Azure Ray, Tim Fite, James Husband (Huggins) tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 4:18 pm November 3, 2010

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

If you haven’t already, I suggest that you read the Lazy-i interview with Azure Ray before you head out to their show tonight at Slowdown. The interview is right here. Already read it? Well, read it again. Whatever. Just go to the show, which definitely should feel like a time warp back to those jaunty days of 2003.

I’m told by someone who’s on the Azure Ray tour that opener Tim Fite is worth an early arrival — he’s a one-man multi-media experience. In fact, you might as well get there really early for James Husband, who is really James Huggins, a staple of the Elephant 6 collective and former member of Of Montreal. The fun starts at 9, $14. See you there…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Column 294: Lazy-i Interview: Azure Ray; So-So Sailors, Conduits, The Stay Awake tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:45 pm October 27, 2010
Azure Ray

Azure Ray's Maria Taylor, left, and Orenda Fink.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Column 294: Starting Over

The return of Azure Ray.

What better way to open an interview with Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor than with a scoop?

Regarding band mate Orenda Fink, and her husband, The Faint’s Todd Fink, Taylor made the following statement: “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years they pop out a little Fink.”

Boom goes the dynamite. OK, maybe it wasn’t that big of a scoop, but it was the closest I got to one while talking to these two indie rock divas (and I use the term “divas” in only the most loving way).

Taylor did most of the talking, as Fink was behind the wheel of the van that carried Team Azure Ray to San Diego after a show the night before in Phoenix. Talking to Taylor is like talking to your best friend’s goofy little sister; she’s sweet and funny and gets your jokes even when they’re not very good.

It was obvious that, so far, the tour has been hit-and-miss. “It’s going pretty good, getting better and better,” Taylor said. “We have more of a fan base on the West Coast. So the crowds are getting better, but it’s still a challenge to make people aware of us.”

The crowd’s amnesia couldn’t have been a complete surprise. Azure Ray was at its career apex with 2003’s Hold On Love. A year later, Taylor and Fink went their separate ways due to creative differences, or for some other reason I’m sure we’ll never know. In addition to her solo work, Fink went on to form Art in Manila and collaborate with Cedric Lemoyne as O+S. Taylor worked with Bright Eyes, Moby, Crooked Fingers and Joshua Radin when she wasn’t recording and touring in support of her own solo projects.

Azure Ray, Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek). Out 9/14/10.

Azure Ray, Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek). Released 9/14/10.

Then, rather organically a couple years ago, the duo found themselves living in Los Angeles and hanging out together. “We thought, ‘Why not just put out another record together?'” So they teamed up with long-time producer/collaborator Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers (and Archers of Loaf before that) and recorded Drawing Down the Moon, released in September by Saddle Creek Records. The album is earmarked by those same soothing, whispering harmonies and heart-breaking lyrics that defined Azure Ray from the beginning, which is appropriate considering that in many ways, Azure Ray is starting over.

“I think people have small attention spans,” Taylor said. “I don’t think they’ve forgotten us, it just needs to be brought to their attention that we have a new record out.” Judging by the crowds there, apparently the word didn’t make it to Florida. Taylor was unwilling to share the attendance numbers. “The scary thing is you have to pay your players and make money. We didn’t have any expectations, and we like to keep it that way.”

Still, one expects to make money playing music, especially if you’re one of the more influential indie music duos of the early part of the last decade. They both point to the Internet for the current state of affairs.

“As far as the music industry goes, I’ve lost a lot of faith that I’ll be able to make a living doing this much longer,” Taylor said. “In 2002, people were still buying records and a career in music seemed like an option. Our friends were doing so well. But that was a different time. We were just talking about this in the van, how amazing the Internet is and how it’s just screwed us.”

Taylor handed the phone to Fink. “Maria is right. The biggest change is the culture of the music industry and the economy,” Fink said. “In a strange way, being on the road now is like when we first started — we really didn’t know what was happening. It was before cell phones and the Internet. Now with technology, it’s creating still more uncertainty. The bubble has burst. The industry was cruising along for a number of years with a formula for how records were sold and how tours were sold and promoted. That formula doesn’t exist anymore, and everyone is trying to figure out how to make it work in this new climate.”

That uncertainty played a small role in both Taylor’s and Fink’s exodus from Los Angeles. Orenda and Todd recently moved to Athens, Georgia, while Taylor bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. “We’re going to be touring so much and it’s so expensive to live in Los Angeles,” Taylor said, “And being closer to our families kind of seems nice.”

They haven’t forgotten Omaha. “We miss our friends a whole lot, especially when tragedy happens or hard times, it’s hard to be so far away from the people that you’re close to,” Taylor said. “I definitely miss it. I even miss the snow.”

Something tells me that the Nov. 3 Azure Ray show at Slowdown will be like a family reunion, or a time machine that takes everyone back to 2003. The difference is that this time Taylor and Fink are in it for the long haul. They’re already talking about their next record. “With this new record, we were specifically not trying to draw from what we learned in our solo work. We wanted to recreate the same feeling from the first album,” Taylor said. “We’ll experiment a little more with the things we learned on the next album.

“It definitely feels great to be together and work together again,” Taylor said. “We’ve been friends for 20 years — two people who, since they met, enjoy spending time together. We definitely don’t take each other for granted any more.”

Azure Ray plays with Tim Fite and James Husband Wednesday, Nov. 3, at The Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St. Show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 adv./$14 DOS. For more info, go to theslowdown.com.

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There are two shows going on tonight competing for essentially the same audience. Over at O’Leaver’s it’s So-So Sailors with Portland trio System and Station and Conduits. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Barley St. Tavern, it’s The Stay Awake and Techlepathy. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Azure Ray in Pitchfork, AHS drops today; Sea Wolf, Baby Tears tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: — @ 12:58 pm September 28, 2010

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

In case you missed it, our friends at Pitchfork reviewed the new Azure Ray disc, Drawing Down the Moon, a couple days ago, giving it a slightly-above-mediocre 6.5 rating. Their summary/closing graph: “The upside is that it sounds warmly familiar, a reminder of why we missed them in the first place, but the downside is that the album gives very few indications of what Fink and Taylor have learned during their hiatus– the new tricks they’ve picked up from their various projects and collaborations, the ways their individual outlooks might have changed, and why they got back together at all.”

You can read the full review here, and my take on the album is online here.

Speaking of Saddle Creek releases, the new solo disc by Two Gallants’ frontman Adam Haworth Stephens, We Live on Cliffs, dropped today. You can also read my take of that disc here.

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It’s a loaded night of music tonight featuring bands that will be traveling to Lincoln tomorrow night for Lincoln Calling.

At the Waiting Room it’s Sea Wolf playing an acoustic set. Joining him is Sara Cahoone and Patrick Park. $12, 9 p.m.

Down at Slowdown it’s Those Darlins with Turbo Fruits and Dim Light. $8, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night, Those Darlins will be playing at Duffy’s with Turbo Fruits, while Sea Wolf/Cahoone/Park will be at The Bourbon Theater. Check out the full Lincoln Calling schedule at lincolncalling.com, and check out my interview/overview on LC in tomorrow’s column.

Meanwhile over at The Barley Street Tavern, it’s noise night with Baby Tears and Nymph. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Column 287: CD Reviews of Tim Kasher, A.H. Stephens, Azure Ray, Land of Talk…

Category: Column,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:11 pm September 8, 2010

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Column 287: Five Above Earl

Reviews of Arcade Fire, new Saddle Creek releases…

I write this crammed into a window seat flying straight into the heart of a hurricane named Earl, but I’m not worried. NYC will protect me. It always has. So if there’s a sense of impending dread throughout these five reviews — a look at the hottest indie release of the year, along with four new, strong albums from our friends at Saddle Creek Records — I blame the weather and anticipation of my long-deserved vacation (or demise). See you on the other side of the storm.

Tim Kasher, The Game of Monogamy (Saddle Creek). Out 10/5/10.

Tim KasherThe Game of Monogamy (Saddle Creek). Like most of Kasher’s confessional catalog, it’s an examination of his ongoing struggles with guilt. Guilt about his inability to commit, guilt for taking the easy way out, guilt over his unwillingness to accept contentment (“I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here”) and guilt over his unwillingness to change in the face of that dreaded contentment (“Cold Love”). Lucky for him, with that guilt comes numbness as a symptom of middle age. There’s a certain sense of inevitable desperation that underlies this entire album, but don’t feel sorry for poor Kasher. He knows (as we all do) that whatever misery he suffers, he brought on himself. Musically, it veers closer to The Good Life than Cursive. Fine. The differentiator is the baroque strings, the upbeat brass that reminds me of Madness, and the cool electronic claps on “Gonna Die Here,” which would be a radio hit in any other universe. His tendency to occasionally throw too many words into a phrase makes for some clumsy moments, but those are few and far between. In the overall Kasher oeuvre, this is a minor, simple, but ultimately satisfying guilt trip.

Azure Ray, Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek). Out 9/14/10.

Azure Ray, Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek). Out 9/14/10.

Azure RayDrawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek) — The question: Is the sum better than its parts? When Azure Ray split up all those years ago, we thought we’d get twice as much goodness as when they were together. Instead, we were treated to some hit-and-miss releases that allowed the girls to experiment with some things they wouldn’t have tried together. Now they’re back, and they’ve brought the best of their separate experiences along with some interesting electronics. Both dabbled with beats (none moreso than Fink’s O+S), and those clicks and pops have given us one of the more upbeat AR albums in their catalog. Even more noticeable is Eric Bachmann’s production and arrangements, especially on those rollicking guitar-picking numbers (“Shouldn’t Have Loved,” “Make Your Heart.”). But in the end, it still comes down to the same soothing, whispering harmonies that defined them from the beginning. The underlying theme: Just getting by, with or without someone else’s heart alongside theirs (Though they’d surely prefer the former. And who, other than Kasher, wouldn’t?). And if you know their personal back stories, it’s fun to try to connect the dots, whether they’re singing about familiar old (and current) boyfriends or not.

Adam Haworth Stephens, We Live on Cliffs (Saddle Creek). Out 9/28/10.

Adam Haworth Stephens, We Live on Cliffs (Saddle Creek). Out 9/28/10.

Adam Haworth StephensWe Live on Cliffs (Saddle Creek) — AHS is half of Two Gallants, the singing/guitar playing half. We love 2G songs for their reckless drunken sea-shanty style mixed with wry story telling – sort of like an American version of Pogues meets Gordon Lightfoot. Well, the sea balladeering is long gone on this album. Instead, AHS has opted for a more streamlined, straightforward, AOR approach both in the songwriting and arrangements. In fact, the second track, “Second Mind,” creeps dangerously close to Jack Johnson territory. My take: This solo effort was an opportunity for Stephens to turn things down, smooth them out and try for a more peaceful, easy, mainstream feeling. When he does turn it up, like on driver “Elderwoods,” he can’t help but hold the leash a bit too tightly. The result is a pleasant record that will makes 2G fans yearn for a return to that drunken, piss-soaked pub by the sea.

Land of Talk, Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek). Released 8/24/10.

Land of Talk, Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek). Released 8/24/10.

Land of TalkCloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek) — Saddle Creek has its first dream-pop act with these wily Montreal-eans led by dreamy front woman Elizabeth Powell. Their first Creek release, 2007’s Some Are Lakes, was a sneaky comer that required repeated listens before locking in. Not so this follow-up, which leaps out of the gate with its dense, bouncy title track where Powell croons in her husky, sexy voice the indecipherable code: “I won’t redeem another / Lose that.” What’s it mean? Who knows? Just like on the pulsing “Quarry Hymns,” where she coos “Leaving on the hottest day / To sink this quarry under,” you never know what she’s singing about, and you won’t care because you’ll be lost in the layers of the trio’s beautiful pop. There will be the inevitable comparisons to the usual suspects: The Sundays, The Cranberries, Fleetwood Mac, but Land of Talk brings its own mystery to your headphones, its own intensity that none of the others can match.

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge). Released 8/3/2010.

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge). Released 8/3/2010.

Arcade FireThe Suburbs (Merge) — Mewing frontman Win Butler may be too smart for his own good — a sad, tortured realist, he’s stuck in a rut, dwelling on the past, on the future and on our current state of affairs. And yet, his music on this, his third album, is as inventive as anything on 2004’s Funeral, certainly moreso than the disappointing Neon Bible. The album is so radio-friendly (in an ’80s sort of way) that it almost slips out of an indie classification into the mainstream. But it’s the songs’ consistently bleak lyrics that will keep any of them from becoming household anthems. The themes: Boredom, lost opportunities, futility, modernism, isolationism, instant nostalgia, and some unforeseen looming apocalypse. All that desolation wrapped in such a pretty package. So yeah, it’s an endearing bummer that’s appropriate for these bummer times we live in, a perfect snapshot of an uncertain world, and dead accurate, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to listen to. My advice: Hang on for the ride and pay attention to the lyrics at your own peril — you may never want to get out of bed in the morning.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Saddle Creek update; Another recipe for success in the music biz…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:00 pm July 15, 2010

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

There’s not much going on news-wise.

Saddle Creek today announced that Land of Talk’s sophomore record, Cloak and Cipher, will be released Aug. 28 (They’re playing at Slowdown Sept. 23). Azure Ray’s first new album in seven years, Drawing Down the Moon, will be coming out Sept. 14 on Creek, and Maria and Orenda are headed out on tour, including a gig at Slowdown Nov. 3.

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There’s a longish interview at Wired this week with Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman (online here), where he talks about the continued downward spiral of the music industry, how the “long-tail” model is bunk, how social media is useless for selling CDs, and his vision for how artists and labels can make money in harmony. His vision:

“The model that looks most promising is to set up an LLC, just like a movie company — they set up an LLC for each movie. Every artist is a business, and has its own corporation under this model, and all of that artist’s creative equity goes into that — not just music, but everything they do. Whether it’s live, or merch, or whatever, their brand goes in there. And the investors who are investing and trying to promote on the other side — they own half. So it’s more like a business. An equity partnership.”

How is that different than the 360-degree record deal, where the label controls publishing, merch, the record, and touring? “The 360 deal is a traditional adversarial record deal of the old fashion,” Silverman said in the interview. “You get 12 points, or 14 points, and we recoup everything. ‘Here’s your check at the beginning — you’re not going to get paid again.’ Everything I said that was wrong with the business is still included with the 360 deal. Plus, they take a grab of 20 to 30 percent of touring and merch.”

Add to that some depressing numbers: “In 2008 there were 17,000 releases that sold one copy,” Silverman said. “Last year, there were 18,000 (that sold one copy), and something like 79,000 releases that sold under 100 copies. Under 100 copies is not a real release — it’s noise, an aberration. In any kind of scientific study, it would be filtered out. It’s like a rounding error. That 79,000 number represents almost 80 percent of all the records released that year.”

Yikes. Read the entire interview here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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