If the name Owl City doesn’t mean anything to you, you probably were living underground in 2009 when the song “Fireflies” was everywhere. Adam Young, the mastermind, one-man band behind Owl City has a mass of fans (who call themselves “Hoot Owls”) who have followed him faithfully since long before the “thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs”. Young, a shy insomniac with a knack for writing whimsical lyrics that make the Hoot Owls swoon (“The silence isn’t so bad till I look at my hands and feel sad, ‘cause the spaces between my fingers are right where yours fit perfectly”), has a rare innocence about him that coupled with his supremely imaginative writing style could charm just about anyone.
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Chad Valley’s Hugo Manuel has been a busy man. The Jonquil frontman just completed a tour of the UK with Massachusetts electronic band Passion Pit and Glaswegian electro-pop outfit Chvrches, and also launched his first tour of the US as Chad Valley, so he was justifiably tired when we met to discuss his debut album Young Hunger. While in America, the Oxford-based artist had the opportunity to headline a label showcase at CMJ, and though the tour wasn’t what you’d call traditional, he got the opportunity to promote his music in a way which should open up regional programmers to his unique blend of ‘90s-era Balearic chillwave and modern electronic music.
Manuel recently spoke to PopMatters not only about his new full-length, but how the album’s numerous, noteworthy collaborations (Twin Shadow, Glasser, El Perro Del Mar, etc.) came into being, and how he accidentally came across Bono’s unique method of writing lyrics.
will.i.am has a rather large problem, and the worst part is that he has yet to realize it: he is not a leading man.
This past week brought the release of “Scream & Shout”, a new single from his perpetually delayed solo album #willpower, featuring none other than Britney Spears. Its club intentions are extremely clear, its video is amazingly expensive, and it proves to have the main characteristic that has marked the noted rapper/producer’s work in the past few years: it’s pretty terrible. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off or an exception to the rule by any means. This is a problem that will.i.am has been running into for years, and the fix is so easy that will.i.am doesn’t want to hear it: he’ll have to step out of the spotlight.
Alice Smith is discussing “Break”, the song that opens each show of her three-week residency at Joe’s Pub in New York City. “Who is going to save you from yourself?” goes a line in the bridge. It’s a question that could be directed towards friends and lovers alike. At the moment, however, Smith’s target includes label executives whose seeming expertise guides recording careers: “Who is going to save you from yourself and your stupid decision?” Tinged with exasperation, her voice crescendos. “Where’d you get your job? Out of a crackerjack box?”
That conversation was two years ago when Alice Smith was signed to Epic Records. Two years later, she’s extricated herself from the “crackerjack” brigade of her former label and is planning the follow-up to For Lovers, Dreamers & Me (2006), the album that landed her atop critics’ lists and netted her a Grammy nomination in the Best Urban/Alternative category. Slated for a winter 2013 release, She is being funded by Smith’s fervent fan base via Kickstarter and without the meddlesome hands of a major record label.
Sometime around 1980, three girls from Osaka, Japan, fell in love with the Ramones. Unsatisfied with being mere fans, one of the girls, Naoko Yamano, finagled a guitar somewhere and learned the three chords necessary to play along with her Ramones records. Her sister, Atsuko Yamano, was recruited on drums and with friend Michie Nakatani on bass, the three took Japan, if not by storm, then at least by siege.
Playing high-energy power pop with lyrics about simple pleasures like collecting insects and eating cookies, Shonen Knife developed an almost cult-like following both at home and abroad. By the end of the ‘80s, the band was touring the U.S. regularly, playing with devotees like Red Kross and Sonic Youth. The group became a college radio darling with the release of its first U.S. album, Let’s Knife, and a track on the influential Sub Pop 100 compilation led to a tour with Nirvana at the height of its fame.
Part of the appeal of Shonen Knife is that the group seems straightforward and mysterious at the same time. The vocals are syrupy sweet, but the guitars are like gravel. The band members pioneering figures in terms of women playing rock, but they almost refuse to admit it. And for all the lightheartedness and fun, there’s a distinctly Japanese sense of melancholy running through many of their songs.