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How the Melvins’ King Buzzo casted crushing guitars and merciless rock beats into an acoustic guitar

Photo by Mackie Osborne | courtesy of the artist.
Photo by Mackie Osborne | courtesy of the artist.

“It’s not strange for me to be in front of a bunch of people looking stupid,” says Buzz Osborne, the Melvins frontman better known as King Buzzo. What’s different this time out, he says, is the fact that he’s facing that crowd alone. “I’m up there with nothing to protect myself except an acoustic guitar.”

Osborne recently embarked on his first solo acoustic tour, a seeming anomaly given the unrelenting steamroller force that the Melvins have been known for over the past 31 years. Somehow, though, it works – the recently-released This Machine Kills Artists (Ipecac), its title a wry nod to Woody Guthrie’s fascist-killing guitar, take the Melvins’ deliberately-paced riffs into new dynamic territory without losing Osborne’s distinctively menacing songcraft. The album’s 17 songs possess the same controlled intensity, replacing the crushing electric guitars and merciless, sludge-paced drums with a pared-down sound that at times emphasizes the percussive strike of pick on strings, at others a gnarled-oak woodiness, at still others a surprisingly clean strumming that foregrounds Osborne’s estimable songwriting chops.

“I’m trying to start off by not alienating every single fan I’ve ever had,” Osborne says from his hotel room in New Hampshire, on an off day between concert dates. “But I’m also trying to do something that they’re not going to get at a normal show. I’m also trying to not emulate other acoustic acts.”

There was little chance of that happening in any case. Osborne, along with drummer Dale Crover and the Melvins’ rotating cast of bassists (the line-up has remained remarkably consistent since absorbing Big Business’ Jarred Warren and Coady Willis in 2006) have always proceeded deliberately along their own path, weathering the grunge explosion with which they were tenuously, never quite fittingly, associated. “There’s nobody doing anything like what we’re doing,” he insists. “Who are our contemporaries? Nobody I can think of.”

That long-surviving singularity, and the fact that he’s responsible for the vast majority of the Melvins’ prodigious catalogue (more than thirty albums and a couple thousand gigs over the past three decades) means that This Machine Kills Artists shouldn’t be viewed as a more individual expression of Osborne’s art. “The Melvins is my baby, basically,” he says. “It’s all my music, pretty much, so I never felt the need to do a solo record because I wasn’t getting enough chance to spread my wings. I never felt hindered by any means, like George Harrison or something. It’s really just an ‘as well as’ project.”

The acoustic tour arrives in Philly on Tuesday, July 15th at Underground Arts with jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson providing a solo opening set (Halvorson is a longtime associate of Trevor Dunn, who plays with Buzzo in Fantomas and in his Melvins Lite incarnation, as well as being an in-demand player in more forward-thinking jazz circles). While the last few months have marked Osborne’s first-ever performances on acoustic guitar, he’s always played acoustically and written a good chunk of the Melvins’ songs that way before transferring them to electric. Continue reading →

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Download a Key Studio Session recording of “Palace” by #XPNfest artist Commonwealth Choir

Commonwealth Choir Key Studio Session | Photo by Ryan Boswell RBCameraWorks.com
Commonwealth Choir Key Studio Session | Photo by Ryan Boswell RBCameraWorks.com

One of the many local bands playing the XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru is Commonwealth Choir. The Doylestown indie-rockers will be opening up the day on Saturday, July 26th at 12:30. Earlier this year, the band recorded a Key Studio Session, performing songs from their recent EP and a couple of new songs. Below, download “Palace,” and make sure you watch the video of their performance of “Pacers.”

Commonwealth Choir are playing World Cafe Live at The Queen in Wilmington, tomorrow evening, Friday, July 11th at the New Sweden record release party. And you’ll be seeing them at #xpnfest on Saturday, July 25th. Go here for tickets to the fesyival.

Pacers by Commonwealth Choir from James Powers on Vimeo.

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Support for My Morning Download, from Flying Fish Brewing Company
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Download a cover of Spoon’s “The Beast & Dragon, Adored” by Hiss Golden Messenger

Hiss Golden Messenger | photo by Harlan Campbell
Hiss Golden Messenger | photo by Harlan Campbell

Recent Merge Records signee Hiss Golden Messenger contributed a cover of Spoon’s “The Beast & Dragon, Adored” to a celebratory compilation, available now as a free download via Google Play.  The compilation accompanies a 25th anniversary retrospective documentary of the label, which is home to Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, Arcade Fire and Crooked Fingers (just to name a few).

Hiss Golden Messenger, the moniker of North Carolinian M.C. Taylor and friends, will release its Merge Records debut Lateness of Dancers this September, followed by a show at Johnny Brenda’s.  Tickets and information can be found here.  Download his cover of “The Beast & Dragon, Adored” here and check out a behind-the-scenes video of the recording below.

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Listen to King Tuff’s rocking new song “Eyes of the Muse”

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

King Tuff, the moniker of Kyle Thomas, has released his latest song “Eyes of the Muse” off of his latest album Black Moon Spell out Septmeber 23rd via Sub Pop. Last year, King Tuff played a stellar show at the First Unitarian Church. During an interview with the Key’s Nikki Volpicelli, Thomas explained that “There’s just been kind of this cold quality to indie music where there’s a lot of good stuff but not the fun aspect to it,” and that his music attempts to fill in that gap. In most regards, he’s succeeded, making great, comical songs about eating pizza all the time, electric star rays and dreaming in a graveyard.

Compared to 2012′s self-titled album, “Eyes of the Muse” is more polished and mature. Regardless, it still contains King Tuff’s signature mix of ridiculous lyrics and catchy guitar hooks. Black Moon Spell also features an appearance by Ty Segall, on drums on the title track. Listen to “Eyes of the Muse” below, and if you dare, check out thismigraine-inducing gif of the album cover.

King Tuff plays the First Unitarian Church on Tuesday, October 7th. Get more details at the XPN Concert Calender.

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Get to know local musician Jacob Snider

Jacob Snider | photo by Doug Seymour
Jacob Snider | photo by Doug Seymour

Jacob Snider is a singer songwriter from suburban Philadelphia. I saw Jacob when he performed his first show at World Cafe Live in Philly when he was 17 years old – I was really impressed by his performance and stage presence.  He recently graduated from college and has been working on his new music. He has a show this Thursday, July 10th, at World Cafe Live along with Elizabeth & The Catapult. I thought it was a good time to meet Jacob and find out what he’s been up to.

Helen Leicht: I know last May you graduated from college …where did you go to school and what was your major?

Jacob Snider: I went to Columbia University for college. I studied Music and American Studies there. I also played a lot of music in the city with a bunch of different people. Columbia is where I met Armand Hirsch, one of my best friends and collaborators.

HL: How long have you been writing and performing?

JS: I’ve been writing and recording…my whole life! My brother Cary and I have a band not many people know of called The Piggies. We’re a studio band.

HL: You have been in California working and recording your debut album.  Why did you head to California and who have you been working with on your new music?

JS: I left for California on somewhat of a whim. I had one or two meetings scheduled, and at one of them, I learned about a producer named Tony Berg. I met with Tony and he had many instruments in his home studio, was welcoming, and we hit it off. His brother is a biographer, and had just finished a biography of Woodrow Wilson – we talked about that. We talked about what I was listening to. I played him some songs. He told me the trick is finding a “unique sonic palette” to make the music with, and we started putting things together.

HL: Tell me about your songwriting process?

JS: Songwriting process is always hard to talk about. I’m wary about “telling a story” too much, as the stories we tell tend to simplify and make coherent the things of life that are anything but simple or coherent. But I can say that the lyrics of these songs are more clear – at least in my mind – than anything I’ve written up to now. That’s something Tony pushed me on. I would bring a sketch to Tony and he would give helpful feedback.

HL: When will you be releasing your new music?

JS: Almost all of these songs were written over the period of a few months. And they came out of a turbulent stretch of time in my life. I don’t think turbulence ever stops. And I don’t think to “get over it,” whatever it is, is the goal. I think you carry it- many things – with you, and it changes with you as you trudge along.

I’m not sure when the whole record will be released but I hope soon! I have one song from it up on my Soundcloud and I will be posting more soon.

HL: Any cool fact about the new album that you can share with me?

JS: Cool facts… The record features prominently Armand Hirsch, who is playing 70% of the instruments. It wouldn’t have been what it is without him. Drums, bass, guitar, banjo, marxophone, among others. It also features Rob Moose on violin and viola, who was the musical director for Bon Iver, and has recorded strings for Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens. Rob also has his own group called yMusic. Jesca Hoop is an amazing Manchester, England based songwriter who is singing on the final song, “Get It Off My Chest.”

HL: You have a show coming up this Thursday July 10th.  Are you solo or with a band?

JS: On Thursday I will most likely be playing solo, but it’s a co-bill.  Elizabeth and the Catapult is a very interesting artist based in New York. She also made a record with Tony Berg and he put us in touch. I’m excited to share the stage with her.

Tickets and information for Jacob Snider’s show at World Cafe Live can be found here.

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Listen to “Shadow,” featuring Trevor Young, from SOJA’s new album

SOJA
SOJA’s fifth album, Amid the Noise and Haste, is still about a month away from its release date, but you don’t have to wait that long to hear some new music from the reggae group. You can lsietn to the catchy reggae track, “Shadow,” featuring guitarist Trevor Young on vocals and has a laid-back beachy vibe to it. Catch SOJA live when WXPN welcomes The Soulshine Tour featuring Michael Franti & Spearhead, SOJA, Brett Dennen and Trevor Hall to the Mann Center on July 22. For tickets and more information, check out the XPN Concert Calendar.

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Produced by Phosphorescent: meet Heaven’s Jail

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
New York rock and roll trio Heaven’s Jail, recently featured as a World Cafe: Next are releasing a new album, Ace Called Zero, on August 26th. The album was was produced by Matthew Houck – AKA Phosphorescent. Houck says about the band:

“I had heard some of these songs in-progress at Heaven’s Jail shows,” says Houck, “and I wanted to be involved with the record that they were going to make. Francesco is my favorite kind of songwriter: sensitive but not sappy, smart but not precious. He has the ability to casually sneak complex imagery and metaphor into a deceptively simple package. It’s just great songwriting. Simple as that.”

Along with that great songwriting comes inspired playing and singing. There’s no pretension here; just straight forward rock and roll storytelling with a slight country fried sensibility. Fronted by singer and guitarist Francesco Ferorelli, the band includes James Preston on bass/harmonies, and Ethan Schmid on drums. With a sound that draws on the spirits of Lou Reed and Warren Zevon, Heaven’s Jail often sounds like a spirited clash between Drive By Truckers and Velvet Underground.

Below, download “Mother Mary Madonna.”

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Support for My Morning Download, from Flying Fish Brewing Company