Author Archives: Adam Gould

Unlocked: The Key’s Review of Grandchildren’s Golden Age

Grandkids

Much like a track runner, Granchildren see the benefit of getting off the block with the burst of energy that will maintain you through the finish line.  Momentum is key to Golden Age, the new album by Grandchildren, out May 7th on Ernest Jenning. The album is big in scope and big in sound, though not maximalist. The album explores quite a few variations of their orchestral pop, while being a more cohesive compared to the band’s debut album Everlasting . For example, the percussion is brought to the forefront on the album and is constantly apparent – though never overwhelming – and never close to being redundant.

Awaking the album is the pulsing and humming “Sunrise,” with it’s tribal percussion, distant keys and ascending vibraphone. From the start you can hear the complexity of the arrangements, which flow into each other like bodies of water meeting and growing as an ocean. Without slowing down much the album progresses to the dreamy title track “Golden Age” and then into one of the standout tracks, “End Times.”

As you reach the middle of the album it opens up into a different kind of album where, instead of combining all the ‘essential’ parts of Grandchildren, like they did to begin the album, they explore the various directions their arrangements can go. This begins with the jumpy, precautionary track “No Way Out” which is highlighted by an idiosyncratic clapping part, otherworldly falsetto and wandering horns.  The atmosphere completely shifts for the next song to a gentle, calming surrounding, with something magical in the air. The light strumming, distant drums and lead singer Aleks Martray’s soft, and comforting voice all compliment each other in the beautiful song. Rounding out the middle of the album is the cinematic “Into Gold” which blooms in front of you, and does so elegantly.

The back of the album is less easier to define musically. “You Never Know” is one of the most restrained moments of the album. It shows the band’s musical chops, but does so in a different light.  On this album there are various moments where the songs can go in different directions, either going big or pulling back on the reins.  This album succeeds because, despite their large size and ability to go bigger, they choose to restrain compositions as a way to let them breathe.  The band, on their previous album, were working on defining their sound. Equally important to a band having a sound, though, is having a “voice” and a “vision.” On Golden Era, Grandchildren continue to evolve and mature their sound, while finding focus in their songwriting, arrangements, and studio performances.

Grandchildren celebrate their record release tonight at Johnny Brenda’s with support from The Lawsuits, Laser Background, DJ POW POW (Man Man’s Chris Powell).

Unlocked: It’s Alive! Watch a performance of ‘End Times’ from Grandchildren’s recent Underground Art’s show. (playing tomorrow night, May 3rd at Johnny Brenda’s)

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This week’s Unlocked series has been about Grandchildren’s expansive new album Golden Age. Earlier in the week we premiered the new track “End Times,” and today the track is getting the live treatment.  Shot at their Underground Arts show back on March 1st, this live performance video is a delicious sample of what Grandchildren do best. Their sound has become what it is, in part because of time spent touring and practicing their dynamic live show, which demands precision, but exudes pure energy. Lucky for you, the band is celebrating the release of their new album tomorrow at Johnny Brenda’s with support from The Lawsuits, Laser Background, and DJ POW POW (Man Man’s Chris Powell) spinning througout the night. Watch the video for “End Times” below:

Unlocked: Q&A with Grandchildren mastermind Aleks Martray

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“The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.” - Willem de Kooning, 1968

Everybody deals with getting older in different ways.  Some people get motorcycles, others opt for meditation retreats, but everyone faces it regardless. It is the constant struggle to age gracefully, and Aleks Martray and the members of Grandchildren are all dealing with very essential times of their lives. One of the results of the past few years is their new album Golden Age, out May 7th, which The Key is exploring for Unlocked series this week. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the daily routine we caught up with Aleks Martray to chat about the recording process, growing older, and defining the Golden Age.

The Key: What is the Golden Age? 

Aleks Martray: It has sort of become a catchall.  I tend to write a bunch of music and not really know thematically what I’m working with, or what the message is, it’s all music first.  I work a lot more like a composer or an arranger. I have all of this material that I compile, and then I sit back and listen to it and create songs out of it. The lyrics, the words, the concepts, they all come at that last phase once the music has come together. I never really know what I am writing about until the end, and “Golden Age” happens to be the last song I wrote for the album. I think of it like how an author writes an entire book, and then they write an epilogue, and somehow, the epilogue becomes the arc of the story.

For me, that specific song (“Golden Age”) was about the feeling of getting older, and those moments where you feel a narrowing of the openness and possibility of anything happening in your life, and the excitement of it all. And it was about having an experience that was renewed, where you no longer have to see things that way, and things are still open and possible.

It was also about having gone through a lot of things the past few years with family and friends. The past couple years have been weddings and funeral and babies being born, so it is just that time in my life and my band members lives where there is this generational shift, and you are just in the middle trying to place yourself in it. As an adult, and as an artist, and when you are around your parents and grandparents shifting to old age and you have your friends shifting to other phases of life, what happens is everything comes to the surface. It is a sea change moment. “Golden Age” was really revolving around this idea, that everybody, no matter what age or generation, has this magical, golden reference point of the way things used to be, or aught to be, but that is always just a figment of ones imagination.

TK: There seems to be a relationship between the song “Everlasting” from your last album and the new album.  Was the thought process that went into “Everlasting” a jumping off point for the new record?

AM: The song “Everlasting” was written, not only at the end of the first record, but a few months after the whole thing was finished. I was actually writing “Everlasting” to start a new record. I think it was the beginning of the process of starting a new record.  Two things happened, stylistically I was going in a really different direction. I was a lot more interested in singing and putting the vocals up front, because I have never been a natural singer before, I have always been a songwriter and the singing just came as something I had to figure out. And then beats, being very beat oriented.  Those are two things that came together just from writing that song “Everlasting,” and I think that definitely was the beginning of the new album.  I see that song “Everlasting”, as a link or bridge between the two albums, and I think you can sort of hear that.
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Unlocked: Explore the artwork for Grandchildren’s new album, Golden Age, with frontman Aleks Martray

Several of the members of Grandchildren are artists in additional mediums besides music. Some of them went to school for painting, while frontman Aleks Martray studied film. Needless to say, the album art for Grandchildren is not a simple after thought and was conceptualized with a keen visual eye. This week for our Unlocked series we’re exploring Grandchildren’s new album Golden Age, and today we take a look at Golden Age’s nostalgic cover art with some commentary by Martray.

Front Cover:

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“Yeah I worked for months and months on album art, had a bunch of different drafts and ideas but nothing really worked.  I didn’t even have a grasp on what the album was about yet, but I think when I wrote “Golden Age” and realized what the album was all about, right away this little photo that I had found a few years back came into my mind. I thought, that’s it, no question, no intentions, that’s the image that all this music is about.

My grandfather passed away a few years back and I was in his house with my dad just cleaning it out, and I am kind of a history buff, particularly when it comes to my family history, so I was just collecting hundreds of photos that were all over the house, and out of these hundreds of photos I found this one photo and I never before looked at a photograph and in one second everything was just put into perspective and everything just made sense and was so clear. To me, I know all these people at an older age, so I could already see into their character, so it looked really true to life, but on the other hand, it looked like a staged photograph with costumes and blocking involved. But really it was just this moment in 1969 when my father had graduated from West Point where his family just stood there, and somebody took the picture.

I think it is a really intriguing image, and when somebody who doesn’t know these people sees it, it is even more powerful because they can inject it with their own experiences, their own ideas.  It is a very open photograph in a lot of ways.  I like anything that borders the line between fact and fiction, or reality and imagination, so for me, the photo is really powerful in that way.”

Back Cover:

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“The back cover is at a place called Battle Monument, which is actually a Civil War monument. It is an outlook over the Hudson and I have dozens of photos and videos of myself hanging out there as a kid, but it’s at the same location where the front photograph was taken. It’s the idea that the front is a photo from 1969, and then the back is a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid in the 80’s. It was a weird, surreal place to grow up, because, it was a military base so I was surrounded by military culture and these monument cannons, but I would just sit on these cannons and look out over the Hudson. It was a really calm and beautiful place, and it was a weird paradox to have all this military culture in such a beautiful place when you are a kid.” 

Gatefold Art: 
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Unlocked: Download “End Times” by Grandchildren, stream their new album, Golden Age (playing Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, May 3)

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When talking to Aleks Martray, singer, guitarist and band leader for the orchestral pop band Grandchildren, he said, about his role in the band: “I feel kind of like The Wizard behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz.”  The cinematic allusion is fitting, given the small stature of the front man and the massive, sweeping compositions he creates. Grandchildren’s new album, Golden Age, finds the band both refining and expanding upon the distinctive sound and dynamics from their 2010 debut album Everlasting. The album, produced by Chris Powell (Man Man) and Bill Moriarty, is coming out on Ernest Jenning Record Co. on May 7th.

This week, we are delving into Golden Age for our Unlocked series, where we feature in-depth coverage of new releases from notable Philadelphia-based artists. Today, we are getting the ball rolling with the pulsing, hypnotic track “End Times”, where Martray’s commanding tenor and the bands fervor reintroduce you to a reinvigorated Grandchildren. Below, download the track below and stream the full album via here via Allmusic.

Grandchildren celebrate their record release this Friday, May 3rd at Johnny Brenda’s with support from The Lawsuits, Laser Background, DJ POW POW (Man Man’s Chris Powell).

Blending cool jazz and craft beer with Mike Lorenz at Tired Hands

LorenzAdmittedly, the first time I saw Mike Lorenz perform, I was there for the beer.  His Jazz trio was tucked in the upstairs corner of Tired Hands Brewing Company, a small-batch bar with impeccable knack for creative brews from only the best local ingredients. Apparently their taste in music isn’t bad either. Since discovering the new brewery himself, Mike has turned from just another beer lover to regular performer at Tired Hands, which he currently has exclusive rights to.  We sat down with Mike to chat about jazz and the nuances that make it so special.  Bi-Weekly you can catch him play upstairs at Tired Hands including tonight and Thursday the 21st.  Don’t forget to try their amazing beer and food, and remember to thank us later.

The Key: How did you get into playing guitar?

Mike Lorenz: I had a friend who played guitar, so I wanted to play guitar.  I started playing in 5th grade because I saw him playing, so that was in like 1995, which I always tell people is a great time to start playing guitar because all the stuff on the radio was ‘guitar rock’ – even though some of it sucked. If you wanted to play it, some of it was kind of hard for a kid beginning, so I always credit that stuff for why I am a decent guitar player. (chuckles)

TK: What, in your opinion, is the state of jazz?

ML: I guess if you read jazz stuff on the Internet, it dies every year.  Someone proclaims it dead ever year.  But there is lots of neat stuff. It’s just where the influence comes from.  There are some great Indian-American musicians who use jazz as an influence, there are people who grew up with hip-hop who use that as an influence, and I still think it is all jazz, but then there are people who don’t.  The thing that is kinda constant now is people taking in exterior influences.  There are a lot of people taking what A Tribe Called Quest did, or like J Dilla and playing it on acoustic instruments in an improvised setting.  A big name from last year is a person named Robert Glasper.  He released a record with musicians who do that really, really well, and it is basically an R&B but it is on Blue Note which is a jazz label and there is improvising on it, but they are playing what sounds like Dilla beats and stuff like that.

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Five things that have happened to Grandchildren since their last album

GrandchildrenIt is pretty surprising that Grandchildren are still a band given what they have been through since releasing their cinematic debut Everlasting back in 2010. Others would have thrown in the towel, but instead Grandchildren have come out re-energized, with a clearer trajectory and a intuitive, collaborative new album called Golden Age (out May 7th on Ernest Jenning Record Co.). In anticipation of their show at Underground Arts this Friday we met up with Aleks Martray, Roman Salcic and David Fishkin to talk about what has changed in the Grandchildren camp since their last album.

1a. Label Disintegration

Aleks Martray: Our original label (Green Owl) ceased to exist. That was a rollercoaster, nightmare scenario. We had finally got this new label on paper and in our heads it was a great thing. You know, Warner imprint label, Ben Bronfman, MIA connection all these name-dropping superficial opportunities. And we were able to tour, put out a record. We were finally able to make to make a little money get a little licensing opportunities and within months it sort of disappeared. And you realize it is smoke and mirror when people are name-dropping that much, so it is all just an illusion.

So the worst thing that happened at the time was we went from feeling like everything was on track, to being back to square one, but the way I look at it now, that was really the moment when I decided to start writing a new record, and I was going to do everything I wanted to do with the first record but didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do, so it was real momentum to get back to the drawing board artistically and be like, you know, “all this other industry bullshit aside, what kind of music do I want to make?” So it was a real motivating force. Maybe for a few weeks it was a little disillusioning, but then I got back on the horse and I was like, this will be good, this will ground me again.

Grandchildren performing at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by Justin Roman

Grandchildren performing at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by Justin Roman

1b. Finding A New Home

AM: We had been on the radar of Earnest Jennings for a couple of years now. We had been talking and indirectly crossing path with them. When the record was finally finished they were the first people we connected with and they were really excited about it. We were really looking for a label that didn’t care about how many names you can drop or connections you have. We wanted somebody who is psyched about it who has the experience and track record of putting out good music and it was just the perfect fit.

Roman Salcic: Our contract this time was two pages, last time it was 46. Continue reading