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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: Nosaj Thing at CMU

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 4:02 PM

The CMU Activities Board certainly wrangled in a doozy of a lineup for Easter Sunday. While most people might've been working on Grandma's Easter dinner, a slew of bass aficionados and sonic revelers met up at Rangos Ballroom for Philly-based dubstep producer/DJ Starkey and LA-based beatmaking wunderkind Nosaj Thing.

Starkey's eclectic dubstep set highlighted his far-reaching composition skills as it moved from crunked-out bass, to epic string saturated samples, and back into a headbanging tapestry of wonky basslines and trippy female vocals. At times his sound was all old-school South London with mega-dark instrumental dubs -- could've come straight out of London's FWD. Then he would drop some trip-hop track into the layers of two-step garage and crooked bass and the room filled with a sound that edged into post-dubstep, still grimey as ever but tottering on the edge of genre lines.

If you know where to look, there's no shortage of anti-pop bass music in the current dubstep climate, one producer after another reinventing the wheel and spinning off of a maturing generation of ravers. Starkey's version of bass-y electro wasn't the most mold-shattering but it definitely had a street attitude like no other.

Like Starkey, Nosaj Thing is heavily influenced by hip-hop and trip-hop, but the artists' sounds and attitudes couldn't have been more different. Nosaj Thing's set was rich with washes of blunted beats and delayed reverb that vacillated with dexterity between smooth and languid lagging to drum-and-bass quickness and back again.

The most impressive thing about Nosaj Thing's set was the way that he used his celestial beat-making skills to move the mood and movement of the collective crowd so quickly and so smoothly; he only let us sit in a groove for a few seconds before he seamlessly took us to some other sonic realm. He worked some of the gems off of his expertly produced first album, Drift, into the set; I picked out tracks like "Fog," "Caves," and "Us," and with the way that he blended the tracks and beats like an impressionist, there were most likely pieces of others. We also got to hear some of his most aurally addicting remixes: Radiohead's "Reckoner," Portishead's "Wandering Star," and The XX's "Islands." Nosaj Thing proved he is some sort of beat making, remixing chemist. The elements are all static but he can just mix up explosive potions with them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

MP3 Monday: Mariage Blanc

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 9:01 PM

YO! It's so hot out, right? Hey, I have an MP3 for you.

This one comes from Mariage Blanc, the group of indie rockers reponsible for last year's album, Mariage Blanc. I hate to be a chooser, but I think the track I'm offering up for you today is my favorite of the lot. I think when I wrote about the album last fall, I somehow managed to compare this song to "Alone Again, Naturally," the old Gilbert O'Sullivan joint. I bet the band really dug that.

Anyway: Download this sweet song here and enjoy your Monday evening!

Friday, April 22, 2011

More weekend events

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Okay, so, I told you about what was going on last night, which is over. I told you about what's going on tonight, which is about to happen. I started telling you about tomorrow -- the second Nik & the Central Plains release show at Thunderbird, the Cameron McGill show at Brillobox.

Now to bring it all home.

The Carribean, on Hometapes, stops at Howlers tomorrow night; local faves Mariage Blanc play too, as do formerly-local faves More Humans, who rule.

And at the Warhol, we've got the legendary Low. Their first album is one of my favorite things to listen to in winter, and also their new video stars John Stamos. What else is there to say?

Sunday night, there's basically just one thing going on: Alpha Pup electronic artist Nosaj Thing appears at Carnegie Mellon. It's at 8 p.m. in the Rangos Ballroom; students get in free, it's $5 for the rest of us. Starkey, from Philly, opens up. (The Rangos Ballroom is the big room on the second floor of the University Center, which is the big main building on your left when you're facing the cut from Forbes Ave. Ask somebody.)

Happy weekend! Find an Easter egg or whatever!

Friday MP3 BONUS: Cameron McGill & What Army

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 12:48 PM


So I told you that I'd tell you about shows happening Saturday (and one on Sunday). I will. This is the first of those: Cameron McGill & What Army. The Midwestern band is fronted by Cameron McGill, who also plays keys in Margot & the Nuclear So and So's. The jams are quiet, chill and poppy; we have a download from their latest, Is a Beast. The track is called "Houdini" -- download it here!

Cameron McGill & What Army play Brillobox tomorrow (Saturday). Show starts at 10; Adam Arcuragi and local guy Caleb Pogyor open.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Weekend to-dos, part one

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 2:50 PM

Nik & the Central Plains - REBECCA CHIAPPELLI

The weekend starts on Thursday, right? I mean – some of you might even have off tomorrow, but even for the rest of us ... nobody does work on Fridays, do they? So let's talk about what we're up to tonight, then just kinda slide through the rest of the weekend.

Tonight, as noted earlier in the week, The Decemberists come to the Benedum; Justin Townes Earle opens.

Tomorrow (Friday), there's that Moonrises show I mentioned in Critics' Picks, then there's the Return of Ska at the Altar bar, which Margaret expounded upon in her column this week. There's a show at Most-Wanted Fine Art featuring Lost Trail, Ag Ag Lady and These Seeds; local metal heroes Mantic Ritual headline Mr. Small's.

Plus, if you're into throwing on some dancing shoes, Belvedere's (4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville) is hosting its first "Dirty Swing" event – the idea being to return swing dancing to its down-and-dirty roots. Smoke, drink, be scandalous with one another, listen to old tunes spun by DJ Hatesyou – get the idea? Lessons at 10 p.m., open dance at 11.

Friday AND Saturday, Thunderbird Café hosts dual release shows for Nik & the Central Plains. Friday night, it's Chet Vincent & the Big Bend and The Harlan Twins opening; Saturday, it's Meeting of Important People and Boca Chica.

There are actually SO MANY THINGS going on Saturday night, I'm going to put together a separate post for the rest of those. For now, work on planning your Maundy Thursday/Good Friday events and let the rest kinda fall into place later. Cool?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Conversation with Rhydian Dafydd of The Joy Formidable

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 11:55 AM


Today's CP features a short version of an interview I did last week with Rhydian Dafydd of The Joy Formidable. Here's a less-abridged version. The band, which recently released its first full-length, The Big Roar, plays the Smiling Moose on Wednesday, April 27.


The Big Roar has a very big sound. How do you approach rendering your music live as a three-piece?

We're very committed to both disciplines, and we don't necessarily see them as having to work completely in tandem. I think it's nice to go and see an act live and have a bit of a spin on what you've heard on record. We don't concern ourselves too much about that as long as the songs are delivered well and the soul and the story is always there. We've toured very hard, so we've picked up that kind of intuition along the way that you really desire in a band, that chemistry. Without getting too technical about it, there's things where, for instance, Ritzy might go high on the guitar and I fill the space underneath, all these little – not saying "tricks," but things you've got when you've got that great chemistry in a band.

We don't worry necessarily about replicating the record – it would feel a bit strange, especially at this point, to bring somebody in and just fill out the sounds. It's more about what you're trying to convey – are the songs coming across?

You have some songs that are quiet, almost ambient, and some that are huge and almost have a punk backbeat. What do you look at as being the elements that tie everything together?
The soul, the story, the voice, the theme of the album – it's very powerful, emotive. It deals with a lot of personal circumstances, difficulties, and it's very open, it's not insular. That's the thread. I think lyrics and story to us is really important. The style, the genre is completely separate; it depends on what you're trying to get across.

Would you call it a concept album?
I certainly wouldn't say it's a concept album, no. But it's about difficulties, past and present, and the great stories – love, the difficulties with love, mental illness, the quest for optimism in difficult circumstances. Those are big stories that don't just concern our own lives, and that's why it's open as well. It's not self-indulgent, but it's open to different experiences. It's been a real cathartic record in that sense – it's touched on frustrations maybe more than A Balloon Called Moaning.

Who writes the lyrics?
It varies. It's mainly Ritzy, but it depends on the song, really. Ritzy sings most of the tracks, so I think that ultimately has to come from her. We always bounce ideas around and shape and make sense of a song together. But on this album it's been mainly Ritzy.

She brings out some big words that you don't usually hear in rock ‘n' roll – there's almost a literary sense to the songs.
For sure. Big readers, Ritzy especially, always have been. That's why lyrics have been a big part of this project. She grew up listening to the greats – Van Morrison, Springsteen, it all had that kind of intellectualism. Yet it wasn't insular. That's had a big effect on this band. We all jam with poetry and the natural beats your born with, and I think it's nice to mix that in, a very visceral, raw element of the band.

What's the origin of the band name?
That's always a tricky one. It wasn't too thought-out. It was words that seemed to spring to mind. Some words, some symbolism, some imagery that was ultimately really a gut instinct. I think that's where the best names come from. On paper, it doesn't really make sense, but it kind of does – those are the things that we enjoy. If anything, it's about the duality – that play between joy and frustration, difficulties and optimism. Those are constant themes we write about unconsciously. But we don't analyze it too much.

On your website, you've been doing a thing where you pick up a souvenir on tour in a certain city and do a giveaway for fans. Where did that idea come from?
I think it's just nice to keep your family involved – we've got a loyal fan base, and that's what your chasing after. You've got to keep people on their toes, and keep that connection going, and have fun with it. It's nothing more than that. It's a nice way to document the tour. It's very special for us to be in the States for so long, and it's nice to give something back to the people who are constantly coming to the shows.

Anything particularly interesting or strange that you picked up and gave away?
Oh, yeah – the last one, which was a musical bottle-stopper. Oh my God, the shop we got that from, in Albany. The guy, Steve, came to a show and invited us back to his store after the gig, and I've never seen that amount of beautiful vintage stuff. We managed to buy a couple of things. We could've stayed there for a good week, I think. It was an amazing shop.

If you run into someone who's never heard you, say at a gas station or something, how do you describe your music?
We actually are asked that quite a bit, and it is really difficult. If it's putting it down to genres, I do feel like it's difficult. It's kind of secondary; the song is the most important thing, and what you're singing about. We're certainly very committed – and I think when you see it live, people can see it as very black-and-white – I wouldn't say that it's [just] loud, but when it is loud it's very loud. But it's very fragile. It's a very broad spectrum; I find it hard to describe. I guess I'd say, come and see the band.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MP3 Monday comes a day late: Sistered

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 1:27 PM


Good morning Pittsburgh! What's that smell in the air? Is it the blooming flowers, the damp stench of spring rain, or all the college students who have abandoned showering in the interest of studying for finals? Although all three scents are currently permeating the air, I'm referring to the sweet smell of an enticing new MP3.

Our MP3 this week is from Sistered's newly released album, New Sky. They're a metal/rock band based right here in good old Pittsburgh. The title track (download it here) starts off with a slow, teasing melody, follows its intro with a ballad-worthy instrumental work which politely introduces the song's lyrics and harder guitar riffs. If you like Sistered, there's more where that came from. Check out Patrick Bowman's recent feature on the band. Happy listening!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday giveaway: The Decemberists

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 1:04 PM

We'll get to your MP3 Monday in a bit, but first: There's this band, The Decemberists. You've heard of them. You probably know them. You might want to go see them play on Thursday at the Benedum. Well, we might just have you covered.

We have, in our hands at our disposal, right now, a pair of tickets to the show, and we are prepared to GIVE THEM AWAY. That's right. For free. Alls you have to do: post a comment on this blog post letting us know what your favorite Decemberists video is. (They're all available here, if you need a refresher course.)

At 5:00, we'll take a look at all the comments, and one commenter will be picked at random for the pair of tickets. Please use your actual email when you comment, so that we can get in touch with you!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quick review: Bassnectar at Stage AE, April 15

Posted By on Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Apparently, Bassnectar is anti-glowstick, which is a little bit anti-rave-cliché, and that worked, because this show felt very much more like a concert than a rave. It could be argued that it was a cross between the two, as elements of electro leaked over into elements of rock 'n' roll. But even the way his set was structured made it feel like a rock concert, as there were almost distinct breaks between "songs," not a feeling one gets when seeing a DJ mix live. He moved from one hip-hop infused metalhead remix to another and the visuals looping on the massive screens that surrounded his mixing table went from orange lasers and magic eye tricks to black and white video montage of burlesque dancers from the 20's and strange footage of Native Americans on grainy film.

Notable samples included a Depeche Mode track that was accompanied by visuals of pink cartoon elephants reminiscent of Heffalumps and Woozles. He also dropped Helmet's "In the Meantime," or rather, the raunchy guitar riff that makes that song awesome, and looped it into some hip-hop per his normal remix recipe. He played "Bass Head" and the crowd went dutifully wild, and for the send off he sampled a Gorillaz song, because every rock show has an encore.

It was a trifecta of metal, hip-hop and electro; there were brief moments where he pushes the audience somewhere outside of his brostep norms but then brings them right back with a Lil' Wayne sample. Bassnectar live appealed to those who love accessible metal and grimy hip-hop and have an insatiable need for monstrous bass.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Formula412 releases Reality Show

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 6:39 PM

A few weeks back, I posted a couple of videos from local rap/rock band Formula412. The five-piece -- guitar, bass, keys, drums and vocals -- is releasing its second full-length, Reality Show, tomorrow night at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale.

Reality Show is an aggressive mix of politically conscious lyrics, Pittsburgh namechecking, and tight rock beats; smooth but not too polished, Formula412 bridges the gap between the swagger of mainstream rap and the refined lyricism of indie hip hop. Stream the album here; check out info on tickets here.


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