Sunday, December 27, 2009

School of Seven Bells: Half Asleep

Q-Tip Featuring Norah Jones: Life Is Better

The XX: Crystalised

Lusine: Two Dots

Telekinesis: Awkward Kisser

Jack Penate: Be the One

One Eskimo: Kandi

Silversun Pickups: Panic Switch

The Temper Trap: Science of Fear

Miike Snow: Silvia

Florence + The Machine: You've Got the Love

Mayer Hawthorne: Green Eyed Love

Grizzly Bear: While You Wait for the Others

Phoenix: Lisztomania

Neko Case: People Got a Lotta of Nerve

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prefix: A Gift of Christmas

I wrote about Tokyo based duo Prefix (Tk and Mairi) in October. We have since become great friends - they are some of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever known. Cyberspace can lead to true friendship, and music is often the link.

Tk and Mairi have just finished making a sweet video for their latest song, the beautiful track "A Gift of Christmas". The song, video and our friendship give me hope for the world.

Speaking of humanity: thousands of delegates in Copenhagen - where I'm visiting family for Christmas and New Year's - were not able to agree on very much at the COP15 climate conference these past two weeks. Perhaps from now on, important summit delegations should consist of musicians - we seem to be able to put our differences aside in ways that bureaucrats and politicians are not!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Queens of the Stone Age: No One Knows

Number 73 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

The Killers: Mr. Brightside

Number 48 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

The Roots: The Seed (2.0) Featuring Cody Chesnutt

Number 43 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list

Arcade Fire: Wake Up

Number 42 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out

Number 32 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

The Postal Service: Such Great Heights

Number 27 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

The Strokes: Last Night

Number 16 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

Johnny Cash: Hurt

Number 15 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Maps

Number 7 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

White Stripes: Seven Nation Army

Number 6 on the Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade list:

Rolling Stone: The Decade's Best Songs & Albums

Personal taste is just that - personal, but there are many excellent choices in the current Rolling Stone The Decade's Best Songs & Albums issue, voted on by a good mix of Rolling Stone editors and well-known songwriters.

The Nightfly has picked twelve favorite songs/videos from the 100 Best Songs of the Decade list.

Lists are silly, guilty pleasures.

Let the sillyness begin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Imogen Heap: Canvas

Rain or shine or snow - Imma gonna go out there and paint, damn it!

Great video shot by Tom Kelly, great song by the fab Ms. Heap.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Trentemøller: Moan

Danish musician/remixer Anders Trentemøller aka Trentemøller or Trentemoller did this vocal remix featuring Ane Trolle in 2007.

The moving video about Laika - the guinea pig "space dog" who was sent into orbit aboard Sputnik in 1957 and died five to seven hours into flight from stress and overheating - was directed by Niels Gråbøl and Ulrik Crone.

Raveonettes: Black/White Sound

Sharin Foo and Sune Wagner founded The Raveonettes in Copenhagen in 2001.

Sharin turns 30 on Saturday Dec. 12 - Happy B-day to my almost namesake and fellow Great Dane!

Carpark North: More

Kids don't need Ritalin - just give 'em a drumset, a guitar or a mike!

Carpark North was founded in Denmark's second largest city, Århus in Jutland.

Crisp black/white video and fab energy.

Mew: Repeaterbeater

The historic and vital COP15 climate conference opened today in Copenhagen today - let's hope the many delegates can come up with something other than empty promises.

And speaking of Copenhagen - Mew are from the Copenhagen suburb Hellerup, just north of the capital and right on the coast.

The video for "Repeaterbeater" was directed by Martin de Thurah. It's a very cool short that has a Thomas Vinterberg/Lars von Trier feel to it. Apparently the band was under hypnosis during part of the video shoot - the guy in the white suit with the cane is not an actor but the real thing!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ataris: The Boys of Summer

The video for Don Henley's original version seems to have vanished from cyber space. Thankfully, Ataris' version is pretty great too.

Kraak & Smaak: Squeeze Me

Dutch electronic/funk trio Kraak and Smaak.

Camera Obscura: Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken

Camera Obscura from Glasgow, Scotland with their fabtastic lead vocalist Tracyanne Campell.

Ken & Barbie dancing around Tokyo. Tres freaky.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Raphael Saadiq: Love That Girl, 100 Yard Dash, Sure Hope You Mean It

NPR Tiny Desk Concert, September 28, 2009

I'm not sure how I expected Raphael Saadiq to translate his old-school soul and R&B to the acoustic confines of the Tiny Desk, but I know I hadn't imagined two acoustic guitars.

In the late '80s and '90s, under the name Raphael Wiggins, Saadiq played bass in the multi-platinum band Tony! Toni! Tone! More recently, he reinvented himself as a successful producer and released last year's Grammy-nominated solo album The Way I See It, which features collaborations with Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z.

For his Tiny Desk Concert, Saadiq brought a remarkable accompanist in guitarist Rob Bacon. The two had just gotten off a plane, but in their impeccably tailored suits and their grand smiles, they looked fresh and played an inspired acoustic performance. As you watch, keep an eye on Saadiq's guitar work: You'll see how his years as a bassist influences many of his licks on his Taylor acoustic. You're in for a real treat.

[Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

NPR's small but just-as-good version of MTV Unplugged - really feeling these Tiny Desk Concerts.

K'naan: Take a Minute, Fatima, Wavin' Flag

Though his appearance at the NPR Music office qualifies as the first-ever hip-hop Tiny Desk Concert, Somali-born rapper K'naan isn't one to adhere to a single genre. Given that he released a song called "If Rap Gets Jealous" earlier this year (hear him perform it at SXSW here), it's no surprise that this show found him infusing his music with the sounds of soul, pop and reggae. With the help of a crack backing band, his three-song set — all drawing from this spring's marvelous Troubadour — exuded shimmery grace.

K'naan grew up in war-torn Mogadishu — he moved to Toronto at 13 and learned English with the help of Eric B & Rakim records — which helps lend grittiness to his storytelling. But in "Fatima," performed here, he tells the story of a lost childhood friend with gentle humor and a sober understanding of what our loved ones leave behind. That song is sandwiched between two magnificent inspirational anthems: "Wavin' Flag" and "Take a Minute," both of which are as uplifting as they are shot through with real-world perspective. Together, the three songs add up to a miniature concert that's sweet and stirring while backing up what we've been saying for months: K'naan has the makings of a global superstar who's as inspiring as his songs are infectious.

[Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

K'naan is a Bob Marley for the 21st Century, mixing hip-hop, reggae, soul and echoes of the music of his native Somalia.

Zee Avi: Honey Bee, First of the Gang, Just You and Me

NPR Tiny Desk Concert, November 23, 2009.

Malaysian-born singer-songwriter Zee Avi owes a large portion of her success to the Internet. Hers is an increasingly familiar but still noteworthy story: After posting a few songs on YouTube and MySpace, Avi was discovered by Patrick Keeler of the rock group The Raconteurs. Keeler, in turn, forwarded the songs to the manager of The White Stripes and The Shins. Within a month, Avi signed a deal with Brushfire Records, the label partially owned by singer Jack Johnson. She released her self-titled debut album earlier this year.

{Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

Zee's version of "First of the Gang" - best Morrissey cover ever.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Little Dragon: After the Rain

Bless Little Dragon for NOT disabling embedding of their videos!

Yukimi has a blog of her own with videos - check it out:

Weekend Players: Into the Sun

Seaching on YouTube for videos to upload is fast becoming a real treasure hunt, but without the fun element because so many labels, especially the majors have "disabled embedding". They're shooting themselves in the foot really, because what bloggers are doing essentially is giving a free spotlight and thereby free advertising to the artists/bands on these labels.

But on to the video below:

One of the best singers around, British Rachel Foster was the featured vocalist on Groove Armada man Andy Cato's side project The Weekend Players five years ago or so. The first album was flawless and there was supposed to be a second one, but it never happened for some reason. Maybe Andy decided to focus on Groove Armada with his buddy Tom.

Ike & Tina Turner: Proud Mary

Few can rock as hard as Tina. I feel like I just went to the gym - and that's from just watching her.

Dusty Springfield: Son of a Preacher Man

There'll never be another Dusty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stevie Wonder: Superstition

From 1973. Had hoped to see Big Bird get down and funky, but the kid rockin' out on the stairs kinda makes up for it.

Mint Royale: Show Me

Never get tired of this song and video.

Van Hunt: Down Here in Hell (With You)

From his debut 2004 album. Still fresh.

Sam Sparro: Cottonmouth

Very fun-kay!

Little Dragon: Twice

Can't get enough of Gothenburg, Sweden electro-soul band Little Dragon.

The State of Floral Beings: Man You Owe Me

Starting today The Nightfly will be posting music videos on a regular basis. Remember when MTV focused on music videos, before the hideous baby monster known as Reality TV was born? Luckily we have the web. Sigh: so many videos, so little time.

State of Floral Beings aka TSOFB from Stockholm, Sweden: Mattias, Johan, Henrik, Oskar, Kiptar.

Man You Owe Me - The State Of Floral Beings

The State Of Floral Beings MySpace Music Videos

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

From left: Fredrik Wallin (vocals, bass), Håkan Wirenstrand (vocals, keyboards), Yukimi Nagano (vocals, percussion), Erik Bodin (vocals, drums).

Yukimi Nagano was a featured vocalist on fellow Swedes Koop's 2001 album "Waltz for Koop" as well as their 2006 "Koop Islands" release, but with her three Little Dragon band mates Fredrik, Håkan and Erik she seems to have found her true voice.

The Gothenburg quartet describes their music as electro-soul. Two full albums have been released so far on London based label Peacefrog: the self-titled album "Little Dragon" in 2007 and "Machine Dreams" in 2009. Their music videos are some of the most playful and interesting to come around in a long time - they don't adhere to any rules and neither does this genre-bending band.

Q & A with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

The Nightfly: Gothenburg is known for its melodic death metal bands, but also artists/bands like Jens Lekman, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and Jose Gonzalez. Is the music scene there more diverse than in other cities in Sweden?
Yukimi: I think Sweden in general has a pretty diverse music scene, I guess especially in the main cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö.

The Nightfly: You were born and raised in Sweden to an American mother and a Japanese father. Do you consider yourself Swedish or more of a “citizen of the world”?
Yukimi: I feel quite Swedish more than anything else, but it's good to have more than one place to call home.

The Nightfly: You were a featured vocalist on Koop’s bestselling albums when you were just a teenager. How did you meet up with Magnus and Oscar and what was the most positive outcome of this collaboration for you personally?
Yukimi: I met them at a jazz club where I was singing in a band called Octagon Session at the time. After we had played, Magnus from Koop approached me and asked if I would be interested in singing on their album. It was great to tour with them and it gave me touring experience pretty early on.

The Nightfly: You have a very distinct voice and a wide range. Did you ever take formal lessons?
Yukimi: I went to a music high school and took some singing lessons there, but I was not very serious about it and never really liked my teachers.

The Nightfly: Your father is an accomplished visual artist and did the beautiful animation for the recent “Swimming” music video. How did that collaboration come about?
Yukimi: He wanted to make a video and we gave him free hands to do whatever he wanted. It was great to get his interpretation of the song.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon's music videos are highly creative. Does the band commission these very playful shorts from video artists/film makers that you like or do they usually approach the band?
Yukimi: It's been both. We contacted Johannes Nyholm who made our "Twice" video and also Hideyuki Katsumata who made our video for "Fortune".

The Nightfly: Who made the haunting shadow puppet music video for the track “Twice” and how do you personally interpret the story of the bird, the girl and the skeleton?
Yukimi: Johannes Nyholm. We were fans of his work and really happy about his interpretation. Even though we helped out a lot in making the video - moving the puppets, blowing wind, pulling down rain - we never really knew what he had in mind. I think we all have our own individual ideas about what the story means.

The Nightfly: On several tracks on both albums there is a strong influence of traditional Japanese music in your vocal phrasing and in the song arrangements. Did your father introduce you to music from Japan when you were growing up?
Yukimi: Interesting. No, I never really listened to Japanese music growing up, I just know some Japanese kids songs - my dad has always been into Western music. Yet when we played in China some people felt that my voice reminded them of Chinese opera from a certain region, so maybe I have an Asian expression, but I'm quite unaware of it.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon’s first album used elements of neo soul to great effect, especially on the sublime track “Forever” whereas the latest album adds more new wave to the mix. Was this a natural development that came from playing around with different sounds during the writing/rehearsal/recording process?
Yukimi: Yes, it all came about naturally. We just basically meet in the studio, make music in the moment and try to have fun.

The Nightfly: The four of you seem to be on a perfect creative wavelength. Do you attribute this to your friendship going back a decade?
Yukimi: I definitely think we have grown together and we know each other very well. It feels like a second family somehow.

The Nightfly: Do you change the song arrangements when you perform live?
Yukimi: Sometimes. We like to keep it a bit open and that usually leads to the arrangements changing and expanding.

The Nightfly: How has your U.S. tour been so far and what tour plans do you have lined up for 2010?
Yukimi: It's been great! We're so exited to play some of the cities we've never been to before. We will definitely be coming back to the U.S. in 2010.

The Nightfly: In which country or region do you have your biggest fan base?
Yukimi: Hard to say. We have a good fanbase in California.

The Nightfly: In the band bio on Peacefrog’s website you describe Little Dragon like a city of “blue traffic lights, fast food-signs, neon, love, loneliness, technology”. Could your music just as well have been created in a rural setting like the deep forests where Håkan grew up or is the sound of Little Dragon uniquely urban/metropolitan?
Yukimi: I think it could have been made anywhere - as long as we have our synths close by.

The Nightfly: Are you the primary lyricist in the band and where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Yukimi: Usually the guys start with an idea like a beat or some chords and I get really inspired. I would say their sounds and music are my big inspiration and also whatever is going on in my head - life, books, dreams, etc.

The Nightfly: Which songs/albums/artists/bands have had the greatest impact on you?
Yukimi: So many. Prince, Kate Bush, etc.

The Nightfly: Which artists/bands are you currently into and how do you usually listen to music - CDs, iPod, web?
Yukimi: iPod mostly, but also just checking out blogs on the web. I listen to my playlists with everything from Salt-n-Pepa to LCD Soundsystem.

The Nightfly: You have stated that from time to time the members of Little Dragon have had to take regular jobs, but that “we would rather stay broke, so that we can concentrate on the band”. The “starving artist dilemma” is a familiar and frustrating one to most creative types. How do artists stay true to themselves?
Yukimi: I think just trying to spend as much time as possible on what you love will make you grow and get better and surely things will happen if you work hard.

The Nightfly: Like U2, the members of Little Dragon met in high school [about a decade ago]. Do you picture the band still playing together when you’re in your 40s and 50s?
Yukimi: Yep!

The Nightfly: If a company offered to make Little Dragon action figures what would you want them to look like?
Yukimi: One half-Japanese girl, one bearded blond guy, one tall lightly bearded guy, and one chubby bearded guy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Emma-Lee: "Feisty" Canadian

Like her fellow Canadian Feist, Toronto based singer/songwriter/guitarist Emma-Lee has an effortless and distinct voice. Unlike many singers, she can also deliver the goods live - on her sparse acoustic cover of "Moon River" she echoes Eva Cassidy. On other tracks there's a Neko Case quality.

It'd be sweet if Emma-Lee, Feist and Neko got together and recorded an album of covers along the lines of the stellar two "Trio" projects that Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris did in 1990 and in 1999.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Isn't It Obvious" - very "Feisty" sound, yet with a big, healthy dose of Emma-Lee herself.

Manic: One-Man Band

Creators of instrumental tracks have to work hard to grab the listener's attention - there are no vocals to rely on, no singer to belt out a chorus or croon a verse, just music - and in this case, beats.

San Fransisco Bay area based Manic makes stellar, mostly instrumental down tempo/ambient soundscapes and lists many influences. French classical composer/pianist Eric Satie (1866-1925) - generally recognized as the father of modern music - is not listed but were he alive today, he'd be playing around in his homestudio and coming up with something very much like what Manic is doing: the tracks "Premonition" and "Music for Film" sound like Satie collaborating with Massive Attack.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "L.A. Theory" with its distinct Groove Armada/Weekend Players feel and sound.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Blue Eyed Son: The Perfect Musical Wave

"Surf all day, play music all night long". Andrew Heilprin aka Blue Eyed Son does just that with his friends in Venice Beach, California. The former frontman for surf-punk band 40 Watt Domain released his album "West of Lincoln" this year - the production is stellar and showcases Andrew's Lennonesque vocals. Makes you wanna head out with your board before the sun sets.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Where Have I Been": John Lennon and Brian Wilson surfing a psychedelic wave.

Siderunners: Hoedown at CBGB

"Now available for children's parties" is the headline on Chicago band Siderunners' MySpace page and these guys would no doubt be a whole lotta more fun than a creepy clown doing magic tricks.

Their influences are Slayer and Hank Williams and the enegry level is high - this is a tight six-member band with great rock vocals from guitarist Sappy - they are meant to be heard live, but the tracks on their MySpace player will give you an excellent idea of what to expect if you decide to hire them for a punk music hoedown or a kiddie birthday bash.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "My Pistol My Love": Johnny Cash jamming with The Ramones, The Clash, and Slayer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Mac: The Jimi Hendrix of Painters

Painters have long been inspired by composers and vice versa - Eric Satie is a perfect example. (In his case it also led to heartbreak: in 1893 his lover, the painter Suzanne Valadon left him with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness." Ouch.)

29-year old Phoenix based The Mac/El Mac may well be America's finest living painter, a cosmopolitan Leonardo da Vinci for the 21st century who is gaining rabid new fans by the minute.

The Nightfly first came across The Mac's art three years ago in Los Angeles when walking up La Brea Avenue towards 3rd Street where one of his best public pieces can still be viewed: a close-up of a dark haired woman, in blue tones. The painting's beauty and his dazzling spray paint technique will take your breath away - don't forget to close your mouth as you stare in awe at his modern Mona Lisa.

The Mac/El Mac is the Jimi Hendrix of painters: a from-another-planet virtuoso with an ancient soul, creating timeless work with crazy-beautiful colors.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Richie Syrett: Back to the Future

Some people are lactose intolerant. I am nails-on-a-blackboard-vocals intolerant. Took me a while to get into Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and other unconventional voices - now they are among my favorites.

Richie Syrett, troubadour from Manchester, England doesn't take any getting used to. Like Chris Isaacs, his gorgeous voice - greatly aided by reverb galore - recalls singers like Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson, but still manages to sound 21st century.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Slipping": Richie hopping in the time machine and meeting up with Roy and Ricky.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Melody and Melodies

I was sitting here with my laptop at my local coffeehouse in Long Beach, polishing the Avi interview I posted yesterday and reading the news. One headline hit home: A 16 year-old Wilson High, Long Beach honor student and athlete, Melody Ross was killed last night by a stray bullet after attending a Poly-Wilson football game; she died at the hospital half an hour later. Yet another innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. Melody's parents left Cambodia and came to Long Beach and thus escaped the infamous Killing Fields of their native country and had even recently moved to a supposedly safer Long Beach neigborhood. The epitome of tragic irony.

As I'm listening to one of Avi's favorite musicians, veteran L.A. based guitarist Nels Cline, looking out the coffeehouse windows and people watching, it hits me why I love music, why I'm doing this blog, why I sing and write songs, why music is the best thing human beings came up with - even cooler the the wheel. Because, as I watch, the notes from Cline's guitar in my headphones turn everything into poetry and an ordinary street scene becomes anything but ordinary. Yep, I confess to feeling a wee bit cynical earlier at the sight of folks dressed up for Halloween, thinking how the calendar seemingly dictates what we do at certain times of year: dressing up, giving gifts, buying flowers and chocolate. But the music silenced the cynic and let the romantic in me take over. The natural high worked its magic: couples, families, kids, dogs, all wearing masks, bunny ears, pirate get-ups, capes, and fishnet stockings suddenly seemed like a cross between a Fellini film and a music video. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Melody however is gone, and her family and friends will never be the same. I didn't know her personally, but being a Long Beach resident, I almost feel like I do. This is my tribute to Melody, to Nels Cline, to those who have lost someone, to those who compose melodies.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Avi Zahner-Isenberg of Avi Buffalo

Left to right, partying in the men's restroom: Arin Fazio (bass), Sheridan Riley (drums), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards, vocals), Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg (guitar, vocals)

Avi started recording songs three years ago during his sophomore year in high school, amidst the deterioration of his first band, Monogram (Dylan Wood of Time of Wolves, 60 Watt Kid). After being asked to play a show by Bill Cutts of Outsider Folk, Avi got together some friends to play an acoustic set in 2007 at the Zephyr Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Long Beach. With the summer time and a local fall music festival approaching, a full electric band was in order. They were later asked to play in Los Angeles, and did, and kept doing it. A year later, Avi and Aaron Embry (Amnion) began recording the songs that would become Avi Buffalo's first record.
The band was recently signed to Sub Pop which will be releasing "What's in It for"/"Jessica" 7" vinyl single on December 8. A full album will be out in the spring of 2010.

Q & A with Avi Zahner-Isenberg of Avi Buffalo

The Nightfly: War, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Cold War Kids, Sublime, and now Avi Buffalo are all bands that were formed in Long Beach. Did all four of you grow up here?
Avi: Me, Sheridan and Rebecca all did. Arin grew up in San Pedro and Huntington Beach.

The Nightfly: Not to knock education, but it seems like a tragic waste if someone with an obvious gift for music such as yourself were to end up in law school or medical school. What would you tell a kid who wants to skip college and focus on music?
Avi: I've known a few people who have skipped college to focus on music. Sometimes it's a good thing, and sometimes it's not. It really depends on the person and the circumstances, and everything else you could possibly think of. I feel a bit wary about not being in school; I have a lot of free time right now though that will change in a few months.

The Nightfly: Did you personally have a “career” plan to begin with or did everything happen very organically?
Avi: I've always wanted to play music for a living, primarily as a guitar player. I used to play blues with old guys and I've learned a few jazz things. Once the Avi Buffalo stuff started to gain momentum I just went with it, and here we are!

The Nightfly: On your MySpace page you list Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Wilco, Flaming Lips and several others. One influence that stands out on your list is jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) – when did you first hear his recordings and was the guitar always your primary instrument?
Avi: I first heard Wes when I was in 8th grade: "Smokin' at the Half Note" with Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. It was a really moving record for me at the time because Wes kind of meets blues and jazz in the middle, so I could pick out some of the licks and I had a lot of fun with that. Guitar has always been my main instrument.

The Nightfly: On “What’s in It for?” the guitar sound is vintage The Byrds – do you see it as an advantage or disadvantage if fans and critics group in Avi Buffalo with the current crop of bands that favor a late-1960s-Laurel Canyon sound?
Avi: It's both, and it's a very stressful conflict. Part of me really loves that sound and wants to emulate it, but there are so many bands that do that, and I'm very excited about sounds that are new. Being from a blues/rock background a lot of those sounds are what cling naturally to my playing, so a lot of the time I just dig in and enjoy it.

The Nightfly: Your voice is instantly recognizable which is vital if a singer (and/or a band) wants to stand out from the crowd. How did you “find” your voice?
Avi: It took me a while - in my first band I just yelled a lot. I'm not sure if I have a specific voice I use. I like singing really soft sometimes, but when I belt it - like on the infamous "What's in It for" - I usually lose my voice, so I'm looking to get voice lessons soon.

The Nightfly: Although your music is different from his, there is a certain Jeff Buckley vibe to you as a singer and performer. Are you a Buckley fan?
Avi: I've heard him before, but never listened extensively. Very good though!

The Nightfly: Thom Yorke is the singer who first comes to mind when listening to your voice. Has he and Radiohead been an influence?
Avi: I've never really gotten into Radiohead, but it's good stuff!

The Nightfly: Has your family been supportive so far and is there musical talent in your “gene pool”?
Avi: My family has been extremely supportive of the music stuff, and my whole family is into music. My uncle was a flautist in the Indiana Philharmonic for a number of years, my father sings, my cousin plays piano, etc.

The Nightfly: Does everyone in Avi Buffalo write music and lyrics or are you the sole/primary songwriter in the band?
Avi: I write the music and lyrics.

The Nightfly: Other than records, what inspires you?
Avi: Just music in general, playing music, and playing with inspiring people.

The Nightfly: How did the Buffalo part of the band name come about?
Avi: My friend Isaac Cruz suggested the two of us be called Isaac Lightning and Avi Buffalo in 8th grade. I kept Avi Buffalo because I thought it was cool.

The Nightfly: Is it intimidating or just very exciting to have the band be signed to a famous label such as Sub Pop?
Avi: It's exciting, though for the first time I do feel some pressure with the music/performance which is a bit scary, but we just have to keep practicing hard and stuff.

The Nightfly: Spike Jonze’s brilliant film “Where the Wild Things Are” has a whimsical soundtrack by Karen O the Kids [various musical friends that she enlisted for the project]. Hopefully this might signal a return to the concept album type of soundtracks of yesteryear such as “The Graduate” with music by Simon & Garfunkel where you have a single artist/band contributing songs as opposed to the more common approach of a music supervisor picking a dozen or so songs/snippets by different bands. Would you welcome the opportunity to do a soundtrack?
Avi: Yeah, that'd be kickass.

The Nightfly: What do you hope your music gives the listener and what has the music of your favorite artists/bands given you through the years?
Avi: I hope that it makes sense to people and sounds good. I've gotten so many things from music I can't really put my finger on one thing. It feels good!

The Nightfly: Which do you prefer: songwriting, recording or performing live?
Avi: It depends, but i really love recording. It can be a really fun process because you have all the time you want to stop and redo, etc.; you can just keep going forever and the possibilities are limitless.

The Nightfly: Which five albums or songs are your favorites?
Avi: Right now I've been really into Ariel Pink's "Worn Copy" record, because of the beautiful songs and recordings. I also love Neil Young's "Chrome Dreams" (the unreleased record), Panda Bear's "Person Pitch", Jim O'Rourke's "Eureka", Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Penguin Cafe's "Music from the Penguin Cafe." And I have a Fela Kuti Greatest Hits album that I'm really into right now.

The Nightfly: Do you see the band going in a different direction down the road or is it even possible to predict such things?
Avi: Probably, I feel like things go in different directions even if you don't want them to. I have a general feeling of how I want it to be, but it's just a light at the end of the tunnel sort of thing.

The Nightfly: Are there definite plans at this point for a tour and festival gigs in 2010?
Avi: Yes, there are indeed. Nothing official yet though.

The Nightfly: If a company wanted to make Avi Buffalo action figures, how should they look?
Avi: Just like the band!

Bio: Avi Buffalo/Sub Pop

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chocolate Butterfly/Me & This Japanese Guy: Mystery Duo

The Nightfly was checking out the profile of the L.A. based American/Japanese duo Chocolate Butterfly and feeling the very funky track "Perfect Paradox", its thumping bass and Michael Jackson/Prince vocals hitting the solor plexus - and a little south too. Then a link to a secondary profile with the same duo using the name Me & This Japanese Guy led down a rabbit hole and into a Wonderland of Hendrix/Prince rock.

Listen to tracks from both pages here:

Kaye-Ree: Cosmopolitan Soul

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, travels to Miami, Atlanta, Philly, NYC and Africa. International Mystery Woman, double agent? Nope, globetrotting performer. Green eyed Persian/German siren Kaye-Ree blends soul, hip hop, R&B and classical guitar and comes up with songs that recall Alica Keys, Goapele, Corrine Bailey Rae, Sade and Erykah Badu. A debut album entitled "Endless Melody" as well as a single of the same name were released on Amazon in Germany this year.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Endless Melody": pure, effortless Alica Keys/Goapele vocals circle above a landscape of sundrenched Spanish guitar.

Photo by Jan Northoff.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

ZAMBRI: Putting Sibling Rivalry to Good Use

Sisters Jessica Z and Cristi Jo Z front New York based band ZAMBRI, their angelic vocals soaring above the doomsday synths and drums like the soundtrack of sweet dreams-turned-nightmares. Spooky - but in a good way.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "From The Starts" (sic): Cocteau Twins at the Haunted Mansion.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amphibic: The Fab Three

Two Brits and a Swede walk into a bar...and get up on stage and play indie rock. Vocalist/guitarist Neal Hoffmann, drummer Sebastian Sternberg and bass man Joakim Persson just wrapped up a tour in Germany (the trio is on German label Haldern Pop). The Beatles played shows in Hamburg, etc. in their early days - The Nightfly thinks there could well be fame and fortune in store for Amphibic too.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Hungry Man" - The Fab Four for the 20th Century.

Madonna Shows Us How's It's Done

47 music videos, 311 minutes. Madonna's 2-disc "Celebration" DVD is a visual and aural feast that left The Nightfly hugely satisfied and smiling like a toothless happy baby. (The only music video catalogue that can compare is Bjork's.)

Savor it, then watch it again. And again. Oh, my, oh, yum.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Owusu & Hannibal: Clubbin' in Copenhagen

Robin Hannibal and Philip Owusu began collaborating in 2005 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The highfly respected California label Ubiquity released their first album in 2006 and the duo has continued to put out outstanding tracks of soul/club/electronica.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "A Million Babies" with Philip channeling Michael Jackson in ways that send chills down the spine.

Stoney: Not a Failure

Stoney operates out of Sheffield, England - a mad scientist in his musical kitchen lab, playing all instruments, sounding one moment like Cat Stevens, then switching gears and doing vintage David Bowie, but always adding his own flavor to whatever yummy dish he's cooking. And getting away with it too.

He's swung by the SXSW convention in Austin, Texas and if we're lucky he'll do more shows stateside, calling upon friends to join him on stage so he can focus on singing and playing guitar.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Hold the Stars" - Led Zeppelin covering the Beatles - or the other way 'round.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joanna Cotten: Keeping The Faith

The Nightfly continues to be gobsmacked at the incredible wealth of "under the radar" talent out there. Nashville based Joanna Cotten is yet another example of an artist or a band that should be touring coast-to-coast, taking their music to The People.

Born in Memphis, raised in Forrest City, Arkansas, Joanna went to Juillard School in NYC, but returned to her Southern roots and came up with a mix of styles she calls Funkabilly. Her powerful pipes and songwriting talent got her a record deal in Nashville but she was eventually dropped because the label couldn't figure out if she was country, funk, soul, rock or pop. "All of the above" is the answer since Joanna mixes up all of those genres. (she also does stunner ballads ("Keep My Faith") of the spine-tingling kind.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Five Crackers and an 8 Ball" - a freight train of a song barrelling down the tracks with Joanna in the engineer's seat.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Alien Chatter: Close Encounters of the Cool Kind

RODNEY LEE: Piano, Synths, and Programming
SATNAM S. RAMGOTRA : Tabla, Drums, Percussion, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, and Programming

The last show that The Nightfly attended in September of 2008 at defunct and sorely missed eclectic Santa Monica venue Temple Bar had Alien Chatter on the bill. The two master musicans had the room transfixed with their bitches brew of Indian music, jazz, rock, funk and other good stuff that have yet to be named.

Formed in 2002, L.A. based Rodney and Satnam aka Alien Chatter continue to play gigs in between their many jobs as busy session and tour musicians.

The Nightfly's favorite track (featuring outstanding guitar work by Michael Landau): the furious "Invasion". But check out the downtempo tracks too at:

Curtis Scott Whitehead: Mixing It Up

The Nightfly has a soft spot for artists and bands who boldly engage in musical cross pollination. Atlanta based multi- instrumentalist/singer/songwriter and longtime Van Hunt musical partner Curtis Scott Whitehead expertly blends funk, soul, gospel, blues and rock with country and it tastes real good.

Here is a lovely quote from Curtis' bio:

"I remembered when I was just a little boy around four or five. Sitting on the floor behind my father’s old Sears & Roebuck amplifier, I would watch the orange vacuum tubes glow brightly in the dim light of the living room. I'd place my hand on the amp to feel the heat and the vibration of his Silvertone guitar coming through the speakers. I can still look up and see my father’s contorted face as he hummed and moaned his way through a verse of “Nearer My God To Thee”. He was lost in the music and I was too. That’s when it first hit me…the power of it all, a guitar against a voice, a voice against space, and space against the words. It was the feeling of despair in the blues, the truth in gospel, the reality of the day that is so often found woven throughout soul and country music. I was much too young to understand these things then. All I knew was that it just felt good. This project is simply an honest attempt to go back to that place. "

Pops was mixing it up too back then and lucky for the rest of us, his son took it all to heart.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Free" - Prince does country!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Niels Nielsen: Heavenly Sounds

The Nightfly is originally from Scandinavia, or to be more precise, from Copenhagen, Denmark. (directions: go to Sweden, then hang a left). ABBA, Scandinavia's most famous pop music contributors to the world have not lived in vain: Bjorn's and Benny's killer hooks are still heard in much of the music coming out of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The sound is of course also - just as ABBA's sound was - influenced by British and American bands, but "Dancing Queen" is still shimmying her way into the ears and minds of Nordic songwriters whether they like it or not.

Niels Nielsen, whose grandfather was Danish, hails from Northern Sweden where he makes the kind of gorgeous music that you are likely to hear when you reach the Pearly Gates - a big, airy sound, with nods to legendary producer (and now convicted killer!) Phil Spector as well as to the biggest Swedish act of late, Peter Bjorn and John.

Donny Hathaway Live

There are live recordings that are so intimate you feel like you're right there in the room with the band/the singer. One of The Nightfly's favorite examples of this type of listening experience is Donny Hathaway's "These Songs for You - Live!"

Several tracks collected for this album were recorded in August of 1971 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, others at The Bitter End in New York City in October of the same year.

It was at The Bitter End that Donny covered a song by Al Kooper (of Blood Sweat and Tears, etc.): "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know". Stand outs among the tight band: drummer Fred White who was just sweet sixteen - not a bad way to start out in the music business - and guitarist Cornell Dupre. (Note: other tracks on the album have Phil Upchurch doing the guitar work).

And then there's Donny himself. He occasionally has trouble reaching the lower notes, but over all the vocal performance is spine-tingly-kind-of-stunning - one of the finest ever recorded; tender and forceful at the same time. He was also an outstanding keyboard player, arranger and band leader - we get to hear all of that on the album. He has his fans in the room alternately rapt and goin'-to-church - the connection between artist and audience is truly beautiful. Normally The Nightfly would be going crazy listening to audience members "interupting" the singer with whoops and hollers, but in this case it adds much intimacy to the show.

For short sound samples from the album, go here:

Complete songs (but sadly not the Al Kooper cover) can be found at:

To read more about Donny, go to:

Lemon Sun: L.A.'s Best Band?

They've been compared to Eric Burdon and the Animals and David Bowie - I also hear distinct and lovely echoes of The Doors and The Clash, an intoxicating sound with lead singer Rob Kolar acting the part of male siren - or pied piper if you will.

Lemon Sun is a super tight band with very strong material and a superb lead singer: this is the kind of band that under normal circumstances would get snapped up by a major label, but of course nothing is normal in the record business these days and maybe they are better off with a smaller label anyway. Or maybe the word will spread and they won't need a label at all.

Favorite track: "Nobody Knows" - Jim Morrison-meets-the Clash and makes a beautiful baby.

Photos by: Elliot Glass.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prefix: Not Lost in Translation

Tokyo based Prefix has a unabashed love of soul, dance, rock and pop and they put it all together in a way that only a cool duo from Japan could. Tk (on the left) and Mairi share songwriting/arranging duties and both play instruments.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Groovin' Movin' On" - Hello Kitty does House music!

Nicole Jane: London Calling!

The buzz is building: The King of Pop in the flesh is sadly gone, but South East London princes Jace B, Alfie-J, and Dieu Carreira are more than happy to be a 21st century mix of Michael and The Jackson Five. The brothers go by the name of Nicole Jane. Yep, The Nightfly was confused too at first, but the name doesn’t seem to be hurting them so far – they’re touring all of this month in England, including Liverpool, the birthplace of the original British Invasion.

Not sure if the Beatles would have gone very far with a girly name, but the guys in Nicole Jane make that thing work, baby. They got the vocals, the look, and the right kind of sweet-but-not-yucky pop confections to make it big. Really, really big. And we all know what that means: breaking into the all-important US market. Not to knock being big in Japan or in Germany, but the US remains the holy grail for artists/bands in terms of sales and prestige.

Nicole Jane opened for Ne-Jo in the UK in 2007 - don’t need a crystal ball to “predict” that Nicole Jane will soon have American tweeners screaming like their grandmothers did when John, Paul, George and Ringo came calling in 1964.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Is It Me", a song so catchy it makes Jingle Bells sound like your ten year-old newphew tuning his souped up electric ukulele.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Interview with Mozez

If Mozez’ butter-smooth vocals sound heaven sent, it’s with good reason. The singer-songwriter spent the first half of his life singing exclusively in churches. Born Osmond Wright in Jamaica, the singer looked towards American greats for inspiration - Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra were his idols. When Mozez was in his late teens he was invited to England for a short tour, and despite his reservations with the English weather he decided to stay, studying theology in West Hampstead.

His first break came with the duo Spirits - they reached the Top 20 with the single “Don’t Bring Me Down” and he found himself in a whole new world. A follow-up, “Spirit Inside” also charted, but he was not entirely satisfied with the project and left to concentrate on his own compositions. It was at this time that Mozez developed his own laid back, heartfelt, and deeply soulful style.

It turned out to be a style that blended perfectly with that of Zero 7’s Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker. Mozez co-wrote and sang the title track as well as “This World” on Zero 7’s debut album “Simple Things”, released in 2001. The album was a smash hit, capturing the zeitgeist of the post-millennial, post-clubbing era. Another Zero 7 album, ”When It Falls” followed in 2004 and featured three additional vocalists, Sia, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico who all joined Mozez, Binns/Hardaker and a full band on an extensive tour – they played numerous US shows to great acclaim and “When It Falls” has since gone platinum.

In the meantime, Mozez worked in his studio, writing and recording. Having scored a publishing deal with Universal Publishing, Mozez recruited friends including Alex Morris, Tom Quick, Ben Chapman, Guy Sigsworth, Nightmares On Wax and Binns/Hardaker to assist with his 14-track debut solo album “So Still” which was released in 2005. In the US the album received heavy air play on influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW and the track “Feel Free” was placed in both TV (“CSI”) and film (“Running for Time”).

The much anticipated follow-up album “The Absolute” features Melanie Blatt (All Saints) and production from George Evelyn (Nightmares on Wax), Tony White plus other writers and producers. Mozez has imparted more of his production ability on this album, giving us a slightly harder edge to this soft-spoken man. He describes “The Absolute” as “a journey into a multi floral expanse of colored sounds”. It will be released in the US in the early part of 2010. The first single “Signs of Happiness” has already been released in the UK and will be released in the US in January. A number of US shows are also in the works.

Q & A with Mozez

The Nightfly: When did you take the name Mozez and why?
Mozez: It was in 1996. I concluded that Osmond Wright was not a strong enough name for an artist and that a change would be necessary. I came upon the name Mozez by playing around with some words that came to my head at the time – I decided it was a cool name and have been using it ever since.

The Nightfly: Jamaica is primarily known for giving the world reggae and ska music – how large a role have gospel music and soul music played?
Mozez: Soul and gospel music have not been given their place in the ever evolving styles of music from Jamaica, but they have both been instrumental in the creation of almost every artist from the island.

The Nightfly: Can you recall the moment when you decided to pursue a music career?
Mozez: Not specifically. I was singing in churches from the age of twelve, moved on to set up a gospel band before becoming fully involved in music, so for me it has been a rather smooth process.

The Nightfly: Was your family supportive of your musical ambitions?
Mozez: I cannot wholly say yes as it was not my father’s first choice for me. However, I think my family is pleased that I have made a success of my chosen path.

The Nightfly: Was there a distinct soul music scene in London at the time of your arrival?
Mozez: There was, but it took me a while to gravitate to it as it was very different from what I was used to. When I left Jamaica I was heavily into music like the Commodores, the Manhattans, the Chi-Lites, Air Supply, the Carpenters, etc. When I arrived in the UK soul was much more about Jazzy B, Omar, Sade, etc. The sounds, instrumentation, melodies were not the same.

The Nightfly: Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up on your music career?
Mozez: There have been many times like that over the last ten years, but I am happy that I have persevered.

The Nightfly: What advice would you give to an aspiring singer/musician?
Mozez: Believe in yourself, follow your dream, develop an entrepreneurial spirit. The era of depending on contracts from companies is slowly coming to and end. To make it today you need to be able to create your own space, and develop a unique style.

The Nightfly: How did Sam Hardaker and Harry Binns come to hear your work with the duo Spirits?
Mozez: Working with Zero 7 came about purely by chance. At the time I was working with another company and was introduced to the guys as they were asked to produce a song for that company. We worked together on a number of songs. “This World” was one of them.

The Nightfly: Has it been a challenge to get record buyers to separate your work with Zero 7 from your solo output?
Mozez: Not really. The sound I have created is a bit more up-tempo and electronic than Zero 7 and I think we occupy a different space within the market.

The Nightfly: Your first solo album “So Still” from 2005 is a seamless, flawless album – how long did it take to make the record, from conception to release?
Mozez: I tend to take a while to create my albums as I am a bit fussy regarding production and the whole feel of what I put out. I started working on “So Still” probably before I met Zero 7, but I can’t give a definitive date as the tracks on the album were chosen from a number of songs I wrote over the years.

The Nightfly: How large a role has the worldwide web played in your career since the release of “So Still” in terms of digital distribution and promotion?
Mozez: It has been instrumental in the promotion of Mozez and has been a very effective tool I believe. Over seventy percent of sold copies of “So Still” were purchased primarily directly or indirectly via the web.

The Nightfly: Was the songwriting process and recording process different the second time around?
Mozez: “So Still” was less about creating an album and more about relating my experiences, “The Absolute” is primarily about trying to create an effective piece of work and hoping that people will buy into what I have created. With “The Absolute” I have for the most part created everything in my studio. “So Still” on the other hand was recorded with a number of friends in various studios.

The Nightfly: Why did you choose the title “The Absolute”?
Mozez: I am trying to relate through my songs a sense of freedom from everything that limits us to the self. The title was chosen as I could not find another term or word to describe the sense of triumph knowing that we are instilled with a sovereign nature.

The Nightfly: The stunning first single from the new album “Signs of Happiness” is a welcome upbeat tonic in our troubled day and age – was the positive vibe of the title and the song deliberate or a coincidence?
Mozez: I stumble on a lot of things while I go along - I’m not sure I wrote it as a deliberate medicine for the time.

The Nightfly: Do you have favorite tracks on either your first solo album “So Still” or on the new solo album “The Absolute” and if so, why are they your favorites?
Mozez: On “So Still” my favorite song is the title track because of the picture it paints in my mind. “Philia”, a song about friendship or the lack thereof, is my favorite track on “The Absolute” because it was a pleasure creating it.

The Nightfly: When you write does the music or do the lyrics come first and where do you usually find the inspiration?
Mozez: Sixty percent of the time the lyrics are written before the music is created. I am easily inspired I guess, just being and feeling the sense of love, hate, peace, war, justice, injustice, life, death, knowing and not knowing, God, darkness, light, beauty, intellect.

The Nightfly: Do you enjoy songwriting, recording, and performing equally?
Mozez: Performing is my greatest joy as it is less solitary - I enjoy the reaction, the feel and the power while relating a song to an audience, but I enjoy the creative process of writing and recording as well.

The Nightfly: Would you prefer to be known as a singer, period, or do you welcome the label “soul singer”?
Mozez: I am not truly worried one way or the other as over the years I’ve been called worse things. However, given the choice I would prefer just being a singer.

The Nightfly: Which songs in music history have had the most profound effect on you and why?
Mozez: “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye because the song is lyrically profound and is sung by the best singer who ever walked the planet. “War” by Bob Marley because of its power, truth and simplicity. “Careless Whisper” by George Michael because it has an undying melody and a seamless quality.

The Nightfly: Which established and newer artists/bands are you currently listening to?
Mozez: Coldplay, Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas, System of a Down. I’m also a fan of a new UK trio of three brothers who go by the name of Nicole Jane – I think they could be huge if given the opportunity.