Fred Armisen single series features fake Northampton band

BJC - Mass AfternoonIn a 2011 sketch on the late-night comedy program “Saturday Night Live,” some light-hearted fun was poked at a fictitious band on the Western Massachusetts music scene.

Featuring actor Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) and then-SNL cast member Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”), the bit was a musical send-up of the denim-clad Northampton band The Blue Jean Committee and its “local” hit “Massachusetts Afternoon.”

Now, the spotlight is once again focused on the song as well as its odes to “writing love letters,” “hanging out on the porch,” and “drinking cinnamon beer.”

As the first release in Armisen’s “Hometown Heroes” collection of “carefully chosen singles from regional music stars of decades past,” The Blue Jean Committee’s signature number is being issued by Drag City Records as a 7” split-single with “Embrace Me” from the synth/ post-disco band The Fingerlings, who SNL viewers may remember from a February 2011 sketch on the show that featured Armisen and SNL-alum Dana Carvey.

Watch The Blue Jean Committee perform “Massachusetts Afternoon” on Saturday Night Live in 2011 here:

http://screen.yahoo.com/embed/kristen-wiig-snl-skits/blue-jean-committee-000000237.html

Described in press materials as “little heard pop music classics,” that Fred Armisen heard on his juke-box, each song listed above actually shares its roots in a far more strange and twisted place – Fred’s own mind.

Though now ensconced as the band leader on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Myers,” Armisen’s tenure on “Saturday Night Live” featured the comedian taking on a number of musical roles that often included him taking on the guise of a made-up musician or band and playing a song in the group’s signature style – easy listening, folk, alternative and more.

The release of a second “Hometown Heroes” single has just been announced, and will include The Bjelland Brothers’s “Sparkling Apple Juice” from a 2010 sketch Armisen appeared in with actor Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), as well as “Can We Stay With You?”, which was first brought to life in a 2011 SNL sketch that featured Armisen, actor Jim Carey, and former SNL standout Kristen Wigg (“Bridesmaids”).

Could a single or two from Armisen’s iconic punk alter ego Ian Rubbish be forthcoming? Fans will just have to wait and see.

For more information on Fred Armisen and his “Hometown Heroes” collection please visit www.fredarmisen.com and www.dragcity.com.

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Angel Olsen turns up the heat on “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”

jag246.11183Angel Olsen used to steal the spotlight as a backing singer for Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka Will Oldham). Then with the release of her solo debut Half Way Home, the singer/ songwriter stepped into her own. Now with the release of her sophomore album Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen seems ready to set the whole stage aflame.

Given the title of her latest release, listeners may compare “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” to the similar slogan “Dance Like No One’s Watching.” Both phrases appear to be affirmations of empowerment or encouraging mantras that tell people to practice their art/ follow their own dreams despite what the masses might think. Yet, Olsen’s album title carries with it a discernible ache. Much like the singer’s own voice, there is sadness inherent in the tone. And a certain degree of that sadness stems from the use of the word “witness.”

If one is “witness” to an event, that individual has observed what has occurred for good or ill. No matter if one is ever called to a trial to relay their observations, the memory is always present. So if Olsen is proclaiming that individual fires should be burned for “no witness,” what exactly is she saying?

Judging from Fire’s opening track, “Unfucktheworld,” the message is pretty bleak.

“I have to save my life,” Olsen sings. “You may not be around / I am the only one now.”

The song’s instrumentation is minimal. Repeated acoustic guitar strums make up the entire foundation for Olsen’s echoed vocals to glide over, and the impression left is that of a spurned lover (or artist) coming to the realization that they must strive for self-reliance in order to survive.

“Hi Five” continues to drive home the theme of individual responsibility. Taking inspiration from Hank Williams for the introductory line, “I feel so lonesome I could cry,” the track also incorporates a distorted garage-like stomp that swings like a country song. Lyrics speak about loneliness and a yearning for “someone out there who believes,” or at the very least someone who is “lonely too.” But there’s a small hint of joy, when Olsen seemingly finds someone just as miserable to share a quick slapping of palms.

Watch the official video for “Hi-Five” by Angel Olsen here:

Such happiness makes rare appearances throughout the rest of the album’s running time. Instead, there is palpable regret. On “Iota,” the phrase “if only” is used repeatedly in lines wishing for better circumstances or outcomes. On “Stars,” Olsen wishes she had “the voice of everything,” so she could “scream” about, well, everything. And on “Enemy,” the singer opines, “If I could show you how I came to think this way, maybe you’d understand me now.”

Delivering that last line, Olsen doesn’t sound like she’s pleading. She seems resigned to not being understood, but such straits are not going to prevent her from trying to enlighten others of her state of mind. By constantly swaying from tender acoustic numbers to more indie rock styled rave-ups, Burn Your Fire For No Witness seems perched on the edge between two trains of thought, and the album somehow makes haunting magic out of this indecision.

Still, the overall goal, much like Jack Kerouac once wrote, appears to be for listeners to burn brightly, like those “fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Angel Olsen may not have figured out all of the particulars yet, but her aim is true.

“If you’ve still got some light in you, then go before it’s gone,” she sings. “Burn your fire for no witness / It’s the only way it’s done.”

For more information on Angel Olsen or to see future tour dates please visit www.angelolsen.com.

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Young Tricksters explore new sounds on debut EP

Young Tricksters - RipplesThe adjective “explorative” carries with it a certain weight. Curious sailers once explored the world. In the present day, curious physicists explore the possibilities of the known universe. And medical professionals explore daily the limits of the human body.

Yet, when applied to a rock band, the word “explorative” can inspire thoughts of wanky prog noodlings or the ear-testing squalls of alternative noise makers. Fortunately on its debut EP Ripples, the four-piece Amherst band Young Tricksters treats listeners to a third possibility.

According to the EP’s official press release, band guitarist Ryan Severin describes Ripples as a, “a stylistically diverse compilation of songs,” that “features a more accessible sound than our previous demo recording.”

What this description means to listeners is quickly illustrated on the record’s first track, “Where the River Ends.” Beginning with a distant drum beat and guitar reminiscent of rain drops falling through forest leaves, the gentle sound of the song is broken up by sections of electric guitar squeals before segueing back to its soft drum and guitar opening just moments before its resolution.

The impression of such a number is that instead of spreading its “stylistically diverse” thoughts out across an entire album, the band has chosen to cram numerous influences into each track, creating an engaging listen because one truly doesn’t know what may come next.

This unpredictability doesn’t stop at the opening cut. The song “Farewell My Friends” features glockenspiel from And The Kids member Megan Miller interspersed between rousing verses that include lines about not turning one’s back on the past and going with the flow. Elsewhere, the single “Twisted Love” parses the difference between two lovers – one “crazy” and one “insane” – over similarly wild and distorted guitar. And the EP’s closing title cut is a fitting finale. Stacking funked up wah-wah guitar over pummeling drums before dissolving its crescendo into a strummed acoustic closing, the song shows the members of Young Tricksters are still exploring their talents.

“We simply create whatever sounds good to us,” the group says.

Now for fans and discerning listeners everywhere there are plenty of good sounds to explore, but with Ripples the Young Tricksters have given everyone a great place to start.

For more information on the Young Tricksters please visit www.youngtricksters.com.

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