Yellowbirds Bring “Songs From the Vanished Frontier” to Light

vanished-frontier - yellowbirdsYellowbirds

Songs From the Vanished Frontier

(Royal Potato Family)

When former Apollo Sunshine member Sam Cohen played the Calvin Theatre in January, he previewed several songs from his group Yellowbirds’ yet-to-be-released second album for the audience in attendance. Though performed live with only Cohen on electric guitar and Guster multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds on acoustic guitar, the new material sounded charming and full of promise.

Now, heard here in their fully-realized and recorded form, the same tracks appear blown wide open into Technicolor daydreams. “Mean Maybe” glides along with bouncing bass, gracefully distorted guitar and softly played percussion, while “Love Stories” features endearing harmonies and ambient noise textures.

Mining much of the same ‘60s style pop terrain first explored by his former band, Cohen frequently wraps his vocals around ingratiating melodies that conjure thoughts of a summer day or the soundtrack to a classic rock ‘n’ roll romp.

Watch the video for “Mean Maybe” by Yellowbirds here:

When asked by Rolling Stone magazine what writing for the record was like, the singer described the evolution he’s gone through since Yellowbirds made its first recordings.

Writing for that record was very much about finding a sound that I was into, and with this one, I think I had a clear sense of what the aesthetic of this band is,” Cohen said. “It was a gradual process. When it very first began, it was just making recordings in my apartment. I didn’t have a band name, wasn’t playing live, didn’t have a group; it could be anything, and it was pretty disparate stuff.”

One word of warning, with a running time of less than 35 minutes, Song From the Vanished Frontier is like a bittersweet cat nap – pleasant while it lasts, but over much too soon. Repeated plays are a must.

For more information on Yellowbirds please visit www.yellowbirdsmusic.com/.

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The Northeast Goes Midwest: An Underground conversation with The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd

FL - The_Terror_coverReading through the track listing of The Flaming Lips’ latest album, The Terror, one fact quickly becomes clear. These aren’t your parents’ fearless freaks.

Gone are such light-hearted song titles like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “This Here Giraffe,” replaced by more dread-inducing sobriquets like “Turning Violent,” “You Are Alone” and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die” amongst others.

Also undergoing an evolution of sorts is the Lips’ live show, which the band brings to a headlining slot at the Maha Music Festival in Omaha, Neb. on August 17.

For the past several years, the group’s concerts have been highlighted by lead singer Wayne Coyne encasing himself in a giant space bubble, confetti cannons showering the audience, and a collection of dancers gyrating on stage.

“If you saw us in 2009 or something, and you’re expecting the same kind of show, it’s not that,” said Lips’ multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steven Drozd during a recent phone interview from his home in Oklahoma.

“Wayne doesn’t get in the space bubble anymore,” he continued. “We don’t have the dancers on stage. We’ve got a whole new light show with a whole new video set-up, and all this stuff.”

The motivation for these changes is the mood of the Lips’ new material, which has been described by reviewers as dark, heavy, and depressing. While critics have also referred to songs from The Terror as among the band’s best, crowd reactions to the group’s new set have been mixed.

According to Drozd, after The Flaming Lips’ first new show at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas in March, “there were a lot of people scratching their heads.”

“I think it put some people off,” he said. “But some of our hardcore fans, I think, were just so excited we were doing something completely new that that sort of trumped everything else. So we’re kind of getting a combination of those two things as we go. We’re working out the dynamics of where we can get the most intensity from it for our live show.”

Another misconception that Drozd addressed during his interview was that since the mood of The Terror appears so bleak, many in the media have posited that making the record must have been an arduous process.

He said, “I can’t say it’s our best record. When someone says that, it’s hard to take them seriously. I would say it’s the easiest record I’ve made with the Lips, and also there’s really nothing I would change about the record.”

One particular change that Drozd wouldn’t make is altering the amount of guitar used on The Terror. Instead of employing the prototypical rock band setup of bass, drums, guitar and vocals, Drozd and company turned to a variety of keyboards and synthesizers to fill out their album’s overall sound.

“I think after a few songs we realized there wasn’t any guitar, and we liked it,” said Drozd. “We were drawn to these two or three keyboards that were up at the studio, these three old synthesizers that kind of just kept calling to us, beckoning to us, to use them or something.”

Watch the official video for “Turning Violent” by The Flaming Lips here:

Also beckoning to Drozd is the future. Apart from touring with the Lips for the rest of the year, the multi-instrumentalist is preparing to start recording a side project of his and singer Coyne’s in the coming weeks. Dubbed The Electric Wurmz, the project is to consist of a rotating ensemble of musicians including Coyne on bass, and Drozd supplying guitar, keyboards, and lead vocals.

He said, “We’re just going to try and create this weird collective of psychedelic, prog, Kraut, Miles Davis, electric, punk rock sort of music. We’ll have some recording material, and maybe even be playing shows by the end of year or something.”

Until then, Drozd remains proud of his primary band’s continued relevancy. Despite 30 years of existence and numerous evolutions in its sound, The Flaming Lips is a group that is still capable of evoking a strong reaction in fans and critics alike. And the multi-instrumentalist couldn’t be prouder.

“I think it gets harder in some ways to keep making output that people would be interested in,” Drozd noted near the end of his interview. “It’s hard to keep that up, but I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of it right now. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of years, but I hope people will still look to us as a band that’s creating new music that they might want to hear.”

The Flaming Lips play at the Maha Music Festival, Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, Saturday, August 17. General Admission tickets cost $45/ advance, $55/ day of show. Visit mahamusicfestival.com.

For more information on The Flaming Lips or to see future tour dates please visit http://www.flaminglips.com.

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Don’t Be Shy: Dropkick Murphys bringing Boston pride to Western Mass

DKM - Big Hassle 4 (400)Formed in 1996, the Celtic punk group Dropkick Murphys (see photo, right) has become a Bay State institution.

While scoring hits with songs like “Tessie,” “Shipping Up to Boston” and “The State of Massachusetts,” the band has also taken a firm stance on all things Beantown, resulting in undying love for numerous New England sports teams and support for all the people and fans who call the area home.

No time has this loyalty been more fervently put on display than during the period immediately following the Boston Marathon bombings, which tore through the city on April 15th, killing several people and injuring hundreds.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Dropkick Murphys began selling a special “For Boston” T-shirt at shows and on the band’s website with all proceeds going to the victims of the bombings as well as their family members.

The band also played a charity show at the House of Blues in Boston in addition to participating in the Boston One Fund Benefit Concert, which was held at the TD Garden on May 30th, to raise more money for the cause. And if that wasn’t enough, the Murphys teamed with Bruce Springsteen for a re-recording of the group’s song “Rose Tattoo” for a special EP, whose sales also go towards victims of the Boston attack.

As of this writing, these fundraising efforts by the band have resulted in over $300,000 and counting being donated to those in need. Yet, according to Murphys’ drummer Matt Kelly, praise shouldn’t be directed at him and his band mates.

“It was basically the people who bought these shirts and bought the single that actually raised all this money. I mean, it was very little effort on our parts,” Kelly said during a recent phone interview from his home in Boston. “Basically, being in the position we’re in, we’re a pretty popular band these days. We just made an easy way for people to help out directly through [our charity] the Claddagh Fund. We just acted as a conduit for people.”

“I’d say it’s hats off to those who helped people in need,” he continued. “It’s a testament to their good will that people would do the right thing. When someone else is down, you lend them a hand you know? Not to speak in clichés, but you get my drift.”

Watch the official video for “Rose Tattoo” by the Dropkick Murphys here:

Still Kelly and the rest of the Murphys aren’t afraid to put themselves at the forefront of issues that relate to their city either.

On July 16th, after Rolling Stone magazine announced its decision to feature accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the publication’s August 1st issue, the Dropkick Murphys were among numerous protestors, who thought such an idea was in poor taste. On its Facebook page and on Twitter, the band wrote, “Rolling Stone you should be ashamed. How about one of the courageous victims on your cover instead of this loser scum bag!”

When asked about this statement, Kelly stood by the message his group put out there as a spur of the moment reaction to the announcement.

He said, “Whatever they say, it was a cheap ploy, cheap publicity for their dying subscription sales. It was tasteless. I haven’t been a fan of that magazine since I knew what was up a long, long time ago. That just puts another nail in the coffin.”

Signed and Sealed in Blood - DKMMeanwhile, amidst all the charity work and speaking out, the Dropkick Murphys have also found time to continue touring behind the release of the band’s eighth studio album Signed and Sealed in Blood, which hit stores in January.

Kicking off with the anthem “The Boys Are Back,” the record has been heralded as a return to form for the Murphys, who had to stave off rumors that the band was calling it a day after its seventh album Going Out in Style was perceived by some as a musical swan song.

Also steering away from its last disc’s tag as a literary-driven concept album, Signed and Sealed in Blood features more straightforward songs that have been well received by audiences almost immediately.

“Right off the bat, the reaction was great,” said Kelly. “The best reaction to new, unheard material that I think we’ve ever had, since we were doing the songs off Do or Die originally live. Nowadays with everything going up on YouTube, people record it, and people learn the freaking words. Then the next city, or a couple of weeks later, people are singing along to the words just from watching a video. It’s been awesome.”

Watch the official video for the new song “The Season’s Upon Us” by the Dropkick Murphys here:

Another treat for Kelly and the band on tour, has been the presence of opening acts like the Swingin’ Utters and BarRoom Heroes.

Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Utters’ career has been a constant source of inspiration for the drummer and the other members of the Murphys.

Kelly said, “We wouldn’t be a band without that band. They were a huge influence. They’ve only gotten better with age I think, and their newest record’s awesome.”

Though a bit more on the younger side, the Heroes have impressed Kelly too with their tenacity and professionalism.

“They started off really young. I think they were 10 years old when they started. Now I think they’re maybe 15, 16,” Kelly said. “When I was that age I would’ve given my right hand for my band to have been that tight and professional.”

Still, with a date already scheduled at Holyoke’s Mountain Park for August 16th, fans in Western Massachusetts will have a prime opportunity to see what Boston’s finest punk rockers have to offer when the Dropkick Murphys take the stage.

“Don’t expect laid back,” Kelly said. “Expect energy, power, and bring your ear plugs. We don’t mess around man. The best way to see the band is live. So come to the show, don’t be shy.”

Dropkick Murphys with Swingin’ Utters, BarRoom Heroes and Big Bad Bollocks, Aug. 16, 8 p.m., $31, Mountain Park Amphitheater, Route 5, Holyoke, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/mountain_park.

For more information on the Dropkick Murphys or to see future tour dates please visit www.dropkickmurphys.com.

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From Pussy Riot to the Bad Touch: Russia’s Music Crackdown

Apparently Russian residents don’t care for bands performing a “Bad Touch” with their country’s flag.

According to Spin, the Pennsylvania rock group the Bloodhound Gang has been banned from performing at the Kubana festival in the southern region of Russia after video surfaced of the band’s bassist, Jared Hasselhoff running a Russian flag through his underpants at a show in Odessa, Ukraine last week.

Though the stunt was preceded with Hasselhoff jokingly telling the crowd, “Don’t tell Putin,” word quickly got out and Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, took to Twitter to declare that, “these idiots are not going to perform.”

Watch video of the Bloodhound Gang flag incident here:

Despite an apology from Hasselhoff during a press conference where the bassist said in part that, “it was a band tradition for everything thrown from the stage first to be passed through his pants,” activists from a pro-Kremlin youth group were reported to have thrown eggs and tomatoes at the Bloodhound Gang’s tour bus as the group fled to the airport, where the group was also reportedly attacked, to leave the country earlier than scheduled. Russian authorities are also considering the possibility of pressing charges against Hasselhoff for defaming the Russian flag.

*Update: After more video surfaced Monday of Hasselhoff allegedly urinating on the Ukrainian flag during a concert, the UA Anonymous Hacker Organization announced via Twitter that it attacked the Bloodhound Gang’s website in response and has effectively shut the site down for the time being.*

Such outrage over the actions of outspoken musicians and acts has become something of a trend of late in the former Soviet Republic. Both Lady Gaga and Madonna are currently being investigated for possible charges relating to entering the country with improper visas and then speaking out on stage for gay rights. And the ongoing troubles of the feminist Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, which started after three members of the group were arrested on charges of hooliganism after a guerilla performance at a Russian church in March of 2012, added another chapter last month when one of the members was denied parole after refusing to “repent” for her actions.

Just what all this news means for the increasingly turbulent state of American/ Russian relations is yet to be determined. Sure, the actions of Hasselhoff and company were sophomoric and meant to draw a reaction, but heavy jail-time seems like an especially stiff penalty for a momentary act of stupidity, though I’m sure the bassist and his band mates would snicker at the mention of anything “stiff” coming their way.

What’s that old quote about jokes made in poor taste?

“Of course my jokes are in poor taste, inappropriate, and confused; they reveal my lack of security. But that is because I have no respect for myself.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky said that. And if there’s anyone who knows about the insecurities of Russian affairs and culture it’s surely him.

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