We dropped fifteen of our favorite thirty Bands to Watch this year in Anthem No. 34, and, as promised, are delivering the other fifteen to you loyal readers via this newfangled Internet!
We're dropping five each Wednesday for the next three weeks… after that, we'll make available online the fifteen we debuted in print. Sound like a deal?
This page is five pages long―one page for each musician or band―so be sure to click through them all to get the entire scoop!
Additionally, we've got a couple jams for your listening pleasure in the media player to the right. MP3 links are called out on the each of the artists' respective pages.
When Juvelen writes on his website that he wants to restore the good name of pop music, he isn’t joking. A growing Internet sensation from Stockholm, Juvelen tops poppy synth beats and riffs with a sexy whispering falsetto and catchy lyrics like “Oh honey I just want to make you move/You should know I only do this for you” (on single “Don't Mess”). It's shameless and uninhibited, but it’s also just the product of desire and hard work finally pulling together. “Juvelen was to a large extent born out of frustration with what I had done musically so far, and out of longing to do what I hadn't yet dared do,” he says. “At least at the beginning Juvelen was a lot about reaching for forbidden fruit.”
Listening to Juvelen, it’s easy to be reminded of pop masters Prince (who he admittedly admires) or the Jackson Five. It was another sexy artist from the 1980s whom Juvelen was compared to, though. “In Germany someone started calling me Blue Eyed Soul, which I really liked. And at first I thought he invented the term for Juvelen. But then I realized people had been calling George Michael that for a long time… Still feels good though.” C.T.
The Ruby Suns
It would be an understatement to call The Ruby Suns' frontman Ryan McPhun a “worldly” man. Although born and raised seaside in California, McPhun now lives in the rich vast lands of New Zealand and continues to travel to rugged territories like Africa and Thailand, always taking his trusty tape recorder with him to help take it all in.
The travels and experiences have undoubtedly provided an effect on McPhun, and it is shown clearly through the atmosphere of The Ruby Suns’ music. Their latest album, Sea Lion, was recorded alone by McPhun in his basement and features “Tane Mahuta,” a song sung entirely in the indigenous language Maori. There is also “Adventure Tour,” a tune about driving through New Zealand’s South Island that mixes exotic-sounding drums and strings with synths and samples in sonic perfection.
It is an album that is so celebratory of life, in its music and cultures. With all its beautiful textures and musical landscapes, Sea Lion is a far departure from The Ruby Suns' first album, but one that is welcomed like a man who seems to finally be coming into his own. C.T.
Q & A
How have your experiences in New Zealand and abroad affected your music (specifically Sea Lion)?
Well that is hard to say, I’ve definitely been inspired by some trips I have made whilst living in New Zealand, but maybe if I’d been living somewhere else I may have gone on different trips and been inspired by different things.
What were other sources of inspiration?
Lots of different kinds of music. Anything from Animal Collective to Tom Ze to Konono #1, to Phil Collins.
Were there any sorts of obstacles in mixing more rural instruments with samples and synths, or was it more of a natural process?
There weren’t obstacles as such. They layering happened fairly naturally. The samples that I used in the songs reminded me of some great times I had while traveling. So it made me feel good when I heard them in the songs.
Just a few random ones for fun:
―How would you describe the music of the Ruby Suns personally?
Well, I guess I would say it is messy, buy catchy and somewhat pretty.
―Best part about living in New Zealand?
It is so easy to get out of the city. On my birthday this year we went out to Whatitu and went on the most amazing walk checking out all of these incredible caves. We were hugging these cliffs that were right next to a marshy area that is right on the coast. This was just a 40 minute drive from my place in Grey Lynn in Auckland.
―Your live shows are like… ?
They are controlled chaos, sometimes quite a bit of fun. Or like juggling…
Monteith’s Black and Celtic. Really into Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada and anything from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California. Mac’s Black and Mac’s Sassy Red. It is sweet that there are so many microbrewed beers in the States, very helpful.
Since meeting in 2006 High Places' Mary Pearson and Rob Barber have been been creating music that defies categorization. The group produces a sound that manages to be everything at once; simple yet complex, unique but vaguely familiar. The one thing that can definitely be said about the group's music is that it is unique, and that is meant in the very best way.
The most striking aspect of High Places' music is the sense familiarity that drips from each song. The tracks that fill 03/07-09/07, the closest thing the band has to a full-length release, are filled with the organic sounds that haunt every day life. In a lesser group's hands this would be boring, but Rob and Mary instead manage to turn it into something beautiful. It is because the music is pure and playful, resulting in a sound completely lacking pretense. Song meander on at their own pace, Barber's ambient backing occasionally bumping into Pearson's ghostly vocals. Muffled sounds and echoes peacefully drift along managing to feel both haphazard and remarkably precise at the same time. Its dream like stuff and that is just the way High Places wants it. B.H.
Two guys; one playing a guitar and singing, the other drumming. It doesn’t sound like much, but with the Dodos it is more than enough. Their stripped down music is almost primal, emanating a genuineness few artists can hope to match. Meric Long and Logan Kroeber create a sound that manages to straddle the line between folk and psychedelia, never feeling slight despite its inherent simplicity.
Formed in 2006 the band immediately started touring and quickly developed a reputation for its passion filled live shows. The energy of these sets is what they have tried to capture on their second album, Visiter. The album is the sophomore album that bands dream of, one that builds on the sound developed on their debut, Beware the Maniacs, while also being a clear yet natural progressions. Visiter features a band comfortable with who they are, but more than willing to try something new. The lyrics are as substantial as before, but the structures and sounds of the album are varied and more complex. It is an endearing release that makes falling in love with the band easy. It is also an exciting album, one that clearly shows that the Dodos are a band capable of great things. B.H.
Alright, let's see how this pans out.
I saw a couple [super shoddy] clips of you recording in the studio with Murphy. You seemed to have a very professional and straight-edge approach to recording and producing. What's it like working with Murphy and DFA, and how do you individually make music… and then transition it into the clean and crisp final product it winds up becoming?
How did you condition yourselves for recording “Hold On”? Were you listening to a lot of anything in particular? What style and aesthetic were you aiming for?
We work primarily in our studio at my house and there's nothing special about the process. We sit down with a half baked/super rough idea that one of us have started and slowly add stuff.
“What do you think it needs?”
“Maybe some Clav?”
“Heavily phased Clav?”
…and this sort of continues until it's evolved into something that inspires a vocal idea from Alex. It's pretty loosey-goosey but there is some discipline in terms of committing to certain ideas and sounds early. Our old band tended to work with the “we'll fix it in the mix” approach which is to say we'd record a bunch of stuff that didn't sound particularly good and then endlessly noodle around with it in the computer. With Holy Ghost! Alex and I try and get the sounds and ideas as fully realized as possible before bringing them to James or Tim.
With “Hold On” everything was done before we went into the DFA studio to mix with James. We all decided that the vocals should be rerecorded for better sound and performance so the video you saw is just James coaching Alex through a good vocal take. There was no, “well, maybe we should try it like this… ” or farting around. We went in, rerecorded the vocals and then mixed it all in the span of a
couple of hours.
However, the songs we're working on now are not as fully formed as “Hold On” and we hope to take greater advantage of James and Tim as producers on the LP. Having worked with them quite intensively with our old band we're well aware of the magic that can come about from their creative input and, as proud as we are of “Hold On” we would like the LP to have a bit more of their golden touch.
Oh man, I've already got a good feeling about this. I was hesitant to ask that question since many bands respond with a dumb, “I dunno… it just sort of happens” response. Yours was refreshing.
So―Clav, eh? What other instruments (percussive or otherwise) are integral to your sound and style?
I also understand that you DJ and remix quite a bit. How do you approach those music-making endeavors… and what do you think of this remix culture we've entered into?
Well, obviously because we make dance music drums are important. However insomuch as I'm a drummer and the fact that we are both very much big fans of great rap producers/drum programmers (Primo, Dilla, Pete Rock, Hi Tek, etc.) we tend to labor over them a lot―the way they sound, move and dictate the dynamics of a song.
Beyond that were both big synth nerds. We began obsessing over them in high school and since then have built a good team of lovely old analog synthesizers. One of our particular favorites is called a Roland Paraphonic which is a pretty cheap but absolutely beautiful string synth. That gets a lot of use and it was one of our first purchases many, many years ago.
Alex is also a very talented piano player so he gravitates towards the classic electric pianos. So we tend to use real piano, Rhodes and especially Clavinet and a Wurlitzer a lot.
The equipment we use is an integral part of the music we make. Most of it is old, weird and tends to be somewhat unpredictable which is part of the fun. Were not computer people really. Not that we're
Luddites or anything but the gazillions of easy options they offer can be distracting. Obviously technology has made decent home recording a lot more affordable which is great, but programs like Ableton and the music people use it for dont do much for me. And sounds bad. Most of the time. Of course, there are exceptions. Our buddy Jacques Renault does awesome stuff with Ableton.
I appreciate all that, man. I think that true musicianship has been fading from the dance music side of things; there's not been the same level of craft and thoughtfulness applied to the cuts of today. Obviously, I'm not in the “scene” like you are and I'm not a musician or producer or anything, but it seems pretty clear to me that you know more than most and apply it in a tasteful and sophisticated way.
OK, so I'm going to splinter off in a different direction here. We're going to YouTube. I'm not sure (a) why I'm sending you these specific clips and (b) what I expect you to say (if anything) in response to them. If they get you thinking of spark something or make you want to talk about something, be my guest … you're my first attempt at this sort of unorthodox interview, so bear with me (grin).
Sorry for the delay. Was in Europe for a couple of days with limited Internet access.
Woah, what a random bunch. I don't have much to say, but the M83 video made me think of a video I've been super into lately. I don't know if you ever skated but it was a pretty huge part of my life as a kid through high school. I don't really do it anymore but every once in a while I buy or see a video that makes me fall in love with it all over again. This is the intro to the new Lakai video, directed by Spike
Jonze. I don't have anything against m83 but have just never gotten into him. His music is perfect for this, however. I imagine this video will have the same effect on kids as the early Bones Brigade videos had on me as a kid. Imagine being 10 years old and seeing this?
No worries! I enjoyed reading your response, so I'm thankful for that, anyway.
Isn't the Lakai video something? It's great that you bring it up since it reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you about the merging of art and music. I'm not saying that fine art (or whatever sort of art) and pop music haven't been merged before, that there has never been any sort of collaboration (uh… Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground?), but it's interesting to see all these gallery parties DJ'd by musicians and cross-disciplinary projects.
On that note, could you tell me a little about the MoMA opening party that you DJ'd at along with a bunch of other DFA folks? How did that get arranged and how did you feel about the gig? Were you purely the musical entertainment for the night or was a symbiotic dynamic between DFA and the museum there as well?
More broadly, what do you like about DJ'ing? What don't you like? And… have we reached a sort of “critical mass” of DJ's? Are there simply too many out there?
As I understand it the MoMA approached Jon at DFA. The label has done a few events at P.S.1 in the past so it made sense I guess. As far as any underlining symbolism or connection between DFA and the Color Chart exhibition, I don't know. I suppose you could say something about a common pop aesthetic but you could also call be pretentious for saying so. What else? Oh, the light boxes on either side of the DJ booth were ours. They were made by Marcus Lambkin (AKA Shit Robot) for LCD's “Movement” video and have been collecting dust in the DFA offices so, given the theme of the show, Tim thought it'd be fun to bring them and play them with a drum machine (they're controlled by MIDI). I loved that people thought they were part of the exhibition.
All in all, it was a great night and I think everyone had a blast. I did for sure, but unfortunately I think we were the weakest part of the night. Tim and Tim's set was amazing and watching people freak out when they dropped James Brown was an all time highlight for sure.
I didn't realize the light boxes were made by Shit Robot… interesting. And yeah, isn't that a great part in T & T's mix? The James Brown drop? They are good. While I wasn't there, I wouldn't say your set was the weakest one… and I'm not saying who was, either!
I wasn't necessarily trying to coerce you into making some connection between DFA and “fine art” or whatever… just curious, I guess.
I'm going through a dance music phase right now. I usually dedicate 70 – 80% of my listening time to either “rock” or “electronic” (both of those categorizations are unfairly and disgustingly broad), the other 20 – 30% being allocated for listening to the other style. April is an electronic month, I guess. Are you frustrated by the dance scene right now, though? I'm personally tired of duos like Justice and the Bloody Beetroots and MSTRKRFT and all that… I don't get the appeal and I don't see why everyone's compelled to jump on the bandwagon and copy their peers.
So: in terms of dance music, what are you listening to and how do you feel about what's going on in that world? Are we headed toward fairer, purer waters or is this the junk we'll have to put up with in clubs for years to come?
As someone who DJ's it's a bit frustrating. As a dude who plays a lot of long disco tracks there's nothing worse than going on after some dude has been playing electro/French house bangers off of Serato since 8 PM.
As a fan of music I don't really care. I'm not into much of that blog house stuff but there are always going to be trends in every genre and some/most will inevitably be bad. They come and go. I mean, I don't mean to poo-poo all that stuff. I like a lot of the French stuff, particularly the Alan Braxe/Fred Falke, Kris Menace, Lifelike crew, but I guess those dudes arent so hot right anymore, are they? I don't know. I cant keep up, but 90% of what I hear sounds totally disposable to me. I'm really more a fan of great songs that you can dance to than of Dance Music and I don't really hear very many great songs amongst the stuff that's really hip right now. Of course, there are exceptions―say what you want about Justice but “D.A.N.C.E.” is pretty irresistible.
Likewise, there's no shortage of great dance music being made outside of the current trend and living in New York there are plenty of great promoters and DJs who support it. It's pretty easy to avoid here if you want to. N.M.