FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Gorillaz (Pt. 2)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! We continue our journey into the very depths of the catalog of UK superstar virtual band, Gorillaz. 

If you had to pick a favorite Gorillaz album, what would it be? Probably Demon Days, right? It’s a good choice made even better by the existence of a record you probably haven’t heard of: D-Sides. This collection of B-sides from Demon Days (look! a pun!) thrives on a more twisted landscape than its already spectacularly weird big brother. Essentially, D-Sides exists as an outlet for extremes, exhibiting tracks that make the eponymous record’s “M1 A1” feel like skipping through a field of wildflowers in addition to jams that not even “Dirty Harry” measures up to. And of course, there’s a Bill Murray reference. Because what else did you expect?

But before you pounce upon the opportunity to listen to D-Sides in full (which is quite simply a lot), I recommend you check out the following three tracks. Collectively, they capture the album’s most poignant moments along with one of the best remixes in Gorillaz’ history. 

Tracks: 

1. “Hong Kong”

I’ve never been able to get over how breathtaking this track is. From its opening guzheng solo over soft guitar arpeggios, “Hong Kong” describes a world in vivid detail. You can’t help but feel pulled into another head space while listening to Damon Albarn croon an existential poem depicting an empty life in one of the world’s largest cities. From penthouse views to school-kids to radio DJs, “Hong Kong” captures an exquisitely painful sense of loneliness in a city full of life. 

2. “Stop The Dams”

For a long time, the strange, heavily-accented man talking about how things cling and clang around in his head while he walks in the middle of this track bugged me out. Then, as I listened, I was reminded of a line from Menomena’s “Evil Bee”: “Oh to be a machine/Oh to be wanted/To be useful”. I think “Stop The Dams” captures that same sentiment with less defeatism. Yes, sometimes you feel like a little biological robot constantly in need of maintenance, but you can always stop the dams (and the clings and clangs) and let your thoughts flow freely, if you want to. 

3. “El Mañana (Metronomy Remix)”

There’s something to a dance beat featuring melodica. Seriously, electronic bands, get on this. Metronomy took a subdued song about crushing desperation and turned it into a club banger with a climactic close on this remix of “El Mañana.” In trademark fashion, the four piece draws on heavily looped synth chords (see: “A Thing for Me”) to develop the track, but unlike their other work, this remix culminates with a spectacular white noise/percussion build up and drop off. It’s like if you were watching someone boogie on the dance floor and then all their skin suddenly vaporized, leaving their skeleton to continue gettin’ down. Disturbingly entertaining. 

References: Broken Social Scene, Menomena, & Metronomy

Well I hope you enjoyed spelunking into the deep, dark cave that is Gorillaz’s catalog as much as I did. Catch you next week when I feature a band not completely composed of cartoons! 

-Spencer “Tilde Inserter” Swan 

NEW TRACKS: Tweedy, “Diamond Light, Part 1”

From his upcoming Sukeriae, Jeff Tweedy presents this haunting first installment of a work called “Diamond Light.”  It develops slowly and steadily, with a dirge-like feel. Tweedy’s lyrics, though somewhat difficult to make out, allude to existential fears and issues of faith. The song’s pace gives these musings the space they deserve.

The first sound heard is actually Tweedy’s son Spencer on drums. He sets up a stuttering beat, reminiscent of something off a recent Radiohead album. After this is established, Tweedy himself comes in with the vocal melody. In contrast to the drums, this is slower and languid, with hints of eastern exoticism. To add to this vibe, the line is doubled on what I believe is an electric sitar.

A few verses pass, divided by relaxations in the drumbeat. Eventually, guitar and keyboard enter, providing more moody atmosphere. Stabs of distortion and drum fills conspire to heighten a sense of anxiety and chaos, before an abrupt fall.  From that point, the song goes through a rebuild, leading to a chorus of eerie howls and moans.

Throughout the song, Tweedy asks “Are you scared, are you frightened? Terrified of being alone?” The musical effects he summons reflect the unease inherent in these questions. He also offers a potential solution, wondering “Why don’t we pick one script and leave it?” This script would seem to involve putting trust in the titular diamond light. He doesn’t go into much more detail, leaving the listener to think about the ideas presented and come to their own conclusions.

-Joe Ciccarello 

JOE’S JAZZY JAUNTS: Dave Douglas and Uri Caine & The Bad Plus

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine play a duo concert in a fairly intimate setting. The two were performing music from this year’s Present Joys, which takes inspiration from the shape note singing tradition. I came for Douglas, whose playing is both unconventional and highly enjoyable, but I left admiring the group dynamic and songs as well.

Shape note refers to a method of music notation used in communal singing. To put it generally, different shapes are assigned to the notes of the scale (do, re, mi, etc.) This serves as a simple way to communicate melodies to people of varying musical experience. The system forms the basis for The Sacred Harp, a collection of American songs from the late 1700s through early 1800s.

Douglas and Caine take songs from this book, approaching them with respect but also occasional irreverence. The limited amount of instrumentation allows the melodies to sit right in the front, and Douglas’ horn has an especially vocal quality. He is able to shift back and forth from light to dark tones, with a range of inflections. Caine provides steady harmonic backing, but jumps out with his own lines to counter.

A particular standout from the album is the somber hymn “Bethel.”  The melody comes as a slow procession, with plenty of space to breathe. About a minute and a half in, Douglas starts to move outside of the framework with an improvisation, introducing some off-kilter rhythms.

Also notable is the title track, “Present Joys.” This song is based around an upbeat (dare I say jaunty) major key theme that contains exactly zero surprises. Douglas and Caine repeat it a few times, teasing the listener. And just when it feels too predictable, a blue note pops up and the feel moves to swing. I love this deft interplay. The song doesn’t feel like it belongs in a museum exhibit—instead, compelling strands have been taken from it and woven into something larger.

I wrote about the Bad Plus a few weeks ago, but they just released a new track so dammit, I’m going to write about them again. The tune is called “Mr. Now,” and it moves with an impatience fitting for such a title character.

The initial theme sees a repeated riff do battle with a series of low punches. This alternates with a quick flurry of notes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dream Theater song. The mounting tension then releases into a lengthy solo by pianist Ethan Iverson, before Dave King takes over to bash on every drum he owns.

It’s a solid single from the upcoming Inevitable Western. It leans towards the band’s proggy side, which has resulted in things like a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”. The members execute their parts with incredible precision, and the production is very crisp. It certainly has energy.

-Joe Ciccarello

THIS ONE TIME AT BANDCAMP: Volume 4
This theme for this week (and life, really) is pizza. I’m writing this while eating leftover pizza, thinking about my coworker’s cheeseburger pizza, and ignoring my recently developed lactose intolerance that makes pizza consumption less enjoyable. In my heart, I will always enjoy pizza, but maybe not in my stomach. All of this music has to do with pizza! So grab a slice and get listening.  
<a href=”http://pizzafridayband.bandcamp.com/album/i-need-a-summer” data-mce-href=”http://pizzafridayband.bandcamp.com/album/i-need-a-summer”>I Need A Summer by Pizza Friday</a>
Pizza Friday - First of all, let’s talk about the name Pizza Friday. It combines two of my favorite things - pizza and Friday - so, naturally, it can become one of my new favorite bands. Who said all the good band names are taken? They have only released two tracks, but both “I Need A Summer” and “Get Along” are incredibly catchy and a little surfy, which is the perfect combination for your summer soundtrack. Not to mention, the lead singer’s voice is an incredibly sultry croon that reminds me of Alex Turner that I could listen to for hours.
<a href=”http://casablancadrivers.bandcamp.com/album/2002pizza” data-mce-href=”http://casablancadrivers.bandcamp.com/album/2002pizza”>2002PIZZA by Casablanca Drivers</a>
Casablanca Drivers - The Casablanca Drivers hail from Paris, France, and play catchy energetic pop rock. Their debut from April is called 2002Pizza, which is why I’ve included them in this pizza-themed edition. Unfortunately, I can’t read French, but their Bandcamp claims (in English) that they like “Rock n roll, pizza, boobs, and beers. In that order.” Next time I drive to work, I plan to put on this album, sing along, smile, and pretend I’m driving to a beach in France. Their cheery, guitar heavy music is infectious and makes you sing along even though you probably don’t know the words.
<a href=”http://pizzataperecords.bandcamp.com/album/we-used-to-have-girlfriends-extended” data-mce-href=”http://pizzataperecords.bandcamp.com/album/we-used-to-have-girlfriends-extended”>We Used to Have Girlfriends (Extended) by The Leave Me Be’s</a>
The Leave Me Be’s - Now it wouldn’t be a Bandcamp article without mentioning a lo-fi punk rock artist, and for that we have The Leave Me Be’s. Their album, We Used To Have Girlfriends, is full of fast-paced, guitar-and-drum-with-fuzzy-vocals sounding post-punk rock that is perfect for pondering the question of what exactly did happen to their girlfriends. My favorite track is “Pine Tree Farm.” The pizza connection, you ask? Their music is currently being released through a tiny record label out of Memphis called Pizza Tape Records.
<a href=”http://cryingatprom.bandcamp.com/album/spring-training” data-mce-href=”http://cryingatprom.bandcamp.com/album/spring-training”>Spring Training by Prom</a>
Prom - Of the four bands on this bill, Prom is the black sheep. The music is much more downtempo and has a slow, sad shoegazey feeling. I’m not a very lyrical listener, but what draws me to Prom is the lead singer’s deep, monotone vocals and sad lyrics about love, friendship, and life that you can relate to. I found their album Spring Training because they had tagged their music with the word pizza. According to the description, the album is about “balance, boozy weekends, getting older, good friends, moving on, eating pizza at two am, getting over,” which is a whole slew of relatable things. Prom is music to cry to, preferably if you are at a prom (their bandcamp URL is “cryingatprom”).
-Sydney Sanial  

THIS ONE TIME AT BANDCAMP: Volume 4

This theme for this week (and life, really) is pizza. I’m writing this while eating leftover pizza, thinking about my coworker’s cheeseburger pizza, and ignoring my recently developed lactose intolerance that makes pizza consumption less enjoyable. In my heart, I will always enjoy pizza, but maybe not in my stomach. All of this music has to do with pizza! So grab a slice and get listening.  

Pizza Friday - First of all, let’s talk about the name Pizza Friday. It combines two of my favorite things - pizza and Friday - so, naturally, it can become one of my new favorite bands. Who said all the good band names are taken? They have only released two tracks, but both “I Need A Summer” and “Get Along” are incredibly catchy and a little surfy, which is the perfect combination for your summer soundtrack. Not to mention, the lead singer’s voice is an incredibly sultry croon that reminds me of Alex Turner that I could listen to for hours.

Casablanca Drivers - The Casablanca Drivers hail from Paris, France, and play catchy energetic pop rock. Their debut from April is called 2002Pizza, which is why I’ve included them in this pizza-themed edition. Unfortunately, I can’t read French, but their Bandcamp claims (in English) that they like “Rock n roll, pizza, boobs, and beers. In that order.” Next time I drive to work, I plan to put on this album, sing along, smile, and pretend I’m driving to a beach in France. Their cheery, guitar heavy music is infectious and makes you sing along even though you probably don’t know the words.

The Leave Me Be’s - Now it wouldn’t be a Bandcamp article without mentioning a lo-fi punk rock artist, and for that we have The Leave Me Be’s. Their album, We Used To Have Girlfriends, is full of fast-paced, guitar-and-drum-with-fuzzy-vocals sounding post-punk rock that is perfect for pondering the question of what exactly did happen to their girlfriends. My favorite track is “Pine Tree Farm.” The pizza connection, you ask? Their music is currently being released through a tiny record label out of Memphis called Pizza Tape Records.

Prom - Of the four bands on this bill, Prom is the black sheep. The music is much more downtempo and has a slow, sad shoegazey feeling. I’m not a very lyrical listener, but what draws me to Prom is the lead singer’s deep, monotone vocals and sad lyrics about love, friendship, and life that you can relate to. I found their album Spring Training because they had tagged their music with the word pizza. According to the description, the album is about “balance, boozy weekends, getting older, good friends, moving on, eating pizza at two am, getting over,” which is a whole slew of relatable things. Prom is music to cry to, preferably if you are at a prom (their bandcamp URL is “cryingatprom”).

-Sydney Sanial  

VOTD: Weird Al, “Word Crimes”

Weird Al’s on a roll. For the first time in his 40-year career he’s reached the top of the charts with his new album Mandatory Fun. Get this, it’s also the first comedy album to hit number one since Allan Sherman did it 1963. And, in case you’ve missed it, he put out just about a trillion videos to promote the album. They’re all worth watching.

It’s 2014 and of course Weird Al has brought his parodying ways to “Blurred Lines,” and while this video features even less clothes than the original, that’s mostly because it features less people, too. But don’t let that discourage you because watching it might actually make you smarter.

You see, with “Word Crimes” Weird Al has finally addressed one of the great epidemics of our time: not speaking well. He knows we all need a lesson on nouns, prepositions, contractions, and participles. He knows you’ve been writing them as b, c, r, and u. They’re words, not letters. You’re not Prince, you don’t get a pass on that.

So grab a notepad and listen up because Weird Al has a lesson that we all need to hear.

….and you thought school was out for summer. Ha! 

-Dylan Singleton

9:30 INTERVIEW: Anges Obel
Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel crafts dreamy, classical compositions with contemporary flair. We chatted with Obel ahead of her upcoming 9:30 Club show about performing live, her album-making process, and the value of social media in marketing musicians’ careers. 
Madelyn [9:30]: For your upcoming U.S. tour, will you be solo or with your supporting band of cellist and violinist?
Agnes Obel: Yeah, I’m going to come with a cello player and a violin player. Mika Posen from Canada is going to play violin and Anne Müller from Berlin is going to play cello. And I’m going to play piano [laughs].
What attracts you to the musicians with whom you perform live?
I’ve been working with musicians who play classical instruments, so they have a classical training, and it’s quite different from what I used to play with, which was only rock background, which is very different from a classical background. What I’ve been trying to find is musicians who are classically trained, so they can play these instruments, but on the other side, they can also be free and sort of have a more rock and roll approach to playing concerts and working with effects, and loop stations, and improvising. Also, thinking of the whole thing as more like band - I’m not interested in hiring classical musicians, then they get some sheets, and that’s it. I want it to be something we do together because that’s how I always played in bands. Mika and Anne - they’re both very much like this; they have the classical background, but they are very capable of playing with effects and both have solo projects on their own. They’re really wonderful to play with. 
I had the pleasure of seeing you at SXSW when you played in a church. That performance was very sublime; the church setting was perfect. Are your “normal” shows that stripped down, or when we see you at the Club, will there be lights and projections?
I think we’ll be able to do more than we could at the SXSW show because there are a lot of limitations to these kinds of shows, you know? You have like a fifteen-minute change over, so you can’t really do what you normally do. But it’s going to be stripped down in the set up. We’re still just going to be a trio, and we’re going to build everything up from these three instruments. So what we’re aiming at is trying to build it up to sound more orchestral with loop stations and effects and stuff, and again, having it really sparse. And I think it’s more interesting when you are fewer on stage because it gets very clear what’s happening. I really like the simplicity, and the simplicity getting more complicated. So it’s going to be something like that, but of course, not the same because SXSW was really something special [laughs].
What’s your favorite type of show to play? Do you like festivals? Or do you prefer big concert halls, or smaller, more intimate rooms?
I think I like all the three things you mentioned. But, of course, with classical instruments that you amplify and play loudly like it’s a rock instrument - that is very highly complicated to set up to play at a festival like SXSW. It’s not easy to do it. It’s a little like climbing a mountain, and if you do it, you’re very happy. But it’s really hit or miss with the set up. I’m on festival tour at the moment, and we’re playing a lot of shows like this where you have to get up on stage and everything is made for a rock band, or for an electronic band, or for somebody who has everything on a computer. [Laughs.] It’s sometimes really terrifying, actually, because you don’t know if you can do it. So when you’re in a club - a normal club - or in a venue or concert hall and you have a proper soundcheck and you have all those things and a good acoustic - of course that’s way easier. And you have time to find out the room. I really like to do that - to get to know the room before you play the concert, and find out what kind of room, what kind of acoustic, and what kind of atmosphere you can work with. In a festival, you can’t do that; I’ve never tried that, because we never have any time. But that’s also the exciting thing. So, I like it all, I guess.
As a Danish singer-songwriter living in Berlin, does writing and singing in English come pretty naturally to you? Or is it a translation process where you write in your native tongue, then do it in English?
No, no, I write in English. That’s how I learned English - from singing in English. Actually, for me, it’s very much my music language, so it’s actually more weird for me to sing in Danish. I guess that must be weird for people who speak English as their first language to hear that from somebody who comes from another language. I went to this school - it was a music school, but also an international school, so the main language was Danish, but also English, and they taught us English through music. Before we understood it, we would sing it. That means I have a very natural relationship to the language - in terms of music, at least. It seems very sort of connected for me. But also, I work with it in a very sort of sound way. Of course I think about the lyrics - use a lot of time on the lyrics - but I feel like the sound, and the sound in a room, and the words, they color each other - the sound and the semantics. And that’s even more obvious to me when it’s English than when it’s Danish. So, yeah, I like to sing in English.

Have you gravitated towards any instruments besides piano? Could you see yourself playing anything else on a record in the future?
Well, I played bass on the previous album, and guitar, and all the beats - rhythms and stuff. Because I do it myself, I end up having to do some of the instrumentation, even though I’m not very good at these instruments. So, yeah, definitely. And the next album, I’m planning to work less with piano, and more with other kinds of old keyboards, so yeah, I could definitely imagine that [laughs].
Speaking of your third record, how much have you been able to focus on that? Or are you just focusing on touring?
I’m focusing on it because I’m planning it. I’m trying to find new instruments to work with, so it’s sort of on the research phase and starting to write things. It’s still sort of just in the incubation phase - [laughs] it’s a very early phase. But most of my time is with the touring and getting that album working. I’m touring with different musicians at the moment -  I’m not touring with Anne and Mika right now - I’m touring with two Belgian musicians, so every time you start playing with a new band, you have to rehearse and get to know each other. It takes a lot of time, I think. And just traveling - I haven’t been home for four weeks right now.
Do you think that, ideally, the new album would come out early next year? What’s your timeline for it?
Oh, no, no, no. I need a long time. [Laughs.] I’m just starting to think about it and to write a few things. I’m the type who needs a year or two years or something. I’m not one of these fast ones. I need a long time.
Nothing wrong with that! So, you produce your own records, and I’m wondering how having complete creative control in the recording studio impacts other aspects of your life as a musician? Does it help at all as a touring musician to know your records in and out and to say, “I did everything of this”? 
That’s a good question. I never got that question before. I’m very focused on sound. Live sound -  I want it to sound a certain way, so I’m very involved in the sound aspect, and of course the arrangements and everything. But it also means when we start playing it live, and we change the arrangements and we develop the songs, I keep on thinking, “Oh, I want to go back and rerecord it!” You can get sort of obsessed with certain aspects of the sound. I ended up also mixing the two last albums, so when you produce it, and record it, and mix it, and write it, and play it, you can tend to become a little obsessed with it. And when you start playing it with other people and changing it, then it’s like you’re opening the whole thing up again. I think it becomes very personal and also takes a lot of time of your life, basically. I’m still not a point where I can write the songs and leave the production and everything to somebody else. Could be fun to try it at some point and say, “Okay, you do it, and I’ll just see what’s going to come out at the end.” So far, I’ve had this need to have the songs and the universe in the whole of my hands so I can make sure I get my ideas and visions out the way I want it.
I know that Myspace was instrumental in your discovery as a musician. Do you still use social media as a main marketing tool for your career? 
First of all, it’s true that I had one song in a German commercial that was discovered on Myspace in 2008, but it didn’t help me so much. It was just in Germany and it took me two years to get a record deal, and it ended up not being in Germany. I couldn’t get any contract in Germany, so it didn’t help me so much. I think sometimes it’s just something it says on Wikipedia, but the reality is it wasn’t that easy [laughs]. I learned that you have to be very careful with these kinds of things. I think, obviously, it has changed everything that music is available everywhere. Social media is part of it. I think the most important platform right now is YouTube, for discovering music and for also letting you know bands that are not on labels [and don’t] have promotion and stuff. They have an output of form; that’s extremely important. And that was also important for me - that’s how I started doing music on my own. And I remember before, I was playing in a band, and in this band project, everything was about getting a record deal, but when I started working alone, that was a time where Myspace was really big. In that period, everybody was like, “Oh, let’s just get it up on Myspace and show it to our friends.” So, the whole spirit has changed and it’s already some time ago now, you know? But it’s not about labels anymore. It’s about getting it out there and finding - because everything has become way more niche - you can always find an audience now, it doesn’t matter if they are far away. So, yeah, I think it’s super important, and it’s really great for everybody who doesn’t fit into the classical category that the record labels use when they sign us. Obiviously, it’s really good. But I don’t use a lot of time with Twitter and Facebook, I have to admit. I’m not that connected myself.
You work with your boyfriend, Alex, on music videos for your songs. What’s the collaborative process between you two like?  
I’m working a lot in our home, and he has a studio in our home, too, so he ends up hearing a lot of stuff before it’s done. He will make something without me even knowing it, and then just showing it to me, and then if I like it, he will make a video for it. I dunno, I guess I’m really lucky with that because it doesn’t have to be conceptualized and planned. It just sort of happens in the process.
-Madelyn Dutt
Agnes Obel will perform at 9:30 Club on Wednesday, August 13.

9:30 INTERVIEW: Anges Obel

Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel crafts dreamy, classical compositions with contemporary flair. We chatted with Obel ahead of her upcoming 9:30 Club show about performing live, her album-making process, and the value of social media in marketing musicians’ careers. 

Madelyn [9:30]: For your upcoming U.S. tour, will you be solo or with your supporting band of cellist and violinist?

Agnes Obel: Yeah, I’m going to come with a cello player and a violin player. Mika Posen from Canada is going to play violin and Anne Müller from Berlin is going to play cello. And I’m going to play piano [laughs].

What attracts you to the musicians with whom you perform live?

I’ve been working with musicians who play classical instruments, so they have a classical training, and it’s quite different from what I used to play with, which was only rock background, which is very different from a classical background. What I’ve been trying to find is musicians who are classically trained, so they can play these instruments, but on the other side, they can also be free and sort of have a more rock and roll approach to playing concerts and working with effects, and loop stations, and improvising. Also, thinking of the whole thing as more like band - I’m not interested in hiring classical musicians, then they get some sheets, and that’s it. I want it to be something we do together because that’s how I always played in bands. Mika and Anne - they’re both very much like this; they have the classical background, but they are very capable of playing with effects and both have solo projects on their own. They’re really wonderful to play with. 

I had the pleasure of seeing you at SXSW when you played in a church. That performance was very sublime; the church setting was perfect. Are your “normal” shows that stripped down, or when we see you at the Club, will there be lights and projections?

I think we’ll be able to do more than we could at the SXSW show because there are a lot of limitations to these kinds of shows, you know? You have like a fifteen-minute change over, so you can’t really do what you normally do. But it’s going to be stripped down in the set up. We’re still just going to be a trio, and we’re going to build everything up from these three instruments. So what we’re aiming at is trying to build it up to sound more orchestral with loop stations and effects and stuff, and again, having it really sparse. And I think it’s more interesting when you are fewer on stage because it gets very clear what’s happening. I really like the simplicity, and the simplicity getting more complicated. So it’s going to be something like that, but of course, not the same because SXSW was really something special [laughs].

What’s your favorite type of show to play? Do you like festivals? Or do you prefer big concert halls, or smaller, more intimate rooms?

I think I like all the three things you mentioned. But, of course, with classical instruments that you amplify and play loudly like it’s a rock instrument - that is very highly complicated to set up to play at a festival like SXSW. It’s not easy to do it. It’s a little like climbing a mountain, and if you do it, you’re very happy. But it’s really hit or miss with the set up. I’m on festival tour at the moment, and we’re playing a lot of shows like this where you have to get up on stage and everything is made for a rock band, or for an electronic band, or for somebody who has everything on a computer. [Laughs.] It’s sometimes really terrifying, actually, because you don’t know if you can do it. So when you’re in a club - a normal club - or in a venue or concert hall and you have a proper soundcheck and you have all those things and a good acoustic - of course that’s way easier. And you have time to find out the room. I really like to do that - to get to know the room before you play the concert, and find out what kind of room, what kind of acoustic, and what kind of atmosphere you can work with. In a festival, you can’t do that; I’ve never tried that, because we never have any time. But that’s also the exciting thing. So, I like it all, I guess.

As a Danish singer-songwriter living in Berlin, does writing and singing in English come pretty naturally to you? Or is it a translation process where you write in your native tongue, then do it in English?

No, no, I write in English. That’s how I learned English - from singing in English. Actually, for me, it’s very much my music language, so it’s actually more weird for me to sing in Danish. I guess that must be weird for people who speak English as their first language to hear that from somebody who comes from another language. I went to this school - it was a music school, but also an international school, so the main language was Danish, but also English, and they taught us English through music. Before we understood it, we would sing it. That means I have a very natural relationship to the language - in terms of music, at least. It seems very sort of connected for me. But also, I work with it in a very sort of sound way. Of course I think about the lyrics - use a lot of time on the lyrics - but I feel like the sound, and the sound in a room, and the words, they color each other - the sound and the semantics. And that’s even more obvious to me when it’s English than when it’s Danish. So, yeah, I like to sing in English.

Have you gravitated towards any instruments besides piano? Could you see yourself playing anything else on a record in the future?

Well, I played bass on the previous album, and guitar, and all the beats - rhythms and stuff. Because I do it myself, I end up having to do some of the instrumentation, even though I’m not very good at these instruments. So, yeah, definitely. And the next album, I’m planning to work less with piano, and more with other kinds of old keyboards, so yeah, I could definitely imagine that [laughs].

Speaking of your third record, how much have you been able to focus on that? Or are you just focusing on touring?

I’m focusing on it because I’m planning it. I’m trying to find new instruments to work with, so it’s sort of on the research phase and starting to write things. It’s still sort of just in the incubation phase - [laughs] it’s a very early phase. But most of my time is with the touring and getting that album working. I’m touring with different musicians at the moment -  I’m not touring with Anne and Mika right now - I’m touring with two Belgian musicians, so every time you start playing with a new band, you have to rehearse and get to know each other. It takes a lot of time, I think. And just traveling - I haven’t been home for four weeks right now.

Do you think that, ideally, the new album would come out early next year? What’s your timeline for it?

Oh, no, no, no. I need a long time. [Laughs.] I’m just starting to think about it and to write a few things. I’m the type who needs a year or two years or something. I’m not one of these fast ones. I need a long time.

Nothing wrong with that! So, you produce your own records, and I’m wondering how having complete creative control in the recording studio impacts other aspects of your life as a musician? Does it help at all as a touring musician to know your records in and out and to say, “I did everything of this”? 

That’s a good question. I never got that question before. I’m very focused on sound. Live sound -  I want it to sound a certain way, so I’m very involved in the sound aspect, and of course the arrangements and everything. But it also means when we start playing it live, and we change the arrangements and we develop the songs, I keep on thinking, “Oh, I want to go back and rerecord it!” You can get sort of obsessed with certain aspects of the sound. I ended up also mixing the two last albums, so when you produce it, and record it, and mix it, and write it, and play it, you can tend to become a little obsessed with it. And when you start playing it with other people and changing it, then it’s like you’re opening the whole thing up again. I think it becomes very personal and also takes a lot of time of your life, basically. I’m still not a point where I can write the songs and leave the production and everything to somebody else. Could be fun to try it at some point and say, “Okay, you do it, and I’ll just see what’s going to come out at the end.” So far, I’ve had this need to have the songs and the universe in the whole of my hands so I can make sure I get my ideas and visions out the way I want it.

I know that Myspace was instrumental in your discovery as a musician. Do you still use social media as a main marketing tool for your career? 

First of all, it’s true that I had one song in a German commercial that was discovered on Myspace in 2008, but it didn’t help me so much. It was just in Germany and it took me two years to get a record deal, and it ended up not being in Germany. I couldn’t get any contract in Germany, so it didn’t help me so much. I think sometimes it’s just something it says on Wikipedia, but the reality is it wasn’t that easy [laughs]. I learned that you have to be very careful with these kinds of things. I think, obviously, it has changed everything that music is available everywhere. Social media is part of it. I think the most important platform right now is YouTube, for discovering music and for also letting you know bands that are not on labels [and don’t] have promotion and stuff. They have an output of form; that’s extremely important. And that was also important for me - that’s how I started doing music on my own. And I remember before, I was playing in a band, and in this band project, everything was about getting a record deal, but when I started working alone, that was a time where Myspace was really big. In that period, everybody was like, “Oh, let’s just get it up on Myspace and show it to our friends.” So, the whole spirit has changed and it’s already some time ago now, you know? But it’s not about labels anymore. It’s about getting it out there and finding - because everything has become way more niche - you can always find an audience now, it doesn’t matter if they are far away. So, yeah, I think it’s super important, and it’s really great for everybody who doesn’t fit into the classical category that the record labels use when they sign us. Obiviously, it’s really good. But I don’t use a lot of time with Twitter and Facebook, I have to admit. I’m not that connected myself.

You work with your boyfriend, Alex, on music videos for your songs. What’s the collaborative process between you two like?  

I’m working a lot in our home, and he has a studio in our home, too, so he ends up hearing a lot of stuff before it’s done. He will make something without me even knowing it, and then just showing it to me, and then if I like it, he will make a video for it. I dunno, I guess I’m really lucky with that because it doesn’t have to be conceptualized and planned. It just sort of happens in the process.

-Madelyn Dutt

Agnes Obel will perform at 9:30 Club on Wednesday, August 13.

NEW TRACKS: Iceage, “The Lord’s Favorite”

Iceage has returned with one of the most surprising releases of the year. The Danish punks rose to prominence a few years ago on the back of some excellent singles.  Their first releases and self-titled debut drew a perfect mix of post-punk, hardcore, and Scandinavian metal influences. Last year’s You’re Nothing saw the band’s Joy Division influence grow in tandem with a more mature and aggressive punk sound.

All of this makes the new release, from the band that was once accused of using fascist iconography, hard to understand. No one would have anticipated their trajectory towards jangly, rockabilly tunes – but this is what Iceage have released with their new single “The Lord’s Favorite.”  True to their fashion songwriting fashion, nearly none of the lyrics are understandable until lead singer Elias Ronnenfelt calmly chants, “100 year old wine/ I do believe in heaven/ and I do believe it’s time!” All of his murmuring is done over a churning, redundant guitar riff that is short of all of the ominous effects Iceage famously use – but it’s brilliant.

Iceage have pulled one out of left field here. This single is a complete sonic reconfiguration. I once saw these guys at the Black Cat in the backroom. After about three songs the crowd and I all rushed towards the stage and a massive mosh pit formed. I’m not really the kind for mosh pits and I got clocked right in the nose. My nose, which is prone to bleeding, began flowing. I sorted myself out and still had the time of my life. I don’t think I can expect that kind of gig next time these guys come to town in October, which based on this new single, isn’t a bad thing.

-Keegan Hudson

SHOW PREVIEW: Grouplove and Portugal. The Man
Indie rock labelmates Grouplove and Portugal. The Man, both under Atlantic Records, are making their way to Merriweather Post Pavillion this September. Now, in Grouplove’s case, that is rather impressive since, under a year ago, they played a set at U Street Music Hall. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a difference in capacity of almost 19,000 people! Both Grouplove and Portugal. The Man having been hitting festivals across the U.S. the last few summers and growing to play larger venues, such as Merriweather.
Even if you think you’ve never heard of Grouplove, you’ve probably heard Grouplove. Their song, “Tongue Tied,” among others, has been all over TV and other mediums, and is too catchy for you not to remember at least the hook. Lead vocalists Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi wow audiences with their remarkable dynamics that perfectly compliment each other, luring everyone to sing along. You’re sure to be enthralled by their vigorous, energetic live performance. 
Portugal. The Man’s latest album, released last June, was produced by Danger Mouse, a Grammy-nominated producer who is a member of Broken Bells, was a past member of Gnarls Barkley, and has produced albums for Beck, Black Keys, and Gorillaz. They are led by their frontman, John Gourley, and there’s usually one thing that people notice about him right off the bat - he is almost always singing in falsetto. What really amazes people about this is how badass he is able to make falsetto sound. Overall, many of their songs are lots of fun and easy to dance to, especially in concert. But also, as they get down into the deeper tracks of any of their seven studio albums, the audience will be blown away by the amount of serious power they can bring.
-Alec Moss
Catch Grouplove and Portugal. The Man at Merriweather on September 12th.

SHOW PREVIEW: Grouplove and Portugal. The Man

Indie rock labelmates Grouplove and Portugal. The Man, both under Atlantic Records, are making their way to Merriweather Post Pavillion this September. Now, in Grouplove’s case, that is rather impressive since, under a year ago, they played a set at U Street Music Hall. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a difference in capacity of almost 19,000 people! Both Grouplove and Portugal. The Man having been hitting festivals across the U.S. the last few summers and growing to play larger venues, such as Merriweather.

Even if you think you’ve never heard of Grouplove, you’ve probably heard Grouplove. Their song, “Tongue Tied,” among others, has been all over TV and other mediums, and is too catchy for you not to remember at least the hook. Lead vocalists Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi wow audiences with their remarkable dynamics that perfectly compliment each other, luring everyone to sing along. You’re sure to be enthralled by their vigorous, energetic live performance. 

Portugal. The Man’s latest album, released last June, was produced by Danger Mouse, a Grammy-nominated producer who is a member of Broken Bells, was a past member of Gnarls Barkley, and has produced albums for Beck, Black Keys, and Gorillaz. They are led by their frontman, John Gourley, and there’s usually one thing that people notice about him right off the bat - he is almost always singing in falsetto. What really amazes people about this is how badass he is able to make falsetto sound. Overall, many of their songs are lots of fun and easy to dance to, especially in concert. But also, as they get down into the deeper tracks of any of their seven studio albums, the audience will be blown away by the amount of serious power they can bring.

-Alec Moss

Catch Grouplove and Portugal. The Man at Merriweather on September 12th.

AS HEARD ON TV: “Orange Sky,” Alexi Murdoch on The O.C.

Thankfully, I started watching The O.C. a few years after *spoiler* Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) died, so I was prepared to cry while she was carried out of the rubble and Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” played in the background. I did not however anticipate the extent to which I would fall for Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). The story lines were dramatic, the houses were insanely expensive, and there were too many cocktail parties that ended in a physical altercation to count. I feel a sort of kinship with other teens of the early 2000s because I watched and subsequently became overly invested in this iconic, yeah I said iconic, show.

Seth Cohen listened to Death Cab for Cutie when he was moody, so I did too. Spoon’s “The Way We Get By” set the tone for the easy California livin’ theme of the show, so of course I wanted to experience that too. Needless to say, The O.C. influenced my current music knowledge as well as my desire to move out west in a huge way and one of the great discoveries I made along the way was Alexi Murdoch. His song “Orange Sky” is the only six-minute track that I can just play over and over again without respite. Murdoch’s voice is the dreamiest and the repetition of the line “in your love, my salvation lies in your love” is enough to instill hope in anyone that someday those words could be applicable or with many lucky folks, maybe they already are.

-Emily Hirsch

VOTD: Tweedy, “Summer Noon”

Tweedy, the new band from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and his son, Spencer, will drop their debut album Sukierae on September 16th. The album will feature a whopping 20 songs with “Summer Noon” as its second single, which they performed for their The Tonight Show debut.

The video for Tweedy’s “Summer Noon” is as beautifully simple as the song itself. Following a single red balloon as it floats through (what one would only suspect is) noontime on a summer day, this video really captures what summer is often all about: calmly taking in the the world as it just floats on by.

The gorgeous animation is what makes this minimalistic video work — which goes to prove that you don’t always need glitz, glamour, and complexity to make a captivating video. This great song with its simple, but beautiful, video is able to genuinely hold your attention for the three and a half minutes that it lasts.

While it may not be your typical summer song, “Summer Noon” certainly captures the serenity of these sunny months.

-Dylan Singleton