Category: Albums & EPs

Chinese Man – Incredible trip-hop group from France

Chinese Man Records | Facebook | Twitter

You get Chinese Man, the French trip-hop collective and my newest musical discovery. I was enjoying the night at Muka, a hip underground French wine bar in San Francisco, when I heard “Miss Chang” (video is below) off the owner’s playlist. Utilizing influences from around the world, it’s some of the best genre fusing I’ve ever heard. Each track on their 2011 release Racing With the Sun is unique and inspired.
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RECORD REVIEW: Megan Slankard – A Token of the Wreckage (Performer Magazine – March 2011)

Megan Slankard | Performer Magazine – March 2011

Megan Slankard
A Token of the Wreckage
San Francisco, CA

“Sultry, warm with a golden glow”

Megan Slankard releases her fourth record in good company, aided by engineers David Bryson (Counting Crows) and Jerry Becker (Pat Monahan). A Token of the Wreckage includes 12 tracks of polished singer/songwriter anthems. The record features a consistent Americana sound, leaving Slankard to shoulder the responsibility of standing out with her unique songwriting and sultry voice.

The album opens with “A Token of the Wreckage,” a title track with such strong pop sensibilities it’s unmistakable as her first single. Subsequent tracks follow suit with comparably sharp production. “The Happy Birthday” offers a nice shift with its simple concept and upbeat swing. It’s songs like these that shine a light on Slankard’s clever lyrics. On “The Pain of Growing Up,” she itemizes a list of growing pains, including unfulfilled travel desires and working at Home Depot. It’s an honest track with an underlying melancholy that one can only hope isn’t completely autobiographical for her… not that there’s anything wrong with working at Home Depot.

Thoughtful construction and clever wordplay are the highlights on Slankard’s new record. A Token of the Wreckage is a generous collection that maintains its momentum from start to finish. (Daily Acts)

Produced by Megan Slankard and Jerry Becker // Mixed by David Bryson at Dancing Dog Studios // Mastered by Michael Romanowski in San Francisco

– Keane Li

Performer Magazine - March 2011 Cover

RECORD REVIEW: The Soonest – Quarters EP (Performer Magazine – July 2011)

The Soonest - Quarters EP
The Soonest | Performer Magazine – July 2011

The Soonest
Quarters EP
Berkeley, CA

“San Francisco dream rock with a darker side”

The Soonest’s latest release, Quarters EP, exemplifies the phrase, “less is more.” The San Francisco rock band, formerly known as Lion Riding Horses, sound much bigger than their four-part roster might suggest. While it only boasts four tracks, the production on each song exhibits a noticeable level of care.

The EP opens with “Ghosts,” a song appropriately titled with its haunting characteristics. Guitar arpeggios layer nicely with echoing sustain as vocals float listlessly across. Frenetic drum riffs propel the track forward, taking the dream pop characteristics of the song into a heftier level. The following track, “I Don’t Mind,” seems most reminiscent of the popular indie pop songs of our day. The boisterous drum riffs remind the listener of bands like Vampire Weekend, though The Soonest delivers in a manner more serious. “King” offers a bit of ballad with its longing lyrics and pop-influenced background vocals. The loving touch of ambient sounds and songwriting extend into the EP’s final track, “Ready.”

Vocals and instrumentation are rich, and the pacing of builds and lulls work refreshingly. It’s a balance that’s hard to execute. As a set, Quarters EP works effectively as an intro to a band already on the rise. (Self-released)

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Lori D. Brackney and Jose Rosa at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts

– Keane Li

I Love Danger Mouse

As a songwriter, I really appreciate innovative production, the implementation of diverse instruments and brevity used appropriately. Recently added to my current producer heroes —Butch Vig, Brian Eno and Kanye West — is Danger Mouse.

Brian Joseph Burton (born July 29, 1977), better known by his stage name Danger Mouse, is a Grammy Award winning, American musician, songwriter and producer. He came to prominence in 2004 when he released The Grey Album, which combined vocal performances from Jay-Z’s The Black Album with instrumentals from The Beatles’ White Album.

He formed Gnarls Barkley with Cee Lo Green and produced their albums St. Elsewhere and The Odd Couple. He produced the second Gorillaz album, 2005’s Demon Days, as well as Beck’s 2008 record, Modern Guilt. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Producer of the Year category five times (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011), and won the award in 2011. In addition, Burton worked with rapper MF Doom as Danger Doom and released the album The Mouse and the Mask and the EP Occult Hymn.

In 2009 he collaborated with James Mercer of the indie rock band The Shins to form Broken Bells. The group’s first album was released on March 9, 2010.

Danger Mouse was listed as one of Esquire magazine’s seventy-five most influential people of the 21st century.

The pinnacle of music for me combines soul, rhythm and ambience, and thus I’m a big fan of genre bending like quirky hip hop (Gnarls Barkley) or grooved out alt-rock (Gorillaz). Danger Mouse & Jemini’s Ghetto Pop Life provides such a funktastic experience.

On his recent album, Rome, he collaborates with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, and features guests Jack White and Norah Jones. The addition of orchestration pushes toward the spaghetti western feel, utilizing vintage equipment and musicians featured in the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with a soundtrack composed by another Italian composer, Ennio Morricone.

Danger Mouse creates great examples of musical escapes, sounds that take to another place and time.

Oh Land, Lupe Fiasco, Guillemots / Making people dance and making people think don’t have to be mutually exclusive…

Making people dance and making people think don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes you can do both with a catchy beat and thoughtful lyrics. It’s the songwriters’ unicorn to craft a tune that’s catchy enough to ensnare a listener while being lyrical with such a quality that the song is not promptly dismissed. By now we’ve all heard Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” a song with all the characteristics of a successful pop track with absolutely zero substance. It’s fascinating, really, and I’ll admit I listened to that horrible track more times than I should’ve… for research, of course.

Here are a few of my recent favorite finds — artists that balance well the heavy and the high.

I’m absolutely loving Oh Land‘s debut self-titled second album (recommended by suki). Born Nanna Øland Fabricius from Copenhagen, her music exhibits all the eccentric characteristics that make me admire sounds from Scandinavia. Unlike more obscure stuff, Oh Land utilizes catchy melodies and driving percussiveness, which I’m happy to discover is actually a word. This isn’t surprising as Pharrell Williams is listed among the production credits.

It’s no surprise that I love hip hop. I recently purchased Lupe Fiasco‘s Lasers, an album that reminds me a lot of T.I.‘s Paper Trail in terms of celebratory anthems mixed in with more somber tracks featuring meaningful messages. His rhymes are seldom corny — an adjective that can describe at least several verses on even some of the best rap records — and the production on the record is strong. It’s a nice follow-up to Lupe’s previous albums, and it serves as a good replacement for T.I.’s somewhat mediocre recent release.

From the UK and the year 2006 comes Through the Windowpane by Guillemots (pronounced “gillimotts”), another recent discovery of mine via a recommendation through a beer-loving lady friend. What struck me most about them was their fully orchestrated sound — open, lush and ambient, it’s something I really resonate with. Their third studio album, Walk the Line, was recently released on the 18th of April. I’ll make an effort to check it out.

PERFORMER MAGAZINE – RECORD REVIEW: Mikie Lee Prasad, Jukebox Folktales: Volume Two

RECORD REVIEW: Mikie Lee Prasad
Jukebox Folktales: Volume Two
By: Keane Li

One of the hardest working musicians in the Bay Area, Mikie Lee Prasad has been performing his rollicking brand of energetic Americana in local pubs and clubs for well over a decade. His recent release, Jukebox Folktales: Volume Two, a sequel to 2009’s Volume One, features a number of the talented local musicians he’s worked with on past projects.
The album opens with the diabolical “Try Evil.” Mikie sings a story not uncommon for a bluesman – a meeting with the Devil in an otherwise common place (this time, a gas station), with the humor and gypsy-esque jive of Tom Waits. “Don’t Wake Up” and “Hammer,” ballads steeped in that classic swirling American sound, conjure images of summer evenings and family friends. The inclusion of Bongo, his dog, and Marie, his wife, on this record show that it is, indeed, a familial affair.

Jukebox Folktales: Volume Two is an exhibition in what experience, maturity, and witty songwriting can get you. From its happy highs to its somber depths, the variation on this well-balanced album creates an experience that can be tirelessly enjoyed. (Self-released)

(link to review…)

PERFORMER MAGAZINE – RECORD REVIEW: John Vanderslice, Green Grow the Rushes

John Vanderslice | MySpace | Twitter

RECORD REVIEW: John Vanderslice
Green Grow the Rushes
By: Keane Li

Few musicians have given as much to the Bay Area indie scene as John Vanderslice. The former frontman of MK Ultra in the latter half of the ’90s, he has since broken off into a successful solo career. His renowned analog recording studio in San Francisco, Tiny Telephone, has recorded great acts, from Death Cab For Cutie to Deerhoof, and he has himself helped produce records for Spoon and The Mountain Goats. Green Grow the Rushes, his latest EP, continues his journey through American alt-rock.
The record features a cacophony of whimsical tones. “Thule Fog” sounds as if it were part circus and part kabuki. Vanderslice manages to fill his record with the strangest of voices, as if he had an orchestra of worldly instruments at his disposal. Even on the relatively straightforward “Lay Down,” he employs an underlying synth sound reminiscent of the ’80s. The result is adventurous, as much a treat for the mind as it is for the ears.

While Vanderslice’s songwriting is remarkable, the production and instrumentation on Green Grow the Rushes truly shine. His songs are articulate and organized without being derivative. It’s refreshing to hear an artist explore new frontiers of sound and succeed so well. (Self-released)

(link to review…)

PERFORMER MAGAZINE – Interview with Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl)

Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
GOASTT Official

INTERVIEW: Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
Sean Lennon Expounds on New Project
By: Keane Li

In mythology, the concept of duality follows closely with creation. Day and night, good and evil – the balance between two opposite pairs defines the human existence. This is a relevant citation when discussing The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, a two-person band balanced between opposite, yet complementary parts.

The pair in question is Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. He, the only son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, has both the benefit and curse of being associated with two of the greatest artists of our century. She, a professional model with deep poetic flair, performs vocal harmonies with him. Their first album, Acoustic Sessions, finds its release on their own label, Chimera Music, named after an equally mythical creature.

Sean is in bed and Charlotte, having just woken him, apologizes if he might sound groggy. The two have been dating and living together for the past year, a relationship that explains the intimacy of their debut. The origins of their project are similarly intimate: “I was looking through her stuff,” Sean recounts regarding Charlotte, “and I found this play called ‘The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’ from when she was seven. And I called out that I had found it, ‘Hey, what’s this? It would be really cool if we started a band called The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.’ It was kind of a fluke idea, and she was like, ‘Sure, why not?'”

The phrase “my generation” was prevalent during the discussion, as they bounced profound ideas back and forth on topics like creating political art in an age of “subterfuge and obfuscation” or the irony of diminishing human connections in an increasingly digitally connected age. Charlotte, having grown up in a small town in Atlanta, had a significantly different upbringing than Sean, a native of New York City and twelve years her senior. After becoming a model at age 13, she traveled the world and, admittedly, had little connection with mainstream media.

“My only exposure to pop culture was really horrible,” she recalls, “like techno music in Milan. So when I met Sean, I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of musical references and learning everything that happened since.” Sean regards this as a positive quality. With a life surrounded by great musicians, he has what he calls a “library of pop culture” in his head; with a variety of influences from jazz fusion to hip hop to The Beach Boys. “Charlotte really isn’t poisoned by every Duran Duran single and Boy George comeback,” says Sean, praising her ability to create original work without influence.

Their dual natures continue into their songwriting process. Sean, with his penchant for melodies and chords, may be the most experienced in terms of instrumentation, but says he needs to “catch up” with Charlotte in terms of lyrical construction: “I used to just write about how I felt,” he says about his previous albums, “It was more like diary entries. It was sort of like documentaries of Sean’s feelings. And then I met Charlotte, and she was already a lyricist. She won all these poetry awards when she was young and she sort of pushed me to actually take lyrics seriously, as its own art form.”

Currently completing their upcoming “electric” album, the two are often distracted by side projects: “We’re going to put out a little mini-album for France,” Sean says when mentioning their European tour, “We’re still getting around to finishing our opus, or whatever you call it, for next year.”

“Our ‘magnum octopus,'” adds Charlotte. When asked if that will be the actual name, she replies, “It should be.”

Despite an increase in administrative duties associated with running Chimera Music, Sean describes the transition from a major label to self-publishing as “logical” for artists, as it offers more control over creative output. “Now that we have our own company, I think I realize how lucky I am in terms of artists who are less mainstream like myself, who are more indie or left-of-field.”

Charlotte laughs at his comment and cuts in, “I just had a horrible image of you performing with all these back-up dancers behind you in leotards.”

Sean replies, “What do you mean ‘horrible’? That sounds beautiful…”

Throughout the discussion, they readily offer opinions on every topic except one. When asked if they had any advice for other independent artists, they paused. “I don’t know. I think we need advice. I don’t think we have any advice to give,” says Sean. “Yeah, I don’t think we have the right to give any advice because we’re very much like Bambi on ice,” Charlotte seconds, then adds, “I think it’s very unoriginal to try to be obsessed with being original in a day when there’s such a confluence, a critical mass of every variation of everything happening right now. So I think it’s just really important to sort of stick to what you love, and really just try to execute it in a way that feels true to your artistic vision and not be so concerned with the image of it.”

Not bad advice; do what you love. “Yeah, it’s harder than it sounds. It’s a cliche, but it’s hard. You need to succumb to insecurity or the pressure to make a certain type of product.”

At its core, Acoustic Sessions is an exposed experience between two life partners, a joint effort that Sean describes as being more meaningful and fun than any of his previous collaborations with the great artists of his past. Their songs describe a view of the world from two contrasting perspectives, as a lyrical admission from a pair of nostalgics, written from the quietness of their home.

“That’s my favorite time,” Charlotte comments, “to play guitar in bed with you.”

“Yeah, those are the good times,” Sean replies.

Photographer: Sean Lennon

Performer Magazine November 2010