Archive for September, 2008

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Amp up your air guitar

September 23, 2008

A Japanese toy company just introduced an electronic air guitar. It consists of the headstock and upper neck of a guitar, with buttons on the neck corresponding to chords. The ‘strings’ are infrared light; just strum the air guitar, interrupting the beam, to play music. It comes in an electric or acoustic version (but really, who’d go for the acoustic version?)

I’m a little torn – on the one hand, this is an awesome gadget. On the other, it’s hard not to feel that it is a violation of the fundamental philosophy of air guitar – isn’t this now just another instrument?

If you’re unconflicted, you can buy one here.

[via Cool Hunting]

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Upcoming: Decibel Festival, Sept 25-28

September 22, 2008

The fifth edition of Seattle’s Decibel Festival begins on Thursday, September 25 and ends on Sunday, September 28. And when they say ‘begins’ and ‘ends,’ they really mean it. With a full line-up of afternoon activities (like dB in the Park) and after-hours parties, it’ll be going pretty much non-stop. Multiple evening shows reward springing for a pass to facilitate dashing from venue to venue in Capitol Hill – for example, my Thursday night schedule has Stewart Walker at Sole Repair, followed by Barbara Morgenstern at Neumos, and wrapping up with Attentat at the Baltic Room. Other highlights include Audion and Carl Craig on Saturday night, and The Bug and Supermayer on Sunday night – you might want to clear your schedule for Monday morning.

MP3: Claude VonStroke – Who’s Afraid of Detroit (Audion remix)

Previously: xkcd on techno, The zen garden theory of minimal techno, Techno and impressionable young minds

Image: Robert Babicz @ Neumos, Decibel Festival, 9/22/2007 by Flickr user donte, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Neophile: Mother Mother, O My Heart

September 21, 2008

Hurrah! Vancouver’s Mother Mother just released their second album, O My Heart, and it sounds just as awesome as their first. They have a distinctive, eccentric sound – playful pop, enriched with imaginative lyrics and vocal harmonies. They are just starting a tour of Canada and the US – they’ll be at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA on October 22nd, and they are wrapping the tour up in Seattle on November 8th.

More: myspace website

MP3: Mother Mother – Body of Years

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Coverage: CSS, “Cannonball”

September 19, 2008

Here at z=z, we love covers. So when I read that CSS was covering the Breeders‘ 1993 hit “Cannonball” for a UK-only single B side, I went in search of it. One of the characteristics of a good cover is that it makes you reconsider the original – it’s a restatement, not a recapitulation. The CSS version of “Cannonball,” while serviceable, does a good job of illustrating this point, since it doesn’t bring much to the table except a faint Brazilian accent. Check it out for youself. Disagree? Feel free to say so in the comments.

MP3: CSS – Cannonball (Breeders cover)

Video: The Breeders – Cannonball

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Concert notes: Okkervil River

September 18, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

[Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA; September 17, 2008]

Note to Okkervil River: Let your bassist sing on more songs.

Previously: Upcoming: Okkervil River and Sea Wolf

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Neophile: Kristoffer Ragnstam

September 17, 2008

Swedish indie-pop artist Kristoffer Ragnstam’s sophomore album, Wrong Side of the Room, was just released in the US a few weeks ago. I have an insatiable appetite for infectiously catchy and happy songwriting, and Ragnstam doesn’t disappoint. I’m hoping that this album breaks him out into the US.

Ragnstam was kind enough to respond to some questions via e-mail (his responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity).

You’re frequently compared to your countryman Jens Lekman, and you are both known for sweet indie-pop. Do you think there is a ‘Swedish sound,’ or is it just that only certain types of music are picked up for the US market?

I don’t think we’ve got special sound. And why Jens and I play in USA is probably more that we found people who believe in us and constantly give us great tours etc. So more luck than sound.

What factors influence your decision to sing in English?

That’s easy. I grew up with English music and I’ve only been listening to English music. So when I started to do my own stuff English felt best, although it can be strange sometimes to write in a language that’s not my mother tongue. But hopefully the record buyers understand what I’m trying to say. 🙂

How do you feel that your artistic process changed (or didn’t) between Sweet Bills and Wrong Side of the Room?

I had a vision together with Joel (co-songwriter) and Chris [Brown, the producer – see below]. We would like it to sound homemade and pure. Thanks to the vision, we did have a very simple process making the Wrong Side—my band and I knew each other much better this time. Plus we had been touring a lot so…

You famously talk about recording ideas for and bits of songs in your cellphone. What comes next?

Maybe in the future we would be able to record a full song at a decent quality. That would be fun. I use it more like a scrapbook.

Can you cite some of your influences? And who among your contemporaries are you a fan of?

I love musicians who play music like there is no tomorrow. People who make me think they do it very much in a solid honest way. I like bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Slayer, The Roots, Kings of Leon, Daniel Lanois etc.

I really enjoy your witty, wry, and self-deprecating lyrics (and it would be great if they were posted to the Internet!). They definitely focus closely on the personal. How do you decide what to sing about? Do you ever think about singing about more ‘serious’ subjects, or are you committed to singing about the personal?

Oh, the lyrics should get posted any minute. My web page is pretty new new and needs some minor changes. But when it comes to lyrics, I do think my weapon is to sing about my normal life. ‘Cause a lot of weird stuff happened there, and it may sound forced to sing about something else. Sometimes it can be very serious to me but end up like a normal thing on the lyricpaper.

Can you talk a bit about what it was like working with engineer Chris Brown (Blur, Radiohead, Supergrass)?

Wow! It’s a dream to work with him. He’s been a part of many of my favorite albums, like RIDE. I love Chris and he’s one of the people in the music biz that I respect the most. Not only thanks to his CV, but probably more ’cause he’s constantly honest and only says what he thinks – no charade or theatre, just 100% Chris Brown, and that’s very inspiring.

Any upcoming plans to tour in the US?

I will tour all over. Europe, Japan, and back to the United States, plus take care of my newborn son.

More: website myspace

MP3: Kristoffer Ragnstam – Wrong Side of the Room

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Listen local, old school-style: Morphine

September 16, 2008

Lots of bands are described as having a unique sound. At the risk of offending high school English teachers, who remind us that ‘unique’ is definitively singular, I submit that some bands are more unique-sounding than others. Case in point, Morphine. Founded in Cambridge, MA, by Mark Sandman and Dana Colley, Morphine really didn’t sound like any other mid-90s indie bands (or anyone since, for that matter). Sandman’s description of the band as ‘low rock’ is a play on words in at least two ways – the first is for the downtempo, crooning style of the songs. But what really made Morphine sound different from anything else on the radio was the musical line-up, which consisted of Mark Sandman’s baritone vocals, his two-stringed bass guitar played with a slide, Colley’s baritone sax, and drums – a distinctively low-pitched sound. They broke out with their sophomore album, Cure for Pain, and achieved modest college-radio success in North America, together with more mainstream success in Europe. Shockingly, however, Mark Sandman suffered a fatal heart attack on stage in Rome at a 1999 show, and the band disbanded shortly thereafter—a short but notable chapter in Boston and indie-rock history.

MP3: Morphine – Super Sex