City Arts Music Festival Seattle

This took me forever to post, but as promised, my full review of City Arts Fest.

The 4-day music and art extravaganza City Arts Music Festival shows that Seattle offers more than grunge these days. After a long, hot, Indian Summer, October in Seattle felt particularly crisp. The beginning of the month saw a continuance of the warm, sunny weather, which then moved into an autumnal chill usually reserved for the East Coast. It’s important to set this mood of the death of summer to the fresh fall air to accurately describe the good spirits going into the third annual City Arts Festival presented by Heineken.

Just a week before Halloween’s mad dash for candy, the city opened its doors to the musical intrigues of David Byrne and St. Vincent, Mos Def, and local heroes such as Jonathan Russell of The Head and the Heart. Venues were scattered throughout the city accessible both by a clean public transit system or a hop in a cab. Interlaced with the musical festivities were art walks and literary pub crawls. In a lot of respects, City Arts Fest, now in its 3rd year, is like a mini SXSW. This is particularly true in parts of town like Capitol Hill, which hosts a vibrant nightlife scene with bars and venues all stretching up the Pike/Pine Triangle. Given the enthusiasm and top notch musical and artistic talent brought in, City Arts Fest has the potential to be a festival stop for out-of-towners as well as the locals. But no doubt that the locals wouldn’t mind keeping this vibrant festival to themselves.

On Wednesday, October 17, crowds lined the streets to see the sold out David Byrne and St. Vincent show, where they showed off their new album, Love This Giant. In Capitol Hill, the air was chill and the skies were splotched with clouds that hadn’t yet started the rain season (which is basically the entire year). It felt as though it were Halloween for adults – walk down to the local pub, have some drinks and some food, catch an amazing band and then stumble on to the next place. I ended up at Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room, which is in a building complex that also houses Moe Bar and Barboza – all three places hosting bands. Pike Street Fish Fry – battered, delectable goodness – is also part of the building and helpfully supplied the drunken masses their greasy bar food. Inside, there wasn’t a corner to squeeze into as every available space was filled. After barely entering the large room, horns sounded and the lights dimmed as Brother Ali came exploding onto the stage spewing some seriously fast rhymes (I literally have no idea how this man breathes) and the crowd went absolutely insane. The first half of his set was dedicated to new songs from his album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, which can only be described as sort of a ghetto Americana with Brother Ali himself looking like some sort of Amish biker. It was political and absolutely brilliant – both his lyrical abilities and his command of the crowd. Some of the songs such as “Stop the Press,” he mentioned casually to the crowd that he wrote on Capitol Hill itself and peppered his stage presence with calls to the 206 area code. His best song of the evening, “Work Everyday,” was poignant for the crowd of largely 20somethings in that it dealt with the upcoming election, an inability to pay bills, and the soul crushing weight of student loan debt. The talented rap artist was perfectly suited to the venue.

The next evening was marked by the first rain of the season and was appropriately more mellow with performances by A Fine Frenzy, Joshua Radin, and an Elliott Smith tribute show. The crowds were a lot lighter, not many wanted to brave the rain. The performances I attended Thursday were standard fare indie rock with whimsical vocals and swaying crowds. Friday was much more exciting. I started the evening in the basement of the Neumos complex at a speakeasy style bar called Barboza. I was in attendance to catch local Seattle band Howlin’ Rain. However, the times were off and I caught the last thirty minutes of the Fox and the Law set, another Seattle band and had no idea I wasn’t listening to the band I had come for. Fox and the Law weren’t bad but it was hard to enjoy their set as the instruments drowned out their vocals, making the sound incohesive. When Howlin’ Rain did finally show up, I was treated to a soulful set that had bits of ’80s wailing going on. Howlin’ Rain rocks like The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes met up in 1983 and had a metal jam session. This is definitely a band to look out for and I hope to see them more on the festival circuit this year.

I culminated the evening across town at the Showbox Sodo, a massive factory-esque building attached to a bar and grill. The main event was Ghostland Observatory, a band that you can never see without having an amazing time. The fog machine was on full power making it kind of hard to breathe as the recycled air was musty. Ominous red strobe lights lazered out into the crowd and drummer/synth player Thomas Turner came out in his Elvis/Dracula cape as the crowd went crazy. Singer Aaron Behrens exploded onto the stage in a cowboy hat and southwestern hipster attire (minus his usual long braided ponytail) and started things off with a bouncy rendition of “Glitter,” off their album Codename: Rondo. Even in the spacious concrete and brick building the bass vibrated into your throat as the crowd absolutely lost it. Behrens is one of the most exciting performers in indie/electro. He has intense energy – he can run around, dance, kick and punch the air and then start spinning for extended periods all while maintaining a certain Freddie Mercury wail to his voice. Their set continued almost two hours and they played all their big hits including “Sad Sad City,” “Heavy Heart,” and “Robotique Majestique.” They definitely won the festival for most energetic, getting listeners on the dance floor.

Saturday, was the fourth and final day of City Arts Festival. It was raining again but more people seemed to be out. I hedged my bets on getting into The Moore Theater Downtown so that I could see Devotchka playing with Seattle Rock Orchestra. Out of all the venues I’d been to over the past four days, this was the only one that was seated – in fact, I felt like I was out on Broadway for a night at the theater. The stage was small and every inch was covered by seats, music stands and carrying cases. There were at least 50 people on this small theater stage and that was before Devotchka even came out. As a recent transplant to Seattle, I had heard of Seattle Rock Orchestra but had not yet been to one of their performances. The most striking thing about these musicians (although this might be obvious due to their name) is how young they are. You usually don’t see younger adults as the majority in an orchestra. That alone was inspiring. The lights dimmed and Devotchka came out – separated from the orchestra by a thin plastic partition. As all of the musicians onstage collectively began playing their instruments it was like immediately being transported to a film scoring session. The beauty of a full body of musicians playing as one is almost ethereal and otherworldly. Having only heard Devotchka records and film work it was amazing to see them live in that each member played several instruments – Jeanie Schroder I must mention because the girl was clicking her high heels to the beat while carrying around a giant sousaphone (tuba on steroids). Unlike a night out listening to classical music, Devotchka’s body of work spans everything from gypsy, folk, indie rock to mariachi and cabaret. As one of the closing bands of the festival, they were hands down my favorite performance because of their sheer artisanship as musicians. Seattle Rock Orchestra definitely has my patronage now as well.

Seattle’s City Arts Festival is not only a fun celebration of music and art in a city immersed in both, but it is a serious contender to become a premier destination on the festival circuit. There are so many fun events and the cost… $55 dollars gets you a wristband into all the music shows. An art band is separate. If Coachella is getting old and making you broke, why not check out Seattle? See you all there next year!

Seattle City Arts Music Festival While Totally Nauseous

I have not been writing at all the last few weeks, which I'm sure those who follow are surprised about since I can never seem to shut up. Suffice it to say I've been sick and miserable with no sign of improvement, so I'm lazy. OK?

Before I was bedridden (I'm not really bedridden I just cant seem to handle being outside for more than an hour at a time), the music magazine I've been writing for since I graduated college six years ago got me a press pass to the Seattle City Arts Music Festival. I was really excited because I haven't been to Coachella in two years because I'm mad at them, couldn't go to Sasquatch this year because I had to be a good friend and go to a bachelorette party in NYC (not complaining), and worst of all! British Airways gave me a free ticket to England for some random Facebook contest and I was all set to go to Bestival on the Isle of Wight and the evil corporation that they are promptly blacked out basically the entire calendar so I didn't get to go at all. THE PAIN!

But I digress. Seattle City Arts Music Festival! I moved to Seattle in May and I have to tell you Seattle, I am impressed. Your rain situation is not so bad as I was told and you kick San Francisco's ass (last city I lived in which I don't like to talk about because I hated it) in the bands you bring in as well as your bars and nightlife. Also, you're not freezing in the summer which was another big no-no for SF. Even though I'm sick, I knew I had to suck it up and take in as much of the festival as possible. Last night I went to Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room and caught Brother Ali. I'm not really a rap person but dammit that guy was awesome. His songs actually had a point (like politics!) besides dropping dubs on bitches and other such rap nonsense. Also, I don't know how he breathed because he was just spewing the words out and took no breaks. Because he gave no fucks. And the crowd loved him for it. For my part I stood up against a wall in the corner with easy access to the exit/bathrooms and had sour lozenges in my pocket to dispel the nausea. I also was smart and brought one of those plastic fruit bags from the grocery store in case of a surprise puke attack, but thankfully I didn't need it.

I'm writing a review on the festival at the end of the week so I'll post more details then. Tonight I'm hitting up A Fine Frenzy, Joshua Radin and possibly the Elliott Smith Tribute Show as well as EOTO. The last two are largely dependent on how sick I am, although so far today I seem better. Maybe I'll see you there? I'll be the one standing in the corner with a plastic bag sucking on lollipops.

Album Review: Jens Leckman - I Know What Love Isn't

Jens Lekman’s 2007 album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, can only be described as linguistically witty, slightly melancholic and whimsical. His most recent, I Know What Love Isn’t, follows in the same vein, but with a noted turn toward a more somber, simplistic aesthetic.

Born out of a breakup, the ten songs on I Know What Love Isn’t aren’t as uniformly uplifting and bouncy as it’s predecessor. There are no string sections on this album, instead, sweet piano riffs and simple melodies. Vocally, Lekman sounds like Morrissey if Morrissey was having a great day and was less melancholic.

Despite the heavier emotions being dealt with on this album, Lekman doesn’t let the sadness take over. The whole album is an optimistic look at picking yourself up when your heart has been broken. On the track “The World Moves On,” this is summed up quite nicely with the lyric, “You don’t get over a broken heart / you just learn to carry it gracefully.” This simple epiphany permeates throughout the album and helps keep away the typical reactions of anger and despair that constitute so many breakup albums.

After soft album openers “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” and “Erica America,” “Become Someone Else’s” showcases the first upbeat track of the album. This is in stark contrast to the lyrical content but is more in line with his previous musical offerings. From there, the music slowly grows in confidence, almost as if the first few songs happened at the start of the breakup and the rest of the album showcases the recovery. Other notable tracks include, “Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder,” “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” and “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love.”

At it’s core, Jens Lekman’s newest album has an optimistic message that is relatable for anyone who’s been through a bad breakup. Musically, the songwriting and vocals are strong and relish in a simplicity that Night Falls Over Kortedala didn’t have.

Originally posted on mxdwn.com 

Album Review: Fragrant World by Yeasayer

Yeasayer, darling of the Brooklyn indie scene, is back with a cacophonous sophomore album, Fragrant World. In this, their second offering, Yeasayer holds onto the poppy synths that give them their dance punch, while departing into darker territory with what they’ve dubbed, “demented R&B.”

And Fragrant World is exactly that–demented. At times pop-laden and upbeat, at others shrill and disturbing, Yeasayer has done a remarkable thing in that it has crafted an album that spans material from opposite spectrums of emotion and vibrancy and melded them to optimize dance hooks.

For an example of demented R&B, one need look no further than “Longetivity.” The vocals mirror something akin to Aaliyah (Yeasayer’s Chris Keating cites her as an influence on the album) with the crashing sonorous quality found on the now defunct band The Unicorns. This quality is further found on “No Bones” and “Demon Road.” Interestingly, many of these songs have a chilling sound quality as they deal in darker subject matter with an emphasis on skeletons and demons.

When Yeasayer isn’t experimenting with their Halloween-esque demented R&B, they are back to doing what they do best–upbeat synth dance music that sounds like Depeche Mode, Hot Chip and Passion Pit got together and started a super group. See “Fingers Never Bleed,” “Blue Paper” and “Damaged Goods.”

Fragrant World is a departure. Fans looking for an upbeat dance party will definitely find tracks to jam to here. Those with darker inclinations (think She Wants Revenge) will also find value in the album. Yeasayer’s newest might take a few listens, but at its heart is the same clamorous, synth dance music we’ve come to expect and love.

Originally published on Mxdwn.com

Oh Yeah! I Write Music Reviews. Here's Antony & the Johnsons - Cut the World

If you thought that Cut the World, the newest album from Antony and the Johnsons would be an offering of new music to add to their catalogue, you would be wrong. Instead, Cut the World is a live recording of songs spanning their four studio album career. That’s not to say it’s a greatest hits album, rather, Antony Hegarty and company team up with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra lending symphonic beauty to an already harp-like voice. Part of Hegarty’s appeal is his raw, yet melodic voice–an amalgam of Nina Simone, Nico and Jens Lekman. This is put to particularly good use juxtaposed with the background of orchestral harmonies. The only exception being “Future Feminism,” which is seven minutes of spoken word discussing everything from sky gods to feminism.

Because of the soaring nature of the symphony, the entire album makes you feel as though you are floating on a cloud permeating the space between heaven and earth. The subtle melancholia interlaced throughout the album gives it further emotional depth. Notable standout tracks include “You Are My Sister,” the only new song on the album, “Cripple and the Starfish” and “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy.” The latter two touch upon darker images with lyrics talking about the violence and brutality that love can sometimes bring. Interestingly, “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy,” ends with the line, “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” alluding to the difficulties Hegarty has no doubt faced due to his transgender orientation.

Cut the World is a beautiful album, ethereal and angelic thanks to the orchestral arrangements and Antony Hegarty’s willowy voice. For longtime fans, the album allows for familiar songs to become new again. For first time listeners, Cut the World offers an otherworldly musical escape.

You can read more of my reviews at mxdwn.com