Friday, May 30, 2014

Magic Mouth: Mother Lode + Live: Mississippi Studios

The word is slowly but surely getting out on powerhouse Portland, Oregon quartet Magic Mouth and it's not a minute too soon. Brendan Scott (bass), Peter Condra (guitar), Ana Briseno (drums) and human dynamo Chanticleer Tru [aka Stephon Bartee] (vocals) formed the band in 2011, quickly gaining a local/regional reputation as an outstanding live act, and getting a big break when asked to open for Gossip during the trio's fall 2012 tour.

A stellar debut five-track EP 'Believer' dropped in April 2012; it was followed up last September with the equally impressive four-track EP 'Devil May Care', released on Fast Weapons, the small Portland label started by Gossip guitarist Nathan Howdeshell aka Brace Paine. Additionally, a three-track live EP 'Live at Mississippi Studios' was released in May of last year.

Blessed with first rate musicianship + one of the most dynamic, gifted singers around + very strong, eclectic material, Magic Mouth has precisely what it takes for a band to make it big, and will hopefully gain many new fans this year; everyone will all no doubt be eagerly awaiting a debut full-length, perhaps after these fab four get signed to a major label.

"Mother Lode" was co-directed by Michael Palmieri and frequent film maker partner Donal Mosher; the live session was shot at Portland's Mississippi Studios by Michael Palmieri.

There are two gigs coming up in the immediate future:
- June 19 at the What the Festival at Wolf Run Ranch, The Dalles, Oregon
- June 28 at Seattle's Pride Festival  (Director Michael Palmieri)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sharon Van Etten: Taking Chances + Every Time The Sun Comes Up

Brooklyn based New Jersey native Sharon Van Etten releases her fourth album 'Are We There' today. Currently doing a mini tour in continental Europe/the UK until June 5, the 33-year-old singer-songwriter kicks off her very busy summer concert schedule on June 11 in Boston and doesn't come up to breathe until August 16, the date of her final festival gig  in Wales.

Two videos have been published: "Taking Chances" in April and "Every Time The Sun Comes Up" this month. Both are excellent; however, in my opinion the superior of the two tracks is the outstanding "Taking Chances", a truly mesmerizing song with a delicious bass line plus just the right amount of reverb that gives Van Etten's vocals a haunting Neko Case style sound.  (director of "Taking Chances" clip)  (director of "Every Time The Sun Comes Up" clip)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

SZA: Babylon + Warm Winds (Featuring Isaiah Rashad)

After self-releasing two EPs in 2011 and 2012, 23-year-old singer-songwriter Solana Rowe aka SZA signed with Carson, CA label Top Dawg Entertainment in the summer of 2013 and recorded her debut full-length 'Z' the same year. The stellar album dropped last month and two videos are out: "Babylon" and "Warm Winds", the latter featuring label mate Isaiah Rashad.

NOTE: The video track for "Babylon" does not feature SZA's other famous TDE label mate Kendrick Lamar - for that you'll have to listen to the album or single version.

Last year's touring included doing several opening gigs for Little Dragon. So far this year SZA has three festival shows lined up.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

SOHN: Artifice + Lessons + Bloodflows

Christopher Taylor aka SOHN ['son' in German] hails from South London, but has been based in Vienna, Austria since 2010. His EP 'The Wheel' dropped in 2012 and was followed last month by the debut full-length 'Tremors'.

Currently touring North America, SOHN returns to Europe at the tail end of this month for two gigs in Austria and Germany. Between June and September there are several gigs scheduled, including two in Australia. He will also be performing August 14 at Copenhagen's electronic music festival Strøm. (NOTE: one of the curators of the Strøm festival is SOHN's fellow acclaimed producer-dj-songwriter, Danish music maestro Thomas Knak.)

Three excellent videos have been produced so far to accompany outstanding tracks from 'Tremors': "Artifice" was directed by Thom Glunt, "Lessons" by Oliver Groulx, and "Bloodflows" was shot by Christian Pitschl in the Bavarian Alps.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: My Favorite Entries

Tonight millions of TV viewers will be tuning in to watch the Eurovision Song Contest which has been broadcast in Europe since 1956.  Denmark won the contest in 2013 and is thus the host this year with Danish Television spending around 200 million Kroner (circa 35 million dollars) on the huge production. The ESC is a strange cocktail: often kitschy, with performers wearing costumes so gaudy they make your eyes hurt, it is also the ultimate guilty pleasure and even manages occasionally to spotlight great talent.

ABBA famously kicked off their brilliant career when they won the contest in 1974 held in Brighton, England performing "Waterloo" wearing, yep, outfits so ghastly that Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Frida surely must squirm just thinking of it forty years later.  Canadian Celine Dion won in 1988, representing Switzerland in Dublin; the song title was "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi". One of the most unusual and arguably best entries was Finnish band Lordi's winning entry "Hard Rock Hallelujah" in 2006 in Athens, performing in their signature Orc like monster costumes.

Personal taste is precisely that: personal. I'm no snob and can proudly say to have the most eclectic taste of anyone I know, but hey, this is my music blog, damn it, LOL, and so... drum roll... I have picked out six favorite entries in tonight's grand finale, broadcast live from my original hometown of Copenhagen. (by pure coincidence, I'm vacationing in Copenhagen this month - visiting from Los Angeles where I have resided for many years - and will of course be watching the contest live on television from 9 pm to midnight local time.)

NOTE: I have made the point several times, but it bears repeating: due to the technology used in studios today, most recording artists manage to sound great on record (and of course also in their music videos), but too many fail to deliver the goods vocally in a live context. Stage fright, a bad sound mix, poor acoustics, etc. obviously don't help matters. Thus, far too many of the singers disappointed in the semi-finales broadcast earlier this week. Still, I feel several of the songs deserve to be heard by those of my readers who may otherwise not have the opportunity to hear them. And I sincerely hope that the singers who in the semi-finales sang off-key or were not able to sing the high or low notes required will do much better tonight. I have a fairly high tolerance for gaudy costumes, but I confess I have pretty much zero tolerance for lousy vocals.  After all, one shouldn't accept a musician playing out of tune. Likewise, singers shouldn't get a free pass...unless they are suffering from a case of acute laryngitis.

In my opinion: best songs, best vocalists, best videos (in random order):
Norway, Armenia, Hungary, Netherlands, Iceland, Azerbaijan

Runners Up  (videos not posted; listing also in random order):
Austria, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Germany, Sweden


And the winnner is....Conchita Wurst, representing Austria with the Shirley Bassey style contest entry "Rise Like a Phoenix", a very impressive song that would be perfect for a James Bond film title intro.

25-year-old singer Thomas "Tom" Neuwirth aka Conchita Wurst when he performs in drag, but bravely keeping a perfectly trimmed beard, brought the house down in Copenhagen and was awarded the maximum points of 8, 10 and 12 points by the majority of the juries/audiences voting in the contest. Netherlands came in second, Sweden third, but there was no doubt that the Belle of the Ball and the true star of the night was the genuinely stunned, moved-to-tears Conchita/Tom who deserved to win for best vocals/performance, not to mention mega watt charisma. That's entertainment!

Tonight's result was a solid vote for tolerance, inclusion, and harmony and thus a highly fitting ending to an international event.

Next year Austria will of course host the Eurovision Contest in Vienna. It will be exciting to watch Conchita's/Tom's career in the next twelve months. Few ESC winners have gone on to ABBA like success, but I have no doubt that Ms.Wurst-Mr. Neuwirth will go down as the most memorable winner in ESC history. And that's no small feat in itself.


NOTE: The video directly below is from Thursday's semi-finale.

More info:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Asbjørn: Father Figure + Brotherhood + R B Y + Unfollow + Skywalker

Church choir singer at the age of ten, music conservatory graduate since last year. Both of these experiences have clearly served 21-year-old Asbjørn Toftdahl aka Asbjørn very well. In 2012 the Århus, Jutland native released his outstanding 11-track debut full-length 'Sunken Ships'. Videos were produced for three songs.

This time around however the Danish singer-songwriter-producer is choosing a different launch format, in great part to give all of the new songs the spotlight he feels they deserve, thereby wisely avoiding the commonly used industry and band/artist approach, i.e. releasing circa three singles with the remaining tracks ending up the neglected "step children" in the bunch.

The album building blocks: the release of three EPs aka chapters, each chapter containing four songs. In 2015 the three EPs will be collectively released as Asbjørn's second full-length 'Pseudo Visions'. Additionally, all twelve tracks are/will be accompanied by a video. The first EP dropped May 1: "Brotherhood", "R B Y" [Red, Blue, Yellow], "Unfollow" and "Skywalker" are all outstanding tracks, with the enticing videos perfectly complimenting the artist's gorgeous soundscapes and stunning vocals.

The first clip below is a sublime version of "Father Figure", a track off of his debut album.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Little Dragon: Paris

Next week Little Dragon will drop their first full-length in three years. A video for the excellent second single off the 12-track album 'Nabuma Rubberband' was published May 2: shot by American director Trevor Kane, the playful clip stars the band driving around the countryside in a bright orange classic VW camper.

The Swedish quartet has numerous North American and European festival and non-festival dates lined up for the summer, including a performance at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury next month, but next up is a festival gig in Toronto on May 10.

NOTE: Kudos to Songkick for providing the most comprehensive concert schedules on the web; they always deliver the goods, whereas official band/artist sites and Facebook profiles often fail to include complete listings.

Don't miss out on my November 2009 interview with singer Yukimi Nagano. (I can see from my blog stats that the Q&A from just before Little Dragon hit it big, continues to be one of most popular posts on The Nightfly.)