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Tuesday, Jun 22, 2010
Strings, horns and electronic sounds find a way into the love fest that is the Magic Number's new CD, The Runaway.

There are many bands that met in high school and there are also bands comprised of siblings. The Magic Numbers are a band with a happy match of both times two. Siblings Sean and Angela Gannon grew up in Hanwell, London, and became neighbors with Romeo and Michele Stodart when they moved there from New York City. Sean and Romeo formed a band together first, but it wasn’t until their sisters joined them as the Magic Numbers in 2002 that things really started clicking. By 2006, four songs had placed in the top 25 of the UK singles chart and the band had also gained a healthy recognition from the US indie pop scene as well.


So it’s been four years since the last release from the Magic Numbers. The band members took time off to focus on their lives (Michelle Stodart had a baby girl) and put together a studio of their own while learning more about the recording process. Romeo Stodart kept writing songs and by the time things were ready for the next album, there were 30 for the taking. Michele and Romeo worked on the lyrics of some of them before the other brother/sister team was called into the studio, along with Robert Kirby (who helped with string arrangements before he passed away in October 2009). The expanded sound also includes horns and electronic elements, challenging the band to recreate this lush studio sound when it plays live in Australia and at England’s Glastonbury Festival this summer.


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Thursday, Jun 17, 2010
The greatness of 'The Happiness Project' does not lie in its carefully-crafted songs. It lies in the stories it tells. 'The Happiness Project' is about aging, the suppleness of life, and finding whatever happiness you can in contemporary life.

I forget sometimes, sitting in my little studio apartment, the lives that go on directly beyond my four whitewashed walls. Then, later on, leaning over the balcony the first day the sun makes its remarkable summer comeback, I meet my neighbors for a short conversation that lasts just as long as our encounters in the hallway or in the elevator. Alone, I wonder what they are really like. What they do and what they think; how they survive and make sense of everything.


I imagine that this is what Charles Spearin (founding member of Do Make Say Think and multi-instrumentalist for Broken Social Scene) must have thought many times before he started The Happiness Project. Simply put, The Happiness Project uses the inflections of ordinary human speech as a springboard to compose music. On the surface, it is music and performance art, but beneath the sounds lurks a microcosm of modern urban life.


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Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010
The husband-wife duo Mates of State dive into a list of covers and record their own take of favorite songs.

The Mates of State story is one of collaboration—in life as well as together as members of a band since 1997. The husband-wife duo of Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner released a new CD of covers called Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) on June 15th. Before setting off on a tour of over 25 dates with a traveling show of magic, sword swallowers, contortionists and the like, Hammel took the time to talk to PopMatters. With the sounds of a toddler and kids playing in the yard in the background, the conversation started by discussing how the Connecticut suburbs can be a great place to raise a family whether you’re in a band or just a fan.


You met in Kansas, moved together to San Francisco and then settled in the Connecticut suburbs. Why here?
Kori actually grew up in Connecticut so her family is here.  When we were living in San Francisco, we were like, “Man, we love it here, but are we staying here forever or are we going to try to move around a bit more? Well, let’s go to the East Coast and try to get as close to New York City as we can and be close to Kori’s family”, since we thought we were going to have a kid or two and that would be helpful.


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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
If the singer in your band suddenly died, would you call it quits? New Order did the opposite, proving in an endless stream of brilliant music that Joy Division was merely a warm-up on the path to pop greatness.

There’s one important fact that should not be neglected when commemorating the 30-year anniversary of Joy Division’s premature demise. Pretty much within a day of the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, his remaining bandmates decided to carry on under a new name. Thus was born New Order, an ensemble that gradually shed Joy Division’s rock essence to become one of the most influential groups in modern dance and electronic music. And, dare I say it, New Order was the better band.


While incorporating elements of electronic dance music wasn’t unusual amongst post-punk bands in the early 1980s (the synthesizer-based works of disco producers such as Giorgio Moroder were a strong influence for many of those groups), what set New Order apart from its rock contemporaries was how wholly the group embraced the music and its attending culture, to the point where a huge swath of listeners are unaware of the band’s rockier origins and inclination. In my own case, I was exposed to New Order’s music long before I had any inkling that there had been a predecessor group (much less one that played rock), due to R&B radio’s embrace of the band’s dancefloor-filling output during my 1980s childhood. In contrast to Joy Division’s grim Aryan-tinged image, New Order’s stellar run of singles during the 1980s acted as multicultural nexus points, linking white European post-disco, Latino electro from New York, and black house music from Detroit and Chicago, both drawing from and providing inspiration to these musical strains. The members of New Order would admit without hesitation that they were a bunch of white Britons who hated to dance, but their embrace and advancement of the technological innovations of electronic dance music—essentially forsaking agonized guitars and doomy basslines for drum programming and loads of synths—were never less than sincere. Witness the single “Confusion”, a kaleidoscopic blend of electro and early hip hop that remains a go-to cut for showing off one’s mad breakdancing skills:


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Friday, May 28, 2010
It’s not surprising that Joy Division’s cigarette-smoking crowd of followers in their dark, heavy overcoats would in a few short years become the first wave of gothic rock fans.

“Cult” is a very appropriate word to use when describing the level of popularity Joy Division has attained. The group has never sold gangbusters, but it has tended to attract a very devout sort of following. Whether the subject is the clutch of serious-faced young fans in the late ‘70s often referred to as the Cult with No Name, or Johnny-come-latelys entranced by the myth of singer Ian Curtis’ tortured life and death, there’s always been something faintly religious about Joy Division’s appeal. Surely if one were to pick up one of the group’s record sleeves, the immaculate Peter Saville design would have them thinking they were picking up a holy document.


Of course, the music is the main draw. Even before Curtis committed suicide in May 1980, Joy Division was earning a place amongst the post-punk movement’s top-tier with its work. Yet Curtis’ sudden death wasn’t the total career killer one would expect. Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 tells me that circa the band’s 1979 full-length debut Unknown Pleasures “they were like contenders, ones to watch, and then with Closer (under a year later) they were the Band—or at least right up there with PiL. They were well on their way towards that status before Curtis’s death but that really pushed them over the edge into premier league.”  It’s fair to say this dramatic rise in stock was aided by Joy Division exploiting an opening left by then-leading post-punk innovators Public Image Ltd. As Reynolds notes, “In ‘79 PiL were definitely the leading post-punk band, and then threw it away by doing nothing in 1980.” Reynolds cites the airplay the 1979 single “Transmission” enjoyed on radio shows by John Peel and other like-minded British DJs, yet adds “but also Unknown Pleasures must have just sold steadily and gone through word of mouth. You started to get people talking about the Cult with No Name, their overcoat clad fans, as a type.”


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