DOWNLOAD: "Cruel City"
SHOW: Monday at Bowery Ballroom (SOLD OUT)
The band formerly known as “We Are Augustines” – now known as just “Augustines” – dealt with death, despair, and heartbreak on their excellent 2011 debut. Their new album -- called simply, Augustines -- asks the question: what next? The song Cruel City deals with all that heaviness with an anthemic chorus. Augustines are playing at Bowery Ballroom tonight.
BONUS: Hear more of the Augustines' earnest, rousing rock:
On Thursday, Feb. 27, Soundcheck hosted an all-star Beatles vs. Rolling Stones Smackdown at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In front of a crowd of more than 200 people, two teams fiercely battled over which band is better -- pitting album versus album, guitarist versus guitarist, song versus song -- and, of course, debating the sex appeal of each band.
Take a listen to this excerpt:
In this episode: One! Two! Three! Four! Everybody loves a good toe-tapper. But have you ever wondered why we humans move to music? And why some unfortunate people can’t seem to find the beat? Columbia University music professor Mariusz Kozak tells us what he’s learned about why we physically respond to sound.
Then: The globetrotting South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo is best known for its work on Paul Simon's Graceland. The group, which now includes the founder’s grandson, performs songs from its beautiful new album in the Soundcheck studio.
While perhaps best known for its work with Paul Simon on Graceland, the renowned South African a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has had the kind of prestigious and lengthy career spanning over 50 years any artist would envy. Once described as South Africa's "Cultural Ambassadors" by the late Nelson Mandela, the Grammy Award-winning ensemble exemplifies an unmatched musical spirit, with songs that inspire and enliven crowds all around the world.
The group now returns with its latest album, Always With Us, which honors Nellie Shabalala -- the late wife of Black Mambazo founder and leader Joseph Shabalala -- with a song cycle of music featuring their voices alongside her vocals recorded before her death in 2002. It's also the first record in its over-40-year history to showcase female Zula vocalists on traditional songs. The result is a beautiful tribute and another fine collection from the always stirring artists.
If you were a kid in the 1970's, or if you raised kids during that decade, you probably spent time with Free To Be... You And Me. The seminal album and popular television special was jam-packed with catchy songs, but also contained very progressive messages about gender roles, feminism, tolerance and how it's not always easy being a kid.
Later in March, the Paley Center For Media celebrates the LP, the book and television program, so in honor, Soundcheck looks back some of our favorite moments from our three-part series marking the 40th anniversary of the record.
First, we speak with the Emmy Award-winning TV producer Carole Hart, who co-produced the record and the 1974 Afterschool Special by the same name. Hart shares the story behind the album -- and the controversy it engendered. Plus, we hear from cultural historian Lori Rotskoff, who co-edited a new essay collection called When We Were Free To Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made.
Then, we look back at the record's attempt to challenge gender stereotypes and promote tolerance. We explore the impact those now-40-year-old messages had on a generation of children and their parents, as well as the album's limitations. We also examine what child psychologists now believe -- and promote -- when it comes to children and gender.
And finally, we chat with some of the people behind the music found on the album: Emmy-winning composer Stephen Lawrence, who wrote the album's title track as well as "Sisters and Brothers" and "When We Grow Up" and lyricist and composer Carol Hall, who wrote "Parents Are People," "Glad to Have a Friend Like You" and "It's All Right to Cry."
ARTIST: Miguel Zenón Quartet
DOWNLOAD: "Olas Y Arenas"
SHOW: Saturday at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University ($21-$35)
Puerto Rico-born jazz musician Miguel Zenón is widely considered to be among the finest saxophonists of his generation. As if earning multiple Grammy nods and a MacArthur Genius grant doesn’t keep a guy busy, Zenón has spent a lot of time cross-pollinating the sounds of Puerto Rico and New York. Take a listen to Olas Y Arenas – “Waves and Sands”…
He’s performing tomorrow night with his quartet at Miller Theatre on the Upper West Side.
BONUS: Check out the 4tet in action!
Who knew such a tiny instrument could elicit such strong feelings? In the pop music era, the ukulele has gone from cultural artifact and jokey sidearm, to songwriting tool and ironic totem. The four-string made a high profile cameo on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, and many online commenters were swift and harsh in their condemnation, says writer Jesse David Fox. So harsh, in fact, that Fox wrote an article in defense of the ukulele for Vulture.
And while Ben Greenman didn't actively take to internet forums to voice his disapproval, the contributing editor at The New Yorker, is no less dismissive of the ukulele as a lazy cultural shorthand.
"It's the goatee of musical instruments," says Greenman. "It's the vintage dress that verges on looking like a costume, because it's got that old-timey borrowed antiqueness, the automatic vintage feel, which sometimes isn't earned."
Fox and Greenman enter the Smackdown ring to settle it:
Is the ukulele a charming, portable composer's dream...or a twee novelty whose time has passed?
When you spend 23 years dancing with the New York City Ballet, you will experience plenty of ups and downs -- especially when you soar through the air or are tossed by another dancer. But in her new memoir, Dancing Through It, My Journey In The Ballet, Jenifer Ringer writes about some very different ups and downs during her years as a dancer -- starting first as a soloist, and later as a principal dancer with the company.
In Dancing Through It, Ringer depicts early success and mid-career struggles in a highly competitive and critical world. She joined City Ballet as an apprentice in 1989 at age 16 and soon became a soloist. Her quick ascent was followed by a struggle with eating disorders and weight gain, and the company declined to renew her contract in 1997.
"It was devastating, and I really did quit completely," she told Soundcheck's John Schaefer. "In the long run, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it forced me to confront all of my issues. As I became healthier, I was able to return to dance and find my love for it."
In 2000, Ringer won a spot back in New York City Ballet and was promoted to the rank of principal dancer. She credits her Christian faith and fellow dancer (and future husband) James Fayette for large shares of her comeback.
Now at age 40, Ringer is retiring on her own terms -- her final performance was on Feb. 9 in Dances At A Gathering, Jerome Robbins' 1969 comeback piece, along with George Balanchine's Union Jack.
In a conversation with Schaefer, Ringer looks back on her remarkable two-decade career. She also talks about what's next -- including an upcoming move to Los Angeles with her husband Fayette, the managing director of LA Dance Project.
Congratulations! You’ve reached the first milestone in Autobiography, page 145, where we find our hero in a cliffhanger ending. The plot so far, a la TV Guide:
Steven Patrick Morrissey is an unhappy youth from gritty Manchester who loves only poetry, glam rock and television. He is indifferent about winning many medals in track and field. Increasingly caught up in the city’s music scene, Steven prepares to meet someone who will change his life.
Wow! That sounds exciting. In real-time, however, the book has its ups and downs. Here are my impressions of the memoir so far.
Considering he's still too young to drink legally, Parker Millsap's voice has a remarkable whiskey-tinged world-weariness of songwriters decades his senior. Yet the Oklahoma-bred musician seems to come to his soulful, yet gravelly croon honestly: he grew up in in a small town Pentecostal household and is part of that region's so-called Red Dirt music movement which blends classic folk, country and gospel traditions.
And with his self-titled new album, Millsap taps his background for vivid stories that touch upon religion, soul-searching, and wrestling with his self-confessed sins. And with spare adornment of acoustic guitars, fiddle, and pedal steel, Millsap lets his words breathe and linger and ultimately carry an extra weight. It's a raw and honest album from promising new voice.
DOWNLOAD: "In My Brain (Richard Dorfmeister vs. MDLA Extended Mix)"
SHOW: Thursday at Le Poisson Rouge ($25)
Tosca is the musical moniker for Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber, godfathers of the groove-driven ambient music called “down-tempo.” They’ve been creating inviting, laid-back tracks for two decades. Here’s an up-tempo remix of “In My Brain,” a track off their 2013 record, “Odeon.” Tosca will be doing their groove thing tonight with guest singers and an interactive art performance at Le Poisson Rouge.
BONUS: The video for 2009's "Rosa" gives a good sense of what Tosca is all about.
In this episode: It seems like everywhere you look these days, someone’s thoughtfully strumming a ukulele: in the Spike Jonze film Her; on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother; or, in like 2.6 million videos on YouTube. After a decade of building ukulele enthusiasm, the uke has officially hit the mainstream -- and it’s high time that we throw the tiny guitar (and soon-to-be official state instrument of Hawaii?) into the Smackdown ring.
Then: Jenifer Ringer recently retired from the New York City Ballet, where she was a principal dancer. She talks about her nearly 23 years as a professional ballerina, which she chronicles in her new book Dancing Through It.
And: Parker Millsap’s voice was once described by a reviewer as “like velvet laid over gravel.” We have to agree. The Oklahoma-bred singer-songwriter and guitarist has a heck of a voice for someone who’s still unable to drink legally in the United States. Hear Milsap perform with his band in the Soundcheck studio.
Not long after Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen became friends, they knew they wanted to create something together. That collaboration first took form as a series of sketch-comedy videos, which they put online as ThunderAnt. And as those videos took off, it soon served as the backbone for something far more ambitious in scope: Portlandia.
The IFC sketch-comedy show, which won a Peabody in 2012, portrays Armisen (formerly of Saturday Night Live) and Brownstein (former guitarist of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag) as very specific types of people found in Portland, Ore. From feminist bookstore owners and overeager local foodies to too-hip cat-themed bands, Battlestar Galactica binge-watchers, and so much more, Portlandia has relentlessly captured, made fun of, and perhaps even inspired many peculiar (mustachioed, pierced) hipster trends, artisanal culture and yuppie behaviors -- not only in Portland, but now, any place with a touch of eccentricity. (Who hasn't heard someone exclaim "Put a bird on it!" or laughed at artinin the last few years?)
And in a hilarious new sketch in the show's upcoming fourth season, Armisen and Brownstein pokes at public radio culture as it intersects with tailgating and Grateful Dead touring as characters outside of A Prairie Home Companion show share stories about Garrison Keillor over hot tea.
"We got you!" laughs Brownstein. "You should protest," adds Armisen. "I think we're so familiar with it. It's such a part of our lives, it's such a good reference. I feel like everyone knows what we mean."
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Brownstein and Armisen talk about the show's impressive list of guest stars, and what else we can expect this season. Plus, Armisen discusses his new role as leader and curator of the "8G Band" on Seth Meyers' just-premiered Late Night, Browstein talks about her upcoming memoir, and the chances Sleater-Kinney may reunite any time soon.
Natalia Clavier's clear, confident voice will be familiar to fans of dub/jazz/bossa nova DJ duo Thievery Corporation, for whom she's regularly contributed vocals since 2007. But, as if that isn't a strong enough list of influences, she adds "Latin-Alternative-Bilingual-Global-Electronic-Fusion."
Clavier's musical DNA really is global: She grew up in Buenos Aires, has lived in Barcelona, and now calls Brooklyn home. Her first album was completely in Spanish, but for her most recent album, Lumen, most of her songwriting in English. The result can't be accurately described, regardless of language. It must be heard.
ARTIST: Dom La Nena
DOWNLOAD: "No Meu Pais"
SHOW: Wednesday at Joe's Pub ($15)
Dominique Pinto – aka Dom La Nena, or Dom the Little Girl – makes delicate pop music centered around her cello. If the song “No Meu Pais” elicits a hazy, drifting feeling, it might be because Dom herself grew up floating between France, Argentina, and Brazil. Take a listen, and catch Dom La Nena tonight at Joe’s Pub.
BONUS: Here's more Dom La Nena, with the video for "Sambinha"...
This spring is shaping up to be a busy one on Broadway – especially when it comes to new musicals. Joining us with a preview is Michael Riedel, theater columnist for the New York Post and co-host of the weekly TV show Theater Talk on PBS.
Michael Riedel on If/Then (opening March 30)
This is an original musical, which is something unique these days on Broadway -- not based on a movie, not based on a book -- written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, who did Next To Normal, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It is what its title is -- If/Then. It's a series of questions posed in one's life: if I had done this, then that would have happened. But if I'd done that, this would have happened.
“Should’ve stayed in bed today / I much prefer the mundane,” Courtney Barnett sings near the end of “Avant Gardener.” Considering the song’s winding and darkly comedic first-person account of an anaphylactic anxiety attack that finds her in an ambulance after attempting some gardening, the line is the understatement of the year. But Barnett’s signature song -- with its fantastic “I’m so over it” deadpan delivery -- does sort of stand in as the modus operandi of The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas -- the Melbourne, Australia songwriter’s self-released 2013 collection, now set to be reissued in the U.S. in April.
Amid a swirling fury of frayed-wire guitar distortion and a rambling backbeat, Barnett speak-sings fleeting thoughts about failed relationships, boredom, and youthful directionless in exacting detail and shrugging nonchalance. And while her lyrics seem so specifically personal, and well, mundane, they’re immediately identifiable. Case in point: take “Are You Looking After Yourself” -- a phone conversation with her parents that we’ve all had at one time or another, where they ask “Are you working hard my darling, we’re so worried… Are you eating? You sound so thin.” Or see her witty setup-punchline in “Avant Gardener”: “The paramedic thinks I’m clever 'cause I play guitar / I think she’s clever 'cause she stops people dying.”
Whether these detached matter-of-fact observations are real-life tales or adopted persona -- or likely, both -- it’s this kind of concise, of-the-moment songwriting that makes Barnett such a sharp and potent young talent.
The story goes that Annie Clark jumped right from touring in support of St. Vincent’s last album -- the 2011 masterpiece Strange Mercy -- to working with David Byrne on Love This Giant, their horn-centric collaboration. And from there, she went right back to work -- a mere 36 hours after the tour ended -- and began writing new material.
That bit of information is instructive in demonstrating Clark’s whirlwind work ethic, and a seemingly unending supply of creative drive. But the story also helps decipher Clark’s musical evolution, leaving breadcrumbs in song form that leads us from her dystopian Disney aesthetic to this End of the World dance party of her brand-new fourth album, St. Vincent. The self-titled album effortlessly marries Clark’s unique trademarks -- her equally mannered and seething voice and her precise yet snarling guitar playing -- with the buoyant, funked-up pop she made with Byrne.
As with previous albums, St. Vincent is drawn to rich sonic exploration, teaming again with producer extraordinaire John Congleton to ensure that every beat is bit-crunched, and every instrument -- hear those rubbery and serpentine guitar bursts, that deep grinding Moog bass -- masked or processed to the point of being difficult to identify. Yet as layered and boundary-challenging as St. Vincent’s songs are, the arrangements, like in "Birth In Reverse" are always lean and balanced; every sound is in its right place.
And amidst all that lip-curling noise and digital clutter in songs like “Huey Newton” or “Bring Me Your Loves,” there’s an undeniable ethereal beauty in a song like “Prince Johnny” and a romanticism in the synth pop ballad “I Prefer Your Love.”
Clark is such a complex, innovative and emotionally raw artist, that after listening to every St. Vincent album, it's hard to imagine where she might go next; and that’s always exciting. And with this latest effort, St. Vincent not only sets the bar very high on practically every album to come in 2014, but blasts Clark’s peculiar and brilliant music into a new stratosphere.
Members of the Soundcheck and WNYC team filled their shoddy white earbuds with St. Vincent's new album -- just as it was meant to be heard -- and have these insta-reactions.
ARTIST: Frankie Rose
DOWNLOAD: "Street Of Dreams"
SHOW: Tuesday at Webster Hall ($25)
Frankie Rose has been in a bunch of NYC bands: Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls. But she’s also made a couple albums under her own name. The most recent of these is “Herein Wild,” and it features an icy cover of The Damned’s “Street of Dreams.” Frankie Rose is at Webster Hall tonight, opening for White Lies.
In this episode: Before the Academy Awards on Sunday night, we talk about the candidates for Best Original Song (even one that got kicked off the list along the way) and Best Original Score with Melena Ryzik of The New York Times.
Then, hear Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett and her band perform "Avant Gardener" and more in the Soundcheck studio.
And: This spring is shaping up to be a busy one on Broadway, especially for musicals. We talk with New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel about a couple of the biggies coming our way -- including Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring Neil Patrick Harris, If/Then, and Bullets Over Broadway.