Who’s up for a little time travel? I’ve been a little under the weather so this time we dig into the archives for my my busker recording project with the Village Voice — I recorded Monica Bethelwood and Juliet Biemiller ages ago but the segment never ran, and I’ve always felt guilty about letting such an excellent song get buried by our hassles on the editorial end.
Bethelwood told me she’d just returned from California, and given the hobo-folk vibe I was quite content to just assume that she hitched a ride on a rusty freight train. (One of her songs was called “Hubba Hubba Hobo,” actually.) She has since set up shop in North Carolina; “I moved to Asheville with 20 dollars in my pocket,” she told me recently, so I like to think she now travels between her gigs doing tarot card readings riding atop a rickety old mule.
The dual release format makes a lot of sense precisely because the composition almost seems to have been built from the ground up for this express purpose — each version focuses on one part of the song, at the expense of the rest. Which is not to say anybody’s any better off as a result — the median age of the band members is a crisp 21 years, and consequently the rock version sounds like a hazy reflection of rock as understood by someone who grew up in the age of Shinedown: dramatic pauses, fluttering echoes and filters, doubletracking everything to death even when the riffs don’t actually want to go anywhere useful.
The latest round of my busker field recording project Cast In Concrete features Scottish Octopus, a duo that combines bagpipes and drums.
Bagpipes are a deceptively powerful instrument, which you may not realize until you’ve heard them from a few feet away and/or had them overload your mics, but that also means they’re a fine counterweight for a drum kit. Combining them, at least in the manner these two do, also creates a strangely compelling time travel sensation, because although the pipes are well outside the comfort zone for most of the people who are going to end up reading this, a drummer like Morales can propel them along into something that could pass for modern, at least enough to survive outside period pieces and dramatized police funerals on Law & Order.
New York’s transit system has been eviscerated by Hurricane Sandy and none of the subways are running in a sensible fashion, which is precisely why I made a point of meeting up with the wonderful singer and cellist Lenna Pierce for an underground recording session. This one is a bit weirder than usual.
That voice, man. It’s like something echoing out from history itself, like it should be trained on weighty Celtic spirituals instead of the inconsequential love songs that typically concern us mortals. The cello all but disappears here, buried unceremoniously by the futility of trying to keep up.
Over at Spin, we debunk the notion that listening to “Gangnam Style” in any way qualifies as global cultural awareness by pointing you toward “Bloom,” a wonderful new jam that is handily beating Psy on the Korean pop charts.
Korean rapper PSY’s runaway smash-of-smashes “Gangnam Style” has long since graduated to such a level of worldwide Internet saturation that Korean pop listeners have decided it’s time to move on. Son Ga-In is by far his most exciting successor yet; she clearly wants you to have fun, but there are no dances that frat boys will be doing on Halloween, and no shots of anyone rapping on the toilet. more
Lately I’ve been lax about posting all the individual installments of my Village Voice column, in which I roam around New York City with a portable recording setup trying to turn performances by buskers and street musicians into tangible MP3s for music fans. This should catch you up:
As the the arrangements grow more elaborate, there quickly approaches a limit beyond which the phrase “boy band” seems unjustly dismissive. We’re well past that point here, so once you’re done swooning you can also find your way to a reading that’s at least slightly more mature.
I’m starting up a new recurring feature for Spin Magazine called It’s No. 1 Somewhere, in which we’ll look at pop songs which are doing well on the foreign charts but wholly ignored in the United States. The first installment ran earlier today — it’s about Ukrainian dance-pop singer Svetlana Loboda and the ways in which she seems to logically follow from Lady Gaga and Shakira — but since we just sort of hit the ground running with it, I’m thinking perhaps I should use this space to provide a little introduction or explanation. Or a mission statement, even?
“World music,” though in a way it feels like a term so broad as to be useless, has gradually become actually quite restrictive, since it’s mostly attached to traditional folkish forms that can sell out Carnegie Hall once a year but aren’t really getting any attention at the clubs and radio stations back at home. I mean, I absolutely adore Tinariwen, but they’re also a prime example of how the marketing of the world music genre can preclude mainstream reception for a great band even as it builds a focused and enthusiastic audience out of other people. Truth is, in many cases what’s actually bumping from the car stereos elsewhere is not aesthetically all that different from what we listen to here, except that there might be a language barrier. But so what? It’s not like we’re listening to Ke$ha for her lyrical insights.
This then means that there’s an extremely accessible pop middle ground between those two worlds that’s being largely ignored simply because western audiences are too busy sorting through their own overabundance of musicians and media files. I think we can use chart performance in other parts of the world as a sort of qualifier, a red flag indicating that we should take a break from all this navel gazing — that is, anything that 80% of Nigerian teenagers love should at least briefly register as a blip for us over here. We’re hoping to help connect foreign artists that are poppy enough to immediately feel accessible and familiar to the receptive audiences who won’t mind filing them right between Adele and Beyoncé. Both these groups are already out there, but they’re having trouble finding each other.
My NYC field recording project Cast In Concrete found a kindred spirit in Mark Johnson of Playing For Change, who travels the world facilitating collaborations between otherwise disconnected buskers and street musicians. He was kind enough to share with me some of the insights he has picked up over the years.
“It occurred to me that the best music I ever heard in my life was on the way to the studio, not in the studio. And what New York City can teach you is that the best music and great art, it’s just everywhere. People always say to me, ‘How do you find all these musicians?’ And the truth is, by showing up. Great music is everywhere, so those people that show up are the ones that get to find it.”