Sunday, December 29, 2013

HBR's Year End List of Must-Hear Music

Happy holidays and happy New Year! With the end of year comes the annual barrage of top album lists. This year, we are very lucky to have our list guest written by one of NYC's most talented, prolific, and huggable musicians, the venerable Max Goransson. Max splits his time between playing guitar and singing in Quiet Loudly, and playing bass and looking cool in Clouder, and various other projects, and doing sound at Fort Useless. We feel he's qualified, no, OVER-qualified, to pen our year end list. So without further ado, here is HBR's official best albums of the year....

Max, hard at work on this column.

First off, a disclaimer.  I am good friends with a lot of excellent bands.  Especially in Brooklyn.  So, as much as it pained me, I intentionally left my friends' local bands off of this list for a couple reasons- 1. It's very difficult not to be biased-- a song that I would really like becomes a song I absolutely adore if I know and respect the songwriter on a personal level.  2. I'd feel guilty including some friends on this list and not others, as stupid as that sounds.  However, I will do this much-- a tip of the hat.  These bands that I happen to know personally all released new music this year that is well worth checking out: Crazy Pills, Heliotropes, Belus, Dead Stars, Naam, Miniboone, Jane Eyre, The Planes, Speedy Ortiz, Butchers & Bakers, Libel, Robot Princess, Zula, Seapost... shit.  I know I'm forgetting so many people.  shitshitshitshit.  Sorry, people I forgot.  It's definitely not you-- it's me.

1. Public Speaking- Blanton Ravine  Public Speaking is Jason Anthony Harris, easily one of the most criminally unknown musicians in NYC.  While some fair reference points could be found in the likes of Arthur Russell, Talk Talk, City Center, and Radiohead (at their most experimental), Jason Anthony Harris' sound is very much uniquely his own.  Throughout Blanton Ravine, horns, strings, field recordings, backwards samples, and auxiliary hand percussion of all conceivable forms snake their way in and out of the sonic landscape, helping create a dark, sad, mysterious piece that is beautifully haunting and impossibly crammed with brilliant ideas.

2. The John Steel Singers- Everything's A Thread  The John Steel Singers of Brisbane, Australia took their sweet time making this album and it shows.  First of all, they recorded the whole thing in their own home studio that they built themselves and it sounds incredible.  But it's what's behind this impressive-sounding record that counts-- intelligent pop songs (in the classic sense) of the highest caliber, expertly crafted and performed, complete with perfect harmonies and unforgettable melodies delivered in the form of driving, instantly lovable rock songs with brilliant krautrock and classic r&b influences aplenty.  Most of the songs make you want to dance, but it's the couple funky slow jams that really disarmed me.  And that bass line in "The AC" has got to be the most perfect I've heard all year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The True Jacqueline's newest EP is a blaze of guitar glory

  The True Jacqueline are a three piece indie rock outfit from Northampton, Massachusetts.  They have just release an EP titled Like Way Out. I think it's pretty great. Full disclosure though, I used to play in a band with their guitarist, Noah Cerveny (the Billy Ripken Fuck Face Card, look it up)... and live with him too. And the album was produced by Planes' drummer Jeff Patlingrao (who also produced/mixed our last album). So basically, it's inbred cronyism. That being said, I'm honestly crazy about this EP. If you're into guitars and pedals, AND lo-fi/mid-fi recordings, you need to give this a listen. Recorded on a Tascam 688, Like Way Out captures the rawness of the cassette tape machine, without losing any clarity or definition in the guitars.

The actual, factual, for reallz... True Jacqueline

  Cerveny and bassist Kate Niemczyk share vocal duties on the EP, and despite differences on tonality, both voices maintain a certain innocent nerdy-ness and flow together quite nicely. Drummer Brian DiPippo stays out of the way of the more intricate guitar work, but just barely. He plays about as much as one really can, while still letting the tonal instruments ring through. A fun drummer to watch live, DiPippo shines during the EP's many transitional passages.

"Knock Knees" is the EP's opener is a lesson in crunchy bass playing. Bass distortion is something that I rarely like, but Niemczyk's tone is full and powerful. The song's jagged sections feel almost scotch-taped together, yet never quite come loose, giving the track an air of spontaneity. Throughout their career, Tru-Jaq have made the transition from heavily overdriven riffs to choppy clean, almost reggae-esque rhythm playing a signature move. Though this track is bigger and more raw than their earlier work, that finger print remains.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Party!!! (plus some bands to check out)

I've been so overwhelmed lately; it's really insane. I went from unemployed to over-employed in about two weeks, not to mention the band stuff, and blog stuff and the HOLIDAYS, (which always sneak up on me like a weightless ninja on a dark windy night)... There's a lot of great music I wanted to write about that I just didn't get around to. I'm not perfect. So to make up for that, I'm throwing a party this Friday, 12/20. You're all invited to come and be imperfect with me.

It took so long to get Baron to pose with the bow!

Before we get to the bands playing on Friday, I want to mention a couple of tracks...

Easy Lover, "The Sweet"

This track is just fucking beautiful. It's so lush and smooth, but distorted, wrecked, and cacophonous but closer inspection. A minimalist drum track drives this rainforest of ripping guitar feedback and synth swells. Vocalist Kali Holloway's powerful voice sounds like a love child of Martha Reeves and Nico. The outro will be stuck in your head, long after the tune is finished.

Madam West, "Darlin'"

A short, driving, dance-y number that's been stuck in my head for the past week. Todd Martino's rhythmic keyboard riffs punctuate this hectic song. Lead singer Sophie Chernin sounds crazy in love ("crazy" being the operative word) with the song's subject. Her voice is incredible, give this track a listen when you need to get yourself moving.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

12 Things Tiny Unsigned Indie Bands Love About NYC

Not to be a Negative Nancy, I wanted to write a follow up to the 12 things tiny unsigned NYC indie bands hate list that I published over the summer. Anyway, it's taken me for-F'ing-ever to get it together because of various life distractions: lack of discipline, sickness, health... activities both curricular and extracurricular... It's not a point for point counter argument to the original list, but it touches on a lot of similar themes. I guess it goes to show that a lot of the unique aspects of this crazy complicated dirt hole/fantasy land of a city can be seen as either positive or negative, depending on mere circumstance. OK, here goes....

GHOSTESS rocks a Brooklyn backyard. They play our holiday party on 12/20

In no particular order, 12 things that tiny unsigned indie bands love about NYC:

 #1. Public Transportation/Cabs. Though it can be a rough time lugging gear on public transportation, if you plan ahead and minimize what you need to bring, you can usually get away with bringing a gig bag and maybe a backpack. At the end of the night, hop on the train or hail a cab (fairly cheap if you're only going a couple of miles). You don't need a designated driver, everyone can drink and act like rockstars. Now, if a bandmate has a car, you'll probably end up having to pile in and drag stuff back to the practice space, just because you don't want to be the jerk who took off without carrying an amp. Of course, you didn't really need to bring that amp because....

 #2. Backline. Yes, some of it is terrible. Beat to shit drum kits, static-y lifeless solid-state guitar combos, "fart-y"bass rigs (you know the sound)... but it's something that we take for granted. Few musicians here own cars, and even fewer own cars that could transport a full kit and amps. Because of that, it's understood that there will be house equipment to use, and goddamn, it makes everything so much easier on everyone. Other places don't do this. The drummer has to actually carry their WHOLE KIT, to their gig. Oh, the humanity.