Artist Development

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.

J Roddy Walston and the Business

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J Roddy Walston And The Business formed 13 years ago in Tennessee but relocated to Baltimore two years later. The four piece band plays a Southern rock/Americana style of music that you don’t hear much of these days. These guys are known for their live shows, and I can totally understand why after seeing them perform on Austin City Limits. J Roddy Walston handles lead vocals as well as playing piano and guitar, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve never seen anyone rock out so hard while playing the piano – I was waiting for him to crack his head open on the top of the piano they way he was head banging so hard. Surprisingly, the band has only released 3 full length albums over the years, the most recent in 2013. I think their 2nd album which is self-titled is probably their best so far. One reviewer stated “What would happen if Queen and Black Oak Arkansas birthed four boys in the backwoods and let them listen to nothing but Cheap Trick and show tunes”. You can even hear a bit of Zeppelin in a few of their songs, just in the rhythm section which is an interesting mix with the Southern rock. That album also has the song “Brave Man’s Death” that caught my attention with their live performance. Another great quote regarding their live performances from the Baltimore City Paper “they make James Brown look lazy”. The band has done extensive touring, and in addition to playing Austin City Limits, they’ve performed at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and SXSW. Their music has also appeared in a number of television shows and movies, along with a Coors Light commercial. J Roddy Walston only will play a piano during their performances – no keyboards. He stated “I don’t play keyboards – I play piano. It’s not like you tell a guitar player to play keytar.”

Unfortunately the Austin City Limits performance isn’t available on YouTube – I really wanted to post the performance of “Brave Man’s Death”. A few outtakes are available though.

Tame Impala

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Tame Impala hails from Australia and is really masterminded by Kevin Parker who writes all of the music and plays all of the instruments on the albums – but he does have a band he tours with. They recently released their 3rd album “Currents” which is definitely a departure from their first two releases. Parker started the band when he was 13 yrs old with his friend Dominic Simper on bass (Parker on guitar/vocals). 8 years later, they were joined by a drummer, Jay Watson. They signed a record deal one year later and released their first EP in 2008. Parker micromanaged everything on the EP, performing every instrument in the studio and even doing the artwork for the album. The EP charted in Australia, climbing to #1 on the independent label chart. They supported a few larger bands when they toured in Australia, including MGMT and the Black Keys. In 2010 they released their debut full-length – “Innerspeaker”. Parker allowed his bandmates to play a little bit on this album, but still recorded most of the instruments on his own. They got Dave Fridmann to mix the album, and the band’s unique psychedelic/alternative/indie sound received a lot of attention across the globe. In Australia they were nominated or won several album of the year awards. Two years later, their second album came out (Parker was recording on the road and actually lost half of the new album when his iPod fell out of his bag), after Parker spent most of a year mixing it with Fridmann again. “Lonerism” was less guitar heavy than the first album and a little more weird but was even more popular than “Innerspeaker”. The album topped many year-end polls and won album of the year again in Australia. They also received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album. Parker then spent a lot of time collaborating with many musicians, as he became an “in demand” artist.

The 3rd album “Currents” is once again a departure from the previous albums, featuring far less guitars, more synthesizers, and more of an R&B/Dance sound. Personally, I liked their sound best on “Innerspeaker” and less on each successive album. But Parker always has some interesting songs on his albums. Here’s a couple to check out.

Here’s a sample of their music:

New band of the week: Sundara Karma (No 65)

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There are new bands all the time making names for themselves. These kinds of bands have been given the nickname “Indie Bands.” The newest band of the week that you should pay attention to is Sundara Karma. These young band members have been called “Indie-Springsteens” because of their euphoric guitar rock that is fun and original to music lovers. The band members of Sundara Karma include Oscar Lulu on vocals and guitar, Haydn Evans on drums, Don Cordell on bass, and Ally Baty on guitar.
The word “Sundara” comes from an ancient Sanskrit word which means “noble” or “beautiful.” As for karma, you have probably heard of that word before. People use it all the time to describe some kind of natural repercussion that will happen to you based upon your actions. If you do something bad then people say “karma” will come to collect and place something as equally bad upon you. It also means something good will happen to you if you do good things as well. So what does this name represent for the young band? At this point, no one really has a clear idea. Their music has been described as “more beautiful than sunshine” and the band members are thought to be bold and full of life.
Sundara Karma comes from a town called Reading, which tends to make people feel isolated from the rest of the world. The lyrics from the band would suggest that they grew up feeling isolated and yearning to escape their town for the big city. A lot of people in this world grow up in towns that make them feel alone and trapped in a simplistic lifestyle. Even though these kinds of towns are safe, they won’t make your big dreams come true. Instead they will only hold you back from doing bigger things and making a bigger impact on the world. Sundara Karma sounds like four teens that were eager to flee the simple town life and pursue their dreams in a big city. Not only that, they sought the admiration of a large audience who would love their music. Their biggest influences have been Bruce Springsteen, but with their own touch on ideas of sacrifice and death placed into their music. Sundara Karma’s music has had over 750,000 streams on Spotify and high ranking positions on the Hype Machine chart. For an indie band, these are all great signs of their popularity and impact on audiences around the world. Chances look very good that Sundara Karma could make it to the main stream audiences some day.

Women Who Rock: Haley Bonar

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A Minnesota musician named Haley Bonar has become an inspiration to women everywhere. Women with families only dream of being able to do what they are passionate about, like playing the guitar and writing songs. Haley Bonar is a mother who doesn’t let taking care of her daughter get in the way of her ambitions and dreams. This doesn’t mean she neglects her daughter, quite the contrary. She is a terrific mother who is there for her daughter all the time. But she has also been able to find a balance between being a mother and pursuing her music ambitions. Many people wonder how she is able to find such a balance in her busy life.
When Haley Bonar first found out she was pregnant, she had her worries. It made her feel like her music career was going to end and that she would never be creative ever again. But what actually happened was just the opposite. Motherhood made Haley Bonar focus more on everything that is important to her in life; her daughter and music. Where other people in her position would feel that they would have to choose between career and motherhood, she chose both. Haley said in an interview that she just makes the balance work because she is determined to do so. It is also good for her daughter to see her mother following her dreams and doing a job that she loves to do rather than a job she hates. It is never good for a child to see their mother working a job they hate. Haley feels that her daughter will feel inspired growing up while watching her mother follow her dreams. Then perhaps her daughter will grow up and be confident to follow her dreams as well.
In this age of music technology and internet music streaming, it really isn’t hard for any talented musician to make a name for themselves no matter what their position in life is. If you have your own recording studio at your house, you could easily upload your music to iTunes or Amazon and become your own producer. Not only will this help you generate money for your music, but it will help you get noticed as well. Then perhaps someone in the industry will come across your music and want to contact you for a record deal. This kind of thing happens all the time. And if you are a parent, do not worry. The worst case scenario is you can hire a nanny to watch over your child while you are away. Either that, or take the child on the road with you. Anything is possible if you truly want it to happen.

Foo Fighters Cancels All European After Grohl Injury

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The Foo Fighters European tour is going to be finished early after Dave Grohl broke his ankle recently. He was able to make it through his last concert with a broken ankle, but he won’t be able to finish the tour with it. The pain and the limping will be too unbearable for him to continue. As a result, the Foo Fighters had to cancel their recent European tour. Some people say they should have just gotten a replacement for the singer and continued the tour that way. But the fans probably wouldn’t have liked this because Dave Grohl is the frontman of the band. If he is not there then it would definitely be noticeable.
Dave Grohl broke his ankle because he fell onstage during a concert in Sweden. For a short period of time after the fall, he left the stage to get medical attention. But then he managed to find his way back on stage and finish the show with a bandaged leg. After the concert was over, an X-ray of the broken ankle was tweeted to the band’s followers on Twitter. Grohl did get surgery for the broken ankle, but his doctors were unable to predict a recovery time for it. The fact that Grohl had to cancel the rest of his tour had made him sad. He did release a statement thanking his fans for all their support and he apologized to them for the cancellation. These cancellations will mostly affect people who were going to see him in Belgium and the United Kingdom.
The Foo Fighters is a rock band that was form in Seattle, Washington back in 1994. Dave Grohl had been the drummer for Nirvana and formed the Foo Fighters as a one-man project after Kurt Cobain died. Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of his previous band “Nirvana.” So naturally, Grohl wanted to do something new and create his own band. The name “Foo Fighters” comes from the UFO sightings by Allied aircraft pilots during World War II. These UFOs were given the name Foo Fighters because no one knew what they were. The name stuck with the band quickly and became a household name for all music lovers around the country, and eventually around the world. The Foo Fighters will eventually go back on tour again after Dave Grohl’s ankle heals. Then fans of the band can look forward to the exciting return of the legendary frontman and his legendary band.