Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Band to Know: Volcanoooooo Choir

Volcano Choir is the most familiar band you've probably never heard of.  Seriously.  Few have heard of this side project featuring Justin Vernon, the vocals of Bon Iver.  The band consists of Vernon and band members of Collections of Colonies of Bees, a band that greatly influenced Vernon to continue his passion.  Uhhh why is nobody talking about this??? With the mellow sophistication that came off the Bon Iver self-titled album, Volcano Choir slays.

Credit: Volcano Choir Webpage
The Wisconsin six-piece loosely formed in 2005, starting out as a collaboration which created the album Unmap in 2009.  I watched a documentary on these guys (being all intrigued about their music ho hum) and they said it was hard for them to make the first album because they all were individual artists, never really meeting in person.  Repave, which was released in 2013 is their second and most recent studio album was more of a group effort.  They say their success lies in their strong relationships with each other before starting the project. And a humble project, at that.  Volcano Choir proved with their Repave release, that they are much more than a "side-project". They are a bit under the radar, but not something to be overlooked.

My friends Evelyn and Darby encouraged me to give them a listen but with the warning: it's hella sad.  And they are right.  Soft piano and guitar playing to back Vernon's vocals really gets to your core in songs such as Byegone, Tiderays and, well.  The entire album. Which isn't a bad thing.  The lyrics are beautiful and organic. Nothing about Repave seems forced or unauthentic. Those who love the richness of Kodaline and Local Natives will love the sounds of Volcano Choir.  And banjo enthusiasts.  There's a lot of banjo.

Check them out yo:

Music Video: Tiderays - Volcano Choir

Mini Documentary: The Making of the "Repave" Album

Volcano Choir
Discography: Repave (2013), Unmap (2009)
Noteworthy songs: Acetate, Tiderays, uhhh the whole album???

I went out on a study date with Evy and Darby, which is where they told me to listen to Volcano Choir.  While at ze coffee shop, I doodled a bit.  Yeee.


A few recent instant photos taken with my Instax Mini 7s.  From left to right........
1. Scattergories & chill board game night
2. This was taken with our very high class McDonalds dinner for our February school dance
3. I took this at the Hozier concert.  If you squint and lean your head the right way, you can see him.
4. Taken at the Smallpools concert last Saturday.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Concert Review: Smallpools won't be "Small" for Long

In the student center at Hamline University in St. Paul, the enthusiastic four-piece Smallpools got ready for their first gig of the year backstage.  "Backstage" is a loose term here, where the performers are fully visible behind a mobile stage set-up for Saturday night's Winter Wonderland show. The show was put on by Hamline's student-led radio station.  With only a self-titled EP and two singles released to their name, Smallpools has managed to garner support from an American audience.  The California-based group formed in 2013 and have been known best for their indie pop song Dreaming which made it to the top 24 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart

Lead singer Sean Scanlon on keyboard during Bruce Lee
The audience consisted of mostly Hamline college students or college students that lived in the Minneapolis area.  My friends Clarissa, Jane and I were one of the only high schoolers at the gig, I'd have to say.  Crowd-goers ranged from die-hard fans that "couldn't wait to see their favorite band perform live" to students hanging on the fringes of the stage, just wanting to have a good time. The Winter Wonderland show consisted of three acts: Step Rockets, YONAS and (of course) Smallpools.  

The opening act, Step Rockets is a local Minneapolis indie rock band that I had high hopes for.  A local indie band, yes please(!!!) And, quite frankly, I was a little disappointed.  They were unfamiliar to me and their lyrics didn't grasp that familiarity that would win me over when seeing them live.  They knew what they were doing, but the guitar-playing overpowered the vocals.  I couldn't really figure out what the singer was saying, which is pretty critical to understand an opening band and what their about.  I did dig the song Kisser which I looked up on ze web when I got home, which I dig (a significant amount) now I that I can hear the lyrics with less guitar.  The video is pretty swiggity as well, featuring the band playing in an aquarium. 

Don't get me started on YONAS.  I'm not sure what to make of his songs, but boy was he entertaining.  I had no idea what to expect from this solo rap artist, let alone expect how much I enjoyed his performance.  In addition to a few pieces of his original work, YONAS creatively played popular radio hits such as Take Me to Church over the speakers while he rapped over them.  This worked to his benefit, as it made the audience feel like they knew his work and would sing along.  His songs ranged from these covers to more self-centered songs like YONAS where he spelled his name out for the duration of a song.  Yikes.  He seemed to be trying a little "too hard" in my opinion to win over the audience, with actions such as pouring out a water bottle over the crowd and reiterating who he was over & over, but there was no arguing about how passionate he was. #Yonasnation.

Joe Intile tuning in between Mason Jar and American Love
Smalllllpoooooools.  This was the act all had been anticipating and they delivered.  After walking onto the stage, they quickly dove into their short Intro piece which sounded like a heavier version of an orchestra tune-up featuring the drummer Beau Kuther and confident lead-singer-with-majestic-hair Sean Scanlon conducting the audience with a baton.  Other members of the band include curly-haired bass guitarist Joe Intile and enthusiastic guitarist Mike Kamerman who flailed around stage with his dance moves.

Early on their set, songs off their EP No Story Time and Over & Over won the crowd over with the same energy in their original recordings.  A few more unfamiliar songs Bruce Lee and Dying 2 Live were a relief that Smallpools can deliver more than just their songs off their EP.  Some songs in the middle, Picture and Cover (Real Hero) felt like filler pieces, but were enjoyable to listen to (just not an all-out dance party like the other songs).  That being said, the last 5 songs in the set were killer.  Mason Jar and Killer Whales were crowd favorites, fit with an amusing story as to how the song Killer Whales came to be.  Sean talked about how early on, the band would *shamelessly* search their name on the Internet to see what people were saying, but all they would find were articles about this group of environmentalists that were saying how killer whales shouldn't be kept in small pools. Yes. They ended their set with Dreaming, which was a satisfying dance party.  



Overall, the band was light-hearted and didn't take anything too seriously.  The show had a few technical errors like Sean's mike stand falling over or his keyboard switching to a weird setting in the middle of song, but these minor details didn't seem to phase them.  I personally think moments like this make live music what it is.  It makes music more real, ya feel??? The student center was a make-shift venue, but it worked well.  The show wasn't seamless, lighting at the venue blinded me at times- not taking into account my sensitive eyes- but it was a highly impressive student-lead show.   I am definitely getting involved with a student radio at whichever college I decide to attend. Definitely.

With clear vocals and straight-forward sunny guitar riffs (similar to that of Walk the Moon or Bad Suns) leading up to intoxicating indie pop choruses, Smallpools was a satisfying headliner.  Smallpools is used to the opening band slot, but are moving into the headlining category with a tour for their upcoming Love Tap album this spring.  (I love Smallpools but I really wish they picked a different name for their album. Sadness.)  I wasn't drop-dead stunned by their performance like I was with Hozier, but I was left wanting more after their 12-song set.  Killer.

Winter Wonderland ft. Step Rockets, YONAS and Smallpools
February 21st @ Hamline University, St. Paul
Smallpools Discography:  Smallpools EP & singles Killer Whales and Karaoke
Notable Songs: Mason Jar, Over & Over, Dreaming

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Concert Review: Hozier Takes it far beyond "Church"

Although he just was at the Grammy's a little less than a month ago, it is clear that Andrew "Hozier"-Bryne is still humbled to play at smaller venues.  Yesterday, Hozier came to First Avenue in Minneapolis.  As Andrew scanned the crowd with a sensitive smile, he said "if music were a religion, this place would be holy ground".

I knew Hozier was coming to First Avenue right from the get-go, but tickets sold out lickety-split.  It seemed I was out of luck until my sister's friend contacted me about having two extra tickets.  And would I like to go? Uhhh, yess!!??

I hadn't seen Hozier live before, but I was very very familiar with his self-titled debut album.  If you're not acquainted, Hozier is a 24-year old solo artist coming out of a small town in Ireland known for his blues-inspired instrumentals and lyrics that address the beautiful struggles of love. His first album was released in September 2014 after a short 2013 EP.  The music video for Take Me to Church has sparked controversy, highlighting homosexual issues with the Church.  In First Avenue's intimate setting, Hozier's rich voice filled the room with a good balance of instrumentals and back-up vocals to match the sounds produced off his album. Hozier started off his set with familiar songs From Eden and the more bluesy tune Jackie and Wilson.  A few lesser-known songs by crowd-goers followed including "Sedated" and "It will Come Back", but without letting down the positive atmosphere.

Back-up singers left the stage for In a Week, a passionate duet ballad about what Hozier respectfully referred to as "what lovers do best".  On this song, the adorably humble Alana Henderson sang vocals to compliment Hozier, getting a strong audience reaction for her smooth voice.  She quietly left the stage after the song and returned to play (tasteful) cello in the rest of the set.  Another surprising favorite followed, Illinois Blues, a Skip James cover, where Hozier aggressively plucked at his guitar and won the crowd over with an unfamiliar tune. Hozier played a few more songs by himself before inviting the band back on and playing the powerful radio hit Take Me to Church.  Although Take Me to Church was the last song in the normal setlist, Hozier didn't make the song out to be a huge deal. To Hozier, Take Me to Church was just another passionate song, like any other in the set.

After leaving the stage, the crowd screamed for a considerable amount of time for the inevitable encore.  I was almost scared he wouldn't return, I'm telling you, it was a considerable amount of time.  But he came back with tea in hand to play four more songs.  Encore songs included the slower Cherry Wine and an unexpected cover of Ariana Grande's Problem.  I am definitely not a fan of Ariana Grande, but Hozier's cover proved how versatile and how creative he can be to present a cover as if it were his own.  Hozier passionately finished with Work Song, my personal favorite.

This was my first 18-plus show and since I'm under 18, that means Mama Ryan came with.  We both were on the outskirts of the age-range that attended, but we didn't feel out of place. She really enjoyed the show and I'm so so happy she got to experience why I get so excited about attending shows and why live music is so important.

The opening band Asgeir was a pleasant surprise but it didn't really seem like that to most of the audience.  The Icelandic group was very soft-spoken, saying little except a quick, genuine thank you after each song.  Their set was quite short, only four or five songs filled with rich tenor lead vocals and heavy synthesizers (to the likes of Alt-J).  For some, the synthesizers may have been a bit 'much' but I absolutely enjoyed.  As they sang half their songs in Icelandic, the crowd was chatting and surfing their phones, generally enjoying the set but not getting overly excited.
Notable song to check out: King and Cross

I wouldn't have traded last night for the world.  First Avenue is such an intimate venue without being overly small.  And I love that.  The crowd was a mixture of young 20-or-30-somethings looking for a casual night to listen to some killer music.  I was in such a great mood that I was hardly upset when a lady spilled her beer on my back or when another lady pushed her way in front of me holding up a flag of some sort (screaming every time there was a pause in the music of course).  They were just there to have a good time and so was I, who was I to complain?

There is little I have to say negatively about the experience.  Perhaps the crowd wasn't as overly OVERLY into the music as I would have liked, bobbing their head and focusing on taking pictures rather than throwing their hands up and not giving a care in the world.  The back-up singers seemed a bit unnecessary at times, but gave a nice color to Hozier's vocals when it was needed.

Perhaps the most comforting thing of all was seeing how Hozier was enjoying every moment he was on stage.  He wasn't just going through the motions, performing the same way he did the night before.   It seemed to hold importance to him.  When leaving the stage, he took an extra pause to survey the crowd and closed his eyes, letting the memory sink in.   To him, Minneapolis wasn't just another stop along his tour, it was 'holy ground' and promised he would return.  And I know he means it.

Hozier ft. Asgeir
First Avenue, Minneapolis &

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Band To Know: Hippo Campus... Not the Brain

When I excitedly rant to my friends about one of my favorite bands Hippo Campus, I am met with confused stares.  "Wait, hippocampus... Like the part in the brain?"  Precisely.  Hippo Campus' Bashful Creatures EP published on November 18, 2014 was the band's first release.  And an impressive one at that.

This young and sophisticated quartet made up of 18-to-20-year-olds attending the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis halla halla) proves that even with less experience under your belt, you can be successful on the music scene.  A difficult task that they have met with confidence.  Having attended their gig on December 27th at the intimate Triple Rock Social Club, all four band members played as if they had been touring together for ten years. The Bashful Creatures EP features the enthusiastic, familiar voice of lead singer Jake Luppen backed by funky riffs played by guitarist Nathan Stocker.  Other band members include the peculiar drummer Whistler Allen who sports a man bun (!!!) and the adorable, more soft-spoken Zach Sutton on bass. The crisp lyrics and positive energy from the band can be compared to the likes of well-known indie groups such as Vampire Weekend, Foster the People and Grouplove. (Although, don't tell them that. They don't like being compared. Shh.)

Zach Sutton (left), Whistler Allen (center) & Jake Luppen (right) doin their thang

Lead singer Jake Luppen @ the Triple Rock Social Club
Each song on their EP release could have been a single on its own, each with its own depth of thought and refinement.  Songs such as "Little Grace" and "Suicide Saturday" have recognizable and intoxicating melodies, but are far far far from being compared to modern pop ballads.  A particular personal favorite from the EP would be "Bashful Creatures" which happily rounds out the end to the EP, leaving me wanting more than the six songs to listen to. Ugh. Even with repeating these same six released songs, I still have not grown tired of these songs, listening to them in my car. 

Luppen's enthusiasm is impeccable and organic
I'm so excited to see what the future holds for these young artists.  The group has been tweeting cryptic messages like "we have some new stuff on the way for you guys... real soon" that are driving me absolutely insane.  The Halocline is going to be the band's first album, without a set release date.  Although it seems to be quite soon. And I couldn't be more excited.  I am hoping to see more contrast in song pacing than in the Bashful Creatures EP, my only critique of the EP is that all six songs are about the same tempo with the same style.  Hearing Luppen's voice in a slower ballad like their single "South" that wasn't released on the EP?  Yes, pleeeeeease.  Hippo Campus is touring with The Mowgli's and FENCES this spring, taking a semester off college to travel the United States.  People are just going to eat them up.  Just wait.

This band encompasses a rare sense of familiarity about themselves the first time you listen to their music.  I feel like I've been listening to them for years even though I have only been listening since November. That's the funny thing about these guys.  Joking around on the Triple Rock Social Club stage as if they perform there routinely, giving each other nicknames and asking for song suggestions makes me feel like I know them quite personally.  Also, every band photo ever taken of them is freaking swiggity-cool.

Band: Hippo Campus
Discography: Bashful Creatures EP, The Halocline (2015, to be released)
Notable songs: Little Grace & Bashful Creatures
Band Members: Jake Luppen (lead singer), Nathan Stocker (guitar), Whistler Allen (drums) & Zach Sutton (bass)

Monday, February 9, 2015

taking risks & doing things that scare you

I sort have made this little pact with myself that I will try and do things that scare me.  I want to live in the moment and avoid the sinking feeling of wishing you had done something, you feel?

I want to live.  
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what I might want to do after high school and it's difficult.  Part of me wants to become an event photographer or photojournalist; taking photos in different countries and writing blog posts on my experiences.  Another part of me wants to go headfirst into the music industry and explore what it would be like to be a manager for a band.  I also have a passion for Spanish.  And I love meeting people, what can I do with that?  But I need to live in the now.  I constantly think about who my friends might be in college, what life will be like during senior year in high school and the future yada yada yada.

I just need to see what life is giving me *right* now.  Photography and reflection has really helped with that. 
clarissa and i exploring the art museum, not tryna
sunday night skool blues amirite
my friend destiny wears this hat to school everyday and it's quite adorable

participating in my school's one act & i got to play accordion in the show which is neat

these jesus gals make me happy & inspire me to be a better person

the lone wolf overlooks her territory

asked my friend bobby to sadie's via vampire weekend lyrics naturally
juicebox queen & trumpet god

the bystander: a piece of modern art
 Life is awesome.  People are awesome.  God is awesome. 

February Current Playlist: 
1. You are the Beauty (Live) - Gungor
2. Crystallize - Lindsey Stirling 
3. Interlude 1 - Alt-J
4. Oceans - Coast
5. Cardiac Arrest - Bad Suns
6. Thinkin Bout You - Frank Ocean
7. Work Song - Hozier