Monday, March 31, 2014

Blue October at The Catalyst – A Concert Review

     I am not a victim!!! If anyone is a victim, it’s the person who must put up with my behavior!
It’s refreshing to hear that message, since we’re in an era in which seemingly everyone claims to be a victim of their circumstances. So, there is something honest and uplifting about going to a Blue October concert, despite the troubled and troubling lyrics of many of the songs. It helps that lead singer Justin Furstenfeld appears to be past the more difficult portion of his life. 

     Blue October is based in Texas (currently Houston). The members of the band are Justin Furstenfeld (lead vocals and guitar), Ryan Delahoussaye (viola/violin, guitar/mandolin, piano), Jeremy Furstenfeld (drums), Matt Noveskey (bass), and C.B. Hudson (guitar). The troubles of Justin Furstenfeld are well documented, since he writes his music around those troubles. It was the 2006 release of “Hate Me” that hooked us as fans of Blue October. The song is honest and revealing. The lyrics include:
I'm sober now for three whole months, it's one accomplishment that you helped me with.
The one thing that always tore us apart is the one thing I won't touch again.
In my sick way I want to thank you for holding my head up late at night.
While I was busy waging wars on myself, you were trying to stop the fight.
You never doubted my warped opinions on things like suicidal hate.
You made me compliment myself when it was way too hard to take.
So I'll drive so fucking far away that I never cross your mind.
And do whatever it takes in your heart to leave me behind.

     But the draw to Blue October is not just the song writing. Particularly in concert, Blue October has other features that maintain the interest of a listener, and the diversity in the songs allows the individual features to show themselves. The band is formed of musicians, not just members who can use musical instruments. Delahoussaye sometimes plays three instruments in a single song, and supports a viola against his neck when he temporarily transitions between the string instrument and either the guitar or the keys. Hudson is an accomplished guitar player, who steps into the spotlight when Blue October transitions from the Pop genre to Heavy Metal. And Justin Furstenfeld is pitch perfect, whether singing slow, thoughtful lyrics or releasing a melodic scream.  

     “Sway” by Blue October

     “Hate Me” by Blue October

     “The Worry List” by Blue October

Our best recollection of last night’s setlist in Santa Cruz is:
1.    Intro - To Be
2.    Sway
3.    Say It
4.    Light You Up
5.    Congratulations
6.    Calling You
7.    Into The Ocean
8.    Fear
9.    Debris
10.  The Getting Over It Part
11.  James
12.  X Amount of Words
13.  Bleed Out
14.  Hate Me

15.  The Worry List
16.  Not Broken Anymore
17.  Things We Do At Night 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Baseball Opening Day

     Yes, there have been two games played in Australia, but this is Opening Day for baseball in North America. In celebration, here are some baseball-related song titles or band names.

     Imagine yourself as being a founding member of a band that experiences some successes and some struggles over an exhausting fifteen year span, when suddenly your band explodes in terms of popularity. The recognition results in winning a Grammy. So, now what? Well, you could start a band. Using the moniker Bleachers, Jack Antonoff, who is a founding member of fun., released his debut single “I Wanna Get Better.”

      Young Stadium Club is based in Lodz, Poland (with a London connection). The combination of “stadium” in the band name and “home” in the song title, makes “Back Home” particularly appropriate. But we like “Waiting for the Lights” even more, so here are both.

The songs are currently available on a “Name your own price” basis on Bandcamp -

     “Littlest League Possible” by Guided By Voices 

      “Rock Bottom” by Modern Baseball

      “Together Again" by First Base

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pacific Mean Time – A Band Preview

     What if we lived our whole life in the minutes to midnight? That’s the question that is asked in the first single (and currently only) from Portland’s Pacific Mean Time.
     Hey gang, let’s jump on the bandwagon of Pacific Mean Time while it’s not crowded. Well, we might need to help build the bandwagon before we jump on it; at the writing of this post, the band has 33 Facebook “likes.”
      There are reasons to believe the song “Minutes to Midnight” isn’t “beginner’s luck.” The members of Pacific Mean Time have been together for a while. They are 75 percent of the band Little Beirut, which generated some quality material, but didn’t receive the attention it deserved. The members are Edwin Paroissen (lead guitar and vocals), Hamilton Sims (guitar and vocals), and John Hulcher (bass).  

     Pacific Mean Time will release is debut album on May 27, 2014. But for now, we have “Minutes to Midnight,” which is currently available as a free download (in the .wav format).

Friday, March 28, 2014

London Grammar at The Independent – A Concert Review

      Bottom Line Concert Review – London Grammar’s Hanna Reid silenced any skepticism as to whether she can generate the same vocal strength and purity in a live setting that she achieves in a recording studio. Regarding the opening band, Highasakite, the Indie-savvy folks at NPR were right; this is a band that puts on a very strong live performance.

     London Grammar visited San Francisco for a second time yesterday. By coincidentance, during both visits, the phenomenon known as Lorde performed at a venue less than 20 miles away. During the exactly six months between the two visits, the tide has shifted, if the price of resale tickets is considered the water. For the September 27, 2013 performances, the asking prices for resale tickets (at Stubhub and Ticketsnow) were far greater to see Lorde at the Fillmore than to see London Grammar at the Rickshaw Stop. On the other hand, for yesterday’s performances, a general admission ticket to see Lorde at the Fox Theatre went as “cheaply” as $80 (pre-5:00pm), while the best price to see London Grammar at The Independent was $140 (to be fair, this was the second night of Lorde being at the Fox Theatre). The difference is more a consequence of the San Francisco area having an increased awareness of London Grammar than it is any reduction in the appreciation of Lorde’s music.
     The members of London Grammar are Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman. Rothman is the source of the guitar sounds, which still remind us of the Australian band Jezabels. Major plays the keyboard, djembe and drums. Reid knocks you over with her amazing vocals. 
     At 9:45pm, Rothman and Major walked onto the stage of The Independent. The two strolled to their instruments and began the performance, Rothman with some shoegaze guitar and Major with some ambient keyboard. Hannah Reid soon joined them by taking a position in front of the microphone. She sang a series of “Hey” with a purity that showed she was “on” for the evening and that the sound system was up to the task. It wasn’t until about three minutes into the song that it turned into a more recognizable version of “Hey Now.” It was very effective. The audience was hooked.

     The performance remained “tight” throughout the setlist. Prior to the one-song encore, the crowd favorite was “Strong.” Embedded below is a video of the song from last night’s show (uploaded by another attendee). Hannah Reid starts by identifying her three “audience members of preference.” Earlier she explained that she was postponing work on an impacted wisdom tooth in order to continue the tour. From the banter with the crowd, it’s clear she’s handling the dental issue well.

     When London Grammar returned for the encore performance of “Metal & Dust,” the energy level jumped noticeably. The song started downbeat, but as it progressed, the band members appeared to be enjoying themselves even more than earlier. The audience moved almost in unison (although some of us dance less attractively than others). As well as London Grammar is doing, it was clear that once they add one or two more higher energy songs to their repertoire, the ceiling will be raised even higher.
      “Metal & Dust”

     “Wasting My Young Years”

Highasakite More than Held Its Own – NPR Was Right, Again
     Opening for London Grammar was the band Highasakite from Oslo, Norway.  We had heard of the band only because NPR gave them high praise during SXSW 2014. The members are Ingrid Helene Håvik (zither, steeldrum and vocals), Trond Bersu (drums), Øystein Skar (synths), Marte Eberso (synths), and Kristoffer Lo (guitar and flugabone). Listening to their recorded music does not prepare you for what they bring to a concert setting. We had a similar experience the first time we saw Of Monsters and Men, another band that fuses its regional folk sound with Indie Pop (although last night it was Norwegian Folk, rather than the Icelandic Folk that works its way into the songs of Of Monsters and Men). 

     In terms of instrumentation, we particularly enjoyed the flugabone, which had the sound of multiple horns playing simultaneously. Regarding the song structure, the regular use of swells was our favorite feature. And regarding vocalization, while the solos of Håvik could easily have carried the performance, the strength of the occasional harmonization by three and sometimes four members is what separated Highasakite from most other bands.
     “Since Last Wednesday” by Highasakite

     “Darth Vadar” by Highasakite

London Grammar

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The European Electronic Four

     Here are four songs that we believe can fairly be described as being Indie Electronic. The first is “Carmine” by Cloud Boat. This is a London-based duo comprising Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke. Past releases by Cloud Boat have fit more snugly in the Dream Pop genre, but “Carmine” relies more on vocalization with a storyline. 
     “Carmine” by Cloud Boat – at least for now, this is a free download.


     The four-member band called Dtwice added a choir to their song “Pleased to Meet You.” Now, there’s a great formula. The full title of the song is “Pleased to Meet You (feat. Boy & The Echo Choir).”   Dtwice is from Nantes, France and its name is shorthand for the initials of frontman David Darricarrere (chant, bass, moog, percussion). The other three members are Aymeric Maïni (guitar, vocals), Léa Colombet (piano, synthesizer), and Christophe Declercq (drums, vocals).
      Returning to London, we enjoy the music of Kate Miller. She is a singer/songwriter with a limited number of song releases (she is 19 years old, so that's understandable). The most recent release is “Collar Up.”

     Staying in the U.K., Rhodes offers “Your Soul.” David Rhodes claims Hitchin as his hometown. “Your Soul” is the lead single from Rhodes upcoming EP, which is entitled “Morning” and is scheduled to drop on May 12.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“Breathe” as a Song Title

     We were invited to review the song “Breathe” by the IYES, an electronic pop duo from Brighton, U.K. The song was made available on Soundcloud yesterday (March 24) and joined a collection of blogworthy songs that have in the term “breathe” as at least a portion of its title. The invitation to review the IYES song was the motivation needed to initiate this post.
     Call to Mind does not refer to itself as a band. Instead, the members describe themselves as being “a Glasgow-based collective from Ardersier, in the Highlands of Scotland.” The members of the collective are Martin Ross, Jamie Ross, Andrew Masson, Joe Smillie, and Steven Gribbin.
     “Breathe” will be on the debut album of Call to Mind, which is scheduled for release on April 14, 2014. It will be accompanied by the song “Family Sketch,” the song we praised in the January 3 post.
     "Breathe" by Call to Mind

     IYES is Josh Christopher & Melis Soyaslanová. Their “Breathe” is a follow up to the debut single “‘Til Infinity,” which brought the duo acclaim barely a year after Josh and Melis formed IYES. The email invitation to review “Breathe” explained:
     "Breathe is our sexiest song," says Josh. "We wrote it with an image in mind of a naked lady, in a jungle, with a snake wrapped around her. The beat came first – we wanted a tribal sound featuring lots of percussive elements. Melis’ voice is often quiet and cute. It’s always beautiful, but I thought it would be great to get some sass out of her. Hence the no clothes and the python idea."
     "Breathe" by IYES

      Face the Ocean is based in South Shields, Britain. The members are James Dugdale (rhythm guitar), Paul Holmes (bass), Daniel Rickman (lead guitar and keys), Andrew Stickley (vocals), Lee Girdlestone (drums), and Jamie Lowes (who made this a “six man team”).
      “Breathe Again“ by Face the Ocean

      Japanese Wallpaper is Gab Strum in Melbourne, Australia. But there is assistance with the song “Breathe In (ft.Wafia).” The song was written by Japanese Wallpaper and Wafia Al-Rikabi. The vocals feature Wafia, with vocal samples from Jessie Corne.
     “Breathe In (ft. Wafia)” by Japanese Wallpaper

      Reaching back a few years, there’s “Breathe Me” by Sia. This song may be more appealing to us this week, since there are plans to see the band Blue October, which is a band having a frontman whose troubled life is reflected in his songs. “Breathe Me” is not going to raise your spirits either.
      “Breathe Me” by Sia


     Fractions is a Synth Pop band based in England. According to their Facebook page, “Fractions are a female fronted synth pop band featuring current and ex members of Lavotchkin & End Reign, as well as local producers Joey Murphy, Worry Party & RoadToCairo.”
      “Breathe” by Fractions


     New Navy from Sydney, Australia offers a cover of “Breathe” by Télépopmusik.

     Deco Greene is a singer/songwriter from Dublin, Ireland.

     Our favorite band from the Ukraine is still Singleton. They are based in Kiev and the members are Alina Fedorova (vocals), Jim Walt (guitars), Nikita Yudin (guitars), Dmitriy Chudakov (bass), and Vitaliy Yermak (drums).

     FKA Twigs is the performance moniker of Tahliah Barnett. The “FKA” portion is an abbreviation for “formally known as.” She is currently based in London.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Astronauts – A Band Alert

     This post won’t provide insights into Astronauts, since very little information is available. Astronauts is Dan Carney, who is based in London. The debut album will be released this year. 
     In his past musical life, Carney was the singer and guitarist of the five-member band that started as Dark Captain Light Captain, a name that was later shortened to Dark Captain.
     At least until the release of the album is near, the music does all the talking for Astronauts. We particularly like “Skydive,” with its quiet but insistent banjo background that is joined by strings at the 1:36 mark of the song.

      "Skydive" by Astronauts

      "Only Son" by Astronauts

      "Everything's a System, Everything's a Sign" by Astronauts

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Future Islands – A Band Review

     In early 2013, we noted that Future Islands started receiving some well-deserved attention with the release of “Cotton Flower.” Well, look out above! This is the year for Future Islands. The album “Singles” will drop on March 25 and its strength has been noticed by some of the difference makers in the music world. In February, KCRW posted an in-studio performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You).” Then, Future Islands performed the same song on David Letterman, but with a more manic approach. And NPR jumped in their corner at SXSW.
     Future Islands has been together since 2006, while the band members were students at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The band is now based in Baltimore and is formed of Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel T. Herring (vocals). When on tour, they are often joined by drummer Michael Lowry.

     As already noted, NPR is a “fan” of Future Islands. For a short time, NPR is offering free downloads of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” and nine other bands with SXSW-related songs at the NPR site CLICK HERE. The new songs supplement the 100 free SXSW downloads which are available for only a few more days – CLICK HERE FOR THE AUSTIN 100, before it is disabled. 

     "Cotton Flower" by Future Islands (from 2012)

     “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands (2014)

     “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands - the more manic approach

"Life’s What You Make It" – An Inside Out Blog Post

     This post turns the Indie Obsessive mode of operation inside out. Typically, we are forward looking – featuring songs headed in a direction of increased visibility. And normally, we are not very interested in cover songs. But we ran into one of Duncan Sheik’s cover songs from his 2011 album “Covers 80s” and this blog is the result. Yes, it’s about a song with its best days behind it; and it’s a cover.
     The album “Covers 80s” includes twelve covers of songs that surfaced in the 1980s. Perhaps it was too much at once, since no song stood out. On a drive last week, the song “Life’s What You Make It” rolled to the top of a playlist that did not include any other song from the “Covers 80s” album.
     The original “Life’s What You Make It” was released by the English band Talk Talk. The year of release was 1985. The video was given extensive play on MTV during the middle of the 1980s, an era much different than today, since MTV was a music leader rather than the music follower it has turned into. In the 1980s, heavy exposure on MTV shot songs to the tops of charts.
     Included below is the Talk Talk video for “Life’s What You Make It.” We enjoy the original. However, the features that cause us to appreciate Duncan Sheik’s cover even more include (1) the addition of a female voice that provides occasional contrast with the lead male vocals, (2) the use of less conventional instruments, in addition to the piano, and (3) the greater obviousness that some notes just aren’t melodic. It’s this third feature that has us wondering if we are reading into the song an element that wasn’t really intended. Thus, the melody travels along smoothly for the first 1:06, when notes are introduced that just don’t seem to fit. This occurs immediately after the male (Duncan) says “Baby, yesterday’s favorite” and the female responds “Don’t you hate it.” Yesterday’s favorite is now disliked – life is not a consistent melody. 
     "Life’s What You Make It" by Duncan Sheik

     "Life’s What You Make It" by Talk Talk

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bear’s Den at The Chapel – A Concert Review

     Bottom line concert review: There are nights when the benefits of attending live performances can be seen in high definition; and last night was one of those nights
     Bear’s Den was a “known quantity.” Indie Obsessive first mentioned the band in a January of last year and updates have followed. But Bear’s Den was not a “known quality,” since they were even better than expected. Perhaps the most interesting feature was watching as Joey Haynes adeptly played both bass and drums. But it was the three-part harmonization by a band that also has the skill to rock that made the evening. Rock was not the demand of the evening, but it surfaced at times and carried an infectious energy with each surface.

     Bear’s Den easily flexes itself from an Indie Folk position to an Indie Rock position. The best example was their performance of “Sahara.” The full version of the song begins within the Ambient genre. After a short time, “Sahara” enters the “singer/songwriter Folk” region of the Indie world. But by the end of the song, the feel can only be described as “Rock,” particularly as performed live.

     Bear’s Den announced after “Sahara” that they only had one song left in their repertoire, so they would perform the song and say goodnight. However, as they left, it was immediately clear that the people in attendance either didn’t believe them or just didn’t care that there were no more songs to be had. Bear’s Den did return, but not to the stage until after they had played “Bad Blood” in the center of the audience. [Is it coincidence that both Bastille and Bear’s Den are from London and both have songs entitled “Pompeii” and “Bad Blood?” It should be noted that the titles are the same, but the songs by the two bands are very different.]

     The three members of Bear’s Den are Andrew Davie (vocals and guitar), Kev Jones (vocals, banjo and guitar), and Joey Haynes (vocals, drums, bass and guitar).

     And hats off to The Chapel for the sound system. Without exaggeration, the sound system has been better each of the last four times we have attended a performance at this San Francisco venue.