Artist Development

School of Seven Bells

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The backstory on this album is a doozy…

School of Seven Bells formed back in 2007 when twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza from On!Air!Library! shared an opening bill for Interpol with Secret Machines and met Benjamin Curtis from Secret Machines. The trio eventually left their respective bands to form School of Seven Bells. They released some singles and their debut album “Alpinisms” came out in 2008. They had some success with their debut and by the time they released their second album two years later, it debuted in the Billboard Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. During that tour in 2010, Claudia left the band and her sister Alejandra and Curtis who had been a couple, broke up. That would be enough to end most bands, but no, the duo kept moving along. They released a third album in 2012 which also cracked the Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. Then early in 2013 Curtis announced he had lymphoma. By the end of the year, Curtis had passed away at the age of 35. A few months after that, Deheza released a School of Seven Bells cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” that was recorded while Curtis was in the hospital. The two had remained very close friends after they stopped dating.

It turns out their 4th album was nearly finished around the time Curtis got sick. Deheza initially had no desire to finish the work to complete the album, she wasn’t in a good place and still grieving Curtis’ death. However, last year she moved out from NY to LA and started work on completing the album with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who’s worked with Beck and M83). Even though “SVIIB” finally came out recently more than two years after Curtis’ death, he still played a prominent role since most of the work had been completed prior to his demise. In fact, only one track “Confusion” was written after his diagnosis, and it was the last song they worked on together. The album is all about Deheza and Curtis’s relationship. She had the intention from the beginning that she wanted to chronicle their time together. She never actually told Curtis this, but the songs trace the whole arc of their relationship. Deheza stated that during the time they had been working on the album it was one of the happiest times in their lives. That explains why there is so much joy and positivism in most of the tracks. The album stands well on its own given any context, but when you listen to it given what actually transpired it elevates everything up to a whole different level. This album serves as a celebration and remembrance of not only Curtis as a person, but of the decade both of them spent together and the influence they had on each other’s lives.

The three cuts below represent 33% of the album. I won’t tell you where they’re placed on the album, you can listen to the lyrics and see if you can guess for yourself (or just look up the track listing online if you need to know).

“On My Heart” – Classic electronic sound as this track starts up. Deheza’s vocals provide a great accompaniment to the music as waves of synthesizers pulse in the background of the verses. Her singing of “with me your love stays” is the main hook on this track, as it repeats over and over in the latter part of the song.

“Open Your Eyes” – I hear some elements of The Knife in the music part of this track. Knowing how this album transpired, the chorus tugs at the heart. Plus, it’s extremely catchy and it will get stuck in your head. This track is one of the few melancholic ones on the album.

“Signals” – This is hardest hitting cut on the album, showing more of a dance groove. Alejandra’s vocals take on a singing/rap cadence during the verses, hitting right on the beat. This song also features some majestic sounding synthesizers and some nice vocal processing during the choruses. You can also hear some elements of M83 in this song (no doubt from the producer).

New band of the week: White (No 54)

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TheGuardian.com has ranked the band “White” as the band of the week. The young band performed at the Great Escape festival and was instantly a great hit. Their band consists of lead singer Leo Condie, guitar player Hamish Fingland, guitar player Chris Potter, bass player Lewis Andrew, and drum player Kirsten Lynn. White’s hit single, Future Pleasures, was their debut single as well. It makes allusions to great things of the past and present. You hear a thrilling guitar funk sound that dwells on the disco pop music of bands like Haircut 100 and Spandau Ballet. With all the familiarity in their music, it makes it one of the better debut singles to come from a Glaswegian band.
The members of White already have some experience with success. The lead singer, Leo Condie, previously recorded an album way back in 2009 with Malcolm Ross of the Low Miffs. The track was entitled “The Man Who Took on Love and Won.” The other members of White were previously in a band called “Kassidy,” which was apparently a band that flopped quickly. Some critics say the band members were just too young to take the band seriously. But now just a year ago, they all became part of White with Leo Condie and are finally experiencing success for the first time.
White is currently growing in popular with both music streaming online and live performances around the world. They have already coming out with a second single called “Living Fiction,” which is set to be released at the end of the summer. A lot of fans wonder why the band members chose the name “White.” Even though it may seem a bit provocative, it is a reflection of the color of each band member. White has not released any kind of mission statement or particular direction they plan on going. They just want to make people dance and think about their songs and music. It is their dream to work with producers like Stuart Price and Brian Eno. In the meantime, they are trying to define their music the best they can. White keeps straddling between older-type music and more modern stuff. Music lovers of today have tastes for all kinds of music, whether it is the type that reminds them of the past or new age stuff. When you listen to them play it is like listening to a band from the 1980s that have modern day thoughts and ideas. We will definitely be seeing more of them in the future.

New Music: Ryan Adams

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A quick pre-holiday email this week…

Ryan Adams has been writing songs and playing in bands since he was 15 years old. His first band was a noisy, punk band, but he yearned to do something more melodic and he formed Whiskeytown when her was 20. Whiskeytown had great critical acclaim, but it was a tumultuous 5 year, 3 album run before they called it quits. Adams then went the solo route, with an alt-country sound and he earned immediate acclaim as well with his first solo album “Heartbreaker”. Adams has always been a prolific songwriter, he’s cranked out about 16 albums in 15 years as a solo artist. A year after his first album was released, he had written and recorded enough material for four albums. These 60 tracks were culled down to 13 for his second album “Demolition”. Adams continued to crank out albums over the years, and also starting working as a producer for other artists, including Fall Out Boy and Jenny Lewis.

This summer Adams announced he was recording and releasing a cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989” (with her blessing). This album came out at the end of September. It’s an interesting experiment, pairing Swift the songwriter with Adams’ musicianship. He has an interesting take on her music, obviously with a different musical orientation. So I’m including a couple of his covers of big singles from Swift’s “1989”. If you’re intrigued, check out the entire album. Hopefully this endeavor nets Adams a few more fans who would have never listened to him otherwise.

“Blank Space” – Adams definitely takes on a melancholy sound on his take of “Blank Space”. I like his subdued approach and how he handles the chorus on this track. The sparse instrumentation, mostly his acoustic guitar, provide a very different backdrop than the original song.

“Style” – Adams brings everything up for this track, but with a different take than Swift’s. He does his own type of bombast, but it’s all guitars, bass and drums. He kind of sounds like another Adams on this track, Bryan Adams. I like what he did with this song though.

Floating Points: The Gorgeous Electronic Jazz Journey

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Floating Points, whose real name is Sam Shepherd, is known for being a great DJ. But he is also considered a different kind of DJ because he uses classical and jazz music instead of the common hip hop and rap. In fact, his first full length debut features a suite of songs that were all improvised and feature classical and jazz in them. If you are familiar with the works of Caribou and Four Tet then you will appreciate the meditative quality that comes from Shepherd’s music.
Floating Points new album “Elaenia” is said to contain songs with many different ideas and themes coming from them that the listener will always hear something new unraveled. Some might say this will make it difficult for listeners to stay committed to the music. However, they will be completely lost in the sound that it will wrap around them like a blanket.
The track called “Nespole” contains gradually intensifying saxophone sounds while there is a whole 10 minutes of freeform jazz, drums and flashes of strings. This combination of tunes creates music that is both romantic and suspenseful at the same time. As the listener keeps going forward to the next track in the album, each one will cleverly move into the next. This is even true in the middle of the chaotic final track of the album called “Peroration Six.” It contains a repetitive Middle C that sparks emotional feelings in the listener and keeps them listening right up until the very end.
Elaenia is actually the name of a beautiful little South American bird. Floating Points named the album Elaenia because the musical tracks are beautiful and impossible to keep contained in a cage. In other words, the music has such a powerful effect that it will touch the entire world and not just be confined to one type of music lover. That is why if you aren’t a fan of classical or jazz then you will still fall in love with the musical tracks on Elaenia. It has a special power to attract people and keep their attention right from the first track until the last.
Sam Shepherd is a young musician from the United Kingdom that has quickly made a name for himself throughout the world. He is not to be confused with the older playwright and Oscar nominated actor named Sam Shepherd, who recently got arrested on a DUI charge. The young musician Sam Shepherd likely goes by the name Floating Points in order to clearly stand out from the actor with the same name.

Decoding Lana Del Rey’s Lyrics, Apparently She Likes the Word ‘Daddy’

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Lana Del Rey is a young singer who has achieved a lot in her mere 30 years in this world. But what makes her songs so popular? Some people say it is her voice while others say it is the lyrics of her songs. Many people have tried to sort through the symbolism, references and overall meaning of her songs, and they all take away something different from it. But when you try to decode the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s songs, you’ll notice that she likes to use the word “daddy” quite a bit.
The people from the website “The Verge” have decided to really examine Del Rey’s lyrics and get to the bottom of their meaning. They have already created a brilliant interactive map of all the words that she uses in her songs. What this interactive map has revealed is a connection between the words and phrases she uses the most. The word “daddy” can be heard in fifteen of her songs, while only three of her songs have the phrase “pale moonlight.” Do you think this has any significance or is this just some rumor trying to insinuate something about Del Rey? The true fans of Del Rey will tell you that her lyrics will have a different meaning for everybody. She probably didn’t intend on her lyrics ever being decoded by anybody. After all, she is not some music spy who is trying to deliver subliminal messages in her songs. Del Rey is just a talented singer who is singing from her heart. It is up to her fans and other music lovers to decide what those lyrics mean to them.
Lana Del Rey, formally known as Lizzie Grant, will be releasing her fourth studio album this month which is entitled “Honeymoon.” Fans of Del Rey are already praising the artist for this album based on the samples they have already heard. If you are interested in getting your copy of the album on disc or digital stream you can go to Amazon, or a number of other online retail outlets. Del Rey is bound to continue to produce entertaining songs that will bring her new fans while keeping her current fans. As for the “daddy” debate, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. Many people that listen to songs care more about the beat and rhythm than the actual lyrics themselves. Those who are decoding her lyrics will eventually come to terms with that.

New Music: Grimes

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Grimes is the performance name for Claire Boucher, and she creates an extraordinary blend of twisted pop music. Boucher is a very accomplished artist – she writes, performs, and produces all of the music on her albums. She directs videos. She creates the artwork for her albums. She is not an amalgam of different writers, producers and musicians working to create the perfect pop album – she executes everything on her own. She is truly an exceptional talent. Boucher was born and raised in Vancouver. When she was younger she studied ballet for 11 years, but she ended up attending college in Montreal to study neuroscience at McGill University. While she was at McGill, she had a “realization” about how music was recorded and then experimenting with music went on to dominate her attention from that point on. In fact, it took up so much of her time that she was eventually expelled from the university because she was never attending classes. The experimental music scene that Boucher was part of in Montreal eventually spawned a record label – Arbutus Records. She released her first two albums on this label before signing with 4AD in late 2011. She recorded her first album for 4AD during a self-described three week binge where she shut everything else out, blacked out her windows and only focused on creating music. This recording binge resulted in “Visions”, which was released early in 2012 and received a lot of critical acclaim. The album showed up on many best of lists that year. The single “Oblivion” was named the best single so far in the 21st century in a Pitchfork article. The album also won several different major awards in Canada. Since then, Grimes signed to Jay Z’s management company Roc Nation. She released a few more singles and was working on an album in 2014 which she eventually scrapped, stating that it was too depressing and she didn’t want to tour for it – but she stated she may release it at some point in the future. She then set out to work on her new release “Art Angels”, which was just released digitally last Friday and will have a physical release date in December.

I’m not familiar with Grimes’ past work, I may have listened to some of “Trials” at some point but it didn’t resonate with me since I can’t recall what it sounded like (I will definitely go back and check it out now). I will say that “Art Angels” blew me away. It has dominated most of my listening time this past week. Normally I jot down 2-3 songs that stand out on an album that I can feature in a write-up. I was being “selective” and ended up having 8 different songs written down from “Art Angels”. I’m sure that’s a record for any album. Boucher is a pop monster mastermind on “Art Angels”. I am in awe that she created this album entirely on her own. She has two guest vocalists on two tracks – Janelle Monae (on “Venus Fly) and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes (who sings/raps in Mandarin on the track “Scream”). Boucher plays every instrument heard on “Art Angels” which in addition to all of the electronic sounds, includes guitar, piano, violin, drums, ukulele, etc. She does an incredible job mastering and producing the music on her album. The pop hooks are devastating, yet she has an abundance of quirkiness in her sounds, production and vocals. Her vocals are all over the map, and she also does a lot of layering and looping to create some very interesting effects. Plus her album artwork is cool, bizarre and unique. Grimes is a creative monster, truly one of the most talented artists working today. I’m sharing three tracks below, which show different facets of her music, but you need to really check out the entire album.

“California” – This is an example of medium paced track, and it’s the first legitimate track on the album after the interlude opener “Laughing and Not Being Normal”. Grimes layers an interesting beat over a repeating guitar riff for the first part of this track. The beat has a kind of cut-off sound, which makes it sound a bit louder and abrupt. She also laces in a few electro/steampunk noises into the mix as well (a touch she uses often). Her voice comes then comes in, and matches the mood of the music perfectly. The music continues to build in density, as some synth cords are added and the vocals grow in depth. Grimes also continues to add in more electronic sounds that are just discernible beneath the mix. These flit in and out as she sees fit. She’s very crafty during the choruses when she sings “California” and manages to turn it into a ten syllable word around the beats. At the end of the song, the music start to sound like it’s sinking underwater, which is a nice production touch she uses a few times throughout the album. Even though the song is over 3 minutes long, it ends well before it wears out its welcome.

“Kill v. Maim” – This track is an example of one of the highest energy tracks (they all have a lot of energy). The track starts off normal enough for the first 30 seconds. But then the beat starts growing in intensity during the first verse, her vocals begin to push the limit and then the chorus grows and explodes into a throbbing, cheerleader-esque shout-out. She manipulates her vocals to such a high pitch, it’s mouse-like. Good workout song!

“Easily” – This tracks slows things down to the most mellow that Grimes gets, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of it at all since it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. A stuttered piano kicks off the track (along with other assorted noises) before Grimes comes in with her most vulnerable singing on the album. A soft beat kicks in, and then it gets more bombastic as the chorus unfolds. The song grows in sound as it progresses, with more instrumental touches layered in. Then in the latter half of the track she introduces a “squeaky” sounding beat that’s really unique. Grimes really masters every element of this song, even bringing in some violin at the end to close it out which is unexpected yet very fitting. I’m guessing Taylor Swift or Katy Perry would kill for a song like this on their next albums.

Ice Cube: Iggy Azalea makes ‘dope songs’

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Ice Cube seems to be a big fan of Iggy Azalea. Cube said in a recent interview with Daily Mail Australia that Azelea makes dope songs. His defense of her comes after rumors emerged about Azalea not writing her own music tracks. Like many rappers and artists in the music industry, Cube feels that the material coming out of the speaker is what makes a great song. The process of how a song gets made should be irrelevant. Besides, there is usually more than one person that contributes to a song anyways. There are people who write the lyrics and there are people who offer inspiration.

Back in the time of the Roman Empire, artists often had muses to help inspire their creativity. Legend has it that the original muses were the nine daughters of the goddess Mnemosyne and the god Zeus. Perhaps Iggy Azalea was the inspiration for someone else to write her song lyrics, and then she took the lyrics and performed them for her fans. Would that be so wrong? Ice Cube would say that the lyrics are not everything. It is how someone sounds to their fans, whether it’s in a concert or through the speakers of their music device. Music lovers aren’t certainly ones to criticize a singer for not writing their own lyrics. Heck, most fans don’t even care who wrote the lyrics. The aspect of every song that a person responds to is how it is being performed. For example, you could take Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and have five different people sing those lyrics. But chances are the best performance will be by Jerry Lee himself because of the way he sings the lyrics. That is what made him popular and it is what makes so many singers popular.

Music critics are often quick to be negative about young musicians and artists. Sometimes these artists let the criticism get to their heads, which causes depression. But when they have fellow musicians, like Ice Cube, in their corner then it tends to bring them out of their slump. From the looks of Azalea’s success, it doesn’t look like she is going anywhere. As long as people keep purchasing her songs and go to see her in concerts, there is no reason to think anything bad about her music. The people that care about who wrote the lyrics are not the ones purchasing her songs. This is a lesson that Azalea and all other singers in the industry should learn.

Band Update: Kadavarhails

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Kadavarhails from Germany, that’s right you have to travel across the globe these days to find able practitioners of rock and roll music. The trio formed in Berlin and released their first album in 2012. They then signed with Nuclear Blast before releasing their second album a year later, and they just recently released their 3rd album, titled “Berlin”. Kadavar has a really retro ‘70s sound, pulling influences from Zeppelin to Sabbath to Thin Lizzy, but also incorporating these influences into their own sound. The new album “Berlin” changes things up a little compared to their first two albums. It sounds different, maybe a little more contemporary. There are still heavy retro-vibes, but the sound is a little more modern with the new album. Maybe the band realized they were confident enough with their sound that they no longer had to totally mimic the exact sound from that era. Kadavar made an excellent decision to not spotlight themselves on the new album cover. They’re not the most handsome dudes (looking like they’re living in the ‘70s), and combined with the retro-style of the cover designs, these were not album covers you would be proudly displaying anywhere. “Berlin” has a great cover though, I won’t be able to explain it well but it’s a black and white close-up of a woman wearing huge reflective sunglasses with her hair blowing around her face and sunlight shining on her face. You can see a reflection in each of her lenses, one shows an old airplane propeller and the other showsthe heads of two women walking by the plane. Then in the top left corner, in red, is the band’s logo and the name of the album. Great album cover, and the band members are not visible on it. While I heartily recommend the entire album (listening to it always puts a smile on my face), here are three of my favorite songs from “Berlin”. I can recommend any of them though, the album is that consistent.

“Last Living Dinosaur” – This is the second track on the album and the first single, which was a good choice. Track starts off with a guitar riff, then the drums and the bass kick in. After that cycles out, there’s some nice guitar work before the first verse kicks in. The guitars have just the right amount of distortion, the bass rumbles nicely and the drums are clear. All the right elements for a great rock song. Around the final minute of the track, there’s a great instrumental breakdown before the band kicks into the main riff again to close out the track. Then as the song closes, the guitarist does a quick solo on a different effects pedal to wrapit up.

“Pale Blue Eyes” – The fifth song on the album, this track has a great start as the band again isolates some cymbals before the guitar kicks in and the bass and drums roar in right after. Once the verse starts, the guitarist starts playing along with the vocals, which is a nice effect. Then the last line before the chorus the guitar drops back a little while the bassplays along with the vocal. I can’t help but think the chorus is tied into the album cover in some way, even though you can’t see the woman’s eyes in the photo. This song is a great example of being able to easily follow any of the instruments separately. The guitarist has the spotlight during most of this song though. The track rolls by quickly, and it’s a fun little jam from Kadavar.

“Stolen Dreams” – Follows “Pale Blue Eyes on the album, without a pause between tracks which is a great transition as the last ringing guitar note from “Pale Blue Eyes” immediately kicks into “Stolen Dreams”. Another great guitar riff, and this album is stacked with them. The song pushes the tempo a little bit quicker than the other tracks. The chorus on this track is soaring and epic, a great pick me up song. This song in particular reminds me of some older material from The Sword, a band Kadavar is actually touring with right now (they played in SF last Friday). I really wish I could have made it to that double-bill.

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.

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.