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?

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The studio incarnation of Ducktails, around the time of the release of “The Flower Lane.” (From Pitchfork.com: I do not own this image)

First, I’d like to apologize for being so inconsistent with my posting.  Though it’s been a reasonably long time since the last post, I hope you’ll forigive me for failing to post this one sooner.  Here is the link for a review of the Matt Mondanile-fronted Ducktails’ performance at Brandeis’ on-campus venue, Cholmondeley’s Coffeehouse.  

The Justice’s Version:

http://www.thejustice.org/indie-bands-explode-across-chum-s-stage-1.3023219#.UXV8cnNetTA

However, the newspaper’s editors altered my article somewhat, so I’ve included the original transcript in this post:

Original Version:

Chomondeley’s is usually a relatively mellow hangout spot where artsy music-lovers gather and crank up some tunes while sipping on vegan milkshakes. However, this past Friday night, the arrival of indie contingent Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile’s side project, Ducktails, turned the small venue into a bumping party house.

Previously touring unaccompanied for his solo effort, Mondanile recently recruited keyboardist Dorian D’Angelo, Big Troubles’ guitarist Alex Craig, drummer Sam Franklin and bassist Luka Usimani for onstage support. While the band set up for the show and hung out with the concertgoers in a wonderfully friendly fashion, D’Angelo informed me that,,“Most of these guys have been playing together for a while. They all played on the [most recent] record, [The Flower Lane.].” D’Angelo was asked to join as a replacement for Ian Drennan, who performed on album. “I spoke to Matt a few times on the phone beforehand and was like ‘Yeah, this is going to work out,’” D’Angelo concluded.

Watching and listening to the quintet blast into its opening number, The Flower Lane’s first track, “Ivy Covered House,” it was hard to tell that this was a recent Ducktails incarnation and not one that had been rocking together for years. The band’s live renditions were both very satisfactory representations of the album versions and possessed an added edge, supported by many extended jam intervals as well as Franklin’s powerful percussion grooves and rhythms. Monindale sang in almost a whisper, which created an interesting, contrasting dynamic between the louder, harder music and his vocal performance. Despite the evident connection between the band members, Monindale’s control of the group was clear within its dynamic.

His ability to lead the group while still interacting fantastically with the other musicians shined during what was perhaps the strongest number, “Under Control,” the longest track on The Flower Lane by almost a minute. Though the tune stands as a mellow, yet trippy jam on the album, this third song was the hardest rocking, loudest blasting moment of the entire night, highlighted by Craig’s raw guitar solo and Franklin’s slamming drum fills. The band remarked on how full Chum’s was by the end of the show; packed to the brim with a large, bouncing audience.

After the concert, the party continued inside the venue, as the Chum’s staff sustained the flow of dance tunes. I was able to speak to opening act, Monopoly Child Star Searchers, aka Spencer Clark for nearly an hour. He and Ducktails hung out with many audience members outside of Chum’s and continued to chat, relax and have fun for several hours until retiring to a group of concert-goers’ Rosenthal suite for the night around 3 a.m. As one might expect, he confessed to me his anti-corporate beliefs about society and government, which several members of Ducktails seemed to share, though much less strongly and passionately. Perhaps this type of interpretation was one that I am not necessarily accustomed to, hailing from the Upper West Side of New York City and attending a private collegiate institution. However, it was this attitude that dominated the 1960s and 1970s, an era during which rock and roll music, in my opinion, thrived most prominently and magnificently. Thus, I welcomed his words.

That being said, the concert wasn’t just about the music for me, but about the overall vibe and community that was attracted to Chum’s and the specific musicians who were playing that. The bands actively embraced the student population that swarmed their van after the show and had no issue talking politics, music, art and life for hours on end. That is cool—that’s rock and roll. It’s not just about the music; it’s about much more. It’s about the lifestyle, which Ducktails certainly seem to live up to.

SC-cover-album

Here’s my latest article in The Justice, picking up basically where the last one left off.  This time, instead of reviewing the movie, Sound City, I tackle the album of original material recorded by Grohl and friends featured in the film both as the soundtrack as well as the main attraction of certain scenes.  The link is below:

http://www.thejustice.org/soundtrack-chronicles-story-of-recording-studio-1.3011440#.UUgWx3NetTA

Review: Hard Beast – Toby Singer

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Reviews

 

The artwork for "Here Comes Saturn," Singer's debut album, which is due out this spring.

The artwork for “Here Comes Saturn,” Singer’s debut album, which is due out this spring.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead inside my own head/I’ll twist around my cellophane esophagus instead,” Brooklyn singer/songwriter Toby Singer delicately croons on “Hard Beast,” (click here to listen) the lead single off his upcoming debut album Here Comes Saturn, which will be released sometime this spring.  Despite the song’s rather surreal, abstract and extremely metaphorical lyrics, “Hard Beast” delivers with a pretty poppy mood while maintaining a light indie-folk feel.  I first met Singer, who lives in Brooklyn but studied music at the University of Michigan while working as the music instructor at a Jewish summer camp.  Hearing him in a more serious and toned down setting as opposed to belting Hebrew sing-alongs to two hundred eight-year olds ever morning is a different experience.  That being said, Singer sounds extremely comfortable on the track, his gentle vocals meshing beautifully with the quiet and unplugged tune, even during the more upbeat chorus’ hook.

The genre of indie music has become somewhat overexploited to include every hipster, artsy and experimental alternative pop-rock artist that fancies themselves independent.  Thus, it is refreshing when an artist like Toby Singer comes along and just plays pleasant songs that are derived directly from the heart.  He does not go out of his way in a desperate attempt to appear like that which he is not.  He has no need to.  His music speaks for him.  Nothing else is necessary.

Singer is definitely an artist to watch.  Check out his website, http://tobysinger.com and keep a sharp eye for Here Comes Saturn. 

Movie Review: ‘Sound City’

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Reviews

Dave Grohl

Oooooooooh a movie review!  Yes, kiddies, this is not a music review but in fact a movie review.  However, it does have a place on The Sound Hound.  This is not in fact any regular movie review. This review discusses the new documentary film, Sound City directed by the one and only Dave Grohl (you know, that dude from Nirvana, Foo Fighters and pretty much every other band?)  So, like all the other articles I’ve had published in The Justice, the link is below.  Check it out.

http://www.thejustice.org/arts/grohl-erupts-in-directorial-debut-sound-city-1.2982773#.URF9eHPjlTA

Review: DJ A-Trak 1/26/13

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Reviews
Photo by Karina Wagenpfei from The Justice

Photo by Karina Wagenpfei from The Justice

Below is a link to my review of the illustrious DJ A-Trak’s performance at Brandeis’ Winter Concert in the school paper, The Justice.  Enjoy!

http://www.thejustice.org/arts/dj-a-trak-delivers-tremendous-show-1.2977863#.URByAHPjlTA

Signedandsealedinblood

Here’s another album review published in my school newspaper, The Justice.  This one’s of the new Dropkicks album.  Link is below as usual.

http://www.thejustice.org/dropkicks-stay-true-to-irish-pub-sound-1.2974139#.UP7kQnPjk2

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A new semester at Brandeis University brings new radio show times for The Sound Hound’s eponymous radio show on WBRS FM (100.1 FM Waltham.)  Last semester, you tuned in on Thursdays at 11, but this semester, we’ll be broadcasting on Tuesdays from 4 – 5.  Check us out on the radio or at wbrs.org by clicking one of the two “pop-out players.”

Grammy Picks 2013

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Editorials, Lists, News Updates
Tags: , ,

 

With the bitter cold winter every year comes the various award shows, including the music industry’s respective incarnation, The Gramophone Awards, or The Grammys for short.  Below is a link to my hopes (not predictions) for the 2013 Grammy outcomes.

http://www.thejustice.org/arts/grammy-and-academy-awards-spread-1.2971929#.UPmgenPjk28