Tag Archives: Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros puts on hell of a show at Cedar Park Center

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I’ve been a Sigur Ros fan for over a decade. Their 1999 album Ágætis byrjun was my introduction to postrock. They really opened my mind to what can be accomplished using the human voice as an instrument.  I find their music mesmerizing and variously melancholy or uplifting. I love getting caught up in their soundscapes. I finally got a chance to see them at the Cedar Park Center on April 10. As great as their music is, I couldn’t imagine how they would pull it off live. I’ve been told they put on a great show, but I had to see it for myself.

I was especially surprised at how much they rocked. Powerful crescendos set off by their amazing lighting and projections.

They started out playing behind something called a scrim – a screen that looked a bit like gauze to me. The lighting effects – especially in the beginning – made it resemble an aquarium, with deep shades of green, threaded with other colors and textures. You could see them playing through it, but the lighting cast huge shadows of the band on it from behind, making the band members look like giants. One image of Jónsi Birgisson bowing his guitar in silhouette was quite striking. At one point the stage went dark, except for a scattering of tiny gold stars. Beautiful. Whoever handled their lighting was brilliant.

Later on in the show, they dropped the scrim, and you could see projections on a screen above the band. Images and textures, and scenes from their music videos – underwater scenes from “Sæglópur,” gas mask scenes from  “Untitled #1” (aka “Vaka”) and the gorgeous ballet from “Svefn-g-englar.”

Because they sing in Icelandic (or is it Hopelandic?), I don’t always remember the names of the songs, but I know them when I hear them. I recognized several from Ágætis byrjun, ( ), and other albums. Their performance of “Brennisteinn,” from their upcoming album Kveikur really blew me away.

The seating in Cedar Park Center was a bit cramped for my taste, but the music was so good I didn’t really notice. Kudos to my girlfriend Melissa for getting the tickets and snapping a few photos of the show.

If you haven’t seen any of Sigur Ros’ videos, do yourself a favor and check them out. Here are a few that really impressed me:

Oneohtrix Point Never

I have to put in a word for the opening act, Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Brooklyn-based musician Daniel Lopatin.

He plays vintage synthesizers and creates some interesting textures and soundscapes. I read something that referred to his music as “gnomecore.” No idea what that could mean, but I found myself on the verge of getting carried away in several of his pieces. Some made me think of dark ambient or glitch pop. Some made me think it was like what people in the ’80s thought the future might sound like. The kind of music you might hear in a night club scene in a 1980’s sci fi movie. I only wish I could have heard him in a more intimate setting. People were still filing in late for Sigur Ros and it was distracting.

If I get another chance to hear him, I will. Maybe he’ll turn up in another show in Austin soon. Here are a few examples:

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Take a ride on a broken carousel with Japanese newgaze artist Ferri

Japanese musicians continue to inspire me. I just found an amazing new artist thanks to Mitsugu Suzuki, aka Cellz Cellar (mentioned in a piece I wrote about Japanese music a while back). Her name is Ferri. She composes, sings, plays keyboard, and mixes everything on a laptop. Her music sounds like a dream, with lush vocals and ethereal soundscapes. Sort of another take on shoegaze and postrock by the likes of Sigur Ros and My Bloody Valentine.

Ferri just released her first album, A Broken Carousel, in July. Cellz Cellar collaborated with her on one song (Zoetrope) and she will sing on a couple of songs on his next album, the soon-to-be-released follow-up to his debut 444. Can’t wait to hear that.

Here are a couple of outtakes you can stream and download for free via Bandcamp:

The digital album can be purchased through Amazon.com.

And check out this beautiful video for “Tomorrow Comes After Today.”

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Filed under music, postrock, shoegaze, trip hop, video, world music

Music genres – handles or pigeonholes? (probably both)

It’s a common complaint from musicians: “I don’t do goth/post-rock/folk/trip hop/indie/prog (or whatever). You can’t pigeonhole me!”

Same thing with fans. I’ve read a ton of forum threads complaining about genre names. “What the hell does post-rock mean? Aren’t bands still playing rock? Why isn’t it called post-rap? Post-rock isn’t a real genre.” And various other quibbles from people who hate seeing their favorite musicians get pigeonholed, or resent seeing musicians they don’t like surf their way into undeserved recognition atop some made up fad.

I totally get it. I’m the king of “you can’t pigeonhole me.” I’m 100 percent eclectic in musical taste. Politically, neither fish nor fowl.

I do think there’s a nasty tendency in some circles (*cough* Pitchfork) to use labels in order to dismiss a band or collection of bands. Like, “Oh yeah, we figured out what these guys are. Just another example of X. If anyone still cares about X, this is part of that whole X knockoff crowd. That scene is so quaint isn’t it? Moving right along…”

Just look at this list of genres: http://rateyourmusic.com/rgenre/

Drumfunk, Sqweee, Glitch-hop, Witch House and Turbo-folk are just a few of many genre names that make me scratch my head. Are these really real? Is somebody pulling our legs?

Who comes up with this stuff anyway? It used to be DJs and music journalists, but now I guess it’s mostly bloggers with a lot more hits than I get. Somehow the names catch on, silly or not. Shoegaze is one I use a lot that sounds pretty ridiculous (whatever you want to call it, I like it). It was originally a put-down for bands playing noise-drenched stuff who tended to stand on the stage and look down at their shoes, but now it’s so common that bands will claim the term.

Classifying music into groups will always be a messy business. There are some musicians (usually my favorites) who defy classification. There are musicians who get lumped into a group who sound nothing like their supposed peers.

Television’s Marquee Moon (1977) came from one of the original CBGBs bands, often touted as one of the first punk bands or even “proto-punk.” Yet to me its style has a lot in common with Magazine’s Real Life (1978), which came out just a year later and is considered one of the first postpunk albums. Can you really go from proto- to post- in just one year?

World music is a really messy genre. It can sound like anything, and isn’t everything part of the world? And speaking of the world, now everything has gone global. You have millions of musicians, talented and otherwise, making tunes on laptops and releasing them on the Internet. Anyone can be influenced by anyone. It was hard enough to classify things in the blues-R&B-rock continuum, especially when jazz and classical kept rearing their ugly heads. Now throw in influences from every country in the world and classifying anything becomes virtually impossible.

Yet we have to try. Why? Because if we don’t, we can’t find music we like, and we can’t talk about it.

I understand the principle of “it’s all music.” But don’t you think the average Chuck Berry fan would be a bit put off if you played a Godspeed You Black Emperor album said, “Here’s some of that music stuff you claim to like”? And suppose he had an open mind and even kind of liked it, but just never heard GYBE before and asked, “what is this?” Sorry, but I’m going to have to say post-rock, because he might then find and enjoy Sigur Ros. Post-rock is a clear case of “you gotta call it something.” Would you consider a Chuck Berry song rock? Definitely. Would you consider a Godspeed You Black Emperor song rock? Not too sure… Thus, post-rock.

I agree that genre names often suck, but they can be useful, even some “hairline distinctions.” For example, dark ambient. It bleeds into regular ambient (another term people argue over), as well as industrial (ditto). But there are certain groups that people who say they like dark ambient tend to like.  I like to give and get recommendations. How am I supposed to do that if I can’t pick a genre name? If I just ask for “music” recommendations, I could get anything from Beethoven to the Ramones. I like both of those, but they’re not going to help me find Coil, Lustmord or Voice of Eye.

A genre name might be a stupid word, but once it catches on and people start hanging ideas on it, what can you do? You’re pretty much stuck with it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if people are still listening to this stuff hundreds of years from now? Are we going to get names like tenth wave Electro-acoustic-neo-post-psych-prog? Hell, that name probably exists already.

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Filed under commentary, dark ambient, indie, industrial, postpunk, postrock, progressive rock, psych, punk, shoegaze, trip hop, Uncategorized, world music

The Widest Smiling Faces interview — melancholy and optimism coexist



How does an indie musician become successful? I wish I knew. But I am sure of one thing, there isn’t any magic person or company or website out there who will make it happen. You have to do it yourself. New York-based singer-songwriter Aviv Cohn aka The Widest Smiling Faces is just 23, but he’s already got that figured out.

When I first encountered him on TheSixtyOne, he had uploaded “The Only Lonely Ocean,” a song full of shoegaze echoes and alliteration that I knew was destined to be a hit on the site. And sure enough, the song caught on and burned up the charts. I really admired the way he developed his networking skills, making friends, picking up tips and promoting his music far and wide.

Aviv is a largely self-taught guitar player. He had lessons, but mainly used them as a chance to show off his compositions. “I took guitar lessons when I was younger but I never really followed the lesson plan and would go to the lessons to show off my songs,” he told me in a recent interview. “I think though that that was a good fire starter for me, because it encouraged me to get in the habit of regularly composing so I had something new to show each time. But most of my playing style I developed myself I would say.”

Aviv plays regularly in New York City. “It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve played at a lot of good venues like Mercury Lounge, the Knitting Factory, The Bitter End. I had residency at The Beauty Bar in Brooklyn a few months ago.”

He has one album under his belt, The Widest Smiling Faces, which features the song, “The Only Lonely Ocean.” You can download it for free or get a physical copy for $5 via Bandcamp. A second album is in the works, and he is building a website.

As much as I liked the way Aviv handled networking on T61, I had even more respect for the way he handled the demise of the old, community-friendly gaming version of in favor of the new slick version that doesn’t seem to be much use to anyone. While most of the T61 stalwarts (including me) were getting angry and depressed, he took it in stride and simply moved on, found new ways to promote himself. I thought the pic he uploaded to Facebook around that time summed up his attitude pretty well:

A couple of weeks ago, I had a nice little chat with Aviv in Facebook messenger that turned into an interview. I learned a lot about him and we got into some very interesting topics.

First the basics: Aviv grew up in Long Beach, New York, and went to College at Suny Purchase. He got a BA in Media, Science and the Arts. Sounds like a pretty good degree for a practicing musician on practical grounds, but he picked the major for intellectual reasons: “I decided to study Media, Society and the Arts because I felt it would give me more insight into the way art interacts with society.”

The Widest Smiling Faces is essentially Aviv’s project, although he has had some help along the way. “At times it’s had other members; all my recordings have been solo, and for the most part it’s been solo but occasionally I have performed with other people under the umbrella of the Widest Smiling Faces. But for right now it continues to be solo.”

What’s in a name?

MusicMissionary: “How did you come up with the name, Widest Smiling Faces?”

Aviv: “Hmm, thats a bit complicated. I got the name from my head, it just came in there one day, and I thought it sounded good and felt right, is the simple answer.”

MM: “What’s the more complicated version? Now you got me curious.”

A: “I started playing music at around the same time my face started twisting. I used to have a cute smile but I can’t smile the way I used to. All the good feelings from my normal smile left my mouth and went to my fingers when I started playing, so that’s why the music is the Widest Smiling Faces.”

The melancholy smile

MM: “If i had any genre that your music reminds me of it would be shoegaze. Shoegaze is most often associated with melancholy. Yet your stage name and emphasis is on happiness.”

A: “Yeah, you’re right, my music is probably more melancholy than happy though. I think melancholy is one of the best words in the English language as well.”

MM: “Me too, come to think of it. Feels good on the tongue. So is there a kind of irony to your stage name that you enjoy? And melancholy… it is a bit more complex than ‘sadness.’ It can be kind of pleasant, right?”

A: “Well, I think a smile can be melancholy as well.”

Musical influences

MM: “Who are your big influences, favorite bands?”

A: “I really like Sigur Ros and Boards of Canada. I like Radiohead a lot. Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Beatles, Nirvana, The Beach Boys…”

MM: “What about Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine?”

A: “I really like the song ‘The Sadman’ by Slowdive.”

MM: “Jesus and Mary Chain…”

A: “That connected with me.”

MM: “Still it doesn’t sound like shoegaze bands are your biggest touchstone. or am I wrong?”

A: “I would say they aren’t my biggest touchstone.”

MM: “I can definitely hear Beatles and Beach Boys. Is there a certain feeling or sound that you go for when you perform live or record? Atmospheric, reverb, etc.?”

A: “Well I guess it depends on the song. I’m usually going for more of an image or a set of images.”

The Only Lonely Ocean: The Storybook

Speaking of images, one of the most interesting Widest Smiling Faces projects was Aviv’s collaboration with artist Daniel Spenser. If you’re a fan of the satirical website, The Onion, you may have seen his artwork. He is also the artist who designed the cover for The Widest Smiling Faces album. That eye-catching, professional-looking cover was one reason Aviv did so well on T61.

Aviv let Daniel hear his music and come up with artwork based on his impressions. The art was fashioned into a book featuring Aviv’s lyrics for “The Only Lonely Ocean.” “He’s an incredibly talented artist and I’m really fortunate to be able to work with him,” Aviv said.

You can see more of Daniel’s artwork here: http://www.danielspenser.com

Marketing and the Internet

MM: “So… We talked last time about your inspirations, etc. Now how about the marketing and business aspects? For example, would you consider yourself an ambitious artist? Do you expect to make a good living from music someday?”

A: “The music industry keeps changing so I don’t really know what to expect. Right now I’m trying to get my music out there as best as I can.”

MM: “How do you view the Internet as a way to promote yourself? Advantages, pitfalls?”

A: “I think it’s an incredible tool, and there’s no question it’s revolutionized music. I think it’s had more of an effect on music than on any other art form. With regards to advantages/pitfalls, I think it’s helped artists spread their music, while at the same time, perhaps made it harder to make the same kind of living.”

MM: “More positive or more negative? Downloading has impacted a lot of artists’ income don’t you think?”

A: “More positive. People are exposed to more music than ever before, more genres as bleeding into each other.”

MM: “What ways have you found on the Internet to promote your music? What has worked well and what hasn’t? And what kind of lessons have you learned so far?”

A: “I think the best way is to realize you’re dealing with humans and not numbers, and to be as real and genuine as you can with people.”

MM: “I discovered you on T61. Was that the first sort of social networking/venue site you used?”

A: “I think MySpace was the first. MySpace isn’t what it once was but I think it’s still useful.”

MM: “So… what would you say are your most useful tools on the Internet right now?”

A: “Myself.”

MM: “Meaning that no magical site out there will make you succeed, you have to do it yourself?”

A: “Yeah, and I think music is the most important thing as well.”

MM: “I thought you did quite a good job harnessing T61 in its old format. What lessons did you learn from operating in that environment? And what lessons from when the site owners made the big change? Are you still getting good use out of it?”

A: “I haven’t used TheSixtyOne in a while, I would love to go back to it but I feel like all my fans have left (maybe that’s not true though). They sent me an e-mail a litle while ago on myspace asking for high res photos, which I updated, but I heard from them since really. And they updated one of my songs with artwork from the storybook themselves, which I thought was a nice touch.”

MM: “What all are you using right now?”

A: “I’m really liking Bandcamp. It’s clean, it sounds good, people like it.”

MM: “I can tell you I like it because it’s easy to embed songs. which for you means the music can go viral more easily.”

A: “Yeah, that’s one of its best features I would say.”

Check out The Widest Smiling Faces’ music on Bandcamp: 

And get to know Aviv on Facebook and Myspace.

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Filed under indie, indie pop, interview, music, one to watch, shoegaze, Uncategorized