12/15/16 11:40am
(l-r): Lucy Dacus (Matador Records); Gabriella Cohen (Kain Balzary); Angel Olsen (Pitch Perfect PR); Mitski (Ebru Yildiz)

(l-r): Lucy Dacus (Matador Records); Gabriella Cohen (Kain Balzary); Angel Olsen (Pitch Perfect PR); Mitski (Ebru Yildiz)

Unless you’re a Chicago Cubs fan or a tycoon-turned-politician with an affinity for spray tans, this year was pretty horrible on all fronts. The music world in particular suffered an alarming number of deaths—among them David Bowie, Prince, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Earth Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, Lemmy, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, and most recently Sharon Jones.

Yet, during times like these, music continues to provide catharsis for wounded hearts.

It didn’t just take, 2016 also gave us some really wonderful albums by emerging artists that perhaps don’t get as much coverage compared to higher-profile releases by the Rolling Stones, Metallica, Beyonce, the Weeknd, Miranda Lambert, Kanye West and Lady Gaga.

There was also an unusually good collection of re-releases and greatest hits collections that came out in 2016, for old-school rock fans and adventurous listeners alike. Here are some of my favorite undersung albums of 2016, a re-release round-up and two playlists to listen to while you wrap presents and drink eggnog–or write letters to your representatives and plan a protest.

Lucy Dacus
No Burden
Only in her early 20s, this newcomer from Virginia put out one of the most outstanding albums of the year with No Burden, a very compelling collection of wistful introspective songs highlighted by Dacus’ distinct alto voice. (more…)

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12/06/16 9:46am
Bruce Springsteen (GabboT/Wikimedia Commons); Nina Simone (By Kroon, Ron / Anefo/Wikimedia Commons); Brian Wilson (Takahiro Kyono/Wikimedia Commons); Johnny Marr (Jon Shard)

Bruce Springsteen (GabboT/Wikimedia Commons); Nina Simone (Kroon, Ron/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons); Brian Wilson (Takahiro Kyono/Wikimedia Commons); Johnny Marr (Jon Shard)

Maybe it’s the popularity of memoir, maybe it’s the passage of time, but the past few years have produced a bumper crop of books written by and about musicians. This year is no exception as several legends, including a Boss, a Beach Boy and a Smith, have released long-awaited memoirs. Even if you’re not into rockers dishing the dirt about drugs, sex, horrible band mates and other personal demons, there are some fine books on music history and criticism for the more cerebral-minded among us. There’s a little something for every serious fan of rock and roll, pop, soul and dance–it makes holiday shopping at your local book store almost too easy.

Born to Run
by Bruce Springsteen

What else needs to be said? It’s the Boss in his own words.This memoir, which runs over 500 pages, has been compared to Springsteen’s epic concerts—an incredibly detailed, earnest and satisfying affair that you never want to end.

Not Dead Yet
by Phil Collins

The self-deprecating title is a reference to Collins’ reemergence after a period of semi-retirement that had people questioning whether he gave up music for good. The accomplished Genesis drummer and popular solo act chronicles his amazing career and some of the rough patches he’s gone through. Collins even owns up to the infamous incident in which he faxed a divorce to his second wife.

Testimony
by Robbie Robertson

The driving force behind the Band through his songwriting, Robertson offers his take on being part of that iconic group, from their early years backing both Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, to their final hurrah with The Last Waltz in 1976. (more…)

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11/22/16 12:45pm
Sharon Jones (Kyle Dean Reinford)

Sharon Jones Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

“The show must go on.”
–Sharon Jones, from the film documentary Miss Sharon Jones!

Earlier this year I saw Daryl Hall and John Oates in concert, which fulfilled a dream of mine. Growing up as a child of the ’80s I was a huge fan of the duo but never saw them perform live. That was until they headlined at at Madison Square Garden for the first time in over 30 years last February. As eager as I was to see them, I also wanted to check out the opening act, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. I love old-school R&B music from the Motown, Stax and Philadelphia International Records eras. So I wanted to see the Brooklyn-based soul group for myself and find out what everybody was talking about.


At times, the Dap-Kings set felt like a church revival, and I became one of the converted.


Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings weren’t your conventional soul band–this was a large ensemble with both rhythm and brass sections, reminiscent of something you’d see at a James Brown show or a soul revue on the Chitlin Circuit in the ’60s. The guitarist in the Dap-Kings also served as the MC-–a throwback to the old days–who in a booming voice introduced the main focal point, Sharon Jones. I never realized how petite Jones was in person, but underneath her small physical frame was a feisty high-octane performer who, along with the band, projected joy, energy, and of course soul. I knew at the time she was recovering from treatment for cancer, but you couldn’t tell as the band delivered one hot number after another. At times, the Dap-Kings set felt like a church revival, and I became one of the converted. (more…)

10/26/16 8:58am
TRON and DVD (Mikaela Barish)

TRON and DVD Photo: Mikaela Barish

Since its inception in 2007, Kiam Records, the label founded by singer/songwriter Jennifer O’Connor, who we profiled back in March, has been mostly a home for indie rock artists such as Amy Benzuartea, The Foil Swans, Tim Foljahn, Choo Choo La Rouge, and O’Connor herself.

Now the label has ventured into hip-hop with the addition of TRØN and DVD to the Kiam roster. The act consists of brothers Norvin and Darian Van Dunk of Valley Cottage, New York–they’re currently working on a debut album scheduled for release early next year. Right now, TRØN and DVD are sharing their latest track, the powerful and direct “New Kings,” which is not on the upcoming album. O’Connor tapped Brooklyn Based to premier the song before its official release this Friday–stream below:

(more…)

10/21/16 3:35pm

(Bloomsbury)

A few years ago Paula Mejia had to pick a topic to write for her thesis as a student at George Washington University’s English graduate program. Around that same time came the call for new proposals by Bloombury’s 33 1/3 book series, each of which spotlights a particular noteworthy album. “[Professor and author] Gayle Wald was my thesis adviser at the time,” Mejia says now, “and I went into her office and I said, ‘I have a crazy idea. Can I write a thesis that is academically-rooted and use it as a way to enter this proposal for the series?’–not expecting it to get picked up at all.”

Mejia’s eventual choice was the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut record Psychocandy. An album that has since gone on to become a bonafide classic, Rolling Stone ranked it as one of The 500 Greatest Albums of All TimePsychocandy combined heavy feedback-drenched guitar, reverb production, moody lyrics, and catchy girl-group pop melodies into a glorious noisy rock record, courtesy of Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid. You can hear traces of the group’s influence on ’90s British shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, as well as current acts like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. A few years ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain did a series of shows to commemorate Psychocandy‘s 30th anniversary.


“The perception that they gave that they were either totally freewheeling or didn’t give a shit. It’s so surprising to know that they stayed up in their bedroom, drinking tea, and meticulously plotting out this whole thing. It was all premeditated. For that to seem so effortless is kind of an incredible skill in itself.”


What started out as a thesis idea for Mejia–a Brooklyn-based freelance music writer whose stories have been published in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The New York Times —has now become the latest addition to the 33 1/3 series. Featuring interviews with the album’s main participants, including singer Jim Reid, bassist Douglas Hart, and drummer Bobbie Gillespie (later of Primal Scream), Psychocandy the book not only discusses the album but also provides the social and cultural context behind the music.

To coincide with the book’s publication, Mejia will be appearing at Greenpoint’s WORD bookstore on Oct. 25 in discussion with Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffeild and Kristen Yoonsoo Kim. Mejia recently spoke with Brooklyn Based about the genesis of her book and love for the Mary Chain. (more…)

10/11/16 1:38pm

shockandawe-pb-c

Kate Bush. Prince. Madonna. Morrissey. Britney Spears. Lady Gaga. Adam Lambert. Beyoncé. They all, in varying degrees, owe their fame, success and fashion sensibility to glam rock.

Defined by a combination of camp, excess, satire and irony, glam, or glitter rock was just as revolutionary as punk or hip-hop.  If that made you raise your eyebrows, here are three reasons why: 1) glam rock, especially in the 70s, had a theatrical and bombastic quality that merged avant garde art and mainstream pop; 2) it pushed the theatricality of music forward, hinging on each artist’s ability to shock and mesmerize audiences through outrageous costumes, makeup and stage props; and 3) it challenged perceptions about sexuality and gender roles. (more…)

09/26/16 2:59pm
Active Bird Community (Grandstand HQ)

Active Bird Community, just paling around like they have been since 6th grade. Photo: Grandstand HQ

The video for the single “Pick Me Apart,” by Brooklyn indie rock band Active Bird Community employs a simple concept–it’s just four guys happily rocking out with their instruments inside a fort made out of blankets. That charming, DIY aesthetic is in step with the group’s music, which is direct, energetic, spontaneous guitar-focused rock. It seems to be generating some buzz for the song, which recalls Weezer with its ringing guitars and yearning vocals, and has already generated over 1.6 million plays on Spotify.

Active Bird Community is a relatively new band, consisting of drummer Carter McNeil, singer/lead guitarist Andrew Wolfson, singer/guitarist Tom D’Agustino, and bassist Zach Slater, all childhood friends. They’ve put out several records, including last year’s full-length I’ve Been Going Swimming, which contains “Pick Me Apart,” a self-titled EP, and a couple of singles–including their latest, “Longport,” from earlier this year. They’re playing The Bowery Electric on Wednesday, September 28.

Brooklyn Based recently spoke with Active Bird Community’s Tom D’Augustino and Andrew Wolfson about the video for “Pick Me Apart,” the band’s history, and a preview of their new record.

The recent video for “Pick Me Apart” is very whimsical and fun—especially with you guys rocking out in a blanket fort. How did you arrive at the concept for the video and where was it shot? 

Tom: The majority of it was shot at my parents’ house upstate in Lake Carmel, N.Y.  The blanket fort shots were done in our basement at our old apartment in the Bronx. The concept definitely changed a few times as we tried to figure out what we wanted the video to feel like. Eventually, we decided that we wanted something a bit more honest than just shots of us looking cool and stuff so I figured why not include my family and best friends. I wanted the video to seem like an attempt at reconnecting with your childhood and my little sister Kaitlyn really helped that come to life I think.

Bands that have influenced me the most are probably the Pixies, Built to Spill and Neutral Milk Hotel.

What’s the story behind the song?

Tom: While the video explores feelings about childhood and family relationships, the song itself deals more with long-distance relationships. The ways they can often make everything seem to drag on when you’re apart or seem like a joke. (more…)

09/22/16 10:42am
Alex Cameron (Cara Robbins)

From left to right: Alex Cameron and Roy Molloy  Photo: Cara Robbins

You have to admire an artist with a cutting sense of humor, who doesn’t take himself too seriously. The first indication that Australian musician Alex Cameron might fall into this category is his website, which looks like it was made in 2000 on Geocities. On the site, Cameron states his policy about press interviews. His rules include: 1) that the interview has to be conducted inside a bowling alley in Randwick, Australia; 2) that it must done during two rounds of bowling, and that the reporter cannot bowl while doing the interview 3) that there should be no questions about Cameron’s teeth, which is a sensitive issue with him; and 4) the interviewer should avoid eye contact with Cameron.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of traveling to Australia to interview Cameron surrounded by the sound of rolling bowling balls and falling pins, but he still talked to me. If Cameron’s interview policy sounds pointed (along with some other thoughts he shares on his site), so are the lyrics on his most recent album, Jumping the Shark.  The album draws from his experiences in show business, an industry that’s not nearly as glamorous as it might seem, and, if his track “The Comeback” is to be believed, can be quite cold and cruel.

Cameron’s sharp observations are the basis for his unique style of storytelling, and he has crafted a very arresting, minimalist electro-pop record that recalls elements of Suicide, early Depeche Mode, and the Cars. His deep and charismatic vocals at times recall Suicide’s Alan Vega, the Cars’ Ric Ocasek, and Nick Cave.

In advance of his gig at AVIV this Friday, Cameron spoke with me about his latest album and his career up to this point.

When and how did you meet Roy Molloy, your musical and business partner?

I met Roy when he moved in two doors down from me in 1994. He was stuffing lemons in a drain. A whole sack of lemons, one by one. We became enemies and then a decade later we became friends. He played me some Lou Reed in 2004 and that changed things for me. Then another decade later I was short on cash and Roy got me work in a pizza joint pounding dough. We talked about the music industry and decided to go into business together. (more…)

08/26/16 11:02am
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (James Veall)

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan Photo: James Veall

“If we don’t get married, engaged or even nail down a boyfriend soon—my god, we might as well as go ahead and book a room at Singapore Casket because our lives would already be over,” says Jazzy, the main character and narrator in Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan‘s debut novel Sarong Party Girls.

Jazzy is a twenty-something Singaporean on an urgent mission: to find a rich, white, ex-pat boyfriend (an ang moh) to marry and have a Chanel baby (half white/half Singaporean) with. As part of the hunt, she and her sarong party girlfriends frequently go to clubs where they are treated like VIPs, down drinks with abandon, and hook up with guys who may have potential. To the casual observer, Jazzy might appear to be a gold digger whose main concern in life is avoiding the fate of her former friend, Sher, a sarong party girl who eventually married an ah beng (a Singaporean man) and settled down. Through her adventures and mishaps with men both white and Singaporean, Jazzy explores the often uncomfortable mix of romance, status, and money in her world.

While Sarong Party Girls (published by William Morrow) is often hilarious, it’s also a sobering read as it raises questions about misogyny, gender politics at work,  class differences, and materialism. In addition, the book also gives the reader a sense of modern Singapore in showcasing the clash between old traditions such as the bustling wet market, where old-timers go buy fresh produce and seafood in outdoor stalls; and new ones, such as the hipster nightclubs that young people frequent. An essential ingredient to the authenticity of the book is Tan’s use of Singlish–a patois spoken by most Singaporeans that’s a mixture of English, Mandarin, Malay and other languages—which Singapore’s government is trying to discourage through its “Speak Good English“campaign. For Jazzy and her friends Singlish is the lingua franca of all informal spaces. It comes in the form of shared wisdom: “This matter of getting an ang moh husband–if we are smart–it’s best to try and fasterly settle.” And is also the language of their own thoughts:  “But then I thought about how chio I looked tonight. In my Seven jeans, my backside was super power!”

The vivid details as well as the language can be traced to Tan’s background as journalist and a native Singaporean. She arrived in America at age 18 to study at Northwestern University and later worked as a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun. Prior to Sarong Party Girls, Tan wrote the memoir A Tiger in the Kitchen and edited the fiction anthology Singapore Noir. The former Brooklyn Heights resident spoke to Brooklyn Based about the story behind her first novel.

What inspired you to write the book? (more…)

08/04/16 12:15pm
Greta Kline, the mastermind behind Frankie Cosmos (Landon Speers)

Greta Kline is the mastermind behind Frankie Cosmos. Photo: Landon Speers

Listening to Next Thing, the new album from Frankie Cosmos (aka Greta Kline, daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), is like eavesdropping on the private thoughts, daydreams and observations of a young girl on the cusp of actual adulthood. Armed with catchy pop melodies and Kline’s lovely voice, Next Thing captures that crucial life phase with honesty and charm—and remarkably, it does so in 15 songs in the space of 30 minutes. It’s destined to be one of the best records of 2016, and has already found a more than solid fan base, if her sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom on Sunday is any indication.

At just 22, Kline has already built a prolific musical career, touring both nationally and internationally and garnering music media adoration. She got started in 2009 by uploading home-recorded albums to Bandcamp. In 2014, she released her first record Zentropy, which New York magazine rated as the number one pop album of that year. After signing with Bayonet Records, Kline made Next Thing, her first full-band recording. She joins the ranks of a new crop of young musicians, including Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, who have been much praised for their compelling performances and outstanding songwriting.

We spoke with Kline about the good things that have been happening to her as well as her new single “Sinister,” and its playful video, which was just released last week.

Brooklyn Based: Your new video, “Sinister,” was recently released and I found it very whimsical and original. (By the way, that is one ripped dude!) What was the inspiration behind the song and what influenced you to write it? Who came up with the concept for the video? (more…)