Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Brooklyn’s Ambient Church Focuses on Close Listening

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Ka Baird live at Ambient Church. All photos by Landon Speers.

Brian Sweeny was walking through his Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick when, to quote the Mamas & the Papas, he stopped into a church he passed along the way. Concert promoter Sweeny hails from Rhode Island, was raised Christian and became one himself at the age of eight—though he doesn’t practice now. After putting on concerts for the past six years at yoga studios and in other alternative venues, he was looking for a resonant space in which to host a series of ambient concerts.

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How Tanya Morgan Became A Rap Group and Sustained Itself Over The Years

Tanya Morgan

The first time you hear the name “Tanya Morgan,” you may think someone is talking about an obscure ‘80s R&B singer. In fact, Tanya Morgan is a rap group, comprised of lyricists Von Pea and Donwill, who met through Okayplayer’s message boards, and who then invited Don’s old rhyming partner Ilyas to join the fold. When the time came to name the trio, Donwill simply typed the name into AOL Instant Messenger, and liked the way it looked. That’s it. “We kept coming up with names, but I went back to that one,” Von Pea says. Using the Internet as their entry point, TM crafted music through their computers, marketing themselves online long before the web shaped and redefined the way music is accessed.

By the group’s own admission, their 2006 debut, Moonlighting, is essentially a collection of lo-fi first takes, but it showed enough potential to earn cosigns from esteemed tastemakers like The Roots’ bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. But just three years later, following the release of 2009’s Brooklynati, Ilyas left the group, though the members say his departure didn’t generate any bad blood.

Now, the group is gearing up to release their first full-length in nearly four years, YGWY$4. The album’s acronym stands for “You Get What You Pay For,” a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the way the music industry’s turn towards streaming has affected consumer appreciation for the worse. We spoke with all three of Tanya Morgan’s original members—as well as Dominic Del Bene, a close associate who worked with TM behind the scenes—about building their professional careers from the ground up, unorthodox ways of getting known, struggling as a unit through the hardships of the indie tour circuit, why Ilyas left the group, and the brotherhood that binds them to this day.

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Noveller’s Sarah Lipstate Channels Her Anxiety Into Iggy Pop-Endorsed Soundscapes

Noveller

Photos by Priscilla C Scott

Working as Noveller, Sarah Lipstate crafts cinematic guitar-focused instrumentals. Using alternatively-tuned guitar techniques fed through an assortment of pedals—which make it sound like she’s playing a synthesizer and not a string instrument—Noveller’s mesmerizing art has even soothed the grizzled ears of Iggy Pop. After reading a newspaper album review of Lipstate’s 2015 album Fantastic Planet, Iggy started spinning her tracks on his BBC radio show, and subsequently invited Noveller to support him on last year’s extensive Post Pop Depression tour.

Noveller’s eighth studio album, A Pink Sunset For No One, is partly inspired by that experience, although Lipstate’s meditative sound differs wildly from Iggy Pop’s garage-punk racket. “Coming home from any tour is difficult,” she says, “any musician will tell you that. But coming off such a huge, life-changing tour, you’re going to have some really hard days. It’s a big comedown. The way I dealt with that was to really immerse myself in playing.”

Now based in Los Angeles after spending most of her 20s in Brooklyn, Lipstate spoke to us about that recent stint touring with Iggy Pop and her ongoing anxieties.

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Donuts, Dudes & Devotion: A Day in The Life of Jeff Rosenstock

Jeff Rosenstock

Jeff Rosenstock. Photo by Andy Johnson.

Jeff Rosenstock is a contemporary cult icon, the kind of musician who goes unnoticed if you’re not actively looking for them. There’s a reason for this: his unique brand of songwriting can come off as irritating to some—he sings in a distinctive whine over tracks that pull from a variety of familiar punk structures. Sometimes, he’s borrowing the loose, bouncing rhythms of ska that turned up in his previous bands, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry. In other places, he’s speeding things up, delivering the kind of breakneck songs that would appeal to fans of Rancid and the Descendents. His solo work deftly balances both elements, and on his latest album, Worry, he branches out to include lush orchestral pop and mod-inspired rock.

And yet, Rosenstock remains something of an acquired taste. His music is decidedly uncool, exhibiting a certain confidence and vulnerability in its silliness that can, at times, feel cringe-worthy (for one thing, he tends to over-share). But that’s also what makes Worry a smart, self-deprecating album, one that has the power to grow on even the most resistant listener. I spent Worry’s release day with Rosenstock, observing how an unassuming musician from Long Island quietly became a beloved hero.

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Helado Negro’s “Private Energy” is the Perfect Sum of the Singer’s Parts

Roberto Carlos Lange

Roberto Carlos Lange.

Subtlety is a difficult quality on which to build a pop music career. Amid the breakneck pace of modern life and its unlimited choice of pleasures—aural and otherwise —the artist whose specialty is the slow burn, the minor detail, the grace note, will need a little perseverance and a lot of luck if they hope to attract an attentive, sizeable audience.

After years of hardscrabble musical work in relative obscurity, Helado Negro, the recording alias of Roberto Carlos Lange, is poised to receive broader critical and commercial success. Private Energy, his fifth full-length album (and second this year), is a beautiful, meticulous work whose many influences coalesce into an incomparable whole.

Born to first-generation Ecuadorian-American parents and raised in South Florida, Lange was musically omnivorous from an early age, and Private Energy bears evidence of that. The samples and electronic beats of the hip-hop and dance music that were inescapable in his youth find common ground with the melodies and rhythms of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and Tropicalia pioneers Caetano Veloso and Tim Maia. There are also traces of the streamlined neo-easy-listening that developed around the axis of Chicago musician-producer John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, Stereolab, The High Llamas) as well as nods toward the skewed folk music of Lange’s friends and collaborators, Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens.

We spoke with Lange while he was en route to Seattle at the beginning of his current tour. Despite a lingering cold, he was both generous and engaged.

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Album of the Day: M.O.T.H., “Westside Industrial”

M.O.T.H.’s Westside Industrial is experimental in style and concept; the album imagines a world where culture becomes a commodity, and art is suffering from a serious identity crisis. A tale old as time, really, and like the best science fiction, it feels eerily familiar, a reflection of cities (including composer Matthew Finch’s current home of Brooklyn) reshaped by financial matters and fantasy.

Finch’s uncomfortably numb narrative is told through two main characters—nameless, faceless visions of “him” and “her” trying to come to grips with a crumbling middle class and a society that sees nothing wrong with branding everyone’s belief system. Or, as Finch writes in the album’s theatrical liner notes, “I moved out here, to this mecca, because I believed in a story about this culture; because I believed in a myth about opportunity. I had no idea what I was participating in; I had no idea that I was an identity product of the elite knowledge workers of the middle class and acting as a symbol … promoting the culture and lifestyle of bourgeois materialism.”

Which is really a roundabout way of saying what we all think when a luxe condo building bursts out of concrete, promising a boho lifestyle to all its lessees. As for what that sounds like, Finch doesn’t spell anything out. He stretches the Westside Industrial storyline across three long instrumentals that alternate between stormy ambient sequences, woofer-wrecking bass lines, and meditative drone tones.

Remember that High-Rise adaptation no one saw last year? This is what would have happened if The Haxan Cloak was hired to do the score, which was tweaked slightly by the studio—just enough to show a few signs of hope, which glimmer until M.O.T.H.’s next LP, at least.

—Andrew Parks

Cheena are Messy, Glorious, and Real

Cheena
Cheena. Photo by Edwina Hay for Bandcamp

It’s the most sacrosanct of critical principles: a band is never a just a band. If you want a profile written about you, if you want to get that rent money, you need a thesis, a moral, a philosophical mic drop. But Cheena could care less about parables or big pictures. They’re not your test subject or case study. They’re just a five-piece band from New York City who enjoy getting drunk and playing loud rock music, no symbolic strings attached. To them, there’s no story but the music. Everything else is just getting in the way—including, at present, yours truly.

I don’t blame Cheena for giving me a hard time during an attempt to interview them at the Brooklyn bar Post No Bills. After all, try as I might to convince myself of the contrary, I’m really just another cog in the PR machine, that loathed apparatus powered by viral hot takes and attention-grabbing narratives. These have grown even more noticeable in the face of print journalism’s trudge towards obsolescence; most online publications subsist on clicks, retweets (and of course, ad money) to survive. And so, searching for some kind of entry into the world of Cheena, I stick to the usual questions of day jobs and night moves, favorite bands and memorable shows.

For instance, when I ask “So what are the themes of this album?” lead singer Walker Behl pipes up: “Just do drugs and fall asleep.” Exasperated, the rest of the band sighs. “Hey! Everyone else at the table, shut the fuck up!” he barks, before returning to the subject at hand: “Dude. Fun stuff.” A minute or so passes, before the musician grabs his beer, and heads to the bar. He doesn’t come back.

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Anicon Explain Their Heavy Metal Hapax Legomenon

Anicon
Anicon.

The Brooklyn music scene can be difficult to crack. Practice spaces are expensive, rehearsal schedules are onerous and booking shows requires herculean persistence, plus the right connections. For a band to survive requires a special combination of dedication, intuitiveness, intelligence, fortitude and, let’s be honest, cash. But, beyond those difficulties lies opportunity: As Anicon drummer and NYC Native Lev Weinstein (who also plays in Krallice and Geryon) explains, “Much of the music industry, particularly the critical side, is based out of New York City. So once you have some connection to the scene, you have access to opportunity which you can take advantage of.”

I meet the members of Anicon in the garden of a Williamsburg bar, with karaoke carrying on noisily in the background. The band has a natural chemistry. As we talk, they take repeated, playful jabs at one another, as if they’re working through a script from an episode of The Golden Girls. Bassist Alexander DeMaria (also of Yellow Eyes) describes their successful working relationship this way: “I saw a study on television that claimed couples who talk about bathroom stuff get along better and, I thought, ‘That’s Anicon in a nutshell.’”

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