Archive for June, 2013

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by “alvarosa” via Flickr Creative Commons

A couple weeks ago, I walked by the newly dedicated “Adam Yauch Park” in Brooklyn, New York, around the area in which the ex-Beastie Boy grew up. I had heard about the park and actually read the speeches that his former bandmates, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, though I did not realize exactly where in Brooklyn I was until I spotted the park sign. That sight got me thinking about MCA (Adam Yauch’s alter-ego) and how influential he has been on music.  A year of reflection on MCA’s life has also seen the death of several other great artists, two of whom I would like to commemorate here.

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Ray Manzarek of the Doors (by Damiano Skrbec via Flickr Creative Commons)

On the 20th of May, one Ray Manzarek died of bile duct cancer in Germany.

I first experienced Keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s work with the 1960s-1970s rock band, the Doors, in the music library of a hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey in 2008.  My mother had told me about how great the Doors were, though I had neglected to go out of my way to check them out until I stumbled upon their “best of” at this hotel.  The first section of “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” struck me as very solid rock n’ roll, though the second Manzarek begins soloing on his screeching organ, I was completely blown away.  Never before had I heard a keyboard used so dramatically and so dominantly in  a song.  I heard influences of jazz, gospel, church choir music, psychadelia and classical meshed into every note of pure rock.  For me, every Doors song had the same effect on me.  I begin doing some investigating regarding the band’s background and quickly found that during live performances Manzarek played all keyboard parts with his right hand while keeping the bassline with his left hand on a separate part of the keyboard designed specifically for that purpose.  The pure talent of this musician still strikes me today as I listen to that same compilation that introduced me to his prowess 5 years ago.  His legacy should never die as long as the piano still exists.

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Richie Havens (by Pat Wi via Flickr Creative Commons)

While Manzarek is a relatively famous musician that is in fact recognized for the talents I just described, a more unsung hero of the 1960s also passed away this spring.  On April 22, 2013, Richie Havens, the opener for the 1969 Woodstock music and arts festival, died of a heart attack after complications from kidney surgery had already required him to give up touring.  Richie Havens represents a different side of the 60s than Manzarek.  Havens doesn’t represent the experimental, psychedelic genre of the era’s music but rather a type of raw, power-driven soul.  His opening song at Woodstock, “Freedom” a totally improvised solo piece, resonated with every single person in the audience that day and every single person who has seen the footage since.   Multi-instrumentalist Dave Grohl has publically condemned the music industry’s heavy use of electronics as a crutch for less than mediocre musicians and has promoted the special magic of recording a song live.  Richie Havens embodied that ideology that fateful day in 1969.  He sang words that came directly from his mind and heart, without getting caught up in a complex composition session. He played what he felt; that type of music is something special and something you don’t really see anymore.

To Ray Manzarek and Richie Havens, I wish that you rest in peace.  Thank you for your music and your impact.

Toby Singer

If one were to study the evolution of popular music, one would notice that throughout every era, the music industry tends to emphasize several subgenres.  In the 70’s, Southern Rock, Disco and Stadium Rock dominated the FM waves.  The 80s saw the emergence of Hair Metal, Glam and the electronic side of poop.  By the 90s, grunge, power-punk and hip-hop glided to the forefront of the industry.  The 2000s and 2010s have already seen many subgenres come and go quite rapidly, though one of the most steadily popular and successful styles of musicianship is the light, acoustic warbling of the indie community.  However, despite the nearly uncountable number of similar indie artists, one may find themselves hard pressed to uncover a truly unique, creative or significantly talented song-crafter.  Often, indie artists tend to all drift towards a familiar song formula and style that tends to classify the indie genre as somewhat monotonous, notably exemplified by Mumford & Sons, who are unfortunately one of the most premier acts of popular music.

Michigan Born and Brooklyn native Toby Singer doesn’t stray too far from the popular indie sound, but certainly builds upon the typical formula on his newest release, Here Comes Saturn.  The record, which was released digitally via http://tobysinger.bandcamp.com on June 4 and will be released on iTunes and physically on June 18th, stands as the singer/songwriter’s solo debut after departing from other projects including the keyboard-based afro-pop outfit Go Go Ghost.  Saturn is a concise 7 track release, that emphasizes acoustic folk tunes that remain pretty consistent stylistically, but avoid becoming too repetitive.  Singer worked closely with producer Ken Rich throughout the album’s recording process to achieve a truly raw, polished and old-school feeling that could have easily been recorded live in a Chicago studio in 1964.  Here Comes Saturn plunges headfirst into deep poetry throughout the entire album, singing quietly and thoughtfully about love, fear, betrayal and self-exploration on one of the most charming releases of the year.

From the first chord, Singer makes his overall sound pretty clear.  “Carrol’s Garden” opens Here Comes Saturn with a quick blast of heavy acoustic strumming quickly joined by light piano and a catchy ascending bass line for a classic vintage sound. Singer’s gentle and almost weary vocal performance on this track and every track is beyond perfect for the emotional vibe of the record.  Singer has a strong handle on his wide range and really utilizes his voice as an additional instrument.  In certain moments, Singer’s voice cries out like a bird song and others flows heavily like a whispering rain cloud.  Vocals paired with extremely visual lyrics establish very clear moods, the songwriter proves himself a fabulous singer on top of a long list of musical feats achieved on Here Comes Saturn.

Since the record is not one of endless length, clocking in at just over thirty-one minutes, it is difficult to point out which songs stand out as the strongest.  That being said, while some tracks tread on similar musical ground, the first two singles, “Hard Beast,” and “Odysseus” as well as the synth-heavy “Bobsled” catch the ear immediately.

Though “Hard Beast” has already been discussed in The Sound Hound’s review of the track when it was first released, it is important to reiterate certain details in the context of the entire album.  On a record that emphasizes similar acoustic strum patterns from track to track, “Hard Beast” strays from the trend, lending a more riff-heavy chart-topper.

“Bobsled,” the record’s penultimate track is easily the most interesting and fleshed-out of Singer’s compositions.  However, this was not always the case.  The initial release, previously available on his Facebook page and website, was a much more stripped down version featuring nothing more than one acoustic guitar track underneath vocals.  In addition to the compelling music, Singer balances irony and comedy with a mournful tone in the lyrics, turning this into an even more interesting track that should certainly not be overlooked.

Many albums save the worst track for last in a desperate attempt to extend the album and include all compositions without drawing too much attention to weaker efforts.  However, Singer strives to close strongly with what he cites as his favorite on Here Comes Saturn.  “Odysseus,” from which the album title originates, portrays the musician almost as a traveling bard, the likes of Homer’s protagonist himself, moving from place to place, town to town, holding nothing but an acoustic guitar with which to prove his worth.  And Singer does exactly that.  He culminates his first record with a song that in a somewhat anti-nostalgic manner reflects on the inevitability of the passage of time and with it, our lives.  It is an extremely mature piece of poetry for such a young artist, a trend consistent throughout the entire record.

Every minute Here Comes Saturn touches on many deep, deep concepts. The phrase “Here Comes Saturn” links to a mystical explanation for the deaths of so many musicians at the youthful age of 27 to something called “The Saturn Return.”  Thus, the album title is more than suiting, as the lyrical content covers many aspects of life and the fear of loss. Singer rather cerebrally writes from the heart, something that many artists of his genre can rather facetiously and ignorantly claim to do also. If you are searching for a raunchy album filled with fit-pumping, shallow anthems of glory, or one filled with loud, experimental beats, that pulls from every musical genre, Here Comes Saturn is not right for you.  However, if you are interested in closing your eyes, relaxing and being taken on a more spiritual journey, then Here Comes Saturn is a chilling and honest release from start to finish that deserves a spot in your record collection.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar (by Matt Schaff)

This article, co-written by myself and Zach Goulet, was originally published, like much of my other work, in The Justice, one of Brandeis University’s student-run newspapers.  However, the final version of the article that was sent to print was never uploaded to the website, so I have no way of sharing it here on The Sound Hound. Thus, here is the original version of the article submitted to the paper by Zach and I.

The sun shined brighter than it had in days as Brandeis’ student population rose from bed on Sunday morning. Finally, the day of the highly anticipated annual SpringFest concert festival, run by the school’s Student Events organization, had arrived. The student-run group has managed to book many tremendous artists, which this year included Brandeis’ own Gabe Goodman, 5 & A Dime, Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr. and Kendrick Lamar. The gorgeous weather was quite fitting for the stupendous lineup, making the entire event a huge success. “I can’t remember a SpringFest that has fallen on a lousy day,” said Ben Sargent ’13. This year’s SpringFest without a doubt lived up to all expectations.

Gabe Goodman ’15, supported by Samson Klitsner ’15 and University of Massachusetts’ Jon Young on bass and drums, respectively, opened the festival with a “Unnatural,” an unreleased original composition, attracting countless spectators to Chapels Field who bounced to the summer pop and noshed on the delicious food provided.  Unlike in the past, Student Events managed to secure several hot food trucks as well as a 21+ Beer Garden that provided a brand new dynamic to the festival.  Despite such distractions, the singer/songwriter was able to absolutely pack the area around the stage as early as 2:30 p.m. due to both domination of the competition for the opening spot, his sheer talent and his major presence on campus. Goodman, who performed several of his live staples, such as “Bent Fiction” and “Midnight Sour” as well as several new songs, was ecstatic about the concert.  “It was an incredible opportunity and probably one of the most memorable days of my life,” he exclaimed. And it was evident the other two members of Goodman’s band shared their frontman’s enthusiasm. Klitsner and Young were at the top of their form, bringing a new level of liveliness to the sophomore’s indie numbers.

Following Goodman was Philadelphia DJ/Producer 5 & A Dime, known for his incorporation of electronic dance music into a Top 40 sound. The artist is currently touring with SpringFest headliner Kendrick Lamar and DJ Steve Aoki as part of the #Bassmob Spring Tour, which includes mostly East Coast universities. Unlike many DJs, Dime actually left his safe haven of sorts behind the turntable and interacted with the audience—the DJ’s club-bred electronic music received a much more dramatic, dance-filled response from the audience than the next act.

By the time, Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr., took the stage, a moderately sized group of people occupied Chapels Field. The weather couldn’t have been better and everyone was already having a great time, which made the group’s job fairly easy. Detroit’s indie outfit Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr, whose attendance in the festival was only announced several days prior to their performance, played an energetic set characteristic of their live performances. The band’s Jewish member, Joshua Epstein, drew solidarity from the many Jewish members of the audience with a shout-out and an off-color quip about Jewish girls, which elicited many laughs.

The relatively unknown duo quickly grabbed the attention of the crowd and kept it throughout the duration of their brief set, which included songs from all three of the band’s EPs, its only album to date, and several singles. The duo managed to blend analogue instruments with electronic components and captivating harmonized vocals, delivered with high energy that solidified their presence onstage.

Since their music isn’t exactly what one might consider dance music, there was a small but enthusiastic dance section in the crowd. The lack of studio effects was evident in their live performance, and their performance was not as flawless as on their recorded work. At this point in their career, they seem to be following the current trend in pop music of combining instrumental and electronic elements. That being said, many concert-goers expressed that they were in fact pleasantly surprised by the smaller band’s talent and presence.

As the evening crept up on Chapels Field, Compton-native Kendrick Lamar, donning a Brandeis sweatshirt, resurrected the classic West Coast hip-hop feel that Tupak Shakur made so popular in the 1990s. Lamar’s on-stage sound is rawer and less produced than his studio work. Motoring through tracks from his breakthrough release Section .80 and the most recent and sensational Good Kid M.A.A.D City the unlikely superstar boasted intense talent on Sunday evening.

It was extremely evident that Lamar was indeed the headliner and artist about whom every single member of the massive audience that almost completely packed the field was most thrilled. The rapper commanded the crowd with the prowess of a weathered star. Some of the most stirring moments of his set included his dramatic cover of A$AP Rocky’s smash hit, “F***king Problems,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” from Good Kid and “A.D.H.D.” and “Hiiipower” from Section .80.  However, the absolute best instant of the entire 2013 SpringFest was, by far, Lamar’s rendition of Good Kid’s “Swimming Pools (Drank),” which had the entire audience singing every single lyric along with him.

Many have compared Kendrick Lamar to California hip-hop moguls such as Snoop Dogg and even Dr. Dre, and this parallel is certainly somewhat accurate. Like the boss dogg, Kendrick marched across the stage, interacting with the audience between and during nearly every song, accommodating for the absence of a live band that often significantly improves rap concerts. Despite the rapper’s somewhat short set, while he was physically performing, Lamar treated the audience like the royalty he is and should be recognized as a dominant force in the hip-hop world.

Over the course of every school year, Brandeis’ student body raves about previous SpringFests, anticipating how the next celebration will compare. It is safe to say that this year’s concert will be recorded in everyone’s memory as one of the best to date. Ethan Stein, ’15 who snagged a private, post-show picture with Lamar, summarizes, declaring, “Student Events [has] outdone [itself] once again. SpringFest was a blast, filled with fun and great entertainment. Despite the crunch time for work, students came together to enjoy a great day, with great music, and friends and fantastic weather.”  Does it get any better than that?