Summer may not officially begin until June 20th, but the race is officially on for song of the season. A great summer jam should be hooky, escapist, and also great for blasting and belting along to -- all qualities that turn up in this new song from the Brooklyn-based synth-pop duo of Paul Hammer and Deidre Muro as Savoir Adore.
Since 2007, Savoir Adore have poured their fantastical themes into dreamy beds of sound. Their latest, "Beating Hearts," is a fizzy, wistfully catchy gem of a song that will accompany the re-release of the band's most recent full length, Our Nature, on June 4th...just in time for summer.
ARTIST: Charles Bradley
DOWNLOAD: "Strictly Reserved For You"
SHOW: Thursday at The Apollo ($32.25)
When Charles Bradley released his debut album in 2011, the story was about the Brooklyn singer’s perseverance through a life of poverty and struggle -- and his against-all-odds success at the age of 62. Now, the so-called Screaming Eagle of Soul has released a slow burning, and at times introspective follow-up called “Victim of Love.”
Last week, I spoke with band manager Christen Greene, a former Division I basketball player who left athletics for the music business. In her words, Greene "fell out of love" with basketball; the demands on her time and energy eventually outweighed the thrill and competition of games. Falling out of love is as good a reason as any to leave a highly demanding career. However, for some athletes, the choice to leave sports can be one their bodies or their body politic makes for them.
Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes is the frontman of the indie-folk band Tallahassee. After growing up in rural Ohio -- between Cleveland and Pittsburgh -- Barthelmes landed a scholarship to the University of Virginia. He red-shirted his first year, then started the next four years on the offensive line. Picked up as a free agent after the 2006 draft, Barthelmes signed with the New England Patriots as a center and swing guard. After spending parts of the next two seasons on the Patriots practice squad, Barthelmes made the decision to move on from football.
"I was never a big fan of football culture, nor big business," he says. "The moving and life style were aiding in some of my mental illness problems. I decided to take a year off to sort out my health and then decided to stay out of the game."
Given that statement, it makes sense that a life as an independent musician would be so appealing and prove more satisfying. As Barthelmes further explained, being a musician has created a more healthful, creative, and fufilling environment for him than professional sports. But unsurprisingly, he's brought a few things he learned in his football career to life with his band: A pre-show ritual of stretching, the practice of practice, and a love of men singing close-harmony in the shower.
Erin McKeown: Why did you stop playing football?
Brian Barthelmes: I think in retrospect it was the nature of the institution, my own values, and my mental illness. Someone who has mental health troubles should not be bashing their head into other people's heads daily. That is not a prescription for health.
I am a creative by nature, and in football, there isn't some much time for creative growth. For my particular needs, I have to devote a large part of my person to creating, whether it be visual art, sound art, bridging communities, reading, thinking, etc. Professional football (and I would assume all professional athletics) is all consuming. It is a delight for those who are fulfilled by that work, but it wasn't fulfilling enough for me. I compromised [my needs] for money and an incorrect interpretation of the term "stability." I took the scariest plunge ever by quitting football.
I really miss a lot of my friends and the culture of a large team. You have guys from all walks of life who all get each other because they have been a part of this intense institution forever. It's extreme, but you can't get it if you haven't seen 80 of your co-workers naked daily. You become so used to that reality that vocal harmonies in a shared shower seem totally normal.
In this episode: Louder Than Hell bills itself as “the definitive oral history of metal” and boasts 250 interviews with key players. Editors
Plus: Actor and longtime musician
And: British soul singer
Also: a profile of Radiation City, the dream pop quintet whose upcoming album is streaming in our Check Ahead this week.
ARTIST: Dori Caymmi
SHOW: Wednesday at Birdland ($40)
Dori Caymmi is a Grammy-winning composer, guitarist and vocalist from Brazil. His influences run wide -- from the French composer Debussy to American jazz musician Miles Davis. But one of Dori Caymmi’s biggest influences was his father -- the late bossa nova pioneer Dorival Caymmi. Tonight, the son pays tribute to his father.
In one of the opening shots in Hospital Ships' new video, we see two people cutting up a dark purple fruit into tiny pieces and dropping it into a well full of darkened liquid. It appears to be an odd sacrifice, and it leads to something far weirder and unsettling.
Set to "Servants," a winding and explosive new song on Hospital Ships' latest album Destruction In Yr Soul, the bizarre and colorful video depicts its two characters -- one dressed in a buffalo suit and another in an ornately embellished handmade headdress not unlike the feathery costumes worn by Mardi Gras Indians -- going through a series of escalating actions: From lustful consumption to sex to violence and death, only to start over again.
"My initial inspiration for the video," frontman Jordan Geiger writes, "was a comment Swans drummer Thor Harris made to me about the Vikings conception of heaven being a place where feasting, f-----g, and fighting to the death took place every day until the ultimate dissolution of the soul into nothing. In the video, me and [bandmate] Taylor don costumes and partake in a similar ritual. We were influenced by creation myths of various cultures and the video stylings of Tim and Eric as well."
"Servants" -- one of Destruction In Yr Soul's best tracks -- majestically sprawls and naturally builds to these chaotic yet joyful bursts of fuzzed-out guitars and pummelling drums, that seem to align perfectly with the increasingly provocative and transcendent visuals in the video.
ADVISORY: This video contains brief nudity and subject matter some may find objectionable.
Romance at the workplace can be a risky proposition. Especially when your office is a touring van.
For some bands, like Fleetwood Mac, this has meant epic musical drama. The White Stripes managed to turn romantic disharmony into a thrashing success, for a while. Others, like Arcade Fire, make a pretty sweet harmony out of matrimony. Now, the Portland Oregon-based dark dream-pop band Radiation City is the latest to turn a love affair into an LP. The band features not one but two couples -- including singer/keyboard player Lizzy Ellison and her fiancé, guitarist/singer Cameron Spies.
When I reach Ellison at her label’s office Portland, Oregon, she admits that mixing business and personal relationships isn’t always the easiest thing. But the band has learned lessons that have sustained them through an EP and two full lengths -- including their new album, Animals in the Median.
Animals In the Median is full of detailed songcraft, beautiful arrangements, and lush, layered harmonies. Ellison says that the past two years were full of ups and downs for the band -- love, loss, and, yes, all that stuff that happens when two couples are in a band. The album cover, which you can see just above, is a collection of photos taken during those ups and downs. Images like a mountain top, a suitcase, and tracks in the snow serve as clues to help decode the songs. The photos are enchanting -- much like the album itself. Read on for more of my interview with Ellison.
Last week on Soundcheck, we asked musicians to tell us about their guilty pleasures in music. What’s yours?
Mariah Carey. I grew up listening to her and probably was highly influenced by her vocal ability. I listened to her greatest hits, in the late '90s, on repeat all the time. Yeah. I was a superfan.
She can sing something like 5 or 6 octaves, which is pretty uncommon. I can’t say that I try to be her or anything, but I definitely felt like it was a challenge to try and mimic her when I was younger and learn the inflections and the tones. I don’t listen to her anymore, but I do try to reach super high highs and really rich lows when I’m recording and it’s definitely due to having listened to her.
She has quite a range -- and so do you. Did you have any vocal training?
I pretty much started singing when I was about 5 years old. My mom was as singer as well as my dad. Around the house there was really good vinyl on all the time, and I would just sing along to Simon and Garfunkel and the Pointer Sisters. Then we got a piano and I was always playing piano and singing. It became kind of serious, when I was old enough to be in talent shows and whatnot. But lessons were never really my thing I guess. I didn't really have the patience for it.
How did Radiation City come together?
Cam [Spies] and I met about four and a half years ago. He was living in San Francisco. I had just moved back to Portland from Chicago. We were both in separate bands, and kept in touch long distance and pretty much fell in love. And I got him to move up here. We were continuing to have the two separate bands. [But] just through wanting to work together on music, we decided to form Radiation City.
This band has not one, but two couples – you and Cam, and Patti King and Randy Bemrose. That can be a tricky proposition, right? You're navigating two romantic relationships, and the band relationship. How does it work?
Yeah. I think at times it is a disaster. You’re totally right. Being in a band you’re putting yourself in a relationship with however many people are in a band. I can’t say that it’s totally different -- there’s obviously personal conflict just between the couples. Cam and I can argue from time to time, but at the end of the day, we always put the band first.
We all bicker and argue just as much as any other band. But because we’ve experienced that side with other bands and perhaps they broke up because of it, I think we learned our lesson.
And now, you have your second full length, Animals In the Median, out next week. This title is quite striking -- I visualize a wild menagerie standing about in the middle of the highway…
That’s exactly the concept. We were driving back from Seattle one time, and Randy and I were keeping each other awake. We both saw a baby deer fawn on the side of the road. Not on the good side of the road, but potentially on the hazardous side of the road. And it was still alive, and we kept driving -- I just wanted to believe that the deer would go into the median and coexist with all these other animals that had gotten lost by being stranded in the middle. And that they had this underground fortress. [I was] trying to make this beautiful scene so that I wouldn’t be sad about this deer that was potentially going to die.
The whole concept kind of became this bigger picture because we travel a lot and we tour. You’re always seeing the median on the highway. It kind of gets lonely when you’re driving 8, 13 hours a day, and it’s nice to imagine this sanctuary in between the road where this ecosystem exists. And then it became much more metaphorical, just being musicians -- we’re the animals within this crazy world.
Tell me a bit about the album opener, "Zombies."
I wouldn’t say it’s making fun of the whole zombie craze, but it’s pointing out that maybe we don’t know everything. And if zombies came, we would learn to coexist. I mean, I understand that they eat people, [we’re] just kind of playing with the idea of the possibilities.
The last song on the album, "Call Me," has kind of a bossa nova feeling. What were you thinking about when you wrote the song?
[It’s] is sort of an homage to Brazilian music and bossa nova. When I was living in Chicago I had some moments listening to the Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto album, and it’d be raining and I’d be drinking a martini by myself, and I loved that feeling of being completely immersed in this album and doing something beautiful at the same time. I tried to emulate [Gilberto] for a long time, and I realized that was not a good idea for any musician to try to emulate anybody else exactly. But I wanted to be able to instill that feeling for other listeners. And maybe they’ll be drinking a martini in the rain listening to our stuff.
ARTIST: The Hush Sound
SHOW: Tuesday at Webster Hall ($20)
The Hush Sound started off as a high school basement band – but turned into something of a power pop phenomenon. A few years ago the group went on a hiatus -- and crushed a lot of young indie-pop hearts. But now, they’re back. Listen to their brand new song, “Scavengers.”
In this episode: Season 12 of American Idol wraps up this week, and writer
Plus: Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter
And: American Symphony Orchestra music director
Also: Unofficial candidates for “best band name in recent memory”
For the past few days I've been unable to get this song by Norway's Kaizers Orchestra out of my head. Blending rock, opera, Balkan music, and a kind of alt-cabaret to great effect, the ensemble's "Begravelsespolka," or "Funeral Polka," is a brilliant, if unholy love child of Cabaret, the Dresden Dolls, and perhaps a bit of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.
The song comes from Kaizers Orchestra's magnum opus, Violeta, Violeta -- a tale of Faustian bargaining and heavy drinking that has spanned three albums that they've put together over the last few years.
Don't worry about the song's language (though a translation is available online). I got hooked on the music and the video’s creepy goodness, and so, I think, will you.