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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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…)

06/16/16 11:57am
Communion Music band Catfish and the Bottlemen played Governor's Ball this spring. Photo: @communionmusic

Communion Music band Catfish and the Bottlemen played Governor’s Ball this spring. Photo: @communionmusic

Ben Lovett likes to sign acts by instinct. “We based our decisions around songs…genre doesn’t play into it,” he says. “We don’t care how old, fat or thin… it’s about whether or not they can sing a song that moves you.” He immediately scooped up singer Matt Hegarty after he opened for Mumford and Sons, the band in which Lovett sings and plays piano (as well as a whole host of other instruments from accordion to drums). It’s an ethos that he’s held on to from his days as a producer before Mumford got big and that he has taken to heart as one of the founders of Communion Music, the London- and Brooklyn-based record label responsible for acts ranging from Gotye to Father John Misty.

Communion started out as a monthly music night at the Notting Hill Arts center in London, a forum by artists for artists, that blossomed into a record label with offices in Brooklyn (Fort Greene to be exact), London, and most recently, Nashville, with additional nights for Communion’s artists coming up in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Communion nights are a chance for both new and established musicians on the label to try new things and expand their audiences in an intimate, relaxed setting. The artists play short sets, and the audience gets a chance to sample acts that they can dig further into later. The first location in London was a basement room of the Notting Hill Arts Club, and Lovett and the Communion staff try to keep that spirit in the venues they choose in the States.

It’s extremely important to Lovett that the label is artist-led. As he explained in a phone interview, “Too often these things are being run by finance people. People who don’t understand what it’s like to be an artist.” The company is not only a record label, but a publisher, concert series, and source of studio space.

What does that translate to in an era when even the biggest acts have to fight for the rights to their masters and tour constantly just to make ends meet? (more…)

06/15/16 3:06pm
The HHO performs at Art Attack at University of Maryland, 2016. Photo: FRNVR

The HHO performs at Art Attack at University of Maryland, 2016. Photo: FRNVR

The Hip Hop Orchestra is a performance group of University of Maryland students and alumni whose mission is to explore the connection between orchestral music and hip-hop –and to prove that orchestral music is as dope as hip-hop is fine art. Marcus Moody,HHO director, uses beat production software that he then translates into sheet music for strings, horns and percussion, bridging modern sounds with traditional instruments.

The HHO will perform at Afropunk Battle of the Bands semi-finals on June 22, one of 16 up-and-coming acts that were nominated by fans from around the country to rap battle it out for a spot at the festival in August.

The HHO has already made history as the only orchestra to ever play Art Attack, UMD’s annual stadium concert, where they won the title of “most impressive performance” over headliners T-Pain and Lil’ Dicky.

We talked to the HHO’s visionary and conductor, Marcus Moody, who also works at a Washington D.C.-based  hip-hop nonprofit called Words Beats & Life, about the inspiration behind the HHO, and how they’ve made it from the University of Maryland dining hall all the way to Brooklyn. (more…)

06/01/16 5:11pm
Xenia Rubinos (Shervin Lainez)

Xenia Rubinos Photo: Shervin Lainez

With her eclectic musical influences–R&B, hip-hop, jazz, rock and Afro-Latin are just a few styles you can hear in her songs–Xenia Rubinos comes across like the most sophisticated of native New Yorkers. When she moved here a decade ago though, she was as wide-eyed as any newbie.

“I was like, ‘Oh man, the Village Vanguard! How cool would it be to go to the Village Vanguard?'” she recalls. “I remember going to the Vanguard. I got in a cab and I told my cab driver, ‘Take me to the Vanguard.’ And he was like, ‘What’s that?’ (laughs) I was so shocked. I was so presumptuous. Of course everyone will know where this is. It’s a landmark. (laughs) I had this very fantastical vision of New York being a music city…for me it was like this music mecca, where all the music was and that’s what drew me here.” (more…)

02/26/15 9:00am
A quartet plays one of Groupmuse's signature house parties in Crown Heights. Photo: Thomas Grenier

A quartet plays one of Groupmuse’s signature house parties in Crown Heights. Photo: Thomas Grenier

It’s probably not a stretch to say that the very mention of classical music is enough to conjure images of grey-haired couples filing into a concert hall. For those not exposed to this music at home or in school, or for us cheapskates who can’t imagine spending wads of cash on tickets at Carnegie Hall, it’s easy to feel that this world is just not made for us. But what if you could hear the works of Shubert or Beethoven played in your friend’s apartment, or the home of a stranger, for a small donation? And by played, I mean live, by a real musician, not just on someone’s shabby chic record player.

If this sounds a little far-fetched, you probably haven’t heard about Groupmuse yet. Founded in 2013 by Sam Bodkin as a way to “sneak classical music back into the diets of young culture seekers,” the site connects classical music fans, and those curious about the genre, to professional musicians and apartment dwellers with the space to host chamber music concerts that anyone can attend. There are so many Groupmuses happening in New York right now, that on any given night you can find a free concert house party to crash. Gatherings last long after the evening’s music has finished, and each event is BYOB.

“Music has an inherent social quality: You are obliged to engage with the scene, if you are listening to live music,” says Bodkin. And classical music, he says, has a similar social scene. “It’s just antithetical to youth values. People often have an associative problem with it.”

(more…)

01/16/15 9:25am
Talib Kweli plays a show at Rough Trade NYC. Photo: Rough Trade

Talib Kweli plays a show at Rough Trade NYC. Photo: Andie Diemer

“You’re probably getting used to hearing news like this in Williamsburg,” Glassland Gallery began its self-penned obituary last year. “So we’ll cut right to the chase: this New Year’s Eve will be Glasslands’ final night of music.” The closing of the legendary performance space capped a brutal year for live music in Brooklyn, as it joined nearby Death by Audio and 285 Kent on the list of DIY venues that bit the dust in 2014.

None of these establishments specified reasons for closing, but one need only glance at the plans for the neighboring Domino Sugar Refinery, and Vice Media, to see that developers were involved. The fear that real estate may have finally defeated nightlife in the battle for the borough’s soul manifested itself most clearly last month when a group of artists held a dance party funeral for Williamsburg.

Of course, Brooklynites are nothing if not enterprising. For every cherished dancehall that falls, two more take its place. And while Glasslands has no immediate plans to reopen, there are plenty of other venues to be excited about in 2015. Here are five places to catch live music in North Brooklyn this year, from DIY spaces far from the high-rise land rush, to more easily accessible venues in prime areas. We’ve included as much info on their leases as the venue owners would divulge, so you can time your visit accordingly. (more…)

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12/18/14 11:00am

With the holiday season already in full bloom, here are some upcoming musical offerings to bring some much-needed cheer and relaxation from the stress of big box shopping, over-the-top decorations, drunken company parties and gawking tourists in midtown. Rather than just the usual traditional Christmas music fare, these shows (nearly all of them taking place in the borough) offer an array of sounds from the genres of classical, indie rock, world music and even Jewish comedy.

Dec. 20
JEWMONGOUS: Unkosher Comedy Songs
@Brooklyn Academy of Music
Peter Jay Sharp Building/BAMcafé
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn
9pm, free
How can you resist going to a satirical musical program hosted by former Rockapella singer Sean Atlman, with songs such as “Just Too Jew for You,” “Be My Little Shabbos Goy,” and “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)”? And heck, it’s free.

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Nick Lowe (Dan Burn-Forti)

Dec. 20
Nick Lowe’s Quality Holiday Revue
w/Los Straitjackets
@Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 N. 6th St., Brooklyn
8:30pm, $35
A true legend from the British pub rock/power pop genre of the ’70s (“Cruel to Be Kind,” being his signature song)–not to mention his importance in Elvis Costello’s early career–the Jesus of Cool returns to the live stage in support of his recent holiday album Quality Street, and joining him as part of the festivities is the instrumental group Los Straitjackets. When it comes to Lowe, expect an entertaining show.

(more…)

10/31/14 3:45pm

(amazon; wikipedia)

In addition to enjoying candy, pumpkins and costumes, Halloween is also an occasion to listen to someghoulish tunes. While Halloween-specific songs are rare compared to the feel- good/bordering-on-saccharine Christmas standards, pop music has always been known for its sometimes ominous overtones–from the teenage death songs of the ’50s and ’60s, to today’s black metal scene.  We’ve certainly come a long, long way since the campy 1962 novelty hit “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, as music has explored the dark side of human nature beginning with Black Sabbath, the godfathers of heavy metal. (Pretty much any Black Sabbath track could be a Halloween song.) (more…)

09/10/14 10:00am
Bear in Heaven (Dustin Condren)

Bear in Heaven (Dustin Condren)

There’s a tendency in many bands to push the same sound over and over again without ever breaking any new ground. Brooklyn indie electronic-rock band Bear in Heaven is the exception to that rule. Since their 2007 debut, Red Bloom of the Boom, the group has continued to progress stylistically with each record, from experimental beginnings to something more accessible, and even danceable.

“The culture in the band is never to repeat,” says the band’s guitarist/bassist Adam Wills. “Or repeat what we like and get rid of what we don’t and always try to make different music. Our personal tastes in music are extremely varied, so we’re always just squeezing in little influences and ideas and trying to push the envelope in some scenarios. In Red Bloom of the Boom, we were pushing envelopes structurally…and now we’re experimenting with a little bit more reigned in song lengths and actually throwing in choruses. And that’s experimental to us. So don’t ever repeat yourself, that’s our kind of unspoken motto, I guess. ” (more…)