Archive for February, 2010

Like music on a page

This nifty little program can take your favorite website and turn it into a song!

Basically, the program takes into consideration all of the characters on the page, removes everything not found in the musical scale (A to G). Then, by using a ‘complext algorithm,’ it also configures which synthesizer to use, which drum loop to use, and if it should be in a major or minor key.

So, in the words of the CodeOrgan people, Go and make beautiful music together.

(This website was first brought to my attention by the lovely folks over at NPR Music.)


Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons –  MSR Studios – February 16 (with WFUV)

Photo: Max Knight

About a hundred people were gathered together for an exclusive show featuring British folk-rock four-piece, Mumford & Sons. The show, which was put on by WFUV, took place in MSR Studios. It was not much to look at on the outside – just a small, washed out awning with the word ‘Legacy’ marked the spot. But the exposed brick  inside was gorgeous, and the wood paneled walls elicited a pleasant cabin smell.  I’m hard-pressed to think of a location more suited to a live performance than a recording studio. Even the applause somehow sounded better. Fitting for the intimate location, many people were sitting Indian-style on large, Persian-style rugs.

With an effusive introduction by WFUV’s Rita Houston, the band got started. Mumford & Sons is exactly the kind of band you might expect to play for a public radio-sponsored show, but for good reason. They’re a young group that plays more traditional instruments like the upright bass and the banjo. They’re not too offensive, but they aren’t entirely safe either (their hit song drops the F-bomb).

Take a look at and listen to “Little Lion Man” from Sigh No More:

Mumford & Sons mostly fall into the folk category, but this is not your father’s folk music. Frontman Marcus Mumford’s vocals are undeniably earnest, and the group isn’t afraid to get a little rowdy. Even the slower songs  exude a quiet desperation  and prompt Marcus to pull out a wad of white paper towels to wipe his brow. With a high dose of both beauty and anguish, “White Blank Page” in particular sounds like it could have been a Glen Hansard song.

Mumford & Sons may not be a household name stateside just yet, but things sure seem to be picking up quickly. Knowing that both their show at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday and nearly all of their upcoming European dates are sold out,  seeing them in such an intimate space was a treat. Last night’s show celebrated the American release of their debut album Sigh No More.

Tight quarters at the Rouge

Laura Marling – Le Poisson Rouge – February 12

Friday night’s show at Le Poisson Rouge was certainly a departure from the norm. Forget the reverb, forget the laptops. The two artists of the night were each of a more organic breed. The show kicked off with The Wheel from Denver. The gentle tones of the upright bass combined with the vocals of frontman Nathaniel Rateliff  exude a kind of familiarity and comfort that make The Wheel perfect for a seated show… or a front porch. The Canadian Tuxedo and cowboy boots were also a nice touch.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel

The Wheel also joined Laura Marling for a number of songs in her impressive set. To call Laura Marling a singer-songwriter seems almost insulting given the depth of her talent. She has a phenomenal voice, she writes evocative and intriguing lyrics, and she certainly knows how to play the guitar. Oh yeah… and she also has a fantastic presence on stage. She’s shy but candid, pessimistic but playful, and bright-eyed yet jaded.

Then there are the lyrics – the beautiful and heartbreaking lyrics. Marling doesn’t seem to believe in love, God, or fairytale endings. Instead ghosts, sadness, sins, and sickness populate her songs. She sings so sweetly that it’s easy to miss the sinister tone that many of her songs have until you catch a line like: “My happy man my manic and I have no plans to move on.” The song, “My Manic and I,” is one of my absolute favorites as of late (even if it does come from her debut album and is not new).

Laura Marling - now a brunette

A lot has happened since Marling’s debut album, Alas, I Cannot Swim. After all, she was just 17 and unknown when she released it in 2007. She is certainly still shy, but according to a recent article on the Times Online, Marling’s intense social unease is beginning to subside. In the interview, she states:

What I’ve figured out in the past couple of years is that you can be shy, but you can also step it up a notch and, you know, be on the level with people.

Even the name of her  second album, I Speak Because I Can, seems to exhibit a natural evolution.

Of course, that’s not to say that she’s invisible. One of her new songs re-tells an old fairy tale of sorts about a girl who was brought up in isolation in the woods, tried to enter society, couldn’t cope, and went back to the wild. Marling is scheduled to release two albums this year: I Speak Because I Can and Devil’s Spoke.

Oh, the colors!

The days of watching music videos on TV may be long gone, but a well-made video still has the power to reach out and help expose music to a new set of ears… and eyes.

Take “Open Your Heart” by Mia Doi Todd:

It’s very possible that I would have never heard a Mia Doi Todd song in its entirety, but when I read about it and saw that it was directed by Michel Gondry, I knew I wanted to watch it. I love the playfulness of Gondry and the fact that he often relies on people and hand-made crafts instead of CGI.

One-woman wonder

tUnE-yArDs – The Bell House – February 5th 

Merrill Garbus, the driving force behind the ambitious project tUnE-yArDs, may not have been on the radar for long, but she is quickly making up for lost time. tUnE-yArDs has opened for a number of prominent acts, including Atlas Sound and Dirty Projectors back in November. (1) Her show at the Bell House last night was one of the first she has headlined. I’m used to playing shorter sets – 30 or 45 minutes max, so I had to write some more songs. 

Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs photo: Chrissy Piper

Garbus has a real knack for getting people’s attention. It probably didn’t hurt that she studied theater at Smith College. In a fascinating interview with the Rob Harvilla of the Village Voice, she says: 

I definitely honed the ability to demand attention […] When I first started doing open mics, which were a similar kind of thing, like, “Get people’s attention in the first five minutes – or 30 seconds – or be ignored. 

From the first crazed beats of her drums, Merrill Garbus was captivating. The sheer energy encapsulated in her music is impressive, and her persona is intriguing… to say the least. She sings through two microphones and carefully loops her vocals, drums, and ukulele, gradually building up each song before your eyes. There’s no laptop. Not here, anyway. Aside from the minimal contributions of the accompanying bass player in the background, she is a one-woman show. 

The music of tUnE-yArDs is a frenetic combination of DIY folk and tribal-like beats. But don’t group her with Vampire Weekend just yet. Merrill Garbus reportedly spent some time in Africa and even speaks Swahili. Her music is more than just a re-working of African beats. It expresses her feelings with her strange experience abroad. In the same Voice  interview, she references her time in Africa and the song “Hatari”: 

I grew an obsession with African music, before I was in Africa and afterward. It’s more my feeling of being an American and experiencing Africa as an American […] I really thought that I was going to be dancing half-naked to Paul Simon’s ‘I Know What I Know’ on the savannah. So the song is grappling with what actually happened. 

As she sang – or more accurately at times, bellowed – into her two mics, Garbus looked out into the crowd with the intensity of an animal in the Sahara. Her gaze was simultaneously poised, confused, frightened, observant, and fierce. Her incongruous mix of vulnerability and confidence was a winning combination. People in the audience began to dance and chant along to the songs. 

Near the end of her rousing set, Garbus confessed: I’m super embarrassed. I’ve never played before so many people who know they’re here to see me. I’m blushing under my zebra stripes. Sure, her shtick (and her voice) may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying that her performance was stunning. 

Check out tUnE-yArDs playing “Fiya” live at the Museum of Natural History in LA last month:


(1) Regarding the MHOW show, Village Voice reported that she “rendered the Dirty Projects a mere afterthought.” Yikes. 

“This is what you call experimental music

Atlas Sound – February 3rd – Bell House

I’ve seen Deerhunter perform a few times now, so I thought I knew what to expect from Bradford Cox’s other project, Atlas Sound. But from the time I bought my ticket and heard Cox soundchecking in the room next door, I knew I was in for a bit of a surprise – in a good way.

Upon entering the room later that night, one of the first things I noticed was that Cox was wearing a toboggan – kind of as if he had simply stepped out of nearly every picture I’ve seen him in.

The music made under the Atlas Sound banner quickly proved to be far more than just a watered down Deerhunter show. It was slower, more melodic, dreamier, and somehow – both tidier and less structured.  Sure, there is still a bit of the distortion and haze, but Cox’s voice came through loud and clear… and surprisingly intelligible.

As far as I can tell, a show starring Bradford Cox is always a good one – even when there are glaring technical issues like there were at the Bell House. Cox hadn’t even gotten through a single song when the looper messed up and the drum beat cut out. In between the songs, he disappeared from sight as he started rooting around, trying to fix the problem. Man. I had this all worked out. This was going to be the second mind-blowing song, he sheepishly confessed. Now pretend that never happened.

The sounds were mesmerizing and cerebral. Being that I’m not too familiar with the catalogue of Atlas Sound, I was never sure when they would end – each one a swirling snowstorm unto itself. They were both dreamy and decisive. Though they are hardly comprable, the Atlas Sound show was probably the closest thing I’ve had to a Phil Elverum  experience in quite a while. (1)

I know it’s probably not what you expected, Cox admitted. Well no, maybe not, but I was absolutely taken by the performance. Cox, too, seemed to be pretty enthused about playing. I love playing in New York. Every time I play here, it’s like the first time. I hope the songs weren’t too dark. It’s a magic city! And with that, he threw his long arms up in the air in a charmingly child-like wave, and walked off stage.

(1) The Microphones / Mount Eerie is my absolute favorite artist. One particular show in Greenpoint in the fall of 2008 when I finally got around to seeing Phil left me with such feelings of camaraderie and euphoria that I almost wanted to die so I wouldn’t ever have to come back down.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being