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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Yo Majesty's Shunda K

Yo Majesty’s Shunda K


In a cavernous building in Logan Square aptly named the Mansion, Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Yo Majesty teamed up for a riveting show memorable on two counts: the massive noise of DIOYY, which shook our ear drums senseless, and the mysterious and unexplained absence of exactly one half of Yo Majesty.


DIOYY’s UK electro-rock could use more glam but is otherwise good for losing yr senses: of hearing, that is! I was relegated to the wings, as far away as possible from the amps, and even still am convinced I left 20 percent deafer. Well, kids, it’s like they say: ear plugs can make the pain go away. I should say that while I was making no bones about being in ear-bleeding misery, many other people (mostly young ones) were going bananas, so verdicts are: yeah, it offends me, and DIOYY can rile a crowd up no problem.


Morgan Quaintance

DIOYY’s Morgan Quaintance


Shunda K of Yo Majesty came out cool and composed in banter mode, chatting up the crowd and not bothering to explain why her other half, Jwl. B, was gone missing. When someone asked her point-blank between raps where Jwl. was, she diplomatically said “Not here. But I am. Ain’t I enough?” Cue applause. That was that. And sure thing, she was enough—performing a tight set of duets solo with perfect rapidfire timing, including crowd faves “Leather Jacket” and “Pussy Kryptonite”. It was a short set, no more than 40 minutes, but she brought it, and she brought it strong. No news I could find about Jwl. B’s whereabouts that night—and so far, no hints of inner turmoil for the band. If something’s up, no one’s talking.—Megan Milks


Yo Majesty's Shunda K

Yo Majesty’s Shunda K



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Monday, May 5, 2008
by Roman Kuebler
Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry

Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry


Under Mics with the Oranges Band


PopMatters has had plenty of nice things to say about Baltimore’s The Oranges Band (specifically here and here. When the band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Over the next several weeks, Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler will write in with updates from the sessions for the band’s third full-length. Here’s part four…
Jon Langmead

VOCALS


I really have a great time singing in the studio. For some reason the set up seems so pro. The room is cleared of the instruments, the baffling goes up and instead of microphones hanging all over the place, like when the band is tracking, there is just one. It is a strange experience also, in the context of writing, practicing and recording your songs because, as long as you are a singer who plays an instrument, it is the only time ever you will sing a song without playing it as well and the only time you will sing a song without anything in your hands. So besides being a little anxious and overwhelmed by the formality of the studio setting you also have to approach the song in a much different way. It is rather exciting but also very nerve racking. For me, walking into the room after you do your first vocal take on a song is a roller coaster ride. You’ve worked hard to perform the song but you haven’t any idea what you sound like. The voice is very sensitive to placement of microphones and slight changes in sound can make a huge difference in the perception of the vocal take. It’s like the perfect storm when it happens to come together. And for the first time, you are hearing the lyrics resonate within the song and the voice is totally audible. Anyone in a band can relate to the fact that you never hear the vocals at practice.


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Me at the mic part 1. I had to take off my jacket because it was making a ton of noise.


So why, with all these “hardships”, is singing in the studio fun? It’s simple. For me, when it works—when you get a great vocal take—it is the most satisfying part of making, playing or recording music that there is. I guess it is a risk/reward thing. Which is why, in a demonstration of appropriate cosmic duality, that when it doesn’t happen it is the most frustrating part of making music.


In approaching this album I wanted my lead vocal tracks to be distinct and adventurous. I wanted them to be energetic and irreverent. In the end though, I knew I would settle for them to not suck and be on pitch. A lot to ask in some cases I am sorry to say. I guess we are all our own worse critics and for me, if I am ever feeling a little over confident, I could take a crack at singing a song in the studio to bring me back to earth.


But as I said in an earlier installment, a record is a document of what you did when the tape was rolling so you don’t really have much choice but to step up and do something, right? And so I did. When Adam (co-producer, engineer) and I were doing vocals I’d start by describing which song I was trying to rip off and he would respond with an appropriate microphone, mic placement and effect scenario. The best part about trying to rip off songs, though, is that you can never recreate someone else’s magic so you hope to stumble upon your own. So here it goes, first song.


caption

Me at the mic part 2. Less noisy…


We started with a song called “One More Dog”. Why? Well, it was the shortest. Short and fast and to the point. It reminds me of a Pink Flag-era Wire thing so that is where we started looking for sounds. When ripping off other songs (take notes, kids) I like to go right to the source so we played some songs from Pink Flag. We decided they were relatively dry (no reverb), mid-range (not quite a radio voice, but close) with maybe a slight delay on them. We picked out the right mic for the job and ran it through the effects and got the EQ just right… and it sounded nothing like the Wire song. Of course. The other thing about trying to rip stuff off is that what you are hearing is the whole song. You can’t isolate the vocals, necessarily, and predict how they will fit into a totally different song in a totally different context. It’s why trying hard to rip something off is a great way to work. It provides the parameters, the boundaries, and I think I said before that in the context of recording, I need some boundaries.


OK so, here we are with this vocal sound that doesn’t do quite what we thought it might, but it does sound pretty cool so we tweak it just a bit and forge ahead. Once you have a sound you can concentrate on the performance. This song was pretty straight forward, meaning I didn’t expect that it would change much from the practice room to the recording so it was just about getting the lines right—one at a time. I feel like I can always find some reason to re-do a line. A quiver in the vocal, just a little flat, I don’t like the “r” sound in that word, etc., etc. Basically, it is really hard to commit to the idea that the line you just sang will be the way that song exists… pretty much forever. Scared of commitment? Yikes. Oh well, you gotta say yes sometime and I am paying for this thing by the hour so eventually we make it through the song. The funny thing is that when you finish a vocal take you are so sick of hearing it that you can barely listen to it and appreciate it. In fact, coming back to it the next session is always kind of scary… did I really get it right or was I just sick of trying? Am I a hero or a heel? Like I said… a real roller coaster ride.


So instead of recounting my triumphs and tragedies while singing these songs… and there were a few of both, let’s just do a quick run down of what a few of the songs on the record are called and what I tried to ripped off while recording them. I imagine this could be an incriminating document in a court trial, but luckily I was unsuccessful in truly copying ANY of these brilliant works. When our album does finally come out (in 2012 at this rate) you can check these against the originals… you’ll see, total failure!


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My view. With my favorite mic, the fabulous Shure SM-7.


“Everyone Burns Out” (working title): The Replacements - “Takin’ a Ride” complete with a… “referential” line.


“When Your Mask Is Your Revealing Feature”: Peter Gabriel “Steam” and “Shock the Monkey” also ESG for the female back up vocals. This one doesn’t sound at all like those things… but it came out ok anyway.


“Gordon’s Night Club”: I thought could be a Kinks song… but it totally isn’t. I did do a Phil Lynotte thing in the beginning that is really funny and a weird trill at the end that was ALL ME (or is that Paul Macca?).


“Absolutely (Instru)mental”: As the name suggests, this song doesn’t have vocals but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to rip something off to get it. Ha ha! It is modeled after Laika & the Cosmonauts - “NY ‘79” a truly complete and catchy song with no vocals. It was recently announced that Laika and Co. will be breaking up at the end of this year… say it ain’t so!?!


“Ottobar (Afterhours)” - Hot Snakes - “Automatic Midnight” and “Salton City” (whoos!)


“I Wouldn’t Worry About It”: This one is pretty original, really. I was going to come up with something to steal eventually but we were doing some back up vocals on a different song (Ottobar) and had a really cool sound going. Really distorted and delayed and weird. When that song was over, this one was next on the reel so we just let it roll and I did the lead vocal… in one take. Easy. It also relieved me from having to rewrite the lyrics, which I was going to do for some reason. I mean why would you need more than two lines in a song?


caption

This is the studio room cleared out for the vox. 


Well, that ain’t quite all of them but it is most of them. All secrets revealed right here. Man… these things take forever; albums that is. There are so many tiny parts to get right and it’s like an automobile or a golf swing… so many things working in harmony that when one things is off, your whole program is interrupted. This is just to say that here we are, nearing the end of tracking and it still feels a light year away. OK well, stick with me here. Thanks for reading.


Roman Kuebler


Tagged as: the oranges band
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Tuesday, Apr 22, 2008
by Robin Cook

Chicago’s Smog Veil prides itself on its catalog of “underground, challenging, unknown, and/or bombastic rock ’n’ roll.” (Label artists include the legendary Pere Ubu.) Now Smog Veil has a new challenge: becoming an eco-friendly record label and setting an example for the rest of the industry. Co-owner Frank Mauceri tells more.—Robin Cook



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Monday, Apr 14, 2008
by Robin Cook

Kaki King’s SXSW showcase introduced audiences to her shimmering guitar work and self-effacing stage presence. Despite the “Queen of the Acoustic Guitar” moniker, King can move between acoustic and electric guitar effortlessly. Her most recent album, Dreaming of Revenge was just released.—Robin Cook



Tagged as: interview, kaki king, sxsw
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Monday, Apr 14, 2008

The St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, a not-quite-boutique event that now traipses through four cities around Australia, has been buoyed in recent years by increased press attention and a more laid-back, welcoming attitude than some of the country’s larger, summer festivals. It is generally more civilized, and boasts the kinds of smaller indie bands that appeal to a slightly older crowd. Mimicking the urban setting of the original Melbourne location, the setup of the festival is a series of narrow stages placed around one slightly larger Park Stage. None of it is large by any means: maybe that’s why there was a half-hour line to get to the underground stage for the more popular acts. As the sparse late morning crowd began to multiply on Sunday—manifesting itself in longer bathroom lines—the prospect of seeing Feist, Broken Social Scene, and Stars attested to the growth of the festival. Still, it wasn’t too difficult to find decent vantage points for most of the bands, and acts national and international proved their mettle.
—Dan Raper


The Basics

The Basics


The Basics
Playing the 11:30am spot is not easy for any band. This exuberant Melbourne-based guitar-guitar-drums trio has been around for a long time, but has only recently been exposed to a wider audience thanks to one of its members, Wally de Backer, hitting it big with his solo act, Gotye. (In a nice bit of bookending, Gotye actually closed out the festival this year.) But the Basics themselves were a perfect start to the day. “Rattle My Chain”, one of the group’s singles, was tight and polished—a slice of enjoyable, easygoing ska-tinged rock. A song about swimming lessons, it sounded like a more relaxed Holy Ghost. We’re lucky that de Backer, who plays drums, has been so stringent on insisting the group plays on all his bills—even if there weren’t as many people there as they deserved.


The Basics

Ghostwood


Ghostwood
Signed to the hip Modular Records, Ghostwood’s muscular, effects-laden rock degenerated into abrasive waves of dissonance in the live setting. The group had a disinterested-rock-star thing going on, which didn’t work so well in an early slot at a mainly indie-oriented festival. But hey, they’re young, and you get the feeling that the group, as it matures, will find its own inner star and stop imitating others. Ghostwood’s songs were proggy and repetitive and frequently sidestepped the huge chorus; they would have been more effective with a mix that emphasized vocals over the sludgy low-end of the guitars.


Devastations

Devastations



Devastations


Devastations’ latest album Yes U should win the group some new fans with its sophisticated, dark-romantic ballads. Given their oeuvre, it should have been difficult for the band to shine in the mid-afternoon sun. But these three Aussies unleashed a storm of fuzzy chaos that dissolved in a pinch into disco-infused gothic grooves. Gyrating throughout, bass-playing singer Conrad Standish exuded sexuality. “This is a medium-sized-festival song,” Standish said, introducing “Mistakes” as the band grew tighter and more on point. Live, the songs had a floating atonality where vocal and guitar lines seemed to exist in alternate spaces until—bang—everything locked into place. “The Pest”, their new album’s centerpiece, was such a song. “Rosa”, which closed the set, built gloriously from a Nick Cave-styled ballad to a full freak-out: the first real rock group of the day.


Manchester Orchestra
This fairly new Atlanta-based band has built some buzz on the back of the 2007 re-release of their 2006 debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Their recordings hold a few charms, adding organ to an otherwise straightforward alternative rock sound. Somehow I had gotten the impression that they were somewhat Arcade Fire-esque with orchestral arrangements. It turns out the live show was just as unsurprising as the recording. At least frontman Andy Hull radiated goodwill, and the band was tight. The group put its all into its short, punchy songs—which suited the flitting festivalgoers’ attention span, I suppose. When they slowed things down, however, they struggled to hold the crowd’s attention. It was as the group was playing a slower song that I turned around to see a guy wearing exactly the same sunglasses as me (they’d been my grandfather’s, and retro, so I was surprised). But he was also wearing a rug on his shoulders, and my friend said, “Never trust a man wearing a rug.” I then decided to re-think those sunglasses. Did I mention that Manchester Orchestra struggled to hold the crowd’s attention in that slow song? It’s unfortunate, because in snatches, I got the feeling that it could have been a compelling one.


The Panics

The Panics


The Panics
Winners of last year’s J Award for best Australian album, the Panics are often referred to as the nicest guys in the Aussie music industry. Trouble is, sometimes the group seems to ride the wave of pleasant, atmospheric pop without the backbone of melody that could make one of their songs season-defining.


Nevertheless, the band members are consummate professionals, and their set on the Park Stage bobbed along from hit to hit (albeit slightly hampered by a mix buried in too much bass, not enough vocals). The Panics have moved on from the country guitar-tinged older material, which had a certain charm, to more mainstream song structures that still rely on that breezy guitar sound you hear so often from West Australian indie pop acts. The group’s newer material is almost apologetically easy-going, but it has become quite popular. “Don’t Fight It” is now ubiquitous, and its horn loop is instantly recognizable. They could be the next Powderfinger.


Okkervil River
Probably the best band all day, Okkervil River was incredibly tight, jetting through tried and tested songs with enough feeling that the crowd was blown away. Although I only caught half the set, the band upped the tempo on familiar songs from The Stage Names, which suited the festival setting. “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe” was rousing, while “For Real” and “Plus Ones” were absolute highlights. Ending with the older track “Westfall”, Will Sheff and company worked themselves up into an awesome, Pixies-inspired fury.


Stars

Stars


Stars
If the vibe of the Reiby Place Stage was generally upbeat rock, the Park Stage continued its unhurried good-time feeling with Stars. The first of the one-two-three Canadian collective lineup (Stars, Broken Social Scene, and Feist), Stars were both powerful and smolderingly beautiful. Frontman Torquil Campbell was full of unbridled energy, pumping up the crowd with a heartfelt delivery that more than made up for his imperfect voice. In contrast, frontwoman Amy Millan was surprisingly fragile, her voice reticently floating over the layers of synths. Of course, “Ageless Beauty” was beautiful, but the highlight of the set was “Take Me to the Riot”, its oddly combative lyrics subsumed by the full band’s surging wall of sound.


Dan Deacon
I have been aching to see Baltimore electro wizard Dan Deacon play since reports first surfaced of his sweaty, inclusive, and ecstatic live performances. Having seen him with my own eyes, I can definitively say that everything I’ve read is true. He babbled about Ethan Hawke and Gattaca, got us to sing to a couple of onlookers in the window of a nearby Japanese restaurant, and made us dance through an arch of people. One guy even crowdsurfed for what must have been five minutes straight. It’s a wonder I’m able to remember any of this, as I was too busy dancing to take notes.


Bridezilla

Bridezilla


Bridezilla
Throughout the festival itself and in the days leading up to it, the anticipation for this super-young Aussie group was palpable. Bridezilla is a quintet of high schoolers (the drummer is the only guy) with a reputation for being genuinely cooler than you. And in their vintage (and I mean Jane Austen vintage) dresses, the group certainly projects cool. The guitar-guitar-saxophone-violin-drums setup is certainly more ambitious than most high school bands, and the layered, unconventional songs are also quite sophisticated.  The star of the group is Daisy Tulley, the violinist, whose blank porcelain doll visage belies a dervish of virtuosity. She’s as likely to perform around the corner, with her back to the audience, or off in her own world, but it’s completely compelling.


Feist
There’s no way you were going to get a good spot to see Feist. I caught a glimpse of her only once or twice, but that was enough. The Canadian singer-songwriter was as charming singing her own confluent pop as jamming on her guitar with Broken Social Scene, and even the young, macho Aussie guys were bouncing and singing along to “1, 2, 3, 4”. A continuing problem on the Park Stage meant that, from my position towards the back of the crowd at least, the sound was a bit muddy—nobody seemed to mind, though. Apart from the obvious hits, it was “Sea Lion Woman”, performed with a crowd of Canadian friends, that stood out most. The bouncing reinterpretation of Nina Simone’s classic built up to a hectic climax of reckless goodwill.


Gotye
The festival closed with a difficult choice—Gotye or the Presets. Though the sound of the Presets’ growling electro and the crazed chant of the crowd during “All My People” were tempting, I wasn’t sorry that I chose to end the festival watching the same musician I’d seen almost twelve hours earlier. Wally de Backer—who also plays drums in the Basics—always puts on a good show. Combining synchronized lights with videos run off his MacBook Pro, he jumped between a number of drum sets and keyboards, even a piano. Following the crowded love-in of Feist’s set with essentially a one-man show was a difficult task, and I occasionally felt like I was watching Gotye karaoke, since the electronic portions of the songs were all pre-programmed. (The musician has toured with a full band in the past, which I think would have greatly added to this show.) Nevertheless, de Backer’s good-natured approach and impeccable voice—I thought he might have been lip synching, he was so in tune—made it impossible to grumble. The graceful re-workings of familiar songs from 2006’s Like Drawing Blood provided a loungey, relaxing end to the evening. “Thanks for Your Time”, with its accompanying video, was funny and compelling, and “Heart’s a Mess” reminded us again why this guy’s such a hot prospect.


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