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.