Our musical landscape needs more artists like Claire Morales. Her songs are weird. And great. But weird. The baritone flutter in her voice, the chordal structure and spatial arrangements, the lyrical prophecy of something like “too rare so far / you can't remember what you are / you need someone to show you what / this cosmic dust is doing here”.
I was going to write this about how Fairhazel was one of the most exciting bands to come out of April’s Underwater Sunshine, because...well, they were. I loved them the first time they sang through my headphones way back when the year was still new and cold. Then they came and turned The Bowery Electric upside down and inside out with a live show that somehow both accentuated their quiet solemnity and, more surprisingly, showed their sharp teeth, as they knifed into these lush gorgeous songs and just made them bleed out in the room. Hugh Macdonald knows how to put a live band together, no question about that. Fairhazel’s music actually blooms when you hear it live.
Hello friends and family, Katie here again! This time, I won a bit of an arm wrestle and I get to introduce you to Onliest. Toward the end of the first loooooong 12hr day of the spring festival Garden Sessions— also known as Thursday night— we were all, to stick with the “underwater” theme, a little waterlogged. My guess is everyone’s had the experience of going to a great concert and either crying, being completely overwhelmed, or just not knowing how to process it, not because it was BAD, but because SO MUCH GOOD happened at once? (I’ll admit I once cried the entire was from Indianapolis back to southern Indiana after an Old 97’s concert and I still think it was just too good for me to be ready to leave.)
I listen to a ton of new artists so, for someone to catch my ear, they need to hit my musical trifecta. I knew Town Meeting was great from that first video because the music, the voice, and the lyrics all worked. Town Meeting has not one amazing lead voice but three! The Condon brothers are all songwriters. Sometimes they sing their own songs and other times the four of them write together and the person taking the lead just happens. Luke couples singing with guitar, Russ with cajon or drums and Babe with harmonica and tambourine. Tim adds depth and color to their voices with his rotation of bass, mandolin, acoustic, electric and tenor guitar, and now banjo!
You came to hear about Skout, the guitar-playing duo comprised of Laura Valk and Connor Gladney, whose website describes them as “indie folk with an edge,” who opened for Underwater Sunshine alum Eric Hutchinson in 2015, and whose music, if you’ve given it a listen, is somehow both arresting and electrifying. But I’d like to argue for a moment that Skout and gravity have a lot in common.
I wrote the profile of Matt for the inaugural Underwater Sunshine Fest in October. It’s only been a year but, when I went to “update” my work for this fest, I was blown away by everything Matt has accomplished since then. He never, ever stays still. Among other things, he toured all across the country, released a brilliant LP in Thousand Dollar Dinners, and even filmed a performance at the Paste studio. So while some of this essay might sound similar, my guess is what you’re picking up on is largely tone: how can you write about a man who beams like Matt Sucich without picking up some of the radiance and glow yourself?
Here’s the thing: Hugh Macdonald, the man behind Fairhazel, is tapping into something special. It’s clear that Hugh is a writer’s writer and a storyteller’s storyteller. He just also happens to be a talented musician with an ear for melody and a gift for building simple, restrained parts that layer together to form a perfect, complementary bed for his stories to inhabit. This combination of tight, purposeful prose wrapped in meticulously crafted, lush melody is the hallmark of Fairhazel and it’s why Fairhazel is one of the bands I’m most excited to see play the Underwater Sunshine Festival the first weekend of April…
It’s the kind of magic that happens often in New York. Maybe it’s bound to, by virtue of the magnitude and diversity of the population here. New York is a place where a Robyn dance party erupts out of nowhere in a subway station and where a rodent can be seen hauling a whole slice of pizza. And it’s the kind of place where one of my late-night walks through Harlem was interrupted by music that stopped me in my tracks, and led me down into the speakeasy-esque basement at Silvana’s…
The Underwater Sunshine Fest is taking over NYC again next weekend. This indie music celebration is about "finding those musical gems from the deep," as music journalist James Campion writes. Each artist is hand-selected by two-time Grammy nominated Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, who curates a lineup that feels like the best mix tape you've ever heard. He gets by with a little help from his friends who also support indie music, including this year's Very Special Guest Cyndi Lauper and platinum recording artist Eric Hutchinson.
Hello everyone! Katie here today. I’m so proud of the lineup we’re already establishing that it’s sometimes like an embarrassment of riches: I am always vibrating with a weird excitement for who I get to write about, and even better, what I’ll be able to share with you April 5th and 6th at the Bowery Electric. This is a particularly special post for me, because I was actually introduced to this band in the basement of the Electric, years ago, sandwiched in a full room, holding my husband’s hand as the band led a singalong. But I’m getting ahead of myself. (It’s the excitement.)
They’ve certainly captured that vibey indie sound, but the combo of Katie Von Schleicher and Gabriel Birnbaum’s voices plus the nature of Gabriel’s songwriting evokes something else I usually call “dream pop”. The songs are haunting and moved forward by driving percussion but they take you somewhere else, sometimes quite literally, while you’re listening to them.
The Ryan Hamilton that emerged from People on Vacation had tongue firmly in cheek and had left some of the straight folk sensibilities of Smile, Smile in the past in favor of writing perfectly crafted power pop rock that married melody to wit and welded it all together with loud guitars and just the right amount of humor. Recording since then as Ryan Hamilton and the Traitors and current incarnation, Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, Ryan has developed into an adept pop rock journeyman, bringing forward the best legacies of the genre: earnestness, loud guitars, and a more than healthy dose of wit.
With over one-thousand performances and seven full-length records released; including 2013’s With Innocence and Go Amaze in 2016, both debuting in the Top 10 on the iTunes charts, Taylor Carson comes to the Underwater Sunshine Fest through our pal, and Fest alum, Stephen Kellogg. Taylor opened for Stephen’s Daryl’s House show in upstate New York late last year and caught my attention by stilling the room as he humbly presented his gripping songs of love, life and family…
Honestly, the hardest part about writing this review is that every single lyric is so good, I could write an essay purely discussing the nature of how it interacts with the current political and social climate and how that runs counter to human instinct. Instead, I’m just going to share the first verse and chorus. I want you to listen to the song. Desperately. I want you to go turn it on right now so that we can talk about it. I want you to message me on Twitter about how great “Double Take” is (so not kidding: @kwdarby). That said? Even reading these lyrics delights me…
Bear Cub is a great band, and you can hear some of the reason behind that in the way Hall approaches, talks about, and truly loves music. He listened and he studied and he knows why the pieces fit where they do. He knows how to connect the chambers of the heart. And now he’s doing that with his own music.
Wild Pink is the perfect band to play the Underwater Sunshine Fest, for its very existence can be found in the soul of what this gathering of artists is all about; discovery in music.
To wit: It is a trio that is occasionally a quartet, a rock and roll band that isn’t necessarily or in any way rock and roll, and plays well-structured, singularly-composed songs which find their ethereal form in a free-association band construct. And that is only part of what you can figure out about Wild Pink, if you try. But why waste your time with such nonsense, when this is a band not made for “figuring”. It is made for absorbing, digesting and experiencing; all the things that matter in great art.
Notwithstanding Maria’s haunting and sorrowful onstage demeanor, she is so very lively offstage, attentive with spellbinding eye contact that transforms you into the most charming, likable version of yourself by being the warmest, most personable human imaginable herself - all with absolutely no trace of artificiality. I’m gushing, but I promise it relates to the music because this warmth of hers also radiates from each of her records in special ways.
Honestly, it’s scary to me to think that somehow McGill saw this version of middle America back in 2013, but it’s a still a timely portrait of a place that seems to encompass the best and worst of humanity. It’s easy enough when he’s pocketing a hard truth in a joke— which McGill does deftly— but he doesn’t have to do so to write an effective song, and better than that, to vocalize it. If you were listening to the song, you’d still feel the tension underlying it, whether you stopped to parse lyrics or not. Cameron is an expert at finding a way to use backup vocals in surprising places, or when to use almost vaudeville-era piano techniques to lead you plinking away from the awful thing he’s about to say.
But there’s the trick in Petal’s music: while always perfectly relevant to the story at hand, it’s also all building to that last line— “I can’t say I didn’t love you.” Oh, but God, you get that she wants to say that. She wants the boldness, the belief that it could have never happened, that this was the only way either of them could be happy. But that’s never fully resolved. Even in songs like the more desperate “Carve,” Lotz says, “And I wish I could unsee your kindness/ Every upward turn of your mouth/ But I cannot so I'll bury it in sound/ In grace, in erasing myself” before saying, “And God, will they love me if I am honest?/ I would starve until every bone would show/ Just to feel a little lighter/ And still avoid the truth.”
Brooklyn band Fort Gorgeous is hitting the exact tone I’m constantly searching for in winter: thoughtful lyrics but music that is fun, layered, and easy to listen to, similar to bands like Ok Go and Andrew McMahon & The Wilderness. There is some great guitar work and some mild existentialism that’s washed over well with ninja-levels of un-dated synth and beautiful vocals. There’s not a track I’ve found so far that I didn’t hit “repeat” on. Though the band is out of Brooklyn, it has enough of a soft California tone that you almost miss the clear edges of the songs. Before I talk a little more about the individual tracks, though, I want to introduce you to the band itself.
…she can move from a breathy longing to a strong, burning desire in the middle of a line. She has the ability to sing something clippy and playful, but she can sing long, stretched out notes that feel either sexy or sorrowful depending on the spin she puts on them. Like a pitcher, every note is supposed to land: she is quick to spin from self-reflection to an application in a current relationship: It’d be easy enough to write a song called “You Can Have Me,” and either slowly slink through it as an appealing offer, or you could be self-excoriating and use that kind of pain in your voice— instead, like in the lyrics (which she sings back and forth with Drew Robinson, whose voice matches hers excellently), she explores the past while projecting the future:
Comprised of singer/songwriter/pianist Jackie McLean and multi-instrumentalist/producer Shawn Strack, Roan Yellowthorn is a perfect ethereal pop act: brilliant, playful lyrics; creative, sparse production; and music that, like liquid, would fill whichever glass you poured it in.
It turned out that being migratory at the start of a transitional season was the perfect circumstance to hear Klassen's album, Big Intruder. With buoyancy, dark ideas, and a touch of the fantastically whimsical, Big Intruder is a soundtrack for a hero's journey. One of the songs especially, "Yer Cure," brings to mind the sort of music you'd hear playing in the colorful, expansive universe of the acclaimed television show Adventure Time - that is, music that delights with novel arrangements and universal, adult lyrical themes. I often find myself talking about the album as if it's a magical entity, made of some sparkly, reflective substance, which I hope comes across as the high praise that it's meant to be.
Hey everyone, James Campion here. You may have heard of Eric Hutchinson, or at least you’ve heard his songs. They’ve appeared on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s Growing Up Fisher. He’s also played them on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Today Show. Perhaps you’ve seen him in your town, as Eric has been a touring songsmith now for sixteen years. His versatile solo performances or with bands through five albums filled with spectacularly crafted and exquisitely sung pop, rock, soul songs that brim with tasty melodies and infectious rhythms are a unique experience.
That’s a strong start to the record, because his friends, presumably, are standing next to him, getting drunk on blood in the vampire club, all trying to be “never-ending” (*which strikes me as quite different than immortal, but I’ll find a way to work that into a poetry class later so y’all don’t have to suffer). And that’s not even to touch my favorite line— “I got a lamp-post-God/ On the corner of who gives a shit.” I think if we close our eyes and go into a dark street, we have either seen or been that person. And it’s a terrifying place to be. So how can someone who can so effectively personify evil and then write rock ‘n’ roll that kicks off new record this convincingly have the range of a band that can also write a soft (still driving) song with the delicacy and gentleness of “Survival Song”? The tempo is slowed, his voice is kind…
I’m going to recap the Underwater Sunshine Fest. But I understand, now, especially as I go through my pictures and my video, that it won’t be the same Fest you were at. Nor was it the same one Adam saw, or Barb, or even my husband Andy or our intern Charlie. It wouldn’t have matter if we’d be tethered to each other. This show meant something different to everyone, and the moments that stood out to me might not have to you— might not have even existed in your world. In fact, I took a risk by starting this article off by talking about Cinjun Tate because— if we’re being really honest— I was supposed to be down at the club helping set up (thanks to everyone who told me to go ahead and stay to watch). There were, maybe for the first time that weekend, fewer than ten people in the Garden. So one of the most important things that happened to me… happened to me.
Elizabeth & the Catapult is a trip featuring piano, drums, and guitar, though they often add some strings to the mix to flesh out a track. They have found a way to maintain pop sensibilities without it feeling like chamber pop— that’s to say, they know how to make it sound as contemporary as anything on the radio, just put together better and with more heavy-hitting writing.
Dave Godowsky is standing in the gap for us. There are so many things that are in short supply in this world, and he provides two of them with absolute stark nakedness: beautiful piano music, some of which is there simply for its beauty (and to quote Keats, perhaps a bit out of context, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty”); and incredible vulnerability.
Something about trying to find ways to connect, ways to soothe souls, ways to honor the humanity we see in each other—but against a dark, minor key background with up-tempo and sometimes aggressive drums—is absolutely stunning. It takes it to a different level. It’s almost like the lyrics and the mood of the music are fighting to see which side is going to win—
Brick and I have a lot in common. He has a radio show on NPR called “The Song Show”, I’m often a guest on that show; I love Billy Joel and could talk about how much for 24 hours, he let me talk about how great Billy Joel was on his radio show (though it was couched as an “apologist” episode); we have both fought major medical issues in the last two years and are still re-learning how our bodies and minds operate in artistic mediums that had been natural to us. But Brick Briscoe finished making his record IV (you should ask him how to pronounce it) while he was receiving chemo in the hospital.