For a band that shares its namesake with a certain influential TV drama, Twin Peaks sounds nothing like the quirky and unsettling moods evoked in the David Lynch and Mark Frost series -- nor the eerie dreamscapes composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Instead, the young Chicago garage rockers simply chose their name because it "sounded cool." It does, certainly, but the band's sneering bursts of feedback and scorching guitar riffs also sound way cool -- especially when cranked up real loud.
On its latest record, Wild Onion, Twin Peaks rolls through 16 short and searing bangers that owe a debt to '70s glam and Nuggets-era psyche rock -- but with the punked-up wallop of the current Bay Area scene like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall and Chicago's own HoZac Records. You can hear that in "No Way Out," "Flavor" or "Making Breakfast," which mingles fever-inducing power chords and a Lou Reed-esque plain-sung delivery. But in tracks like "Mirror Of Time" or especially "Ordinary People," they sing in a loose and almost sweet melodic way, Twin Peaks' also shows a capacity for winsome power pop. It's this combination of melancholy and rollicking that makes Twin Peaks' equally at home in a cramped DIY space or at a smoky, laid-back hang in your parents' basement, circa 1976.
"Everybody knows who James Brown is," says filmmaker Alex Gibney. "But I think the impetus here was going back and looking at a couple of things that maybe had been overlooked."
Gibney, whose past documentary work includes Taxi To The Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, chronicles funk pioneer James Brown's early career through the peak of his success in his new documentary, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown. And although Brown's life has certainly been studied before, the film, which airs on HBO on Oct. 27, does direct the spotlight onto some areas of his career and work -- from the jazz roots of songs like "Cold Sweat" to Brown's early days impersonating Little Richard on stage -- that perhaps haven't come to light before.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Gibney talks about being approached by producer Mick Jagger to work on the film, and about uncovering layers of the funk star's past.
But if you never understood exactly what he was saying, you're not alone. Turns out, that’s the calling card of producer Dijon McFarlane, otherwise known as DJ Mustard. He’s saying “Mustard on the beat,” and he’s saying it to the tune of 19 different Billboard Hot 100 hits in the last three years, including seven currently on the charts.
"Being DJ Mustard is great right now," says
Even at a time when the perfect three-minute single is the most commonly-traded currency for shuffle-enabled listening, there's still something wildly satisfying about long-form pop music. When a band makes room to stretch and allow for sonic exploration -- not to mention, say, a B-section, or even a second chorus -- those songs can feel like fully-formed statements capable of transporting the listener somewhere else. Cue Adult Jazz, a band that has a way of making expansive, otherworldly sounds with very little.
WiFi access has come to some New York City subway stations recently, and it didn’t take long for someone to figure out that this could enable musicians busking on the subway platforms to play together – even if they’re all in different stations.
That someone was filmmaker Chris Shimojima, who asked the violist and composer known as Ljova to write a piece for 11 subway musicians. The idea: compose something that all eleven could play, using the WiFi network to link them all to a central conductor – also Ljova – whose movements would be viewable on their laptops.
ARTIST: Storm Large
GIG: Thursday night at Joe's Pub
Storm Large got quite a bit of attention as a finalist on the CBS talent-show known as “Rockstar: Supernova,” hosted by Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction fame. Fast forward a few years, and Storm Large is quite a bit more than a flash-in-the-pan TV sensation. Among other projects, she’s led the jazz-lounge act Pink Martini. Download her sultry version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
In this episode: Filmmaker Alex Gibney is known for the documentaries We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, and Enron: The Smartest Men in the Room. Now with his new film, he takes on hardest working man in show business. Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown chronicles Brown’s career from his first hit in 1956, “Please, Please, Please.” Gibney talks about examining the funk pioneer’s life.
Then: Have you heard of DJ Mustard? In the past few years, the producer and songwriter has scored tons of rap and Top 40 hits with artists ranging from Ty Dolla $ign to Drake to Schoolboy Q. Hip hop writer Sowmya Krishnamurthy helps us get smarter about the underground star.
And: Based in Staten Island, The Budos Band is a motley crew of musicians -- ranging in size from six to 13 members -- producing a high energy blend of afro-soul and psychedelic metal. Hear the band perform some of its new album, Burnt Offering, in the Soundcheck studio.
Many in the U.S. will remember James for a single song, “Laid” – with its dryly funny, gender-bending video -- which came out on the Brian Eno-produced album of the same name in 1993. The British pop band continued on throughout the '90s, putting out a slew of other fine records. But after 1999's Millionaires failed to live up to expectations, and 2001's Eno-produced Pleased To Meet You didn't seem to recapture the band's early magic, James began to fracture and singer Tim Booth went on to pursue a solo career.
John Adams' 1991 opera The Death Of Klinghoffer is an operatic telling of a true story about the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American appliance manufacturer who was singled out by Palestinian terrorists when they hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro off the coast of Egypt in 1985.
Since its creation, the opera has often ignited controversy -- and the latest production is no exception. This week, the Metropolitan Opera performed the opera for the very first time, as part of a new production running until November 15. Outside of the opera's Lincoln Center home, hundreds of protesters -- including former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- gathered to voice their passionate distaste for the opera's choice of repertoire.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, The New York Times classical music and dance reporter Michael Cooper describes the scene on opening night, and explains why the opera is so controversial.
On Thursday, Oct. 30 Soundcheck is hosting an afternoon Halloween costume party with the band Primus, who will be performing selections from its new Willy Wonka-inspired record. Go here for more details.
The 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is filled with classic and oh-so-memorable songs written by the songwriting duo Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley: "The Candy Man,"I've Got A Golden Ticket," and, of course, "Oompa Loompa" -- which repeatedly serves as thematic interludes for each character. But perhaps no song from the movie has taken on a life of its own more than "Pure Imagination," performed by actor Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka himself.
As it turns out, “Pure Imagination” has been reworked, modified and reinterpreted hundreds of times by an array of artists -- from Lou Rawls to Maroon 5 to Fiona Apple. Even Primus is dipping into the world of reimagination. The delightfully quirky alt-rock weirdos are set to put out Primus And The Chocolate Factory, a new collection inspired by the music original Willy Wonka film -- and even releasing it on chocolate-colored vinyl.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, entertainment reporter Gary Burton explains why "Pure Imagination" has become such a beloved staple, and who has recorded the best, and worst versions.
ARTIST: Belcea Quartet
GIG: Wednesday night at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
The Belcea Quartet is an multinational group – its members hail from Romania, Poland and France. Tonight, they’ll be transporting their Carnegie Hall audience back to their European stomping grounds… with a program of works all originally premiered in Vienna.
In this episode: The band Primus has a brand new album on the way – and it’s inspired by the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, creatively titled, Primus and the Chocolate Factory. The album features inventive covers of songs like “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket,” “The Candy Man,” “Oompa Loompa,” and a song that’s been covered so many times that it’s become a standard – “Pure Imagination.” Before Soundcheck's live show with the band on Oct. 30, entertainment reporter Gary Burton looks at why “Pure Imagination” has become such a staple in the British and American pop canons, and hear some of his favorite and least favorite cover versions.
Then: Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore is back with his first solo record since 2010, The Best Day. Hear him and his new band perform some lengthy noisy jams from the album in the Soundcheck studio.
And: The Death Of Klinghoffer is an opera that was written by John Adams back in 1991. It’s an operatic telling of a true story, about a hijacked cruise ship off the coast of Egypt in the 1980's. Since its creation, the opera has often ignited controversy -- and the latest production is no exception. This week, the Metropolitan Opera here in New York performed the opera for the very first time -- causing quite an uproar. The New York Times reporter Michael Cooper explains the production's latest controversy.
On one of his first days at WNYC in 2007, longtime Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer scheduled an interview with Hugh Wilson, the creator and executive producer of WKRP In Cincinnati -- the TV show that inspired him to work at a radio station in the first place. Except that interview never happened: A backhoe took out Wilson's telephone minutes before the show went live. Joel's history with WKRP runs deep. He saw the show first with his family huddled around the TV during dinner time, and now he sings the show's theme song to his newborn baby.
In April 1990, television viewers were welcomed into the distinctive and eerie town of Twin Peaks. The show, created by auteur David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Eraserhead) and Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues, Fantastic Four) immediately captivated fans with its mysterious plot line, centered on the murder of a young woman named Laura Palmer.
While its first season was a hit for ABC, after its plotline got increasingly bizarre, the show was cancelled in its second season. But Twin Peaks has lived on -- not only in the cult canon, but through its innovative cinematic aura, bizarre kitschy vibe, and serialized approach. Its impact can be seen on shows like The X-Files, LOST, and even shows like The Sopranos, or this year's The Leftovers.
Equally fundamental to setting the tone of the show was its original soundtrack and theme song, composed by Angelo Badalamenti. The show's original music -- which quickly shifted from charming and innocent to sinister and menacing -- was released on an internationally successful album, and its theme song picked up a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Instrumental Performance" in 1991.
Little May makes folky indie pop songs that perch precariously between the spaciously lonely sound of Local Natives and the lovely, soft harmonies of First Aid Kit. The Sydney, Australia trio -- comprised of Hannah Field, Liz Drummond and Annie Hamilton -- began by covering songs like Eagle Eye Cherry's "Save Tonight" in high school, but once they started creating music of their own in 2012, the band quickly made the rounds at big festivals like Splendour in the Grass, BIGSOUND and Laneway.
Wait, hold on, is it really mid-October already? That means this week is probably occupied by one of two things: the World Series or the CMJ Music Marathon -- and in my case, both. This week -- roughly today through Saturday, Oct. 25, give or take a few pre and post-parties -- countless college radio kids, journalists, music industry folks descend upon New York for an endless buffet of hundreds of young and upcoming bands and musicians. And for a city already brimming with endless options and distractions, CMJ can be logistically overwhelming: For me, mapping out a schedule very quickly starts to look like some chaotic collage of photos and notes and string all plastered to my bedroom wall -- like when Claire Danes goes off her meds in Homeland.
When trying to decide where to be and which bands to seek out, you’ll see plenty of recognizable names playing this week, but discovery is sorta the name of the game for CMJ -- and it’s always exciting to come across a new band you’ve never heard of, and fall hard for. Last year alone, I caught sets from some of my now-favorite bands: Perfect Pussy, Pity Sex, Joanna Gruesome, and Hop Along. I came across some Australian songwriter whose glorious guitarwork was only out-shined by her clever, wry wordplay -- none other than Courtney Barnett. And, I also was able to see one of the first shows from the riff-heavy Mary Timony-fronted D.C. band Ex Hex.
So yeah, if you’re in New York, CMJ is the perfect chance to play a little game of fortune-telling. It's fun to try to forecast which young bands playing this year will be even bigger in six months or a year’s time. Not everything is a hit, of course, but if you're lucky, maybe you'll come away having found something new.
And to help get you started, a couple of us at Soundcheck (well, me and our intern who's actually still in college) have combed over the official schedules and less-than-official goings on to pinpoint a small handful of bands we're really excited to check out this year.
In this episode: On his last day in the office before departing for a new job, Soundcheck executive producer Joel Meyer interviews the man behind the TV series that made him want to work in radio in the first place -- WKRP In Cincinnati. The show’s being issued on DVD with most of the music from its original soundtrack -- no mean feat, for a show that featured the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, among many others. We talk with the show’s creator, Hugh Wilson.
Then: Another beloved TV series, Twin Peaks, is making a return to TV after 25 years. Grantland writer Andy Greenwald delves into the music from the original David Lynch/Mark Frost series and speculates about what we might expect musically from Twin Peaks 2.0.
And: Streets of Laredo — the band, not the novel or the cowboy song — formed in New Zealand. But after just one hometown show, they packed up their gear and headed to Brooklyn. Along the way, brothers David and Dan Gibson and Dan’s wife Sarah picked up a few more musicians, and expanded their bi-continental cowboy folk lineup into a studio-packing seven piece. Hear the band perform in the Soundcheck studio.
GIG: Tuesday night at Webster Hall
The British rock band James showed such promise in the early 1990s that they enticed famed producer Brian Eno away from his wildly successful experiments with a little Irish band named U2. That record, called Laid, was itself a great success, and the band has been an on-again, off-again affair ever since. It’s on for now, with a new record called La Petite Mort that includes, “Moving On.”
Following the dissolution of Sonic Youth -- due to a very public separation between Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon -- each member of the beloved and influential band went their separate ways. For most artists fresh from an emotional break up, redefining yourself and finding something new outside the context of the band can come with some growing pains. For Moore, it’s been an opportunity to further explore aspects of his shape-shifting yet identifiable sound in different musical settings. First there was his Beck-produced 2011 album, Demolished Thoughts -- an introspective, almost spiritual acoustic record, full of evocative layers of guitars and strings. Then in 2012, he formed his new band Chelsea Light Moving, which put out its white noise punk debut last year. Now, Moore is back again with another solo effort, The Best Day.
For most, the name
Now, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado is presenting a retrospective exhibition which blends the visual and the musical work of Mothersbaugh. In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Mothersbaugh shares his thoughts on the showcase, its accompanying book, Myopia, and his love for blurring the line between multimedia art and music.
Below, view selections from Mothersbaugh's book,