Boogaloo Times Preview: Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul Revue @ 9:30 Club (2009.11.10)

eccentric soul flyer

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01. MP3: Syl Johnson – Different Strokes
02. MP3: Syl Johnson – Come On Sock It To Me (streaming only)

It’s not unusual for friends and acquaintances to ask us how a person should start “getting into” soul music. The general situation looks to be something like this: Soul, though it hasn’t suffered any loss in sheer memorability, has become a somewhat obscure taste among young people of our day. Most everyone still appreciates a hard-hitting 4×4 soul anthem–their dad’s old Otis Redding tapes, James Brown’s cathartic screech–the problem is that few have actually bothered to delve into music made by equally meritable, yet less popular artists of modern and classic eras alike. So how exactly do you go about entering the world of soul?

Obviously, getting caught up in the genre is just as simple as it is for any other type of music–recommendations, criticism, radio, the internet, and ideally: shows. That’s why we cheerfully advise you to attend Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul Revue when it winds its way down to the 9:30 Club tomorrow, Tues Nov 10th (one of only five tour dates). The Vinyl District is also giving away free tickets and swag.

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Boogaloo Times: A Discourse on Funk and Soul – Pax Nicholas & Seattle Funk

na teef cover

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  1. MP3: Ron Buford – Deep Soul Pt. 1
  2. MP3: Annakonda – Wheedle’s Groove
  3. MP3: Black on White Affair – Auld Lang Syne

Funk ain’t what it used to be.

In their early days, funk scenes compiled as fast as trash in city wastebaskets. Each town had a somewhat distinct and independent scene, the fruits of which were destined to remain either in the caring hands of obsessed collectors or in the unexplored depths of record store bargain bins. As of late, many local funk bands boast more success based on their novelty value in hotel bars than their artistic credibility–a damn shame seeing as both soul and funk offer musical insights untouched by more popular genres. Granted, it’s difficult to look at a 6-piece funk outfit, wacky vocalist and all, as an artistic statement. Plenty of patrons even fail to make sense of the message when it’s easy: “Get Funky.”

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Interview: Islands (w/ Nick Thorburn)


In light of Islands upcoming show at the G-Spot on November 2, I had the pleasure of extracting some information from indie music’s resident pro-circuit pop troubadour Nick Thorburn–known fondly as Nick Diamonds from acts such as The Unicorns, Islands, and Human Highway, among others.

Incidentally, Anti- Records recently released Vapours–yet another bigwig electro-pop record, sporting some of Islands’ best tracks to date. It’s definitely worth picking up, if only to see what else these guys could possibly have left hidden up their sleeves. I hear they host a killer show too, so you might as well venture over to the G-Spot while you’re at it–if you can find it–to see what else they’ve got to say.

Here goes:

Aural States- First off, an abridged history of Islands?

Nick Diamonds- The Unicorns broke up, and Jaime and I decided to keep playing music together. So we made Islands, and we made a record [Return to the Sea], and Jaime left shortly after the record came out–I kept calling us a band, and we toured that a bunch. And now we’ve made this new record [Vapours], and Jaime came back, and we had a new lineup, and that’s it in a nutshell.

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Album Review: Secret Mountains – Kaddish EP (Unsigned)

kaddish ep

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MP3: Secret Mountains – Kaddish

The first eight minutes of Secret Mountains’ Kaddish EP are nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll find gorgeous crescendos shimmering on both opening tracks, “Kaddish” and “Gate/Gate/Paragate,” two undeniably Baltimorean songs operating on an EP that plays more like a dream than it does music. Like Beach House and Wye Oak before them, Secret Mountains replicate a peculiar brand of euphoria, one that strikes more closely at the vein of beauty and is in touch with pure, unadulterated splendor. What we have on our hands today is a pretty damn promising debut.

At it’s best, Kaddish is a powerful narcotic; Secret Mountains’ straightforward instrumentation raises the heavens with a blunt echo, their listeners need do little to follow suit. Kaddish’s masterwork, “Gate/Gate/Paragate” resides in this state as a force of nature, it works fundamentally around an earthy chic-beat and a progression rooted in old folk. The notes have a way of testing your confidence: each count becomes a new leap of faith, falling into place like a snowflake on a bed of winter dust.

“I Have Been Awake” is Kaddish’s easy anthem, lyrics somehow mightier than the bony post-primal percussion point up the track’s attention, “I have been awake today. What have I done? What have I done?” It’s about reconciling self-knowledge and human nature, personal right, social wrong, the various cycles of life. Heavy stuff. These themes aren’t merely skimmed throughout the remainder of Kaddish either.  In fact, most of the subject matter eagerly sisters with virtuous artistic abstraction. Gladly, and  surprisingly, Secret Mountains have found an amiable middle ground between overzealous conceptual wankery and transparent secularism. The polished production reflects a similar position, intuitively revealing their stargazing eye sockets equally as well as their soles, planted comfortably in the soil.

What’s really impressive is that, for a home-cooked gem, Kaddish is sequenced immaculately. Sure, you’ve got the occasional mistake littered about on the flooring (which only adds to how deeply personal the EP is), but for something so homemade to sound this unified is quite simply uncalled for. Each piece moves seamlessly into the next devoid of the slightest friction; Kaddish never loses momentum between songs or within. Never. And that alone is worth being proud of.

Label: Unsigned

Release date: Aug 2009

Track list:

1. Kaddish
2. Gate/Gate/Paragate
3. Countries
4. Growing Season
5. I Have Been Awake

Sound Off!: Jared Paolini


Photo credit: Defekto

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MP3: Jared Paolini – The Fog Desert from Side B of Bears & Pieces/Jared Paolini split tape (2009)

Being that the philosophy backing experimental music largely emphasizes meaning to the individual rather than to the culture with which the musician belongs, I find it unnatural to be the least bit persuasive when speaking of Jared Paolini. To me, his half of a lost:ghosts:records split cassette with Bear & Pieces, entitled “The Fog Desert,” is something of an aesthetic wonderland, its very fabric shimmering with heavenly charm. The track’s liveliness becomes more persistent throughout its 19-minute duration.  In a way, Paolini evolves “The Fog Desert” idiosyncratically while still keeping it cohesive, a pool of unreal reverberations and entrancing resonance.

Others that I’ve played the tape for suggest that his round edges and soft tones are designed to bring the listener into something of a divine coma, and I couldn’t disagree more. Jared Paolini, though I haven’t read his word on the subject, probably does not make sound for any specific purpose. Rather, I’d posit that he has a simple and genuine enthusiasm for these exact frequencies, the sort of appreciation that won’t let you nod off; it’ll hold you captive. Many without an eye for experimentation and ambiance are at a loss when it comes to music that demands an above average amount of effort on the behalf of the listener; and I won’t lie to you, “The Fog Desert” is no exception. Sure, this one might take a little elbow grease to decipher, but is art really worth discounting for that reason alone? I don’t think so, and I hope not.

Sound Off!: SMARTS


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MP3: SMARTS – Caring

MP3: SMARTS – Jules et Jim

How do SMARTS put on such a fierce live act? I mean, the trio uses a grand total of three instruments for chrissakes. While Whartscape stands as firm testament to the fact that they’re scootin’ along just fine without any of those fancy-pants six string guitars, a part of me still yearns to discover how their bass/drums/vocals combo ends up sounding so damn big. Lucky for us, 2009 has come through with some surprisingly mid-fi recorded material of theirs for all to scrutinize over.

SMARTS (their self-titled and self-released EP), is so straightforward that by the end of the second song, “Fresh Air,” you begin to have an in-depth relationship with each of the instruments. In a way, you know them, their tendencies, their limits. The bass is basically bound to two settings throughout the EP’s bulk: good-humored family fun, and its punch-throwing distorted alterego. The accompanying percussion rides out post-punk style at a perky tempo, gracefully leaving space to breathe between fills without feeling minimal. The vocals are those of a dog-tired punk rock, one that’s played fourteen shows too many this week and is about ready to cave in on itself. With this exhaustion setting in, you might anticipate that SMARTS doesn’t have a whole lot left to say. And on that front, you’d be right.

Fortunately, Harold Hughes happens to sing with this ever-pungent diehard emotional momentum, meaning that even though he may be done with his verse, you’re not necessarily going to stop feeling the impact potential of his words. Opening like a lighthearted game of tag in the backyard, the bass on their leadoff, standout track (“Caring”) finds time to dillydally around with Alex Dondero’s chipper percussion. Then, at uniform speed, the dynamic duo opts out for some good ol’ fashioned low-end thrashing. As dandy as that may sound, you can go ahead and pin the song’s benevolent outcome on Hughes’s breathless expression, building exponentially upon a solitary verse to outstanding effect: ”healthcare, car care, i care, no. We don’t care, i don’t care. No.”

Despite what all this might lead you to believe, I would never under any circumstances call SMARTS a punk band. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t readily label them pop, rock, or experimental either. Hardcore, actually, is the word I keep coming back to. It takes no stretch of the imagination to picture SMARTS as a bare-bones hardcore band, to such a degree that all you’re getting is the ideology, and a subset of the equipment required. Really, you might want to take the word “hard” out of the equation entirely. “Core.” That’s what these guys are, the tiny ball of superheated iron that belongs at the foundation of every music group.

Sound Off!: Boogie Boarder

pizza hero

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MP3: Boogie Boarder – Bio Hassle

Let’s take a look at Boogie Boarder’s latest single, “Bio Hassle.”

For starters, the tune kicked everyone’s ass at Whartscape ’09. All of those MICA kids jacked up on Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine could just die for the slight variation in style Boogie Boarder have to offer. Imagine an equally fun, but jammier and more pop-oriented “Celebrate the Body Electric.” That’s the song, albeit less diverse and breathtaking. Let’s give ourselves a breakdown here: lo-fi stock fuzz-bass partners up with likeminded guitarwork, both busy producing divinely electromagnetic riffs around a maze of binary choruses and refrains that cascade in euphoria. Hot damn.

Odd thing is, that’s not even the best song on their debut album, Pizza Hero (the playful “Pig Pile” duo slams the likes of Ecstatic Sunshine, and I say this with love, into oblivion).  Some might say that Brooklyn’s Boogie Boarder sound a bit too much like our Baltimore art-rocking friends, but as it seems to me, they dwell in a class much less exclusive than that of the art-dash-genre. Which is not to posit that these guys aren’t arty–because are they ever, but unlike their most agile competitors from our hometown, the music associated with Boogie Boarder is more about rocking out than anything else. Moving you with skillfully placed atmospherics and tempo changes isn’t really Boogie Boarder’s thing; instead, the sugar-side of indie rock suits them quite nicely.

I should point out we’re only dealing with candy here. There appears to be no grand artistic vision behind Boogie Boarder. And if there is, it’s safe to say that these creative minds haven’t quite done themselves justice with Pizza Hero.

But that’s the downfall of most bands bent on manipulating predictability. See, rather than using astonishing instrumental feats or go-nowhere discourses, Boogie Boarder work the hard edges of repetition and suspense to their advantage. So unlike Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual, you don’t have to listen through Pizza Hero four or five times before you get a handle on what the record’s about. It’s clear, concise, and above all, inherently fun. Pizza Hero might not be the most artistically credible album around, but it sure as hell gets my rocks off.

Sound Off!: Microkingdom


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MP3: Microkingdom – Aire Metal (Chopped and Screwed) from Spectacular Edges (2009)

I still don’t know what to make of Microkingdom’s core duo, Will Redman and Marc Miller. It seems like they’re out to do exactly what they’re doing, and sounds like what they make is on-par with their standards.

But what of the people themselves? They met in a high school cafeteria; both went on to create lives revolving around music in one way or another (Redman getting his PhD in music composition, Miller working with Oxes). Years later, both living in Baltimore, they met up and began jamming once more, a practice that eventually turned itself into what we call Microkingdom. Basically an umbrella term for the works of Redman and Miller.  I had a chance to talk to percussion guru Dr. Redman after their improv-rock set at Whartscape 2009, and strikingly enough, he appeared to be the most stable minded individual at the whole damn festival. Coming from the man whose music often moves like a swarm of angry insects, I figured he’d be a little more in the clouds. Not the case, for he was straightforward, easygoing, relaxed, all of those neutral qualities employers look for in job interviews, and then some.

After our short conversation, the compostion maestro handed me a copy of Microkingdom’s latest effort, Spectacular Edges. Now, unlike the disc’s title, it finds the free-jazzers in a softer, more deliberate place compared to the rocky landscapes of 2008’s Wrenches: My Heart/Double Abacus. Where the latter hikes chaotically through the cavernous trenches of the trio’s (including Mr. John Dierker’s) raw instrumental prowess, the former gladly gains some composure and takes some time out for production to work its magic.

The music is cushy: oversampled sax lines feel like feathers across the surface of Redman’s amoeba-like rhythms. I hesitate to bring up the word “glitch” in this post, mostly because a free-jazz-glitch genre sounds too ridiculous to be real, but hell if Microkingdom don’t give it a shot. The clipped reedwork of John Dierker gives “Squirrel Level” and “Aire Metal (Chopped And Screwed)” just the right amount of pizzaz necessary to pull off the tracks without having sounded like remix jazz. And even if you’re looking for more standard issue Microkingdom jams, the good people behind the name have even planted a taped session (by Jeff Mewbourn), entitled “Family Day Red Room,” containing some of their finest material.

The release ends on an unpredictably beautiful note: “Quring Startet.” Composed by Will Redman, this is a piece written for a simple string quartet, its electronic accompaniment adds a little spook to its already lonesome nature. Though it sits as Spectacular Edges’ odd duck out, it effortlessly characterizes the bulk of Microkingdom’s recorded catalog–and in just over a minute at that. Chasing one of their songs feels like navigating through an unfamiliar city. You can’t tell if the sounds you’re currently hearing are going to go anywhere, but you most definitely want to find out. Then, at long last, it’s all over. But you want just a little bit more.

Sound Off!: Golden Birthday

golden birthday

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MP3: Golden Birthday – Exposed from Infinite Leagues

Golden Birthday are first of all, a pop band. Going further in depth, they’re one concocted from equal parts Beach House and My Bloody Valentine. Now what does that tell you right off the bat? That they took the perfectionist’s complexity away from shoegaze’s pristine arrangements? That they stripped down, packaged, and re-marketed dream pop, ready for mass consumption? You’ll have no part of that, surely. Who would? I mean, what kind of self-satisfied schmuck would willingly support the bastardization of these two distinct artforms?

I am. Their Whartscape ’09 set was a double-underlined, circled, paged-folded, and sticky-noted highlight. I was found among the fluid mass of festival-goers, all of us flailing limb over limb in reaction (not to be confused with cooperation) to the sound waves, as if the music was just as involved with our movement as muscles and bones were. The brand of bass driven funk-pop they displayed live however, does not appear on their debut album, Infinite Leagues. Rather, it’s been mysteriously replaced with the dream-gaze that I spoke of previously.

What Golden Birthday have made is an album that begs to be felt. Even though few of the lyrics break away from their all-encompassing progressions, you always know what they’re trying to express. Example: “Exposed.” All words aside, I know it has something to do with love, and it’s not a cheerful anecdote either. The track shows what these Chicagoans do best, the mindless repetition of simple pop melodies, unintelligent fuzz bordering every edge. Heartfelt textures and the uncanny ability to evoke empathy. Is it good? Well, I’m 12 full listens through and I’ve never once wanted to turn this record off.

Live Review: Whartscape 2009 Day 3 (2009.07.12)

Dan Deacon Day 3 Whartscape
Photo credit: Flickr user Dorret

Hunting for safety from the sun’s rays made me feel something like an animal Sunday. I was leaning against the old rusted fence in the MICA parking lot, watching Santa Dads do their own thing–and it is totally theirs to keep, when I became aware of all the Wham City members working their butts off in the draining heat. I remember running into (who I believe was) Stefani Levin of Wham City at the Load of Fun on Saturday night. She was clearly fatigued, and (not knowing who she was) I asked “hell of a show, right?” She exhaled loudly and replied, “I’m working.” You might imagine what hell organizing and executing this monstrous Whartscape must have been. For those of us who attended, I think it’s time to give a quick thanks to the people that put this rad fest on.

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