Keri Johnson is a singer/songwriter who recently released a brand new studio album titled Anyone. The full-length combines a wide variety of influences, including pop, electronic music, and pretty much everything in between. The album kicks off with the stunning title track, “Anyone,” which has a soothing, dark, and atmospheric electronic sound, tipping the hat off to artists like The Cure or Tears For Fears, but with a lush, modern sound.
The second song is titled “Falling Stars,” and it sets the bar higher with some fantastic drum patterns, creating a hypnotic feel that genuinely matches the singer’s beautiful vocal parts. “Underwater” is a techno-pop number with a fresh synth bassline and some catchy melodies to go along with the vocal harmonies. Fans of artists such as Massive Attack or even Radiohead would love this one! “World Keeps Turning” has a fresh pop sound, which tips the hat off to the early 2000s in terms of production. This is a soothing yet uplifting and dynamic pop track with a fantastic feel. The arrangement is smooth and understated, a genuinely classy touch.
“Remember Your Face” is a beautiful pop song with a bit of an ’80s twist to it. “Lost at Sea” has a cinematic beat with a distinctive atmosphere, almost reminiscent of trip-hop acts such as Portishead. “This Isn’t Love” follows right along with an atmospheric electronic arrangement, as different vintage-style synth tones blend in to create something quite mesmerizing. “My Baby Love” is a catchy and mellow song, which makes me think of artists such as Dido or Alanis Morissette. Last, but not least, “Thru the Night” is a fantastic song with a one-of-a-kind vibe and intense focus on creating some great textures with drums, piano, and vocals.
I’ve always been impressed by musicians who are keen on blurring the boundaries between various styles and approaches, and this is certainly the case of Alex McArtor. This accomplished musician recently released several fine singles that are developed beyond her age of only 16 years.
McArtor’s songs explore different ideas and unveil distinctly British classic alternative influences such as Siouxsie & the Banshees, Kate Bush, and Portishead. On songs like “Touch” and “Are You Alone,” McArtor sings in an upfront and energetic way. On “Burning Fleeting Love,” one of her most powerful tracks, McArtor strikes for her unique strength and ability to create seamless song arrangements which are catchy, yet sophisticated and intriguing all at once. She doesn’t sound at all like she’s 16, but then neither did Bush when she also debuted in her youth in the late ’70s.
Everything is well balanced, making for a smooth and personable listening experience.
Alison Sudol, formerly of the band A Fine Frenzy, is currently best known for her portrayal of Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise. After a multi-year hiatus from performing music she has made her return in the form of her first solo EP titled Moon. She has also created a new company called Hearth to release art and music into the world in a way that makes the artist’s creation feel less like a commodity.
Teaming up with producer Ali Chant, Sudol collaborated with Clive Deamer and Adrian Utley from Portishead and frequent PJ Harvey producer/collaborator, John Parish to make music that would be her art and not merely a product. To this end Alison Sudol’s ethereal voice and piano mixed with strings and gentle myth elements create a sound that is instantly accessible but light years from pop. Moon, is certain to inspire comparisons to Mazzy Star and Julee Cruise, and I would not be at all surprised if Alison Sudol considers Julee Cruise and Hope Sandoval to be influences on her singing and songwriting yet it is still an utterly unique and intimate listening experience.
The five tracks on Moon are dense yet delicate creatures that expose increasingly haunted and vulnerable spaces the more you explore them lingers with you like the fleeting dream of a nap on a late afternoon.
Okay, so in 2009 the freako-goth Horrors transcended their meager (though eminently enjoyable) trash-garage beginnings with Primary Colours, a gleaming cylinder of perpetual motion sound crafted with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow. Inevitable acclaim followed, and everyone wondered how they would follow up such a perfectly delivered statement of forward intent. Well, by sidestepping expectations again.
wm Barrow is absent this go around, replaced instead by Craig Silvey, and whereas Primary Colours took much inspiration from krautrock and Faith-era Cure, Skying goes all in with epic, synth-driven anthems in glorious hock to the likes of Ultravox, Echo and The Bunnymen, and Psychedelic Furs — lovelorn stuff perfect for soundtracking the worldshaking trauma of teenage breakups and first crushes. Tracks like “You Said” remind me of the gothic majesty of minimal wave pumped up on steroids and blasted onto the IMAX screen. Faris has the voice for it, forgoing his earlier baritone roar for a surging, fragile croon, and the rest of the band duly take their places behind all manner of shimmering synths and effects boxes — they’re to the man, intuitive students of sound (check out the backwards crest/crackle of guitar feedback pulsing through the verses of “I Can See Through You”). And because it’s the Horrors and I’m ALWAYS going to enjoy their music, I do find myself being content with most of Skying. But because it’s the Horrors who floored me with the perfection of Primary Colours, I have to note that Skying is somewhat of a creative misstep. I can’t help but feel that this is their grab for the brass ring, and as such, some of the album feels too big and overblown, veering into the (naffer) areas of the ’80s bravura that inspired them (U2, Simple Minds).
At worst, they’ve made a good M83 record. At best, they’re going to take the synth tricks they’ve learned here and merge them with the undead krautrockisms of Primary Colours for something truly revolutionary and mindblowing.
Rarely do you find a record that kicks so much ass in so many ways. Hymn for Her is Lucy Tight & Wayne Waxing raising hell in their 1961 Airstream trailer, and you won’t believe how much passionate noise two people and a cigar box slide guitar can make. The opener, “Slips,” leads off with a nice Lester Flatt lick, roars into Jason and the Scorchers land with a howling Led Zeppelin harmonica topping, and it’s nothing but whup ass the rest of the way. Recorded entirely in said Bambi Airstream, the range of this record is astounding. “Not” sounds like a lost Mazzy Star/Portishead moment, the soft croon of Lucy Tight floating on a bed of guitar and vibes. Classy. Then it’s “Montana” that has a heavy White Stripes mojo, again with the crazed slide guitar and some sleazy wah wah action that makes you think Cream had reformed again. By the time you get to their potent cover of Morphine’s “Thursday,” you believe there’s not anything Hymn for Her can’t do. Lucy & Wayne and The Amairican Stream is simply a brilliant record, full of energy, wit, and irreverent pokes in the eye to conventional genres and styles. It don’t get much better than this.
The sign posted at the entrance to Backbooth, for the Phantogram show that warned of “massive” amounts of strobe lights could have easily read, “prepare to have your mind teleported to another dimension.” Those unprepared for the onslaught of strobe lights doubled over with random flashing video sequences projected on a white screen behind the band (as well as on the band themselves) should close their eyes, or find a dark spot in the corner of the club from which to listen because the visual effects of the Phantogram live show can be a bit overwhelming for sensitive optic nerves… but for those able to stomach it, it’s quite an awesome mind meld!
Phantogram brings the strobes.
Opening the gateway into the night was the drummer for experimental indie band WHY?, Josiah Wolf. His solo jaunt finds him partnered with Liz Hodson, because no matter how many instruments Wolf is capable of playing he can’t play them all simultaneously… though it’s not for lack of trying!
Strapped in behind a drum kit with a guitar slung across his shoulder and microphone positioned toward his face, the one-man-band juggles the beat, the melody, and the vocals. Impressive and highly hypnotic as this feat is, I couldn’t help but wonder: why not employ a couple more band members to shoulder the burden? Hodson holds down the low end, offers up some dreamy sounds on the xylophone, and contributes some lush Mazzy Star-ish vocals on ‘most every song. Which begs another question: If there are two of you on stage, and you both equally share lead vocals, why not name your group rather than just going by your given name? Just a few thoughts that swirled around my brain during an otherwise beautiful opening set by Josiah Wolf and partner.
Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel
Snuggled in tightly around the low corner stage, a few hundred Orlando new-music-seekers surprised New York’s Phantogram with a nearly full-to-capacity turnout. With the exception of an inexplicable handful whose poor concert etiquette ruffled a few feathers, the crowd was jacked in and ready for lift-off — the sort of lift-off only capable of being delivered by this new school of indie electronic rock bands.
With a live drummer on board for the tour, the trippy and lush landscape created by Josh Carter (guitar/vocals) and Sarah Barthel (keyboards, vocals) was given a sexier groove. Drum machines are fine on record, but there’s no imitating the primal pulse brought to the table by an actual drummer. While the flesh and blood beatmaker Tim Oakley worked his magic, Carter and Barthel twitched and twisted — while swallowed up inside of the kaleidoscopic images projected on and behind them. The effect, further driven home by the ambrosial vocals of Barthel and the way it clashed into Carter’s trip hop approach to singing, was otherworldly.
Phantogram’s Josh Carter
Having just the one full album, Eyelid Movies, to create a set list around, the performance was cut short for lack of material. What the night was lacking in length it more than made up for in mood. “Running From the Cops,” for all of its electronic vocal effects, was stark and sexy (think Nine Inch Nails meets Portishead). “Mouthful of Diamonds” elicited cheers from its opening riff and sunk its teeth into every brain in the room like an ecstasy-inducing parasite. “When I’m Small,” the album’s crowning jewel, had much the same reaction. Like The XX, whom they recently toured with, Phantogram have found a way to make modern trance music sound downright tribal. The result is hypnotic.
Bodies swayed, eyes closed, and the frenetic strobe lighting illuminated and darkened — in equal measure — the shared experience of the crowded room. It was just a Friday night in downtown Orlando outside, but inside of Backbooth it was a way hipper dimension.
I think I saw the term “Rock Collage” somewhere around here, and that’s not a bad term for this rambling collection of earnest singing and frenzied guitar playing from the Cleveland duo of Nicole Barille (guitar/vocals) and Sam Meister (drums). Barille’s haunting vocals seem to flee in the face of the sonic assault of Meister’s drums, and their music often enough sounds angry and confused. It’s almost passive-aggressive — “Spain,” “Heave Yer Skeleton,” and “Titor” sulk and cry and won’t get dressed for days, while anger flows from the electrified “Slow Side” or “Cleveland Polka,” as they yell and threaten and throw dishes at the speakers. Behind this musical mix is the usual sort of blend of pop psychology and reworked LOTR images — ids, egos, flying horses, and vampires fill the lyrics, and while that collage is well enough constructed, it’s not clever enough to make we want to put this on my permanent play list, or recommend it for yours.
The Lilith Fair has been dusted off and is about to bring feminine-flavored folk music all across the land again this summer, Pavement just announced that they’re back together, and, as I step through the House of Blues doors into the Indigo Girls concert, Portishead’s “Roads” welcomes me over the sound system… so, clearly, it must be 1994.
I and the 2,000+ other patrons who chose to spend their Saturday night having their ears bombarded with impassioned, country-leaning folk songs must have stepped through a time warp. The only thing missing was lighters in the air, in place of fancy cell phones.
Opener Larkin Poe has a lot in common with a certain popular country act. The group, up until recently, was a trio of sisters (going by the name The Lovell Sisters), but has since downsized to allow for the oldest sister to get hitched and live a “normal” life. Of the remaining ladies, one plays the dobro. Sound familiar? This band is one controversial political statement away from being the Dixie Chicks. Musically, Larkin Poe is all about gorgeous harmonies and quiet bluegrass songs that would sound quite cozy next to a campfire.
The show was advertised as “Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile,” leaving me to ponder “Who the hell is Brandi Carlile and how did she score co-billing rights alongside the Indigo Girls?!” Stepping in for a small handful of dates, the Seattle area songstress does well on her own headlining tours, as attested to by the swooning audience, and has formed a tight bond with the Georgia duo over the years. It’s the kind of bond that finds them jumping into each other’s sets, as when the more rocking Indigo half (Amy Ray) plugged in a Gretsch and slipped onto the stage during Carlile’s set to join in on “Looking Out.”
Amy Ray joins Brandi Carlile onstage.
Much like Amy Ray, who had finished a solo tour with her electric band just days before, Carlile seems to be juggling two sides to her personality and it shows in her performance. There’s the country girl who croons like Patsy Cline on heartbreaking ballads like “The Story,” and there’s the chick who swings her hair and attacks the guitar on more rockin’ numbers like “Dreams.” Every time she throws her head back in music-made ecstasy, or tosses a guitar pick straight from her hip out to the fans, another heart in the crowd breaks. Carlile has not only the voice and the power to keep a room captivated, but she’s not too hard on the eyes either. It’s when she covers Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and then “Folsom Prison Blues,” that she truly owns every pair of eyes in the room. Even the bathroom attendant’s foot was tappin’ during those rousing covers!
Carlile, Ray, and Saliers perform.
Since 1985, Indigo Girls has been making music that spills over with sincerity, made palatable by the yin/yang vocals and songwriting stylings of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Having started off in the college rock circuit that weaned fellow Georgians, R.E.M., the pair rode through the ’80s, soared in the ’90s alongside 10,000 Maniacs and Sarah McLachlan, and is still bringing tears to the eyes of fans 15 years later. The Orlando show was a sell-out, no surprise there.
Sneaking new songs off of last year’s impressive Poseidon and the Bitter Bug into a set that was chock full of old crowd-pleasers (like “Closer to Fine,” “Shame,” and “Get Out the Map”), the Girls entertained for two hours straight without signs of wear. Ray was all over the stage, often wandering over to keyboard/accordion player Julie Wolf during Salier’s songs, or strutting up to the edge of the stage to connect with fans down front. Neither of the veteran players, who are creeping up on 50, shows any signs of slowing down.
From the very start, playing their classic “Galileo,” they began the trend of bringing Carlile out onstage to turn the pair into a trio. It was as much a union of musical souls as it was a passing of the torch to a new generation of folk singers. While Indigo Girls stood confident in the center spotlight as the night’s headliner, there was plenty of breathing room for this up and comer to collaborate whole-heartedly.
Brandi Carlile joins Indigo Girls onstage.
Bookending the night, Carlile and her whole band came back out to send everyone off with “Go” as the encore.
You have to give a few points to a band with a one-eyed flying outhouse on the cover of its album. Beaten Awake makes a straight ahead rock and roll sound that sops up all the indie pop tropes of the last decade, but doesn’t fall in love with any of them. There are rich, melodic chords on “Thunder$troke,” a shoe gazer drone on “Gyro Quake,” and a drowning man hollering on “Halo V.” There’s even a song with no title, and track eight sounds like a demo or live bootleg.
There’s precious little information on the band at the official website, but hints on the sleeve suggest four white males. You’ll hear drums, guitars, maybe a bass, and certainly keyboards and a vocalist on this project, and that’s typical for a modern quartet. I can’t say these guys will change the world, but they’re on a good start with this varied and melodic collection of songs. They don’t scream in your face or hide under a serotonin imbalance, but just focus on their song writing.
Portishead’s Geoff Barrow has perfected the creepy ambient, slightly Dadaistic sound. On his side project’s self-titled debut, Beak>, Barrow takes the dark part of Portishead’s sound deeper into the cacophonous recesses of your mind and brings all your nightmares into the waking conscious.
“Pill” is an ambient nightmare with a bass line that is about five notes leading the almost seven-minute eternity that sounds like a march to the grave. “Ham Green” starts out as another dark, bass guitar-droning tune, but about three-and-a-half minutes in, it unexpectedly breaks into a slower instrumental version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” only to go back to the bass guitar drone with some added random keyboard. It is bizarre indeed. The rest of the album is full of random electronic noises and beats that could be the backdrop to a lonely walk down a smog-blackened alley.
Portishead has always been known for its dark trip-hop. Geoff Barrow and Beak> have taken the darkness and left behind the trip-hop to create an ambient bass guitar-driven soundtrack to a horror film.