Archive for February, 2011

Spotlight on Breathe Owl Breathe

With five albums to their name, it’s a wonder that Breathe Owl Breathe is still flying under the radar. Last year’s Magic Central was one of my favorites. The story behind it would make any publicist (or music writer) pleased. The record came out of a log cabin, deep in rural Michigan, affectionately nicknamed “Magic Central.” On the heals of Bon Iver’s similarly touching story of making music in a backwoods Vermont cabin, it’s almost too much.

Here’s a taste of their music.
“Own Stunts,” live from Highline Ballroom:

Breathe Owl Breathe (photo John Hanson)

But if you, like me enjoy a good dose of twee from time to time, look no further. Having seen the trio perform last Saturday (full write-up here), I can assure you – the cuteness is authentic. Breathe Owl Breathe has an uncanny ability to melt the crowd – even when they are far from home, opening for a bunch of Yann Tiersen fans. But what I love about the group is that they somehow manage to appeal to both the kid in you and its mature counterpart.

Take the song “Dragon.” On the surface, it’s an innocuous little song about a dragon’s unlikely romantic relationship with a princess. Lurking beneath the surface, however, lies a more profound question, which Andréa Moreno-Beals interrupts the narrative to ask.

Take a listen for yourself (and note the sheer delight of the crowd).



In case you’re under a rock…

The new Radiohead album, The King of Limbs, dropped today (a day earlier than promised) via the band’s website.

Like many big indie bands, somehow I never spent much time with Radiohead. Sure, I’ve listened to songs or albums here and there, and I’ve always been aware of their talent, but for whatever reason, I’ve never really spent quality time with them. But I think this time, I’m giving in… and I’m kind of excited about it.

So many indie heavyweights are clearly confined to phases. You’ve got your Bright Eyes phase. Death Cab for Cutie. The Decemberists. Spoon. The Shins. Heck, if you’re honest with yourself, you may have even had a Coldplay phase (I know I did).

But with Radiohead, it’s different. Radiohead isn’t a phase. How is it possible that the same people who went gaga over OK Computer in 1997 are still salivating over The King of Limbs but wouldn’t be caught dead listening to anything else from their middle school years? What makes Radiohead different? What makes them eternally hip and forever untouchable? Why are they the standard? It really is fascinating. Let me know what you think!

What would give the staff at Pitchfork more pleasure – a searing review of the new album or a fawning 10.0? They may love to stir up controversy, but something tells me there’s simply no way The King of Limbs will get below a 9.6.

Take a look at “Lotus Flower,” the promising new single from the album:

Spotlight on MINKS

In this new series I’ve dubbed Sonic Spotlight, I present to you a collection of artists that I think deserve a bit more attention. Some of them may be unfamiliar to you, others you may have been listening to for years.

We begin with MINKS, a Brooklyn duo that morphed into six people when I saw them on stage at the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday.

MINKS members Sean Kilfoyle and Amalie Bruun (photo courtesy of artist)

MINKS is not the obvious choice for a spotlight. As the openers for Abe Vigoda and Wild Nothing (see the write-up of the show here), they’re clearly not meant to be the focal point – not that they make any pretense of trying. In some ways, MINKS’ set on Saturday night fell flat. Though their music is fairly upbeat, their delivery is oddly devoid of emotion and passion. They’re The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s morose kid sister.

Usually, this kind of so-cool-it’s-like-we’re-dead performance leaves me  a little… cold, but for some reason, they piqued my interest. I couldn’t take my eyes off Bruun in particular, who must have been the most listless tambourine player I’ve ever witnessed. Her lack of movement and any animation at all was unnatural and bewitching. Those smokey eyes seemed capable of draining the entire room of energy, or as their press page poetically states, “make you feel eternal album.”

Take a listen to “Cemetery Rain,” live from the Bowery Ballroom:

MINKS released their debut full-length album, By the Hedge, in January. You pick it up on the cheap via Amazon (or even cheaper, if you’re an eMusic subscriber). They’ll be back to the Bowery Ballroom on March 4th, supporting the Dum Dum Girls.

The David Wax Museum warms up Joe’s Pub

The David Wax Museum – Joe’s Pub – February 9th

Due largely to their intimate house shows and recent coverage on NPR Music (see the video below), The David Wax Museum played to a sold-out crowd last night at Joe’s Pub.

Before the group even made it to the stage, the audience was feeling the love – so much love, in fact, that one man actually jumped up on the empty stage and proposed to his girlfriend. (She said yes.) I’ve always been wary of overly-public proposals, but if it works for them, well alright.

The David Was Museum is just two people at its core (David Wax and Suz Slezak), but seven well-dressed musicians walked onstage for the first song, including a horn section. With their huge smiles and intense energy, Slezak and Wax are a magnetic force on stage.

The David Wax Museum performing at Newport Folk Festival (Photo Jess Hodge)

Apparently, NPR recently dubbed them as “cheerfully aggressive,” a descriptor they weren’t necessarily thrilled with, but it’s not hard to see where the phrase came from. They make the kind of earnest music you might expect to hear on a back porch, deep in the mountains: hearty, impassioned, and yes, a bit rough around the edges at times. But that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes lyrics just need to be hollered and mics, discarded.

Mid set, Wax decided to change things up a bit. He welcomed three members of the band Radio Jarocho to join them for a couple of Mexican-style folk songs, and everyone unplugged their instruments, hopped off the stage, and marched to the back of the room. It was all quite charming.

Radio Jarocho (Photo Sergio R. Reyes)

The David Wax Museum’s latest album, Carpenter Bird, just dropped on Tuesday.
But to get the full flavor of their music, be sure to check them out live.

Hear one of the two songs performed with Radio Jarocha:

Check out The David Wax Museum’s Tiny Desk show at NPR:

"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