September 30, 2012

Interview with Michael Kiwanuka

The wonderfully soulful and talented young British artist Michael Kiwanuka released his first solo album, Home Again, this past March. With the incredible emotion and musicality this man possesses, it's no wonder that his album was recently nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.

Michael took some time with me after his set at the Outside Lands Music Festival to chat! Read below to see what this awesome singer-songwriter had to say about his life on tour, his excitement about his new album, and more, and listen to the soothing sounds of his celebrated single, "Home Again."

Michael Kiwanuka - "Home Again"

Your album dropped here in the States only a few months ago, how do you feel the reception has been so far from Americans?

Michael: Good! I feel the reception has been really warm. People have been so supportive and encouraging to me, they always say really nice things. We bump into people that were in the audience when I’m walking around. And at the shows, people have always been really nice and very warm. It feels really good, I’m really enjoying it!

You’ve done quite a few festivals recently! Do you approach festival playing differently than smaller venues?

Michael: Yeah, we like to play a little more upbeat, it’s still intimate though. I just play as upbeat as I can get. It’s more slower songs and solos when we’re playing in a club. But it’s nice to have that change, it doesn’t get boring that way.

Is touring everything you thought it would be?

Michael: No, I mean I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s...definitely a big change. But I love it. Sometimes people are not excited about touring, and I can see why, everybody goes through quite a bit of stress. But it’s exciting being in different places all the time and playing shows in places I never thought I would go to, like San Francisco, and having fun on the bus. I like going out in different cities, meeting people. It’s really cool.

You and your band seem really tight, have you all played music together for a long time?

Michael: Yeah, I’ve known Miles, the guitar player, since I was about 14. So we grew up around the same area. It’s so good to hang out, they’re the nicest guys. And some of the best musicians ever, I’m very lucky. We have fun, it’s all our first time doing most of it, so it’s good to share it with someone else. It’s so cool having friends and people to share it with.

What’s been your most embarrassing onstage moment?

Michael: Once we were playing in Florence, at a festival, and the PA went down, so no one could hear anything except the drums. But I thought they could all hear us, and I was like, “Wow, this is great!” and I was really into it! [laughs] But then I looked to the side of the stage, and my tour manager was like, miming, “They can’t hear you!” and I was just going for it, it was pretty funny.

Who are you most excited to see at Outside Lands this year?

Michael: I’d say Stevie Wonder, Jack White, and some other really great bands that are here, I’m excited.

Michael Kiwanuka performing at Outside Lands

September 27, 2012

Monsters Calling Home

If You Like: The Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men, Andrew Bird

A friend of mine recently informed me about Monsters Calling Home. At first, I must admit, I thought the video would show Of Monsters and Men covering The Head and the Heart's "Home." While that would be awesome, these guys were better. While the instruments had a similar jammy feel to The Head and the Heart, the vocals were grittier, more raw, and spectacular. The addition of delicately plucked violins just makes the whole arrangement come together. Look out for the new monsters in town.

September 26, 2012

Tunesday: When In Rome - "The Promise"

If You Like: a-ha, Icehouse, Erasure, Naked Eyes

I first heard this song, the perfect bromance tune, at camp. The stadium drums, epic synths, and operatic vocals make this a great driving in the car with your buddies sing-a-long. It gained modern popularity when it was featured in quirky comedy Napoleon Dynamite, but this is a song to jam to for ages. Enjoy this blast from the past. 

When In Rome-"The Promise"

September 20, 2012

Luke Sital-Singh - "Dark"

If You Like: Damien Rice, Strand Of Oaks, Angus Stone

Everyone has those nights where sad, slow, sleepy music is the best possible thing to listen to. Next time one of those evenings comes along, Luke Sital-Singh is the man for you. His rich, full voice can be filed right between Angus Stone and Bahamas and could sooth even the most aggressive of listeners. His track "Dark" is a piano ballad with deep chords that hit you right in the gut. It makes you stare out the window and think, and gives you a new found sense of perspective. Enjoy and savor this. Also get a free track over at his Facebook page!

Luke Sital Singh-"Dark"

September 18, 2012

Tunesday: Victor Wooten - "Victa"

If You Like: Jaco Pastorius, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Victor Wooten, one of the most influential bassists to walk the Earth, has a bit of an ego. On his track "Victa," he makes the keen observation that his name also means 'winner.' While the lyrics are hilariously cocky, man, this song is funky. His bass skills are undeniable, even if you think he's a bit of a jerk. All in all, this song is definitely a fun listen. Choice quote: "I'm so finger funkin' good". Yeah. He said that in a song. 

Victor Wooten-"Victa"

September 14, 2012

Broken Twin

If You Like: Feist, Anthony and the Johnsons

Broken Twin, a female duo from Denmark, has been making waves in the blog-ocean with their classic Scandinavian cold, sparse piano tunes. Their first track, "Out Of Air," features a lonely piano line wandering about, soon joined by tender vocals. On the track "Beaches," it is clear that these women know a lot about restraint. At one point in the song, there is a pause, a long one that tests the listener's patience while making the resolve all the more satisfying. You can also catch them on tour with Jens Lekman. You can stream their whole Hold On To Nothing EP here via Under The Radar.

Out Of Air by Broken Twin
Beaches by Broken Twin

September 13, 2012


If You Like: Daughter, Town Hall, Julia Easterlin, Braids

Justine Bowe, a Tufts University graduate (Go Jumbos!) has adopted the name photocomfort, and the choice couldn't have been more fitting. Her music, a blend of folk-y singer-songwriter fare with pounding drums and fantastic writing is both visual and comforting. Her debut self-titled EP is available for free on her bandcamp and below. The five tracks all maintain a level of poppy energy while never letting your attention wander from her robust voice. She packs quite a punch and her songs will wiggle their way into your head for days. Enjoy!

September 12, 2012

Tunesday: State Radio - "Keepsake"

The TV show Weeds has always been a great source of quirky music spanning all genres. A few years back, an episode ended with a heart-wrenching folk song about death. That song has stuck with me for years and is still one of my favorite sad songs. The group, State Radio, is headed by Chad Urmston, a member of Dispatch. While most of their tracks have a reggae feel, "Keepsake" is a chilly folk song that won't come out of your head. 

State Radio-"Keepsake"

September 10, 2012

Two Trees Cover Ryan Adams

Two Trees, one of my favorite recent discoveries, is keeping my attention focused on them with their third appearance online. Their cover of Ryan Adams' "Lucky Now" is straightforward, very much like the original. But like their other tracks, the harmonies are impeccable. I know I'm a sucker for male/female vocal harmonies, but this deserves anybody's attention. Check out their take on the track. Who does your favorite cover of the song?

September 09, 2012

Kopecky Family Band - "Heartbeat"

If You Like: Givers, The Lumineers, Drew Grow & The Pastors Wives

Kopecky Family Band, a group I was first introduced to when they opened for The Lumineers, has come out with a rolicking, fun new single called "Heartbeat." Their debut full length album, Kids Raising Kids, will be released on October 23rd, and this is our first taste. Despite their name, they are not actually a family; they only jam together like one. Their fun, lively sound translates excellently to the stage and makes it easy to see why these guys are on their way up.

You can download the single for free below in exchange for your email address.

Kopecky Family Band-"Heartbeat"

September 05, 2012

Why Your Kids Will Like Metal

This musical era is not a particularly good one for metal fans. Especially in America, heavy metal has fallen far since its heyday in the 70's and 80's. The last band to enter the mainstream that could possibly be considered metal was Linkin Park, and that's really stretching it. The great festival that was Ozzfest has died, and Metallica's festival offering, Orion Music, only included a few metal bands in the lineup. Even the still successful Mayhem Festival this year features Slipknot, Anthrax, Motorhead, and Slayer, all metal titans whose careers are hardly on the rise. This would be alright if there were hordes of groups vying for the throne, but there simply aren't many young musicians playing metal, in comparison to a thousand other genres. Luckily, a metal fan is a fan for life, and the era when metal reigns again may be near.

I'm not just babbling and hoping. I have seen some pretty convincing signs that a shift towards the heavy darkness is occurring, albeit slowly. Here's why:

Dubstep and metal are far more similar than most fans of either genre are willing to admit. 

For the last few years, as EDM has been taking the US by storm, more and more kids are foregoing learning guitar for making tracks on their computers. It is impossible to deny that nothing is more now than electronic music. It is very difficult to find a Top 40 hit that doesn't have synths, extreme vocal processing, dubstep influence, or all three. If Britney Spears is doing it, you know it has caught on. As this has been happening, dubstep has exploded like no genre pre-Internet could. The sound is now firmly locked in everyone's spheres. Dubstep is at frat parties, on indie blogs, at festivals, on the radio, and in movies.

One visit to a Skrillex concert is all you need to agree with the metal comparison. Aside from the fact that he collaborated with Korn and used to be in a screamo band, the show is about as close as you can get to metal without guitars. People mosh! Skrillex's huge drops, especially the one in "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," sound just like a heavy metal breakdown. In both genres, there is a focus on intensity, heaviness, and huge sounds. Even Skrillex's guttural sounds are reminiscent of a tuned down guitar.

SPIN magazine recently came out with a ranking of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Imagine everyone's surprise when they open the issue and see none other than Skrillex at number 100. While the writer admits that he doesn't even play guitar, he says "no contemporary musician has a more primal understanding of adrenaline-pumping, pulse-raising, chest-caving bulldozer riffs than dubstep mosh ambassador Skrillex." Adrenaline-pumping? Bulldozer? Mosh? Those are metal words!!

Of the thousands of Skrillex covers on YouTube, one caught my eye. The Good Time Boys, a rock band from Sweden did a hard rock cover of Skrillex's remix of "Cinema" by Benny Benassi. The cover makes me realize how much of an ass-kicking Guns 'n' Roses could give that song.

Electronic music and live music are meshing.

A few groups have already begun mixing live and electronic music: Ratatat performs with live guitar and Big Gigantic uses live saxophone. So electronic music is already beginning to incorporate live instruments, but is the reverse happening? Of course! Hundreds of bands use synthesizers in their live shows, and many even use pre-programmed loops that they play over.

Many electronic artists sample guitar lines, and often make sounds that sound like guitar riffs. On the other side, guitar sounds are being explored and processed in so many ways, they often sound computerized! Power metal group Dragonforce uses so many effects and lightning fast playing that their guitar work can easily be confused for computerized sounds. Even Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello's spastic octave-pedal solos sound futuristic and walk the line between guitar and electronic sounds.

Metal bands are also huge users of synths. Especially present in Scandinavian metal groups, keyboardists often provide important melody and harmonies to a band's sound. Children Of Bodom utilizes synths to flesh out their sound and for soloing. Daath as well allows keyboard to play a crucial role in their unique sound.

Metal and electronic music share common influences

People who aren't fans often understate the diverse nature of metal's influences. Metal takes significant influence from jazz, blues, classical, progressive rock, and much more. Many of these influences are among the same that electronic music draws from.

Metal shredders have long been influenced by classical composers. Whether you listen to Yngwie Malmsteen or Bodom, the influence is clearly there. Nowadays, EDM producers can be found sampling classical works, or just taking influence of their chord progressions. Wolfgang Gartner recorded his take on Beethoven's 5th, and up-and-comer Porter Robinson's "Spitfire" makes clear use of traditional classical progressions.

Jazz has also directly influenced both metal (especially progressive metal) and electronic music. Metal guitarists have always been trying to push the envelope when it comes to complexity, and using jazzy progressions and chords has aided them in their quest. Opeth, one of metal's progressive European titans, has been known to combine quiet jazzy interludes and complex progressive rhythms with their huge, gut-busting metal riffs. On the electronic side, Pretty Lights samples old soul, funk, and jazz recordings in a huge number of his tracks.

Metal has been getting some indie cred

This year, Baroness and Gojira have each come out with spectacular albums that have gotten a lot of attention from the indie crowd. It seems that taste making blogs like Pitchfork are beginning to get into the metal scene, and that is promising news. Also, have you been to a Sleigh Bells show? The only real difference between that and a metal show is less moshing, no live drums, and a poppy sounding singer. I could definitely see them going on tour with a metal band in the future.

Who knows? Maybe I am completely wrong. But maybe not! Maybe metal will one day rule the charts.  What this all boils down to, is the fact that genres are constantly coming in and out of the mainstream. And I believe that eventually, metal will fill the spot that electronic music is in now. You might want to get used to those devil horns. 

September 04, 2012

Tunesday: Ellie Goulding - "Your Song (Blackmill Remix)"

Ellie Goulding has been dipping her toe into electronic territory with her new singles, probably influenced quite a bit by her boyfriend Skrillex. But long before they were dating, she sang a cover of Elton John's "Your Song" that got the dubstep treatment. Liquid dubstep producer Blackmill chopped it up, added some wobbling bass, a clackety beat, and catchy synths. An extremely tasteful, well-done remix of an already lovely song.

Ellie Goulding-"Your Song (Blackmill Remix)"

September 02, 2012

Conner Youngblood - Sketches Pt. 2

If You Like: Fences, Bon Iver, Freelance Whales

Conner Youngblood first appeared on my radar earlier this year with his single "Gold." His soothing, genre-bending style got me awfully curious to find out more about the Texan's history. Unfortunately, the Yale student remains quite private, not revealing much information online. The one thing I do know, however, is that he recently released his second album, Sketches Pt. 2. The collection of eight tracks continues where his last Sketches left off. Combining reverby vocals with acoustic guitar, spastic audio manipulation, and occasional dubstep influence, Youngblood has created something captivating. The song that really takes the cake here (besides "Gold") is "Proportions." Sparse, slightly off-time guitar plucks and finger snapping surround the beautifully sung line, "Proportionally, I've always been, and will always be the same." He even turns a cover of "I Gotta Feeling" into a quiet shoegaze anthem. Hell, every song is great. While his voice may sound awfully lonely, his fan base is growing consistently and I could see the guy gaining a pretty serious following. Hop on the bandwagon!

You can download the entire album here