Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lutz City of Templemore (02.15.19)

The amazing dreamland of Lutz City of Templemore. Photo by Kat.

There's always an element of mystery involved when I hear from my friend Luis Lockjaw, designer and co-owner of the Lutz City of Templemore sim, asking if I'm available to perform there. Most Second Life venues are what they are, and remain mostly static with occasional design updates. But when I get asked to play at Templemore, there's always a strong chance that when I arrive at the venue, it's a place I've literally never seen before. The reason is that Luis is one of the very best designers in all of SL, and despite the fact that his real life is extraordinarily busy with multiple jobs, he will often build an entirely new, amazingly detailed venue on the sim.

During the past week, I found myself wondering what kind of stage I'd be on for the Friday night show that had been scheduled, so I went and took a look. My mind was blown when I teleported to the location; it was an abandoned library, overgrown with vines and weeds, and thoroughly beautiful. Luis's design aesthetic is based on decay; rather than shiny perfection that seems to have been the norm in Second Life environments, his places are strewn with rust and rot, and the level of detail of each texture to impart corrosion and disrepair takes a far greater level of effort than simply making things look "right". I never have enough good things to say about Templemore's designs, and coming from me -- a person who doesn't generally pay much attention to the visual aspects of SL while focusing on being a live musician -- I can honestly say I've never seen anything like Luis's environment designs in the 12+ years I've spent enjoying Second Life.

Templemore's new Abandoned Library stage is as incredible as anything Luis has ever created. Photo by Kat.

No words for how amazing this place looks. I can't even begin to understand how Luis does this. Photo by Kat.

Playing Songs No One Has Heard By Artists No One Has Heard Of
I really do try and make each show I do in SL somewhat unique. Unlike a tour in real life, where you're playing to nearly entirely different audiences as you travel from city to city, SL doesn't have any geographical restrictions; it's just as easy to teleport to anywhere on the grid as anywhere else. That means you are often performing for the same folks, be they your fans who attend your shows at various locations or people who frequent the venues you play over and over. There are two ways to solve the possible dilemma of being too repetitive in your show, and I do both. First is to have a really big repertoire, and my total list of songs I've done in SL has passed 600 at this point. The other way to do it is to curate your set so that there's a specific theme or vibe at each show. I don't take requests on a general basis, and I don't pass out a song list like many SL artists do (nothing wrong with that, by the way). I find that when I have a certain mood planned for my show, I don't enjoy suddenly shifting gears... it's just a personal choice.

Last night's set list was purposefully filled with songs by indie artists. It's not unusual at all for these artists to be part of my sets, but they're often mixed in with a lot of music by well-known singer-songwriters and occasional songs by pop and rock artists that everyone can sing along to and enjoy. Again, that's fine. I love many forms of music, and enjoy making people happy. But as I told the crowd at Templemore last night, it's a sign of respect to my audience that I believe that they hold the level of sophistication and openness to new sounds which allows me to play an hour of music where few people know more than a couple of songs. If I was an SL artist whose primary goal was to play a lot of shows and get a lot of tips, my approach to my repertoire would be way, way different. But really, my goals for my SL shows is to a) give my audience a fun and interesting bit of entertainment, b) enjoy myself, c) raise awareness of my own original music to a large scale audience, and d) allow my crowds a chance to hear stuff they just don't hear elsewhere in SL (or, perhaps, anywhere). I think I do pretty well on all counts.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

Being Appreciated
I'll tell you something else about that; nothing is more gratifying than being aware that the artists themselves appreciate your helping to spread awareness of them and their music. After my show last night, I stumbled across a new song released by one of the artists I'd covered, a young guy out of Nashville who records as German Error Message. The song was incredibly good, so I shared it on Facebook and noted that I'd covered one of his songs that very night. Again, nothing against bands and artists who have achieved global fame and success, but at no point would Beyonce go out of her way to "like" or respond to one of my social media posts or whatever, whereas it's a pretty common occurrence for these indie artists whose music I enjoy so much to be appreciative of my support. It's not like German Error Message is some dude I know (though I do love covering music of my friends as well). He's just some fellow human being out there creating excellent art via sound, and frankly I'd rather give the extra effort to let people know about a guy like that than just play another Pink Floyd or David Bowie song for the 900th time (regardless of how much I love those artists as well).

Getting your post loved by the musician whose music you enjoy: priceless.

The other song I covered for the first time last night was one by Girlpool, whom I wrote about recently after the release of their new album a couple of weeks ago. I actually found "Lucy's" to be a very challenging little tune to cover on solo acoustic guitar! It's packed with lovely textured sounds that come from the overlap of guitars and bass, and doing it to any degree of proficiency while also singing took a good amount of practice to be passably performable. It was totally worth the effort, and I'll definitely be doing that one again at future shows.

Getting off the stage and jamming my last tune with the Templemore crowd. Photo by Kat.

Lutz City of Templemore set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Catamaran (Yawning Man)
Crosses (José González)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Friday I’m In Love (The Cure)
*Everything Is Scary (German Error Message)
*Lucy’s (Girlpool)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Giant thanks to everyone who came to my show last night at Templemore, with special thanks to the following people who generously helped support it!
DupliCat Resident, Taj Nishi, Diana Renoir, hynesyte Harbour, Asimia Heron, Gospel Voom, go2smoky Resident, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, Templemore's excellent hostess Bee Blackrain, and the owners of this amazing place, Grace Sixpence and Luis Lockjaw!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Serenity Gardens (02.11.19)

A quick screen grab from last night's fun show at Serenity Gardens.

I certainly want to tell you about last night's show at Serenity Gardens... about half my set were songs I'd never performed before or those that are very rare in my list. But first, I want to mention an interesting little micro-controversy that popped up last week.

I was scrolling down my Twitter feed when I saw a post from the EDM artist Marshmello where he was talking about a concert he'd done in the video game Fortnite.


The key phrase I saw were the words "first ever virtual concert", and for those of you who know me, that was akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull. Making matters much worse was the way some of the media then ran with the story.


Well, I got... slightly annoyed.



That probably wasn't the best way to react, and I'll explain why. It's very telling that after more than 15 years of virtual music performances in multiple platforms, Marshmello's statement and the acceptance of it from the public and media indicates clearly that the concept of virtual/remote music concerts has not permeated the awareness of the majority of people. I honestly don't think that Marshmello was aware that there have been thousands and thousands of virtual shows before his. I think he was led to believe that what he said was true, which was unfortunate, and left him in a position of having to defend the claim.

The Early Years
Virtual live music performances started happening almost at the moment that Internet bandwidth became wide enough to allow for the realtime streaming of audio. It actually goes back to the mid '90s, when various kinds of chat platforms (Paltalk, etc.) began allowing for streamed audio. As soon as streaming audio is a possibility, people begin using it for live performances in combination with use of avatars. The tech has obviously improved; audio quality has gotten better as bandwidth has grown. The ability to create high-resolution virtual environments and realistic avatars makes the experience feel more real today than ever before. But make no mistake; people have been doing this for over 20 years.

Big Names
One of the arguments in regard to Marshmello's Fortnite show was that he was the first "relevant" artist to do a virtual show of any kind. Au contraire... artists and bands like Suzanne Vega, Duran Duran, U2, and David Bowie all did various kinds of virtual shows in different platforms going back about 15 years. I'm sure that Marshmello has a big following among EDM fans today, but let's face it; he's not a "bigger" artist than several of the aforementioned.

But let's look at the big picture for a moment. Music is music. Some artists are household names, and others are barely known even in small circles. But if someone is performing live music for an audience in another location within an artificial environment created by computers, they are part of this world as well. This would be where I mention Second Life, the platform where I have done the majority of my performances since starting in 2006, and that I wrote about in Electronic Musician magazine back in 2008. I believe that over 1,000 different artists have done performances in SL over the nearly 16 years it has existed, and that continual flow of live music has, for many people, been one of the highlights of their virtual experiences in that time frame. To negate their efforts would be unfair, to put it mildly.

I Get Interviewed
A day or two after I lashed out at Marshmello (probably too harshly, I reiterate), I got contacted by a polite and pleasant woman from the UK named Emma McGann. She said that she was a fellow musician, and was writing a blog article on the future of music in VR. I gladly spoke to her, and gave her permission to use some images. I really had no idea that her article would end up being a very well-researched and well-written piece, published on Medium, that took a look at several of the many forms of virtual/remote performances. I was impressed. And that led me to another thought, which I can share with you now.

Marshmello's Show Was Good For Us All
The fact is that Marshmello (as a relatively popular artist in a certain genre) having done his show in Fortnite (a very popular gaming platform for a certain populace) was great for the future of virtual music performances of all sorts. There are reportedly 80 million users of Fortnite, and literally millions of them were able to experience Marshmello's show. Those people -- many of them young -- are now aware that virtual concerts are a real thing, and perhaps the aspect of getting people to attend other virtual shows on other platforms (games and otherwise) will be easier due to this breakthrough of public awareness. The tech is less cutting edge than what we were dealing with in the early days of these platforms that were not at all designed for live music. More people can easily participate and get an uninterrupted concert experience than ever before. So perhaps instead of calling Marshmello names and feeling slighted, the better move would be to thank him for opening this door to bigger and better shows for us all.

Hey, Didn't You Do A Virtual Show Just Last Night?
Yes, thanks for reminding me. After some schedule shuffling, we're finally back into our regular routine of bi-weekly Monday night shows at Serenity Gardens. I don't have to mention that it's a great place to both play and see live music. The people who run the place are super supportive and very welcoming to everyone who comes by. I never feel any pressure to stick to any certain style or genre of music there, which is nice and freeing for me as an artist.

There was no particular reason that I chose this show to debut so many songs I'd never played before. It just worked out that way. Additionally, I reached a little deeper into my repertoire and did a couple of other songs that usually don't leave the bottom of the pile. All in all, I think it was a nice refresher for my crowd. I always want to be sure that they know my shows aren't like a record stuck on "repeat". I try and make every single show a little different in various ways.

Serenity Gardens set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
*Year of the Cat (Al Stewart)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
*Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)
*I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King)
The Loner (Neil Young)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)
*Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big thanks to every single person who attended my show, with special kudos to the following who helped support it!
Rosie Arnaz, Jaron Metaluna, Tyche Szondi, Trouble Streeter, go2smoky Resident, dirkdanger11 Resident, Kat Chauveau, shaggycritter Resident, Asimia Heron, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Girlpool


I did something new yesterday, which is cool because finding new things to do is becoming more and more rare as I get older and older. What I did was listen to a guy sing a song, and then hear a girl sing a song, and it was the same song... and it was sung by the same person.

Let me explain. The new album What Chaos Is Imaginary by LA-based band Girlpool was released on Friday, and I’d been a low-key fan of this lo-fi band since I first heard them maybe five years ago. After hearing their name around town for awhile, I recall seeing and enjoying the two young ladies who made up the band, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, on an NPR Tiny Desk concert in 2015, and then was impressed by them while watching the live stream from Coachella in 2016. Their 2017 album Powerplant expanded their sound by adding drums and more involved arrangements. They’ve definitely been on my radar since then.

As you may know, I have a weekend ritual along with Christina; on Saturday mornings along with our coffee, I listen to as many new indie/alternative music releases as conveniently possible, and I noted that the new Girlpool was out. When I played the first track on the album, I immediately knew that the direction they’d taken from a musical perspective was going to be right up my alley. Chaos is a sonically rich, textured album that goes far beyond the fun yet simplistic vibe with which they’d began.

A Different Voice
I was slightly perplexed, though, about one thing, as I played the phenomenal opening track “Lucy’s”. It appeared, by the sound of a lower-register voice taking the lead vocal, that there was a boy in the Girlpool. My first inclination was to assume that the band had a guest singer appearing on the track, which I thought — especially for the opening song on the album — was kind of bizarre. And yet, in a world where guest appearances on albums are hardly rare, I didn’t think too much of it.

But as I progressed through the album, and took a closer look at the recent photos the band had posted, the truth became more apparent to me. Cleo Tucker, at some point, had begun the process of transitioning gender — now preferring the “they/them” pronoun set — and the hormone treatment had caused their voice to deepen, as one would expect.

It should be obvious to anyone who knows me well that I am completely supportive of people who choose a non-binary or gender fluid direction in life. But this was an area, as a musician and performer, that I’d never previously considered. One’s voice is a huge part of one’s identity as a singer… the main part, it could be said. There have been other well-known musicians who transitioned genders; Wendy Carlos, the hugely respected synthesizer music pioneer, was born Walter Carlos. But her gender change had zero effect on her ability to compose and perform on keyboard instruments, while Cleo’s transition — as a singer-songwriter (key word “singer”) — resulted in a massive change to the way the audience would perceive their music.

Before I say anything else, I do want to state that I listened to the whole new Girlpool album and felt it was the best thing I’d heard from them by far. I like the sound of Cleo’s new voice, and feel it works well contrasting against Harmony’s harmony (sorry, couldn’t help myself). But still, the thought of undergoing such a drastic sonic change is unnerving to me as a music creator and performer. It would be, as I mentioned to Christina, like my having to abandon the guitar entirely and only having a bass to play, forever. I do love playing bass, but I feel I’d miss the guitar.

To make matters even less clear, I’d heard that many of the songs on this album were those that the two members of the band had done on their own, and some were several years old. With the awareness that Cleo’s transition had begun pretty recently — in the last year or so — I did some Internet sleuthing and sure enough, Cleo has a Soundcloud page that includes several demos that ended up on the album, including that lead track I'd liked so much, then known as “Lucy’s in the Sky”. So I clicked to play the track and there it was; a slightly less-polished but still very good version of the song, but sung a full octave up, in Cleo’s pre-transition voice.



"Lucy's" from What Chaos Is Imaginary (2019)


"Lucy's in the Sky" from Cleo Tucker's demo (2016)


Side note: I just freaking love listening to demos of any kind, by any band. It’s super neat to hear how the song develops between the initial idea and what happens after it goes through the process of working in the studio with producers and so on. I’m seriously considering gathering the demos from the They Stole My Crayon album and offering them as a free download companion piece. I should probably ask Christina and Bunny about that at some point. I also dug up Harmony Tividad’s solo demos, by the way, and enjoyed hearing what they became on the Girlpool album, which seem very similar in process to the acoustic demos Bunny did that we eventually turned into Crayon songs.

Anyway, now I had a whole other question of sorts: which version of the song that Cleo created, pre- and post-transition, was the more enjoyable of the two? I’ll start by answering that question from my role as a fellow musician and music producer... while both versions are generally similar (meaning the song was well developed before they started the new album), the album version is a way better recording and has a ton of texture and vibe that had yet to develop on the demo. But as a listener, I had always enjoyed the clear tones of Cleo’s feminine vocal range, and I had to ask myself if the experience of listening to this song had been negatively impacted by it now being in a male vocal range, an octave lower than that of the demo.


I found that the answer was more clear than I’d originally expected. Cleo’s voice is that of a person who knows how to impart feeling to a song, and the song is performed extraordinarily well regardless of the vocal range. The voice Cleo had used for the demo was great; the voice Cleo used for the album version had changed, but was also great. And perhaps that’s something we can consider whenever we start comparing and contrasting anything in life; different doesn’t have to mean better or worse. It just can be different. Is yellow better than blue? Is the brie inherently superior to the camembert? Is a labradoodle a better dog than a Boston terrier?

Subjective tastes being what they are, I wouldn’t fault someone who simply preferred Cleo’s old voice to their new one, or vice-versa. You can listen to both versions above and decide for yourself. But I can tell you one thing: when I first heard “Lucy’s” and wasn’t at all sure who was singing, I knew I genuinely liked the song a whole lot, right away... and that should probably tell you that art is independent from chromosomes or testosterone or anything else that really has nothing to do with one’s creative soul.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Serenity Gardens (01.14.19)

Always a good time with good people at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Triana Caldera.

It was six weeks since my last Monday night show at Serenity Gardens, and I'm happy to say that my return to that excellent live music venue in Second Life was outstanding. But before I talk about that, I want to talk about something extraordinarily silly: men who are upset over a razor commercial.

On Sunday, Gillette unveiled a new ad campaign entitled "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be". You can watch it below.


I don't think any analysis of the message of this campaign is necessary. Gillette is quite clear in stating that society's acceptance of terrible behavior by men is no longer being tolerated. This sounds like a positive message to me. However, as can almost be counted upon in this era of the easily-offended, it's incredibly ironic that the injured parties in this case are the very men who claim to have some overwhelming level of masculinity. In essence, their tremendous level of outrage is precisely what they claim to be too manly to feel. Look, if their feelings are hurt by this ad, that's okay. But please, someone fill them in on the irony of feeling bullied by an anti-bullying campaign. Let them know that if they react as being harassed by an anti-harassment ad, they might need to take a look in the mirror, and that's really the message of the ad... which means it's a successful campaign.

All that having been said, is Gillette now a "good" company? Um... no. They are a division of Proctor & Gamble, a massive multi-national corporation whose goal, understandably, is to sell products at a high profit margin. Like all companies of this size, there is a huge discrepancy at P&G between the compensation of their top executives versus the income/benefits of the majority of the rest of their employees. I'm not singling out P&G in this regard; we all understand that as businesses have been merged and consolidated, wealth and income disparity has continued to grow, and the effects are devastating America.

Regardless of that, I do want to applaud Gillette for taking a risk and putting this message out to the public. Keep in mind that the men who are up in arms about this are the same ones who claimed they'd burn their Nikes, smash their Harley-Davidsons, and so on. These walking anachronisms will have something else that offends their sensitive souls soon enough.

And Now, Back to the Show
I was stoked to be getting back onstage at Serenity Gardens. As I mentioned during my set, it's kind of become my "home venue" over the course of the past year and a half since I started my bi-weekly shows there in June 2017. While I certainly enjoy playing at a variety of different venues, each with their own strengths and unique vibe, I am extremely comfortable doing shows at Serenity, and that level of familiarity is reflected in the shows I do there. I enjoy the crowds who attend, and the management team who helps make the venue have a nice, welcoming feel. I also like how Ilsa Flannigan changes up the decor of the place relatively often. The latest iteration of Serenity Gardens looks outstanding, while maintaining the peaceful outdoor pavilion vibe it's always had.

My great friend Diana Renoir, who was celebrating a rezday at the show. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Me being me. Photo by Triana Caldera.

is it really any wonder why my song "Pickles" is so popular at Serenity Gardens with these crazy cat ladies running the place? Photo by Triana Caldera.

We had a happy and engaged crowd last night, which is usually the case. I have made a mental note to always have my silly original song "Pickles" handy at future Serenity shows, because I can count on it being requested there. I didn't have it in my lyric list last night, which is why I blanked on the entire second verse while trying to do it from memory. Apart from that, I continued my goal of trying to do something new at each show, and last night I was thrilled to pull out songs by José González and Yawning Man, two artists/bands whose music I really enjoy but had yet to perform.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
*Crosses (José González)
Words (Missing Persons)
*Catamaran (Yawning Man)
Cheer Up Murray (Flight of the Conchords)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Carolina in my Mind (James Taylor)
California Dreamin' (The Mamas & The Papas)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
*Serenity Improv V (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big happy thanks to everyone who attended the show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
Pato Milo, Joseph111 Trafalgar and Lyin, go2smoky Resident, Diana Renoir, Asimia Heron, Aurelie Chenaux, Triana Caldera, TheaDee Resident, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Lutz City of Templemore (01.11.19)

Another great crowd and amazing virtual venue environment at Lutz City of Templemore. All photos by Kat.

Happy New Year! It actually feels very long into the new year to be writing those words, but since I have slacked on this blog through the entire holidays, this is my first post of 2019, so there you go. I would have at least posted had I done a live music show in the recent time frame... but I didn't. On Saturday December 15 -- four weeks ago today -- I awoke with the hideous realization that simply by "sleeping wrong", I'd injured my lower back badly. At the time, I'd had a show scheduled for the following Monday, but there was no possible way I could stand and hold/play a guitar. I could barely move for awhile. The back injury, as innocuously as it started, was so severe that I am still getting over it even now (though I should add that via exercise and various treatment, it's a lot better).

All that having been said, it was earlier this week that out of the blue, my buddy Luis reached out to me on Facebook to see if I was interested in performing at Lutz City of Templemore. There are very few circumstances in which I would say no to that offer. I love everything about the place... the incredibly beautiful design, the people who visit, and the way everyone associated with the place has a true love for interesting music. I accepted immediately.

Coming Back After a Hiatus
So, as a result of the back injury and breaks for the holidays, my previous show before this one was on December 3. That's about a month and a half of no shows, which is plenty long enough to be considered a hiatus. Performing live music is a multifaceted activity with both physical and mental aspects, and like many things in life, jumping back in after a break isn't always easy. For my fellow performing musicians, I'd say there are two factors that you should consider to prepare before your comeback show.

First, the physical side. Starting with singing, which involves a lot of muscle memory to hit your pitches accurately, you should plan on a lot more warm-up than you might usually do. Start slow, though! The last thing you want to do is strain your vocal chords in advance of your show. At some point in the days preceding your return, you should try going through an entire set. Just because you can hit some notes for a few minutes doesn't mean you're ready to sing for a solid hour. Same goes with your instrument... during your time off, you may have lost some of the dexterity you'd had while playing regularly, so give yourself some time to really warm up those hands. Go through the songs that you're sure you know by heart (but do it anyway). Oh, and my fellow guitar players might need to do a little extra practice to toughen up those callouses.

Second, the mental side. Performers who take time off almost invariably start losing the confidence that develops naturally from the reinforcement of performing on a regular basis. A confident performer isn't worried about hitting the notes or playing the parts, so their focus can get into the little details and nuances of the songs and the performance itself... and also have a good time while doing it. Your audience can hear confidence, I can promise. I'm fortunate in that I started playing live music in front of people when I was a little kid, and have done hundreds and hundreds of shows both real and virtual environments. It would take a lot longer than six weeks to make me lose faith in my ability to perform and entertain. In this regard, though, if you get a little nervous before a comeback show, it's pretty easy to use some Spock-like logic to remind yourself of the simple idea that you've done this before, you enjoyed it, your audience enjoyed it, and it's what you want to keep doing.

Always so many details to notice at Templemore. Photo by Kat.

Doing my thing on that beautiful stage. Photo by Kat.

What a great place for both performers and audience alike. Photo by Kat.

New Year, New Tunes
As long as I was doing my first show of 2019, I figured I'd kick off the year with some previously-unperformed songs. For Christmas, my mom gave me a completely unexpected and beyond-rad gift: the Pendleton sweater made famous by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. It's one of my favorite films of all time, and I was watching the end scene, with Sam Elliott doing his "the Dude abides" monologue, and suddenly realized that I'd never once played "Dead Flowers". It's not one of my favorite Stones songs, but Townes Van Zandt's cover used in the film is fucking phenomenal. So, I covered his cover. For my two other new-to-me songs, they were actually really new. Kurt Vile's album Bottle It In came out in October, and The Bevis Frond's latest came out on December.

Wearing my Dude sweater with Kat on New Year's Eve.

Lutz City of Templemore set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
*We’re Your Friends, Man (The Bevis Frond)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
*Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Luis and the Man (Jose Feliciano)
Underwater Underground (They Stole My Crayon)
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
Texarkana (R.E.M.)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to beautiful Templemore to let me rock you, with extra-special love sauce to the following who supported the show!
Toxic Darkmatter, Nishiyo Resident, go2smoky Resident, Kat Claxton, Asimia Heron, Grace Sixpence, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my fine manager Maali Beck, Templemore's excellent hostess Bee Blackrain, and the genius designer who makes that place what it is, Luis Lockjaw!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

18 for 2018: My Favorite (Mostly) Indie Music Releases of the Year

Why do we make lists? Why do we rank things that are 100% subjective? Why am I writing this article?

It would take too long to answer the first two questions, but the third one is easy. I hear music that I enjoy, and I like it when other people discover that music through my recommendations. So, as I often do as the year dwindles to an end, here are 18 music releases that I enjoyed over the course of 2018. Most of them would be classified as "indie" music, aka music that was released independently of large record labels and didn't get much attention beyond the underground music scene. No single genre is favored, though I'm kind of a rock guy (as opposed to hip hop or country or polka or whatever). I tend to like stuff that gets lumped into the "alternative" category, though the only meaning of that word seems to be "stuff that you almost certainly won't hear on pop radio". It ranges from fairly straightforward indie rock to super experimental stuff. I've included a song sample for each release, though it would behoove you -- assuming you enjoy the sample tune -- to check out the full albums if possible, all of which were released in 2018.

Anyway, enjoy. Note: these are presented in alphabetical order only; the whole "ranking of art thing" irks me.




Beak>: > > >

Invada Records/Temporary Residence

Yes, their name is Beak>. Yes, their album title is the rather unsearchable > > >. They're a Bristol, UK-based band that includes a member of Portishead, and like most of the music I enjoy, they're weird (or at least their sounds are weird; I know nothing about them personally). The song "Brean Down" had an immediate appeal to me when it was released in July. I don't know how to classify it genre-wise, and perhaps that's for the best.


The Bevis Frond: We’re Your Friends, Man

Fire Records

So, this is kind of funny, I guess. While perusing new music with Christina one morning, I came upon this release by a London-based band called The Bevis Frond. I'd never heard of them before and initially assumed they were a new artist. Then I started doing a little research and discovered that their origins go all the way back to the late '60s. This band that I thought was new is literally older than me. As my friend Jim said when I professed my discovery of them, "Damn Zak... welcome to 1988!" Anyway, their new album that was release just a couple of weeks ago is absolutely great, and I want to be sure that more people don't do what I did, which was to sleep on their excellent band.


Childish Gambino: “This Is America”

mcDJ/RCA

This would not be an indie release, or an album like the other items on this list. I mean, it's pretty much the opposite; it has four Grammy nominations including song and record of the year. No, it's on this list simply because this would be an Important Fucking Song, a single that a huge impact and will be remembered as one of the most defining songs of 2018. As of the moment, this video has 445,809,752 views on YouTube, but its importance isn't really about its popularity. It was back in May, when 'Bino's alter-ego Donald Glover did double duty as the host and musical guest on SNL, and simultaneously released this song that addresses aspects of being black and dealing with gun violence in the USA, and the message of "This Is America" was widespread and eye-opening for a wide swath of the population going far beyond the hip hop community. The video itself is a work of art on its own, directed by Hiro Murai, and it's unthinkable that I'd put out a year-end list and leave this off. By the way, the song is also great on its own.


Dungen + Woods: Myths 003

Mexican Summer

I've enjoyed the music of Dungen, a Swedish psychedelic folk band for quite awhile. I'd appreciated the work of Brooklyn-based folk rockers Woods, though never considered myself a huge fan. But this album where the two like-minded groups got together was like putting chocolate with peanut butter and creating a delicious and sweet musical snack. The two bands are label mates and friends, and knocked out this album in a week while both bands were in Marfa, TX for a festival. I like it.


Hanterhir: The Saving of Caden

Easy Action

Hantehir is another UK-based psych folk band -- I mean, these lists are deeply influenced by the individual tastes of the list makers, right? -- and I enjoyed them from the moment I heard them when this album was released in June. This release takes the extra step of being a 21-song concept album in both English and Cornish. I genuinely don't know as much as I should about Cornwall or any Celtic ethnic groups. It all seems very interesting, and the album's theme -- a boy who tries to drown himself in a lake but is saved by a cursed spirit -- is pretty geektacular. The music is adventurous, the band has a story to tell, and it doesn't sound like anything but itself. What's not to like?


Sean Henry: Fink

Double Double Whammy

Every year, I stumble onto some guy with a somewhat bizarre voice and an interesting sound... think Connan Mockasin or Jib Kidder. I really enjoy what Sean does on Fink. It's fuzzy guitar-driven but also soft; it throws in some odd time signatures while remaining poppy; it has ambivalence of being simultaneously silly and sad. This is his debut studio album, and I'd like to think he'll continue to mature as an artist (and hope that said growth doesn't cause him to lose the vibe that he offers on this album). Here's something odd; for whatever reason, I don't find Fink to be particularly likable, but I do find it relatable, which probably says more about me than it does about the album.


Julia Holter: Aviary

Domino Recording Company

I said up top that I wasn't going to rank the releases on this list. That having been said, Aviary by Julia Holter is one of the most amazing and unique musical listening experiences of my life. It's so good that I almost can't listen to it. Hearing what a true modern avant-garde artist can do can be slightly depressing for me, as I inevitably compare my level of talent and musical adventurousness to hers. But every track on this double album is mind-blowingly beautiful and lush, and it certainly qualifies as one of the best of 2018. I'm definitely not alone in this opinion; Aviary made many year-end best-of lists, and Julia deserves every possible accolade she gets from this album and everything else she does.


Jo Passed: Their Prime

Sub Pop

My enjoyment of bands that don't try too hard (or at all) to pretty-up their sounds has been around for a long time, going back to Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and many others. Their Prime is the debut album of Jo Passed, a band from Vancouver. Its sounds are ambitious while remaining grungy, making them rather classically appropriate for their label Sub Pop. I found it genuinely enjoyable, though if I had to pare down this list by one, this would probably be the album on the chopping block. Sorry kids. Still good, though!


Adrianne Lenker: abysskiss

Saddle Creek

Here's another example of how not to overthink an album. Adrianne Lenker recorded abysskiss in a week or so, and it's sweet and pastoral, with really well-performed acoustic guitar. I like the sparse production that allows the song to be the star. I am not familiar with Adrianne's band Big Thief, but I certainly intend on checking out their albums after having discovered her first solo piece when it was released in October. Really nice, contemporary yet timeless singer-songwriter stuff here.


The Love Language: Baby Grand

Merge Records

It's funny; I have an entire mental category of music that I call "KCRW music". KCRW is our local NPR affiliate here in the Los Angeles area, and they are definitely one of the most highly influential radio stations in the world for breaking new music. That having been said, there is a particular vibe that seems to cross over regardless of which DJ is spinning records, and The Love Language's Baby Grand definitely has that semi-indescribable vibe. Bubbly synths meet textured guitars and great lyrics. I can't help but like it.


Metric: Art of Doubt

Metric Music International

The second Canadian band on this year's list, Metric's Art of Doubt is perhaps the most straightforward rock band I've chosen to highlight for 2018. Reminiscent of other great female-fronted rock/pop crossovers like Blondie and Garbage, I've always enjoyed the band, but there are certain aspects of darkness ni the album's songwriting and production that I was drawn to for this release. That, and Emily Haines just sounds fucking great. Enough said.


Mitski: Be The Cowboy

Dead Oceans

I usually prefer to feature artists on my year-end lists that the majority of people have yet to discover. That may still be the case with Mitski, but in my musical circles, this album was toward the top of just about every "best albums of 2018" list. Like, just about everywhere from Pitchfork (#1) to Paste (#6) to Consequence of Sound (#1) to... well, you get the idea. Something that matters only to me: I discovered Mitski's music in 2016, when my band They Stole My Crayon released our debut which did fairly well, and I was looking at other releases at the time that were also getting noticed via Bandcamp, and her previous album Puberty 2 was up there on the charts. I liked her then, but I was not prepared for Be The Cowboy, which is one of the most impressive collections of indie rock music I've heard in a long time.


Mount Eerie: Now Only

P.W. Elverum & Sun

The story of Phil Elverum and Mount Eerie goes back aways. He was the frontman and main songwriter for the Microphones starting in the '90s, and switched the name of the band to Mount Eerie in the early 2000s. I've enjoyed his stuff off and on for quite awhile, but Now Only is a masterful collection of singer-songwriter tunes, full of acoustic beauty and vulnerability. It's a sad album, but it doesn't dwell too deeply in its melancholy vibe. A great album for a rainy day and feelings of introspection.


Jeff Tweedy: Warm

dBpm Records

"Warm" is a good description of Jeff Tweedy himself, as well as the happy familiarity of his voice after many years of enjoying him in Wilco and Uncle Tupelo. I enjoyed the hell out of Sukierae, the album he did with his son Spencer in 2014. Warm, his first solo album of entirely new material, is apparently a companion piece to Jeff's recently-released memoir that I haven't gotten around to reading yet (but will). I can imagine sitting on a patio of a rented cabin in Joshua Tree on a spring day and putting this album on and eating nachos while watching lizards scurrying by. I may do exactly this at the next opportunity.


Kurt Vile: Bottle It In

Matador

This is, perhaps, the only artist/band on this year's list of whom I've been a massive fanboy at an embarrassing level for a long, long time. As a performer, I've covered Kurt far more than any other indie artist, to the point that there are probably hundreds of people who could sing along with songs like "Never Run Away", "Shame Chamber", and "Pretty Pimpin" who have never heard Kurt's versions of those tunes... just mine. You're welcome, buddy. Also, I adored Kurt's 2017 Lotta Sea Lice collaboration with Courtney Barnett, and we saw them do that album live last year, which was awesome. I always get a bit nervous that the artists who I really enjoy are going to fuck things up out of boredom or bad influence, but Bottle It In is exactly what I was expecting from a new KV album. It's totally enjoyable and laid back, and continues to show that when you have artists who are driven by the same sounds that drive you, nothing but good things happen.


Kamasi Washington: Heaven and Earth

Young Turks

I was a somewhat early passenger on the Kamasi Washington train, having taken notice of him as a sideman on albums by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus before he released his label debut album The Epic in 2015. I first heard some of the material for Heaven and Earth while watching the live stream from Coachella last spring, and knew that this was going to be something special. At this point, I have a slight amount of that silly hipster resentment, with a bunch of people in both the jazz and pop worlds suddenly finding out about this guy (and trust me, this album is on many of the world's "best of" lists at this point). But there's no denying his special skills as a writer and, above all, a performer on the tenor sax who will be regarded as one of the innovators of jazz for years to come.


Erika Wennerstrom: Sweet Unknown

Partisan Records

Here's a case -- it happens sometimes -- where someone comes out of a band I'd never heard of, but I get totally into that person's solo material. Apparently, Erika Wennerstrom was in a band out of Cincinnati called Heartless Bastards (whom I should probably check out retroactively), and did this solo album, her first, during a hiatus. It was released in March, and I love it. I love her songs, I love the guitar tones, I love the organic vibe... but most of all, I fucking love her voice. The songs aren't particularly challenging to listen to, but that's cool. I'd put this on and drive through the desert in the late afternoon as the shadows grow long and the sun dips down over the rocky horizon.


Yawning Man: The Revolt Against Tired Noises

Heavy Psych Sounds

To have any clue about Yawning Man, you first have to familiarize yourself with an entire scene of music that is called either Desert Rock or Stoner Rock. Tons of bands that came from that scene or were influenced by it, like Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu and many more, were first inspired by Yawning Man. Here's the weird thing about them: they were playing at generator parties in the SoCal desert going back to the mid-'80s and were a great live band, but never put out a studio album until 2005. We got to see Yawning Man's frontman, Mario Lalli, as part of his other band Fatso Jetson at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown a few years back, and it was a remarkable experience. Anyway, The Revolt Against Tired Noises is a case where the album title lives up to its name. Plus, it includes "Catamaran", a song that Kyuss covered and released in 1995, and has only previously been available by Yawning Man on nearly unlistenable noisy cassette tapes. Hallelujah!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 13

Well, here we are, together at the end. This is the 13th and final episode for my 2018 "Autumn Playlist". Next weekend will be the official beginning of winter, which will obviously make my fall music curation project a thing of the past, at least until next year. But looking over the whole thing, it's a pretty damn good list of 65 tunes in total, and hopefully includes some you already enjoy and some you might not have heard if not for this little project of mine. In any case, here are our last five tunes, presented in chronological order as we've done each week of the season.

ICYMI...
EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9EP 10EP 11EP 12

1. Claude Debussy: “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” (1910)




2. Kings of Convenience: “Misread” (2004)




3. Songs: Ohia: “Farewell Transmission” (2003)




4. Fight Cloud: “No Grain, No Pain” (2013)




5. Ultimate Painting: “Song for Brian Jones” (2016)