Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Changing Ukulele Strings...for dummies

Hey all.

As some of you know, playing the ukulele is both a hobby and passion of mine. As with all stringed instruments, putting on new strings is one of the cheapest/easiest things you can do to improve the sound of your instrument. My new uke, an Oscar Schmidt OU-5, had mediocre strings on it. I changed them for Martin strings recently. Here are some pieces of advice that might help you next time you go to change your strings...

-Watch this video on youtube a bunch of times:
-Remember to only change one string at a time. The other three strings will keep the tension on the neck and prevent damage to your instrument. They also allow you to have a reference point when making your knot.
-The knot will tighten as you wind the string on—be sure to leave slack at the bottom. The slack will also help you hold the string better as your fingers will probably get sweaty/slippery.
-Leave plenty of slack at the top, too. Chances are that the strings are much longer than you need them. You can always trim them after.
-When winding the string on, make sure one round goes above the hole, and the rest go below the hole.
-Use a string winder—no need to get carpal tunnel...

Is that helpful? Good luck!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Battle of the Bands round two sets high bar for finals

Backstreets was filled with anxious music fans on Saturday, November 22. The competition was tight but the fans spoke: The Moistmakers and Morphium Theory will be moving on to the finals.

Four full bands performed during the second round of Madstop's annual Battle of the Bands.

Newcomers Goodnight Moon opened the show, playing to an intimate crowd. The trio, made up of Crane students, had a solid rock sound with a nice keyboard layer on top. The guys looked a little nervous at first, but their demeanor and playing settled in very quickly. One song had the vibe of Sonic Youth, but accessible. This band definitely has a lot of promise. Hopefully they will be more comfortable and smile more next time they perform, and maybe play a few more tunes people can dance to.

Out-of-town metal band Necrosis followed the local Goodnight Moon. They came from Clifton Park, NY and clearly brought a bit of a fanbase with them. While the musicians showed great technique on their instruments (especially the lead guitarist), one has to wonder where to draw the line between noise and music. Some people were extremely into Necrosis's gritty wall of sound, dancing and moshing in the front of the room. Others stood back, either in awe or pain. With so much great musical talent in the Potsdam area, it is unclear why Madstop felt the need to bring in an out-of-town act. Perhaps they ultimately found that there were not enough local bands who could commit to the performance dates, but Madstop could have found a band with a better sound.

The last two groups to perform were the winners. They had the benefit of the large crowd that had grown throughout the night. The Moistmakers have proven themselves as a fan favorite funk/party band, performing at several venues and parties around Potsdam. The group got many audience members up and dancing. The group's eclectic line-up of all Crane musicians allows them to explore all sorts of styles and timbres. The small horn section and two percussionists heated up the room. Out of all of the groups, The Moistmakers smiled and had the most fun on stage.

The last group, Morphium Theory, has also established a local fanbase. This melodic hardcore group provided accessibility and featured a nice mix of vocal styles. Their great sound secured their spot in the finals.

It was a close call for the winning bands, which will be moving on to play in the final battle. The final four contestants are The Moistmakers, Morphium Theory, Doug Campbell and Steve Muciolo. Due to a scheduling conflict with the venue, the date of the Battle of the Bands-Final Battle has been moved to Tuesday, December 9. The event will still be held at Backstreets Night Club from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Admittance is 18+ with a charge of $4. You must be 21 to drink.

Madstop concert production executive, junior music business major Sarah Hope asserted that the change is for the best.?"It will work because academic prep days give time to prep and to rehabilitate before finals hit, so it will be a nice chance to have fun amidst studying," said Hope.

Minor Swing plays unique gypsy jazz at La Casbah

Imagine yourself in a smoky Parisian café. The year is 1933 or 1934 and strains of gypsy jazz music softly support the din of conversation and revelry. Potsdam's own Minor Swing recreated this aural image and atmosphere during a performance at La Casbah on Thursday, November 20.

Minor Swing is composed of four permanent members. Founding members Christopher Brown and Victor Caamaño play acoustic and electric guitar respectively, with Caamaño contributing on tastefully incorporated vocals. Lorie Gruneisen plays violin and David Katz provides a solid foundation on upright bass. At this particular performance, Beth Robinson joined on the cello. Occasionally, Matt Bullwinkel also joins in on accordion. The group has been together for about five years, adding members through the years. "It's a great pleasure to share our music. We get excited about it and hope others do too. I get a great charge out of performing for an audience," said Caamaño.

The musical genre of gypsy jazz has seen somewhat of a revival in the past few years with indie-folk musician Andrew Bird and the film The Triplets of Belleville. Gypsy jazz is characterized by its simple melodies, syncopation, emphasis on the second and fourth beat of each bar and chromaticism.

The group performed an eclectic mix of jazz standards and gypsy tunes popularized by gypsy jazz forbearer Django Reinhardt and contemporary artists such as Biréli Lagrène and Dorado Schmitt. The namesake of the group is actually a song by Django Reinhardt, "Minor Swing," which the group performs. They cite other influences as Le Quartet du Hot Club de France (Django's group), Robin Nolan, and Pearl Django. During the performance, each musician got a chance to improvise. The musicians worked extremely well together, creating vivid vignettes within each song. The music was sometimes upbeat and sometimes mellow, but always enjoyable. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the sultry sound of a small drum kit played with brushes.

La Casbah has clearly established itself as a viable music venue in Potsdam, and this was yet another successful show. Music lovers enjoy the atmosphere and extensive bar. The large room has the versatility to accommodate intimate sit-down gatherings like this one and bigger events with lots of loud music and dancing.

Several attendees were there solely for the music, but most just let the music compliment and improve their otherwise ordinary Thursday night out. Nigh midnight, the older crowd had filtered out and those who remained were rowdy and disrespectful students, clearly there for the drinks.

Minor Swing is in the midst of recording their first CD. The group performs quite often in the Potsdam area. They have another engagement at La Casbah on December 19, at which they will also perform some Christmas music.

Songswithoutwords' top 5 albums of 2008

There are only 5 because that's all the room the Racquette could afford!

Emilyn Brodsky – Greatest Tits
Eclectic New York City songwriter and self-proclaimed cupcake punk Emilyn Brodsky won my heart this year with her first official CD release, Greatest *its. Written over a long period of time, she finally transformed her quiet ukulele tunes into rambunctious, fully fleshed out songs. The lyrics are poignant, sassy and cute. Her backup band is a sort of “who’s who” of the New York indie music scene, and talent abounds.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Perhaps the most appealing thing to me about this album is how clearly it hearkens back to Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986). It’s got the catchiest hooks of the year; almost every song is infectuous. Part of the interest evoked from the album is in its diverse instrumentation, including ethnic drums, clean electric guitar sound, and a ubiquitous mellow keyboard sound.

Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Although Greg Gillis simply borrows samples and mashes them together to make something new, this is one of the most original albums of the year. In the all-inclusive dance party that is Feed the Animals you can get your groove on to everything from T.I. to Twisted Sister, from Radiohead to Jay-z. It’s the perfect party album.

Dr. Dog – Fate
I was introduced to this album late in the year, but was instantly won over by the Beach Boys-esque harmonies and Beatles-esque hooks. Throw in the occasional grooving beat and you’ve got something worth 100 listens. This band uses timeless formulas that work.

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
It would be out of character for me to leave my favorite rock ‘n’ roll band off of my top albums list. The band makes their intentions clear from the get-go with “Constructive Summer,” a song about making things happen, that defined my summer and beyond. With riff after riff and more of Craig Finn’s almost-indulgent storytelling, Stay Positive is a 2008 standout. This album has yet to leave my car stereo.

Albums I had to reluctantly cut: Fleet Foxes, O'Death, The Last Shadow Puppets, The So So Glos, The Spinto Band, Super XX Man, Noah and the Whale, Okkervil River, The Mountain Goats, The Miniature Tigers, Blitzen Trapper.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Week in Review

Here's a new feature I thought of while stuck in traffic today and listening to Sound Opinions. Since one of the only things I can figure on talking about is myself, I'm going to write a blurb about what I'm listening to and thinking about music-wise each week. This might be a good idea since writing about concerts is an opportunity that only comes along every once in a while. Now that I have a again, I find myself thinking about trends in my listening.

Despite how much I love punk and rock bands, I've found myself seriously drawn to singer-songwriters lately. Paul Simon and Cat Stevens are the most important to me, for some reason. Paul Simon's Graceland resonated with me for a while, and I just recently began exploring the remainder of his back-catalogue. Even the songs that don't stand out on each album are better than anything I could write. Cat Stevens' music is all charming. Venturing beyond the songs featured on the cult dark comedy Harold & Maude soundtrack, Stevens has these folk rock songs that are not only catchy but powerful.

I listened to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" about 10 times straight today, to learn the guy part, and boy, what a saucy song.

I reached the epitome of my respect for composer Percy Grainger this week when I had to conduct "Horkstow Grange," a movement from Lincolnshire Posy on Monday. He has a unique compositional style the breaks conventions but is still seriously listenable. This could be a true tool for breaking down barriers for students and stubborn adults into listening to art music.

OK readers, be honest. Did this post make me sound like a pretentious ass?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The World/Inferno Out-of-Town Friendship Society

Saxophonist Peter Hess and singer Jack Terricloth, both bearing with maniacal grins, stepped to the front of the stage to greet the undulating crowd. With three drum sticks between them, they joined drummer Brian Viglione in pounding out the opening beat to "Tattoos Fade"—The World/Inferno Friendship Society's call-to-arms—on a well-worn tom tom. Snarlingly reminding the audience that they'd "do better living more and commemorating less," Jack Terricloth inspired spontaneity in the pit.

The World/Inferno Friendship Society arrived at South Burlington's well known Higher Ground nightclub on Nov. 6, 2008. To this writer's surprise, the crowd gathered long before doors opened, and the second admittance was allowed, the line to show tickets and IDs stretched through the lobby. Opening band, The Dig, provided an upbeat set of indie rock with a twist. Some attendees, anxious to see the main attraction, danced and goofed off in the room. When singer Jack Terricloth and bassist Sandra Malak appeared in the V.I.P. balcony, stars-struck fans waved enthusiastically. The musicians looked adoringly at their fans, toasted their wine glasses, and waved graciously.

When you've only seen a band or musician in their hometown (which for this band encompasses all of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey), it's a revealing experience to witness an out-of-town gig. Thursday night was no exception. The band played a relentless set of songs both new and old, touching upon "M is for Morphine," "I Remember the Weimar," "Everybody Comes to Rick's," Thumb Cinema," "Addicted to Bad Ideas," all from the 2007 release Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century. Older favorites were also played, including greatly received "Just the Best Party," "My Ancestral Homeland, New Jersey," "Jeffrey Lee," "Paul Robeson," and "Brother of the Mayor of Bridgewater" were just a few of those older favorites. While most of the fans knew the words to those songs, many of them were stumped when it came to the VERY old stuff..."All the World is a Stage(dive)" didn't garner any audience stage dives (for fear of getting kicked out), but Terricloth did throw himself onto the stage mid-song. The highlight of the show for me, personally, was "Cats are Not Lucky Creatures," a song about resiliency and independence as represented by the demeanor of cats. Although many of the kids didn't seem to know the classic, they shockingly screamed the lyrics of other songs along for most of the night.

The night saw more fancy stick-work from Hess and Terricloth, who synchronized a sort of drum hit-stick hit (like checking swords) in time to the intro of "M is for Morphine." The band was clearly more involved than they can be at hometown shows, which is ironic. Jack Terricloth's usually profound between-song banter was unfortunately watered-down by his inebriated state. Although missing the familiar handlebar mustache of Franz Nicolay, the group sufficiently compensated with newcomer Matt Landis, a menace at the keyboard. The Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione powerfully filled the role of drummer and brought a whole new level of celebrity to the band.

The final question that arises from this experience you might ask would be, "Miss Harrison, was it worth it to drive three stinking hours each way to see a band you've already seen five times before?" And I would answer as such. "How anyone could turn down an opportunity to have the religious experience that is a World/Inferno show is beyond me. It's more than a band, it's a way of life. Sign the f*ck up."

Fourteen ways to live your life more like a pirate

As published in the 11/7 issue of The Racquette.

If you've ever dreamed of a life as a bootlegger, pirate, Eastern European vagrant, railroad worker, or revolutionary, O'Death's latest release, Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin just might be the album for you. The album's title immediately gives you an idea of the morbidity and sensibilities of the band. From the opening violin pizzicato, this album will pull you right in. Each of the fourteen unique tracks give the listener an excuse to role-play in any strange situation they'd like.

The band explores lots of different bluegrass instruments, from banjo to fiddle, in addition to their traditional rock band line-up. Other instruments that sometimes appear on their recordings are ukulele, piano, trombone, and euphonium. The textures they are able to produce through this juxtaposition of styles are incomparable to most other punk fusion bands.

Their influences lie in the songs of Appalachia, gospel music and punk vivacity. Their "olde tyme" poster art and aesthetic adds to their appeal and individuality, while their snarling stage presence defines their image. It is refreshing to find a band that has established its own new aesthetic based on traditional sources.

Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin truly takes the listener into a different time and different mindset. The feel of Appalachian folk music underlying their original songs is not only anachronistic to most listeners, but haunting by nature.

Growing in prominence in several punk and alternative circles, O'Death has shared stages with Beat Circus, Death Vessel, Humanwine, Hoots & Hellmouth and Takka Takka. They recently embarked on a 34-date tour in support of Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin.

If you are in the mood for something frantic, something passionate, something unusual and disturbing, or something that compels you on a gut level to get up, dance, and break things, you should listen to O'Death. There is not a single weak track on this album. Listen for it on SUNY Potsdam's radio station, WAIH "The Way" 90.3FM in the coming weeks.

"Non-required" anthology provides reading solution for overworked college students

As printed in the 11/7 issue of The Racquette.

With ever-increasing course-loads and time dedicated to busy social calendars, the last thing a college student has time to do is read for fun. College culture is limited to short snippets-Youtube videos, RSS feeds, and blogs are often chosen for their amusement factor and brevity. For those who love literature but often find themselves distracted and pressed for time, The Best American Non-required Reading 2008 offers an apt solution.

The latest installment in a series that has run since 2002, BANR is compiled by author Dave Eggers and high schoolers of the San Francisco Bay Area. They spend each year reading through respected literary journals, quarterlies and magazines, ultimately deciding on the best stories-a pile of hundreds that gets whittled down into the final published anthology.

BANR 2008 features an introduction by Judy Blume, a retrospective on Kurt Vonnegut's lifetime of writing, a piece about Bill Clinton's post-presidential life as an activist, a story on how one of the world's most renowned violinist performed unnoticed in a D.C. metro station, and several particularly jarring stories about the search for one's origins and identity.

Short fiction and short creative non-fiction, the two genres presented in this anthology, are by far the most accessible genre to college-aged students. Each story is engaging and insightful, yet still delivered in a size that hard-working college students can easily swallow. Short writing does not require a huge emotional and time commitment, but is still satisfying and amusing.

This anthology moves along at a fairly rapid pace, with very few lengthy pieces. If one piece in particular isn't appealing, it is simple to skip ahead to something more exciting. Any of the stories in it that seemed slow-moving at first eventually picked up and gained depth, eventually becoming enjoyable reads. Like previous BANR anthologies, this one has a little something for everyone.

One of the aims of the committee that chooses the pieces which get published is to increase exposure for up-and-coming writers. Although familiar names such as Stephen King are represented this year, most of the contributing writers in this anthology are newcomers to the field. Past contributors include Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris and Huruki Murakami. For those who have more time to explore the sources (journals) and authors from the anthology, it is a good chance to see who is currently shaping the field of short fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps you'll discover a new favorite author, or at least one of note whom you may hear from in the future.

The editor of the series, Dave Eggers, was once a newcomer not unlike many of the featured authors. Through inclusion in literary journals he gained popularity and has since published successful books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What.

The number one thing that assures me that most college students will be able to appreciate this is that the pieces are chosen by high schoolers. If they can find modern literature and creative non-fiction appealing, I am confident that college students also can.

If you have a free half hour between classes, or even just a few minutes before you drift off to sleep, pick up The Best American Non-required Reading 2008. Who knows; you may find a new favorite author or rekindle your love for reading.

Preview of a Show that Happened 2 Months Ago

Just for people who like to read my writing...just for posterity...just because I've been lazy for the bulk of the semester...

On Saturday, September 20, Hurley's is hosting a triple bill of extremely talented musicians from New York City. Franz Nicolay, Emilyn Brodsky, and Emily Hope Price will take the stage in Hurley's for several hours of diverse entertainment. The show is sure to appeal to both those interested in indie songwriters as well as those who currently study music and are curious to see what versatile results a music degree can inspire.

Franz Nicolay is currently the keyboardist for The Hold Steady, a critically acclaimed rock band that has recently performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Late Show with David Letterman, and The Late Late Show. The multi-instrumentalist tours year-round with The Hold Steady-playing over 200 shows annually-but still finds time to dedicate to performing his solo material. His set on Saturday will consist of original songs performed both on guitar and accordion, part of his trademark style. He trained in New York University's jazz composition program and brings his own twist to both traditional and avant-garde songwriting.

Emilyn Brodsky is a sharp-tongued ukulele-playing cupcake punk. Her songs are smart and witty, filled with complex emotions, and, depending on the personnel, tight vocal harmonies. As a "cupcake punk" she is a strong believer in the Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic, and brought that consciousness to her new album, which features the combined efforts of her musician friends, producers and artwork designers. Emilyn Brodsky's Greatest *its boasts full band arrangements of many of the catchy, fun, and emotionally tumultuous songs she will perform in Hurley's. When she isn't playing originals, her repertoire of covers includes songs by The Mountain Goats, The Long Winters, The Magnetic Fields, and 60s girl groups.

Emily Hope Price is an extremely versatile musician, popular in the Anti-Folk scene in New York City. Although she received a master's degree in classical cello performance from Carnegie Mellon University, her true interests lie in improvisation and composing. She brings new depth to cello performance by adding many effects such as looping, distortion, sampling, and improvising on the spot.

Hurley's is clearly branching out into booking more diverse and talented musicians this semester. This show will appeal to even the most critical listeners. Check it out if you enjoy: The Hold Steady, Billy Bragg, Mirah, Joanna Newsom, Regina Spektor, or Belle & Sebastian.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Just a few notes about my life in music, recently

The main place that I listen to music is while I'm on the computer and, well, my sound driver is busted. Something's wrong with the inner workings that makes everything sound like crap, and skip, and slow down. So, unfortunately, I've listened to less new music than I wanted to this summer.

Luckily, for my birthday last week I received a brand new pair of Sennheiser over ear headphones, which make music sound absolutely glorious. Needless to say, I've been catching up on summer releases in a proper manner, starting with Stay Positive, of course.

So, despite all of these occurrences, I think that I owe my blog a few decent posts, and I'll certainly be getting to them when I get back to school. WAIH has a stack of just about 300 CDs waiting for my anxious ears. Expect posts in the coming weeks of a least first impressions of the recent releases from The Hold Steady, Emilyn Brodsky, Conor Oberst, The Walkmen, Randy Newman, Tilly and the Wall, The Ting Tings, and Fleet Foxes. And those are just the ones I'd really like to review. So, make sure I keep my word on this one. There's a whole list of CDs I'd like to get around to listening to thoroughly and writing about, but we'll see.

I should also write about the shows I've gone to in the past two weeks. Perhaps I'll sit here and blog deep into the night on the eve before moving back to college.

Once I'm back, you'll be able to catch my radio show, Ginger Ale & Apathy THREE times a week. Mondays 2-3pm, Wednesdays & Fridays 6-7pm. / 90.3FM ... I'm looking at setting up some in-studio interviews and guest DJs both in real life and via Skype! It'll be a fun semester. I'll also be writing for The Racquette again, and as usual I'll post any of my articles directly on this blog.

Stay tuned!

The Way 90.3FM
The Racquette

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

We're Gonna Build Something This Summer

On June 29, 2008, boys and girls from all over America (quite literally) came together to see the exuberant Hold Steady in their hometown and the open air.

The McCarren Park Pool venue is a unique one, to be certain. The once-pool has been out of use for quite some time, and some promoters over at JellyNYC thought it would be a fitting place to set up a stage and invite a couple of thousand people out to play and hear great music. The show was free, as are most of the Pool Parties, and concertgoers were discouraged by neither heavy showers, lightning, nor thunder. Apparently there is absolutely nothing that can get The Hold Steady's fans down--especially not when they know they are just moments away from seeing their favorite band.

The Hold Steady has enjoyed a constant ascent to the top of the indie rock scene over the past several years, recording four albums along the way. Each album has its own characters and stories, but the messages remain the same. Guys go for looks, girls go for status. You can make him like you. Certain songs get scratched right in your soul. Ya gotta stay positive. It is those simple truths that have garnered the band a huge following. Maybe not huge in size compared to say, Radiohead's fan base, but huge in spirit, comraderie, and passion. The Unified Scene travels from all over to meet up at shows, with matching shirts that certain scene members front the money for, to have a couple of drinks or talk music with each other - everyone with the same thing in common - love for a band that has truly impacted their lives. At any Hold Steady show you can bet that you will see a bunch of nerds in matching shirts, forced forward into the stage or barrier, shouting lyrics and getting a glimmer in their eyes at the beginning of each song. The Unified Scene certainly made a strong showing at June 29th's Brooklyn show.

When the band took the stage, it was like coming home again. There is comfort in finding a band -and a scene- that makes you feel like you are home at last. The cheers were overwhelming. The setlist was absolutely conflagerant. Almost every track from the forthcoming CD, Stay Positive, and plenty of crowd pleasing back catalogue songs. With the sun just coming out after a rough day in torrential rain, there was a certain something in the air that infected everyone present-in a positive way of course. Screaming lyrics up to the stage with arms outstretched to embrace and be a part of something bigger, The Hold Steady's biggest fans exuded energy that enchanted press photographers, who took as many photos of the fans as they did of the band.

The entire band was on. Every song was performed to its fullest, with each band member feeding off of the crowd's energy in his own way. Close your eyes and imagine if you will: Craig Finn: spitting and ranting and singing, moving around the stage to have little dialogues in pantomime with the crowd. Tad Kubler: humbly accepting birthday wishes, rock solid soloing, facile fingers and a double-necked guitar. Galen Polivka: slumped and sweating, pounding out basslines with precision and animation, adding something new to each song. Franz Nicolay: shouting, grimacing, smiling, stomping, spinning, dancing, and making eye contact and singing with the fans. Bobby Drake: an anchor to the entire band, creating the entire texture of every song from the bottom up, blindingly precise beats. Seriously serious musicians. Friends and colleagues. It is pretty clear that not only do each of these men know exactly what they are doing, but they do it damn well together. The chemistry is incomparable.

In an interview just yesterday, The Hold Steady's frontman and lyricist, Craig Finn, said this, "Do I believe in the redemptive power of rock'n'roll? Absolutely. At its peak, played with the best intentions, it can be transcendent." Inadvertantly, Finn described the experience that the Unified Scene undergoes at every show, every venue, in every city, state, and country. As they start a huge tour again (after 200 shows last year), hitting Europe and the states, I once again encourage you not to miss it. It is truly one of the most euphoric things that a music lover can experience.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

These songs, they get so scratched into our souls

Another music ramble. Bear with me for some true content coming soon...

Summer memories always seem to be the most saturated with music. I can remember the exact order of tracks on a mix CD I used to listen going back and forth to summer camp; bands who played shows in our small venues; and songs I listened to in the solitude of my air conditioned bedroom. For some reason my brain is like a sponge during the summer, and each song takes on twice as much meaning. When I was going into 11th grade, an English teacher who I was close with loaned me a cassette of The Smiths' Greatest Hits, and I can't listen to that band without thinking of that summer. I hope that this summer can be equally steeped in musical memories..

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pop Culture Informs Itself - Ramblings about the interconnectedness of all popular culture in the 21st century

I was listening to a recent NPR podcast of the show "All Songs Considered" with Bob Boilen in which a panel of Generation X and Y-ers talked about how music-and what specific music-defined their respective, and the current, generations (The Sound of a Generation). They ended the show with a song by Okkervil River called "Plus One," which name drops a good number of popular song lyric references. This got me thinking about other similar songs, such as Jimmy Eat World's "A Praise Chorus," and the WFUV's radio show, Mixed Bag, which occasionally themes entire shows after songs that name drop pop culture and otherwise. And to be quite honest, this happens very often. Sometimes it's a stolen riff, a beat, or just straight out referencing your predecessors or contemporaries.

The point I'm trying to get at is that pop culture informs itself. Pop culture is one meta-idea encompassing all music (yes, all music), films, reality TV, comic books, mass market paperbacks, literature, all of it. And none of it would exist without the rest of it. Everything is symbiotic and interwoven. Weezer jabs fun at the youtube "culture" as it were with a music video referencing America's favorite web-video-follies. Pop-writers like Nick Hornby write books such as High Fidelity, which truly only exists because of the music that makes up its heart, which feeds into the film industry, which then makes the music more popular through its soundtrack and so on. Even the TV show "American Idol," which I refuse to watch and abhor for its superficial harvesting of "talent"--that show feeds into this idea too. If little miss pop-star covers a Simon & Garfunkel hit on her segment, maybe downloads and sales will spike a bit that week. The same goes for any artist subjected to a very strong spotlight in an unusual venue. Largehearted Boy, a music blog favorite of mine, has a regular feature entitled Book Notes, in which authors discuss music that was important to them while writing their latest work.

As a musician and also a writer, I find this meta-culture truly intriguing. I suppose it calls the ago old question of "What is Art" into play. Everything is granted an equal playing field when it is in the present moment. Record albums pressed on weighty 180g vinyl are consumed parallel to ringtones bought off of iTunes; books are sold in pulp and digital form. It's hard to exist and thrive in such a multi-faceted arena. There are just so many options that it becomes overwhelming. With the realization of the internet as a truly level playing field for all creative artists, it becomes more a matter of the discretion of the consumer to decide what is quality. I think that this puts us in a very different place than music lovers or bookworms of our parents' generation (spoonfed only by Rolling Stone magazine and the NYT Book Review).

This was just rambling of a bunch of ideas that the "All Songs Considered" show put into my head that I wanted to get down, no matter how many times and ways they've been said before. I recently picked up a retrospective of Lester Bangs' work (who, by the way, I didn't know was a real person until 2 years after seeing Almost Famous for the first time) and felt the need to get some words down. Even music journalism has been brought down to a level playing field, because I can just easily buy a copy of Paste magazine as I can pull up Pitchfork Media in my web browser (or someone could pull up MY blog for that matter). If anyone does happen to read this, chime in and give me some specific talking points. This whole idea of the interconnectedness of pop culture is just too large of an idea to take on at once.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guignol: Tour de Force Ethnopunk

Brooklyn-based Guignol (pronounced Geen-yol) weaves together sounds familiar to many cultures to synthesize something totally fresh. The four-piece group consists of clarinetist Peter Hess, accordionist Franz Nicolay, tubaist George Rush, and drummer John Bollinger. Tonight's two-set show at Zebulon in Williamsburg featured guest guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood (of Balkan Beat Box and Sway Machinery) at the helm in Nicolay's place. Each musician is not only able when it comes to their specialty instrument, but goes above and beyond the normal expectations. The clarinet wails up and down gypsy scales and dips pitch seamlessly. The guitarist's stony visage, contrasted by his resonance with the music and ease of playing, through changes and solos, adds depth to the group. The tuba holds up the entire group, freeing Bollinger to fool around with off-beats and mixed meters. Anyone trying to follow his every motion would have surely been baffled and amazed.

The group plays so tightly in even the most obscure harmonic-minor and modal scales, and mixed and changing meters and tempos. This isn't your every day quartet. It is self-proclaimed "ethnic music for a country that doesn't exist." A mix of all their tastes, from traditional to gypsy to 20th century, this music truly embodies individuality while keeping the familiar flavors of Balkan music close at hand.

The first set consisted of a mix of songs from the band's self-titled album as well as new cuts. The musicians burned through the hour-long set, a non-stop tour-de-force. During the interim of the two sets, the younger crowd filtered out. When it was time for the second set, most of the crowd a few more drinks deep, got to the front of the now-less-crowded room and began to dance. This crowd obviously enjoyed themselves even more, resonating in time (and sometimes not in time at all) with the aforementioned obscure rhythmical music.

For someone who's never seen Guignol before, Friday night's gig at Zebulon was quite a treat. Although missing their signature mustachioed accordionist, the group played just about every song they know. That's not something that happens every show.

Sometimes frantic, sometimes tense, sometimes held back, this music always throws you a curveball. Many people believe that music's most important impetus is the ability to control and vary levels of tension throughout a piece. Let's just say that these guy's have got a grip on that. The next time these four get on stage, you'd be foolish to miss it.

According to their website, Guignol is scheduled to play a show on June 30 with The Zydepunks.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reel Big Fish concert kicks off Springfest

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

Springfest started with a bang on Saturday, April 26, when well-known ska-punk band Reel Big Fish took over Maxcy Hall Gymnasium. Many fans got their tickets in advance, and several just showed up at the venue.

The opener, Brad Byrd, an acoustic singer-songwriter, did not fit the bill at all. Some audience members said he was trying too hard to sound like Bob Dylan, and thought that alt-country didn’t belong on a bill with an upbeat ska band. People in the audience rudely booed and chanted “folk sucks.” Singer Brad Byrd has played at SUNY Potsdam before to a better reception from the crowd, but most concertgoers agreed that this opener was simply the wrong feel for the show.

Reel Big Fish stormed the stage to chants of their name. They opened with their big hit, “Sell Out,” off of their most popular album, Turn the Radio Off. The crowd was dancing immediately, though clearly not as hard as they would have liked, with moshing not allowed at the event. Charismatic singer Aaron Barrett, with his signature California style, sang right to audience members to approving screams. Other tracks they played spanned their discography, from Cheer Up! to their new album Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free. Towards the end of the set, they played more favorites, such as “Beer” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” which, by the way, is based on a true story. Several concertgoers attempted to crowd surf, and security guards at the front of the stage promptly removed them from the top of the crowd. Although it was previously stated that crowd surfing was not allowed, these audience members were not penalized, and were allowed to stay in the show.

During a laid-back pre-show interview, the band attributed their success over the years to their dedicated fans. Through the years, the band has gone through a myriad of line-up changes, but the reason they keep making music is that they “don’t want to do anything else,” said lead singer, Aaron Barrett. “Most of the time bands break up because the fans stop coming, but the fans keep coming.” “It’s better to say, ‘hey, let’s get a new [musician]’ than…let’s quit,” Barrett pointed out. The band has no venue preference: they said that they like to play anywhere there are people.

Making fun of themselves on stage also wins over fans, they say. It is that high energy, fun-loving attitude that gets the audience involved. They danced and kicked across the stage, often making crazy faces and dressed in slightly mis-matched garb.

Ska might not be as popular of a genre now as it was in the early 90s, but Barrett liked it because of “the funness of it, and the exoticness of it, and the danciness of it, and the island rhythms…I was always a fan of lots of kinds of music…[in Reel Big Fish] we can take all these types of music and mix them together.” When the band got together in the early 90s, “all the local bands were playing ska.” No Doubt and Sublime were just getting big and contributed to the success of the genre.

After touring for so many years, it’s to be expected that some line-ups and shows played will have been a bit strange. Reel Big Fish played only the night before with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and have played in the past with rapper 50 Cent. They said one of the best line-ups they’ve ever played was their tour last summer with Less Than Jake.

Although members of the band said that they do keep up with current music, they haven’t found anything exciting coming out. On the bus, the band listens to music such as Frank Zappa, Destroyer, Elvis Costello, Rasputin’s Stash, Fugazi, and The Frogs. They cite the ipod as the “best thing that ever happened,” saving them from bringing huge cases full of CDs on tour. Aaron Barrett calls American Idol a “travesty…the most horrible thing to happen to music ever,” with the soprano saxophone as a close second. Other ways of passing the time on the bus include playing Call of Duty, Brain Age, and Scrabble (although they aren’t too good at it.)

Those who simply arrived at the concert when doors opened would have no way of knowing how much preparation and hard work it took the members of Student Entertainment Services and the crew to make the show happen. Load-in and set-up started at 8am, and members of the organization worked non-stop all day to make the event a success.

Reel Big Fish’s latest album, Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free is available now. They will be touring on the Vans Warped Tour all summer. To hear Reel Big Fish, visit their website at or their myspace at

Photos credited to Ben O’Brien Smith.

Cities Over Seas celebrate the release of National Phantom

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

On Friday night, April 25, Cities Over Seas hosted a house show to celebrate the release of their new CD, National Phantom. Opening band The Assless Chaps played a variety of covers that got the audience dancing, such as three of Reel Big Fish’s greatest hits, poking fun at the concert that would happen the next day. They also played party hits like “Shout,” and “We Like to Party.” Although the group was humorous and fun, it wasn’t what the show-goers had come to see.

When Cities Over Seas finally made their way to the front to play, the audience was wholly riled up and ready to hear tracks from the CD. The room was very small and the mix made it hard-to-impossible to hear the vocals and electronics. Regardless, the band used eye contact and cued each other in at the correct spots, guaranteeing that when they got lost they could find each other again. Many people in the crowd didn’t even notice the off-synchronization that happened at times, and were too busy dancing with friends. Clearly, a large percentage of the audience had heard some of the tracks either on the CD or on Myspace, and clapped along excitedly, despite the technical difficulties.

Madstop Records released National Phantom after several months of hard work from the members of Cities Over Seas and the record label. They are primarily an indie/electronic band, with influences such as Radiohead and The Postal Service. The CD is a mix of upbeat songs great for dancing, and darker, more introspective songs and lyrics. The band is already in the process of planning out the next album in their heads, but for now they are focusing on publicizing National Phantom and getting out there to perform.

National Phantom is available now at the College Bookstore. Hear tracks by Cities Over Seas on their myspace,

Photo credit: Amanda Stockwell

The Tryloves Bring Audience-Pleasing Rock To Campus

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

One of Potsdam’s newest bands, The Tryloves, has several upcoming on-campus shows. They boast variety of music presented and a high-energy performance. Paul Tryon, singer and pianist, describes the band as “party rock” and then some, exploring many different genres through their music.

The band consists of a whopping seven members: Shane Loverro (guitar), Dan Havranek (bass), Chris Fleury (drums/percussion), Katie Cotterell (singer), Robby Castro (singer), Delia Wohlleben (singer), and Paul Tryon (piano/keyboards/vocals). The singers all contribute to the music; when one has a solo, the others harmonize to fill out the sound.

The Tryloves play an array of songs, from originals written by the band to familiar covers of artists such as Elvis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This promises to include the audience in a way that bands performing all originals cannot.

Some music fans may be familiar with previous projects of members of this band, such as Northern Lights and Grove Shore. Tryon says that The Tryloves differ in that they are dedicated to bringing the audience a consistently high-caliber performance while still having fun.

The Tryloves’ goal in making this music is to get people in a good mood, dancing, and even singing along. “If the audience hasn't had fun, we haven't had done our job,” says Tryon. Audiences can surely expect a fun, high quality performance from The Tryloves, a promising up-and-coming Potsdam band.

The Tryloves will perform on May 1st at Hurley’s and on May 3rd in the Lehman Quad for Bearstock. Check out their myspace at

Susquehanna String Band

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

On Friday evening, April 24, quite a crowd filled Hosmer Hall to hear the bluegrass, folk, and traditional music of the Susquehanna String Band. The crowd was composed predominantly of community members and families, though some students were present. The Susquehanna String Band consists of three members, John Kirk, Dan Duggan, and Rick Bunting, who constantly switch instruments. Instruments on the stage included piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, pennywhistle, and hammered dulcimer. This concert was the annual benefit concert for the Community Performance Series, and though admission was free, donations were encouraged. The Susquehanna String Band is no stranger to the North Country, and was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.

The songs that the group played ranged from American folk songs to traditional music of the British Isles. During some of the more rousing songs, the group taught the audience lyrics ahead of time and encouraged everyone to sing along. Other songs were peaceful, lyric ballads. One of the slower songs was even prefaced by the recitation of a poem by William Butler Yeats. The set was sprinkled with funny and reminiscent anecdotes, ranging in subject from Helen Hosmer of the Crane School of Music to fishing trips.

Crane Students Amanda Hayden, Jackie Cypress, Sarah Bleichfeld, and Meghan Smart joined the String Band as a string quartet, performing a beautiful song called “Trillium Lane.” Hayden played fiddle on several more songs, and the quartet joined the group again later in the program for more playing along. Members of the audience, which included current Crane Students, alumni, and community members, were proud to see some of their own up on stage with such renowned musicians.

The event was very family friendly. It was at times fun, and at other times, poignant and touching. The last song before the encore, “Auld Lang Syne,” caused members of the audience to raise their voices together in song, and even shed a tear or two. Seeing a group such as the Susquehanna String Band perform is a truly unique experience, exposing people of all ages to traditional songs and instruments that they may never have heard or seen before. The audience was enthralled, and gave the group several standing ovations.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Potsdam Says Goodbye to The Cherubs and Welcomes Cities Over Seas

Published in the 4/18/08 issue of The Racquette.

For a show only advertised on Facebook, by word of mouth, and with conspicuous but information-void posters, Saturday night’s house show featuring The Cherubs, Cities Over Seas, and Electrical Bananas, was brimming with people. Over 100 people filtered through the few small rooms before the music even started. Electrical Bananas, a Vegan Straight Edge punk band played first. The band was heartfelt, with some great melodic guitar lines and vocals. They didn’t quite fit into the same niche as the others on the bill, but still added to the appeal of the show.

Next up were Cities Over Seas, playing their second show ever. They easily brought their live show to the next level between those two shows alone. The room was tight and intimate, and due to Cities’ burgeoning fame, the crowd was completely engrossed. Fans danced and knew the right moments to clap during the upbeat electronic breakdowns. It was truly a stellar performance from a band that is the next big thing in the Potsdam music scene.

Finally, The Cherubs’ set was filled with familiar songs from their debut EP and CD as well as a few new songs. The night was full of surprises, including dancing contests and free toothbrushes. The attendees danced enthusiastically and bounced off of one another in a mosh pit in one of the smallest living rooms to ever hold a show of such magnitude. The room was overheated and full of sweaty people having a good time. The performance was over the top as usual, but nevertheless extremely fun to participate in. Shows this diverse and unique are hard to come by.

This show truly ushered out the old, with the Cherubs ending their stint in Northern New York, and brought in the new, with Cities Over Seas about to take Potsdam by storm. Cities Over Seas’ CD, National Phantom, was released this week, and will be available at the College Bookstore and any Madstop events.

Check out the bands:

Electrical Bananas:

Cities Over Seas:

The Cherubs:

Potsdam Rock Orchestra to perform rock and pop favorites

Published in the 4/18/08 issue of The Racquette.

The Potsdam Rock Orchestra is thrilled to present a program of all newly arranged but familiar rock tunes on Friday, May 9th at 7:30PM in the Knowles MPR. The group consists of 17 members, playing everything from standard rock band instruments to woodwinds and strings. The musical selection will be quite diverse, ranging from Carmina Burana to Bon Jovi to Phantom of the Opera. “It’s going to be all stuff you know, but with a different twist to it,” claims bass player Zakk Eastman. Ron Cuevas, guitarist, calls the group “rock meets classical.”

The show promises to be exciting and unique. “It’s something that concertgoers probably never experienced if they’ve never seen us,” says Cheryl Paine, clarinet player and vocalist. Zakk Eastman values this because “it’s a different genre that Crane doesn’t really expose you to.” It will surely be something different than Potsdam students usually see, but still very high quality. “You’re going to come in and hear intellectual music,” promises Ron Cuevas.

The Potsdam Rock Orchestra originated from Ron Cuevas’s vision to lead a rock band with a full orchestra behind it. The vision came into reality last September when he got together fellow musicians and friends from the Crane School of Music, and prepared a Christmas program based off of Trans-Siberian Orchestra covers. The program was performed in Potsdam and Utica. Since their last performance, the group has expanded significantly, adding more members and more varied songs.

Tickets for May 9th will be available for advance purchase at the SGA Office, where Bear Express is accepted. Advance tickets are $4; tickets will be $5 at the door.

For more information about the Potsdam Rock Orchestra and booking, contact Be sure to check out their website at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Latin Ensemble Performance Spices Up Crane

Here's the next piece that I wrote for the Racquette. More will be coming soon! This was published in last week's paper.

The Crane Latin Ensemble, under the direction of Marsha Baxter, had excited audience members dancing in the aisles of Hosmer Hall during their performance on Thursday, April 10th. The group is comprised of the finest and most versatile musicians in Crane. They played a variety of Latin songs, focusing in on those made famous by familiar performers such as Carlos Santana and Gloria Estefan. Some songs, such as “Para los rumberos” and “Everybody’s everything” were performed by the full ensemble, which consists of vocalists, trumpets, saxophones, flute, violin, a percussion section, and other rhythm instruments. Other charts, including “Terriaki,” were played by smaller, more intimate, groups of instruments from the ensemble. The energy of the group was overwhelming, and perhaps the loud amplification of the instruments was unnecessary. Nevertheless, the blend of the group and the excitement they induced from the nearly 100 audience members was surely a change of pace from most Crane events.

The stage was flanked with tables and chairs to evoke a café setting, and brightly clad Phoenix Club singers sat in the chairs and at the edge of the stage. Half way through the Latin Ensemble’s set, they welcomed the ladies of Phoenix Club (a Crane choral group) to center stage to sing an a capella number. Although it was performed enthusiastically, it did not match the feel of the rest of the performance. The singers did help lighten the mood with their brightly colored shirts and dancing at the sides of the stage and in the aisles.

Thanks to the encouragement of the ensemble members and those dancing on stage, many audience members got out of their seats to try out new dance moves in the aisles. This is a sight rarely witnessed in Crane, where most programs are classical and audience is expected to behave in a more refined manner. At one point, a conga line even started to dance around the floor of the Hall, picking up more and more enlightened concertgoers as it went.

Seeing the Crane Latin Ensemble perform each semester is a new experience, as the group is constantly changing. Instead of having the ensemble conform to set instrumentation standards, the group adapts to fit which musicians are eligible and compatible with the group. This year has brought flute and violin into the group, as well as more vocalists and even an accordionist.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cities Over Seas Brings Unique Sound to Potsdam Music Scene

So, as a bit of a preface to this...I'm writing for my college's newspaper now, The Racquette. It's pretty exciting, and is getting me writing again, and on a more regular basis! Here is my first published article, about a new band I saw in Potsdam last weekend.

Hurley’s was unusually crowded on Saturday night, April 5th, for the long-anticipated debut of local band Cities Over Seas. At 10 minutes past 8pm, just as the crowd was getting anxious for music, warm-up act Meredith Atkinson took the stage. Atkinson, the titular “Mouse” of Mouse and the Love and Light Orkestra, played a solo set, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Her cloyingly sweet voice belted out academic, polysyllabic lyrics, reminiscent of literature-loving romantics, The Decemberists. She sang songs of love and loss, and yet she kept an ingratiating smile on her face, regardless of the gravity of some of the lyrics.

Cities Over Seas came onstage and were greeted by their enthusiastic, already established fan base. The audience was mesmerized by the familiar sound of Doug Campbell’s ethereal, mellow vocals in a new context: one of ambient guitar, bass lines, and beats. Campbell rose to the occasion, delivering the vocals with as much emotion as a solo show, with Matt Durkin’s harmonies supporting them even more. The song “Sand Sculptures” washed over the audience and filled the entire room with sound, enhanced even further by the pre-programmed material that was recorded for the album and played simultaneously. The album title track, “National Phantom,” was appropriately characterized by a haunting piano line and languid, slide guitar. After the somber title track, the band plowed into an energetic pair of songs to end the set: “Time Bombs” and “The Kitchen Party” (to which an enthusiastic concert attendee shouted, “I love this song!” after presumably hearing it on their website). Newcomers Cities Over Seas proved that they have the flexibility to be diverse and the ability to transcend genre stereotypes. One of the most refreshing things about this band was that they clearly were enjoying making music. The musicians of Cities Over Seas smiled and interacted with each other and the audience.

The most obvious benefit of seeing this band live, as opposed to recorded, is the fact that the pre-programmed musical material only colors the live show: it doesn’t define it. On some of the recordings, the electronics and synthesizers are almost overdone, and the real musicianship gets buried. Chelsea Wischerth, Freshman Geology major, thought “the electronic tracks definitely gave them their unique sound, but more importantly made it more pleasing to the ear and made it more fun to dance to. Adam Conforti, Junior Music Education major, agreed, they were a fun band with great energy. A crowd of 88 definitely spoke volumes to the benefit of using the internet and word of mouth to advertise.

Wired after an intense first set, Alex Butler, bassist for Cities Over Seas, cited the chemistry of the band members as the key to their success. Alex Butler, along with Craig Marrer and Matt Durkin had all played together previously in the now defunct band Slow Release. “We wanted to still play together…and I’d always wanted to play with Doug [Campbell],” said Butler, so it was only natural for the group to click. Joe Parker, drummer, was added into the mix, and the vision was realized. Bulter and Marrer credited Radiohead, The Postal Service, Ratatat, and jokingly, Rush, as influences on their music.

Madstop Records A&R Executive, Jared Brickman, is extremely excited to welcome Cities Over Seas to the label. “This band comes at a great time,” said Brickman, noting the increasing influence of electronics in indie music. Cities Over Seas is “an awesome step in the direction the label wants to go,” and is going to target the market that Madstop has always been interested in reaching. When asked what has made this project such a success, Brickman stated, “This is music that we [Madstop Records] really truly believe in.”

Cities Over Seas’ debut album, “National Phantom,” is slated for release during the week of April 20th. It will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore, as well as Northern Music in downtown Potsdam. You can listen to tracks from the album at the band’s myspace,