Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MySpace Music Discoveries: Annie Stela

Annie Stela: She may be young, but she definitely has the pipes and lyrical know-how it takes to create a song that's less refined than a ballad, but definitely more elegant than a top-40 tune.

Annie Stela's first fans were probably college students, since her musical career began right about the time when she started college over by the Great Lakes. As her MySpace page explains, she kept it simple. Stela began touring with just her piano, but her voice really is an instrument on its own.

It can be said that Stela's music tends to resemble a meaningful homemade card over a store-bought Hallmark. Sincerity overrides the cheesiness factor, even in the love song that I referred to earlier, the one I just can't seem to get enough of, "It's You." There is also something about the piano, and even though its sound brings to mind Fiona Apple, it has a different ring to it. The chords are a bit softer along the edges, maybe more romantic. The singer behind the music is also worth mentioning. While still keeping its overall femininity, Stela's voice is deep but not dark and brooding. It steers clear of angst, but doesn't come anywhere close to detestably peppy.

One of the other songs on her page, "Breathe Through," is a bit more complicated than "It's You." The first line already invites the listener into someone else's world. Stela draws up images and awakens feelings with words that animate a story. Its somewhat sorrowful message is accurately captured in the actual piano-playing and fluctuating high and low notes bearing the vulnerable lyrics. "Fool" reveals Stela's ability to incorporate other instruments appropriately. It keeps a faster pace than "Breathe Through" but it still shares its personal tone, as the lyrics confess regret. The climax of the song would have to be the piano solo toward the end, where Stela's talent is allowed to shine without blinding.

Annie Stela will soon be releasing her first album, but from what I've heard on her MySpace page, she definitely doesn't sound like a newbie. The years of practice behind the piano have definitely paid off, and I'm sure in a few months they literally will. I'm looking forward to hearing what else she has to offer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Band Review: Iron and Wine

Sub Pop has kept me satisfied as the record label for many of my favorite independent artists and groups, including Iron and Wine. Sam Beam is the man behind it all. Soulful and simple, with vocals that are often sung barely above a whisper, he can create music that resembles a simple lullabye that's been dressed up with delicate notes and smooth lyrics. Iron and Wine's songs unfold like stories, each one has its own individual theme while still maintaining the folky essence that gives Beam's music its character.

"Waiting for a Superman" does a good job of highlighting Beam's ability to create uncomplicated beauty without needing anything more than his soft spoken voice and a lightly played guitar. "Such Great Heights," featured on the Garden State Soundtrack, does the same as The Postal Service's well-known and primarily electronic jam is taken down a couple of notches so that it sounds more like a timeless piece from the past rather than a new track.

Iron and Wine's songs have a personal quality about them without being too emotionally heavy. Listeners will be drawn-in and maybe even taken-back to another time while a banjo and acoustic guitar each play their part in conjuring up a sense of nostalgia within them. Even though they only have a few albums under their belt, it's apparent that Sam Beam's Iron and Wine value quality over quantity, as each song reflects a good investment of time and talent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MySpace Music Discovery: Feist

This summer, I happened to stumble upon Feist's MySpace page and was delighted with the discovery. She's been around for a little while, and she's also a former member of Broken Social Scene. I don't keep up with them, so I guess that's why I didn't hear the news about her decision to start anew as a solo musician.

When it comes to Feist's voice, Doris Day comes to mind, but there's definitely more vibrato in there, and even a bit more scratchy sultriness. Still, she has that classic voice that makes her sound older than she really is. But don't let the description of Feist's voice being that of someone more mature turn you off, because she takes a youthful approach in creating music that's paradoxically vintage while also being refreshingly new. At unexpected but appropriate times, Feist creatively incorporates the intricately manipulated sounds of various instruments and musical devices. The music they create complements her voice as it adds character to the often lightly poetic and usually amusing lyrics.

Sometimes sounding like stories, and other times resembling songs that could be featured on a fairytale, Feist's tunes give a nod to the past while definitely including the originality and newness that combine to give good music its trademark description.

Monday, April 9, 2007

CD Review: Goldfrapp

A mix of electronic fun and girlie grooves, Goldfrapp, the group, have all the elements to ward off monotonous sounds of boredom with their latest release, Supernature. I'm only sad that they haven't made it off the TV commercials and onto the radio, at least here in the US.

I'm glad my ears have had the chance to get acquainted with Goldfrapp's abstract but still fluid flows. Alison Goldfrapp's voice illuminates sound waves as she throws in a couple of lyrical twists and turns without leaving listeners dizzy and lost. I'd even go so far as to say that she's quite the performer. Goldfrapp's vidoes sometimes make the songs even better; the crazed costumes and appropriately outlandish computer graphics definitely add to their sparkle and glimmer.

Still, their songs wear more than the usual amusing and catchy labels. Goldfrapp can also do mellow, as "Time Out From the World" would imply, but it's songs like "Lovely 2 C U" that'll give listeners a real adrenaline rush. Somewhere between a party soundtrack that offers innovative background music and a complex industrial rock album that might keep dancers searching for new moves, Goldfrapp's latest release is one that can easily be appreciated by many.

Goldfrapp offer ear candy without leaving the rest of the senses jealous; going into the Goldfrapp world is quite the experience for any fan, and I'm definitely one of them.
Click here to watch her interview

Saturday, April 7, 2007

CD Review: Until June

Straight out of Southern Cali, Until June aren't literally waiting until June to release their first self-titled release. It'll hit the shelves on April 17th. Also, thanks to MySpace, I just discovered that they've made the new tunes available on virb.com, but just for a short time! So, to all you fans who can't wait until the 17th, check it out; it's free and the sound quality is pretty crisp. If you don't know what Until June are all about, and you want a written description before you let your ears take the plunge into their pop-rock infested world of pianos and sincere lyrics, well, you've come to the right place.

I'm tuning-in to their new album right now, and I'm content with what I'm hearing. Covering the emotional highs and lows, without getting overly-sentimental or stereotypically sappy, Until June steer clear of tumbling down the bubblegum-pop road. How do they do it? Well, for starters, every song exposes something honest about them; it's almost as if they've composed a musical diary that's been purposely kept unlocked. They're spiritual guys, but their songs don't overtly reveal their beliefs. It is thrown in there a few times, though, especially in songs like What I've Done, where the lyrics go something like I'm alone/and I'm ashamed/hold me in your arms/now I'm sorry for what I've done. Even for those who consider themselves strictly secular music listeners, they're presenting an issue any human being can relate to: Forgiveness.

Until June aren't limited, they can keep it simple and true in regards to the lyrics; there are also those other less thought-provoking but still ear-satisfying songs, like Sleepless, one of my personal favorites. It's upbeat and fun without being covered in sugar; oddly enough, the lyrics actually express a story of lost love served with a side of regret, but there's no indigestion afterward! Until June are pretty full of surprises in how they choose to combine lyrics and tunes to create their staple sound, a mixture of soft piano key strikes accompanied by lead singer Josh Ballard's distinctive California beach boy voice. These two elements combine well enough to create a tasty musical cocktail that serves to set them apart from the world's flavorless music makers.


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