2015 November

The Personal Touch: How Musicians Choose Their Festivals

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Have you ever wondered how musicians choose their music festivals? There are so many organizations that want famous musicians to play at their venues. For Sufjan Stevens, it took him eight years to finally respond to a request to play at the End of the Road festival in London. But what was unusual is that this request came in the form of a handwritten letter from the founders of the festival, Sofia Hagberg and Simon Taffe. This single sheet of paper was handwritten with a pen and was only 10 lines long. The letter is an invitation to Stevens for him to perform at the End of the Road festival. It also indicates that the festival is an intimate occasion set in the beautiful Victorian pleasure gardens, which have parrots and peacocks moving freely all around. Now eight years later he is ready to play there after giving the following response, “Better late than never.”
Stevens is not known for playing festivals, which is likely the reason why he didn’t initially respond to the letter. Many artists don’t play festivals because they feel their music will get lost amongst the large crowds and the variety of other bands playing at the same festival. There is no personal association with the festival like there is with concerts that are exclusive to one band. Of course, some bands don’t care about this and just consider festivals something to add to their touring schedule. For awhile, Stevens was thought to be this way but it looks like he is going to play the End of the Road festival after all.
Musicians are all different and that is a good thing. Sometimes their views and ways of doing things will change over time. It is just a part of getting older and realizing that their fans want to see them play anywhere. Stevens probably came to the conclusion that people would go to the festival just to see him, which would be a great honor for any musician who has people devoted to their music that much.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Stevens’ story with the festival, it is that festival operators and owners should not be afraid to ask musicians to play at their festival. It doesn’t matter how cynical you are about the musician because they will likely change their mind after enough time has passed. Either that or they could respond right away and accept your invitation. All you have to do is put forth the effort and ask them.

New Music: Vanessa Carltonis

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Vanessa Carltonis not an artist I’ve followed in the past. But I heard some positive buzz about her new album “Liberman” with descriptions like “stripped down”, “fresh approach”, etc. So I decided to check her new album out (I definitely appreciate a good female pianist/vocalist), and I definitely found it refreshing and a nice change of pace from the majority of the music I listen to. Carlton first broke out on the music scene way back in 2002 with her hit single “A Thousand Miles”, which went to #1 in the U.S. and top 10 in the U.K. She hasn’t reached this level of success again, but she has been releasing new music over the past 13 years, with “Liberman” being album #5. Carlton grew up in Pennsylvania and was taught piano by her mom. She wrote her first song when she was 8 years old. She ended up at the School of American Ballet in NY, but became frustrated with the strictness of ballet and ventured back toward the piano for her inspiration. Once she graduated from ballet school, instead of continuing a career in dance she enrolled at Columbia University. Carlton pursued a career as a musician, waiting tables for a couple of years while playing open mic events. She eventually signed with A&M Records and had major success with her debut album. Her hit song, “A Thousand Miles”, earned 3 Grammy nominations, in addition to charting at #1.

Success early in your career can be hard to handle though, how do you follow-up from that? Carlton’s sophomore album was much darker than her debut and it performed so poorly that A&M Records dropped her. Her third album received very strong reviews but failed to resonate commercially. Carlton had been dating and collaborating with Stephen Jenkins (Third Eye Blind) over her past two albums, but that relationship ended after her third album. Carlton recorded a fourth album in 2011. Since then, she got married and then had her first child earlier this year. Those events have led-up to her latest album “Liberman”. The album is named after her grandfather, although there doesn’t appear to be any direct references to him or her ancestry. It’s a great mellow listen, and the album really works well if you listen to it in its entirety. It’s more impactful as a whole than just listening to individual tracks. Given that, I’ve included three songs below, and if you like any elements in these tracks then I would definitely give a listen to the entire album.

“House Of Seven Swords” – This was the first track that popped out for me when I first listened to “Liberman”. Carlton’s voice really stands out on this song, and the track is really built all around her vocals. The music is very simple and sparse, mostly serving to fill in some gaps around her vocals. I would love to hear more music like this on pop radio stations.

“Nothing Where Something Used To Be” – This song does a nice job of contrasting the verses and the chorus, helping to maximize the impact of the chorus. Carlton also does a nice job of slowly building the momentum of the song. This track features some nice guitar and Carlton demonstrates some nice piano work in the latter part of the song.

“Unlock The Lock” – This is what I refer to as the “Enya song”, not that I’m a big fan of Enya but the music definitely has elements of Enya in it. Carlton’s voice on this song meshes really well with the instrumentation, which is again highlighted by some acoustic guitar and her piano.

Apple to Shutter Beats Music on November 30th

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On November 30th, Beats Music will be closed for good. Apple acquired the music streaming service about 1 ½ years ago, but they have decided to shutter it. Now those who use iOS and Android are being encouraged to transfer their music preferences and picks to Apple Music. All you have to do is sign in to your existing Beats Music account and then choose to switch over to either a family or individual membership. The family membership costs $14.99 per month, while the individual membership is just $9.99 per month.

Users will get an even better streaming experience when they switch over to Apple Music. When you go to listen to your favorite music it will track the genre you like to listen to the most. Then it will recommend other songs to you in that same genre which you may like as well. Apple Music also features a 24/7 global radio station and announcements of new songs from your favorite singers and artists. Of course, this is only the beginning. There are additional features to Apple Music that have not even been announced yet.
Beats Music was originally purchased by Apple in May of 2014 for $3 billion. At first, rumors suggested that Beats Music would be rebranded into something else. But what reports seemed to indicate was that numerous engineers from Beats Music were transferred to work on Apple iTunes instead. Then in early 2015, Apple Music launched and quickly obtained 6.5 million paid memberships. This likely decided the leaders of Apple to direct all of their attention to Apple Music, while abandoning Beats Music all together.
Users will have a lot of assistance in switching over from Beats Music to Apple. There is an official help desk on Twitter devoted to assisting people on this issue. You can also check out the latest issue of PCMag, which features a review of the Apple Music app for the Apple iPhone. They also have an informational list entitled “25 Things to Know About Apple Music.”

There are other tech companies moving into the streaming service industry. YouTube has already created a music app of their own, which company representatives suggest is a newer experience than that of any other streaming app. This is likely due to the fact that YouTube has an endless supply of songs and music in their catalog. Some of these songs are original pieces hosted on the channels of the actual artists while others are new songs performed by independent artists who are looking to make a name for themselves.

The Playlist – New Bands: Vogue Dots, Gold Celeste, Palace Winter and More!

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TheGuardian.com has featured a great playlist on their website. The playlist contains new bands that are bound to make names for themselves. These bands include Palace Winter, Gold Celeste, Vogue Dots and Future Elevators. The duo group “Vogue Dots” features Tynan Dunfield and Babette Hayward. They are both sound technicians from Nova Scotia and have just released their first single “Way with Silence.” Their music has a textured synthwave that is a cross between heavier Goth and airy dream pop. It is both murky and cloudy at the same time. Critics say Hayward’s voice is similar to that of Lana Del Rey’s voice.
Gold Celeste’s “Open Your Eyes” is the second single to be released from the band’s first album called “The Glow.” The band calls themselves Gold Celeste because of the beautiful colors in the sky that you see just before sunset and right after sunrise. Their music is supposed to represent the glow that every human being is carrying around with them, even if they are not aware of it. However, their music doesn’t just focus on the good. It also focuses on the bad as well. Human beings are capable of being extremely loving and extremely hateful. Gold Celeste wants their music to be both of these things because this is what creates the glow.

Palace Winter has fast and loud vocals with a shade of deep sadness to it. The duo band claims to be influenced by Seinfeld and Elliot Smith. Their new song “Menton” lasts for six minutes, but it is an entertaining six minutes. The song comes from the band’s debut EP called “Medication” and will be released in October. Anyone who is a fan of Kurt Vile or the war on drugs and vaccines will love this music. It has a steady rhythm that can be considered thoughtful electronic independent country music.

Future Elevators’ first single “Modern World” comes from the five piece Alabama debut album. It is already scheduled to be released in January of 2016 on the “Communicating Vessels” label. The name is appropriate seeing how the music tends to communicate a sense of wonderment to the listener. This groovy music from the band is just as interesting as the music of Gold Celeste. Future Elevators have also had many influences. They claim Modern World was influenced by the Carl Sagan documentary called “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” which is a theme about technology and all of the possibilities it can deliver to the world and universe.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweatsare

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Featuring a band this week who have a song I like so much the chorus is now my ringtone…

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweatsare based in Denver and they released their self-titled debut album in August this year. These guys have a vintage R&B sound, mixed in with some rock and soul – not unlike a rowdier Van Morrison. They are already building up a reputation for a stage-rattling live show. They signed with Stax and worked with producer Richard Swift to try and capture the energy from their live shows on their first album. Rateliff’s voice is powerful and a key focus within the band’s music. Their retro sound brings back music from decades back, but this also helps them really stand out when their music comes up on the radio. I still remember the first time I heard “S.O.B.” on the radio while driving, it was so different from the other alternative music that’s currently playedand the band’s name is easy to remember. I made a mental note to check them out later on Spotify. So if you’re in the mood for some vintage R&B/soul/rock/gospel, check out their self-titled album. At the very least, crank up “S.O.B.” and have a blast dancing or singing along.

“S.O.B.” is my current ringtone and definitely has one of my favorite choruses I’ve heard in a while. The track has a very simple stomp & clap rhythm with humming/whooping/whoaing driving the verses, then explodes into the choruses as Rateliff ups the intensity of his vocals, and the entire band kicks in along with horns. Try listening to this song without a smile breaking out – plus it’s a great way to kick-off your weekend.

“I Need Never Get Old” is the track that kicks off their album. It’s a little more mellow, but they manage to take it up several notches before the song has a chance to end. Again, a timeless sound and this track highlights Rateliff’s vocals and has a nice horn arrangement on it. I like how the transition from verse to chorus has a slight build-up as Rateliff stops singing, the music thumps along for a few beats and then they burst in with the chorus. They also do a great job building up the strength and power of the song as it progresses.

live version – pretty well recorded and these guys have a “live” sound anyway – plus you can get a feel for how they play live

“Trying So Hard Not To Know”is another great song that chugs along with its crisp guitar and staccato beat. The guitars have that vintage sound, and the music is recorded so it sounds like a live performance. My only fault with this track is how it abruptly ends, but it’s definitely kept short and sweet.

News Flash: Big Grams

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Big Grams is a collaboration with Phantogram and Big Boi. I was excited to hear what they recorded, since I’m a fan of Phantogram’s electro-pop sound and Big Boi’s solo records and a huge fan of his work with Outkast. I would have never paired these artists on paper, but hey, there’s no reason this couldn’t work well. This side project allows both artists to experiment outside of what they’d normally produce. How did these two acts come to collaborate on this project together? Well, Big Boi heard Phantogram on an Internet pop-up ad, he was so impressed with their music that posted about their music online. When Phantogram heard about this, they reached out to Big Boi since they were huge fans of Outkast. They ended up meeting at a music festival and Big Boi invited them to work with him. They actually worked on 3 different tracks on Big Boi’s 2nd solo album in 2012. They remained friends and actually carved out enough time to produce a 7 song EP, and called themselves Big Grams. They released this s/t EP at the end of September. The music actually sounds pretty much like you’d expect, a mix of both artists with the main difference being that there’s rapping added to Phantogram-esque music. Most of the 7 tracks are pretty solid, and I applaud Big Grams for not trying to force a full-length album if they didn’t have the material to support that. 7 songs over 26+ minutes really feels more like a short album than an EP anyway. Below I highlight 3/7’s of the EP.(Note that the linked audio may display questionable album art and some tracks may have explicit language so listen/view at home.)

“Lights On” – This track starts off highlighting vocals by Sarah Barthel from Phantogram, and actually sounds a lot like a Phantogram song, with the exception of some of the background effects which echo something you’d hear on a Big Boi album. And then Big Boi kicks in with some of his better rapping on the album and takes the track to a different level that is a definite mash-up of Phantogram/Big Boi in the end. At the same time, it has great pop hooks and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this chart on the radio.

“Fell In the Sun” – This track follows “Lights On” on the EP, providing a great 1-2 punch. This song starts off much more like a typical Big Boi song, with Barthel only providing background vocals until much later on into the song. Then she kicks in with more of a singing rap, which is definitely something you wouldn’t hear on a Phantogram album. This track also features some background horns which is commonly found in Big Boi songs. The other Phantogram touch is in some of elements of the beat on this track, especially the stutter stops. This song has an interesting mix of elements in it, and you can either kick back and get lost in the beat or take a more active role and dance along with it. Always good to have multiple options.

“Goldmine Junkie” – This song grows on me the more I listen to it. With a slightly more mellow vibe than the other two tracks, this song has a big throbbing beat moving it forward. There’s also an interesting piano line and some synthesized strings. Big Boi takes the lead on this song again as the music is stripped down during his rap verses, before giving way to Barthel’s big choruses. She then gets much more airtime in the latter part of the song, and there is more interplay with Barthel and Big Boi than in some of the other tracks.


Beyoncé Collaborates with Coldplay

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Superstar and pop icon Beyoncé just finished recording a musical collaboration with the famous British rockers known as “Coldplay.” The beautiful and talented Beyoncé went with Chris Martin and his band to the studio to record a musical track for their new album entitled “A Head Full of Dreams.” Other musicians on the album include Swedish winger Tove Lo, gospel star Merry Clayton and British rocker Noel Gallagher. This album is scheduled to be released on December 15th. Fans on message boards and social media are already hyped up about the release. You can be sure the sales will be through the roof.
It is not unusual for Chris Martin and his band “Coldplay” to collaborate with other musicians and singers. The band has already collaborated with Rihanna on Princess of China, which can be found as a feature on the 2011 Coldplay record “Mylo Xyloto.” But according to Coldplay, recording their most recent track with Beyoncé was the most enjoyable time they had making a record ever. Not only that, but they are very happy with the results as well. Perhaps they are happy to have such a notable singer and musician like Beyoncé to collaborate with them. Just putting her name on the album is enough to gain a lot of notoriety for the album.
On November 6th, 2015, the first single from their album premiered, which was entitled “Adventure Of a Lifetime.” The rockers from Coldplay even appeared on BBC Radio 1, which is a British radio station that is well known throughout the United Kingdom. The rockers only finished their record three weeks ago. They claim they were very close to missing the deadline for completing it, but fortunately the deadline moved gradually to a later date. The leader of the band, Chris Martin, said in an interview that this record will be much more cheerful than their previous record called “2014’s Ghost Stories.” The new record featuring Beyoncé is colorful and joyful. Those who listen to the album will get a sense of the happiness and freedom the band felt while recording it.
Chris was very enthusiastic about the new album and expressed his hope that it would give the band their first headline appearance ever at the Glastonbury festival in Britain next year. He feels this festival is the band’s spiritual home and it is where they belong. With their increasing popularity, Chris might just get his wish.

Empress Of New Album

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There is so much great new music out there right now, it’s hard to keep up with all of the new releases so there is plenty to write about for the remainder of the year and past that…

Empress Of is a vocalist/songwriter by the name of Lorely Rodriguez who was born in LA with roots in Honduras, and was raised on Latin music and jazz. Inspired by Bjork, she aspired to become and musician and moved to the East Coast. Rodriguez is an electro-pop artist who writes introspective and self-empowering songs, centered around her acrobatic vocals. She first gained attention on YouTube 3 years ago from some demos she had loaded on the site. She released a few singles and was signed in 2013 to Terrible Records and Double Denim Records. She released an EP that year. In 2014 she worked on music for her album, which was recorded in Mexico City, New York City and Montreal. She finally released her debut album “Me” in September ’15.

Empress Of writes and performs her music by herself. It is interesting to note the backing vocals she provides on her tracks, and the rather stark beats and sounds she incorporates in her music. This combination along with her personal and honest lyrics help create some interesting dance/electronic music. Her first album shows a lot of potential as an artist, and I look forward to seeing how she evolves when she’s ready to record her next album.

“Standard” is probably my favorite song on the album, appearing 3 tracks into the album. Rodriguez does a nice job on vocals, arranging her words around very stark beats, along with her background vocals. After about a minute the song kicks it up a notch when she drops in some heavy bass that thumps/reverberates along in the background. She pulls this effect in and out of the track to help add some great accents to the song. Then at the end of the song, she dials everything back for a dramatic ending.

“Kitty Kat” hits a little harder than “Standard”, with bigger synths and a big backbeat that comes in right away. The chorus has some great rising synth sounds and the vocals on this track are even stronger than on “Standard”. This is one of her most playful songs on “Me”. Some of the elements on this track remind me of St. Vincent, which is a big complement. This track is very focused, but avoids being repetitive with its short running time under 2:30.

The Burdens of ‘Bro-Country’, a Music Critic’s Term Gone Wild

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Former New York magazine music critic, Jody Rosen, had used a term he made up almost two years ago called “bro-country.” Rosen wasn’t trying to be creative or start some kind of music revolution by coining that term, but this seems to be what has happened two years later. Every country music fan in America now uses that term. Bro-country is supposed to refer to the music by average young American white men who are muscularly toned, tattooed and free spirits. When Rosen had first used the term, he was talking about the success of a country music duo group called Florida Georgia Line and their song Cruise. It was a song that represented a generational shift in the performers of country music. Rosen also mentioned performance artists Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, who had graduated to country music’s A-list. In his opinion, their songs sounded more appropriate for frat houses instead of honky-tonk bars. They also happen to be young muscularly toned performers just like the duo of Florida Georgia Line. Duo groups like these represent bro-country music.
You can see the bro-country term in all the major magazines and newspapers now. Major media outlets like People, Time, Rolling Stone and U.S. Weekly are using bro-country as a casual term. But what they may not realize is that not all music fans understand what bro-country means, especially the older country music fans that are used to Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton songs. They might think of bro-country as some cross between rap music and country music. That is why there is a debate as to whether or not bro-country should still be used. Some feel that the term will eventually spread around the word-of-mouth and country music fans will pick up on what it means. Others say it is redefining country music in a more negative way and it should not be used. In fact, those opposed to the term think it is going to rub country music the wrong way. There have already been country songs with a similar production to that of hip-hop and R&B.
So what is the verdict? Should bro-country continue to be used? It seems like it is just a newer term that older fans are not accepting to while newer fans think it is cool. One thing is for sure though. Country music is still more popular than ever and it will continue to be popular, especially amongst Americans living in the south.