Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interview with I Am Not Lefthanded

So the wife and I have been championing the Irish band I AM NOT LEFTHANDED for awhile now and they were gracious enough to answer some questions for us about their upcoming album. Part one is over at Have You Met Heather? and part two is right here. (or this is part one and part two is over there depending on your perspective.) You can visit their site here and get all kinds of free music.

Zen: You spent a lot of last year on the road, including hitting the US - how did that affect your sound going into the new record?

Lefthanded: I think it made us more confident about the sound we wanted, rather than affecting the way it turned out. We tend to keep busy, together and individually. In that ten hour drive from San Francisco to Portland, or the six hour drive headed north from LA, in every car journey, we had more time and space to talk about what we wanted than we'd had before. It was good to check in, make sure we were all on the same page. There's at least one song on the album about driving at night too...

Zen: How was playing the states different from Europe?

Lefthanded: Audiences in the US are just so different from ones in the UK. We like people, as a band. We generally tell people that they're welcome to come up and talk to us after we've played. UK audiences are that bit more reserved. They're more likely to drop you an email after a show than they are to come up and see you. US crowds love to chat to you after you've played, it was genuinely heartwarming. There were a lot of great stories, good recommendations, and ultimately a lot of positive feedback for us, in the US.

Zen: You have been broadcasting some of the recording sessions live. Has that influenced your process at all?

Lefthanded: Have you ever had a favourite song that you listened to over and over again, and when you played it for a friend, or a family member, it sounded completely different? Like you hear the individual lines more, you hear the perfections as well as the imperfections, because you're more nervous about how their listening will change how you hear the song? That's what broadcasting the recording sessions has been like for us, I think. Songs and lines that had become comfortable, had become part of us were suddenly new all over again. It wasn't an entirely confortable process. But then I tend to be incredibly tense in those five minutes before we get on stage anyway. I think the sound we ended up with was closer to how we are live, as a result. I don't regret doing it at all.

Zen: What are your plans for 2011? Album release and tour?

Lefthanded: We're not the most patient of bands, I think. We like to get recordings done all in one sitting, to record videos in a night. Everything's done in the spirit of the adventure. We've definitely been trying something different this time. Making ourselves slow down, to think about what we're doing. It means can't quite imagine not being recording this album, right now. We're hoping to have it ready for release late in the summer, and will tour the US again for a few months from September. Then maybe Thanksgiving, Christmas, some more videost to celebrate the major holidays - we have some brilliant ideas up our sleeves for the next ones - and we stop and take stock at the end of the year.

I can't remember when exactly I decided this, but when I was a teenager, I remember telling my family I would play as much music as I wanted until 2012. Then I promised I'd take stock and see where I was in life. If I was busking on street corners and barely scraping a living, I'd sell my amps and find something better to do. I've no idea why I picked 2012, I suspect it was because it seemed just so far away, and was an easy out when they asked me what I was doing with my life. I'd like to at least stick to my word in some sense though. So 2011 is for the album, and for making as much music as we can. I can't ever imagine selling anything I own or agreeing to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, but it will be a good time to take stock and see how we're doing.

Big thanks to Kathryn and check them out when they hit the road later this year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The National suprise new single

It is always a little better day anytime THE NATIONAL put out new music. "Exile Vilify" comes from a new video game (who knew you had to monitor Video Game soundtracks for new music, like I don't have enough to keep track of) and is a little slice of wonderful. Starting with a simple piano line, Matt Berninger goes up the ladder a bit with his vocals without sacrificing his silky smooth baritone in the process. The inclusion of a string section halfway through gives the song a cinematic quality that is not always part of their usual sound. I am curious if this was recorded at the same time as "High Violet" or as a stand alone track since it doesn't seem to be of the same vein as the tracks off that record. Either way it is a great song and only enhances my outright love for the band.

(mp3) The National -- Exile Vilify

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The sultry sounds of The Twilight Singers

Greg Dulli's voice is a thing of beauty. As the lead singer of the AFGHAN WHIGS, Dulli anchored the power pop sound with his soul full wail as he sang about love lost and despair. The Whigs had a little bit of commercial radio success before disbanding. Prior the that Dulli set out with a side project called THE TWILIGHT SINGERS that was designed to showcase his softer side. Over time the band has harnessed a powerful, dark sound to compliment Dulli's songwriting structure.

Their fifth release, "Dynamite Steps", opens with the slow burner "Be Invited" before launching into the driving, Cure inspired "Waves". Dulli the blue eyed soul singer returns to navigate "Get Lucky" which practically oozes smoke and liquor. The feel continues with the piano and drum machine tandem of "On The Corner". "Gunshots" sounds like a really good imitation of the old Whigs sound and would be right at home on commercial radio circa 1996. ANI DIFRANCO contributes vocals to the haunting "Blackbird and the Fox". The entirety of the record has a feel of regret and late night mistakes. Dulli opens his soul for all to see and has made a record for those who are seeking redemption for the choices they made. It's really very powerful.

(mp3) The Twilight Singers -- Blackbird and the Fox

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sorry old friend, I neglected you

First I got really busy at work. Then I got deathly ill from what might have been best described at the stomach flu mixed with a touch of the Bubonic plaque. Then I picked up a new writing gig (more on that in a minute) so I have some to neglect my old friend here for the past week or so. But now I'm back and ready to talk some music.

A bit about the other gig. I will be writing two days a week (Fridays and Saturdays) for a wonderful blog called Monkey With A Halo. They cover the Los Angels of Anaheim (baseball for those of you not indoctrinated to US sports), which I am huge fan. I am very excited about this chance and hope to bring my voice to the world of sports as I have with music. Should be fun.

So back to the music. I have been kicking a bunch of stuff around for awhile now but with little real interest. So I settled on reviewing the new FLEET FOXES record. There has been a lot of buzz about this one and I went in with high expectations. This were heightened even further when Robin Peckhold dropped a solo ep that is gorgeous. But "Cosmic Tomes for Mental Therapy" leaves me a bit wanting.

Opening strong with the somber "Montezuma", the record falls into a nice groove full of 70's references such as the dual harmonies on "Bedouin Dress" and the shuffle on "Battery Kinzie". The Foxes are aching to transport us back in time to the golden era of AM radio with music that sounds like the open road at dusk. There are flashes of Middle Eastern influence on "Sim Sala Bim" and their is ample flute usage on "The Plains/Bitter Dancer". "Helplessness Blues" is far and away the highlight of the record as it builds slowly to a quickened pace of a country stomp played by a Led Zeppelin at their quieter moments.

I think Fleet Foxes suffers because although musically they take chances, the lack of vocal changes makes the record seem repetitive. A falsetto here or a baritone there might have served the overall sound well. Perhaps more time will reveal the hidden depths. It feels like a record that with time will grow on me.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The first track from the new BEASTIE BOYS record "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two" leaked out and it is everything I had hoped and more. Classic 70's groove, all three MC's taking turns like vintage 80's era NYC hip hop, and just enough of a hook to be memorable. While not as instantly classic as "Intergalactic" or "Sabotage", it is a nice sign that the boys haven't lost any of their skills. I cannot wait to hear what the whole thing sounds like.

MAKE SOME NOISE by Beastie Boys

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bell X1 and the shadow of U2

When you are an Irish band at some point you are going to have to answer the u2 question. Just how much did the four lads from Ireland influence your own work? It's not even a question of if they are an influence, but to what degree. Such is the case with BELL X1 (as it was with SNOW PATROL before them). Even though this three piece is releasing it's fifth album, "Bloodless Coup", most people outside of the Ireland haven't been exposed. The first blush with this new album isn't going to quell the U2 issue much.

The opener, "Hey Anna Lena", takes the now popular drum loop/blip approach that is more RADIOHEAD than U2 even mimicking Thom Yorke's falsetto. But it's with the lead single "Velcro" that the band shift into stadium rocker mode. Awash in synthesizers and bass lines, "Velcro" is an arena pleaser for sure. Singer Paul Noonan's voice bears a striking resemblance to David Byrne especially on the TALKING HEADS-ish "4 Minute Mile". "Sugar High" takes what might be an OMD outtake and updates the sound. Other parts of the record have the band taking a bit funkier outlook on their sound.

It's a risk for sure, but at least the U2 comparison dissipates. Where Snow Patrol has run to the Adult Alternative center with their music, Bell x1 seem to have at least tried to branch out.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

New TV On The Radio

Soul music is often misinterpreted. Most people take soul music to mean the sound of the 70's (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson) and that is certainly what I usually think of, but TV ON THE RADIO threaten to augment that definition for the 21st century. With the release of their fourth record, "Nine Types of Light", they are now poised to make a mainstream dent in both the alternative and soul music markets.

Opening with the seriously groovy "Second Song", lead singer Tunde Adebimpe's announces the bands intention to create a sound that is unique by blending all their influences together. Stax era trumpets, Parliament bass lines weave in and out in beautiful concert. "Keep Your Heart" finds Adebimpe alternating between a baritone and a falsetto over a simple drum beat. "You" is an out right love song that could double as a gospel torch tribute. "No Future Shock" could be a Prince outtake (back when he cared what he sounded like).

The highlights really start coming with the epic "Killer Crane which builds off a piano and synth marriage into a song of hope and inspiration about life after all has fallen apart. It's the type of song COLDPLAY has been aiming for but doesn't have the musical chops to pull off. The single "Will Do" is a sort of companion to "You" as the theme of finding love as salvation returns. The last half of the record settles into a patterned groove collection of rock songs before ending with the revival blues stomp of "Caffeinated Consciousness" which echoes a bit of JACK WHITE'S work filtered through their own lens.

This is a record that will deepen with every listen. It has the potential to be the kind of album that marks their ascendency to the big leagues with bands like ARCADE FIRE as the new voices of a generation. It's that good.