Summer music festivals and shows on our radar

Kayla: California Roots Festival (May 22nd-24th)

Cali Roots(3)Three days of amazing reggae music vibrations and people. This festival is located at the Monterey County fairgrounds, where the famous Monterey Pop Festival happened in the sixties. This year I am most excited to see Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, John Brown’s Body and Slightly Stoopid!

Thievery Corporation at Red Rocks (July 19th)

Thievery CorpThis is going to be mind-blowing. Thievery Corp is the ultimate fusion of lounge, dub, world, reggae, and electronic, with amazing vocalists on rotation. The fact that this is happening at Red Rocks in Colorado, a natural theater carved out of the side of a mountain, is outta this world. I don’t think I’ll return. ;)

Matt: Live on King Street (Summer Series)

Live on King StreetMy favorite summer music series takes place right here in Madison. It’s the Live on King Street. The concerts are all free, feature excellent bands, and take place outside with the gorgeous Wisconsin State Capitol building as a backdrop.

Jeff: Ex Hex (July 21st)

Ex HexMy personal guitar rock heroine Mary Timony (ex-Helium) returns with her new rawk trio Ex Hex. Their 2014 album Rips is thoroughly great and super summery!

Marc: Summerfest (Summer Series)

Neil YoungSarah’s lifelong dream to see Neil Young will be realized at Summerfest this year. We acquired tickets as soon as we learned he’d be there. A few days later we’ll see Morrissey in Chicago, assuming he actually makes it there this time.

Beyond those fancy shows, I’ll likely attend:

Built To Spill (May 22nd)

I’m really enjoying the new album; several years ago I broke my collarbone and got a severe concussion on the way to see them, but like a champ I still went before heading to the hospital, and stayed conscious almost the whole show.

The English BeatThe English Beat (July 18th)

The show I’m currently most bummed to be missing is Refused, headlining Riot Fest at the end of the month. I assume it sold out immediately, since Refused was an amazing Swedish anarchist hardcore band with experimental flair from the 90s who broke up because they got too big, eg were betraying their principles (they were the biggest band in Sweden at the time). Apparently ‘principles’ means something different as we age. “Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in”?… :)

DisclosurreLiz: Movement (May 23rd-25th)

Electronic music festival in downtown Detroit. I’m excited to see Disclosure.

Gao: Summer Camp Music Festival (May 22nd-24th)

Steve MillerI’ll SCamp for the first time this year. This festival will be much different than my typical festival experiences incorporating more rock, bluegrass and funk. It’ll be my 5th time seeing Umphrey’s McGee and they’re playing 5 sets! I’m dying to see John Butler Trio, The Floozies and Griz. Finally, I’ll “Fly Like An Eagle” with Steve Miller Band.

Electric Forest Festival (June 25th-28th)

Formerly known as Rothbury Festival, Electric Forest is my great escape. The festival features The String Cheese Incident and electronic heavyweights, BASSNECTOR and Skrillex. While I must see Russ Liquid again, I don’t have a set schedule. I’m most excited to discover new music and secret sets, find good company, and admire the festival sprites, art displays and light shows as I weave in and out of the forest.

Nate: The Jamaican Queens (July 13th)

The Jamaican QueensJuly 13th The Jamaican Queens will be at the Frequency.  They are an experimental electronic pop/rock band and I expect they will put on a good show. Also Summerfest has some good shows this year. I am going to try to see Kendrick Lamar and The Flaming Lips there for sure!

80s music gems, Vol. 1

I wasn’t alive for very long in the 80s. But thanks to the radio stations I listened to while growing up, I know plenty of 80s tunes that still rock today. The genres from that decade reach all over the place, and there’s plenty to love. Here are some 80s music gems that I recommend for those who are feeling a bit nostalgic…

Whitney HoustonWhitney (1987)

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was sensational! R&B truly shaped itself in the 80s, and Whitney’s vocal skills were powerful and internationally acclaimed. The album Whitney debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making history, as it was the first album by a female artist to do so. The song “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is absolute fire on here—catchy in the best way with tons of synthesizer. Plus the video is adorable.

 

Queen The Game (1980)

Queen the game

Queen! A favorite of many, Queen had already established themselves in the seventies as an energetic arena rock band. However, their 1980 release The Game marked the first time the band used synthesizer on their recordings. It was their only album to reach #1 in the US, and it went on to become their best-selling studio album, containing the memorable tracks “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

 

Violent Femmes Violent Femmes (1983)

Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (woooo!). Apparently the band was discovered while playing in front of the Oriental Theatre the night of a Pretenders show, when Chrissie Hynde asked them to do a set on stage. Most of the songs on this debut album were written while the singer Gordon Gano was still in high school. It’s hard to describe their sound, but words that come to mind are: raw, gritty, angsty, and sarcastic. Great tracks on here include “Blister In The Sun”, “Add It Up” and “Gone Daddy Gone”.

Beastie BoysLicensed To Ill (1986)

3679-large

It’s hard to believe these guys started in the 80s! Songs like “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)”, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, and “Brass Monkey” are still played all over the place. The Beastie Boys brought an interesting twist to hip hop at the time—they were white, and they incorporated a punk rock sound to their music. Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to top the Billboard chart. Their lyrics offend just about everyone if you pick them apart, but there’s something distinct about the band’s energy and voice that makes them unique and lovable.

What are your favorite 80s music gems? Let us know in the comments!


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


90s music gems, Vol. 1

When you think of 90s music, what pops up in your mind? Hootie & the Blowfish? Nirvana? Dare I say… Sugar Ray? :)

Back in the day I hosted a radio show called Freaks in Flannel. Despite the name, I tried to stay away from flannel and pop, and instead played a mix of 90s music that I acquired from my dad’s CD collection and the radio station’s library.

Here are some 90s music gems that I highly recommend, if you’re feeling like jumping back in time.

PortisheadDummy (1994)

Portishead DummyIf you haven’t listened to Portishead yet, do it now—right now! Dummy is the debut album from this England-based trip hop group. In a nutshell, Portishead’s music contains slower tempos, hip hop samples, and bluesy introspective lyrics sung by Beth Gibbons. Dummy contains some of their signature tracks, including “Sour Times”, “Wandering Star”, “Roads”, and one of my favorite gal anthems, “Glory Box”.

 

BeckOdelay (1996)

Beck Odelay

I’d confidently say that Odelay is one of the greatest albums of all time. Beck is pure musical genius, and this entire album lays it all out for you. His vocals are somewhat more spoken than sung, dense with rhymes reminiscent of old school hip hop. Odelay has a hip hop vibe, mixed with southern-sounding rock and plenty of samples and distortions. Amazing tracks on here are “Devil’s Haircut”, “Hotwax”, “The New Pollution”, “Novacane” and “Where It’s At”. This is a must-have in your collection—check out the full review here.

Fatboy SlimYou’ve Come a Long Way, Baby (1998)

Fatboy Slim

Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably heard tracks from You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby played on radio stations and in clubs throughout the 90s. Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook,  is an English musician and DJ who masterfully uses samples and beats to create highly danceable tunes. Great tracks on this album include “Right Here, Right Now”, “The Rockafeller Skank”, and “Praise You”.

 

The Flaming LipsTransmissions from the Satellite Heart (1993)

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are a bunch of weirdos. When they’re not tripping on acid, they’re writing quirky songs that range from super simple rock tunes to all-encompassing soundscapes. Transmissions is actually their 6th album, and it brought us the unforgettable tune “She Don’t Use Jelly”. “Turn It On” is another great track, very raw-and-gritty-sounding like the majority of their early work. This album is lovably odd. There’s a chance you’ll hate it, but maybe not!


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Album Review: Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Johnny Mandel

Last week, I was witness to some small magic. Or perhaps it was a minor kind of miracle. Let me explain…

Some of us at Murfie HQ were sitting around one afternoon, discussing the music of old movies we loved as kids. Films like Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were brought up, of course. I immediately thought of Escape to Witch Mountain, and we started reminiscing about the utterly creepy theme by Johnny Mandel that opens the film, with protagonists Tia and Tony running in silhouette from viciously barking dogs.

Escape to Witch Mountain

That opening scene scared me when I was younger, so I’d hit fast forward on our VHS player. I always thought it was an odd contrast to the whimsical scenes of Tia communicating telepathically with cats, or Tony using his harmonica to telekinetically control marionettes. But that’s what Escape to Witch Mountain is; it’s what you get when you put Hammer horror director John Hough at the helm of a novel adaptation for Disney. Kid’s movies in the ’70s weren’t afraid of scaring you (e.g. How creepy was almost everything in Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory?).

While we chatted, I did what I always do in these situations—I looked for the soundtrack. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find it. Nor could I find very many releases of Johnny Mandel’s work in general. Digging deeper, I was saddened to learn that the only released version of any music from Escape to Witch Mountain was on an obscure Disneyland Records illustrated storybook LP narrated by Eddie Albert (who plays Jason O’Day). This news was particularly shocking since Escape to Witch Mountain was—at the time—one of Disney’s most successful live action films.

Escape to Witch Mountain Disneyland
Not quite what I was looking for…

I was beginning to lose hope that I could show my colleagues this wonderful music from my childhood without lugging in my parents’ VCR. I loved Escape to Witch Mountain so much that I learned Tony’s melodic riffs by ear during my brief stint taking harmonica lessons. It is, to this day, some of my favorite movie music.

But then the magic happened. A bit further down the search results, I stumbled upon a recent post on the INTRADA forums. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they’ve released literally hundreds of film and video game soundtracks, both new and old. Imagine my surprise when, upon reading the post, I learned that not only was INTRADA releasing the Escape to Witch Mountain soundtrack, but it was out that very day! That’s right—40 years after the film’s release, on a day that I just happened to be wishing for a soundtrack, INTRADA was delivering with their full, limited edition Special Collection Volume 309 release.

Johnny Mandel—who is perhaps best known for “Suicide Is Painless” from M*A*S*H—was absolutely ahead of his time with Escape to Witch Mountain. Mandel’s deceptively simple themes were performed with a massive 50-odd-member orchestra, but with the addition of harmonica and eerie drones from the Moog synthesizer. The outcome feels like an alien adaptation of 1970s Disney fanfares. Playful tunes like “The Flying Camper” would be equally at home in any Disney film from the era, but Mandel’s biggest successes come when he subverts those expectations. There are ideas continually introduced throughout the film’s score which are later echoed via synthesizers that sound equally otherworldly 40 years later.

Not only has INTRADA teamed up with Disney to make this soundtrack finally available, but they’ve done so with more detail than could have been anticipated. The main themes are here, but so are all of the film’s musical cues and then some. For their limited CD release of the soundtrack, INTRADA (with producer Douglass Fake) have put together just about everything they could salvage from Disney’s long-term storage tapes ca. 1975.

Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
That’s more like it!

The main score itself clocks in at just over 36 minutes, cues included. INTRADA has done a nice job of weaving together the more traditional soundtrack-type pieces and cues in a way that makes narrative sense within the context of the movie. The CD starts with Mandel’s “Main Title”—creepy dogs and all—and continues from there. While it may sound like overkill on paper, the cues are unique enough that they make sense tagging along. As mentioned in the liner notes (which are extensive and appreciated), many of these cues introduce motifs that reappear in future scored pieces.

It is worth noting that the thoroughness of this CD means you will likely hear many repeated themes throughout its duration, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In many cases, a score is not put together with the intention that you listen to it apart from the film, but to Mandel’s credit, the included cues combine their own voices to tell the story. While Tony’s telekinesis may be signaled by a theme for harmonica (in reality, master Tommy Morgan), Tia’s telepathy is portrayed by an accompanying swell of Moog synthesizers (played by jazz musician Paul Beaver). Furthermore, the emotional state of the characters changes how the themes are executed.

The aforementioned soundtrack and cues would be enough to satisfy a fan of the film, right? Not for INTRADA. When I said they released every piece of material they could find, I wasn’t exaggerating. After the main score, they’ve included ten extra tracks. Thanks to the diligence of some forward-thinking folks at Disney, the recording sessions were stored in a way that allowed INTRADA to re-assemble orchestral pieces without harmonica or synthesizer cues. The result is seven previously unheard arrangements of more traditional orchestration.

Continue reading Album Review: Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Johnny Mandel

Album Review: “Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Various Artists

I’m not the kind of person that listens to a lot of movie soundtracks. When I do pick one up, it’s usually because of its use in the film itself (see for example Hans Zimmer’s recent Interstellar score, or the excellent Clint Mansell collaboration with Kronos Quartet and Mogwai for The Fountain).

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

As I write this, however, Song One‘s full theatrical / on-demand release is still a week or so away. While Interstellar‘s music blew me away in the theater, I went into the Song One soundtrack with a completely different context. Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) piqued my interest last November when it was announced that songwriting duo Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice were set to score the film and produce its soundtrack.

I’ve been a Jenny Lewis fan since the days of Rilo Kiley (side note: as a kid, I for sure had a crush on her in The Wizard, but that doesn’t count). Luckily, in the post-Rilo Kiley years, there has been no shortage of Jenny Lewis listening. From the b-sides Rkives album to her recent solo album The Voyager, Lewis has kept busy.

Jenny and Johnny debuted their collaborative efforts all the way back in 2010, which makes Song One an interesting place to reunite in a formal way. The pair serve as both writers for all but one of the soundtrack’s original songs and producers of the album and recordings. You’ll also find their talents in the form of occasional backing vocals.

Peppered among the soundtrack’s original tunes is a generally well-curated selection of other songs. Most of the songs fit really well, making Song One feel much closer to an album than a random selection of soundtrack-y hits. Standouts include the excellent “One Day” by Sharon Van Etten and America‘s “I Need You.”

While most of the soundtrack feels cohesive in tone, there are some questionable inclusions that may take the film’s context to appreciate. I’m a big Dan Deacon supporter, but in an album of folky, country-influenced rock songs, “The Crystal Cat” is a strange choice. And while Portuguese song “O Leaozinho” is interesting, I just didn’t enjoy this recording all that much.

Song One Still
Song One stars Johnny Flynn & Anne Hathaway

The meat of this soundtrack is clearly the original songs, which all—to my relief—feel like they could have been Jenny and Johnny canon. Nothing feels like a throwaway. In a world of cash-ins and sequels, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a film like Song One turn into a late-to-the-party Once ripoff, but it’s crystal clear that everyone involved with this soundtrack cared a lot.

My favorite originals have to be “Iris, Instilled” and the soundtrack’s single “In April.” It’s important to mention some excellent performances by one of the film’s stars, Johnny Flynn, the voice behind Song One’s originals. Beyond vocals, Flynn also contributes guitar, piano and violin throughout the soundtrack.

For a movie about music, it’s refreshing to see such obvious collaboration through and through. The songs that really work here are the ones where Johnny Flynn, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are all involved. If you’ve heard a lot of Jenny Lewis’ work, it’s easy to hear that Flynn’s delivery serves her style of phrasing well.

While not bad per se, the lone original not performed by Johnny Flynn, “Marble Song,” was probably the most forgettable. Likewise, “Afraid of Heights,” which seems to be taken directly from the film, was not written by Jenny and Johnny. The recording quality on that track is notably worse than the rest of the album. If it was indeed taken from the movie itself, the poor mixing is a concern.

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is not perfect, but it is certainly a treat for fans of Jenny Lewis, Johnathan Rice or their combined efforts. The worst thing about Song One is that you might want to skip a track here or there, but that’s hardly a problem when the soundtrack is so generous with good, original music. Here’s hoping we get more Jenny and Johnny sooner rather than later!

Jenny and Johnny
Jenny and Johnny


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has written a lot of music. With over 150 films under his belt, you have heard his work—whether you can name a movie he’s done off the top of your head, or spot a tune when you hear it.

While Zimmer began his music career playing synth for new wave and punk bands (see The Buggles‘ classic “Video Killed the Radio Star“), he’s perhaps best known for his marrying of electronic and orchestral sounds. If you’ve seen Rain Man, The Lion King, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc, etc, etc, etc, Hans Zimmer has wormed his way into your ears.

Hans Zimmer - InterstellarBeyond a doubt, Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar is singular in his career. The true magic of Interstellar is that Zimmer did not compose this music as a background to the film. Rather, he worked hand in hand with Christopher Nolan to create the score in tandem with production. While I highly recommend the film (particularly in IMAX, for which it was specifically tailored), Hans Zimmer’s score absolutely holds its ground as a stand-alone album.

If you’re at all interested in the music of Interstellar, you should definitely get your hands on a CD copy of the album. Not only does it feature essays about the scoring process by both Zimmer and Nolan, but the CD and packaging serves as a working star wheel (or planisphere) itself. If you’re an astronomy junkie like me, the functional design is an added bonus.

The packaging and liner notes included with the Interstellar soundtrack drive home the fact that Zimmer—along with Nolan, who serves as executive producer on the recording—wanted this music to exude the themes of the movie. The accompanying materials reveal that Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan met before filming began, at which point Nolan gave Zimmer one day to create some piece of music based on the main themes, with specific instructions to throw away past motifs common to Zimmer’s work. With no corresponding footage or plot points, Zimmer created “Day One,” which—even as an early track—serves as an emotional backbone of sorts.

Interstellar Star Wheel
This is how you do CD packaging right.

As the recording process continued, Zimmer and Nolan worked closely to integrate film and music, and it really shows. If you’ve seen the movie (again, it’s plainly worth your time), hearing Zimmer’s score will pull you back to the core moment these pieces represent.

Interstellar was almost an electronic score, but on a hunch, Christopher Nolan convinced Hans Zimmer to record an orchestra, and most notably, a full 2500-pipe organ. The real innovation in Zimmer’s score is a masterful implementation of the pipe organ. It is unequivocally and decidedly massive. Zimmer’s essay in the liner notes indicates that this was a stressful gamble, but it clearly paid off.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Interstellar score is that Hans Zimmer proves he is unafraid of dynamic range. Unlike many modern scores (and almost all modern albums), Interstellar takes full advantage of subtle lows and impressive intricacies at volume. Pulsing synthesizers and gentle strings provide an effortless floating sensation. Tense or exciting moments are driven through with blasts of energy. Tracks like “Stay” and “Detach” are unabashedly epic.

Alright, I think I’ve satisfied whatever gland in my body has been gushing praises for the Interstellar score by now. Unlike any other work (or almost any other album of 2014), I have listened to Interstellar many times since its release. If you’ve read this far, however, I guess I can share with you the parts of which I’m not a huge fan. In all honesty, there are only two gripes, and as minor as they may be, they will likely be turnoffs for less patient listeners.

Continue reading Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Album Review: “A Miracle” by Groundation

A Miracle Groundation

In the opening lines of “Riddim Hold Dem,” the first track of Groundation‘s 11th studio album A Miracle, frontman Harrison Stafford sings:

“Without woman, what would man be?”

This question marks the beginning of an album centered around exploring and cherishing the role of women in life. Something I always loved about Groundation, a jazzy roots reggae band hailing from Northern California, is their inclusion of female vocalists in their recorded and live productions. Over the years, vocalists Kim Pommell and Sherida Sharpe have emerged as powerful forces in the band, and they play a strong part in this album. “They’re not backup singers by any stretch of the imagination,” said Harrison in a recent interview we had on my radio show. “Groundation is about a balance of sound—everybody really taking part, sharing the spotlight…this is a part of our one-ness.”

Joining forces with Groundation on this album are two mighty, mighty queens of reggae: Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Marcia and Judy, along with Rita Marley, were the I Threes—the original backing trio of Bob Marley & the Wailers in their heyday. Marcia’s gorgeous, etheral voice is considered one of the best in reggae music, and she is featured on track two, “Defender of Beauty.” Judy is featured on track six—the title track—”A Miracle,” sounding enticingly bluesy and soulful, combining perfectly with the jazzy piano and brass which set Groundation apart from other roots reggae bands.

A Miracle is a solid continuation of Groundation’s other recorded works. You can expect the previously-mentioned jazzy keys and saxophone, and the heavy, heavy basslines that make you want to fall to the floor. Their live show is a must-see. It’s good for your soul!

Along with the woman-centric theme, Groundation covers familiar ground with their lyrics—the state of the world, a call for liberation, trust in Jah, and the power of music. Within the woman-centric theme itself lies the curveball—because very rarely, if at all, had Groundation sung about romantic love. But in this case, as you will hear on the last track “Cupid’s Arrow,” it’s far from wishy-washy. It’s about real respect and equality. “Respect me, do the right….oh love me absolutely, and you and I shall prosper.”

Track four, “Gone A Cemetery,” has made the list of my favorite Groundation songs. It’s about a freedom fighter who met a cruel end. I don’t know if it’s about a specific person—if it is, I’m curious to know. Besides the lyrics, the melody is great.

Groundation is an internationally-acclaimed band, and their message is spiritual and universal. I strongly recommend picking up this album, plus more from the Groundation discography, and anything created or produced by Harrison Stafford—someone who works tirelessly to preserve reggae history and spread positive music to the masses.

From the inner liner notes of A Miracle: “This album is livicated to the beautiful female spirit: The powerful empress who manifests creation.”

Big up Groundation!



Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.