Archive for May, 2011

Shabam, pow, pop, wizz

Friday I caught the fifth installment of Doveman’s Burgundy Stain Sessions (my third).

Doveman (photo Katerina Plevkova)

You can find a full review here on Brooklyn Vegan, but I thought it might be nice to post some audio clips here to go along with the text.

By far my favorite part of the evening was the segment involving Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the couple behind the band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (photo Christ Devos)

This was their first song last night. (The onomatopoeia interjections seem to be a homage to this song with Brigitte Bardot.)

I loved how much their songs varied from one to the next and the banter between Sean and Thomas. After the odd French rap, for instance, they played this:

Of course, the moment I think people will most remember was when Sean covered one of his dad’s songs. (That’s him singing backing vox, with Rufus on lead.) Talk about shivers. Those lyrics – though inherently hopeful – have certainly taken on an air of sadness, too.


A surprising cocktail of sound

I’m sure it’s happened to you. Your browser unexpectedly closes, and when you decide to restore all your tabs, you’ve got a sudden influx of sound coming from multiple places. Maybe it’s that Netflix movie you were halfway through, some random YouTube video, or a song. Due to my habit of having maybe 30 tabs open at a time, it becomes this mad scramble to figure out where the sound is coming from and to slowly restore silence.

Well that happened to me this morning. But instead of being annoyed, I found that the combination of videos was actually quite pleasant. They were two things that ordinarily would never be together: an Audacity instructional video and Bon Iver’s new single, “Calgary.” But for some reason it worked. (That Audacity woman has such a soothing voice, no?)

Here they are.  You can play them at the same time or separately. Your choice. I’d recommend clicking play on Bon Iver and then immediately clicking play on Audacity. I just wish they were the same length!

Talking to Taylor Kirk

Timber Timbre is known for their spooky sound, but there’s more to their music than creepy effects, chilling instrumentation, and haunting vocals.

A ghastly scene with Timber Timbre (photo courtesy of artist)

I corresponded with chief singer/songwriter Taylor Kirk to get get the inside scoop…


Me: I find that sometimes, the deeper into music I get, the harder it can be to describe it. If you met someone in a bar who was totally unfamiliar with your music and they asked you what it was like, what would you say?

Taylor Kirk: Yes, I think the same is true for me. It’s dancing about architecture. There’s never really going to be a succinct universal vocabulary for this, is there? I usually just keep it simple; blues, doo-wop, country, soul, pop, rock’n’roll. Any of these are fine.

One of the things that most distinguishes Timber Timbre is the spooky vocals. Was this way of singing always your approach or was it something you adopted specifically for Timber Timbre?

I’m not that spooky, am I? I was just trying to sound like Otis Redding. Or Nina Simone. Aw, shit.

Where do you look to for inspiration for songwriting (both in general and specifically with Creep on Creepin’ On)? How does this latest album differ from your older material?

Most often I’m inspired by music, and making recordings of music about music. I don’t have to look hard or far for inspiration, though. It’s quite habitual now, collecting ideas, melodies, stories, images, terms of endearment, elegies, etc. These songs came out of a really exciting period for me – a lot of touring and traveling, and new experiences. In fact, I thought this material was overall more fun than previous work. Funny even.

The subject matter in the lyrics threatens to paint a somber picture, but the piano parts are often so upbeat. Is your music inspired more by a dark place (as one might think by reading through the lyrics and listening to the style of the vox), or does it come from a lighter side? I chuckled when I first heard the name of your latest album. Do you consider humor/irony/dramatic effect to be an integral part of your music?

Until recently, I’ve never really been a fan of humour in music – even in the form of irony or kitsch, believe it or not. But I suppose as a songwriter, becoming more earnest might involve more of my personality sneaking into songs, and I’m just not all that serious. Most definitely, the album title is meant to incite a chuckle.

Is there a Carson McCullers tie-in with “Lonesome Hunter”? If so, have you read the book and why did you alter the title?

Yes, a friend leant me that book years ago, describing it as a masterpiece. I was sold on the title and the illustration on the cover, but then it was lost in a move… Anyway, I only ever got half-way through that one, to be honest. But the title was so poetic and relevant to my sentiment for that song… I didn’t think anyone would mind or notice.

Could you reveal some of the more unusual things you used to achieve the odd sound effects in the new album? (Is that someone screaming in “Too Old to Die Young”?) What effects do you use on your vocals?

Yeah, we did one evening of screams. It was really cathartic. At night, after dinner and a few bottles of wine, we turned out the lights in the studio and one by one we went down and did our best shrieks. Mika is a really good screamer.

Simon is the wizard behind a lot of those odd sounds so you should ask him. We did some funny things with tape. We’re not really the type of people who fetishize tape or anything, but it was fun and interesting to play with tape-machines and old delays. Nearly all of the vocals were bounced off of two-inch tape to achieve the slap-back delay. And then we’d push and pull on these old delay units to create some warbles and modulations, mainly on string parts, to make those sort of sea-sick sounds.


Check out my write-up of the song “Lonely Hunter” here on NPR Music.

New music (and new directions) from Asthmatic Kitty

Julianna Barwick + Helado Negro – Glasslands – May 10th

I used to have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the label Asthmatic Kitty. The music was a bit zany, largely upbeat, and maybe even slightly religious. (Sufjan Stevens of course has a large roll in the label.) So artists like Fol Chen, DM Stith, Half-handed Cloud, Shapes and Sizes, and The Curtains made sense.

But when I found out that Julianna Barwick was on Asthmatic Kitty, I confess I was a bit surprised. Here was a Brooklyn-based artist who specialized in creating complex layers of haunting vocals and sparse instrumentation. There’s nothing really funny about the music. Nothing totally weird. And as far as I can tell, no religious undertones.

That’s about the time when I saw that Helado Negro was also signed to the label. Wow. Spanish vocals? I thought to myself. Interesting. I was definitely curious to learn more. It looks like Asthmatic Kitty is finally taking a step out of its comfort zone. Now, I’m curious to hear more.

Tuesday night’s show at Glasslands marked the record releases for both Helado Negro and Julianna Barwick – two artists who don’t seem to necessarily have a lot in common other than their ties to Asthmatic Kitty.

Helado Negro (photo Eve Sussman)

First up was Helado Negro (“Black Ice Cream”), whose music I had never heard. As a student, I listened to a lot of international music to prevent myself from becoming distracted by the lyrics while writing papers, but in a live setting, it can be difficult for me (former English major) to get a grasp on an artist without knowing the subject matter of the songs. That said, Helado Negro definitely grew on me over the course of the 40-minute set.

Take a listen to “Regresa” from Helado Negro:

Then. Julianna Barwick. I was almost jealous of the people in the crowd who were totally unfamiliar with Barwick’s music. Just imagine if this was your introduction:

What would be going through your head?

Julianna Barwick (photo Jody Rogac)

To me, the thing that’s striking about Barwick’s music is that each layer of vox seems to carry a different emotion, so that by the time she’s done assembling a song, it’s simultaneously mournful, content, hopeful, and full of yearning.

Apart from its technical aspects, describing Barwick’s music poses a challenge. It is something that is best experienced. I  wish I could have seen her perform in Central Presbyterian Church at SXSW. I can only imagine the setting complimented her music perfectly.

In closing, take a look at this video of Barwick making music in her bedroom, courtesy of WNYC.

"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