July 20, 2009
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT NYC
Mark Van Hoen has been an integral part of the electro-indie music scene since the early 90s. As a founding member of the British experimental group Seefeel, his influence can be seen in the work of both electronic and guitar-based artists. Originally based in London, he signed to Belgian label R&S in 1993 and began putting out albums under the pseudonym “Locust,” including his much celebrated debut, Weathered Well, in ’94. The acclaim he received landed him slots on the major live show circuit, playing Sonar in Barcelona and Britronica, a festival that toured Europe and featured groundbreaking acts like Aphex Twin and Autechre. Four years later, he joined Massive Attack as the opening act on their European tour, a gig that put Van Hoen in front of thousands every night.
Van Hoen sound remained distinctively tape-machine and synth-driven throughout the 80s and early 90s, until the digital transfer in the mid-90s. As his techniques altered, so did his sound, maturing from early explorations into drone/noise to later fully orchestrated vocal albums. As he honed his own sound, he also kept busy with work in sound engineering and radio. He built up an impressive resume as producer for groups like Mojave 3 and Sing-Sing at the end of the 90s.
Van Hoen relocated to Brooklyn in 2000 and stayed with R&S for one more year, until it was bought out by Sony and Van Hoen was dropped. And he’s remained in Brooklyn ever since.
The past five years have seen little output from Van Hoen, as he has been limited by family obligations. Fortunately, 2009 has been a bit of a resurgence. His DJ gigs have begun to surface and a recently announced performance at experimental Brooklyn venue, Monkeytown, on August 14th should satisfy his local fanbase’s hunger for Mark’s return to the live format that put him on the map.
You can stream music by Mark Van Hoen at his MySpace.
by Gordon Sharp
July 7, 2009
The Morning After Girls
2009 | Self-Released
Australian transplants The Morning After Girls have acclimated easily since their emigration to NYC. Their recent stint of live shows has been successful, at least in terms of alcohol sales. This past May, The Morning After Girls, originally from Melbourne, Australia, released the EP The General Public, a five-song digital release featuring the title track, two original songs and two remixes. Now with their album Alone coming out this month, they have ten more songs to accompany their first single, including a very short intro piece and a final outro song, “Tomorrow’s Time,” one of the holdovers from The General Public EP. “Tomorrow’s Time” features over ten minutes of silence, then a hidden mood piece that lasts little over a minute. But the old hidden track trick doesn’t really make an impression now that the CD format is passé. Everyone is just gonna move the tracker over in their iTunes until they hear music.
It’s moves like this that categorize the Girls in this new record: Traditional, Static and Boring. It’s got nothing to do with the sonic qualities of the record – not that things like that even matter anymore to a dying music industry – because sonically it resonates. But what wouldn’t resonate when it’s mixed by Alan Moulder? Just another indication that even those at the highest level of the audio game can’t save mediocre songwriting. The highly produced mediocrity of the album reminded me of U2, who can have Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois in one room at the same time, but are still gonna be too old to let their voices be heard. Now, the Girls aren’t too old, they just don’t have a voice that stands out from the crowd, no matter how well-polished they are. The album wanders its way around an “alternative” sound that attempts in no way to distance itself from middle America. Coincidentally, they decided to move to New York City (now itself halfway to Kansas City) only to release exactly the kind of music that continues down a well-known path already tread a thousand times over. These are no unexplored woods or even trails, but paved highways that will continue to be traversed for years to come.
by Gordon Sharp
June 29, 2009
My Teenage Stride is not just another pop band. For one, they’re not from Sweden, which, as of late, is an oddity. If only they were from DC; that city hasn’t heard pop in years. Alas, they reside in Brooklyn. And just as many of the current crop of pop purveyors have found success in the Scandinavian hook-filled fortress of Sweden, they have staked out a position for themselves in the local pop scene stateside.
Existing in name since 2003, My Teenage Stride is built around a working unit of songwriter Jedediah Smith. Since then, they have played consistently around New York, with occasional stints on the West Coast and in the South. They were also part of both NYC’s (this year’s at Cake Shop and 2008’s at Music Hall of Williamsburg) and San Francisco’s Popfest, and have played shows with bands like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Palomar. It’s their song writing skills, however, that send listeners reeling well after they leave the dance floor. Take, for instance, “Theme From Teenage Suicide”, their faux theme song, which would be the perfect soundtrack to gothic versions of Can’t Hardly Wait or 10 Things I Hate About You; it’s what happens at a high school dance party gone wrong, in that great sardonic twist of fate when the anti-hero realizes he’s gone too far. Other songs draw from lighthearted fictional situations.
Despite lineup changes over the past years (they were now just a duo, Smith and drummer Brett Whitmoyer, are now a foursome sans Whitmoyer), and the always competitive, and often debilitating, band environment in New York, My Teenage Stride continues to put out quality music that has always been appreciated by their supporters. They seem poised to soon gain a lot of new ones.
Look for their digital EP Lesser Demons featuring “Theme from Teenage Suicide” on iTunes.
by Gordon Sharp
June 25, 2009
By Night With Spear
2009 | Self-Storage Recordings
The thread that runs through By Night With Spear’s Fortune is a hopeful one. So strong is the theme, in fact, that the slightest touch of a minor chord can seem depressing in comparison. The five-song EP was released just months after their last EP, Cypher. Together, they prove to be a strong effort. It seems likely that they will eventually be grouped into a full-length, as they sound mined from the same recording sessions.
While Cypher also contains five songs of froth and delight, it’s Fortune that really highlights frontwoman Anaben’s light, silky vocals. Her voice floats over primed, neat guitar figures and rolling drums, creating the atmosphere necessary for Stephen Sanchez’s bass to roll out the melodies. “West Side of Mars,” Fortune’s lead track, is a prime example of this. When the bass fills in against the vocal/guitar intro, only rain could wash away what is left of the harmonious ramble. A bass line reminiscent of Peter Hook opens the instrumental “Shot Through,” and careens through hard working hi-hats. With Anaben absent on the track (sadly), it leaves the remaining trio left to play out their strongest Dif Juz fantasy: dubby, wandering post-rock. Other tracks “Seconds Explode” and “Repetition” are overflowing with noise, and let the flow of sound work its magic into the listener’s heart. Fortune, released on Self-Storage Recordings earlier this year, reflects on the surface a moderately happy tone and buried within, a pensive destruction. I recommend Fortune to anyone on the hunt for something combining aspects of both older and contemporary styles.
You can stream songs from Fortune on By Night with Spear’s Myspace.
by Gordon Sharp
June 15, 2009
For all the intensity that is put into making music in New York, the group that always seems to max out their energies and fully capitalize on their potential is Soundpool.
Soundpool has managed to bridge the urban/suburban divide by splitting time between Manhattan and their Pocono pad, while they prepare themselves for each new healthy dose of psychedelia. They have taken elements of their past movement by integrating both their own personalities and by birthing a new one – as a free, lost child feeding for love and waiting for the moment to open and fly into the sun. Two full length albums, 2006’s On High and last year’s Dichotomies & Dreamland, were released on their own Aloft label. Their headquarters doubles as a party/performance space, where the band often releases new material and has played host to many other great indie acts. Though the space has laid dormant for over a year, last year’s parties included performances by Auburn Lull, Screen Vinyl Image, and Monocle. Meanwhile, the band has been busy in rehearsal, quickly putting together another record entitled Mirrors in Your Eyes. They have posted a new track sampler from the album on their website, which shows Soundpool with a new, slightly European sensibility and is evidence of the group’s growing confidence. An official release date is on the horizon.
In the meantime Soundpool will be playing some one-off dates here in Brooklyn. The Make Music New York Festival, an all-day free event, takes place on Sunday June 21st, and finds the band on a bill with others including Lawrence Chandler (Bowery Electric) and Her Vanished Grace, in front of vintage clothing store Deluxa. They will also perform at Public Assembly on Saturday, June 27th. Look forward to either, as Soundpool is sure to help ring in the start of summer right with both old and upcoming new material.
by Gordon Sharp
June 9, 2009
2009 | BNS Sessions
On the first track off Quiet Loudly’s new album Soulgazer, a playful guitar interlude is followed by a Crazy Horse-like sludgefest. The next track “Lift this Mountain” plays with the same guitar stylings, but this time Buckley-esque vocals are accompanied by an organ and washes of blues distortion. This eight-minute-plus journey even pulls out the brass to battle it out over some hi-gain scale work and riffage galore. Spare a few shorter songs scattered throughout the album, like “Mountain,” most tracks are well over five minutes – the band seems to find its groove best in lengthy, improvised allusions based around one or two deliberate and effective chord structures. Despite the shoegaze tag floating around some of their promotional material, this album is all soul blues, never more evident than on “Church of Mud,” which finds singer Max Goransson writhing in agony against those spectral organs and horns until more heavy guitar play eventually closes the song.
More on Quiet Loudly | Soulgazer
June 1, 2009
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT NYC
Blacklist is part of a burgeoning post-punk/Cold Wave movement based around Brooklyn’s Wierd Records. With their roster featuring everything from the dark synth sounds of Xena and Oaklander to the electronic industrial pop that is Led Er Est, Blacklist is Weird’s flagship band, a full on dark-rock outfit that has a growing following in the Brooklyn indie music scene. Their sound has a mining feeling of the years when Ashbury ruled the airwaves and Sisters of Mercy were on the breakpoint. It’s not so much that they resemble the music of this particular yesterday, but that they have taken its essence and shrouded themselves in it, breathing in the fire that once spurned these talented, yet distraught, souls. The mere fact that this sound and aesthetic exists in Brooklyn now and is being championed by its natives gives Blacklist and other members of this camp a resounding feeling of satisfaction.
More on Blacklist
May 26, 2009
2008 | Mercury Records
As the legends continue to release albums well after the years of their youth, the questions of both artistic validity and posterity remain – does their current material meet the standard set by their previous output? Despite limited touring from the Manchester-based band as of late, and an earlier extended break through much of the new millennium, James has had a prolific 20 plus-year career. And now they’re climbing to the next bracket. The Fresh as a Daisy boxed set and finally realized Hey Ma have brought renewed interest back into one of the original Factory Records bands. James’s current stateside touring has had them opening for some of the biggest bands in AOR/Adult Contemporary acts, such as Squeeze – and this follows after years as a headliner for Creation, Sire, and Fontana touring rosters, which brought them on bills with The Smiths, Oasis and Radiohead. Ironically, these bands all managed to go on to more successful careers, while James continued to label jump throughout the 80s, with an ever-evolving lineup of players. Once Tim Booth announced his return to James in 2007 though, after a six-year hiatus, a new album was prepped and announced as Hey Ma, the band’s tenth studio album.
The album overcomes all the harbingers of doom that have clouded major label veterans on their current releases. With Hey Ma, it seems, they had the time and the perspective to hone their sound and keep it true to the James fan base. The album operates on a visceral level that’s in tune with many of their heavier singles, as well as Gold Mother, an album released at the height of “Madchester.” The improvisational spirit of James still lays intact and Tim Booth’s lyrical mind continues to show itself through his spirited voice of inspiration. The eleven tracks here represent the humor and guile of a band in middle age whose heart still lies in touring and has an always-competitive stride and local pride.
Standout singles, “Under the Waterfall” and “Whiteboy” hit with that same feverish passions that recall “Sit Down” and “Come Home.” The album has all the givings of a band that always has, and now continues to, deliver. Other tracks, such as “Oh My Heart” and “I Wanna Go Home,” completely bring back the band’s momentum – poising them to leave a legacy not only as one of Manchester’s greatest bands, but also as one of the UK’s finest.
by Gordon Sharp