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Recent Episodes and Articles

How Music Punches Up Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice'

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This weekend, the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice will screen at the 52nd New York Film Festival. The film is an adaption of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel of the same name, about a shaggy dog pothead private investigator (played Joaquin Phoenix) as he finds himself embroiled in a bizarre case involving some even more bizarre characters. The kinetic comedy also stars an impressively deep cast -- including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, and even songwriter Joanna Newsom -- who all inhabit Pynchon's seedy and psychedelic 1970's Los Angeles.

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Augustines: Empowering Windswept Anthems

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sometimes all it takes is a little dramatic reinvention to stoke new creativity. Following a name change (from We Are Augustines) and a move across the country from Brooklyn to Seattle, the recently-renamed Augustines returned in February with a new self-titled album, its first since 2011's Rise Ye Sunken Ships

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Pick Three: Judah Friedlander

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

If you've seen -- or even remember -- the video for Dave Matthews Band's 2001 song, “Everyday,” you've seen Judah Friedlander. He’s the guy in a trucker hat giving out hugs. But you've also seen him – with or without his trademark trucker hats -- in comedies like Zoolander and American Splendor, and most recently, playing Frank Rossitano, one of the writers on the NBC comedy 30 Rock. He's also author of a satirical martial arts guide called How To Beat Up Anybody.

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, the comedian and actor talks about his signature look, Lynda Carter's unintentionally hilarious cover of Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," and playing competitive ping-pong. Plus, Friedlander shares a Pick Three playlist of songs he loves. 

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'Kind Of Blue' Recreated Note-For-Note

Monday, September 29, 2014

What happens when you make an exact copy of a jazz record, improvised solos and all? You're probably going to raise a lot of eyebrows. You might even make some people angry. But that didn't stop New York-based jazz quartet  Mostly Other People Do The Killing from re-creating note-for-note one of the greatest jazz records of all time, Miles Davis's 1959 classic Kind Of Blue

MOPDTK's newest album, Blue, raises a lot of questions, the most basic of which is simply, "What is jazz?" In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, bandleader Moppa Elliott explains the origins of the project and its built-in difficulties.

"The most interesting thing about this whole project is the fact that it's impossible," Elliot says. "The reason it's impossible is all of the stuff that makes music great. It's impossible because you can't sound like John Coltrane or Miles Davis no matter how hard you try. So then the question is, how close can you get?"

How close did they get? Have a listen to the new version alongside the original in the conversation above, and let us know, could you tell the difference?

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Field Report: Elegant And Minimal Folk Songs

Monday, September 29, 2014

For Chris Porterfield, the past few years have been life-altering. When his previous band, DeYarmond Edison, broke up in 2006, the guitarist and singer stayed in his native Milwaukee, and watched while the other members went on to pursue new projects -- Justin Vernon started Bon Iver and Brad and Phil Cook formed Megafaun. Porterfield thought his music life might be over, and took an administrator job at Marquette University. Instead, he decided to write songs of his own for the first time, and soon culled together enough for a full album, under the playful anagram moniker, Field Report.

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Pick Three: Caitlin Moran

Monday, September 29, 2014

The world got to know Caitlin (pronounced "cat-lin") Moran when she put out her bestselling memoir and feminist handbook How to Be A Woman back in 2011. Now the English writer and The Times of London columnist is back with another book – this time, a novel called How to Build A Girl. It’s about a teenager who drops out of high school and becomes a rock critic, which sounds suspiciously similar to Moran’s own story.

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Moran reflects on her own journey of self-discovery through music criticism in the 1990's -- and shares a Pick Three playlist of a few of her favorite songs.

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Song Premiere: Agnes Obel, 'Arches'

Monday, September 29, 2014

Agnes Obel first caught our ear with the haunted, twilit songs on her 2014 album Aventine. The Danish singer and pianist also caught our eye -- and the eyes of millions of YouTube viewers -- with her atmospheric music videos.

Now that album is getting the double-disc deluxe edition treatment, and Obel is adding remixes and live tracks -- and three new unreleased songs, including "Arches," which you can hear here first, before its release on Oct. 7.

Agnes Obel, 'Arches'

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Download This: Conrad Oberg, "Spoonful"

Monday, September 29, 2014

ARTIST: Conrad Oberg

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Conrad Oberg, "Spoonful"  

GIG: Monday night at the Iridium

When Neil Young named a record “Decade,” it was because the songs were all recorded during one ten-year period. The blind guitar and keyboard prodigy Conrad Oberg called his first record “Decade” because…he was ten years old. Now he’s 20, and he’s only gotten more masterful. Here’s his version of the blues standard, “Spoonful.”

You can see Conrad Oberg at the Iridium tonight.

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Author Caitlin Moran Plays Three Favorite Songs; Shakey Graves Plays Live; 'Kind Of Blue' Remade Note For Note

Monday, September 29, 2014

In this episode: Caitlin Moran, the English columnist and author known for her best-selling memoir, How to Be A Woman, talks about her latest book. How To Build A Girl is about a teenager who drops out of high school and becomes a rock critic… which sounds suspiciously similar to Caitlin Moran’s own story. Plus Moran shares a Pick Three playlist.

Then: Shakey Graves -- a.k.a. the Austin-based singer and guitarist Alejandro Rose-Garcia -- plays songs from his latest release, …And The War Came, in the Soundcheck studio.

And: Kind Of Blue is an undisputed masterpiece of jazz; the Miles Davis record, which features John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and other jazz icons, is a high watermark of the genre. So why has the contemporary jazz ensemble Mostly Other People Do The Killing re-made the record note-for-note, tone for tone? Bandleader Moppa Elliot explains.

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Check Ahead: Foxygen, '...And Star Power'

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Foxygen's album ...And Star Power is out Oct. 14.

It's safe to say that few bands have had roller-coaster trajectories quite like Foxygen. Fronted by the classic rock record collection-loving duo that is longtime friends Sam France and Jonathan Rado, the Los Angeles band found success with its delightful 2013 album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, won over fans with playful melodies and producer Richard Swift’s trademark Technicolor flourishes that transparently captured the breezy pop psychedelia of mid-1960’s bands like The Zombies and The Kinks. But amid considerable hype and high-pressure expectations, Foxygen almost immediately began showing signs of unravelling.

A string of odd outbursts and internal turmoil dismantled some goodwill among its increasingly exasperated fans, and saddled the band with a reputation more for its chaotic antics than the music itself. Whether the on- and off-stage drama was blown out of proportion or not (France and Rado insist those rumors were always unfounded), Foxygen’s rapid rise and subsequent turbulence created ongoing speculation over whether it would put out a new album -- and whether it would stick together at all.

But France and Rado seemed to put the indie tabloid noise behind them, first regrouping at their recently-built Dream Star Studios to write upwards of 50 to 60 new songs, and then decamping to L.A.'s famous Beverly Hills Hotel and Chateau Marmont to do additional recording and experimentation for what would become Foxygen's follow-up album, …And Star Power. It's only fitting that France, Rado and company are literally doubling down with a sprawling 24-track, 82-minute genre-morphing double album divided into four thematic sides, built upon an ambitious if ill-defined high concept -- complete with multi-part suites and cosmic punk alter egos.

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Paloma Faith: A British Pop Star Goes Incognito In New York

Friday, September 26, 2014

Paloma Faith is a big-deal pop star in the U.K. -- she's currently got a number one single on the charts there, guesting on the drum and bass duo Sigma's track "Changing." Her brassy, bluesy voice easily soars over the driving electronic beats and synthesizers that make up the foundation of her current dance hit. But strip away the modern sounds, and Paloma Faith's instrument could just as easily be paired with a reggae beat, or a disco guitar riff, or a vintage '60s doo-wop sound -- a versatility that she takes full advantage of on her latest album, A Perfect Contradiction

After releasing her platinum-selling second album, Fall to Grace, Faith rediscovered anonymity here in New York, where she lived for two months while working on new material. What resulted is a record that sounds markedly different from her last -- one that largely eschews introspection in favor of upbeat, vibrant, danceable numbers. 

Paloma Faith joins us in the Soundcheck studio to perform selections from A Perfect Contradiction, and to talk about how life in New York worked its way into the album. 

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Deaf Brains Are Different Than Hearing Brains

Friday, September 26, 2014

When her son Alex was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss as a baby, journalist Lydia Denworth's investigative instincts kicked in. What resulted was a decade-long research project into the world of Deaf culture, hi-tech audio science, and the strained relationship between the two. Denworth chronicles her son's early years, as well as recent discoveries about the science of the brain and language acquisition in children in her new book, I Can Hear You Whisper

Denworth joins us to talk about some of the surprising things that she learned -- and to explain why she and her husband made the decision to get Alex a cochlear implant. 

This episode of Soundcheck originally aired on June 2, 2014. 

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Download This: Tennis, "I'm Callin'"

Friday, September 26, 2014

ARTIST: Tennis

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Tennis, "I'm Callin"  

GIG: Friday night at Webster Hall

The band Tennis just released its third full-length album, called Ritual In Repeat. The group doubles down on all of its best tendencies --  literate songwriting, surprising melodic left-turns – and adds new flavors, as well. Listen to the funk-inflected track “I’m Callin’” for an example. 

You can see Tennis at Webster Hall tonight. 

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Jill Sobule Plays In Studio; The Science And Sound Of Language

Friday, September 26, 2014

Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule enlisted famous authors to write lyrics about a second-hand charm bracelet she received as a gift. Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, James Marcus, David Hajdu, Mary Jo Salter, and others obliged. Sobule plays a few of the songs live, and Marcus and Hajdu join in for a conversation about the project.

When Lydia Denworth discovered that her two-year-old son had already experienced extreme hearing loss, she began to wonder how sound shapes our earliest perceptions of the world. She talks about her search for answers, and her book I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language.

This encore episode of Soundcheck originally aired on June 2, 2014. 

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Clark Terry: A Trumpeter Who's So Much More Than 'Mumbles'

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To those outside the jazz world, Clark Terry is perhaps not as recognizable a name as Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie, but his musical influence is no less important. Terry, or "C.T." as he's often called, has played trumpet and flugelhorn on hundreds of studio sessions, led his own bands, and mentored the likes of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. He also spent a decade performing with The Tonight Show band -- becoming the first African-American musician on NBC's staff. It was there that he developed his "Mumbles" routine -- a sort of incoherent scat singing that eventually became a signature for him, particularly after he recorded a song called "Mumbles" with the Oscar Peterson Trio. 

A new documentary film, Keep On Keepin’ On, focuses on the life and career of Terry, now in his early 90's and suffering from diabetes and its debilitating side effects. The film also focuses on the bond between Terry and his student Justin Kauflin, a blind piano prodigy in his mid-20's. Their late night discussions about music and mutual encouragement during difficult times make the film a particularly poignant one. 

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Alan Hicks -- the director of Keep On Keepin’ On -- reflects on being a student of Clark Terry, and what it was like to capture his relationship with Justin on film. Then, music historian and journalist Ashley Kahn shares Terry's must-hear tracks, as part of our How To Be Smarter About... series. 

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Jill Barber: A Fresh Take On The Songbook Sound

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The songs of Jill Barber seem to come from another time, when melody reigned supreme. It's a genre-shifting sound in the tradition of jazz standards and the American Songbook, yet also folds in the feeling of Brill Building-era pop songs, Motown, and even classic country music, thanks memorable and romantic hooks that linger.

The Canadian vocalist's latest album, Fool’s Gold, was inspired, in part by Barber becoming a new mother. With free time at a premium, Barber says she couldn't afford to second-guess her songwriting, relying instead on instinct to capture ideas in the moment. Still, that immediacy showcases the versatility and electricity of her songwriting and arrangements -- which draw from influences as diverse as Etta James and Hank Williams. This melding of the current with the traditional offers a fresh take on an American staple, yielding an evocative sound all her own.

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Ten David Bowie Deep Cuts

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The opening of the museum exhibit David Bowie Is has once again focused attention on this shape-shifting, game-changing artist. Bowie’s hits, like “Fame,” and “Rebel Rebel,” and “Changes,” are in the air again. And that’s fine – but the real reason people become lifelong Bowie fans lies in his deeper cuts. Most of Bowie’s albums are carefully sequenced, and when they end, they usually end with a song that’ll stick with you for a while.  

In fact, if you just listened to the last track on each Bowie album, you’d have a pretty great playlist. Even his uneven 1967 debut ends well: with the darkly comic “Please Mr. Gravedigger,” a two-minute scene, without any instruments, of Bowie out in the rain, digging a grave while singing – barely, and pausing to sneeze at one point.  “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and “Fame” from Young Americans are two more notable final tracks.   

Here, in chronological order, are ten of my favorite “album cuts” from David Bowie. (Note: the ones with marked * are the last track on their respective albums.)

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Download This: Söndörgő, "Kolovadja"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ARTIST: Söndörgő

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Söndörgő, "Kolovadja"  

Gig: 7 p.m. Thursday night at Elebash Recital Hall 

The Hungarian band Söndörgő aims to foster and preserve Southern Slavic traditions of the Serbs and Croats throughout Hungary with their traditional Balkan music. Their sound centers on the tambura, an instrument similar to the mandolin. Söndörgő’s traditional repertoire is made up of material gathered by Béla Bartók and Tihamér Vujicsics as well as learned from old masters of the tradition.

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A New Doc Helps Us Be Smarter About Trumpet Player Clark Terry; Rokia Traore Plays Live

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In this episode: Keep On Keepin’ On is a documentary film about the legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry – but this is not your typical look back at a musician’s life. Terry – who is 89 years old in the film (he’s 93 today) – is mostly bedridden and blind. But he’s also a devoted mentor to a gifted young jazz pianist, Justin Kauflin, who at 23 is also learning to navigate the world as a blind person. Director Alan Hicks about his poignant film debut.

Then, music journalist and writer Ashley Kahn walks Soundcheck host John Schaefer through Clark Terry's life and essential music as part of the How To Be Smarter About... series.

And: The award-winning Malian singer and guitarist Rokia Traore has worked with Ali Farka Toure, poet and playwright Toni Morrison, and the Kronos Quartet. Hear her play solo in the Soundcheck studio.

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Lenny Kravitz On His Tenth Album, Acting And Design

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lenny Kravitz turned 50 years old this year, and he might be busier than ever with a multitude of projects. You've recently seen him acting, most notably in the Hunger Games series, and he's also been hard at work with his design firm, Kravitz Design. Plus he says he's in the best shape of his life. Still, that hasn't stopped him from playing music. Kravitz's just-released album, his tenth, Strut, was written in Atlanta, Georgia, recorded in the Bahamas and mixed in Los Angeles. 

Strut plays like a love letter to New York City, includes a "Happy Birthday" song, and an Old Smokey Robinson cover -- one of three covers in his entire career. In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Kravitz walks through his design and acting work, and finding time to write his record while on the set of Catching Fire.

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