This review is way, way, way overdue. Back in March, Dreaming in Stereo invited me to cover their show at SXSW. I missed the show, unfortunately, but they were kind enough to send me their new album, Dreaming in Stereo 2, to review. Lo these many months later, I can say that, having listened to the album, if I ever get another chance to see this band live, I will go without hesitation. I certainly regret missing that show in Austin.
The album is gorgeous from start to finish. Truly a delight. The progressive pop music is cinematic, deliciously layered vocals floating over dreamy string arrangements. The songs have an unhurried quality, capturing what one might imagine a sunny Saturday in the band’s hometown of Miami Beach, Florida, would feel like. It’s tempting to escape into the rich sonic landscape of the record, to indulge in a mini-vacation with every listen.
The man at the helm is Fernando Perdomo, an accomplished musician whose credits include playing lead guitar on a platinum-selling album (Amar Es) and international tour for Grammy-nominated Mexican pop singer Christian Castro. Perdomo writes and sings most of the songs on Dreaming in Stereo 2, with the exceptions of “Saturday Song” and “Without You”, by Marisol Garcia. Garcia’s vocals are stunning; her range extends from quiet intimations to soaring climactic power.
One thing the band seems to collectively understand is the significance of the musical dramatic arc. “Enough’s Enough” is but one example in which a pop melody swells into full orchestral glory and then returns to the original theme. This prog tactic owes much to Pink Floyd, who seem consciously referenced in songs like “Open the Door 2”, with its Syd Barrett-psychedelic lyrics and Dark Side of the Moon acid guitar solo with female vocals underneath. The Beatles also seem to be an influence, as in the vocal harmonies of “Part of Your Life”. Like the Beatles, Dreaming in Stereo writes songs that have an undercurrent of longing, a delicate sadness made beautiful by music. In effect, the experience of the album as a whole is a sort of journey, both inward into secret emotions and outward in an exploration of just how picturesque sound can be.
At SXSW, in a week of strong if mostly homogenous indie rock-lite bands, and at a showcase for a genre of music (metal) that’s dominated more by screaming than by singing, Lo-Pan was a welcome deviation from the norm. I’m glad I skipped The Strokes.
At their performance at Barbarella, the Columbus-based band first caught my attention with their physical arrangement onstage. Bassist Skot Thompson stood downstage-right; guitarist Brian Fristoe was downstage-left; and drummer JBartz sat upstage center. Nothing atypical about any of that.
The unusual thing was that vocalist Jeff Martin (who writes all the song lyrics) was almost hidden from view. He stood upstage-right, kind of in a corner between the bass and drums. And there he stayed, for the entire set. None of those all-too-common singer/screamer-who’s-not-playing-an-instrument running around downstage with neck veins bulging and spit and sweat flying onto the audience type antics.
In a word: no diva.
But there was singing. Yes, actual singing. Strong tenor vocals, on pitch. No screams.
I’m not sure I’d call Lo-Pan 100% metal—and that’s not just because of the singing. I can’t quite put my finger on what the classification should be. Their myspace page says “Classic Rock/Crunk/Psychedelic”, but I’m not convinced that’s right. For one thing, the songs are virtually crunk-less. The music is rock, without a doubt. The hard-hitting forward propulsion of JBartz’s drums bears some resemblance to Motörhead. There’s also some Baroness-esque sludge going on in the thickness of the bass and guitar riffs. So, score two for the metal category. But there are hints of a ballsier Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in there, as well. Score one for rock/psychedelic. (Baroness, as well, visits trippy territory.) The Chris Cornell-quality vox and dirty guitars recall early Soundgarden, but Lo-Pan isn’t grunge. Alternative rock is a useless term, and this band is tougher than that, anyway.
So, what are they? The question keeps me listening. That, and their live presence: the amount heart in their playing is visceral—collectively, and from Thompson in particular. It’s not often that the bass player stands out in a metal band; more commonly the focus is on rip-roaring guitar heroics or speed-demon drumming. (Or screams.) Again, at the risk of over-relying on this comparison, Motörhead seems an appropriate reference, Lemmy being one of the few bass players whose unmistakable style has defined a band. Similarly, Thompson brings high-caliber chops and a cool intensity that go beyond grounding the root notes of the song; in many cases he’s carrying the rhythm and sustaining the heavy mood simultaneously. This is not to say that the other players aren’t pulling their weight—they certainly are. But just listen to how Thompson matches Fristoe’s guitar note for note on bass from about the 4:45 mark of “Dragline” (from the newly remastered 2009 album Sasquanaut), nearly to the end of the song. It’s an almost Priest-like double axe attack, with the bass standing in for a second guitar. Subtle, yet powerful.
Lo-Pan’s third record, Salvador, to be released this month, maintains this power trio + power singer formula with even tighter (read: potentially commercially appealing) arrangements. Lyrically, Martin presents an inner apocalypse that seems to manifest itself in physical metaphors. Even if violent images like “blood on the snow” and “rivers run red with the blood of the greedy” are a bit overwrought and lines about “all my paranoid fantasies” a tad vague, Martin does achieve an overall atmosphere of honest despair. These may not be the most sophisticated lyrics, but their earnestness is relatively believable.
I have a feeling that some people will dismiss Lo-Pan due to the accessibility—as in, listen-ability—of their music compared to that of indie metal bands who seem to trade on the fact that you have to suffer through serious aural abrasion in order to hear the actual music. (Agalloch, for example, who headlined the SXSW showcase at Barbarella that featured Lo-Pan, drew a packed crowd. While Agalloch is a terrific band, their death metal is not “easy” to listen to, per se.) If nothing else, I’d like to make a case for Lo-Pan with the idea that indie metal doesn’t have to be avant-garde or “difficult” in order to be good, or at least enjoyable.
Before you make up your mind about Lo-Pan, see them live. They’re touring and gaining momentum. I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard them on the radio within a year or two. The possibility of their finding a broad fanbase seems likely.
At the end of SXSW, Charlene Kaye, along with band member Megan Cox on violin, are playing El Mercado, an Austin Tex-Mex restaurant—and an appropriately ironic venue for Kaye to finish out the week. “I don’t think I can eat anymore Mexican food after this trip,” she laughs. “If I never see a taco again, it will be too soon.”
A 24-year-old Hawaii native with Singaporean parents, Kaye grew up in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Arizona before attending college as an English major at the University of Michigan. She moved to New York about a year and a half ago, immediately after college, with a number of musician friends from school, no money, and no place to live. Since then, she says she’s been “single-mindedly” pursuing a career in music.
“I really can’t see myself doing anything else. I almost don’t really feel like I have a choice.”
A few minutes of listening to Kaye’s jazzy vocals, poetic lyrics, and strong song arrangements will convince anyone that she’s chosen exactly the right profession. Her exotic beauty and effortless confidence onstage present a singer/songwriter who seems primed for success.
In fact, Kaye’s recent single “Dress and Tie” has already earned her an impressive amount of recognition for someone so relatively new to the music business. Recorded with fellow U. of M. alum and Glee cast member Darren Criss, the song made the top 150 downloaded songs the day it was released on iTunes. Not surprisingly, Kaye says this has significantly expanded her fan base. “I have a lot of all-ages fans, as in, under-21 fans, because the Glee demographic tends to be a younger crowd,” she explains. “Everywhere we’ve gone, I’ve gotten at least ten little girls who are like, ‘I love Darren, and I love you! I love you because Darren loves you!’”
While the Midas touch of the Glee association has increased Kaye’s popularity, the attention certainly isn’t undeserved. Keep an eye on this talented lady. She is going places.
OH: Where did your band name, Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes, come from?
CK: It came from a dream that I had. The more I thought about it, the more I started to conceive it as the people around me, my bandmates and others that inspire me, who help me realize the musical ideas I have and flesh out my vision. It was also kind of inspired by the feeling of looking out into the crowd the second right before I start to sing and seeing all these eyes looking back in anticipation.
I feel like performing is kind of like having a conversation with somebody. If you feel like they’re giving something back, then you want to give more back.
OH: How long have you been playing music?
CK: I was trained in classical piano since the age of five, and I took piano lessons until I was sixteen. And then when I got into middle school and high school, I kind of dropped the piano and got really into Elliot Smith and Blink-182 and Good Charlotte and Goldfinger. I went through a big punk stage and learned like every song in drop-D possible. The first guitar I ever played was my mom’s classical, nylon strings, and I was playing Blink-182 on that. I just got frustrated with the formal training because it was nothing that I was listening to at the time, and once I discovered how to play songs I actually liked, I got really excited. And that was sort of the portal into discovering how much I loved music, when it didn’t feel like a homework assignment.
OH: I noticed Megan, your violinist, was playing and singing at the same time. I’ve never seen anyone do that before.
CK: Megan was a prodigy classical pianist. By age ten she was playing these really advanced sonatas, winning regional competitions and beating her older brothers. And then she was like, actually, I want to learn how to play violin. And so she became a badass at violin, and then she was like, actually, I think I want to be a classical voice major! So she majored in that in college, and now she’s a monster. The perfect triple threat.
OH: Did you take any voice lessons?
CK: Here and there. I took one class in college with this huge opera singer that was amazing in his own way, but I don’t really feel like I took anything from it because I’m more like a soul/rock vocalist, or at least I aspire to be. And he wanted me to sing in a traditional style. It didn’t really resonate. So I just sing however it feels good. I’ve been known to take Mariah Carey karaoke tracks and just practice with that because she’s so all over the place that anything you sing after that feels so easy—especially my stuff that has very defined melodies. I don’t riff that much. So, if I have to warm up, I’ll run through a Mariah Carey song! (laughs)
CK: My first album [Things I Will Need in the Past] I would describe as indie-folk-pop. All the instruments on the album are real acoustic instruments—cellos, lots of strings, real drums, lots of ambient percussion like woodwinds and chimes and glockenspiel and stuff like that. My EP [Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes] I would describe as more alternative rock. There’s one song that’s inspired by old soul songs…I’m so blatantly influenced by everything that I hear.
The new album is going to be much more personal and more intense. I’ve had a lot of life experiences since the release of my first album, and I think that though the voice that emerges is still me, it’s a more mature one, one that’s moved past writing about her first heartbreak or imaginary fictional scenarios. Musically, I want to say it’s stranger and more ambitious than the easy-listening pop stuff that’s characterized my sound in the past, but I hesitate because in some ways it actually does lean towards a more pop sound – a good handful of the songs from the new batch sound like singles to me, which I guess is a good thing. My inspirations are all over the place, from Blondie to M. Ward to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to of Montreal.
OH: Is this your first time at SXSW?
OH: What’s your experience been so far?
CK: Oh, man. I’ve had a blast. I cannot wait for next year. It’s been like margaritas nonstop!
Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes play Don Hill’s in NYC with Shoot the Freak and Hank & the Cupcakes on April 24 at 7:00 p.m.
In a word: exhaustion.
Tornado Rider at Momo’s. Awesome. If you do not know who these Californians are, find out. I’d call their music folk metal. (Could there be any two more disparate genres?) Rushad Eggleston (a.k.a. “The Sneth Goblin”) prances around in pink striped spandex pants and a hat that looks like it came from Sherwood Forest whilst wearing — yes, wearing — a cello. He’s Eddie Van Halen meets Robin Hood meets Yo-Yo Ma’s headbanging bastard cousin from Appalachia. Graham Terry (“Grammeecious the Black”) counters Eggleston’s hyperactive energy with a heavy bass groove (and a coonskin cap), and Scott Manke (“Baron Skatogious von Doodooheimer”) on drums harnesses the mayhem into a Mötorhead-esque driving thrash rhythm. And they’re hilarious. It’s brilliant.
In a puzzling stroke of luck, I scored an artist wristband because for some reason my band Love Crushed Velvet was registered in the SXSW database. Our lead singer A.L.X. discovered this upon arriving in Austin and “checking in” at the convention center. He and I immediately put the wristbands to good use at the Pitchfork party at Emo’s, where we saw No Joy and Weekend before heading to Spill, where I bailed, but A. stuck around for Diamond Rings and reported back that the set was strong.
The day of kickass female singers and ass-kicking metal.
Paste party: Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea, at Stage on Sixth. What a voice this girl has. Later, I migrated with a cadre of New Yorkers to the SPIN magazine loft for a solo acoustic set by Jewel, who was stunning — and (who knew?) hilarious, relating personal anecdotes between songs with a charmingly understated sense of humor.
Hit Barbarella in the evening for a metal showcase. Lo-Pan gets my SXSW award for favorite new discovery. Agalloch, the one band I really wanted to see this week (and the only show where my wristband really came in handy), killed it on the outdoor stage; their dark, abrasive ambience engulfed the audience for what seemed like a relentless eternity.
(Note: do not go from a death metal concert to a church. I did this. It made me paranoid. I caught the end of City and Colour‘s set at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, and, while the acoustics were fantastic, I kept expecting an evangelist to take the stage and guilt trip me for having just enjoyed several hours of “evil” at Barbarella.)
The SPIN Party. Backstage pass courtesy of Electric Child, whose performance hypnotized the crowd and, if the number of email addresses collected is any indication, turned many of them into new fans. Other highlights were, of course, The Kills with their set of new songs, DJing by Moby, OMD, and TV on the Radio. The latter I like much better in this smaller venue; the first and only other time I saw them was in 2006 when they opened for NIN at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston. Up close, their music is more danceable.
Charlene Kaye at El Mercado. Interview forthcoming! Tried to sit in Auditorium Shores long enough to catch some of Bright Eyes, but the band before, The Felice Brothers, were so not to my liking that I couldn’t stick it out long enough to see the headliner. I don’t understand why The Felice Brothers, from New Paltz, NY, would have Southern-ish accents and sound like Bob Dylan with a backing band and a hangover. Sorry, guys. Didn’t do it for me.
I did hear the beginning of the Bright Eyes show as I was leaving. Lots of spoken stuff, from what I could tell. Felt like I didn’t miss much by leaving.
Decompression. Day of silence. No crowds. A journal. Four dogs. Wristbands off. Relief.
Do you want a solid music blogger to review your performance? Or your CD? (More specifically, do you want ME to review your performance or CD?)
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If you answered yes to any/all of these questions, then get in touch with me. I am pimping out my blog, my opinions, and my writing next week at SXSW.
Here’s how this will work:
- For a $20 donation, I will attend and review your performance. (Note: if you’re playing a showcase that requires a badge, you’ll have to put me on your guest list because I don’t have a badge.) (450 words)
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I reserve the right to express honest opinions in my reviews. However, as I am not in the business of totally bashing bands that are new to the biz, I also reserve the right to refund your money and not write about you if I feel that I have absolutely nothing positive to say about you.
So, do you want to hire me? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org [Update 5/1/11 - I no longer use this email address. Contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @lindasusername.]
*You may notice that the charge per word is steeper for interviews. That’s because I have to spend time transcribing the interview after recording it (with your permission, of course), which doubles the workload for me.
As I write this, the Texas trio Girl in a Coma are playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg. But, when I spoke to bassist Jenn Alva yesterday, the band was still on the road and had recently been pulled over by a border patrolman about twelve miles outside of Mobile, Alabama. “He said that he had stopped us because we had a lot of luggage and Texas plates,” Alva says. If only the patrolman could see them now at their sold out show in Brooklyn…
Besides staying busy with their current tour (which includes opening for The Dresden Dolls in Texas in November), GIAC will release on October 19 their third album, Adventures in Coverland, a collection of—you guessed it—cover songs. (Lest you think the band is taking a breather from songwriting, know that guitarist Nina Diaz has already written about twenty new songs for another studio album, planned for release in spring 2011.) Alva explains that, with the exception of one new song and an acoustic version of a track off their previous record, Coverland is a tribute to artists whose music has influenced GIAC.
OH: How did you choose the cover songs for the new album?
JA: Each of us made a list of about ten to fifteen songs by different artists that we wanted to cover, and Nina looked at all of them. [The selection process] was about if we could do it, if we could pull it off. Because we’re not just dealing with fans of our band. If you do a cover, you’re dealing with fans of The Beatles and Patsy Cline. So, we really had to make sure that we were able to pull it off. We’re happy with our choices.
How did you incorporate your own style into the songs so that they sound different from the original versions?
You want to put your own touch on it. You want it to be a Girl in a Coma song, almost. It started with Nina rearranging the song, and then Phanie and I came in. Some of those original bass lines I didn’t even pay much attention to. I wanted to kind of rewrite the bass line so that it would be kind of like a new song altogether. For example, the Selena song—that’s a completely new bass line. Patsy Cline—that’s a new bass line. And then some of them, you don’t want to drift off too far with changing it, especially doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” because it’s already so great—not that the other songs are not or that they needed changing. It’s just one of those things with the Beatles.
Of the artists the band chose to cover, which ones had the most influence on you personally?
I love Patsy Cline. I love all oldies and rockabilly. So, Patsy Cline, Ritchie Valens—those were a pleasure to do.
It was at SXSW. He’s good friends with our buddy David Garza, and David was talking about us. [Robert] wanted to come check us out; he did, and he really liked our music. He did some filming during SXSW and kind of threw it together and asked, “Hey, do you want this? I put it to ‘As the World Falls Down’,” and of course we said “Yes!” There was a lot of common ground, with being from San Antonio and all.
It seems that the success of GIAC has drawn some attention to San Antonio and to the music scene there. Would you agree?
I hope so. This is another reason that keeps us going. You want to put your city on the map. You want it to be known that there’s great art, great music, and great people. We’re very proud of San Antonio.
Want to catch GIAC live? Check out their upcoming shows on their facebook page.
It’s no secret: I’ve been a cheerleader for Killola since I heard their first LP Louder, Louder! in 2007. This was before they helped me sneak backstage during SXSW 2009, where I interviewed them, snapped photos of the New York Dolls, and snagged a beer from the cooler as the bouncer threw me out. And, while I’m obviously biased, I’ll say that, based on my encounters with a LOT of musicians–both famous and lesser known–over the past several years, Killola are one of the just damn nicest, most accessible, and most fun bands to be around.
And they put on a hell of a live show. Lisa Rieffel is simply one of the most dynamic frontwomen on the scene. The last time I saw the band live, Lisa sang upside-down, hanging from the ceiling of The Studio at Webster Hall. Later that night, she was molested onstage by an over-zealous fan who stuck her hand down the singer’s shirt. (Lisa repaid her in kind.)
But the appeal of Killola extends beyond the stellar vocals; the L.A. band is also remarkable for how they’ve harnessed the fan-base building power of the Internet, to the extent that they’ve acquired a devoted cult following almost exclusively through an aggressive, grass-roots, online initiative. If for nothing else, Killola should be remembered as the band who whipped the web into submission until their music and concerts became a fan fetish. Examples:
- In 2007, Lisa tapped into The L Word audience and the OurChart social networking/dating site (now defunct) when she starred in the web series Girltrash!, frequently referenced by OurChart bloggers. The series also landed Lisa (already a professional actor) some mentions on the queer culture hub AfterEllen.com. In effect, the band gained exposure to a niche audience through the Girltrash! web series, then a relatively novel medium for entertainment.
- Also in 2007, the band announced on myspace that anyone with a Killola tattoo would forever get into Killola concerts for free. They posted fan photos of the K)) logo tatts on their profile. A brilliant on- and offline advertising campaign emerged. People are still getting K)) ink and sending their pics to the band. To this day, you can show up at the door the night of the show, flash your tattoo, and get in.
- Killola’s latest innovation is the pre-order format of their new album, Let’s Get Associated, on USB dog tag necklaces. For $40, you get the album in a wearable form, plus bonus materials, plus continual access to live recordings of Killola gigs. See the recent L.A. Times blog post about it.
Between the creative marketing savvy, the megawatt presence of the lead singer, and the tongue-in-cheek appeal of their music, it’s difficult not to appreciate Killola.
In Killola’s third studio effort, Let’s Get Associated, the band sticks with the California pop/punk vibe of their previous records while upping the quantity of 80s synth textures–and revving the vulgarity into overdrive.
Killola have never shied away from raunchiness. While tunes like “Cracks in the Armor” and “Traffic” are more introspective, you must have a sense of humor to swallow (no pun intended) a song like “I Wanna See Your Dick”. The same applies to the satirical “1-2-3-4″ (about moral hypocrisy) and “She’s a Bitch”. Whether or not the lyrics turn you off depends on your personal taste, though much of the crudeness is so over-the-top, so totally lacking in shame, that it’s almost impossible to take seriously. The brutal honesty of the the whole thing is enjoyably hilarious.
It’s also smartly feminist. Consider, what would we say about guy singing a song called “I Wanna See Your Pussy”? I think the general response would be, “Well, duh.” It wouldn’t be all that different from “The Thong Song” or “Baby Got Back”, both of which most of us laugh off and dance to without reserve. By turning the overt ogling around–that is, by switching the typical genders of ogler and oglee–Killola challenge the idea of sexual objectification as a male-dominated pastime.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into a campy rock song. Still, when a band is clever enough to self-manage and -market themselves as successfully as Killola have, that they might put the same amount of thought into their lyrics seems within the realm of possibilities.
Backstage with Killola and the New York Dolls
New York Dolls
The Onion AV Club/Decider/Canvas Media Present: It’s Pronounced Par-TAY
Parenthetical Girls, whose Portland-based members are of both sexes (not just girls), took the indoor stage at 4:00 p.m. Vocalist Zac Pennington swaggered during songs that fall somewhere into the experimental pop genre. The Girls’ music is unique but uneven; the band’s watchability is greatly increased by Pennington’s slinky presence.
Above: Parenthetical Girls, Left: Future of the Left
Future of the Left, from Wales, played a more consistent–and much, MUCH louder–set of solid alternative/punkish rock.
Outside, Ra Ra Riot (right) and …Trail of Dead (below) produced exactly what’s expected of them: well-attended, well-executed shows. No surprises, but no disappointments, either.
…Trail of Dead