Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: The Wrong Button - Stephen Newcombe

Back in 2005 Stephen Newcombe had finished the album The Wrong Button, the 3rd in a trilogy of albums that nearly scored him a recording contract (although the details of that story are a tad bit vague).

I just recently found Stephen's album, as it was emailed to me, but sometimes first impressions can mean everything. And such was the case with The Wrong Button. The album is a pure salute to analog recording and Indie production. Right from the first song, the highly symbolic and ambient song "If it's not broken", Stephen Newcombe foreshadows dark and wonderful things to come. The album begins with peculiar laughing over a music box, until the character of the album is suddenly awakened from what seems to be a dream. A radio turns on and plays a strange organ song as thunder and rain quickly dawn on him. He begins to walk away as a telephone is heard in the distance. He walks toward it as the thunder and rain begin to pour heavier on the man. He opens a door and enters, locking out the rain. He answers the phone to hear the other end quickly hang up.

And that's the way this album starts!

We're off to a very strange, vivid beginning. Moving into the first song "Automata", Stephen makes a very dense production with backing vocals, varied percussion, bells, flutes, and an arsenal of other instruments. Throughout the album Stephen uses such a wide variety of instruments that could surprise Brian Wilson himself.

The album truly is an eccentric piece of work. Complex musical arrangements, complex production, and a very developed story line. The album has strange, yet beautiful interludes between nearly every song, and between nearly every interlude! And while it may seem like this large amount of story building could take away from the songs, The Wrong Button manages something that almost no one can do. It immerses you inside it.

This album is meant to be listened to from start to finish, with no breaks in between. It really is a trip. The interludes between the songs truly drag you in and keep you waiting patiently for the next song. And when the songs do come on the album shines even more. Dark sections of scary organ are alleviated by jazz piano and loads of doo doo doo's. The album can really bring you full circle from fear to tears to comical laughs.

But the true power of Stephen's song writing hit me at track 5. The track "Sing For Us" scares the living hell out of me. The track is almost a funeral hymn played with guitar, bells, organ and several other instruments. But the truly eerie part are the babies he recorded and looped over the song. Stephen Newcombe practically forces you to think about the frailty of birth, life and death. But if that song is too scary, he loosens up with the Edward Scissorhands-esque "Rolling Away". The backing vocals of ladies in this song work perfectly with the bongos and bass that drive this song.

Around the middle part of the album things continue smoothly, even introducing some laughs on the track "Careful, You'll Fall". But as with most things in this album, the smiles quickly fade as one of the albums strongest tracks "Talking To Myself" appears. This song, which went to #5 on Garageband.com a while back is much more pop than most of the songs, and even feels a bit jazzy to me, but Stephen really explores on this track and flexes all of his musical muscles to deliver nearly a full 6 minutes of music.

From this point on the album focuses a lot more on the story telling aspect of the album, picking up on concepts earlier in the album (the caller on the phone who hung up?). And while I would love to write about it, it's much more fun to figure it out alone.

The album ends with the goofiest track of the album, Space Rocket. The song screams child hood, but remains as sophisticated as the rest of his songs. He creatively crafts a middle section of this song to suddenly turn to a dark a cappella section, then suddenly return to the former anthem for children. The song continues to change to simple talking with altered voices before moving to another section with keyboard and accordian. As the final words "nothing ever ends, it's all just unresolved..." the album fades out and it does feel more than a bit unresolved.

I was completely mesmerized by this album, and to say that I couldn't figure it out sort of bugs me. The album is so complex, and so deep, that I'm not sure I will ever be able to fully relate to it. I really don't know what the heck he is talking about a lot of times. But should that stop you from trying? Absolutely not! Stephen Newcombe's latest album is outstanding! It is absolutely beautiful and moving, and I hope he finds the ambition (or whatever it may be that he needs) to make some more music A.S.A.P.

Fortunately, Stephen has made his whole album available for free on his blog.

Download the album now!

Preview some tracks here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brittle Stars

Hey everyone!

I haven't had anytime to upload this blog recently and for that I am sorry. I have moved from Western Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island. I went to college here and its really great to be back in time for Thanksgiving to be around my friends. I have my own place and I've got to get a job soon as well!

So despite all this I've decided to spend more time updating this blog. I'm also happy to announce I am dropping my third server, Mediafire, in place of the new www.Divshare.com. You'll notice it's much better, and you can now listen to songs even before downloading them! I'm also hoping my files won't disappear!

Anyway, I'm writing this time about a band I've gotten into called Brittle Stars. Coming from Gainesville, FL, Brittle Stars' name alone sheds light onto their sound and the musicians behind it; something terribly beautiful but incredibly delicate. The songs Brittle Stars make are often filled with feelings of hurt, disappointment and bitter sweet romance, yet never come off as being too wrapped up in its own sentimentality.

In 1999 the band released their self titled album on Shelflife records. The music is purely indie pop, with jangling guitars, synth riffs that never feel out of place and beautiful singing by keyboardist Estelle. The band has since broken up and singer Estelle has hence moved to Israel then to New York City where she is one half of the band Elephant Parade.

There is also a rumor floating around that Brittle Stars could be getting together for a reunion in May of 2008!

p.s. I found this photo of Estelle in New York! Isn't it nice? See ya soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Adam Deibert

Meet Adam Deibert.

Adam has been one of my favorite musicians for years, much of that time without me even realizing it. As a member of both The Aquabats and Bikeride, Adam has worked with these groups to help define their sound that I've been enjoying for years.

I first heard the Aquabats in the 7th or 8th grade. The album "The Aquabats Vs. The Floating Eye Of Death" had just been released and one of my friends shared it with me. With most great albums it took a few listens to truly understand and enjoy, it took me even longer to realize that much of that great music had been written by Adam Deibert.

It wasn't until 2001 when Adam was recognized as a solo artist when he created his own act, Digital Unicorn, to open for the Aquabats as a replacement for an opening band that dropped out from the tour. Adam released an album that year as Digital Unicorn titled "Theirs Travel Began and Loaded the Dream".

Since then Adam has left the Aquabats, but continued to stay busy releasing albums with Bikeride and for the last year or so has started another solo project "Call Sound Call Noise". Adam has released another solo album in 2007, the self titled Call Sound Call Noise album. While the sound of the 2 albums differ, Adam Deibert is a musical genius capable of creating any type of music he chooses and continues to be a valuable player in the Southern California indie scene.

Adam also does the voice for the character Muno The Cyclops on the Nick Jr. series Yo Gabba Gabba. And even though Adam is so busy, he was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions I sent him. I'm a little bit embarrassed because I thought he was born in Lithuania! Turns out he made up a story behind Digital Unicorn that you can read here. Keep reading for my interview with Adam Deibert.

Eric: Adam, I wanted to know a little bit more about you. You mention in your manifesto for Digital Unicorn that you are originally from the country of Lithuania. What was it like growing up there?

Adam: Ah, the myth and the man. I created a back story for “Mann” of Digital Unicorn because it sounded like fun. He’s a late-Soviet era artist age 23-40 who has moved to various places around the world in his quest to create. This was in 1999 and Lithuania seemed like a nice place for him to be from.

Eric: In 1990 you moved from Lithuania to Montreal, Canada. Why Montreal?

Adam: So Mann moves to Montreal after the fall of the USSR. This was a period of time when Montreal was hurting due to a major financial recession. Seemed like a good time for Mann to go there and make music. Around 1998-1999 I wanted to move there in real life but never made it happen. Now it’s very much on everyone's radar and it went from ridiculously cheap for Americans to visit, to expensive with the whole 1 to 1 US dollar to CA dollar ratio.

Eric: After living in Montreal you moved to New Orleans for a while and then you ended up in Southern California. What was happening at this time that caused all this moving, and what sorts of music were you working on at this time?

Adam: New Orleans seemed like the next place for Mann to go due to its French-Creole heritage. The just-pre-Digital Unicorn band I was in named “Dig Bunny” had a song called New Orleans. The only time we played that song we had the sax player solo while he sat on the bar, then a drum machine played a drum solo while the band took a break. I have it on video, it needs to be digitized and thrown into youtube.

Eric: I know you studied at UCSB as a music major. When did you start studying there, and did you ever receive your degree?

Adam: I started to think about majoring in music the first time I went there in 1995-97, but thought a B.S. in Geography was more my bag. Then I took 3 years off to play in The Aquabats and realized, yeah, I’d like to major in music, if I don’t, I’ll regret it. So I went back in 2000 and finished in 2003.

Eric: You are very well known for being "Prince Adam" of the Aquabats from 1994 - 2005. How did you meet the other members of the Aquabats and form the group?

Adam: I met them at a party in 1994 and asked them if I could play accordion. They said “Nah, but you can play trumpet right? Come play trumpet” So I came and played trumpet and from there we made magic.

Eric: Could you explain what your responsibilities were in the band? I know you wrote many of the Aquabats songs, so, what were some of your favorite songs with the Aquabats?

Adam: My responsibilities started as "guy who will hopefully show up and play horn lines" to "guy who writes some songs and fills in the gaps on a few instruments". My favorite Aquabats songs are: Playdough, Cat with 2 Heads, the Floating Eye of Death album, Sandy Face, Tiger Rider vs the Time Sprinkler, and Look at me I’m a Winner.

Eric: You left the Aquabats in 2005 to start your own career, but you have continued to stay close to the other members of the band, even occasionally performing on stage since your departure. How has your relationship changed with the band members since leaving?

Adam: We’re buddies. I don’t see some of them as much as I’d like. Some I see often and it’s great. I even talk to most of the guys who left the band before I left on a semi-regular basis.

Eric: One thing I wanted to ask you about was something you wrote in your departure letter to the fans of the Aquabats. You mentioned you would be writing songs for commercials. Have you composed any songs for commercials yet?

Adam: At the time I had just been “hired” on to do overflow work as a freelance composer for a company that does music for commercials. About 2 weeks later they completely restructured the way they operated. The freelance guys were structured out of the picture. So, in conclusion no music was ever written for a commercial by me.

Eric: You are in another very popular indie band, Bikeride. Why did you choose to stay with Bikeride? And what is it like being a part of an actual band, as opposed to being a solo artist?

Adam: Bikeride has a workload of about .75 compared to the Aquabats which varies from 5 to 10. It's very low key and consists of 4 guys who really enjoy playing together rehearsing a few times a year and recording an album over an average of 3 years. There's a lot less pressure applied by yourself as one of the cogs of a band. You give input on band decisions and play your part, as opposed to solo projects where every last, minute detail is up to you.

Eric: You are the genius behind 2 solo projects, Digital Unicorn and Call Sound Call Noise. DU released its album "Theirs Travel Began and Loaded the Dream" in 2001. What was going on at that period in your life that inspired this release, and why has DU not released anything in 6 years?

Adam: The DU thing happened spontaneously really. It was the summer of 2001 and I planned to work on stuff similar to what became CSCN, plus Aquabats demos, but turned upside down and wrote the last few DU songs. Most were written in 1999. Christian helped me a lot putting the record out and, to misquote, said "hey, you finished a Digital Unicorn album, let's put it out!" Parker Jacobs then helped with the art and out it came. Since then I've been meaning to do another album, but it takes a certain amount of magic that has yet to be accumulated.

Eric: Your newest project Call Sound Call Noise is absolutely amazing. I adore your new 10 track album. The sound is a very radical departure from Digital Unicorn. Why did you feel the need to have 2 solo projects? And which project do you like better?

Adam: Thank you. Digital Unicorn is more the comedy/faux-performance art experience. It was meant to be an "is that guy serious" affair, and that cat has been let out of its proverbial bag. Most people know it's not for real now which makes it slightly less fun. Still up there on the fun scale though. I knew that for more "serious" music I needed a separate entity. CSCN is more "Hi, my name is Adam and here is some music." I'm not sure which one I like better yet. I like them differently...

Eric: Some of my personal favorites from the Call Sound Call Noise album are Tear Down The Glass Walls, Rancor Aweigh, Minute King, and Hi_1999. What was your inspiration for the album, and how do you go about recording your songs?

Adam: Most of the inspiration was anxiety, then the passing of time, stucco walls. Maybe a little unrequited love sneaks in very veiled. Musically I wanted to do something different, and I almost did it, but it didn't come across quite like I wanted. A little too safe. I'll keep working at that. There were things I knew I didn't want to do on the album like use the words "I" and "she" and strum a guitar. Also putting words in superfluously to make things rhyme or be hamfistedly catchy. I finally strummed a guitar on the last song I wrote for the album, Waits and Measures. I couldn't help it, so I just let it happen. I also used the word "I" in that one... Minute King and Hi_1999 were actually written in 1999 and added at the very last second. I woke up one night and realized they needed to be on the album. The next day I called the place where it was getting mastered and mailed a CD with those 2 songs and I think 2 others.

As for writing/recording the songs, I'm not sure. Usually I start writing on a guitar or piano, then if I started on guitar I switch to piano and vice versa to take out any cliche overly obvious guitar-y or piano-y stuff. Then the computer comes in and I use it to make sounds and rearrange things. Like most people these days I recorded it all at home.

Eric: You are also doing the voice of Muno the Cyclops on the Nick Jr. Series Yo Gabba Gabba. The show is largely based on a television series that you and the other members of the Aquabats were trying to get on tv for years. How does it feel to finally be a part of an on-air television series?

Adam: It still doesn't seem real. I see it on TV and say out loud "really?" The whole production definitely had a DIY vibe that made it feel like it was being made outside the normal studio system. Which I guess it was for the most part.

Eric: You also compose and remix songs for the show as well, in addition to voice acting. How much time does that leave you for making other music and performing live?

Adam: Um, since last November zero. The music part of the show, every aspect of the show really, took a lot of time and hard work for all involved. Much was learned. I somehow put out the CSCN album myself last spring in the middle of everything. But right now I have a little time off so I'm preparing for more recording as well as some live CSCN shows.

Eric: Lastly, what plans do you have for the future as far as television, music and your career? And what about your personal life? Are you getting married any time soon?

Adam: Well, I'll keep doing Yo Gabba Gabba as long as I can. Hopefully other kids TV stuff too. Some people find it annoying but it is really rewarding writing positive songs that kids can grow up with. I think it's probably more rewarding than scoring reality shows. However, I would ultimately like to do some non-kids TV/film so I'm not deeply burrowed into the pigeon hole. I am definitely doing another CSCN album and if I can gather enough mystical poultices I'll do another DU album. Of course, putting out albums yourself=losing money, so I'd like to start playing live more. I'm coming off a 10 month Yo Gabba Gabba whirlwind of non-stop work so my social life needs rekindling. Marriage? Not very soon.

* * *

Adam's last show with the Aquabats, showing off his hand farting skills to the Star Wars Theme.

Adam also teaches you not to bite your friends on Yo Gabba Gabba.

Check out the Digital Unicorn Myspace here.
Also check out the official site here.
And buy the CD here!

Check out the Call Sound Call Noise Myspace here.
Also check out the official site here.
And buy the CD here!

Also go check out Bikeride if you have the time!

See you next time!

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