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The New Zealand born and currently Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Kimbra made international waves with the 2011 release of her debut album, Vows, which landed at number 14 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart and was certified platinum in Australia and her native New Zealand, thanks in part to her Grammy-winningduet with Goyte. “Someone I Used to Know.” 

Her sophomore effort, The Golden Echo is slated for an August 19 release, and the album which was written in her bedroom studio on a farm in the artsy Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake features collaborations with the phenomenal bassist, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner; Silverchair’s Daniel Johns; drummer John “JR” Robinson, known for his work with Michael Jackson and Daft Punk; and others. 

"Miracle," the celebratory and incredibly funky first single off the album, manages to remind me quite a bit of old school Prince but with an incredibly modern sensibility — the production is incredibly slick without taking away form the song’s sensual and soulful nature. 

In my line of work, many wind up being cynical and jaded — after all, many of my colleagues claim that they know it all, have seen it all and have heard it all. But many of my fellow bloggers and critics have forgotten the joy of serendipitous discovery and of sharing something you think is cool with the entire world — and having others agree with you. 

In any case, if you’ve followed this site over the years, you know that I had written and mentioned the Mexico City-based quartet The Oats, who I had met while at a Northside Festival Showcase. The band split up some time ago with each of the members going off in their own directions both creatively and personally — one guy went to graduate school, another focused on art and so on. But before the band broke up, they toured across Canada when Armando met a young woman by the name of Dawn, from Dundas, ON. The duo fell in love, and whenever Dawn would visit Mexico City, the duo would find themselves writing a new song. Eventually, the two got married and formed a band, which they call The Tallest Tree.

"Boat" is the band’s first single and it bears a resemblance to The Pixies and The Vaselines — it has a grungy, garage rock vibe but with playful harmonies and melodies that makes the song so sweet that it’s hard to be jaded or hate on it. 

The Toronto, ON-based avant garde pop artist Valery Gore began her musical career with formal training at the piano when she was 8. Gore’s classical training was further developed into conceptual songwriting when she studied jazz at Humber College

The release of her her debut effort put Gore on the map as an artist to pay attention to as she developed a reputation for highly innovative songwriting and composition. In fact, her sophomore effort Avalanche to Wandering Bear was praised by Exclaim Magazine as “one of the best written and produced albums of the year.”

Gore’s forthcoming third effort. Idols in the Dark Heart may well put the Canadian singer/songwriter and composer on the international map as you’ll hear on the jazzy, yet moody and sensual first album “Amsterdam,” a composition that consists of piano, bass, strings, swirling electronics, drums and Gore’s unhurried but throaty croon. Sure, the song manages to have an old-time pop feel but it manages to be both accessible and modern; after all, the song, much like the entire album, manages to evoke the turbulence of almost all human relationships including the sensations of love, loss, nostalgia and self-doubt in a way that should feel familiar as it bears a resemblance to the likes of Fiona Apple

The Los Angeles-based quartet, The Lonely Wild’s debut EP, Dead End landed at number 19 on this site’s Best of 2011 list and managed to win quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere, which made their full-length debut, The Sun As It Comes much-anticipated among bloggers and fans. 

The material on The Sun As It Comes manages to continue the quartet’s reputation for rousingly anthemic, heartfelt rock with the sweeping, cinematic feel of a Morricone film — in fact, at times the material manages to be gorgeous and possess swooning harmonies and melodies that make the material deeply personal and yet larger than life. And interestingly, the material on the album also reflects profound artistic growth of the band as it only manages to capture the band’s live sound with an unflinching fidelity, the album also manages to capture the sociopolitical zeitgeist of it’s particular time. Songs like ”Banks and Ballrooms”  and “Bankrupt” capture the sense of confusion, loss and despair that average Americans across the country felt after the financial collapse, as though there was the instant recognition that the rug had been pulled out from underneath them without any warning. Simply put, those songs are the stories of the hard-working little guy getting crushed by much larger, oppressive forces that are angry and forlorn. But not all the material is explicitly political; in fact, they specialize in some of the most Romantic songs I’ve heard in recent memory — such as the beautiful “Everything You Need” which describes lovers desperate to run away together. 

For the song’s official video, the members of the band recruited Kurt Paulsen and his Media Arts students at Bethany Lutheran College to create a set of stunning visuals which employ both stop-motion animation, traditional 2D animation that captures the Western and tribal feel of the song. 

Miami, FL-based producer and electronic artist Erix Laurent writes, records and performs under the moniker of ISTILLFEELIT, And Laruent’s latest single “Beyond Us” is a summery electro pop with layers of shimmering and breezy synths that evoke both Brazilian music and 70s disco. It’s the sort of song you can imagine DJs playing way into the night/morning. 

Originally formed in 2002, the Italian group Late Guest at the Party quickly developed a reputation for a sound that manages to blur genre lines, as it meshes electro pop, rock ‘n’ roll, 90s Brit pop and techno. In fact, for several years the group was lauded by blogs and industry insiders as one of the next big things to come out of Europe because of their crowd pleasing sound; however, it wasn’t until 2007 when the BBC Radio 1's Steve Lamacq played the band's “We Were Young” on his show, and later mentioned their demo as one of the best release that year, that the band finally got signed to a label. (Strange how the record industry works, indeed!)

Their debut effort, Come Back, Bobby Peru was released in 2009 to critical praise in the likes of Rolling Stone, and songs from the album received airplay not only on the aforementioned BBC Radio 1, but internationally as it received airplay from several indie stations here in NYC. 

By 2011 the Italian group had relocated to New York to record a new album, produced by Chuck Brody, who has worked with Peter Bjorn and JohnShy ChildBear HandsRa Ra Riot and Wu-Tang Clan, and features collaborations with artists such as Kenan Bell, Hesta Prynn, Randy Shrager of the Scissor Sisters and Slam Donahue. And the move has been a permanent one, as they’ve become part of New York’s incredibly diverse and busy indie scene. 

The band’s latest effort, Reloader was released a few weeks ago to critical praise form the likes of SpinBullet Magazine and others. “Reload,” the album’s first single (and video) is a slickly produced bit of propulsive electro pop that bears an uncanny resemblance to Depeche Mode and to ISHI. 

The official video is trippy as it has the members of the band singing the song over smoky, shadowy effects similar to Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey.” 

The release of their sophomore effort, In Ghost Colours put the Melbourne, Australia-based act Cut Copy on the international map as the album was a commercial and critical success, thanks in part to a sound that deftly mixes and blurs the lines between psychedelia, synth pop and indie rock in a way that was club friendly and yet earnest and deeply personal. 

Zonoscope, the Australian quartet’s third album — and follow up to In Ghost Colours — was a decided change in sonic direction, as the band wanted to evoke a sweaty, tropical and downright tribal feel to the material. And although I felt that the album was lacking, it did further cement the band’s reputation as an international indie pop sensation, as they were playing more extensive tours and larger venues. 

Last November saw the release of the band’s fourth and most recent release, Free Your Mind which sonically will strike fans of the band as a synthesis of the sound they’ve developed over their previous three albums — and you’ll hear elements of each album throughout; however, at points, the album manages to be some of the most straightforward house music they’ve released to date. Interestingly, Modular Records just released a deluxe version of Free Your Mind, completed with three previously unreleased tracks. 

What makes a deluxe edition of an album with unreleased tracks so compelling to me is the thought of how different an album would have been with the inclusion of a previously unreleased song. In many cases, you can see why a particular song was left from the album — usually, the discarded track doesn’t quite fit the mood of the album or it isn’t as well written as the album tracks. And in some very rare instances, the discarded track should have been on the album. “Believers,” one of the unreleased tracks, which you can get with the deluxe edition, is a track that manages to feel and sound as though it should have easily been on Free Your Mind as it manages to synthesize the sound the band crafted on Bright Like Neon Love and In Ghost Colours — in other words, you’ll  hear the densely layered, propulsive synths of house music, swirling industrial noise, mournful saxophone samples at the bridge and Dan Whiftord’s plaintive and swooningly Romantic vocals. 

4 Knots Festival featuring Re-tros, Juan Wauters, Viet Cong, Nude Beach, Those Darlins and Dinosaur, Jr. 7/12/14

4 Knots Festival featuring Re-tros, Juan Wauters, Viet Cong, Nude Beach, Those Darlins and Dinosaur, Jr. 

South Street Seaport

July 12, 2014

As promised, I was recently covering the 4 Knots Festival with my dear friend, the very talented Examiner.com music journalist Kate Spalla — this time as her photographer. It’s taken a little while to go through about half a million pictures and then upload them onto Flickr but at the end of the day, I think it was worth it. Granted, every festival has it’s issues and in the case of 4 Knots, I found the lack of diversity both sonically and even racially to be particularly troubling — all the bands were predominantly white and generally sounded exactly the same with subtle variations here and there.  And with that in mind, a lot of this year’s festival just struck me as not being all that impressive. You mean a festival run by the Village Voice couldn’t get a notable artist of color? An indie level hip-hop act? A punk band? An electro pop act, perhaps?  

There were also some nagging organizational issues. I felt that the organizers could have done a much better job of informing both crowds and the press of when each artist’s set would start and end. Not knowing when someone’s set was going to start or going to end seemed to cause a bit of confusion for everyone, especially if you were completely unfamiliar with the bands beforehand — or if you were only familiar with some of the bands. It’s not particularly crowd friendly and it’s definitely not press friendly.  

By far, Those Darlins and Dinosaur, Jr. were the most interesting and compelling live bands of the entire festival, followed by Viet Cong’s extremely angular sound. Beyond that, I can’t comprehend the fascination behind Mac DeMarco, who despite the fact that he seems to be a sweet-hearted goofball, produces music that strikes me as incredibly dull and plodding. And although Juan Wauters currently hails from my home borough of Queens, i find him to be unlistenable — his voice strikes me as the tone-deaf warbling of a pubescent male singing in the shower. Perhaps, he’s some exceptional songwriter as one journalist tried to tell me but I can’t get past his voice to listen to the songs. In the case of both of those artists, I think the emperor has no clothes and many of my younger counterparts just don’t know any better and have it dreadfully wrong. Yes, I realize that this may make me sound like an old curmudgeon but it’s my opinion and i can’t hide that.

Still, there’s something about being out by the Seaport on a gorgeous summer afternoon and evening catching live music that feels both timeless and right. I’ve spent countless summer afternoons on the Seaport watching bands and hanging out, and it’s one of those things that for me is perfectly New York. With that in mind, check out some photos from proceedings which stretched out across two stages and the better part of a summer afternoon. 

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Dinosaur, Jr.s J. Mascis. 

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Those Darlins played a set which was mostly comprised of their latest album, Blur the Line.

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Re-tros were one of the first acts I caught that afternoon. 

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A sugar skull themed umbrella. 

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Speedy Ortiz from the festival’s VIP area on the historic SS Peking. 

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Juan Wauters on the Fulton Street stage. 

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Viet Cong at the 4 Knots Festival

Crowd surfing during Dinosaur, Jr.’s set. 

This young woman was having the most fun of those up front near the photo pit — and she seemed particularly thrilled to catch Dinosaur, Jr. 

Here’s the incredibly sweet Marnie the dog, who I had met while in the VIP area. She was honestly the belle of the ball, and everyone stopped to pet her, scratch or stomach or say hi to her human. 

Juan Wauters on the Fulton Street stage. 

Viet Cong

Viet Cong on the Seaport stage. 

Nude Beach on the Fulton Street stage. 

This guy was one of my favorites — he was rocking the fuck out and was unafraid to show it. 

For these photos and more check out the Flickr set here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yankee32879/sets/72157645825901334/

Mobb Deep at Summerstage, Queensbridge Park 7/17/14

Mobb Deep 

Summerstage, Queensbridge Park

July 17, 2014

Prodigy and Havoc, the two main members of the Queensbridge-based hip-hop act Mobb Deep have had a rather tumultuous relationship over the last few years with the duo briefly splitting up before reuniting for a 20th anniversary tour and to release the duo’s eighth and latest effort, The Infamous Mobb Deep. And the folks at Summerstage had the duo with their DJ, DJ On Point play a set in front of their hometown crowd. 

Unfortunately, I wound up missing about half of Mobb Deep’s set, as i was with a friend and we both assumed that there would be a fairly lengthy DJ set to warm up the crowd before Mobb Deep hit the stage, giving us some time to actually eat a meal and have a drink or two; however, when we finally arrived in Queensbridge, got my photo pit credentials and walked into the photo pit, there was this immediate sense that we had missed a significant portion of their set.  I did catch them do “Got It Twisted" which turns a sample from Thomas Dolby's “She Blinded Me With Science" into something dark and menacing but i also had the sense that the set was largely uneven — at times the crowd seemed a bit bored. It was honestly, one of the stranger Summerstage sets I’ve seen and one of the disappointingly shortest. 

In any case, check out some photos from the set below.

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For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yankee32879/sets/72157645824415654/

Irish-born and currently London-based sisters Hannah and Colette Thurlow perform as the electro pop duo 2:54 — and with the 2012 release of their debut effort, the duo won international attention and toured with the likes of the xx, Wild Beasts and Warpaint. 

The Thurlow sisters will be releasing their much-anticipated sophomore effort later on in the year, and their latest single “Orion” is a gorgeously lush pop song that evokes traveling on the road under enormous skies — and strangely enough bears a resemblance to Bjork and Kate Bush in the sense that the track possesses an elegant and spectral quality. 

Evy Jane is a Vancouver, BC-based duo of singer/songwriter, Evelyn Jane Mason and producer, Jeremiah Klein. And the sound they’ve crafted, as you’ll hear on “Worry Heart,” the first single off the band’s forthcoming EP Closer, bears a resemblance to the icy and minimalist, downtempo R&B infused electronica of Beacon and of Steven A. Clark. However, thanks in part to Mason’s voice, the material manages to possesses a plaintive yearning that gently cracks the material’s iciness. 

Since their formation in 2010, the Brooklyn-based band Starlight Girls have developed a reputation for a unique brand of “noir-ish indie pop” and a live set that employs the use of video projections. Two years ago, the band released a five song EP, which was comprised of material that was heavily inspired by 60s noir and pop. The band followed that EP up by a 7 inch produced by Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, and it represented a further change in sonic direction as their sound closely resembled that of Sneaker Pimps, as it employed elements of trip-hop. 

Later this year, the band will be releasing their much-anticipated and long-awaited full-length debut and the band’s second single off that album “Fancy” employs elements of 70s disco — in the song’s bass line and soaring synths and breezy sensuality. And thematically, the song manages to possess the same sort of “you go, girl” empowerment of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" but with a modern spin, of course — and while still being extremely danceable.

In the mean time, you can catch the band performing at the Out in the Streets Festival in Ridgewood, Queens this weekend, performing on a bill that includes A Place to Bury Strangers, Body Language, Hunters, Ski Lodge, Honduras, and others.