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SOSUS

During the cold war, the United States military created the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), comprised of a series of underwater microphones, to listen for Soviet submarine activity. Now, SOSUS is a blog related to an indie radio show at WJHU (Johns Hopkins Radio), organized by Samuel Messing. This blog displays information related to each week's broadcast, as well as reviews of artists (contemporary and not so contemporary) by the DJ.

 

Interview Tonight!

Tonight I will be interviewing Tim Westergren, the founder of the Music Genome Project and Pandora. The interview will take place at 10 PM EST tonight, and you can listen by going to WJHU's Radio Webpage and clicking the "Listen Now" link at the top of the page, or by clicking here.


The interview will mainly focus on Pandora, as well as Westergren's current cross country trip. After the interview is done I will probably host a podcast link, so don't worry if you can't listen at 10 PM. Also, there will be a write up of the interview appearing in Johns Hopkins Newsletter, probably next week. (I will post a link to the archives when I know where it is).

Thats it for now.

 
 

TV On The Radio At Sonar

This past Friday night, a few hundred people were witness to the liveliness of TV On the Radio, a band which blends hip-hop, noise and rock to create an entirely unique sound. Originally formed by members Tunde Abdebimpe (vocals/loops) and David Andrew Sitek (guitars/keys/loops), the group made its debut with the self-released album OK Calculator. After its release, Abdebimpe and Sitek were joined by Kyp Malone (vocals/guitars/loops) and released Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (LP) and Young Liars (EP) which won them the Shortlist Music Prize. The band has quickly earned a reputation for creating highly-energetic songs which bridge such a wide variety of genres as soul, electronica, blues and rock. Listening to the band's studio recordings raises questions about how the songs could be recreated live, however on last Friday night, from their opening song, "Wrong Way," TV On the Radio dispelled any fears about their ability to play their own music live.

TV On the Radio's current tour is to promote their major label debut, Return to Cookie Mountain, released by Interscope records. On this latest album the band has grown to include Jaleel Bunton (drums) and Gerard Smith (bass). These new members help flesh out the bands sound, leaving behind the repetitive nature of drum loops and samples for more complicated musical forms. When TV On the Radio started playing "Wrong Way," a song off of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, the band's change was obvious. Bunton and Smith replaced the traditional loops, adding energy and motion to the song. This was somewhat overshadowed, however, but the actions of the lead singer Abdebimpe. From the moment he picked up the microphone Abdebimpe hit his chest the beat of every song, repeatedly knocking over the microphone stand, forcing one of the stage hands to come out almost every song to replace the equipment.

The set consisted largely of songs from Return to Cookie Mountain, including the single "Wolf Like Me," for which the band brought out the singer Katrina Ford, of the band Celebration. Katrina Ford has appeared on several of the bands earlier albums, and was given a loud welcome from the crowd when she took the stage.

Not to be outdone by Abdebimpe, the other members of the band did their part to help get the crowd excited as well. Sitek, most responsible for the aspects of noise found in TV On the Radio's music, appeared on stage with a wind chime tied to the head of his guitar. Throughout the performance Sitek could be seen waving his guitar in front of one of Abdebimpe's microphones. The other guitarist, Kyp Malone, while not as animated as Sitek, spoke to the crowd several times during pauses between songs. His message was mainly political, urging all members of the audience to vote in the upcoming elections.

The other members of the band, Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith, were much less pronounced. Bunton, because of his instrument, was largely obscured by cymbals and toms. Smith, because he was playing all of the bass lines as well as recording and playing loops, was forced to squat near his amp for most of the performance.

TV On the Radio ended their solid stage show by calling the members of the opening act, Grizzly Bear, and welcoming back Katrina Ford, to the stage. Malone then proceeded to teach the audience the final chorus line to "Let The Devil In", which they went into as soon as enough of the audience could competently sing it. The studio recording of "Let The Devil In" involves a large amount of percussion, which was supplied by Bunton, Smith, and all of the members of Grizzly Bear. After the song ended, the band left the stage, and returned for an encore performance of "Staring At The Sun," quite possibly their best known song. The entire performance was filled with action and emotion, which didn't reach a peak until the very end of the concert. TV On the Radio have proved themselves over and over to be a band capable of evolving, and responding to the world around them. This is reflected most obviously in their stage performances. As the band moves from song to song, they make sure the audience moves with them, delivering a performance which is unique entirely to them.

 
 

Islands at Ottobar, 10/13/06

After some interesting opening acts, including a fusion of old Yiddish theater and hip-hop, the headlining Islands took the stage. The six piece band takes their love for calypso, Paul Simon's Graceland, and bass clarinet to create a sound all their own. Currently promoting their debut album, Return to the Sea, Islands are currently making their way across America. The band was originally conceived by Nick Diamonds (real name: Nicholas Thorburn) and J'aime Tambeur (real name: Jamie Thompson), both members of the now defunct Unicorns. As The Unicorns, Diamonds and Tambeur accomplished mild success with the album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Dead? The band's songwriting resembles Islands with its band-name-themed lyrics ("I am a unicorn / I missed the ark but I could've sworn / You'd wait for me"), but represents an earlier time in Diamond's and Tambeur's songwriting ability. Return to the Sea offers the listener a more eclectic sound, showing evidence of experimentation with many different musical forms. Tambeur eventually left the band, sighting personal reasons. Islands continues on with Diamonds at the helm.

When Islands took the stage, they were met with cheers from a large, excited crowd. "Something seems off about tonight," Nick Diamonds spoke into the microphone, "maybe because it's Friday the 13th." Diamonds opening lines would prove to more accurate than he probably would have wanted them to be. He turned around and picked up his acoustic, placed it around his neck. Diamond struck his first chord and closed his eyes, reading to being singing the song "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby." Before he could open his mouth, he opened his eyes; no sound was coming out of his guitar. The other members of the band started waving to the man in the sound booth. Putting down their instruments, the band spent the next few minutes trying to fix the problem.

As the band worked several members of the crowd, either drunk or juvenile, started heckling Islands, shouting "Bo - ring!" and clapping their hands. Diamonds in particular seemed very agitated by this, and the members of the band eventually left the stage, save one, who continued to work on the problem. After twenty or so minutes had passed, Islands came back on stage, deciding to perform without the aid of the acoustic guitar. Diamonds was visually upset because of all of the heckling, showing this clearly as he flipped-off some of the members of the audience before picking up his white electric guitar.

From the first song, Islands were determined to make up for lost time. They move from song to song quickly, playing both newly written songs as well as some of the more popular songs off of Return to the Sea, including "Rough Gem," "Swans (Life After Death)" and "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone." The band performs very well together, each of their songs modified for the live show. Probably one of the most interesting songs during the concert was the song "There's a Will There's a Whalebone." On Return to the Sea, the song features the rapping of both Busdriver and Cadence Weapon. For the performance at the Ottobar, in place of the rap section Islands featured a dueling violin solo by the band's Alex and Sebastian Chow. Even with six members, every person besides the drummer and the bassist covered two or more different parts. While the songs progressed the lead guitarist, Patrick Gregoire, switched back and forth from guitar, to bass clarinet, and back.
The concert reached a boiling point when a heckler between songs managed to rise another response from Nick Diamonds. "Why do you have to say that man?" Diamonds asked the audience member, "have some tact." Unfortunately for everyone else, the heckler wouldn't stop, and after a few more songs Diamonds reached his breaking point. "I am doing everything in my power not to throw down this guitar, and beat the shit out of you." Diamonds, who was the least lively of the band all night, now took center stage, "It's been a fucked up day. I've been trying to get into it all night, but you just won't let me." Diamonds covered his eyes and looked to the back of the club, "can we get this guy thrown out of here?" Before too long a bouncer arrived and escorted the heckler out of the club.

As soon as the heckler left, Diamonds seemed to loosen up, and by the last few songs, started to become animated. The band ended their set with "Bucky Little Wing", and "song about friendship and happiness" as introduced by Diamonds, and "Volcanoes". Interruptions aside, Islands put on an energetic and fun show. The band feels more like a local group of college seniors than a cross-country-touring group. This level of approachability, often hard to find in this era of aloof hipsters, allow the audience to really become involved with the performance. Islands proved this impression to be true after the show, when a few of the members, including Sebastian Chow and Nick Diamonds, came out to talk to the people still in the venue. If given the chance, Islands are definitely worth seeing live. The bands highly integrated songs, featuring tightly coordinated bass guitar and bass clarinet lines, recorder solos and violin swells, create a sound impossible to duplicate.

By Red Dragon & Zephyr
On Wednesday, October 18, 2006
At 3:25 PM
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The Oranges Band

So last night Matt and I went to see The Oranges Band live at the Ottobar with The Whigs and Two If By Sea (we didn't see much of either other band). It was a great concert, I must say they do a really lively set. On stage with them was a new bassist (Faye, I think), who I only knew to be a new member from all of the audience's yelling (positive, not negative). Even so the band seemed to be really enjoying themselves, which definitely helps to get me more into their music. Also, I was really surprised to find out that Matt and I were the youngest people there (as we were the only one's with X's on our hands), even with the club quite full. They're worth checking out, I especially like their song Ok Apartment (it's on their myspace page).

Check them out here:
http://www.theorangesband.com/
and on myspace:
http://www.myspace.com/theorangesband

By Red Dragon & Zephyr
On Sunday, September 10, 2006
At 11:34 AM
Comments :
 
 

The Octopus Project - One Ten Hundred Thousand Million

I've been listening to The Octopus Project's One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (Peak-a-Book Records; 2005) all day. I originally got the CD about six months ago, but haven't really picked it up until today. It's been a great album to walk to, and I think there are several reasons why I like it so much. The band (at least on this one album) is similar in approach to The Books, but very different in execution. Where The Books try to make their computer-stitched-together songs still sound fairly traditional (this is in now way meant as a jab, I think they're use of dialogue as well as other more modern musical tools is incredible, but they do have less of a rough "edge") The Octopus Project is willing to allow there music to move farther away from traditional acoustic instruments, and towards a more digitally produced sound.

One of my favorite songs on the album is All Of The Champs That Ever Lived. The song starts off a short audio clip and then goes into a short bassline riff, with a staccato punch of static offering a source of percussion. After only a few seconds of build up the song takes an unexpected turn (one of the reasons I like it so much). Instead of a traditional build up of different harmony parts over the initial bassline, the bassline (along with the static) is abandoned for a jumpy drum beat, guitar-line and a kind of scratching audio clip (almost like a pick slide). Once this is fully developed, the band returns to the original bassline. The rest of the song is a continued transition between both of these parts, each being developed as the song progresses. The song finally builds up to a meshing of the two different parts, which eventually putters out, leading quickly into the next song (another good one, much slower though) titled Bruise.

The album is filled with fun songs to listen to, other favorites of mine (currently) include Music is Happiness, a fast-hitting jaunt with laser sounds and Hold the Ladder, a song whose percussion is mainly made up of sound clips and static, and has a really nice bassline and guitarline, which play off each other. The whole album is an interesting mesh of "laprock" (Laptop Rock... I am not sure if anyone really thinks of this as a genre, but I've heard it used), post-rock and noise. Puts me in the mood for the High Zero festival going on the weekend of September 14th - 17th in Baltimore.

http://www.theoctopusproject.com/

By Red Dragon & Zephyr
On Friday, September 08, 2006
At 3:34 PM
Comments :
 
 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Y Control"

I just recently got my hands on the rest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell, and I must say, by far my favorite song on the album is "Y Control." A friend of mine just sent me the music video, which I think was directed by Spike Jones. The music video is incredibly dark, somewhat morbid, but at the same time has a light sense of humor, which makes it a lot of fun to watch. A discord is created between the humor and the seriousness of the video with the juxtaposition of the strange - as well as grotesque - actions of the kids in the video and Karen O's antics, which make the whole thing seem more like "make believe."

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By Red Dragon & Zephyr
On Thursday, September 07, 2006
At 11:06 PM
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Ratatat - Classics


Ratatat's new album, Classics [XL; 2006] is a widely varied texture of genres. Sometimes hip hop, sometimes prog-rock, the album is largely atmospheric, consisting of repetitive hooks which beg for some sort of visual companion. In some ways the album is very "soundtrack-esque", but I mean this in a very good way. While not the most fascinating of albums, Ratatat has produced something worth picking up.

As the albums cover suggests, one of the most talked about songs on Classics is the song Wildcat, which features panther-growling sample, amidst a heavy bass line and a funky one-note guitar riff. Wildcat, as with the entire album, show off Evan Mast and Mike Stroud's ability to produce highly-energized instrumental music. What the album lacks in depth it makes up for in action: every song suggests body movement, and listeners can't stop tapping their feet.

Ratatat's ability to create incredibly inviting hooks is in some ways the cause of their limitations. The songs often take a long time to progress, and don't really live up to expectations. However, as most reviewers have seen this as a negative, I think its not as negative as it sounds. The limitations in Ratatat's song construction really speaks to the number of members in the band: two. I have a feeling that the members have made a commitment only to create music which they can easily recreate on stage. Where most bands add additional guitar and synth tracks which get lost in live translation (read: watching Led Zeppelin concert videos never did it for me), Ratatat has made a decision to keep things simple.

I have not been able to see Ratatat live yet, but something tells me they will extremely entertaining. While staying within the realm of simple guitar and synth loops, Ratatat's music will make you want to move, and is quite lovely for early morning wake ups. Ratatat doesn't offer its listener a strong, "moving" experience which people often attribute to their favorite music, but it does give you something to move to, a wonderful panacea for a bad mood.

http://www.ratatatmusic.com/

P.S. If you are in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, be sure to check out Ratatat's upcoming show, on October 4th, at the Black Cat in D.C.

 
 

Radio Show!

So the radio show starts next Tuesday, September 12th at 10 P.M. You can listen to the show here by clicking on the "radio" link in the upper-right corner of the page. If you miss the showing, its possible to listen to the show once its archived. When I find out the link to the archive page I'll post it.

In the meantime, please enjoy this cover of Joanna Newsom's Peach, Plum, Pear, done by Final Fantasy. I found it last night while looking around. I know nothing of Final Fantasy, but can say that I am really impressed with the cover and want to find out more (read: I am a sucker for violin loops).

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By Red Dragon & Zephyr
On Wednesday, September 06, 2006
At 2:15 PM
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Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender

Joanna Newsom, a classically trained harpist, blends Appalachian folk with a more contemporary, as some would say "freak folk", sound. Milk-Eyed Mender (2004, Drag City) is a multi-layered album, featuring powerfully articulate lyrics surrounded by simple, elegant arrangements. What really strikes me is the power of her voice. Originally Joanna planned on being a composer, and turned to singing relatively recently. Because of this, her voice has a rich timbre, which can be off-putting at first, but is something even the most sensitive listener can easily warm up to.

The third track on the album, The Book of Right-On, is a great example of Joanna's ability to synchronize her lyrics with her instrumentation. The song opens up with a simple, yet rhythmically fascinating, bass-line. Once established, lyrics come into the song accompanied by a staccato, repetitive pedal chord. As the song continues, Joanna's lyrics take on a somewhat playful, but still complex, attitude, with the lines "I killed my dinner / with karate / kick 'em in the face / taste the body." As soon as this happens, Joanna moves back towards a more serious tone, with the following line "Shallow work / is the work that I do." The song's meaning is powerfully delivered towards the middle of the song, in a powerful example of rhyme, which really shows off Joanna's lyrical ability, "And even when you run through my mind / something else is in front, oh, you're behind / and I don't have to remind you to stay with your kind." The song is haunting, and gives the listener a lot to think about.

"En Gallop", the seventh track on the album, exemplifies Joanna's compositional skills. Although the song has lyrics, the focus is clearly on the melody and harmony, rather than the words themselves. It's not until the last section of lyrics that the listener understands the full weight and meaning of the song. "Never get so attached to a poem, you / Forget truth that lacks lyricism, and / Never get so close to the heat, that / You forget that you must eat, oh." After these lyrics ring out (the last "oh" sounds really reminiscent of Feist's Mushaboom, to the point Fiest's song starts playing in my head every time I listen to this song), the song ends with a minute or so of solo harp playing, allowing the listener time to reflect on Joanna's words. The whole song has a crystalline texture, giving a sense of fragility and grace.

The whole album is wonderful, and includes some really powerful choruses, featuring a bunch of children, especially on the song Peach, Plum, Pear. On a few songs, Joanna puts down her harp of a piano or, as on Peach, Plum, Pear, a harpsichord. These songs bring a different sound to the album, which is still entirely Joanna. For anyone interested in lyrical poetry, classical music, or Appalachian folk, Joanna Newsom is a great discovery.