Saluting the Drummers!

Because really, do they ever get the respect they so justly deserve?

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Maybe people are just jealous of the hair. The need for this dedication comes courtesy of two sources.

1: This writer’s ongoing obsession with the music of Anderson .Paak (see previous post, RE: The Reasons Behind That)

2: This.

As you may or may not know, this video of 8-year old Japanese drumming prodigy Yoyoka Soma replicating John Bonham’s (extremely difficult) drumming on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” recently went viral. Now watch this video because the interest is SO well-deserved!

I don’t say that easily either.

You see, I’m one of those Grinch types that can’t get onboard with kid musical performances. And I don’t mean the 8th grade high school talent show variety, more like the “see this crazy gifted 10-year old on major network television” kind. I applaud them for what they’ve done… I’m just not likely to watch.

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But let’s not dwell on that, and instead talk about this video. I’m not a drummer so forgive the lack of any technical knowledge in describing this, but suffice to say this kid has chops. Her foot can barely reach the kick drum pedal, yet she’s already acing the patterns of one of rock’s more technical drummers. If you’ve seen the video already, just go back and watch it for that kick drum impressiveness alone.

In 8 years I was lucky if I had complete mastery of the alphabet (spoiler alert: still a work in progress), let alone nailing the percussion to one of rock’s more classic songs. Right down to the opening cowbell flourish people. Somewhere, Christopher Walken is very happy. And still likely as weird as ever, according to Captain Obvious.

So all hail the sick drumming skills of Yoyoka Soma, as well as all the young, very talented musicians who may or may not be “crazy gifted on network television”. Ya’ll are doing fine work, and despite this Grinch’s worse ways, you are the coolest.

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Oh, Tuesdays…

They’re not exactly the Tom Waits-ian type days of lore where you expect to sit back spinning “great yarns” by the smoky haze of lamplight. But, given that the start of my average work day coincides with the beginning of the standard workplace lunch break, I tend to look toward the odd days/hours to help unleash my inspiration. Which in itself… hasn’t been an easy process.

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Lately I’ve been trying to feel my way out of one of the worst dry spells I’ve experienced as an independent writer, and losing my urge to create. And while I don’t want OTBEOTB to be any less about music, from now on you may see more of my “nuts and bolts” feelings regarding my creative process.

That might occasionally include venting some of the frustration on the road to breaking out of a funk too.

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Because there certainly have been plenty of recent ups and downs, and speaking from the perspective of a slump as a long-time sufferer of anxiety, it makes the feeling of sitting silent agonizing. Not using the words I know I have. I feel like there are worlds out there spinning I’m out of orbit from or places my voice could be. And yet, I’m not there.

Yet at the same time, I still think of plenty I’d like to say about a new song or an album I see that I just can’t make myself write down. Or, I deeply fear what I will say won’t sound as good as what’s in my head. So… let’s change that feeling, because I have something new (to me) musically you need to know about.

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In the last week or so, I’ve suddenly been devoted to the discovery of California singer/rapper/drummer/producer extraordinaire Anderson .Paak, his last full-length LP (2016’s Malibu), as well as recent .Paak singles “Bubblin'” and “‘Til It’s Over”. Now despite being a voracious music lover, I admit to being very guilty of having good music in my possession I simply don’t listen to. To put it in terms of food, my eyes occasionally grow larger than my stomach. So from time to time, I’m a few years back on a good thing. #musicalpackrat

In .Paak’s case, last Monday morning I put on lead Malibu track “The Bird” in a spontaneous decision to listen to the album straight through after previously leafing through a few cuts. And while low background music I enjoy typically helps me focus during work days, I never expected to be so quickly struck by the burst of lightning that is how good of an album Malibu is. While a few moments do drag (and I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cringe at the Prince-sounding omage of “Silicon Valley”), .Paak’s consistency across Malibu and its 16 songs is almost revelatory in the days of digital.

To give you a quick sense of the artist without sudden need of a Spotify search, here’s .Paak with band The Free Nationals on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

And performing “The Bird”.

One of the greatest things about .Paak and Malibu in my opinion is the way the record’s sounds of rap and R&B glow fresh and contemporary, while still maintaining a washing machine blend of James Brown footwork, Otis Redding soul, swinging jazz/funk, and the building blocks of 70’s-era West Coast music. And to hone in on the Godfather of Soul for a moment, its .Paak’s similarly confident, swaggering braggadocio sealed with a Cheshire Cat grin that makes this record kick even harder. He’s got a hell of a gift and knows it, and that in and of itself is infectious.

.Paak does have other prior musical output, most notably LP Venice which has more of a predominantly hip-hop flavor and is still a work in progress for me. Its good, but feels like .Paak just before he starts hitting his stride knocking fastballs and melodies alike out of the park. So consider me hooked as we wait for the two .Paak albums supposedly due out sometime in 2018.

And until then, I plan to do plenty of binge-listening like Netflix to get ready. With any luck, perhaps I can also include pushing those fears and anxieties away too.

(Also, here’s one last video. Just for fun.)

The week ahead, in music…

As we sit upon the cusp of a week just starting to peek its wayward head above the horizon, my music-worshipping brain has decided to ship a few (newer) musical selections your way to help make the days more bearable. Those commuter treks don’t just soundtrack themselves after all.

But anyway.

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Brandi Carlile, By The Way, I Forgive You

First #realtalk moment of 2018: I was clearly napping at the wheel to not have seen how amazing Brandi Carlile has become as an all-around musician. Not that she was any slouch when her album The Story made waves in 2007, but while some might call that period of time a popularity “peak”, Carlile’s had other plans in mind. BTWIFY captures her hitting all the right notes, with tracks like “The Joke”, “Party of One”, “Hold Out Your Hand” and “Sugartooth” leading a list of music that could rank #1 for the year when all the votes are cast.

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Leon Bridges, Good Thing

There seems to have been some initial objection to Leon Bridges shifting to a more shine ‘n’ buffed production veneer on his latest LP Good Thing, but chalk it up to typical fan resistance to change: Bridges works this direction well. Not every track lands, but the album is still a well-crafted relationship of modern hooky textures (“Bad Bad News”, “Shy”) with plenty of endearing throwback (“Beyond”, “Shy”, “Georgia to Texas”). I don’t recommend getting through a few listens of this album unless you plan on having a good portion of it stuck in your head by the end.

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Brent Cobb, Providence Canyon

Brent Cobb may have only just dropped 2nd LP Providence Canyon last week, but upon first listen he doesn’t seem to have missed a beat (or chapter) between now and debut record Shine On Rainy Day. Cobb has the same given knack for blue collar, salt of the earth storytelling as classic country artists like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, without wasting time on any of the tropes dragging down the modern version of the genre. Another fine installment of folk-rock finery here.

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Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, “Ohio (Single)”

Now, for the final entry in this quick list of weekly musical choices, I’ve selected Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness and his new single “Ohio”. I was first exposed to McMahon when his track “Cecilia and the Satellite” was a consistent figure for radio airplay, and I could see “Ohio” ultimately being on a similar trajectory. It doesn’t hurt that musician Butch Walker’s onboard as producer, which always gets my Spidey senses tingling after Walker’s work with the likes of Brian Fallon. Either way, a bit of piano, a lot of nostalgic heart, and a few hooks for the road propels “Ohio” to the good listening list this week.

Now, get out there, enjoy your week, and make sure to bring the music!

Stellar followup is no “Fiction” on new Babcock EP

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When I was first introduced to Stephen Babcock through his prior record Said & Done, I could sense his developing potential. The kind of young musician beginning to reach out and establish himself as he found the basis of his sound and where it might possibly stake his career.

Said & Done felt like the initial foundation of that structure, built on charming acoustic-laden fixtures. Now, Babcock’s new release Fiction feels as though the walls of that metaphor are starting to build up and take on a greater shape. Not that it isn’t without its fair share of familiar moments.

The folky Dawes send-up of album opener “Atlanta” and folk-rock of “Seersucker Dress” could certainly slot in easily alongside tracks from Said & Done. I think the major difference for Babcock on this album though, is more experience. As with any talent, getting to constantly learn, hone and repeat your art is always the best medicine. And you hear those results both in the familiar, speedway-chugging, Paul Simon wit of “Atlanta”, as well as the real left turns that start coming in with tracks like “Darlin” and “Good Things”. The first gets off the ground on the wheels of a boisterously racing Hank Williams-style hoedown, while the other is a smoky, organ-accented blues take that rewards Babcock handsomely for reaching outside the box.

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In fact, “Good Things” final, guitar-searing crescendo may be the most head-turning moment of the whole record. Its the kind of hallmark standout that takes a good song and makes it great, while hinting at greater vision along with it.

Closer “5A” settles back into what Babcock does best without ringing of repetition or ground retread. If the first four tracks of Fiction weren’t enough to have you at least humming a chorus or harmony the first listen in, the earworming lines of “5A” will handle the rest.

Now ordinarily this would be the line where I’d riff a closing pun about how Babcock’s talent is no Fiction, but since I already did it in the title suffice it say: put this album in your summer playlist. You’re gonna have fun.

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Find Stephen online at stephenbabcockmusic.com, on Spotify, and where good social media is sold! 

“Atlanta” gives 2018 the right side of folk rock kick

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As we wind down March and meander into April, it seems like a biennial rite of spring to hear new music fresh off the grapevine in 2018 from New York City troubadour Stephen Babcock. His prior album Said & Done was a fresh favorite of mine and a hot topic on this site at about this time in 2016. Now, two years later Babcock’s preparing followup EP Fiction, due out April 6th.

And while my first thought is its been two years already? What’s really important here is the song. On one hand, “Atlanta” continues the best qualities of Babcock’s well-crafted songwriting. Though in this case, it feels as though it hones in more on the Ryan Adams Gold-era as opposed to John Mayer’s Room For Squares. You can sense the growth in Babcock’s craft since Said & Done, tinkering and getting his weapons sharper. The instruments feel thicker here, with variations and new inclusions that show promise for the entire album’s direction. While the rest of the track hooks with the charm of a foot-tapping Southern ladykiller.

If the reason for our slow start to Spring has been because we don’t have enough 2018 summer driving songs to warm things up, lets start with “Atlanta”. That Jason Isbell-y sounding guitar hum that kicks towards the end is worth the miles alone.

Check out “Atlanta” over on Spotify, and Stephen Babcock online at stephenbabockmusic.com! 

Tuning into the 2018 Grammys…

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…this past weekend was as usual an interesting if altogether deeply flawed experience. Flawed because, as many people more intelligent than I have already noted, the Grammys as an institution is out-of-touch from both a musical as well as cultural standpoint. The program as a whole would likely need to be gutted starting now if it were to get anywhere close to an actual representation of real artistry again.

So, on one hand its very upsetting to see the likes of Bruno Mars beat out the kind of statement album put out by Kendrick Lamar with DAMN. (twice!). Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruno. He’s likely the closest thing we’ll get to Michael Jackson’s skillset again in this lifetime. But his 24K Magic is once again indicative of the safe radio earworm award winners that are more preservatives than legitimate product. AKA, exactly what the Grammys really wants.

The same applies for Ed Sheeran’s win in a category that included both the vastly better Lady Gaga and Kesha. Seeing Kesha’s very public battle to separate from alleged abuser Dr. Luke culminating in the exultation of freedom on her single “Prayer” should have been enough to earn her that award ten times over.

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But until there’s a major shakeup in the system, these controversies will happen as regularly as the ceremony lets music lovers down. When you can ignore artists covering important systemic issues while those same issues are currently at a boiling point in the world… you miss the point every. Single. Time. So I would advise the young and hungry artists to worry less about a show that wants to devote itself to cheerleading, and continue blazing the trails they’re making in the world through their art.

And in the meantime may those dinosaurs die off along with their outdated ideals.

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To double back to Lamar though, the Compton rapper continues to leave me impressed. His vocals still take some getting used to for me, but his performances are aggressively challenging, his technical skills almost sound too fast at times they’re so effortlessly good, and the fascinating concept behind DAMN. is worth researching if you’re a lover of musical backstory. Its a record of many, many layers.

Plus, Lamar’s opening performance at the Grammys (featuring Dave Chappelle) really reminded me again of how vital this genre has become.

Hip hop is acting as one of the most important, socially conscious forms of music and art we have in our modern world today. Its a message I can’t stress highly enough when engaging in musical conversation with people. Its a genre that should be getting its due. On a list of mostly wrong things the Grammys did the other night, leading with Kendrick Lamar was one they got right.

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And I don’t claim to have extensive knowledge on the subject. The fact is I don’t, but the hip hop and rap artists I hear today inspire me to want to just sit down, listen, and learn. They are speaking to a power so fierce that requires nothing more than sharp words to tear down the likes of racists, bullies, corrupt lawmen, inequality, and societal injustice.

Its like poetry in motion with the grace of mental killing power. And in a world gone chaotic, these are so many of the voices that are more critical than ever to listen to. And we need to listen.

Sit down. Be humble. 

Dear Apollo ready for launch with debut release

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(Before you read this review, I would highly suggest reading (or rather listening) to my prior piece before this one on the Ithaca, NY-based band Dear Apollo via my radio segment The Arts Beat. If you haven’t already of course. I feel like it really adds another great layer to this story.)

But anyway, onto the EP. Having recently met both Ben Robinson and AJ Dicembre (the core members of Dear Apollo) for the purpose of conducting the aforementioned Arts Beat interview, I feel like I possess an added level of context for this album review that I don’t normally get to receive. And that really gives it an interesting spin.

For one thing, hearing firsthand how the pair recorded this debut album in separate locations and in many stages via the computer program Dropbox doesn’t ruin or take away from the evident chemistry contained on the EP. In fact, it makes it more impressive listening to Dicembre and Robinson reach through the traditionally disassociated membrane of technology with something that makes every effort to connect with its audience.

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Exploring the thought of that borderline between futuristic feats and the fragile nature of humanity makes opening track “Parachute” a perfect way to set the scene of the EP. Pulsing with synthesizers like the gentle wave of a heartbeat, the song makes the Dear Apollo name feel literal as the emotional turmoil of the lyrics seems to play out over the shiny blue Earth spinning far down below.

Similar terms apply for following song “Won’t Stay, Won’t Go”, which has a David Byrne and Brian Eno sense of chorus in the higher tempo sections before settling into more gradual areas of moody guitar strums and blooping background textures. The wide-ranging influences of Robinson and Dicembre get a chance to play on third track “Your Way”, as vibes initially resembling The National get a folk-bearing twist of The Avett Brothers with the presence of banjo that seems to float up out of the mists. Its arguably the moment the record pauses most to get reflectively introspective, calling to mind Elliott Smith titles like Figure 8 where Smith’s confessional murmurs were met with more fully-fleshed arrangements.

Closing with the infectious bop of pop-rocker “Indestructible” gives the EP’s finish just the hook it needs to bring the listener back to the start, which comes quickly with an overall runtime of just over 10 minutes. Not exactly a lengthy amount of time for either an audition or making a first impression, but Dear Apollo proves themselves worthy of the challenge on this versatile, impactful debut.

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For more on the band, check them out at dearapollo.com. 

 

 

Making Introductions: Dear Apollo

I had a lot of fun with this one.

Dear Apollo is an Ithaca, NY-based band led by good friends Anthony Dicembre and Ben Robinson. As part of my radio segment The Arts Beat, I had the recent opportunity to interview both Dicembre and Robinson in studio and talk more about their self-titled EP (which you can hear above; a full version will come out here eventually). We talk about a lot of great material including how the pair made their album entirely over Dropbox, which is one of the coolest musical creation stories I’ve heard in a while.

I’ll say this much, when it comes to interviews I’ve had with musicians in local music both here and around the Northeast I have had a lot of wonderful experiences. Not only from the standpoint of having met/worked with a lot of genuinely friendly people, but also because there are just such great stories to tell.

And Robinson and Dicembre have a good one. Go give it a listen, and if you want to know more check out the band at http://www.dearapollo.com.

And so we reach, the final number…

Of 2017!

It ended up getting here a bit later than I intended, but below you’ll find my final installment of the Top Five Albums of 2017!

This time Lee and I were joined by another one of our radio crew Michayla Savitt, who added an excellent selection to wrap up this year’s coverage!

My notes…

Julien Baker’s Turn Out The Lights hit my musical landscape like a gradually evocative wave this year. While initially in the midst of a pack of strong releases, Baker broke out further and further based on one simple fact: Lights may be a slow burn of a listen, but once it takes off it is flooring.

Baker isn’t just an artist whose brush is especially skilled at painting in the darker palettes either. Rather, she’s a highly underrated markswoman of a lyricist who hits profound lines in a way that requires listen after listen. If for nothing else but to truly absorb the beauty in what sometimes feels like ultimate despair.

Lights certainly isn’t a record containing the high level thrash of Queens of the Stone Ages’ latest or the righteous rock of Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound. It is slower and MUCH heavier (more of the morning after than the main event), but its brutally honest to the bones and Baker isn’t afraid to let her vocals fly out in pursuit of a catharsis to the pain of emotions expressed in songs like “Appointments”, “Shadowboxing”, and “Hurt Less”.

One of music’s great gifts is the ability to make us feel, especially through the rare talents that show up to turn that little bit of skilled craftsmanship they’ve figured out into a shivering, slightly indescribable chill running down your spine. Thats when you know you’ve found something more… something extra you need to slow down for because otherwise you might miss the next best thing.

Welcome Julian Baker. I’m more than proud to close by 2017 on you.

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