Album Review: ‘Is This It’ by The Strokes

Is This It was one of the first records I ever bought. Even back then–nearly ten years ago–the album had already earned its place in rock ‘n’ roll’s pantheon. Like the “classic” records it nods to, there isn’t any other way to consume it: Is This It was made for wax.

Maybe it’s because The Strokes arrived before the social media era, or because I was just a teenager in Wisconsin at the time, but, on its debut, the band felt fully-formed. From the downwinding tape that kicks off the title track to Julian Casablancas’ closing howls on “Take It or Leave It,” Is This It emanates effortlessness, self-assurance and, in a way, perfection.

Of course, Is This It is basically the work of a classically trained musician (Casablancas) hell-bent on rehearsing and rehashing his favorite garage and rock records until he’s achieved said perfection. “Rock ‘n’ roll” is supposed to be unrehearsed and raw, and this record is technically anything but. Somehow, though, the Strokes pulled it off, releasing a nearly-untouchable, instant-classic debut.

We all know what happened next: For the Strokes, Is This It was it. But, when your biggest hit blatantly rips off Tom Petty and he responds by inviting you to tour with him, you can really only go downhill from there.

Murfie is Moving (Again)!

With over 750,000 CDs in the Murfie warehouse, the time has come for the company to relocate to bigger digs!

It’s been truly enjoyable having Murfie on Madison’s Capitol Square surrounded by fantastic companies and people. However, Murfie has simply outgrown the space! With the amount of physical music being sent in to be digitized and stored, the best solution was to find a warehouse where there’s plenty of room for the growing amount of CDs and vinyl….plus all the Murfie staffers of course!

Murfie is moving to Middleton, Wisconsin, in the old Full Compass building. Full Compass is a Madison-based music company as well. The new neighborhood is looking beautiful as can be, and the staff is relieved to be able to keep all of Murfie operations under one spacious roof.

Starting today, Murfie will begin to move all inventory to the new Middleton warehouse, which will continue for 1-2 weeks. In the meantime, you can still access your music digitally, so no worries there!

Murfie has a new focus of maintaining the largest and most diverse source of lossless music on the web.  So—see you on the other side, in Middleton!

– The Murfie Crew

Murfie, Inc.
8001 Terrace Ave, Suite 201
Middleton, WI 53562

 

Interview with The People Brothers Band [Podcast]

Positivity. Good vibes. Great people. Fun music. These are just a few things that immediately come to mind when I think of The People Brothers Band—a Madison-based “rhythm & soul” group known for their uplifting live shows. We had the pleasure of having two PBB members, Teresa and Greg, in the Murfie office recently. They had a lot of great things to say about the Midwest scene, and People Fest, which is happening this weekend in Hillsboro, Wisconsin!

Here’s a transcript of our interview, along with the Soundcloud link below for your listening pleasure.

People Brothers Band Middle of the In BetweenWho: Teresa Marie and Greg Schmitt; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
Where: Murfie HQ, Madison, WI
When: Monday, July 20th, 2015
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


K: I’m here at the Murfie office with Greg and Teresa from The People Brothers Band, so big welcome.

G: Hello!

T: Hello hello, thank you for having us!

K: Yes. I’m glad you guys dig Murfie, and the concept.

G: Absolutely.

T: This is super cool. Blows my mind a little bit. More people need to know about Murfie.

K: Yes, and it’s local…slash national. But yeah, it’s a lot of fun to be part of it. And we were also just mentioning the MAMAs—Madison Area Music Awards—which were a ton of fun. You guys won top Pop/R&B Album of the Year, Middle of the in Between. So what do you guys think about the MAMA award system and everything?

T: I think every year they’re increasingly doing way cooler things, and this year they definitely put on a show. And I really encourage the musicians in Madison to get out and know more about it, because I think that’s what it lacks, is us being more involved in it. But it’s a really cool way to get recognition and to be appreciated.

G: I think it’s a really cool thing because every time, every year you get to see all these cool new bands. We all run in different circles, and it’s finally cool to see all these people come together. It’s fun for me because when I get to go in and vote, all of a sudden you get to listen to these bands that, you see their names in The Isthmus but you don’t always get to go out to the shows, because you’re playing on the weekends. So it’s fun, because it kind of like gives you a good reason to check out all these great bands. And then it’s fun because it kind of gets everybody in one place, you get to see all these different people that you didn’t know about.

K: I would agree with that 100%. And its enough rotation every year to keep it interesting. Some people are repeat winners but it’s good to see it cycle through like that. During your speech Teresa you had a message to musicians, telling them they had the opportunity to spread positivity through doing this. I thought that was great, can you elaborate on that a little bit?

T: Absolutely, that’s really cool that you even…that means a lot! I guess at the end of the day, I think most people are doing music for the love of it, and the way that you feel when you’re playing music, when you’re doing music, when the people are watching you the way they’re receiving it—if you could just spread that feeling throughout the community for other things. And I think that we can, I think that when you feel that kind of passion and that kind of love coming from people, you can’t help but want to do good things with it. That’s what we do at People Fest, I know that.

K: Yes, tell me about People Fest!

T: August 6th, 7th and 8th. And I will say more than once that it’s not just some of the most fun you’re gonna have this summer, it’s some of the best memories you can make in your life. And that’s a true story. There’s so much love flowing through those driftless hills, it doesn’t make any sense.

481065_556687791009906_323876588_nK: Love it. What town is it in?

G: Hillsboro, Wisconsin. It’s over by Wildcat Mountain. It’s an awesome drive out there, it’s on 300 acres of amazing land out there. We’ve got horses running around…

T: Alpacas…

G: We’ve got a couple llamas and a miniature donkey. And it’s all family friendly. We’ve got 53 bands playing.

T: Three stages, camping, family camping.

Continue reading Interview with The People Brothers Band [Podcast]

Album Review: “Currents” by Tame Impala

Currents
Released: July 17th, 2015
Reviewed by Thomas Johnstone
Rating: 4/5

“I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ’round / It’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound,” Kevin Parker announces on “Let It Happen,” opening track of Australian act Tame Impala‘s new record Currents. The lyric forecasts the album’s theme of personal change, from its distant rumblings to its disaffecting aftermath, and given the apocalyptic imagery, we’d hardly expect the changes to be slight.

Fittingly Currents delivers by departing from the act’s previous work in big, surprising ways, given the expectations we might have following two acclaimed albums which comfortably wear the label “psychedelic rock.” Despite possessing a keen sense of melody and lyrical maturity, Kevin Parker—the sole recording and producing musician of Tame Impala (he mixes this time around, as well)—has always seemed less of a songwriter than a clever studio craftsman. A typical track obscured his Lennon-like vocals behind snaking bass lines and 70’s guitar riffs, forming mantra-like jams awash in bombastic drums and reverb. The closing track of 2012’s Lonerism, “Sun’s Coming Up,” seemed to lay the Tame Impala formula bare. A sad carnival waltz for voice and piano, shockingly bare and traditional given everything it follows, eventually turns to full-blown noise collage à la “Revolution 9.” With this self-deconstruction Parker seemed to be both copping to his Beatles influence in the most blatant way, and acknowledging his art’s competing elements: the traditional song, and the abstract, chaotic sound world of an expanded mind.

With Currents, the song finally gets its day in the sun. This is largely an album of pop songs, and Tame Impala’s familiar elliptical jams are kept to a minimum. The main exception is “Let It Happen,” which tries several styles on for size over the course of its nearly eight minute fantasia: dance pop with vocoder, gnarly guitar riffs and even a diversion into synth-orchestra territory that recalls Mercury Rev. It’s like Parker preempted the DJs by remixing the track himself.

As the album progresses it’s clear such meandering is the exception rather than the rule, perhaps by design, as this opening track eases the transition to more traditional territory. Traditional, at least, in the abundance of well-structured songs like “The Moment.” It’s a testament to Parker’s songwriting chops (a few clunky rhymes aside, it feels like he’s been doing this all along) that a listener is more likely to fixate on the newly electronic texture. Keyboards dominate, with guitars mostly relegated to short, funky riffs as on “The Less I Know the Better,” a smirking love song which could easily fit on Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Drums are more danceable and reigned-in (you won’t even hear a crash cymbal until track 5) and vocals no longer feel like an afterthought; Parker’s sweet tenor sits front and center, his double-tracked Lennon pretensions of the past nowhere in sight. Not that he’s entirely abandoned psychedelia, evidenced by a dramatic vocal delay in “Reality In Motion” or the blurry pads of studio scrap “Nangs,” but the effects enhance as much as they obscure. Parker balances the rhythms and textures of his electronic soundscape with surprising ease, resembling Caribou much more than the Beatles. In fact, he slips so comfortably into his new skin it feels like splitting hairs to complain that the album feels merely expert, rather than groundbreaking.

Assured as Parker’s technical skills may be, the heart of the album is a narrative arc shining a light on individual growth. “The Moment” confronts a now-or-never fork in the road, while “Yes I’m Changing” reconciles the choice to move ahead with the pain of what’s left behind. Closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” contemplates change as illusory and temporary, skeptically suggesting Currents‘ arc is not a timeline, but a closed loop: skip back to “Let It Happen” and repeat, ad infinitum.

Currents answers Tame Impala’s rising profile with a daring change of direction, and that move has already earned comparisons to Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Excellent as the record is, the comparison is a bit generous—Currents doesn’t reach the heights of those seminal albums, and Parker’s boldness is of a safer variety. Whereas Radiohead and Wilco showed a willingness to lean into abstraction that bordered on perverse, Tame Impala does the opposite by embracing pop songwriting, and comes out all the more listenable for it.

“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit,” Parker confides on “Yes I’m Changing,” and Currents gives every reason to agree. Parker embraces change so successfully, we might assume he isn’t finished—Currents may be a mere pit stop on the way to Tame Impala‘s yet-to-come masterpiece, but it’s a trip well worth enjoying on its own.

Interview with Ha Ha Tonka [Podcast]

Ha Ha Tonka is a rock band from Missouri with a sound influenced by life in the Ozarks. We recently had guitarist and vocalist Brian Roberts on the phone for an interview, because we wanted to find out his thoughts on Bloodshot Records, the value of buying music, and getting through a personal run-in with cancer and the American healthcare system.

Here’s a transcript of our interview, along with the Soundcloud link below for your listening pleasure.

438958-largeWho: Brian Roberts; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
When: Thursday July 16th, 2015
How: via phone

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

K:  So Brian, how do you like being part of Bloodshot Records and that family over there?

B: Well I’m glad you used the word family. That’s basically what it is. I mean really we’ve been with Bloodshot since we started doing this professionally, since 2007. So yeah, we love all those guys. They’re the smartest people in the industry and just a great label to be a part of. We’ve been really fortunate to grow our band with them as our main supporters.

K: Are there any other bands on their client list that you’re following pretty closely?

B: Yeah, the Banditos are really having a great year. They’ve had such great acts in the past, like you know some of our favorite records, and I think can speak collectively for the band too. Ryan AdamsHeartbreaker came out on Bloodshot, and I wore that album out listening to it so many times. Justin Townes Earle was on the label recently and put out a couple great records. Of course the Old 97’s earlier on. They’ve had so many good acts, I could just talk about them all day. Bobby Bare, Jr. There’s some phenomenal acts on Bloodshot.

K: Cool. Well you’re in good company. You know the music business is an interesting thing, it’s always changing. I was wondering what your thoughts are on some of the recent trends in the music business, including the infinite access to music that people have.

B: Well you know I don’t…obviously it would be great if people still bought records the way they did in the 90’s or anytime prior to that. I don’t hold out any hope that that will come back. So I am thankful that we are a touring band, and the touring side of things hasn’t changed. We generate most of our income from the touring side of what we do. When it comes to the debate over streaming services or digital downloads, or any of the Napster or post-Napster stuff that’s gone on, really that’s just technology. And I don’t know if the music industry was ready for the onslaught like some of the other digital industries were, whether that be gaming or movies or the film industry. I don’t know. I don’t really know how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole. I love that people can go online and check out a band—check out our band—and not have to pay for it right away. But the problem I think comes into the fact that people then never pay for your music. Or rarely do. Or there’s probably a whole generation that doesn’t think that music costs anything. And I think Bloodshot’s tried to educate people, Nan Warshaw has spoke on it several times about how not buying a record from a band like the Banditos or the 97’s 25 years or 20 years ago would have meant they got less money for next time they want to make a record. Less tour support. They get less of everything.

K: Yeah I agree with some of the things you pointed out, especially I believe that maybe the next generation of music consumers doesn’t even expect to pay for music.

B: Right, what does that mean?

Continue reading Interview with Ha Ha Tonka [Podcast]

Interview with DJ Pain 1 [Podcast]

DJ Pain 1DJ Pain 1 is a prominent hip-hop producer, and over the years he’s worked with names you know like Young Jeezy, Public Enemy and Ludacris. He’s also a Madison local and active community member who volunteers for non-profits. We had the great pleasure of having him here at the Murfie office recently.

In this interview, he brings up some important topics—like the pressure that Madison police put on venues that try to book hip-hop shows. Unfortunately, the lack of hip-hop in Madison makes it hard for talented acts to really blossom in town. What you might not know about DJ Pain 1 is that his real name is Pacal Bayley. He’s a true lover of all dedicated musicians, a physical music collector, and a mushroom hunter—although he’ll never tell you where he finds morels.

Now, I don’t want to give away all the best parts. Here’s a transcript of our interview along with the recorded version (below) on our Soundcloud player.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who: DJ Pain 1; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
Where: Murfie HQ, Madison, WI
When: Wednesday July 1st, 2015

K: So I am currently in one of the Murfie warehouse rooms surrounded by discs with DJ Pain 1. Welcome to the office, first of all.

DJ: This is kind of surreal.

K: It is. Being surrounded by so much music kind of makes you think about all the albums that have come out over the years.

DJ: Well all I see is boxes, so I’m just smelling cardboard—and there are all these boxes with numbers written on all of them. It’s like musical coffins or something.

K: That’s one way to think about it, for the people who store their CDs here. We do have people who get their CDs digitized and shipped back to them. But I suppose it is a good resting place, and these boxes are actually like water resistant and temperature—

DJ: Oh they are?

K: Yeah we make sure everything stays nice and cozy in there. But you know there are a lot of things to talk about in music, especially someone like you who is involved on all these different levels. So over the years as you’ve gained all your experience, the music industry has changed a lot, especially recently, in terms of the way people listen to music, and the way it’s being released. So in your opinion, is the music industry changing for better or for worse?

DJ: I think it’s always a duality. I think access is a good thing, and access has been improving for decades now. And so what access begets is saturation. And of course it changes the landscape as far as fans are concerned and their expectations of artists. They expect a lot of music, and they expect instant access, and they expect free most of all. And so that’s not necessary a bad thing, because it’s forced artists to really adapt in new and innovative ways, whether it’s just challenging the traditions of a genre or finding new and exciting ways to market and promote themselves. So, it’s good for some and bad for others, I guess that’s a subjective question. And I don’t necessarily know, because I’m benefiting a lot from it—but then on a macro level the music industry is just kind of crumbling before my very eyes. At first that kind of scared me, but now I’m just sitting there looking at my watch waiting for it to happen, because I kind of can’t stand the paradigm. But it also every now and then lets me in through a door, and then I make some money and get some notoriety off it.

DJ Pain 1K: Well I like what you said about finding ways to adapt that are new and interesting. I feel like that’s gonna be the differentiator between people who succeed regardless of how the music industry ends up being. So what are some of the best ways that you’ve learned to connect with your audience and make a living?

DJ: I give a lot of stuff away for free. And maybe the ratio is somewhere around 10:1 or 15:1. 15 being what I give away and 1 being what I sell. It gives me more leverage for the people that are following me and benefiting from the resources I give out. So I don’t know if it works, but it’s worked for me in some capacity, so I’m going to keep doing it.

K: Well especially if your music is good and people like it.

DJ: Yeah with me I really speak more to the producer community, so: free resources for producers, a lot of video advice for just aspiring artists of all kinds, and streaming Q&A shows, panels, the professional development stuff that we do locally here. I’ve done it around the country too a little.

K: So you’ve seen Madison’s music scene, and you’ve also traveled to different places. How does Madison’s music scene compare to other places?

DJ: That goes back to the word access. I’m gonna use Appleton as an example just because it’s so close and it’s so much smaller than Madison. I mean, their population is a lot smaller than Madison’s. You know alone we have 40,000+ just students, just like a transient population, but Appleton has more venues, more music events going on concurrently, more music festivals, and just it seems that there’s more access. And I know that things have changed maybe in the last year or two, but when I go there it appears to me that they have more going on. When you come to Madison there are very few options as far as live music goes, and especially if you’re a fan of what people would consider—quote urban unquote—styles of music. That’s unfortunate. Because I mean the talent here isn’t any less amazing. And I’ve been all over the place and we have great talent here. But I think access and opportunity not only allows for sustainability, but it also promotes talent too, and growth too. I mean people feel boxed in here, so I don’t think we’re all growing as much as we could be.

K: You know, when you say that, I do realize I haven’t seen a lot of hip-hop and rap shows being promoted.

DJ: No they’re all banned, it’s banned. Name a venue and I’m probably banned from it.

K: Really! Majestic? Frequency?

Continue reading Interview with DJ Pain 1 [Podcast]

Album Review: “Lantern” by Hudson Mohawke

Hudson Mohawke Lantern

Lantern
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 3/5

Almost two years ago, when Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped, Hudson Mohawke tweeted that “This record could’ve came out 10 yrs ago and no one would’ve batted an eye lid”. Admittedly, the Glasgow native had submitted several beats for consideration that Jay-Z ultimately decided not to use. It should be fairly obvious that he was not in a neutral headspace about the album when it dropped, but the critique highlights one of the central conflicts in music today: now that the technology for production and distribution has advanced to the point where anyone with a computer and some time on their hands can put out a body of work, why does so much of it still sound so much the same?

It would be tempting to use Mohawke’s own words against him and his latest release, the LP Lantern, but that would be both cheap and incorrect. 10 years ago, his style alone would have (and did) raise eyebrows. After a series of mixtapes and a reality TV talent-search appearance in the mid-to-late 2000’s, the happy trapper (trappist?) started gaining a significant amount of traction, especially for an unheralded teenager out of Scotland. The work he produced during this period was hard-hitting enough to send club crowds over the edge, while providing enough passion and innovation to keep critical listeners coming back for more.

The unique blend of happy-hardcore intensity and trap rhythms that dominated his music in the last decade culminated in the prestigious Warp Records releasing his first LP Butter in 2009. The album’s combination of creative power and head-nodding accessibility made it a critical success that led to high-profile collaborations with the Canadian producer Lunice as the duo TNGHT and with Kanye West on his Yeezus album, both of which vastly increased his popularity with American listeners. It is within the context of his meteoric rise to fame and its aftermath that his most recent album Lantern must be understood.

Hud Mo is clearly a very talented producer, and nothing in Lantern shakes my faith in that. He has his sound down tight. After making waves in December with his contributions to the Rap Monument, he’s moved away from hip-hop/rap to a more R&B/soul-centered approach, particularly in terms of the artists he features such as Jhene and Antony Hegarty. He interviewed extensively in the lead-up to his sophomore effort’s release, stating again and again that he wanted to get away from his status as a trap god and move on to more interesting musical territory. This impulse, in and of itself, is an essential one for any musician who wants to develop his art. Sadly, instead of moving in new creative directions, the album sounds like a watered down version of his earlier works. Lantern lacks the immediacy and creative urgency that made early Hudson Mohawke so compelling. There are, of course, some exceptions: “Scud Books” is a strong, triumphal track, “Ryderz” has something of his old Saturday morning whimsy, and “Lil Djembe” is a short, but punchy beat that has flashes of his old brilliance. However, while none of these would be out of place in his earlier work, none measure up to the expectation of excellence he has established for himself.

Hud Mo achieved success by taking opposing genres and binding them into something greater than the individual components. Butter was so magical because he lashed two dominating musical forces together without losing the purity or energy of either. It drew praise for its accessibility, but it’s important to remember that being able to access something only matters if the content is worth accessing. Like all the best electronic music, Butter burst with inventiveness and left the listener with a real sense of passion– even when it grated, its freshness and originality were never in doubt. But praise can be toxic if misdirected, and I worry that Hud Mo heard too much about how surprisingly listenable Butter was and decided to move only in that direction on Lantern. The listener is still treated to the occasional whining treble and high hat nod to trap roots, but they serve more as a sad reminder of what was than as the basis for an exciting new direction.

Ultimately, Lantern is still a solid album by a great producer. Had it come out ten years ago, eyelids would definitely have batted. 5 years ago, less so. Coming out today it sounds like one long compromise to pop sensibilities, some of which Mohawke himself helped to create—a canned production of known quantities. The creative verve that was beneath the surface of all his releases from his first EP LuckyMe in 2005 to Butter in 2009 is mostly a no-show. The taming of his trap sensibilities that Lantern represents was a major disappointment, mostly because of how high of a bar he had set for himself. At best it represents stagnation for one of the world’s premiere electronic artists and at worst it marks the beginning of a long, slow creative death. As a cutting-edge producer, if mainstream news outlets are describing your new work as lush, listenable lounge music, it’s a safe bet that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. That being said, this is only his second solo album, and his side work has remained impeccable. Here’s to hoping Hud Mo can right the ship. I give Lantern an uninspired 3/5.