Author Archives: Chris

Pinsky – “Losing Touch” [NEW MUSIC]

There’s a sound I always find myself craving when fall comes around.  I don’t know if it’s the echo of good times associated with Halloween and birthdays and homecoming or if it’s just the chill that sinks into my bones that reminds me that I need a little vacation from the sweet, jangly sounds of the past few months.

Whatever the case, Pinsky hits the spot.  Their bio claims their debut is a summer record, but I would beg to differ.  The gruff vocals (split three ways!) and spiky riffs hammer home best over a dull October moon, not sparkling mid-summer sun.  It’s a little post – everything: hardcore, punk and pop, mixing genres till they break and form something fresh.  Like hooks?  Check out the lead single “Losing Touch.”  Like dense instrumentation?  Borderline jazzy guitar riffs?  Closer “States” has you covered.

Their video for lead single “Losing Touch” makes the most of a clever idea on a small budget.  I particularly love the detail of the “can-delier” hanging in the center of the performance space.  Check it out:

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

Act As If – “Pathetic” (Blink 182 cover) [VIDEO]

This post is part show and tell, part discussion question raised by the song and video above.  I directed the piece for an artist I’ve worked with before, and was excited to find the response from the generally picky, grumbly internet was 99% positive.

A small number of people who hear it though instantly dislike it.  “That’s not ‘Pathetic’!”,  “It’s too slow!,”  “I can barely tell what song that is!,” and my favorite, “Great.  Now we’re doing Coldplay covers of Blink 182?”  More than one fan pointed me to Great Glass Elevator’s cover as the better version:

I can see how it definitely sounds more like the original – mostly because they kept the same vocal phrasing – but how on Earth could you prefer it?  The production is Casio keyboard level and the vocals aren’t much better.  There’s no added depth or flavor, it’s literally just slowed down.  In fact, the only standard by which it seems “better” is that it’s “similar,” but in that case, why not listen to the original instead of the kinda, sorta slower one?

To wit: isn’t deconstruction, manipulation and mutation of the original the point of doing a cover?  In an era of media that is taken to task for being too derivative, we should be celebrating the re-examination of pop-art through a highly personal, specific lens.  It’s the difference between a bad remake of a film and a good one: does the director connect with the material in a unique way?  No one (well, almost no one) would argue that Gus Van Sant’s Psycho or John Moore’s The Omen are strong films because they are almost a shot for shot remakes.  John Carpenter’s The Thing is considered the definitive take on the concept because he brought his sense for creeping, claustrophobic horror to what was, in a past life, just a silly monster movie.  It’s why I’d love to see David Lynch tackle a Nightmare on Elm Street film – it might not even have Freddy Krueger, but no one is better at creating nightmares on film than Lynch and he would present a fascinating personal vision of the series’ themes and ideas.

Anyway, I digress.  I realize this might be coming across as a knee jerk defense to a minor criticism, but I really find the differing opinions interesting.  What say you all?  Is this how you like to hear songs covered, or do you prefer less abstract, more straightforward versions?

Oh, and if you do like the track, you can download it for FREE right here.

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

Indian School – “The Cruelest Kind” [NEW MUSIC]

I was late to embrace Audio Karate, one of the fieriest bands to come out of the late 90s/early-aughts pop-punk scene.  By the time I was getting into their kind of raw, full-throated, vocals and live, loud, imperfect production, the band was almost broken up.  I had no idea that was the case when I stumbled across “Nintendo 89” on a Warped Tour compilation, and if I had, I would’ve begged them not to.  Listen to this beast:

The first thirty seconds are one of the most epic builds in pop-punk.  The guitar tones are perfect, the drums won’t stop, and when it all drops out to introduce those main power chords – ugh.  There’s more energy in those thirty three seconds than a six-pack of Red Bull.  I can only imagine the reaction it got live.

Anyway, these dudes went their separate ways around ’05 and left the world with two albums, Space Camp, and Lady Melody.  Buy ’em, love ’em, play ’em loud, and then check this out:

They came back!  They have a piano player, mainlined The Strokes and changed their name, but the songwriting and singer Arturo Barrio’s distinct pipes are as solid as ever.  I miss the throat – rupturing rawness of their earlier work, but hey, that’s growth.  Space Camp didn’t have a single instance of saloon style piano playing either, but “Elvis” features it heavily and it works.  It’s a give and take.

Whip-crack opener “Rob Your House” comes closest to capturing the groups free-wheeling energy of old, with the titular phrase serving as an anarchic refrain that’s gonna feel good to shout out with a group of drunken buddies at a show or before a night of debauchery.  At the same time, it also sounds the most “Strokes”y, complete with synths and – unless I’m crazy – a hint of a vocal effect.

The middle pair of tracks, “High Low” and “Wind You Up” form the backbone of the new sound: slower tempos, catchy choruses, and the addition of some acoustic strumming and clean piano sounds.  EP closer “Elvis” is the track that sounds the least likely to work on paper, but is executed with aplomb.  The aforementioned saloon piano kicks in early in the track and is mixed low, but shines in the chorus.

Over the course of the four tracks, the moment I keep going back to, the one that draws the line in the sand is two and a half minutes into “Wind You Up.”  Like the opening of “Nintendo 89” it’s another beat where everything drops away, but instead leaving space for the hell-raising guitar from that track, it’s just Art’s vulnerable croon and a piano.  Does it make me want to pogo my way into a pit  Not really, but it makes me damn excited for what Indian School does next.

UPDATE: Thanks to Eric and Lucy for pointing out I overlooked a fifth track that can be found here: http://soundcloud.com/indianschool/tracks  Enjoy!

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

The Format – Dog Problems [VIDEO]

Narrative: A forlorn hand gets his heart broken and searches for love.

Performance: None.  Well, the hand sings.  And plays trumpet.

Song: The title track of The Format’s second and last album, “Dog Problems,” is a masterpiece of orchestral indie pop that could just as easily be part of a musical as it could the soundtrack to a Zach Braff film.

Why You Should Watch It: It’s simple, cute, and smartly done on what was probably a non-existent budget.  It doesn’t look great, but it doesn’t have to.  It nails a homemade look that Spike Jonze or early Gondry would be proud of.  The visual gags come in rapid succession, some commenting on the song, others illustrating it

They followed up this by dressing their hands and knocking out a sock puppet video:

The band called it quits soon after “Dog Problems” was released in 2008, but fans of the sprawling sound can find plenty to love in singer/songwriter Nate Ruess’ follow-up project fun. (who just released a new single on their Facebook).

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

Lovedrug – “Dinosaur” [VIDEO]

Narrative: A group of trouble making girls are followed through the woods by a monster.

Performance: None.

Song: One of two singles released this year by the indie stalwarts (Together since ’01.  Stalwarts, right?), it blends singer Michael Shepard’s distinctive delivery and evocative lyrics with a danceable, clap-along rhythm.

Why You Should Watch It:  What I love most is the video’s clever play on the low-budget trope of animal costumes.  The whole thing plays jusssst this side of fantasy and we can believe that the Yeti that appears is meant to be “real” in the world of the piece.  The twist at the end reveals that it is not, just a Jesse Eisenberg look alike who wanted to be part of the action.  Singer Shepard was originally a film student, and his eye for visual storytelling is on display from beginning to end.  Attention was clearly paid to composition and light – especially evidenced by the gorgeous shot of the girls running and shooting off fireworks at 2:58.  Now if only they’d dealt with THAT low-budget cliche, Lovedrug might’ve had a minor low classic here.

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

Transit – “Long Lost Friends” [VIDEO]

Narrative: None.

Performance: In front of friends at a recording studio.

Song: The reason I’m posting this.  “Long Lost Friends” is the single from their upcoming album Listen and Forgive, a release that just might be the next big thing.

Why You Should Watch It: There are days I wish I was back on the East Coast, basking my bones in the chill of fall and spending most of my time wandering around clubs and basements in search of my next music fix, and there are days where I have to stop myself from packing up and moving.  The day I first heard this track was one of the latter.  Hailing from Boston, Transit has been peddling their hardcore influenced grown-up pop-punk for a few years now and I’ve been a casual fan ever since I heard the bar-burner “Please Head North” on their split with Man Overboard in 2009.

Still, through two more LPs and a two track EP, they never telegraphed this kind of maturation in sound.  Where they once favored pure fire and grit, they ‘ve focused and tightened their emotion and energy into mathy guitars and round, thick production.  It’s so crisp, so clean, so…American Football.  With hooks.  And catchy melodies.  Like The Early November meets American Football.  You don’t know American Footabll?  Come, child:

I dare you to get that riff out of your head.  Just kidding, you can’t.  You can only listen to every other track they’ve ever released and wish they’d recorded more.  They released one EP and one LP, both self-titled and both worthy of their own individual posts.

Oh, back on topic, Transit covered that song!

Also, because they’ve got giant balls, they covered “Born In the USA”.

Did The Boss’ sense of melody and scale take hold of their young minds?  Did they get locked in a room with “Never Meant” and the Goo Goo Dolls’ discography on repeat?  We may never know the truth, but the album drops Oct. 4th and features a guest appearance from Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy.  If it packs the same punch as the single from end to end, I think I’ll have my soundtrack to fall 2011, and a whole lotta kids are gonna have a new favorite record.

Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles |@Chris_Cullari | Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |

Smoke Signals [MUSIC]

 

The art of the song gets lost in modern music’s race for the chorus, the ring-tone, the ad placement.  Too often, the ditties (and real talk: they’re often nothing more than that) that fill 2011’s radio waves and hard drives fall apart when broken down to their component pieces.  Play Ke$ha for me with a tambourine and acoustic guitar.  I dare you.

(UPDATE:  A quick YouTube search demonstrates it’s possible to do this, but at the expense of any kind of sanity or taste.)

Smoke Signals’ new self-titled, independently released album (FREE download – click the album art above) flies in the face of those kinds of songs and instead presents nine tracks broken down into the components that American music as we know it is made from.  The result is a deeply Southern, gospel influenced record bursting with group chants, twangy guitars, and propulsive four-on-the-floor rhythms.   I don’t wanna say the result is pure Americana – the melodies are catchier and more complex and the harmonies more layered than they would have been a hundred years ago, but no one’s arguing for purity here.  It’s the outside influences that make this debut stand out: Elton John in opening piano strains of “House on the Water,” a little spacey Manchester Orchestra falsetto fugue in “Maybe,” and the sparse, broken doo-wop tribute that is “Lonely Hearts Interlude.”

If you just can’t spare the space on your iPod for the whole album (solution: ditch those Creed albums), the must listen highlight here is the stomp-your-feet-and-shout-your-goddamn-lungs-out “Searching” that’ll become the anthem of every socially-lubricated drinking establishment it’s performed for.  Kinda like it does right here:

And if that doesn’t sell ya, the video for lead single “Black Holes” is a loose, doc-style piece that captures the recording process as it was: communal, raw and real.

By: Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @Chris_Cullari|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC

Mansions – “City Don’t Care” [VIDEO]

Narrative: Nada.

Performance: Somewhere in there.  I think he’s singing to the ocean?  Maybe he’s in love with a mermaid.

Song: Chill.  Sad.  Probably good winter music.

Why You Should Watch It: The dizzying cross-fades make this one to watch under the influence.  Which influence doesn’t matter, as long as you’re not hitting the point where you’re wheeling around to keep your balance.  Simple, effective camera work and long, slow dissolves emphasize the song’s confusion and sadness, while the beach – bound location emphasizes the chorus of the song.  The city don’t care, so why not just head somewhere else?

By: Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @ChriswithMWL|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC

Sherwood – “You Are” [VIDEO]

Narrative: The band participates in an experiment involving dozens of helium balloons.  It goes awry.

Performance: During an experiment in an open field.

Song: Ridiculously feel-good pop.  A Third Eye Blind melody stuffed with Beach Boy harmonies.

Why You Should Watch It: As all good bands with a sense of self-promotion would, these guys approached me at Warped Tour ’04 (God, I’m old…) with an album and a plea: “Please, check this out.  Even if you don’t like it, it’ll brighten your day.”  I paraphrase, but they were spreading some serious love around.  Unenthused (I was a surly teenager at Warped Tour, pretty much incapable of any thuse at all), I brushed it aside and moved on.  I think a bought a crappy book from some forward thinking religious group instead.  Anyway, it was a mistake and I’m proud to say I now own almost every track this band has released – including the album I originally turned down.  They’ve been struck with bad luck and bad timing, getting signed to the debacle that was MySpace Records – and have constantly been stuck trying to sell that sunny demeanor that struck such a boring chord with me to a generally dour scene.  With their third full-length “QU,” the record this cut is from, they seemed to realize that they’ll probably always be a little more mature than their target audience, and the result is wonderfully complex, mature pop that sees only this track really return to their more straightforward days.

For a perfect summer track, try “Song In My Head” from their MySpace Records debut, “A Different Light.”  There’s a low-budget cleverness that runs through both these videos, and while the one above is definitely prettier, this one had a concept that stuck with me for a while…

If these tracks perk your ears, hit up YouTube and check out tracks more tracks from “A Different Light,” and “QU.”

In the words of the band: “Try it.  Even if you don’t like it…”

By: Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @ChriswithMWL|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC

Steel Train – “Bullet” [VIDEO]

Narrative: A day in the life of a group of friends as they hang out and go to a show.

Performance: Surrounded by fans in the basement of  VFW hall.  As it should be.

Song: Yes.  A churning, stomping four minute seventeen second injection of YES.

Why You Should Watch It:  Steel Train’s a band you need to know.  They write the kind of music that should be the gold standard in rock: jangly, full-steam-ahead guitars and wild, wailing melodies that come barreling out of frontman Jack Antonoff’s throat.  Being from Jersey, a pinch of young Springsteen is inescapable, and they’ve embraced it.

Here, they further flaunt their Jersey roots by producing a “day in the life” piece that wraps itself in nostalgia for the simple days of goofing off and hanging out.  It’s simple but eye catching and some of the photography is striking.   The performance here is the capstone.  Dark, intense reds, oranges and yellows illuminate the basement where the band is playing.  Beers and cheers and rock fists are raised high, chests are pounded and sweat drips off the faces of all involved.  It feels like the best show you’ve ever been to.

 Highlight of the whole thing?  When Jack shouts “And I wouldn’t mind if/Together we died alone,” the whole crowd shouts it with him, and it feels like watching the statement of a generation being born.

BONUS: Scarlett Johansson covered this song!  Chill and moody.

By: Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @ChriswithMWL|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC