For a time -- long before Hobbits, before Flight of the Conchords, and before Lorde -- New Zealand's biggest pop culture export was Neil Finn, the singer-songwriter and frontman of Split Enz and Crowded House. In the time Crowded House was active (roughly 1985 to 1996), the Australian pop band found success in the U.S. with its self-titled debut, which reached No. 12 on the charts in 1987, and later scored international top ten hits like "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong." And while the band parted ways for a time, Finn delved into a fine solo career, and put together the 7 Worlds Collide project -- before reforming Crowded House in 2006.
Lately however, Finn has been going solo again, releasing his third album, Dizzy Heights, in February. But for Finn, this latest record is both a collaboration (Dave Fridmann produced), and truly a family affair: his wife Sharon plays bass, and his sons Liam and Elroy play guitar and drums. And the result is a collection of dreamy psychedelic pop and soulful, R&B-inflected jams. For an artist as decorated as Neil Finn, it's another welcome high-water mark in his discography.
ARTIST: James Vincent McMorrow
GIG: Gigstock, Thursday, April 10
Tomorrow, Soundcheck begins Gigstock, a two-day mini-festival inspired by your daily Gig Alert, live in The Greene Space. The first night is filled with paint-peeling guitars. But things calm down on Thursday, when Irish singer James Vincent McMorrow takes the stage. You’ll hear his striking falsetto on songs like this one, “Look Out” from 2013’s Post-Tropical.
Thursday’s show is sold out, but you can catch the whole thing as it happens via webcast. Visit Soundcheck.org at 8, and tune in tomorrow at 8 for Parquet Courts and Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
In this episode: Twenty years ago today, Kurt Cobain -- the lead singer for influential ‘90s rock band Nirvana -- was found dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot. He was 27. Seattle music writer Charles R. Cross, who has authored several books about Kurt Cobain, reflects on the lasting impact of the young artist.
Then: Charts guru Chris Molanphy explains how two songs by Herman's Hermits hit No. 1 in 1965 -- “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” as part of Soundcheck's series That Was A Hit?!?
And: Hear jazz violinist Regina Carter reach back to her roots with her band as they perform songs from her latest album, Southern Comfort, in the Soundcheck studio.
One of pop music's most eclectic, shape-shifting artists is about to be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Peter Gabriel's art-rock pioneering band Genesis was added to the Hall in 2010. But he left that group long before its Phil Collins-fronted assault on stadiums in the 1980s.
"Peter Gabriel exploded out of Genesis and decided to try every idea he ever had," says Jon Pareles, The New York Times pop music critic. The year is 1977. Popular appetite for the progressive rock sound that Gabriel helped define with Genesis is waning. Gabriel's first self-titled record (of four) is released just shy of the punk explosion. So you might expect that an artist, recently set free from a band with a out-of-favor sound, would latch on to that popular sea change. And, as Pareles knows well, you would be wrong.
"You gotta love a guy who starts his solo career with a song called 'Moribund The Burgermeister' -- it's about some kind of plague affecting some medieval town. This is not your big commercial move."
Gabriel's defiance of commercial expectations will, ironically, be honored by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this week when he joins just a few other musicians who have been inducted to The Hall on multiple occasions.
In a lengthy conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Pareles -- who's documented Gabriel's career for four decades -- talks about Gabriel's most creatively fertile period, the gap between Genesis and So, with notes on Gabriel's many extracurricular interests in interspecies communication, record label innovation, political activism, and more.
ARTIST: Parquet Courts
GIG: Gigstock, Wednesday, April 9
This Wednesday and Thursday, Soundcheck presents Gigstock: a two day festival of music and conversation in the Greene Space, based on…this, your daily Gig Alert! Kicking off the fun on Wednesday is a lineup curated by the indie site Oh My Rockness. It features the Brooklyn punk band, Parquet Courts.
You can catch Parquet Courts’ show at WNYC’s The Greene Space on Wednesday night via live webcast. They’ll be joined by The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Just point your browser to Soundcheck.org at 8 p.m. ET.
BONUS: Here is Parquet Courts playing "Stoned And Starving" from 2013's Light Up Gold for KEXP Seattle recently...
In this episode: Before Peter Gabriel is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jon Pareles, the veteran New York Times pop music critic looks back at his groundbreaking early solo albums, and his quixotic championing of world music.
Then: As the frontman of ‘90s band Semisonic, Dan Wilson notched a timeless hit with the bar anthem “Closing Time.” Since then, the Grammy-winner has become an in-demand songwriter for big name artists: he co-wrote Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Now, he's readying his first solo album since 2007. Hear him perform songs live in the Soundcheck studio.
The ideal way to witness Perfect Pussy is in a cramped room mobbed with fans, collectively losing their minds to the ecstatic, pile-driving fury. On stage, the Syracuse hardcore band’s set is somehow both the shortest and longest 15 minutes of unforgettable punk music you’ll see right now; an assured barrage of scorching guitars, feedback squall -- and the powerful vocal assault of frontwoman Meredith Graves, who sings with an unfiltered and ecstatic rage.
Another storied New York concert venue is about to close its doors: Roseland Ballroom will cease operations on April 7, after a stylish sendoff/residency from Lady Gaga.
Say goodbye to Roseland Ballroom by sharing a memory of a great concert, a great run-in or a legendary evening. Post your story below, tweet us @Soundcheck, or leave us a voicemail at 866-939-1612.
Back in early March, Baltimore synth pop band Future Islands played its new single, "Seasons (Waiting On You)" on the Late Show with David Letterman. For most bands, a Letterman spot is a routine part of the promotion cycle. But thanks to the melodramatic singing and jaw-droppingly great, GIF-ready dance moves of Future Islands' kinetic frontman Samuel T. Herring, everyone -- including Letterman -- was blown away.
The next day, the clip went completely viral.
For fans, it felt like a well-deserved triumph for a hard-working band finally getting noticed in a big way. But it also felt like a resurgent moment of edge and relevance for Letterman and his show, especially in this overstuffed and highly competitive environment where most (younger) eyes are trained elsewhere on the dial (er, Hulu). And while Future Islands is just the most recent act to ricochet to a new level after playing the talk-show circuit, let's be honest: this joyfully meme-able video is the most I've heard anyone in my circles drop reference to Letterman in some time.
Which makes it particularly ironic that just as the Late Show's most talked-about moment in years seemed to infuse new life in the show, Letterman announced his impending retirement. On Thursday, during an especially earnest moment of the show's taping, Letterman said he will be stepping down in 2015 -- 22 years after his Late Show premiere in 1993, and 33 years after he first became host of Late Night on NBC.
While not wholly unexpected, the announcement has many of us at Soundcheck a tad wistful for his acerbic and oddball "anti-talk-show host"-style comedy, all those bizarro characters, and especially our favorite musical acts that graced the Ed Sullivan Theater stage. So, without further ado, from the home office in Sioux City, Iowa, here's tonight's Top Ten list of our favorite musical moments from Letterman's Late Show run.
In this episode: Roseland Ballroom is set to close on April 7, after Lady Gaga completes a run of high-profile concerts. Dating back to 1919, the various incarnations of the Roseland have played host to countless stars and myriad eras of New York music. Music writer Ira Robbins and listeners share their memories of a storied nightclub as part of Soundcheck's occasional series, Vanished Venues.
Then: Singer-songwriter and co-founder of the seminal L.A. punk band X, John Doe, is looking back at his 25-year-long solo career with a retrospective. Hear him perform in the Soundcheck studio.
ARTIST: Alexandra Stewart
Singer Alexandra Stewart is Canadian born & raised, though she currently resides in Brooklyn with her band. Her debut album, called WÀBÀ, was released in October. The album title is taken from the village where she was raised in Ontario. The song “Soul Like A Ghost” is from that collection; take a listen.
BONUS: Here's an album preview for WÀBÀ:
Renowned jazz violinist Regina Carter's latest album, called Southern Comfort, started out as an exploration of her family tree -- an attempt to discover and interpret the folk songs that her grandfather, a coal miner in Alabama, perhaps would have heard during his lifetime.
What resulted, however, is a deep and expansive look at how the Appalachians' blend of Irish and Scottish settlers, Native Americans and slaves combined to create the music that we today know as traditional Americana -- and, how that music has continued to evolve and inspire artists throughout our nation's history.
After visiting the Library of Congress and listening to field recordings made by John Wesley Work III and Alan Lomax, Carter -- who has previously explored the jazz standards of her mother's youth and the music of the African diaspora -- narrowed down the pieces that caught her ear. The resulting album includes Cajun fiddle tunes like "Blues de Basile," gospel hymns like "I'm Going Home," and even a few more contemporary songs, like Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin'." All performed, of course, in Carter's signature imaginative -- and always swinging -- style.
Orchestrated by our classical sister station, the WQXR Instrument Drive is collecting "gently used" instruments at various drop-off locations throughout New York, northern New Jersey and Long Island. The drive, a partnership with Sam Ash and Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, runs through April 7. The thousands of trumpets, violins and other lonely instruments will be collected, repaired and donated to music education programs in New York City public schools.
With the drive in full swing, Soundcheck’s John Schaefer and WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon take a moment to find out the stories behind a few instruments that became part of the drive.
When the now-reunited bluegrass band Nickel Creek joined us in the studio to play a couple of songs from their new album, A Dotted Line, we couldn't resist asking them: How often have you been mistaken for the band Nickelback?
"So. Often." replied mandolinist Chris Thile. "We've actually done radio visits where they thought Nickelback was coming in," said fiddler Sara Watkins.
Soundcheck famously brought you Creed on Creed, so we decided to ask Nickel Creek to take a listen to a couple of deep cuts from Nickelback's collection and give their response. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you: Nickel Creek on Nickelback.
Dum Dum Girls burst onto the scene in 2008 on the strength of visceral, yet messy songs and the charisma of vocalist Dee Dee Penny. But as the one-woman project morphed into a full-fledged band, that primitive grit has been incrementally sanded down, revealing a new polished side to Penny's aesthetic.
On the arresting and catchy new record, Too True, Dum Dum Girls once again turns to longtime collaborator Richard Gottehrer -- who wrote "My Boyfriend's Back," "I Want Candy," and many other hits -- to assist in capturing that sparkle of 1960's girl-groups and slick '80s pop hooks that resonate throughout. And on highlights like "Too True To Be Good" and "Are You Okay?" it's clear Penny and the band has dialed down the scuzz of those early recordings, and crafted a bed of chiming guitars and dreamy keyboards to better showcase Penny's sharp pop songwriting and gorgeous vocals. Lyrically, Penny unfurls some of her most personally emotional lyrics, in lines like "Why be good? / Be beautiful and sad / It's all you've ever had," in "Evil Blooms."
For many artists, it can be tricky to shift fans' expectations with a dramatic tonal change. But with Too True, Penny and Dum Dum Girls find success by staying true to these songs and the sonic scope they aim for. As Penny sums up in the chorus of "Little Minx," "What a vivid sound."
Watch the eerie and unsettling music video and short film Are You Okay, written by Bret Easton Ellis, directed by Brewer and starring featuring Dum Dum Girls' Dee Dee Penny and actor Shiloh Fernandez.
A few weeks back, Sharon Van Etten offered up a preview of her upcoming album, Are We There, in the form of the song "Taking Chances." And, like I have with most of Van Etten's work, I fell for the song's ruminative tone, and her always emotionally exposed lyrics. While that song has already gotten a video treatment with a fantastic, hand-drawn lyric video, today the singer-songwriter has unveiled the official music video.
And perhaps, if you're an avid Criterion film fan, those almost mystical, eerie shots of Van Etten getting her fortune told with the help of Tarot cards and palm reading may look familiar. The video, directed by Michael Palmieri, was directly inspired by the opening sequences of Cléo from 5 to 7, the 1962 Agnès Varda film.
The Los Angeles-based singer Kelela specializes in understated vocal melodies over subdued dance beats. Her debut mixtape Cut 4 Me and her vocal work with Solange has received wide acclaim; her newest track is called “The High” and features more of that dark, moody atmosphere. Kelela is at Rough Trade in Brooklyn tonight.
BONUS: Here's a in-depth profile of Kelela and the scene she's influencing (and influenced by):
In this episode: Running through April 7, the WQXR Instrument Drive is collecting and repairing your old band instruments, then donating them to New York public schools. With the drive in full swing, Soundcheck’s John Schaefer and WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon pause to ask: “Hey, why’d ya stop playing that instrument in the first place?”
And: Fronted by Dee Dee Penny, Dum Dum Girls has earned acclaim for its dirtied-up blend of 1960's pop and ‘80s polish. Hear the band perform songs from its new album, Too True, in the Soundcheck studio.
Nickel Creek almost immediately wowed audiences when they burst onto the circuit in the early '90s. A trio of precocious child prodigies --
If you’d told us 20 years ago that The Jesus Lizard would someday put out a coffee table book, we would’ve had a hard time believing you. The explosive '90s alternative punk rock band was known for its aggressive onstage presence, virtuosic musicianship -- and a frontman, David Yow, who often spent more time crawling on top of his audience than standing on stage.
However, the band members went their separate ways in 1999 -- reuniting briefly for a tour a decade later -- and now they've chronicled the band's story in a photo and essay-filled tome, simply titled Book.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, shares parts of that story firsthand. He fills us in on how the band got its start, where his commanding, often intimidating stage presence came from and why tight pants are better than loose ones when you're planning to light them on fire.