CD Review: Volume 1, She and Him

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It’s no secret that actors haven’t had the greatest track record concerning their attempts to break into the music industry. Remember Russell Crowe’s band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, for example? Exactly. The musical efforts of other pretty faces haven’t fared much better, usually because, a.) they aren’t anywhere near convincing in their supposed passion for music, or b.) the product itself is just…well…crap. There are, however, a few pleasantly surprising exceptions to the thespian curse. She & Him, the pairing of actress Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Elf) and indie folk favorite M. Ward, is one of these.

The two met while working on a song for the soundtrack to one of Deschanel’s movies, The Go-Getter. As their friendship grew, Deschanel revealed that she had been recording home demos of her own material for quite some time. Though initially shy about others hearing her work, she eventually gave into Ward’s encouragement and shared them with him. Impressed with the quality of her songwriting, Ward suggested a collaboration to formally record the songs and give the songs the audience they deserved.

It’s immediately clear upon listening to their album, Volume One, that whatever insecurities Deschanel might have had about her ventures into the music world were unfounded. Her voice sparkles over this collection of instantly classic songs, and leaves the listener with no doubts about her massive talent. Ward, already an indie darling known for his delicate, yet emotionally powerful folk, is the perfect musical partner for Deschanel. He is able to arrange the songs in such a way that Deschanel is always supported, but never overpowered or drowned out by superfluous production. As a result, Volume One is a lush, haunting throwback to the early ‘60s, with hints of old country, pop, and classic girl groups.

The first single, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is a bouncy, sweetly innocent plea to the boy who just doesn’t get how simple love can be. The Phil Spector-inspired beats and instrumentation coupled with the smooth oooo la, la, las on “Sweet Darlin’” are unmistakably reminiscent of girl groups like The Ronettes and The Crystals. Deschanel’s most compelling performance is on the country-tinged “Change is Hard.” A comforting aural arm around the shoulders, she sings directly to every broken heart within weeping distance. “I was never/ no I was never/ no I was never enough/ But I can try/ I can try to toughen up/ I listened when they told me/ if he burns you let him go/ Change is hard/ I should know,” she sings with equal parts regret and determination. Sure to be a pleasant listen any time of year, Volume One is supremely enjoyable in the current summer setting—the crisp, bright jangle of Ward’s George Harrison-influenced guitar on the easy-going “This Is Not A Test” is especially suited for warm, breezy evenings. The three covers on the album, “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” compliment Deschanel’s originals with a charming, gentle vocal approach. With a style that classic, she knows she doesn’t need to make any drastic changes to what comes naturally to her to appeal to music listeners.

What Deschanel and Ward have achieved with Volume One is nothing short of extraordinary. Listeners can forget about the track advance button for this album—every song offers something special and instantly unforgettable, sure to be surpassed only by being performed in a live setting. Madison residents are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to experience just that. This Friday, She & Him will present their body of work at The Barrymore. Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond opens the show at 8:00 pm.

-Shelley Peckham

A Local Band’s Golden Rule: Show Up

Jimi Hendrix gained attention by joining Eric Clapton onstage in London in 1966; The Stooges were signed when a record company went to scout out the headlining band MC5; Nirvana’s success helped catapult the Melvins. The Toadies got their start when fellow bands Decadent Dub Team (Cottonmouth TX), Last Rites, and the Buck Pets helped them land gigs in Dallas when in the past the task seemed impossible.

There are countless other examples of bands helping out their counterparts gain attention. And there is much to be learned from the path to national success of crucial bands throughout history, lessons applicable for local Madison Bands.

Recently I was watching Axiom, a local Madison alternative rock trio with a sense of humor; take the stage at their CD release party, when I took a glimpse at the crowd. The room was full of people, of course, but what really caught my eye were the other local bands in attendance. Local Madison bands not on the bill like Triibe and Lords of Discipline were in the house, and Kill Junior stuck around after their own high energy set.

It got me thinking of how important it is for local bands to be supportive of one another. Not only by coming out to the shows, but in all aspects of influence and cooperation. Sharing practice spaces and recording times, providing an opportunity for a fellow local band to play a show with you, and most importantly spreading the word about other local bands.

I got the chance to speak with Axiom after their stellar show, complete with lightsaber battle. When I brought up the subject of local band alliances, they were quick to point out “It’s important for musicians to treat their music scene as a community. If we don’t support each other, who will?” The support isn’t limited to hooking other bands up with shows, but also in musical influence. A band’s sound is in constant evolution. Axiom takes their influences from national acts such as Tool and Primus, but also credits local bands like Kill Junior, Ignorus, and Sunspot as an influential part of their sound. Evolving a unique sound to call your own is the essential appendage in the survival of the fittest in this unpredictable music industry.

lightsabers

lightsabers

In other words, succeeding in the music biz, even on a local level, involves cooperation. As Axiom stated in our interview, “The Madison scene is hit or miss… It would be nice to see the Madison scene revert back to the way it was 10-20 years ago, when everyone went out to their favorite bar to watch bands.”

Most working bands and musicians dream of making it big, gaining recognition regionally, nationally, somewhere other than their home town. And most want to see Madison become a national hot spot for music, a smaller version of Nashville or L.A. sans the cowboy boots and glitter.

What I’m suggesting is some kind of “golden rule” for local bands: If you want others to show up for your gig, you must to the same and show up for them. You never know where it could lead.

You can start out by checking out Meteorade opening for XYZ Affair and Roomate at High Noon on July 27 or the The Box Social opening up for the Toadies and the Whigs at the Annex on July 31. And don’t forget Kurt Cobain’s favorite band, the Melvins, at High Noon on August 3.

Katie Jo Crubaugh, True Endeavors Public Relations Intern

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Best Music Hang-outs Online: Social Networks Part 1

With the overwhelming array of choices and services for the ordinary music fan or band I decided to take some time to look over online music spots. I quickly realized that no list could ever be complete (without you crying for me to stop at least).

I’ll start with some music-centered social networking site picks for this week, and then continue on with others in a future post. Here is my own compilation of the best, weirdest, or at least most unique sites..

what are your faves?

LAST FM

This site refers to itself as the “social music revolution”. LastFM is one of those smart sites that reads the contents of your personal music catalog (upon registration) and makes recommendations as to other music you might like. It offers up a personal profile, radio players, artist pages, concert updates, music videos, free song downloads (thought you might want to go straight to that one), and more. Bands can create their own pages as well and anybody can upload music.

Here’s how they put it: Last.fm taps the wisdom of the crowds, leveraging each user’s musical profile to make personalised recommendations, connect users who share similar tastes, provide custom radio streams, and much more..we are a London-based company with a music-obsessed team of developers and creative professionals from around the world.

So there you go.

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MYSPACE:

I know that everyone and their grandmother knows about the MySpace empire, but I can’t really write this without including them. Although it is not just a music site Myspace is used by just about every band in existence. It is an easy access tool to the latest updates, tour stops, blogs, music, downloads, photos, etc from bands and is totally free for any band to use.

Organized and easy use, you don’t have to be web savvy at all to have a really cool personal or band site, or to find out more about your friends new favorite band. I am often surprised at how many bands also offer free downloads from their sites. Probably more used as a social networking tool by bands than any other site in existence, it is definitely the most direct way to hear from and hear literally what bands are up to.

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ALL AT ONCE:

This site is different than the others in two main ways: 1.) It is based entirely on the music of Jack Johnson, and 2.) The primary focus is purportedly to be a new social action network where you can discuss issues and events, explore non-profit groups, and take action to make positive change in your local and world community.

I am unsure if there exist other “social action network” sites that center around music but it is an obvious collaboration. If you sign up you are the lucky recipient of a free download, access to the community discussion forums, upload videos of your own community projects, and can give money to select organizations. Mostly however this site appears to be an online Jack Johnson alter. Anybody have experiences here or know of other music & social action sites?

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MOG:

Another smart music site (and one of my faves) is MOG. This site also reads your music files and makes personalized recommendations. MOG is essentially a blogging site for serious music fans. The personal pages offer many options and it is likely you will find complete strangers offering up earnest and intelligent comments in response to your posts. There are also artist pages where anyone can add info about specific bands and musicians. The user generated writing is high content and high quality- many “Moggers” are clearly in the music industry.

From the horses mouth: Imagine if Rolling Stone or MTV had thousands of writers and producers contributing news, reviews, songs, and videos that were filtered based on what you were listening to, so you could always find the good stuff. That’s exactly what MOG is doing..One of the first online communities built exclusively for music lovers, MOG was founded in June 2005 by CEO David Hyman. MOG has been funded to date by Angel investors and is headquartered in Berkeley, CA.
The MOG Gazette

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ILIKE:

Ilike is probably most well known by it’s Facebook application. This smart player (through the website) also reads your music collection, and gives you personalized recommendations. It is very friend centered; you receive more recommendations with additional friends, it displays what your friends are listening to, and it will give you a detailed breakdown of how your tastes are similar or different than theirs. Additionally you can program it to give you recommendations through your ITunes account as well as other channels. Artists may also create their own profiles.

The same company runs the “artist community” Garage Band and a “broadcaster community” called G Cast. They say: We invite every music lover to participate in a more democratic music industry. By rating, recommending, or simply by listening to music, you’ll impact what gets recommended to others.

– social music discovery

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JAM NOW:

Unlike the others, this social network is aimed at primarily at musicians. Both musicians and music fans can create their own profiles which include basic descriptions. The very unique feature here however is that musicians can broadcast live over the internet, even jamming with other musicians anywhere in the world through the site. Keep in mind, that such internet use will require a more than decent modem/router set up, personally I have my sights on the ubee modem, their product line is sturdy and without extra bells and whistles. Meanwhile, fans as well as musicians and site members can listen in.

Self description: Unlike sites that allow users to “post and listen” to audio content, our innovative technology platform enables real-time music collaboration and creation, linking musically oriented communities of interest.

Now that’s cool.

JamNow Forum

MOG