Monday, October 22, 2012

Fresh: Rowsy Bosch

Male-fronted synth-pop has been in short supply since the glory days of the 1980's. With rock's resurgence and hip-hop's rise to prominence, pop music seemed to be a "no boys allowed" club, at least when it came to lead vocal duty. And maybe there's something to that. Maybe women are more naturally given to lead a fabulous show, maybe audiences are more willing to accept a big show if there's a woman out front. Maybe synth-driven pop music is just a naturally better fit for a woman's voice. Who knows?

All I know is, the times, they are a-changin' – and that's a good thing! Already this year, we've seen the astonishing love letter to 1990's dance-pop that is Bright Light Bright Light's debut album, Make Me Believe In Hope. There's 9AM to 5PM, 5PM to Whenever by The Young Professionals, in which they take up the dance-pop baton from Information Society. And let us not forget Adam Lambert, Alex Clare, Pengiun Prison, perennial pop princes the Pet Shop Boys, and the next wave of boy bands including The Wanted and One Direction.

Now there's a new collaboration that should help put to bed the notion that synth-pop projects are better served with female vocalists. San Francisco's Rowsy Bosch is a partnership of singer/songwriter Jeb Havens and electronic music producer Oliver Voigt. They showed their intent and made waves with an excellent, heartfelt cover of "Shake the Disease" – a Depeche Mode original:

Their debut EP, Corralitos, is now available, and features five original songs, each with a different mood. They eschew driving 4/4 beats in favor of moody arrangements that give Havens's outstanding voice room to breathe. In fact, with the exception of "Space In Between," the template seems to be mid-career Depeche Mode: slower tempos, atmospheric electronics, a dark mood. The gritty "We Are" is a standout among quality songs.

The result is a strong collection of songs, each of which has its own identity but also feels a vital part of the whole. The emotions are raw and potent, the production crisp but restrained, the vocals beautiful.

Catch Rowsy Bosch live on 13 November at Beatbox in San Francisco, with Darling Gunsel and Adonisaurus.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Autumn listening

I recognize I've been neglecting this blog recently; I chalk it up to a mixture of new job, busy social life, and simple laziness. But never fear! I continue to soak up as much new music as I can, and my concert calendar is looking pretty busy this month. In the next few weeks, I'll be seeing The Presets, Major Lazer, Stars, Diamond Rings, Two Door Cinema Club, and Lights.

In the coming days I'll have some posts about recent shows and albums that have stuck with me (I'm looking at you, Dragonette!), but in the meantime, please enjoy the latest mix CD I made for my parents. (See the summer mix CD I sent them.) It is missing one song, which is not in Rdio's catalog (yet): "Save Our Souls" by Garçon Garçon, which I strongly recommend buying.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Young Professionals : "9AM to 5PM, 5PM to Whenever"

I'm still really enjoying (and evangelizing, whenever possible) Bright Light Bright Light's debut album, which readers in North America can get for just $5 at 7Digital. But more great music has been released recently, and it merits some exposure.

The debut album from The Young Professionals is consistently interesting, often quirky, and thoroughly enjoyable. It's what I imagine Information Society might sound like if they'd gotten started 25 years later. Even the cover of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" is good—in fact, it's vastly superior to the original. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bright Light Bright Light - Make Me Believe In Hope

Remember how my favorite album of last year was Voyage by The Sound of Arrows? Halfway through 2012, we now have the strongest contender yet for that title: Make Me Believe In Hope, the debut album from Bright Light Bright Light.

Nearly a year after releasing the best Robyn song Robyn never made (Disco Moment), the album that follows is full of songs that fully engage the ears, the mind and, above all, the heart. It plays simultaneously as tribute and heir to the dance-pop of the early 1990s. Many songs, especially Feel It, Waiting For the Feeling, and Cry At Films, would feel right at home in a mix with early Cathy Dennis and CeCe Peniston.

The album traces a series of emotional highs and lows, embracing the euphoria of new love (Feel It), rebirth (Love Part Two), mourning (Cry At Films), despair (Moves), resignation (Disco Moment), and acceptance (Grace). Hope is a recurring theme, so the album's pleading title is a perfect fit.

Though there is but one "slow dance" ballad (Debris), the writing is so solid that each and every song would work perfectly well as a spare piano piece. (For proof, check out the Blueprints EP, which contains stripped-down versions of four songs from the album.) Each time I listen to the album—and I've listened to it start-to-finish over a dozen times—the stretch of sad songs beginning with Cry At Films and finishing up with Disco Moment brings me to the point of tears. The album is just that good. On top of that, Rod's voice is evocative and perfectly matched to the instruments, with no Auto-Tune to be found. (Thank the heavens!)

Rod Thomas and his collaborators are to be commended for releasing such a strong, cohesive, confident collection of music. They put a whole lot of love into this album, and it shows. I hope the album gains traction in North America, because I would like nothing more than to hear these songs performed live.

Make Me Believe In Hope is out now. Buy it on iTunes, stream it at AOL Spinner. Buy the Blueprints EP on iTunes or on Amazon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Essential Madonna

So, about Madonna. As a gay man who grew up in the 1980's and 90's, I am obligated to be a fan. And I am. However, my fandom is not unconditional, and it is much less fervent now than it used to be. I found Erotica phoned-in, Confessions on a Dance Floor paint-by-numbers, and Hard Candy five years too late.

After a couple listens to MDNA, I'm mostly indifferent. Her vocals are still stiff and robotic, the lyrics obvious and often questionable, but there's some good stuff there. I am especially fond of "Gang Bang" and "I'm Addicted".

Slate's "Where Do I Start With Madonna?" inspired me to create a list of my own Madonna best-of. (I'll ramble about my feelings on best-of collections in a later post.) It's mostly essential, with a couple of personal favorites ("Causing a Commotion" and "Nobody's Perfect" – and I almost included "Hanky Panky").

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Concert Reviews: Stripmall Architecture, The Ting Tings, Midi Matilda

In the past week, I've been to three shows. Now that I've had time to digest them and recover, it's time for some quick summaries.

Stripmall Architecture

Where: Rickshaw Stop
When: 22 March 2012
Nutshell: A talented local band with big ambitions delivers.

Celebrating the release of their new single "We Are Not Cool" on 7" clear vinyl, Stripmall Architecture performed their unique flavor of art-pop as the opening act for 2:54. This was my second time seeing them live, and if anything, they were even better the second time around.

Their music and style strike me as what might result from a collaboration between Björk, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and David Bowie, with a little bit of Zöe Keating thrown in for good measure. (What pop band wouldn't benefit from the presence of a cello? None that I know of.)

Their performances feature playful light structures (witness the light tree on Rebecca's microphone stand), screen projections, and of course beautiful music. Rebecca's voice is strong, and together with Ryan's production and Erica's haunting cello—and very cool costumes and makeup—their performances are not to be missed. This one was no exception.

Stripmall Architecture's website

The Ting Tings

Where: The Fillmore
When: 25 March 2012
Nutshell: A rousing, albeit brief, performance cements their status as stars.

The Ting Tings weren't really on my radar until their performance on Saturday Night Live in 2009. Since then, their White Stripes-and-then-some flavor of pop-rock has lodged itself firmly in my brain. Their sophomore album, Sounds From Nowheresville, demonstrates a variety of musical styles and moods, without straying too far from their We Started Nothing roots.

Their performance at the Fillmore proved their mettle and their talent, as both Katie and Jules bounded around the stage, jumping from instrument to instrument, and clearing having a blast. You had no way of knowing—until she mentioned it before performing their final song—that Katie was still recovering from an appendectomy just a few days prior.

Unfortunately, the fact that she was still recovering meant the show had to be short, so they wrapped things up with verve after just 65 minutes. That means some great songs had to be left out, notably "Soul Killing" from the new album. Happily, they did play "Hands" which is one of my favorite songs from the new album, though for some reason it's only on the deluxe edition.

Despite its brevity, the show was a lot of fun. They should probably credit the sound engineer as a third band member, because the show sounded flawless: both members' vocals were clear, and the bass was full and deep. Here's hoping they come back through with a longer set!

The Ting Tings' website

Midi Matilda

Where: Café du Nord
When: 27 March 2012
Nutshell: Local band hits the ground running with a great debut show.

After remarkable opening sets by BEAM and Peck the Town Crier, Midi Matilda overcame some initial audio problems and put on a fun, energetic performance of their debut EP.

They opened with the summery "Ottowa", and the outstanding "Day Dreams" represented the highlight of the night. Skyler Kilborn's vocals were flawless and clear, and both he and Logan Grimé (on drums and production) had infectious energy, even busting out some synchronized choreography to mark the occasion.

Judging by their confidence and ease of performance, you'd never know this was their first-ever live show. They're definitely going places, these guys. Check 'em out next time they're on the marquee!

Midi Matilda on Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Upcoming Shows

Spring has historically been a busy concert time for me, and this year is shaping up to be no different. Lots of shows on the horizon over the next couple months! What's on the agenda?

And I still haven't decided whether to catch Glass Candy this Friday night. Since I also bought a SHN subscription—worth it in order to gain entry to The Book of Mormon this fall!—the budget may not allow it. Other possibilities: Flight Facilities at the end of March, and another Oh Land show on 9 April.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This week in music

This has been an excellent week for new music! And by that, I mean new-new as well as just new-to-me. Let's start with the new-new stuff.

New Jams

In the interest of readability, I'm providing links rather than embedded players. It also seems right to link to the sources where I discovered this stuff, rather than try to claim it as my own.

First up, we have, at long last, the debut EP from sexy, heartfelt Aussie duo Garçon Garçon. I've been enjoying their song Stay In Touch for a while now, as it's got that inexplicably perfect blend of upbeat synths, sad lyrics, and earnest vocal delivery we've loved for going on thirty years now. The five-track EP expands on that sound, giving us a danceable plea for companionship (Take Me Out), a gritty ditty featuring a verse from Cazwell (Hollywood Song), and wistful—and blessedly non-gender-neutral—longing for love (Maybe Tonight). Give the EP a listen and buy it; these guys deserve the support!

Next, rising star Moxiie dropped a Valentine's Day bombshell of a song on the world. As a followup to her stunning "Jungle Pop" EP, Everything To Me is a smooth, bouncy ode to devotion. It's a free download, so go get it and get into the Moxiie groove.

Bright Light Bright Light, the source of all things disco momentous, gave us a Valentine's Day mixtape that included his delightful remix of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" which he then made available by itself. The remix takes an already brilliant song, which has seen its share of excellent remixes, and transports it back to the dance floor of 1994. And that is by every measure an excellent thing. It makes me that much more eager for Bright Light Bright Light's full-length album, which should see release in the coming months. Check out Gotye's "Making Mirrors" on Rdio.

Other stuff that made me lose my shit this week:

  • An astonishingly good mashup of Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" with Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know?" – I'm still shaken up about Whitney Houston's death. The world has lost a truly excellent talent, though it could be said that talent was lost to drug addiction years ago.
  • Monarchy's remix of "Lights" by Josh Beech and the Johns
  • Sweden's Smith & Thell deliver hotness with "Kill It With Love".
  • Another Swedish pop star, Darin, delivers dance-pop perfection with "Nobody Knows" – I've said before and I'll say it again: I really should just move to Sweden.
  • San Francisco's Midi Matilda drops a moody, catchy EP available in multiple download formats, and they're letting you set your own price. This is the wave of the future! Go listen to and buy Red Light District now.

New to me

I discovered K.Flay last year when she opened for Casio Kids at Cafe du Nord and was mesmerized. This girl has got it all. What I didn't know is that she'd already put out one EP, and now she has another. I bought both, and they're fantastic.

Karmin performed on Saturday Night Live last weekend, though you wouldn't know it if you watched the episode on Hulu or bought it on Amazon; music performances are often cut out from the post-broadcast digital versions. Why the labels and publishers insist on doing that is beyond me, because I see it as limiting the artist's exposure. Nevertheless, I looked for Karmin's performances and found them on Vevo, and they're fantastic. (Never mind the terrible website.) Everything is available on Rdio, too.

Lastly, I don't know how I managed to live through the 80's as a synth-pop fan without discovering the music of Ultravox. Listening to their best-of on Rdio this week, I was kicking myself for missing it when it first happened. Happily, it's all available there, and it provides a great musical history lesson. For instance, I had no idea that Infernal's "Vienna" was actually an Ultravox original. Learn something new every day! Happily, the news is that the almost-original lineup is working on a new album, so if we're lucky, they'll strike the same gold OMD did with their recent album History of Modern.

Dance on, my friends!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I work with a bunch of nerds...

... and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The following is taken from our company-wide IRC chatroom as we attempted to determine the scope of a wireless networking connectivity issue. Names have been changed to protect the nerdy.

uno: Clearly, we cannot choose the WiFi network in front of YOU!

dos: That protocol you use. I do not believe it means what you think it means

uno: Never mess with Engineering when Internet is on the line!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Followup: Game of Thrones

Following up on yesterday's post about Game of Thrones, I present a performance by Paul and Storm of their new song about George R. R. Martin, in which they plead for him to finish the Song of Fire and Ice series while he's still alive.

The performance happened at w00tstock Founders' Night, presented as part of SF Sketchfest, and includes a bonus performance of their George Lucas-skewering song "Thanksgiving". (Contains adult language and nerdy humor.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Trailer: Game of Thrones - Season Two

I'm a late comer to George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Fire And Ice. I only just finished watching season one of HBO's adaptation, named for the first novel, Game of Thrones, and I found it so richly entertaining that I felt the need to begin reading the books the moment the closing credits began on the final episode. I'd just purchased a Kindle, so I decided to make A Game of Thrones the first book I'd read on the device.

I've found it a very easy and engrossing read; I'm already 40% through it. The HBO series follows it pretty closely, so if anything, it serves as an excellent complement to the novel. I've not yet decided whether to read the second book, A Clash of Kings, before watching season two of the show, but chances are I'll wait until the season is over before continuing to read. (I definitely won't wait for the third season to begin reading book three.)

A trailer for season two hit the web yesterday. Its task is to whet the viewer's appetite for the season; this it accomplishes deftly, focusing on two of the show's most interesting and complex characters: Varys the eunuch and Tyrion Lannister. April 1 can't come quickly enough!

As an aside: when it comes to reading for long periods of time, I much prefer the Kindle to the iPad. The iPad is heavy, which makes it difficult to hold with one hand for a long time, and the backlit screen is hard on the eyes, especially after staring at computer monitors at work all day long. The Kindle is lightweight (less than six ounces), easy on the eyes, very readable in sunlight, and straightforward to navigate. At Marco Ament's recommendation, I opted for the "special offers" version of the base model. The ads are very unobtrusive, never interrupting reading, which makes it an easy way to save $30. (If I traveled often, I would have opted for the 3G version.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dance: Take Me Away

Sorry it's been so quiet around here, life has been pretty busy the past couple weeks. I hope to post more often.

The other day I came across this video and was mesmerized. The precision of movement this guy displays is a quality I've long admired in dancers and have strived to achieve myself. It's worth watching fullscreen at 1080p. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Should the New York Times be a truth vigilante?

Daring Fireball's John Gruber links to this New York Times page in which the paper's public editor asks the following:

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge "facts" that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

I am in agreement with John that it seems obvious that this should be one of a news reporter's goals in writing about current events and public figures. Merely reporting the he-said/she-said of political debates, for instance, serves no purpose if the statements made by the debaters are not analyzed for their truthfulness; this reduces the news outlet to transcribers, thereby reducing its value to readers.

To that end, I sent this email to the paper's public editor, Arthur Brisbane:

Dear Mr. Brisbane,

As a reader of a variety of news sources, one of the reasons I have so much respect for the Times is its impartiality in reporting the news. To that end, I would strongly encourage news reporters to point out falsehoods and lies being put forward by the public figures they are covering.

It is the job of a newspaper to present complete and accurate information so that its readers are fully informed about the events and issues of the day. It is not the job of a newspaper to serve as a propaganda outlet for one side of a debate or another, nor for interest groups. While I understand that the Times is a business, and that the purpose of a business to be profitable, if a newspaper puts profits ahead of principles, it ceases to be a newspaper at all.

With our media culture's dismal signal-to-noise ratio, if the Times cannot report facts and reality—and point out verifiably false statements made by public figures—without being a successful business, then it has no right to be in the business of journalism. We as citizens need the Times to stand as a reliable source of truth, facts and reality, even—especially—in the face of politically-motivated criticism for doing so.

As a resident of California and a frequent consumer of online news sources, I am willing to pay a reasonable price for an annual subscription to the Times online if its reporters are encouraged to point out lies and false statements made by public figures in their news articles, rather than in a separate (often difficult to find) section.

Thank you for your time,
Scott Stebleton
San Francisco, CA

If you think newspapers should serve truth over propaganda and accuracy over profits, let Mr. Brisbane know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Best albums of 2011

Here it is, my list of the best albums and EPs of 2011. Presented in alphabetical order, and without commentary. (Talking about music, dancing about architecture, etc.) Enjoy!

Notice a glaring omission? Want to recommend something? Drop a note in the comments.

Coming soon are my other best-of-2011 posts: best songs and notable live shows.

Friday, January 6, 2012

In the meantime...

I'm busy putting together my best-of-2011 post—you didn't seriously think I wasn't going to write one, did you?—but in the meantime, I have some bullet-point thoughts to offer on some new (to me, at least) artists.

People to pay attention to:

  • Katy Tiz - This woman is putting forth some tightly-crafted, catchy tunes, with excellent vocals and lyrics, to boot.
  • Moxiie - More catchy pop music, and she's offering her EP for download in return for a tweet. Proof that in the 21st century, publicity is worth a lot more than $4.

And in the category of "I really want to like but don't really" stands Lana Del Rey. Her video for "Born to Die" is good, as is the song, but it's just not getting me excited the way the artists mentioned above are.

Shows I'll be seeing in the near future:

  • Tonight: Return to Mono, Stripmall Architecture, and TIGERcat. At the Rickshaw Stop. Tickets at the door are $10.
  • January 19: Katy B and The Good Natured, at the Rickshaw Stop. Tickets are $13. I adore Katy B's debut album, and The Good Natured are growing on me.
  • January 28: The Nerdist Podcast Live. I love Chris Hardwick and his cohorts (Jonah Ray and Matt Mira), so I'm looking forward to this with great anticipation. Tickets are $30 + fee = $41.50.
  • January 29: w00tstock Founders' Night, at the Marines' Memorial Theatre. Adam Savage, Wil Wheaton, and Paul & Storm serve up a night of comedy and musical nerdery. And since it's right in the middle of SF Sketchfest, there's a good chance of guest appearances. Tickets are $35 + $5 fee.
  • March 25: The Ting Tings, at the Fillmore. Really looking forward to hearing Sounds From Nowheresville! Tickets are $25 + LiveNation fees, so probably close to $40, and they go on sale this Sunday.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Introduction

Hello? Is this thing on?

*tap tap tap*

Ahem.

Hi! I'm Scott. I've been tossing around the idea of starting a new blog for some time, but never quite got to the point of starting it, chiefly because I couldn't quite figure out why.

I decided the time had come because I have become dissatisfied with my current outlets for one reason or another. (Facebook is too personal, Twitter is too short, LiveJournal is too—haha, no one uses LiveJournal anymore!)

So, this blog will be my public outpost. It's not intended to be personal, so you won't see details about my fitness regimen or my relationship or what I had for lunch today.

What I suspect you will see are musings on issues of the day, be they political, cultural, local, whatever. And I also plan on using this to evangelize whatever music happens to take my fancy. And maybe a cute animal or two. Y'know: grown-up stuff.