Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review: Black Diamond by Calico

Not many people know this, but I have always been a very big fan of ambient music. So when I was offered the chance to hear the new album from Salt Lake City's own Calico, I didn't waste any time delving into the CD.

At about 50 minutes long, all 8 songs are pretty long and (ranging from 2 to nearly 9 minutes) ultra mellow. Black Diamond is an exercise in alt folk pop with a great view for the cinematic side of song writing. Although there are vocals on 6 of the 8 songs, the album seems much more like an instrumental album as the whisper style vocals could be considered an instrument themselves.

As for the music's droney. It's very droney. I'm very thankful I've heard a lot of other music of the same type, because I'm sure anyone jumping into this CD without having any knowledge of the music could be a bit, well, confused. But to it's credit, the music on the album is beautiful. Each chord and rhythm fits perfectly with the atmosphere that the band paints and in addition to that the album is mixed just perfectly.

If you are going to listen to this album, make sure you have your headphones on. This is just one of those albums. It's a beautiful trip taken with music and a solid second release (we know how hard that 2nd album can be).

Calico will also be touring quite a bit in the next few months, so be sure to visit them if they come to your town.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Review: Modulations by Chewy Marble

In 1995 Brian Kassan, then bassist for the band The Wondermints, decided to start his own group Chewy Marble. In the last 13 years Brian and his gang have released 2 albums, their debut self titled album in 1997 and their follow up, Bowl of Surreal in 2001. Now 7 years later their 3rd album, Modulations is upon us.

I have to admit, I have not heard their first 2 albums, so I was pretty much in the dark when I popped this one in. I was expecting something along the lines of the Wondermints style of orchestral pop songs with shining harmonies and polished production. I think it's pretty unfair to compare this CD to anything by The Wondermints because in actuality it is nothing like them. Not to say that it is completely original but the influences of the album are a little trickier to put a finger on.

The opening song, the band's single from the album "She Roxx" plays off as an ode to high school life and crushes on those tough girls we all remember. The pop/rock sound of the song is easily comparable to popular music of the early 90s (when bands like Weezer were just starting to enter the main stream) but doesn't seem quite as convincing as the track could be. Perhaps its the use of words like "Fox" to describe girls or spelling the words rocks as "Roxx". It feels corny.

But fortunately the album does save itself from this false start. The next track Don't Look At The Sun has a much better pop appeal and melody that can be sung along to. In fact, the album flows from this point rather smoothly with the dreamy song cross-hatched world and the summery relaxation that the song Somewhere Else offers.

The album is a very large melting pot of the pop, rock and classic rock genres, creating a sound that can be uniquely refreshing and incredibly interesting at some of the most unexpected times. It's very clear that Brian Kassan has devoted a great amount of energy into this album and at it's best moments Modulations rings with the glory of albums like Led Zeppelin IV and The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle.

The album ends strongly with the folky and heartwarming instrumental Moments which transitions into the ballad at the end of the album, Clutter. I think having listened this far into the album I really turned from a listener to a real fan; Chewy Marble can really write a pretty damn good song.

If you are in the mood for some great 70s classic rock revivalism with that 90s alternative edge, you should head to the link below and give a listen to Chewy Marble's new album, Modulations.

Myspace | Label

Friday, June 13, 2008

Interview: Jeremy Jensen of the Very Most

I wrote about The Very Most and their new album Congratulations Forever a few days ago, but I really don't think that I explained enough how much I really like it. The second album from Boise, Idaho's Very Most is definitely a pop masterpiece and you should go to their myspace and buy it now.

Aside from that, I had a chance to talk to Jeremy Jensen (the band's lead singer and song writer) about the band and his new CD. You can hear our phone conversation below!


Myspace | Website

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Very Most

Have you ever been to Idaho?

I never have, but I hear good things about it. Lots of trees and lots of open space.

But I have one more reason to like it now. A band from Boise called the Very Most.

I just recently heard from them and listened to their latest CD and it is absolutely gorgeous. They remind me of The Magic Numbers with their boy - girl harmonies, but the arrangements of their songs are much more complex and dense.

Go ahead and take a listen to them (they have some mp3s on their site). Harmonies like these guys have only come so often!

Good Fight Fighting
Sod Off
Spilt, Spilt Milk

myspace | website

The Simple Carnival

Lately I've been spending way too much time in the real world, working and recording music and generally not being online very much. And as good as that may sound, I feel slightly bad because there are a lot better things I could be doing rather than stocking things in a cooler. However, one of the great luxuries I have is to be able to listen to music while I do meaningless repetitive tasks.

The artist I've been spinning the most lately is The Simple Carnival. Coming from Pennsylvania, the Simple Carnival is a one man band led by a genuine pop virtuoso, Jeff Boller.

The Simple Carnival can be compared to bands like the High Llamas and the Heavy Blinkers (or any other orchestral pop band), but Jeff Boller tends to be on the more experimental side of pop, trying out ambient interludes and using more instruments than most musicians have even heard of.

With 3 releases already out and another on the way later this year, I got a chance to talk to Jeff a little bit about his music.

Eric: I love your first EP, Menlo Park. I wanted to know what inspired you to take such an orchestral pop approach (like the heavy blinkers)?

Jeff: Thank you for the kind words about that EP. Menlo Park was an experiment. Whether that experiment was a success depends on who you ask!

Here's how it came together. I was tired with how long songs were taking to write and record, so I looked at alternative methods of creating music, like Album-a-Day ( I thought it might be interesting to see what happened if I recorded whatever I was feeling like for a month. So I worked as fast as I could, with the goal of recording an hour's worth of material that would later be edited down into... something. I wasn't sure what.

What I learned when working on this particular project was that it takes more time for me to write acceptable lyrics than to write acceptable music. So when it came time to piece everything together, I dropped just about all of the songs with lyrics and made the EP mostly instrumental... which baffled everyone who had heard my previous, more accessible songs.

Menlo Park has a strange sort of mood and it captures exactly how I was feeling for those four weeks. But it's not the place to start if you've never listened to The Simple Carnival before.

Eric: Secondly, what kind of equipment did you use to record Menlo Park?

Jeff: There's a current gear list, which is pretty much the same thing I used on Menlo Park here:

For Menlo Park, I used Pro Tools as a giant 4-track, and mixed songs directly through a Mackie mixer immediately after I had recorded it. It's basically a set of very rough demos, where spontaneity was more important than getting a good sound.

On the Me and My Arrow EP (and the upcoming Girls Aliens Food album) spontaneity was still important, but I worked hard at writing the songs and making them sound good as I could make them.

Eric: For your second release, Sonic Rescue League 1, your sound changed a lot (even though I understand it was that way all along), so what made this release so different from the previous (or what made the first EP so different from this one), whichever is more applicable.

Jeff: A lot of the Sonic Rescue League Vol 1 tracks were recorded before Menlo Park, even though Sonic Rescue League came out after.

The reason is because, before I sold CDs/downloads/merchandise, I used to post individual tracks on my web site and get feedback. I wanted to make those old tracks available to anyone who was interested, but it didn't make sense to keep them online forever since I felt like I had moved on a bit. So those tracks became Sonic Rescue League. I'm not even sure what to call that release. Is it an EP? Is it an album? It's 45 minutes long, but it was never intended to be a cohesive album experience. It's basically a mix tape of four years of recordings.

Eric: You definitely can handle both orchestral pop and more simple Beatles styled pop songs, so which style do you like more, or get more satisfaction from?

Jeff: I like to listen to both. But as far as what I like to make, I currently like making music where the song is the focus, not just the production textures. I'm fascinated with the shapes of melodies, I'm fascinated by that intangible thing that happens when interesting music is combined with an interesting concept and well-crafted lyrics.

My goal is to provide something that makes other people's day a little more enjoyable. And it's easier to connect with people when the song is the focus of what you do. We as human beings seem to be hard wired to respond to hooks and melodies and things like that. A good number of us, anyway.

Eric: You made a video for the song Really Really Weird on your Me and My Arrow EP, what was it like making your own video?

Jeff: I could provide a long answer about this, but I already posted one on my blog:

Long story short: I spent $7.25 in materials and put in an insane amount of work. If I ever do something like this again, I won't do it in the same way.

Eric: Finally, what kind of things can we expect from your upcoming full length, Girls, Aliens, Food?

Jeff: The Girls Aliens Food album (and the Me and My Arrow EP) is where I feel like I finally found my voice as an artist. Whereas on some of the earlier stuff I'm kind of throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, Girls Aliens Food has a definite idea of what it is and where it's going. It's a song-oriented album. The tracks flow in a specific sort of way. I'm singing quite a bit on it. There's a bunch of things to pick up with repeat listens.

I don't want to say too much else about the album, as people ought to form their own impressions when it comes out in October. But the response I've received so far from the handful of people who have heard it has been very exciting. I can't wait for everybody to hear it.

If you get a chance you should check out The Simple Carnival's website and myspace below.

Myspace | Website