Category Archives: Music

Music Making for the Masses

 

It is genuinely hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy listening to music. It’s quite a bit easier to find someone who doesn’t play music.

While factors such as lack of interest or time might play a part in this gap, the disconnect between listening and playing music is surely due to the difference in difficulty between listening and playing music.

Playing a guitar is hard, and there are infinitely wrong ways to do it. Listening to music is easy as can be as there’s no “wrong” way to hear an album. While the difficulty of learning to play an instrument, such as guitar, discourages a lot of people from trying to learn, others choose to embrace the challenge.

Holden Jaffe, a NYC-based singer-songwriter and frontman for the indie band Del Water Gap is one of these people.

He started his musical journey by learning how to play drums at age 12. His focus eventually shifted to guitar while spending his junior year of high school abroad in Zaragoza, Spain.

Upon moving to a big city for the first time, he knew he would have to part ways with his beloved space-robbing drums.

“I had brought my guitar, and I spent a lot of time that year sitting in my room, getting better at playing and writing songs.” Jaffe said; “then I kinda caught that bug and continued through my senior year of high school.”

DEL WATER GAP. The band performing at Stone Studio in Lakeville, Connecticut.

While playing the guitar had logistical beginnings, as Jaffe became more interested in writing, it made more sense for him to play a melodic instrument he said.

Up until the early ‘70s, the only music making method was Jaffe’s instrument-based method. Anyone unwilling to put in the time and effort to buy and learn an instrument was relegated to simply listening to music rather than playing it.

That was until one album—Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin On—exposed the world to the then-primitive technology of drum machines. Interestingly enough, Sly’s motive for using a drum machine for the first time was not some genius attempt to re-invent the music industry; it was simply a logistical reaction to his drummer quitting the group due to a souring relationship.

Digital music technology has come a long way since the first drum machine, the Chamberlin Rhythmate, was released in 1957. Drum machines, synths and MIDI controllers are now becoming commonplace in most college dorms and apartments.

Be honest — everybody knows someone who “makes sick beats.” While over-confident, under-talented people such as these may contribute to the impression that increased accessibility of music-making is an awful thing, real musicians tend to disagree.

That change in accessibility is the biggest change to music—both the industry and the art form—in the history of recorded music, Jaffe said.

“I think it’s great; I’ve gotten so many opportunities to create content and meet new people, and to have a career I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.

Jaffe also shrugged off the common misconception that making music digitally is “easy as pie.”

“People treat these Digital Audio Workstations like instruments –they have to practice them and get to know them like instruments,” he said. “There’s no difference there.”

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Del Water Gap performing in Burlington.

Jaffe has also noticed this increase in the accessibility of making music digitally. “A lot of friends are now moving in that direction,” he said, “and a couple of my most consistent collaborators are now in that world.”

Things are no different in Burlington, as every year there are more and more people digitally producing music.

One of those people is junior Mike Garrett (aka Mike G), who takes an old-school approach to production.

Mike G’s main instrument is an MPC-2000 XL, a storied drum machine and sampler that’s been the tool of choice for countless hip-hop legends over the years, like J Dilla, Nujabes, DJ Premier and many more.

“This machine is indirectly responsible for hip-hop, so I felt I had to get one at some point,” he said, “and I’m using the same thing my favorite producers did, so I can sort of put myself in their shoes and think, ‘this is what it’s like when Pete Rock makes music.’”

Garrett also took the old-school route of buying an MPC made in 2000 due to his self-proclaimed affection for old machinery.

“I love old electronics; they have cool little quirks to them that new things don’t,” Garrett said, “and the quirks are your friends.”

Even as someone who is passionate about producing the hard way on now-defunct technology, Garrett shares Jaffe’s opinion that the increased accessibility and ease of making music is a great thing.

“If you make music, I don’t think you can actually have a problem with more people making music, or that you can think of making music as an exclusive thing,” he said.

Garrett also commented on how advancements in production technology are beneficial even to old souls such as himself.

“In my research of trying to make a full analog studio setup, I’ve found it’s ridiculously expensive and requires a truly amazing amount of hardware,” he said, “but now your computer can do the same things all that hardware would do, so now it’s just so much less expensive to make music.”

A love for hip-hop, though, doesn’t attract everyone to the expensive and sometimes-frustrating world of dealing with decades-old analog electronics, and there are different paths to digitally producing music.

UVM junior N’Kosi Edwards has taken one of these alternative paths, choosing to produce with a modern MIDI controller – the AKAI MPK Mini 2 – and a Digital Audio Workstation, Logic Pro.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side.

“[Producing] is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Edwards said, “and once I saw young producers like Young Chop getting big I thought, ‘maybe I should start making beats, that looks kinda fun.’”

For Edwards, the desire to produce came hand-in-hand with his love of rapping. “I’ve always been infatuated with how people could twist words in hip-hop,” he said, “which is why artists like BIG Krit were always an inspiration, because he made his own music and rapped over it.”

The increased accessibility and popularity of making music has not gone unnoticed for Edwards. “I know a lot of people that rap and make music,” he said, “like my friend Louis that got signed to a record label. I get a lot of inspiration from people like him, that are just doing their own thing.”

Edwards also shares the opinion that the more accessible music is, the better.

“If it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t be making beats, so I have to give thanks that it’s so much more accessible now,” he said.

Edwards’s use of only one MIDI controller is something he surely couldn’t imagine before he got started producing. “Back in the day, when I didn’t know much about it, I thought I would need a whole bunch of equipment,” he said.

The only downside that Edwards could see with increased accessibility is that “it has definitely given people the ability to mass produce a lot of crappy music, but who’s to even say that? People might say my music is crappy,” he said.

Digital music production has come an unspeakably long way since that first Chamberlin Rhythmate went on sale in 1957, and there’s certainly no end in sight. Digital music tech has gone from that ancient Rhythmate with only 14 drum patterns, to Digital Audio Workstations with thousands of samples built in, with the ability to download an almost infinite number of additional sounds.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. N’kosi Edwards making music.

It’s gone from the first digital sampler—the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer—costing $5,000 upon its release in 1980, to MIDI controllers like N’Kosi Edwards’s AKAI MPK Mini 2, which costs as little as $100 on eBay.

It’s gone from expensive analog tape recorders that added unwanted white noise with every recording, to programs like GarageBand, offering a far superior recording experience for free on any Mac computer.

In short, it’s easy to see why digital music production has become so much more common and accessible in the last few years: it’s more intuitive, cheap and advanced than it has ever been before.

And with that, there’s more music available now than there has ever been. And even if that means there’s now more crappy music out there than ever before, statistically there has to also be more great music out there than ever before, right?
In order to enrich your life by checking out the amazing music these great artists make, I strongly encourage you to check out their respective online libraries. For some soul-touching, emotionally-rich indie grooves, listen to Holden Jaffe’s super-group Del Water Gap on Spotify, iTunes, or Bandcamp (https://delwatergap.bandcamp.com/), and be on the lookout for their upcoming EP! For some futuristic yet old-school raps and instrumentals, check out N’Kosi Edwards on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/nkosi11. Unfortunately, Mike G’s music is yet to be published online, but be on the lookout for his gritty, 90s hip-hop greatness hitting the internet’s airwaves in the near future.

A Night Out with Rose Street Collective

Snapping their fingers under lights of purple, blue, and yellow hues, Julia Spelman, Lilly Dukich and Erika Polner spend the majority of a Friday night set perfecting harmonies as a powerful vocal trio, while reserving a few songs for solo performances highlighting individual strengths.

 Rose Street Collective, a new band consisting of five UVM students, surrounds the three singers while playing songs the group has meticulously mastered.

Filling two venues in one weekend, the Skinny Pancake and Radio Bean, the Collective shares their own perspective on jazz by playing both original and familiar tunes.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. From left: Lilly Dukich, Julia Spelman and Erika Polner performing at the Skinny Pancake on February 3rd.

Since November, the band has played about 10 shows and is quickly becoming a  staple of the Burlington music scene.

The magic of Rose Street Collective lies in their ability to pay tribute to the history of jazz by taking the audience through a dynamic tour of the genre, from Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” to a nostalgic yet energetic rendition of Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” and, finally,  covers of today’s hit indie songs.

The band consists of Adam Sullivan on keys, Ian Mack on guitar, Kevin Nikolaides on bass, Ethan Shafron on drums, and Rayne Bick playing the alto sax.

Members share a respect for jazz’s rich history, a reverence that resurged years after taking lessons as kids.

“It has always been a part of our lives, even when we didn’t realize it,” Spelman said.

Most of the members met through the UVM jazz ensemble, while Mack and Bick connected with the group later on through mutual friends.

The ensemble helped them further develop their skills and the group quickly became eager to branch out from campus once they recognized their common love of many different genres of music, from soul to funk to rock.

The group’s ultimate goal was to mimic their favorite musicians, incorporating classical jazz standards into the modern music they listen to.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Rose Street Collective at the Skinny Pancake on February 3rd.

Their interpretation of funk group Vulfpeck’s hit song “Back Pocket” illustrates this perfectly as they replace keys with an alto sax and turn the volume up, taking the song to a new level.  

While it may seem that there is a meticulous strategy to their setlist, it mostly just pays tribute to the songs they all love, which they compile into a Spotify collaborative playlist or suggest via Facebook messenger, Shafron said.

Nikolaides uses Google Sheets faithfully in order to avoid chaos, keeping ideas and song choices organized. 

At the show, the band members seemed completely in their element on stage, exchanging glances and smiles in the midst of their solos.

They’re quickly making their way from one Burlington venue to the next each weekend, which helps to immerse them into the “hopping” music community, Spelman said.

To keep up with their movements, the band suggests liking them on Facebook and possibly following their Instagram in the near future, Shafron said. They have a show this coming Thursday, February 16th at Radio Bean, 11:00 pm.

Down in the Heartland with Twin Peaks

Jack Dolan and his bandmates have been around the block.

Touring together since high school, Dolan’s band Twin Peaks released their third studio album in May. After hitting the West Coast and Europe on tour, they are making their first appearance in Burlington on Dec. 5.

The band’s roots are in Chicago, where they grew up attending and playing DIY shows in basements all around town. “We grew up going to shows hearing music that became a big part of our music,” said Dolan.

“There’s really no one true sound here,” he said, “all your peers grow up and have different styles but still stay true to Chicago.” 

DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.
DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.

During their time on the road, the band seems to have found their place in the bigger picture of contemporary music. “You get midwest cities like Madison and Milwaukee doing hardcore punk, New York with their hip underground scene,” he said.

“In Europe you get a lot more disco stuff but then places like Madrid that are really into rock,” said Dolan, “Madrid’s the shit.”

Though they’ve traveled from Paris to the Pacific Northwest, the band keeps the midwest in mind. “We just went to see Hoops from Bloomington, they’re awesome,” said Dolan. “Broncho, too–the last record they put out was super underrated,” he said of the Norman, Oklahoma natives.

Dolan and his bandmate Cadien Lake James attended high school with fellow Chicagoan Chancellor Johnathan Bennett, known as Chance the Rapper, as well. “We’ve always stayed in touch with him and took note of all the good things he does for the city,” he said.

The band recently played a voting rally downtown with Bennett, marching to the polls with thousands of locals on Election Day. “Tensions were interesting out in the city, it was a little intimidating,” said Dolan.

They have been vocal about recent political developments, but Dolan insists on staying diplomatic. “It’s easy to get hung up and shit on a bunch of conservative states,” he said.

DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.
DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.

“We play in front of great people who come out in small towns, it feels good to play rock and roll in a place where they need it.”

After their short stint touring the heartland, the band is heading east to tour with their latest album. “Down in Heaven” is a swirling trip of classic rock riffs, hazy harmonies, and subtle nods to classic motown with brass on several tracks. Slow-burners are balanced by their playful lyrics and signature slacker indie.

“A lot of the new songs are more low-key,” Dolan said, “but we’re challenging ourselves, we’re trying to refine a bit by doing a lot more harmonies.”

The album has a distinctly slower pace and ripe soul to it, a slight departure from the hectically emotive “Wild Onion” days, and even further from the melancholy, quasi-grunge character of “Sunken.”

“I don’t know about the other guys but I’ve been listening to a lot of D’Angelo lately,” Dolan joked.

Whether they’re playing mellow, folksy slow jams or fired-up rock songs, listening to Twin Peaks is a blast. Catch them playing Signal Kitchen with Golden Daze and together PANGEA on Monday at 8:00 pm.

And The Kids Share Lovers

“I’m trying to wrangle everyone into a group costume…but it’s a secret!,” said And The Kids frontwoman Hannah Mohan. Mohan and her bandmates are gearing up for a two-night run at Signal Kitchen Thursday and Friday, excitedly rallying friends and assembling outfits for the weekend’s festivities.

“We love playing in Vermont, there are so many amazing bands playing with us,” Mohan said, “I have all my best friends so it’s really fun.”

The band has been touring with their new album, “Friends Share Lovers,” for the better part of 2016, and are finishing off the year with shows in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They’re coming back home to New England with friends to see and old times to revisit.

Mohan hails from western Massachusetts, where she and the band spent their formative years living in tents, playing residencies and growing together. “When we started the band, we decided ‘ok, no jobs for us, we’re not gonna pay rent,’” Mohan said. “We found this piece of land in Hadley right on the [Connecticut] river and payed this guy 100 bucks a month to live on the property while we were on tour.”

And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.
And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.

With a makeshift practice space crafted from a Pods container, Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaporano roughed it during the band’s inception. Mohan testified to the importance of place in her life ever since, which seeps into her music as well.

“I’m a cancer and our whole thing is we revolve around home,” she said. “I’m also a crab, so my home is on my back. There’s a huge inspiration for me to write about habitat.”

Even on tour, Mohan’s connection to place inspires her. “Out of nowhere, I loved Madison, Wisconsin,” she said, “I got really attached — we bought a tape deck at this vintage store, I just really didn’t want to leave.”

Anchoring to home has been problematic for And The Kids, too, as Canadian synth player Megan Miller’s visa troubles have kept her from touring with the band in the U.S. “We wrote “Friends Share Lovers” before our keyboard player got deported, so there are some songs about her,” Mohan said, “we had to come up with power songs we could play as a two piece.” 

And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.
And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.

Despite Miller’s absence on tour, she is anything but missing from the album. Her synth riffs float through the album’s most atmospheric tracks, like “Creeper” and “Picture” with exquisite and ethereal spookiness.

“Creeper is my favorite because of Megan’s fucking synth part at the end,” Mohan said.

“We went deeper into the ocean of experimenting with sonic shit on this album,” she said, “We recorded it on tape, too, so that’s fucking amazing.”

The album is nebulous and playful, resounding with anxious emotion and confusion, yet remarkable sophistication. “We were trying to have more of a concept linking all the songs on this one,” said Mohan.

Along with strikingly evocative sounds is And The Kids’ glittering and gorgeous album art by Brooklyn, New York  artist Chase Carlisle.

“Aesthetics are really difficult because we have different visions, some of us want a more mature look and some want sketchy drawings,” Mohan said. “Now I just want fucking gorgeous stuff that doesn’t take two seconds to make.”

“I’m gonna hang out with a bunch of my friends and go to my old house in Colchester, maybe build a fire,” Mohan said. “We’re trying to make a music video with Joey Pizza Slice too, he makes awesome VHS videos.”

Gone, sadly, is their trademark inflatable deer, Andrea, that Mohan rescued from the woods in Washington, D.C.

“Andrea the deer…she had a really rough tour with Ra Ra Riot and she’s kind of out of commission now,” she said. Regardless, And The Kids has incredible music, lovable antics and a guaranteed sprinkling of glitter to offer when they return to Vermont. Catch the band at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 at Signal Kitchen and in the station at WRUV Friday at noon.

Grand Point North Celebrates Burlington

With summer officially coming to an end next week, Grand Point North music festival serves not only as the perfect ode to warmer weather, but also as a celebration of all things Vermont music, art and food.

        Years ago, Grace Potter approached promoter Alex Crothers with a vision of a Burlington music festival that would revolve around the local bands that inspired her as well as her and her friends’ smaller, up-and-coming bands. In its sixth year, Potter and her brainchild, Grand Point North, have grown beyond the bounds of Burlington to national success.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

        Potter’s constantly growing fan-base attracts people from all around the country, with people from out of state  making up about 50 percent of ticket-buyers. Crothers describes the event as the “mecca for Grace Potter fans,” as it’s an intimate performance in her hometown, where she will be surrounded by family and lifelong friends. Music fans from all different parts of Vermont will make up the other half of attendees, shipping up to Vermont’s biggest city to enjoy the capstone music event of the summer.

Support for the burgeoning Burlington and New England music scene will bring great diversity of sound to the stage, from punk to Americana to funk to rock and beyond.

        The same goes for food. With Skinny Pancake as the chief caterer of Grand Point Local, the festival’s culinary component, Crothers says the they will offer local food for everyone. Pingala offers vegan eats for veggie lovers, while Southern Smoke BBQ offers Cajun and Caribbean barbeque for meat fanatics. Farmers & Foragers and Green Pasture Meats offer wholesome farm-to-table meals, while Duino Duende and Caja Madera offer flavorful tacos.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.

        In addition to music and food, Crothers says attendees can check out the “visual eye candy” at Grand Point Weird, the art installation located on the festival grounds. Professional glass artist and sister of Grace, Charlotte Potter, will feature an “intensive collaborative project” between Brooklyn-based painter Esteban del Valle and artists from Vermont Governor’s Institute of the Arts.

        Before festival gates open, yoga instructor Taraleigh Weathers will lead hour-long free classes at noon on the Great Lawn. With live music and yoga mats provided, the lessons will offer an ideal environment for anyone wanting to try out yoga for the first time, and for expert yogis looking for a fun, laid-back experience.       

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

Crothers describes the festival as “convivial,” with a fun and art-driven atmosphere. Though it’s conveniently located in the heart of Burlington on the lake, the festival will feel far from chaotic, with short and quick lines. The festival emphasizes the importance of community through maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere, kids 12 and under are free, making the crowds welcoming to everyone. As the final outdoor event of the year, Grand Point North encourages all to soak in the last moments of summer in the ultimate celebration of Burlington.

Cricket Blue’s Io: An Exploration of Music, Myth and Agency

“Myths and old stories feel unresolved. You want to explain them,” Taylor Smith told me as we sat down to discuss Burlington folk duo Cricket Blue’s new EP “Io.”

Their new EP opens as Smith and the duo’s other half Laura Heaberlin softly croon: “When the woods were full of wolves, the girls tied back their hair. They covered up their hands because it gave away their age.”

With this first track, “Angela Carter,” Heaberlin said they were “emulating Angela Carter’s  weird fractured fairytales.”

Carter’s fiction, with its combination of feminism and magical realism, is the perfect fit for Cricket Blue’s mythological folk.

This desire to explore and complicate traditional myths and fairytales is an undercurrent in much of Cricket Blue’s music, from earlier work like “Forsythia,” a love story set in the garden of Eden, to “Angela Carter’s” investigation of what lurks after the words “once upon a time.”

Their lyrics read like missives from another time or place. They remind the listener that the myths and stories they were raised on often have a dark underbelly lurking behind their apparent innocence.

“I think I have sort of a tendency to mythologize places,” Smith said.

This attention to place is evident on “Kentucky,” a song inspired by the state where Smith spent his formative years. He both wrote the lyrics and arranged an impressive cello part for the song.

Lyrics like “lost like a boy with his lord bound around him with cords” and “the staff and the rod of the terror of God have finally gotten to you” are almost visceral in the way the violence they discuss is made concrete through metaphor.

However, even at their most melancholic, Cricket Blue does not make music for cynics. In “Kentucky,” kernels of hope glimmer as Smith and Heaberlin sing wistfully: “Let all that is old be made new.”

Unlike Smith, who is more influenced by place, Heaberlin said she thinks she is more influenced by the theme of time when she writes.

““For me, it’s not so much place, as era,” Heaberlin. “I write in the past a lot.”  

The influence of past eras on Cricket Blue’s work are obvious not only in their fondness for myth but in their song “Eleanor,” a ballad of young wife who has an affair when her husband ships off to war.

One of Smith’s personal favorites of the album, the song exemplifies the eerie and complex harmonies that make Cricket Blue so intriguing.

Although “Io” has much in common with their previous work – the attention to mythological detail, the bluesy orchestration, the recurrence of the figure of “Eve” (“because feminism,” Heaberlin quipped) – it also is a departure from their previous work.

This is the first album the duo has recorded in studio, and because of this they were able to collaborate with other musicians and had access to more resources than they have had in the past.

“We were a little worried about bringing a creative partner in, but it was wonderful,” Smith said of their experience working with Beehive Productions.

Thematically, “Io” is more “character driven,” than their previous EP Heaberlin told me.

Named after a myth where Zeus pursued a woman against her will, only to transform her into a cow in order to hide her from his wife, “Io” takes up the plight of the downtrodden and trapped.

“We were writing about characters who had lost agency in one way or another,” Heaberlin said.

From the fairytale women who so often are reduced to archetypes, to Eleanor the suffocated 1950s housewife, to the namesake of their album, Cricket Blue uses their music to provide a voice to those who have been rendered voiceless.

This reclamation of agency is what makes their music so interesting to return to. You’re lulled in by the sweetness of their melodies that are reminiscent of traditional Appalachian folk or literary indie rock like Andrew Bird and find yourself suddenly surprised by the epiphanies that their songs so often crescendo to.

“We haven’t run out of stuff. We don’t get sick of each other,” Heaberlin said when I asked what it was like to work with Smith.
“Io” is something else you can count on not getting sick of. The EP is replete with literary and mythological references that don’t yield themselves up upon first listen. “Io” begs to be played over and over.

Kendrick and Kanye: Artistry versus Ego

Kendrick Lamar just released a new record, “untitled unmastered,” and it is a great listen. The quality of the music onboard the LP is astonishingly layered: every instrumental lavish and fleshed out and every lyric codified to mean three things at the same time. Even though it was drafted from B-sides and incomplete song sketches, the album feels remarkably filled in and complete as an experience.

From his debut record to last year’s multiple-Grammy-nominated “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Lamar has been consistent in just how, well, consistent in the amount of time and effort he appears to place into the music.

The interludes and spoken-word mantras of “Butterfly” become celebratory shout segments on “untitled,” with every appearance of Kendrick hooting “Pimp pimp, hooray!” serving as a reminder of dedication to craft and thought toward how the music feels for the listener.

The album has already received accolades from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Consequence of Sound and other outlets for its impeccable musical quality. It is terrific.

However, we’re not here to talk about Lamar as a stand-alone. Instead, his latest effort is an important point of reference, to break down how creativity and ego can come together to make or break a work of art. King Kendrick masterfully avoids what could only be called Kanye-Sickness: the illness which occurs when artistry is overtaken by Artistry (the attempt to look like an artist).

Kanye West. EVA BARTELS . B-Side.
Kanye West. EVA BARTELS . B-Side.

Kanye West is someone dealing with an awful lot of Kanye-Sickness. His newest record, “The Life of Pablo,” was released about one month before Lamar’s, is a hodge-podge of multiple ideas. Where “untitled” carries an intentional improvisational looseness, “Pablo” does not carry much feeling of forethought.

The album received numerous name changes before its release and was put out exclusively on Tidal, a streaming service he owns. You cannot buy it.

Not only that, but he’s said he hasn’t even finished the album, and is still mixing some of the songs and replacing them for streaming (for example, the mix on Taylor Swift-dissing track “Famous”).

The album comes at the tail-end of a songwriting peak for West. Just like Lamar, he has walked a golden path of critically-acclaimed records, from “The College Dropout” to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” All of this success was built atop a wave of bold and brash confidence, creating a much-lauded portrait of a brilliant, misunderstood iconoclast. This act of projection went to such lengths that Kanye implying he was a Christ figure wasn’t far enough – he had to literally name an album, “Yeezus.”

And, like one would expect from a structure put together on a wave, eventually it crashes with it. This is where Kanye-Sickness comes in.

Let’s define this disease: the absolute intersection of egoism and brilliance. When an artist goes far enough into the self and loses sight of their creative process, they are dealing with a lot of Kanye-Sickness (see: Kanye West’s Twitter feed).

If one exhibits too much creativity and not enough confidence, that person is cured of Kanye-Sickness altogether. For reference, think of what kind of music white bread would play if it was human, or a Kings of Leon album.

Kanye is too Kanye-Sick now – but he’s not alone, and lately the disease is hitting some of the music industry’s finest.

Kid Cudi’s latest output, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” is a stark reminder that the man once responsible for such radio smashes as “Day n’ Night” and “Pursuit of Happiness” is now making slow moans over Nirvana-lite grunge guitar with a metronome plinking in the background.

Kid Cudi. EVA BARTELS. B-Side.
Kid Cudi. EVA BARTELS. B-Side.

Just like Kanye, Cudi built his position in the rap canon as a unique “loner,” a misunderstood figure with a kinda-okay singing voice when he wanted to use it. He is always the “man on the moon,” isolating himself from the outside world.

Cudi’s early music showed promise through its artistic portrayal of this figure, but now there is no distance – he’s gone so far away from who he’s playing to that it seems he doesn’t care how the music sounds.

From his first rock album, “WZRD,” he’s shown no signs of slowing down his descent into blandness by way of strongly wanting to be Frank Black of the Pixies.  

Elsewhere, Miley Cyrus is recording sex-themed psychedelic-trap tunes with The Flaming Lips under the name the “Dead Petz,” releasing songs satiated with cheap reverb-laden synths and cringe-worthy lyrics (see: “f**k me so you stop baby talkin’”).

She and her Petz are an active rebuttal to her Hannah Montana days. Their public debut was on the MTV Music Choice Awards, playing a song with the opening phrase, “Yeah, I smoke pot.” The only reason this music seems to exist appears to be to contribute to Cyrus’ own public image.

Even Jay Z’s last record, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” made his legendary rap career feel like a memory How does he describe his wife, one of the most envied and successful women in pop music? “Sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa/The modern day version with better features” – poetics! Jay took mediocre raps over trap beats and tried to pass it off as Artistry, and even co-opted Maria Abramovic (“The Artist is Present”) to make “Picasso Baby” seem like a statement.

The only statement made was as empty and hollow as a Donald Trump tweet: all bluster and no higher thought. Ultimately, the determining factor as to whether an artist can resist Kanye-Sickness enough to make a masterful song, while carrying enough ego-blessed confidence to have resonance with an audience, is effort.

The difference between Lamar’s “untitled” and West’s “Life of Pablo,” both being altogether unfinished works, is the amount of time and care placed into making the album whole and the art complete and satisfying. The former was produced through the creative process as odds-and-ends – as Lamar put it on Twitter, the songs are “demos.”

Yet the project uses interludes and field recordings to carry a solid listen the whole way through. By contrast, “Pablo” is still incomplete according to West himself, existing in an ooze state, as semi-complete musical plasma.

This could easily be attributable to the idea of “Kanye being Kanye,” in the same vein that fans make excuses for other artists to take nosedives into Kanye-Sickness denial. After “WZRD,” I must have had the notion of “Cudi being Cudi” go through my mind at least ten times. The Cyrus-Lips collaboration sounded cool on paper, but once my headphones began to play its material form, I lost hope: Miley was just being Miley.

“X being X” in turn is the colloquial form of Kanye-Sickness. It is not art as exemplified through an artist’s personality, but instead the opposite. It is an artist’s personality exemplified through artistic expression…and that’s not worth much praise.

To compare: if you overheard someone saying the loved a Nickelback album because it was “Nickelback being Nickelback,” you’d question their taste in music, as well as probably everything else. You would not laud Nickelback for “truly channeling the persona of Nickelback in an incredible, fluid fashion,” or something similarly pretentious.

When an album comes out that throws a full frontal assault of an individual’s artistry at the listener and avoids the pothole of self-indulgence – that is when we should give high praise out of our pockets.

Graveyard Shift: A Night at WRUV

Because of the WRUV graveyard shifts, the Davis Center is the UVM facility that never sleeps.

The graveyards, late night shifts reserved for new and training DJ’s,  are a mixture of scary and fun, said first-year Ashley Claude.

Though being in the Davis Center late at night can be a bit daunting, especially for a student who knows how lively and active the place typically is, there is a sense of liberty that comes along with the experience, said junior Wren Tuten, who has just recently completed her last graveyard shift.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“You’re alone with the music at an intimate time,” Tuten said.

Claude has been long done with her graveyard requirements, but still has a soft spot for the private, early-morning hours at Davis. “I loved having my own space to blare my own music and be able to dance and sing in the booth without various onlookers,” Claude said.

But there’s no denying the freaky factor. “When you’re incredibly tired, you start thinking you hear or see things,” she said.

First-year Jack Lustig, whose show “How Much Art” airs every Wednesday from midnight to 2 a.m., doesn’t mind the time.

WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I get to be more liberal with what I play because I know not a lot of people tune in,” Lustig said. “It also cuts out the stress of having to answer the phone.”

The late night factor, however, doesn’t stop friends and family of the DJs from listening.

“It means more when people tune in at this time, like calls from my mom listening next to my dad snoring in bed,” Tuten said.

Her brother, works late nights as a restaurant manager in Key West, and often calls in or gives feedback. “It makes the whole experience much more personal and special,” she said.

Similarly, Claude said her biggest and most dedicated fan is her grandfather, who “usually wakes up in the middle of the night anyway.” On top of that, Claude’s friends and family in different timezones often listen, sometimes using WRUV’s “Chat the DJ” messaging feature to mess around with her.

Lustig’s friends from his hometown of Washington, D.C. often call in, and it’s not uncommon for him to put them on air to tell a joke. During songs, he’ll even FaceTime with people to fill the silence.

Even if the phone lines are quiet, filling the time isn’t a problem.

WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I always dance to the songs I play, with my boyfriend or by myself,” Tuten said.

Looking for facts to share during the on-air segments also keeps her awake. “You know I like the gross facts,” she said to her listeners. The facts Tuten shares range from strange biological nuances to the odds of getting struck by lightning while driving.

“I just love having a conversation with all of Burlington,” Tuten said. Having a show late at night or early in the morning means she can have her conversation without a script or unnecessary stress. This is likely why she said her personality shines through so clearly.

“What can I say? I love to talk!” she said.

Though Lustig chooses to limit his on-air time as much as possible, he manages to make the most out of it. On top of sharing local weather and the most recently played songs, Lustig broadcasts a wide variety of news stories, like updates on the baby panda at the National Zoo and information about the latest maple syrup crisis in Vermont.

Because the Davis Center closes at midnight, few souls wander past the studio. But between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., the cleaning staff  passes by while cleaning the floor.

“We wave,” Tuten said.

She also said the is quiet in an eerie but also peaceful manner.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“It makes me think clearly,” Tuten said.

For some, the late night factor definitely has an influence on what is played.

“My immediate interest was always to play something soft and chill because I was so tired, but I would end up playing more rock heavy stuff to avoid falling asleep,” Claude said.

Lustig’s set gradually turns more hardcore as the night goes on.

“If I aired in the afternoon, I probably would play less metal,” he said.

Tuten said she loves to play dance and sentimental music, but not with the intention of keeping her awake. She said her set will most likely be the same once she plays afternoon slots.

“The music I play depends more on the mood I’m in, not so much time,” Tuten said. But she can’t deny that there will be more stress involved, considering more people will be listening.

DJing late at night affects the whole day leading up to it. Lustig relies on caffeine, whether in the form of coffee or Earl Grey tea.

“Honestly, I’m not sure what percentage of my blood is still blood at this point,” he said.

Tuten and Claude both prefer taking naps before their shifts. “I definitely tried to plan my day around the graveyard a little bit, and usually went to bed sort of early so I could wake up a few hours later,” Claude said.

It can be difficult to imagine who tunes in at such late hours, but Tuten said she imagines it is most likely a combination of truck drivers, insomniacs who turn on the radio as a last resort to fall asleep, and her mom.

There are aspects of the graveyard shift Claude misses.

“Although it was very difficult to get out of bed at two in the morning and bike in the rain to the Davis Center, I kind of miss the adventure of it,” she said. “It was the kind of miserable you could laugh about.”

Although Tuten has only just recently ended her graveyard shifts, she anticipates missing the intimacy. Plus, listeners are more accepting of mistakes at 2 a.m. than 2 p.m., which makes the experience feel “safer and more fun,” Claude said.

But as she is studying to be a nurse during the night shift, Tuten said she knows there is no escaping the time slot, but this is a reality she is okay with.

Cricket Blue Haunts with Ethereal Folk

    Cricket Blue makes exactly the kind of music you would expect when you hear their name.

    The folk duo is comprised of Middlebury College alumni Laura Heaberlin and Taylor Smith, who play what they have deemed “botanical, spooky, umbilically-resonant folk.” With soft vocal harmonies and carefully constructed guitar rhythms, Heaberlin and Smith craft a fine balance of eerie mystery and intriguing warmth that engulfs listeners.

      Cricket Blue’s allusive and poetic folk music is rooted in Heaberlin and Smith’s long-standing love of writing. Poetry was Heaberlin’s main focus at Middlebury, with a book of poems serving as her final thesis. Poetry, for her, started “as a tortured unrequited love,” said Heaberlin, which evolved into a fascination with the art.

laura and taylor
Taylor Smith and Laura Heaberlin of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Despite their seemingly similar natures, Heaberlin insists that poetry and songwriting are not as connected as they may seem. Poetry tends to be “more abstract with more room for free-writing,” she said, while lyrics tend to come from more of an “emotional base.” In fact, Heaberlin’s career as a songwriter didn’t begin until after her graduation from Middlebury in 2012.  

        While it’s not uncommon for Heaberlin to draw upon her free-writing notebook for inspiration after figuring out the instrumental elements, the opposite is true for Smith. Most of the time, the words come to him before the melody. Sometimes, however, the two come together as a package.

       “There is something special about the marriage of words and music,” Smith said. While poetry tends to be “static,” with words on a page, the melody “makes the words more active,” he said. Both Heaberlin and Smith agree that poetry and songwriting occupy, as Smith said, “different parts of the brain.”

        Regardless of how the duo writes the lyrics, it’s clear from their self-titled EP that they are well-versed in literature. Their songs make allusions to mythology, and explore themes such as  “love, wishes, disappointment, friendship, potential future and the ends of things,” according to Cricket Blue’s Bandcamp bio.

      With lyrics like “Forsooth, forsythia! Yellow and sad / You lost all your blossoms in May / But take it from me – a forsythia tree – / our love comes the strongest too late,” Cricket Blue manages to convey through fictional imagery a strong sense of relatable remorse, with a melody that matches.  

Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

        For Smith and Heaberlin, writing is always a personal matter, and can’t be done together. Instead, they present songs to one another once the songs are 75 percent complete; never less and never more. A certain creative balance between Smith and Heaberlin makes the song writing and editing process easier. Smith, who said he feels “energized by meeting new people and discovering new places,” practices improvisation and experiences “rapid bursts of inspiration.” However, Heaberlin, who “likes to go home at the end of the night,” leans towards quietude and takes her time on each word when songwriting.

        Perhaps the combination of extroversion and introversion is why they work so well together. Even after many long car rides they “still find new things to talk about,” Smith said, in part because they both enjoy exploring and observing the quirks of the towns they perform in. In fact, they’ve created an excel sheet with random observations to base judgement off of. For example, a small town in Pennsylvania was especially memorable because “parking was cheap and everyone in the coffee shop was having a deep conversation,” Heaberlin said.

        Given that they do what they do so well, it’s surprising to learn they experiment with different sounds in their free time. Smith describes his earlier music as more raw, loud and “complaining,” truly epitomizing teenage angst.

Today Smith remains dedicated to the Cricket Blue project, but also plays saxophone in four alternative bands on the side, including Abbie Morin, The Peasant Dramatic and Grundlefunk. Heaberlin said she feels less of a need to play around with different genres. When Smith is touring with his other bands, Heaberlin often plays solo shows performing Cricket Blue’s music.

        It’s evident from the logistical standpoint that Cricket Blue is on the rise. Their first and only EP was recorded at home on a laptop. Their second up-and-coming EP, which has no release date yet, was recorded with the record label Beehive at a studio in Saranac Lake, where Smith and Heaberlin perform separately. However, there hasn’t been one specific breakthrough moment for them; the progression has felt gradual, Smith said.

        Part of this is because they can foresee the next big thing, such as an EP release or an exciting show, and they worked hard to achieve their milestones, Smith said. The pursuit of success is not always as glamorous as it may seem. Even though they have no doubt that they’re living their dreams, the reality is that they “still have to write emails,” said Smith.

“More time is spent on the business side and driving than actually performing the music,” Heaberlin said.

        Both Heaberlin and Smith celebrate every little step. For example, Cricket Blue has started to get “a lot of cool junk mail, like watches to sell at shows,” said Heaberlin. The band now also has its own bank account, further proving the band is growing up.

        What makes a Cricket Blue listener?

      “A genuine love for lyrics and wordplay,”  Heaberlin said.

   “People who like stories, ideas, and feeling a little melancholy,” Smith said.

     Heaberlin and Smith said they have a lot of respect and gratitude for their listeners, as they got the band to where they are today. This is one of the reasons why they veer away from the word “fan” in general, which implies a “weird power structure,” Smith said. In the end, nothing means more to them than people truly paying attention to their music.

Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Afterall, having “four people really listening to the music is more meaningful than having 70 people talking,” Heaberlin said.

   “One person really liking it makes all the difference,” Smith said.

    Smith said he often feels inspired by songs where “one line can just hit you.” The irony is that with lyrics like “I’ve loved you for years—glad to finally meet” and  “I wanna give in, I wanna make waves,” Cricket Blue essentially creates exactly these kinds of songs.

    When addressing the Burlington music scene, Smith said it is a “fantastic scene that differs from our sound.” Performing frequently in the local area at venues like The Skinny Pancake and Radio Bean, Cricket Blue is in high demand and seems to have captured the hearts of music lovers throughout Burlington.

(Leather)Bound for Glory

Local indie-folk band The Leatherbound Books played a show March 15 at Higher Ground, their largest venue yet. With new music out and plans to get back in the studio to record, 2015 is shaping up to be a milestone year in the band’s career.

Two nights earlier, the band and I walked into Downtown Threads to do some shopping and talk about their first EP, “Tender My Hopes,” which came out early February.

2015-03-13 18.23.24
Drummer Charlie Smyrks and Vocalist/Guitarist Eric Daniels shop at Downtown Threads. The Leatherbound Books are a Burlington based indie folk group.

 The clerk eyed us as we tried to make small talk clustered around a clothes rack in the center of the thrift store. The shop was empty except for our motley group: guitarist and lead singer Eric Daniels, bassist and singer Jackie Buttolph, fiddler Tuck Hanson, drummer Charlie Smyrk and me.

I watched the band tease each other and try on pairs of ridiculous sunglasses. Hanson pulled a traffic-cone orange shirt from the rack and asked us if we thought he should dye his hair to match. His bandmates were less enthusiastic about the idea than he was.

 I asked them what thrift-store essential best represented the spirit of The Leatherbound Books.

“We’re kind of like a cardigan band,” Buttolph answered. “Frumpy and comfortable.”

 

2015-03-13 18.38.03
Fiddler and vocalist Tuck Hanson looking fly at Downtown Threads. The group’s EP was released to praise from Seven Days, The Burlington Free Press, and the Rutland Herald

Hanson described recording their first EP as a learning experience. They often had to deal with conflicting schedules, the depressing Vermont winter and what Buttolph called “the catch-22 of the Burlington music scene.”

The catch is this: to get gigs, you have to have a product to showcase to venues, but to have the funds to record and produce music, you have to be making money by performing.

Despite this challenge inherent in their line of work, the band has been doing better than ever. Daniels said that he’s excited to see how their sound will change when they get back in the studio.

“This is the stuff we’ll diverge from,” he said of the new EP as we browsed through the store’s collection of denim leotards.

Smyrk summed up the band’s vibe best when he called them “darkly optimistic.” Although this seems contradictory, it’s an apt description of the band’s grim humor that coexists with their relentless, inspiring hopefulness.

2015-03-13 18.26.26
Guitarist Jackie Buttolph eyes a denim leotard with disgust. The band was started by the group of friends in Burlington.

“Tender My Hopes,” a folksy and lyrically complex collection of songs, showcases this contradiction through Daniels’ vocals — reminiscent of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle’s — and lyrics influenced by the clever wordplay of artists like Andrew Bird.

 “If the fruits that they give you are rotten, make wine,” he sings on the EP.

 “What if they give you rotten lemons?” Hanson asked.

 As she paid for a blue tunic bedazzled with gold jewels and puffy paint, Buttolph was quick to reply.

“Then you throw them out and buy a six pack,” she said.

 

 

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