consciousness,” opens with the sound of sirens, giving an impression of mayhem, the album is very much meticulously organized. The talented producer, also known as, Tigran Mkhitaryan, crafts thoughtfully layered electronic music and is good at introducing new ideas at the right time and place. The layered beats never sound cluttered, overwhelming or forced and there are always interesting lines to follow on each track. Although there is a lot of movement, the overall affect is tranquil. One of the few tracks that features vocals is the standout “Drippin.” Laser beam and space battle sounds build a galactic vibe while crisp drum beats, synth and hip female vocals build imagery of urban nightlife. “Pushing Little Daisies” also features vocals, but short male phrases are more characteristic of dub style. Whether staying in on a rainy night or going out with friends, “Silver Lining” is a pleasant listen.

Album Review: Taylor Locke & The Roughs - Marathon

Originally published in The Deli, Issue #7 (Fall 2010).
Download the PDF version of the magazine here.

Taylor Locke & The Roughs

Los Angeles is full of show-off musicians and now Taylor Locke & The Roughs can be added to the list, but in this case, it’s in the most humbling way. Releasing two full-length albums this year, which serve as history lessons for rock ‘n’ roll, the band is proving that it can churn out fun, relatable rock songs with competence and ease. Taylor Locke & the Roughs is comprised of four well-known LA musicians, Locke also plays in Rooney, guitarist Chris Price in the band Price, bassist Charlotte Froom previously played in The Like, and drummer Mikey McCormack is a member of Everybody Else. The sophomore release, “Marathon,” opens with a 6-minute medley of mini-songs where the band showcases all of its influences, from '60s pop harmonies to fast garage rock and gritty Southern twang. Locke and his crew have nothing to hide. They like music that is raw and vintage, sing about girls and write fun sing-along choruses that reflect it.

Album Review: The Sweet Repose - Lay Your Axe to Rest

Originally published in The Deli, Issue #7 (Fall 2010).
Download the PDF version of the magazine here.

The Sweet Repose
Lay Your Axe to Rest

If Drive Thru Records was still releasing music, the Sweet Repose would have most likely been the newest addition to the roster. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, the three members of the Sweet Repose play music that is somewhere between Saves the Day and the Early November. Vocalist and songwriter Tommy Miller is a vulnerable poet who writes honest lyrics. Like all bands influenced by proper emo, the music on “Lay Your Axe to Rest” projects anguish and signs of internal conflicts. With Sunny Day Real Estate as a main influence, the Sweet Repose layer heartfelt vocals over cascading drums and interject subtle tempo changes within songs. The vocals can comfort a broken heart, but include sporadic wails that can shake you up a bit. Lay Your Axe to Rest makes up in heart where it lacks in polish.

Artist Q&A: Pepper Rabbit

Originally published in The Deli, Issue #7 (Fall 2010).
Download the PDF version of the magazine here.

Between releasing a debut album on Kanine Records, showcasing at CMJ and touring with the Rural Alberta Advantage and Cotton Jones across Canada and the U.S., respectively, 2010 has treated Pepper Rabbit well. With the album “Beauregard,” the duo, consisting of Xander Singh and Luc Laurent, has created a heartfelt and expansive journey of wistful indie rock.

What were some things you saw or people you met that might have inspired songs while recording the album in New Orleans?

Xander Singh: We had a lot of fun recording in New Orleans. The city is so vibrant and full of life that it’s hard not to be inspired by your surroundings. The only story that really made it into a song is “In the Spirit of Beauregard”. I brought my piano to New Orleans all the way from my living room in Silver Lake, and after the journey, we of course had to get it tuned. So the piano tuner showed up and saw my friends dog, Willie. He was so convinced that Willie was the reincarnation of his own dog, Beauregard, that he started talking to Willie as if he was Beauregard. So I started thinking about Beauregard’s story and how he might have died, and the song came to life.

Eight out of the 10 songs on the new album come from previously released EPs. Did you make any changes to the songs? Why should people who have your EPs buy the new album?

Xander: Well the reason we first separated the songs into EPs is that they were mixed and mastered by a few different people. So they sounded sonically very different from each other. With this release, they have been remastered so that they flow more cohesively. And with the track listing, they work a lot better as an ‘album’. There are also 2 extra tracks on the release and there are 2 additional tracks with the iTunes release.

Compared to when this was your solo project, how has the music evolved since Luc has become a band member?

Xander: Having Luc in the process has allowed me to step outside my head a bit. I always come up with a ton, sometimes too many, ideas and Luc really helps me shape them into something that in the end really works well. It’s great to have someone by your side that’s not afraid to tell you when something works and when something doesn’t. And when something doesn’t work it’s nice have the other set of ears to help you make it work.

How did the relationship spark between Pepper Rabbit and Kanine Records and what things about the label made you want to work with them?

Xander: They saw us perform at SXSW in 2010 and we started talking to them fairly immediately after we met. They are great because they really let us do whatever we want. They provide a great support system to the music we want to make. Also their history of finding great artists before most other people do was a huge incentive. A lot of our favorite bands have put
out their first recording with them.

The album’s instrumentation includes, piano, drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, accordion, clarinet, banjo, and ukulele. How are you able to translate that to the live setting?

Xander: It wasn’t easy. After we finished the recordings, we had about a year before we could start touring and playing shows. This gave me the time to map out and gather the equipment for the live show. And it took about a year to do so. We like to keep the personnel small, and only take one other person on the road. We also are not fond of playing to backing tracks. So we use a lot of live looping and employ a trigger pad where Luc triggers samples from. A few songs we have had to rework for the live setting, as the recorded versions wouldn’t translate well in a live setting without a 10 piece band. With three people and all the equipment we have on stage, we have been able to produce and incredibly full and lush sound live, which is something that took a ton of work but I’m really proud of.

How was your tour with Cotton Jones? What shows from that tour stick out in your mind and why?

Xander: It was amazing. Those guys are like family to us now, some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life. We learned a lot from them. Every night they were so great and so consistent, and they pushed us into being a better live band. It’s great to see a band every day for three weeks and not tire of singing along. One show that sticks out was in Birmingham, AL. It was the fourth show of the tour, and the venue let us stay in the green room, and the Airstream Trailers in the parking lot. We all stayed up until five in the morning skateboarding through the venue, running around and just getting to know each other. It was like touring camp. One of the best nights of my life for sure.

Artist Q&A: Standing Shadows

Originally published in The Deli, Issue #7 (Fall 2010).
Direct link to article
Download the PDF version of the magazine here.

The alternative-rock 4-piece Standing Shadows has been keeping busy with the release of an EP, full-length album and 7". With plans to release a remix EP in late November and another album next year, the band has also had the joy of hearing their music on TV shows like the new "90210" and "The Shield," in addition to a few video games.

How was your experience of writing, engineering and producing the new album yourself?

David Miltenberger: "Five Years of Darkness" was a record that took us about five years to complete, hence the name of the record. We initially started writing and recording the demos in Missouri, where I was currently living, and Los Angeles, where Dan was living. I was working in the oil industry with my family and I would drive a lot to see my customers. This allowed me to listen to our demos in the car, work on lyrics, vocal melodies and whatever else we could possibly add to make the song better. I was listening to a lot of Arcade Fire, Muse, Flaming Lips, and of course, Pink Floyd and Radiohead at that time and would try to make sure our album was as creative and interesting as theirs. Dan was doing the same thing out here in LA. Since he works in the music business, he has a great ear and a sense of how to make sure the song is creative, unique and something people can hold on to.

Dan Silver: We recorded, engineered and produced the record between my studio in Los Angeles and, at the time, Dave’s studio in Missouri. Our process quickly became a ‘postal service’ style record and we had an amazing time putting the pieces together. I spent a lot of time pre-producing the demos with Dave, trying to get all the best ideas in place to eventually re-record the instruments properly. The first few years was all about flying back and forth every few months to create the songs.

David: Once I moved back to Los Angeles in 2009, we re-recorded almost all of the vocals, lots of the guitar parts, added two female background singers, who are in the band SONOS and cello player Ken Oak. Dan found our drummer, got him to record all our drum parts and email them back to us. It's kind of crazy, but I still have not yet met that drummer in person! We sent him the songs, told him what to play and he rocked it within a week or so!

Dan: A friend of mine turned me on to a great drummer, Blair Sinta, who was absolutely incredible to work with in the process. We did the whole thing online through the power of the Internet, sending sessions back and forth until everything was solid.

David: Overall, this recording process was a great experience for us. Sure, it took a lot longer than we wanted, but we are really happy with the results. We focused in on how we wanted this record to sound, what instrumentations to use and how to keep the entire record creative and interesting. Everything on this record has a purpose. With that said, we are definitely not planning on taking another five years to release the next record! We plan on releasing an EP sometime in early 2011.

Dan: This is one of my favorite albums to produce, especially considering all the elements and the way we put this together. It was an unbelievable yet rewarding haul. Regardless if anyone realizes what went into this, we hope people fall in love with the final picture.

In celebration of your 7" release, you did a special set at Origami Vinyl with an expanded line-up of violin and cello. How did that go and is that something you'd like to experiment with more in the future for shows?

David: That show was amazing! We had an awesome cello player, Jeness Johnson, who had just come back from playing in Italy for a few years to join us. She was amazing, such a beautiful tone on that cello. I remember she came in to rehearse with us and we of course asked her to play a song. I think she played some Bach piece and our jaws just dropped. We could sit there for hours listening to that great instrument. We will be adding cello and violin to more of our shows. We hope the fans are as excited as we are to keep our shows unique and as different as possible. With so many great bands out here, we really have to keep our shows exciting and different, so our fans get a new show every time they come and see us. With over 50 shows this past year, we are constantly working to make the shows bigger and better, and this means adding in more -- more synths, live cello and violin, beautiful and melodic female background singers, and more.

What parts of LA did you shoot the video for "Get it Together" and what was the inspiration behind the video?

Dan: We had several locations for the video shoot around Los Angeles. We shot the entire video in one day. We started in Hollywood and then went downtown to the Fashion District. We were hoping to find a place where there was a built in crowd and so we dove right into the massive crowd at Santee Alley. We had a small film crew with us. For a while, the entire crowd surrounding us got really into what we were doing. I was actually playing live guitar while Dave was singing out loud, so the people thought they were part of some live event being filmed. With in minutes, we were stopped by security and got kicked out. Luckily the surrounding areas are ‘public’ streets and we finished several more takes in the area. The inspiration comes from the lyrics of the song. The hook of the song is “we gotta get together," which is what we were trying to get the people on the streets to do.

Dave: The inspiration was to do a video that we're walking down the streets, hanging out, with crazy things going on around us. Lots of different cultures and by the end of the video, everyone is singing along with us when we sing "we gotta get together." It's a positive song about LA and hoping that people can 'get together,' be friends and hang out. We didn't get people to sing with us, but I do think that the result still works. We are walking through all these people, with their lives going on, and we're singing how we want to 'get together' and hang out.

Can you describe the remix contest that you recently held?

: Ever since we started the song "One Way Ride," we had always felt that this song could work well in a DJ/rave type environment. We don't go to rave parties that often, but between Dan and I, we've hit some cool raves across the globe. Punta del Este in Uruguay, Ibiza, London, LA, and more. Once the record was done, we could finally put the word out, and get some great DJ's to do some remixes. Our PR company recommended the online site We put the song up there and offered some prizes to the winners. That site worked great for us. We got some great remixes and worked with people from all over the world. Dan is endorsed by FXpansion and got the winner an awesome software package.

Dan: We spent a lot of time this summer letting the remixes sink in and deciding how to release them. In the meantime, we also worked with some of our amazing producer friends to also come up with a few remixes that would complete the EP. It’s interesting to see how many ways you can produce the same song. We’re just now finishing the final touches and excited to share with the world soon.

Dave: The ‘One Way Ride Remix EP’ will be released digitally on iTunes on November 30th and includes an amazing variety of remixes. Everything from a DJ house party, to an epic orchestra, to UK techno and more.

What is it about your music that makes it fit for TV and video game synchs?

Dan: Every scene on TV has a specific musical need. With the amount of music being released every day, it’s tough to stand out. The right song gets picked because the hook is saying something about what is going on, the tempo works with the rhythm of the action happening, the tone of the instruments play into the mood of the scenario and so on. The music we write has great energy, whether it’s slow or fast, there’s an emotional quality that drives the music and works well in a cinematic use. Most importantly, we’re writing about messages that everyone can relate to and the sound has something unique that audiences can gravitate to.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Artist Feature: The Octopus Project

Originally published November 1, 2010 in Redefine Magazine.
Direct link to article

While movie studios compete to outdo one another with the latest in 3-D technology and even pop stars like the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber are getting a bite of the action with their own 3-D concert films, Austin's The Octopus Project is leaving them all in the dust by thinking in terms of eight. With the desire to expand their already kinetic, spacey sound, the band has cooked up an idea that plays with a number of dimensions and would actually be experienced in a live setting, involving eight speakers, eight video projectors, and eight video sequences synchronized to music. The concept places the band in the center of a tent with an audience encircling them and the speakers surrounding the audience. Projected images on the ceiling replaces the night sky and watches over the crowd.

Before writing a note of music, the band took the performance idea to the Whole Foods Market flagship store in Austin, proposing to perform the project in the store's parking lot during SXSW 2010, says band member Yvonne Lambert. Without knowing all the specifications, Whole Foods agreed. However, The Octopus Project was then challenged with the task of figuring out how to make the idea come to life and write music that would do justice to such a colossal endeavor.

"We had a little bit of a freak out moment after they said yes," says Lambert. "It was exciting and scary at the same time."

The band named the venture Hexadecagon and the music that was created later went on to form the latest The Octopus Project album by the same name, which was released by Peek-A-Boo Records in Fall 2010. However, making the music for the two free live performances at SXSW and recording it for the album were two different undertakings.

For the live performances, the band first got all the technical aspects down and acquired the necessary equipment. The mostly-instrumental quartet, which also includes Lambert's husband, Josh Lambert, and friends, Toto Miranda and Ryan Figg, is already known for approaching music in an unconventional manner, whether it be in the live setting, where band members switch places and jump around from instrument to instrument, or with the mixture of sounds and textures that they incorporate in their music. If any Austin band among a sea of bands at SXSW were to come up with fitting music for such a task and represent the city's status as the "Live Music Capital Of The World," it would have to be The Octopus Project.

When it came time to focus on writing songs, the technical aspects that the band hammered out served as inspiration, says Josh Lambert. Some of the things that they tinkered with included making the sounds jump across from one speaker to another and also having tones move around from speaker-to-speaker in succession. The band took about three months to put the concept together and write the music. They rehearsed some aspects at their practice space and on the roof of Whole Foods, but the first time that they ever ran through the entire Hexadecagon show from start to finish was in front of the SXSW crowd. Fan-recorded videos of Hexadecagon on YouTube show band members continuously moving around, toggling all sorts of electronics and hopping from instrument to instrument, which is not too different from any other Octopus Project performance. It is not unusual to see Miranda play drums one minute and guitar the next, or Josh Lambert doing the same, while Figg switches between guitar and bass and Yvonne Lambert swaps between keys and the theremin. However, the reactions of audience members make it evident that the Hexadecagon performances were anything but ordinary. Expressions of awe dominate people's faces as they contemplate whether they should focus their attention on the band members on stage or on the images on the ceiling.

A friend of the band, Wiley Wiggins, helped create the video sequences, which are just as colorful as the music. Animal drawings, images of classrooms, and footage of two young twin girls are interesting and eerie enough to keep audience interest. What the YouTube videos do not capture is the movement of the sounds. Yvonne Lambert says that everyone essentially had a unique experience.

"Depending on where you were standing in the crowd, it was maybe a little surprising and unexpected, in a fun way," she says.

For the album, the band had to rethink the music and come up with ways to keep that element of astonishment for the average CD and MP3 listener, who most likely would not have the luxury of listening to the album with 8-channel surround sound.

"We were so used to hearing it in our space, where we practiced with eight big PA speakers around us and wrote with that in mind," says Miranda. "It was a challenge to reduce that down to stereo and still get the feel."

The band members accepted the challenge with glee. Having been a band since 1999, The Octopus Project is good at diving into ambitious projects head on and has an admirable eagerness to learn new things. While some band members did have some type of musical training as children, they all say that they enjoyed exploring different sounds and going on offbeat paths.

Their previous bands helped them improve the way they approach music, but The Octopus Project was started with a different focus.

"This band is the first one that was sort of more about the sounds," says Miranda. "Specifically, about trying to do things with sound more than just write some songs and play the songs."

Their dedication to experimenting with sounds paid off when it comes to the new album, which they recommend listening to with a pair of headphones. While not exactly the same as having eight speakers, the sounds do bounce from ear to ear, creating a sweet web of music in the listener's head.

On top of great music and interactive listening experiences, sometimes fans even get toys, which add a visual aspect to the physical releases. For the double vinyl release of "Hexadecagon," the band designed a zoetrope with eight different slides -- one for each song of the album. Once constructed and placed on top of the record, fans can view animations similar to the video sequences at SXSW. By not specifying which slide should go with which song, The Octopus Project give fans the freedom to mix and match.

"We wanted to make the vinyl release as elaborate as we could, to make it a really exciting object you would want to have in your house beyond just the music, which is obviously available digitally without any kind of physical packaging at all," Miranda says. "So if you're going to buy something, we wanted to make it something pretty intense and cool."

While touring with Starfucker, the band had the vinyl version of Hexadecagon available before its release date. The tour gave fans a taste of the new music, and some visuals were taken from the zoetrope and SXSW performances. With limited equipment at clubs, the band had to once again reconfigure the music and visuals to fit standard sound systems and one screen.

"We had to rethink the live versions kind of in the same way we did for the record," says Josh Lambert. "[It involved] just figuring out how we can make it as awesome as can be stereo-wise and visually with the projections."

Considering how well-executed the entire Hexadecagon project has been, from the SXSW performances to the album and tour, it is surprising that the band members are not pretentious. While all the band members exude a strong creative energy, they are not the artsy-fartsy type of people. They are just genuinely talented, curious, and above all, humble. They do not embark on grandiose projects to gain praise; rather, they do it to feed their wandering minds. Although they might do it without thinking about it, they are always challenging themselves.

"I think we like to keep it tense," says Josh Lambert. "I think we like to keep a really healthy balance of, 'Ohhh, everything could fall apart at any given moment.'"

"When things get comfortable," Yvonne Lambert adds in agreement, "we add a new element that could throw everything off."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Show Review: The Morning Benders, Twin Sister, Cults

Originally published in Redefine Magazine.
Direct link to article

The Music Box
Hollywood, CA
October 14, 2010

When a band tours to support an album as enchanting and staggering as The Morning Bender's "Big Echo," it is likely to be a challenge. In this case, the four-piece band could have either constructed a big roar of a live show or kept the beauty simple, like a brisk California breeze. The band chose the latter, and while there were a few songs that could have benefited from a bigger bang, the show at The Music Box in the heart of Hollywood was still delightful. While three out of the four band members are originally from Southern California, the Los Angeles weather somehow knew that the guys started playing music in Berkeley and welcomed them with familiar cloudy weather. The grey skies set a nice, gentle tone for the day and show.

Opening for The Morning Benders was New York's Cults, with its bright melodies and dreamy cadences. Cult's core was vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, and for the live show, they tripled their army to six, to include keys, drums, bass, and a second guitar. While Cult's song, "Go Outside," has been heating up the blog world all year, the live show fell a little short. The chemistry between the band members was not strong and though Follin danced like she was enjoying the performance, she had an uneasy look on her face. Oblivion provided back-up vocals on the songs, but when he took the lead, his voice sounded unpolished. Between the lovable glockenspiel on "Go Outside" and the spookier "The Curse," Cults showed a lot of potential with its range in sounds. The group just has to work on adding some spark to the live show.

Following Cults was another group from New York called Twin Sister. The band shared some of the awkward tension that Cults had, but it worked better for Twin Sister and its music. The five-piece was lead by vocalist Andrea Estella who was dressed in '80 garb--big hair, milky skin and all. Her vocals were airy and reminiscent of Bjork and the odd tone of CocoRosie. She gripped the mic and kept it close to her as if there was a reason to protect it from others. Her gaze made her seem shy, but also like she was hiding a wicked plan. Songs like "The Other Side Of Your Face" and "Milk And Honey" had a strong '80s vibes similar to those of The Cure and the Sixteen Candles soundtrack. The set ended with a fun, upbeat cover of La Bioda's "I Wanna Be Your Lover."

The anticipation for The Morning Benders was high by the time the band hit the stage at around 11 p.m. The band members must have sensed the enthusiasm in the air and teased the crowd by playing the beginning notes of "Excuses," the charming album opener off Big Echo. Just as the hearts of audience members were filled with joy at the sound of those first notes and before anyone knew it, the band smoothly started playing "Promises." The band was foreshadowing, but it was not quite time for "Excuses."

While The Morning Benders stuck to the basics and did not exaggerate its sound with additional instrumentation, there were a few small details that added a nice touch to the show. On "Hand Me Downs," drummer Julian Harmon multi-tasked between his drum kit and a drum pad, adding a well-rounded, resonating beat. Vocalist Christopher Chu kept his voice warm and not too fervent, but when the other three guys joined him on harmonies, the songs sounded tremendous. The long instrumental sections in "Mason Jar" and "Stitches" sounded nice, but were possibly too hypnotic for the especially energized crowd.

The rawness of older tracks like "Damnit Anna," "Boarded Doors" and "Waiting For A War" were more in tune with people's energy level. Before going into "Waiting for a War," Chu encouraged the audience to bounce around, and people happily complied.

One song from "Big Echo" that should have taken some energy from the former was "All Day Day Light." On the album, the song is a divine high point with fiery zeal. Had the band members magnified the emotions of the song, it would had been an epic sight, but instead they chose to slow it down, which was disappointing. Predictably the last song of the set, "Excuses" made up for the night's bumps, as time seemed to stop for its infamous "da-dums." Chu ditched the guitar for shakers and led the crowd as everyone sang along.

As an added treat, The Morning Benders performed a lovely cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" for the encore. With ease in their musicianship and harmonies, the guys of The Morning Benders proved their deep understanding and knack for California's cordial, luminous pop sound. While there were a few lulls throughout the night, The Morning Benders bode well without any Hollywood artificial flavoring.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Album Review: Chico Mann - Analog Drift

Originally published October 12, 2010 in Redefine Magazine.
Direct link to article

Chico Mann
Analog Drift
Wax Poetics

Although it may be difficult to confine the music by multi-instrumentalist Chico Mann to just one genre, it is safe to say that his sophomore release, Analog Drift, is a quintessential New York album. With a heavy Afrobeat and Cuban influences, vocals in both Spanish and English, and a number of synthesizers in hand, Chico Mann, aka Marcos Garcia, creates a melting pot of soulful and sexy sounds, much like the city that never sleeps. Previously released digitally through Garcia’s Website, Analog Drift is now expanding its audience through Wax Poetics Records and is ready to be played on the dance floors. Right from the first beat, a listener will want to put on a fedora hat and take over the town.

Considering that Garcia grew up in New York and New Jersey and that his father was the owner of a NYC Latin record label, it's easy to see the authenticity in what he is trying to do with his music. Garcia has a deep understanding of which sounds from the past, present and future can work together to induce dancing. On the first track, "Harmonia," Garcia sings, "Queremos harmonia," which translates to, "We want harmony," and harmony is exactly what Garcia accomplishes on the album. As funky bass lines and finger-picked guitar rhythms lay the foundations, synthesizers shimmer and fill out each song. All the sounds seem to respect one another, allowing each one to breathe and flourish.

On "Anima" and "All That Is Rising," the synthesizers appear to have a conversation with each other. Before any vocals kick in, the instruments follow a call-and-response pattern. "All That Is Rising" has a more dramatic beginning as percussion builds up anticipation, creating imagery of an empty warehouse or a dark alley. More movement is slowly introduced, like a city transitioning into its time for nightlife.

While there is a lot of use of electronic sounds, the songs all come off as fun and smooth, as opposed to being hyper. A sense of hipness remains consistent throughout. With a modern touch, the album incorporates all that was cool in the '70s and '80s, from roller discos to break dancing. At times, Garcia's vocals reach a higher-pitched spectrum, but remain aligned with the energetic tradition of Cuban vocalists. The lyrics are more like phrases rather than stories, and while some are memorable, the focus is more on the musical groove and getting in the zone.

With a cover of Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime," the album goes deep into the '80s and wraps up nicely with the slower tempos of "Metele Mano" and "This Love." Even as the album seeps into nostalgia, the good energy remains. There is no moment on the album where things clash or seem forced. Like the diverse history of New York City makes it one of the most fascinating places in the world, Analog Drift takes the classic and the new to make an invigorating experience.