Tag Archives: Paul Simon

Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.

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Filed under funk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, review, video

Five from 10: top five albums from 2010

It would be so clever to have a “Ten from Ten” list of favorite albums from 2010. Unfortunately, I can only come up with a top five list. I’m sure there were at least five more killer albums that would’ve rounded out my top 10. I just didn’t find them.

I never want to say that any year was a “bad year” for music. If you don’t have enough good music to listen to, it usually means you didn’t look hard enough. I didn’t buy as much new music in 2010 as I usually do, for a number of reasons: I was broke, very busy at work, and I still wasn’t finished with 2009 (which was an unusually good year for music, in my opinion. Just to name a few: Phoenix, Daniel Knox and Grizzly Bear put out some great albums that took a while to absorb fully).

There were some 2010 albums that I really do enjoy, however, albums that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for many years to come. It’s hard to rank them, really, but I’ll take a shot:

1. Beach HouseTeen Dream

This one has probably spent more time on my stereo (and laptop, etc.) than any other album. Aptly named, it really does sound like a dream. In the past, Beach House mined shoegazer very well, capturing the atmosphere of bands like Slowdive. However, the songs I heard from them in the past didn’t really hold up that well for me in terms of melody and lyrical content. Style over substance in other words. This album definitely has both. The reverb is toned down so you can really hear Victoria LeGrand’s lovely voice. “Zebra” and “Norway” are excellent examples of indie pop. “Lover of Mine” is the best song of all, one of those songs that really tugs at the heartstrings. Every song on the album is solid. Modern dream pop.

My only complaint is the videos. I got the deluxe CD package with a video disk, and I’m just not feeling those at all. Silly, dumb, ugly, even painful to look at. All they do is detract from what is an otherwise blissful music experience.

Check this out if you haven’t heard them (avoid the official video if you know what’s good for you):

2. The Black KeysBrothers

This was one of those impulse buys at Waterloo Records. I had a stack of CDs in my hands and a certain amount I wanted to spend and they started playing songs from Brothers. “She’s Long Gone” and “Sinister Kid” hooked me completely. Had to put something back, ask the guys at the counter what it was and buy it. I played the hell out of it for weeks and I can always go back to it and still enjoy it. I was already a big fan of Attack & Release. Their music is a perfect mix of blues and indie punk. Blues, with energy and punch. The guitars just sound so rank and nasty.  Damn good songwriting too.

3. Legendary Pink DotsSeconds Late for the Brighton Line

These guys just continue to amaze me. There was a time last year when I was afraid they might be able to call it a day. Niels Van Hoorn (woodwinds) and Martin de Kleer (guitar) quit the band. Then Edward Ka Spel’s mother got sick and their planned North American tour got put on hold. But past member Erik Drost returned to play guitar and the Dots put on an amazing live show in Austin back in November. The latest album turned out to be a grower for me, but it certainly has been growing in my esteem. “Russian Roulette” and “Hauptbahnhof” are classic Dots songs, as is “God and Machines” (the last being one of the best live songs from their show.

4. CrocodilesSleep Forever

I like this album better and better every time I play it. At only 35 minutes, it’s short and sweet. It satisfies and there’s no annoying filler to skip over. There is a unifying theme – death – and the songwriting is solid. “Mirrors,” “Stoned to Death” and “All My Hate and My Hexes Are For You” are my favorites. I get a little bit of a Stone Roses vibe from some of the songs, particularly “All My Hate…” in that the tunes sound so sweet, yet the lyrics are so mean and cutting. I love juxtapositions like that.

Big thanks to Mark Whitby of Dandelion Radio for turning me onto these guys from San Diego. He played their cover of Deee Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” and I was immediately hooked. Based on comments in YouTube and 0n sites like Rate Your Music, they seem to have a dedicated group of haters as well as a nice cult following. The big gripe seems to be that they sound too much like Jesus and Mary Chain. I hear an influence, definitely, but I don’t think the criticism holds water. In fact — and this ought to piss off the haters — I got out my copy of Automatic to refresh my memory and frankly I like Sleep Forever more. Also I don’t like Psychocandy. So there.

I’m having a hell of a time deciding which song to embed, but “Stoned to Death” ought to do…

5. Vampire WeekendContra

Very enjoyable album, already mentioned on this blog. I love the way they’ve brought world music influences into the realm of indie pop/rock. I get a big Paul Simon vibe off the album, especially “White Sky” (which is in no way a put down – Graceland is a hell of an album). “Cousins,” and “Holiday” are really catchy songs.

I may be forgetting something I liked from 2010 and I’m sure I failed to discover a lot of good music. I’d like to see some other people’s top 5 lists and check them out. It might put me behind schedule for my best of 2011 list, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes 😉

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Filed under blues, indie, music, progressive rock, psych, review, rock, Uncategorized, world music

Pickering Pick’s tuneful English folk is a Sparkling Thing

Singer-songwriter Pickering Pick

Singer-songwriter Sam Pickering Pick is a man after my own heart — a man in love with words, words sung and words written. Setting his words to music, he paints beautiful pictures and tugs at the heartstrings. I also love his sense of melody and his guitar work. Low key and humble as he is, I think he has huge potential among folk music fans and beyond.

Originally from England, he has been living in the United States for eight years and now makes his home in Sacramento, California. Though his singing accent is a bit soft, he notes that his “speaking voice is just as English as ever.”

Sam has made nine albums to date, plus two EPs. His latest, The Boy in the Back, was just released this year. He is in the process of remastering his other albums in his home studio.

Though I find his guitar work quite beautiful, Sam doesn’t consider himself a hot shot musician. Lyrics are his main focus. “I played guitar and a bit of piano growing up, neither one particularly well, I might add. I’m really not a ‘good musician,’ and I’m just lucky to have long fingers and a sense of rhythm, so that fingerpicking a folk guitar is relatively easy for me. I have always been much more about the words than the music, so Paul Simon and obviously Dylan had huge appeal for me.”

I recently asked Sam what he thought of British singer-songwriter Donovan since I get a bit of a Donovan vibe off his music.

“You know, Donovan is an interesting one,” he said. “A couple of his songs are spectacular, but often I think he’s a bit too sweet for my taste. His fingerpicking is lovely, though. I love that scene in Don’t Look Back where he’s playing in a room of Dylan groupies and Dylan is just really mean to him, but Donovan plays much better. I think the English folk singer I most identify with is probably Cat Stevens [aka Yusuf Islam].” He is also a big fan of English folk singer Richard Thompson.

Sam recently turned 32. He grew up in a town in England called Cheltenham “in the Cotswolds, in the south-west Midlands.” He describes Cheltenham as a “posh town with posh schools, but lots of problems”

Sam himself did not grow up in a posh family, but his father is a notable figure in the music world. David Pickering Pick is a record producer and serial studio-builder who built studios from the ’70s up to the present. Musicians recording in David’s studio include Luther Grosvenor from Mott The Hoople, The Vigilantes of Love, Decameron and Bill Mallonee. “I think Judi Dench was there the other day doing some voice work. Anyway, a lot of English folk royalty over the years…” His studio company is FFG Recording.

“I grew up in Cheltenham, went to school, listened to all my dad’s old folk records from the mid- ’60s through the early ’70s — he gave me a whole stack when I was about 11 or 12,” Sam said. While his friends were listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Sam notes, “I grew up on James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan. Later on, there was Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band, etc., but earlier on it was the American folk singers I adored.”

After leaving school, Sam went to London to study architectural history. “Around that time, my first year, I wrote the songs for The Attic Tapes, and recorded them with my dad producing at his studio,” he said.

Sam moved to the U.S. in 2002 after meeting an American girl in London as a 20-year old. He and his wife married in 2000 and recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. They have two children, a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. He has been a stay-at-home father since their son was born.

Sam’s sister Sera recently made some very nice videos of him singing in his home studio. “Sparkling Thing” may be my favorite from the new album:

I’ve always loved “Unseen Hook” as well:



Visit Sera’s Youtube channel to see the rest.

Below are some of the topics Sam and I covered during a recent interview, including RateYourMusic, Bandcamp, TheSixtyOne, LastFM, and his dream of becoming a published novelist.

RateYourMusic

I discovered Sam on RateYourMusic, an amazing website that has grown into a thriving community with a very impressive database of albums and artists. Like me, he was one of the early members of that site back in 2002. I beat him there by just a few months.

“It was a tiny website back then,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’m so happy to see it turning into the resource it has become – one of only a tiny handful of extraordinary truly social media.”

MM: “Me too. [Site owner and creator] Sharifi is such an amazingly awesome guy. Sort of Zuckerberg’s good twin.”

Sam: “I owe him a HUGE amount. Seriously, w/o Sharifi and RYM, I wouldn’t have recorded all the albums I did. And I wouldn’t have reached the people I have reached.”

MM: “I certainly wouldn’t know about you. Or about tons and tons of my favorite music.”

Sam: “He’s on top of my Christmas card list for sure. RYM pretty much changed my life musically.”

MM: “How so? Just by giving you a venue and some networking?”

Sam: “Well, let me see… First of all, it opened up my eyes and ears to a whole world of music I wouldn’t have discovered, which influenced and changed me as a musician. Then, importantly, it provided a platform for me to experiment with listeners. I had played live in London for a while before moving to California, but I never had the feedback I got from RYM. Then, of course, the viral nature of a social website like RYM made distribution of my music very easy in way I had never imagined… I mean, RYM was not conceived as a venue for unsigned/under-the-radar musicians to upload their music, right?”

MM: “From my understanding it was an experiment, to create a database others would contribute to. That part definitely works.”

Sam: “But with the help of [RYM users] Matti, Kevvy, Jon Bohan and a few others, and tremendous support from many more, I was able to use the site as a personal musical forum.”

MM: “It’s an amazing database at this point.”

Sam: “Probably the only one of its kind – almost too complete! Lots of very anal music fans with too much time on their hands… I used to think I was a music geek, but now I know otherwise.”

MM: “There are levels of geek.”

Sam: “I am low-level for sure.”

Aspiring writer

Growing up with a music producer for a father had a big impact on Sam, but he has another passion: writing.

“Music was everywhere when I was growing up. Musicians of all kinds in and out of the house. I used to sit and watch the sessions from time to time, but I don’t remember ever thinking I wanted to be a musician. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a writer and that has never gone away.”

He has written two novels and would love to become a published novelist, but notes, “music is just as much a love of mine.

“You know, writing is just enormously satisfying. The writing process — I get a huge kick out of it. I finished the last novel this summer, right before i started working on The Boy in the Back and when I was done, I felt bereft.”

His novels cover a variety of subjects, including wasted youth, anxiety, sexual tension and murder. His last book was a comedy, which he refers to as “fluffy teen fiction, like Gossip Girl.” He pitched it to some agencies but didn’t have any takers. “I used to work in book publishing, so I know how it works. New authors never get a look-in. Only established names. You have to know someone or be someone.” But he notes, “people will continue to seek out good writing.”

He has toyed with the idea of giving his books away through digital downloads, the way he does his music. “There’s a way it could work. For the Kindle generation.”

Bandcamp

Like other indie musicians I’ve spoken with, Sam is a big fan of Bandcamp.com, which lets unsigned artists stream, give away and sell their music. “I never made anything from my music until I put the albums up on Bandcamp,” he said.

In fact, during our interview, he interjected, “Cool! Someone just bought an album on Bandcamp! While we were chatting. What a coincidence…”

Sam still thinks the website could be better: “It is really cool — but it isn’t perfect. It’s not a cohesive site. There’s no ‘web.’ It’s like a stack of pages, but no cross-references. So one artist is pretty much isolated from all the others and there’s nowhere for fans to comment on artist pages.”

MM: “Yeah, I’ve noticed that. It’s like each artist has an independent website, which is cool in a way, but not very lively for the music explorer.”

Sam: “Exactly exactly exactly. Great for me as an artist, not as a consumer.”

But speaking as a blogger, Bandcamp is pretty doggone convenient as it lets me embed songs and albums like so:

 

Live performances

Sam isn’t currently doing live performances, but doesn’t rule them out in the future. He is a bit stage-shy, but while in London he performed in some important folk venues. “I even played the 12-Bar on Denmark Street one time, probably my most prestigious performance,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking but well-received.” He explained that Denmark Street is “pretty much the epicentre of folk music in London and the UK, and the 12-Bar is the focal point — a live folk club for acoustic artists.”

He finished building a proper home recording studio last year and wants to get comfortable in it. “I am not opposed to playing live, but having been away from the live scene for so long, it is hard to know how to get back into it again,” he said. “I’m not keen on open mic, but i do appreciate that listeners want to see their favourite artists playing ‘in the flesh.'”

TheSixtyOne

I’m the one who talked Sam into joining TheSixtyOne.com. I was gratified to see how quickly he formed a bond with other folk musicians and found his audience. I was a little embarrassed later on, when the site changed into its current artist-unfriendly format, stripping away all those social networking tools. I’m relieved to find that he still thinks his time at T61 was well-spent. His songs are still on the site, though he isn’t seeing much activity there.

Sam: “T61… well… You introduced me to it and I was very excited at first.”

MM: “Yeah. I was trying to win a quest. The Evangelist or something. Plus I thought highly of your music and I thought you would do well there — and you did.”

Sam: “I had had a long hiatus from writing and recording, but something kind of clicked and I was excited about writing again. That was amazing — to be able to be involved in the process, watching people respond to my songs. It was very addictive.”

MM: “It was quite a supportive environment wasn’t it?”

Sam: “The charts, and the front page, etc., the comments I received were encouraging.”

MM: “Yeah. your fans rooting for you, trying to get you on the home page, helping you strategize.”

Sam: “And then, boom. It just ended.”

MM: “Your songs are still up right?”

Sam: “I guess — I never go there any more. Wouldn’t know how to get rid of them.”

MM: “I would leave them. The more places, the better.”

Sam: “I don’t disagree.”

LastFM

Sam also enjoys the popular music website Last.fm, which gives him valuable exposure as a musician. “I have a good relationship with Last.fm,” he said. “They’re good people.” He admits the site isn’t perfect, but is still a fan.

MM: “They’ve got issues too. That duplicate artist thing is a mess and a half.”

Sam: “Oh, yeah, that’s true. There were a couple of Pickering Picks last time I checked… One’s a Sam Pickering Pick I guess. But the communities and groups are cool.”

Speaking of which… A quick Internet search will come up with quite a few Pickering Picks.

Sam: “Ha ha. There are a few notable Pickering Picks. Thomas Pickering Pick is probably the biggest. My family were all famous surgeons. Surgeons to the royal family, etc.” (Gray’s Anatomy was co-written and edited by Thomas.)

With a bit of luck and perseverance, I’m betting that one day, Sam Pickering Pick the musician will be the first Pickering Pick folks think of when they look up his family.

Check out Sam’s website, listen to some of his songs and maybe send a little love his way. I think he deserves a few bucks at the very least for the musical gift he’s given us.

http://pickeringpick.com/

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Filed under folk, indie, indie pop, interview, music, one to watch

Vampire Weekend’s Contra – does it remind you of anything?

I have really been enjoying Vampire Weekend’s Contra over the last couple of weeks. It has tons of energy, great tunes and a wonderful Afrocentric sound. Songs that jumped out at me right away were “White Sky” and “Cousins,” the songs that convinced me to take that trip to Waterloo Records. The other songs are also enjoyable and growing on me. I also had an interesting thought. It really really reminds me of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. I know I’m not the first to recognize that. Compare the two videos below and see if you don’t agree.

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