On February 22, Mel Hsu ’13 and Josh Smith ’11 came together with a cohort of their friends—students and recent alumni—to play an intimate living room show on campus. Although the concert was ostensibly a Mel and Josh reunion, it also marked the official release of Hsu’s second album, Call Home the Crow, comprised of music written for her senior recital. Hsu and I agreed that instead of having an interview, we wanted to just talk as friends and have a conversation in the spirit of Hsu’s music: honest, slow, and maybe even vulnerable.
Mel Hsu: There’s just a lot in my head right now. At this point, I have no idea what to do next with this thing. But in a lot of ways, Wesleying seems more intimate than Facebook because it’s a community that I know, as opposed to this giant abyss.
Gabe: Which is why I thought we could just have this as a conversation. I have a few questions, and we can just abandon them as we go.
MS: I’m excited for the slow-going-ness of this. Right now I’m feeling really anxious, so I’m excited to have a slow-going conversation.
G: Let me pull this up in iTunes, because I put the new CD on my computer as soon as I got home from the living room concert, actually. The album is called Call Home the Crow, and it was your senior recital concert. Did you write each song individually, or did you the write the concert as one long piece?
MS: Let me think about this for a quick second. I feel as though it became more cohesive as the songs were written. When I began, I had no idea what was going to happen, and so it wasn’t a full work until probably the Monday before my recital.
I’ve noticed on the good ole Facebook that a few of our very own Wes musicians have been releasing some albums. Featured here is their new music and a brief q&a with JDV+:
FXWRK (Coral Foxworth ’15) just put out her debut EP, FXWRK EP. This collection of sound is full of heavy window rattlin’ bass, chilled out atmospheric chords, and unpredictable high hats. She’s played some big shows on campus and has worked with Wes alums like Khalif Diouf ’11 (Le1f), DonChristian Jones ’11, and Evan Okun ’13 (E. Oks). One of the songs is called “Trapsody in Blue,” need I say more?
That’s all, folks. Lioness, the band formerly known as Linus formerly known as Friendsome, has recorded and published its final song, placing the cap neatly on the group’s four year-long career here. Comprised of the killer team of Dema Paxton Fofang ’13, Jason Katzenstein ’13, Ethan Young ’13, Dylan Bostick ’13, Adrien Defontaine ’13, and John Snyder ’12, Lioness formed at an Open Mic in 2009, won the Battle of the Bands in 2010 and opened Spring Fling (for the yet-to-be-rivaled-and-probably-never-will-be lineup of Dirty Projectors, Black Lips, and Big Boi). And now they’re graduated. They sure do grow up fast, don’t they?
Lioness’ Bandcamp page is loaded with free-to-download single goodies, and probably boasts one of the more colorful collections of album artwork as well as music in the BandCampWes World. “Bullets” is no exception. Where their previous singles like “Hot Mess” pumped up the beach-punk vibe to the level of Surfer Blood, “Bullets” is a gorgeously crafted and easygoing tune reminiscent of Beach House. It’s pretty indicative of what the Ampersand once coined the “Post-Linus” music genre.
“I don’t think we would have the same chance in this city
if we went to any other school or formed in any other way. It had to be Wesleyan.”
Forget MGMT. Amanda Who? Das What? Wesleyan’s biggest hype band is The Rooks, a six-piece R&B/indie-soul band made up of a group of friends and members of the Classes of 2011 and 2012. The majority of them have settled in New York City after graduating, and since then, the band has released a handful of singles and now – finally – their debut studio EP, Something You Can Take. The album, now on Bandcamp for your free download enjoyment, is a must-hear for anyone who has a taste for classic rhythm and blues, hip-hop, indie rock, or really has ears at all. And, if you’re in the NYC area this Friday, June 21, The Rooks will be playing Fat Baby at 10 PM, so you can experience them live.
I had the opportunity to sit down for a Google Hangout with The Rooks frontman/lead singer Garth Taylor ’12 and drummer Nate Mondschein ’12 to talk about their new album, the forming of the band, the support of the Wesleyan community, and the difficulties of labeling a music style.
“Who is Robert Don ’15?” would be a question asked by somebody who hasn’t been at Wesleyan for more than a minute. Depending on which show you’ve showed up to, he’s either the frontman of solo project vehicle Robert’s Don or the St. Louis-based Since 1902. If you’re confused about the difference between Robert Don singular and Robert’s Don possessive, you’re not alone— even Don acknowledges it’s “an awful band name, trust me, we know.”
But ignore all of that. Don’s latest EP, Liriope, is the reason why you shouldn’t throw up your hands in exasperation. In fact, the four songs and ~20 minutes of music here are the perfect beginning to summer, reminding you that, even after school ends, you will never escape the Wesleyan music scene. Half-recorded in Don’s now-famous room in the Butts, and half-recorded at his home in St. Louis (with production by Since 1902’s Justin Enoch), Liriope expands on some of the excellent anti-folk he experimented with on his debut Honestly Honesty and adds a little blues-rock into the mix.
“Inspired by mutual love of auto castration and top 40 hits.”
I really like this album. Not just sorta like it, but I really like it. The band is House Party, the album is called “No Forever/I’m Ready, Darling,” and it was made by Razor Edwards ’10 (of Precision Libido fame), Jeff Rovinelli ’10 (of The Noms fame), and current Brown University student Tim Rovinelli (Brown ’13). It was recorded over a year, includes samples from Christina Perri, and most of it was recorded with a homemade gaggle of electronics, which, by the sound of most of the album, I’m going to go ahead and assume must’ve looked similar to Satan’s genitalia.
The music itself has, at times, a chilled out almost shoegaze-y feel (see “3pm (puma automatic)”), but this facade slowly gets peeled away during the track “love you (christina perri).” After a somewhat benign intro, the album seems to become a small exercise in audio engineering and distorted pop. This is all well and good, but it is during the third track when it becomes evident here that chaos reins supreme.
It would be wrong of me to say that O Presidente plays music from another time. That’s simply missing the point. While the band, comprised of Andrew Zingg ’13, Nathaniel Draper ’12, Tobias Butler ’13, and Thomas Yopes (UC Berkeley ’13), writes music with very particular and sometimes peculiar influences, they’re not really reaching back into the past to steal sounds. Rather, their debut album Clube De Futebol collapses the past 60 years of music history into 10 succinct songs and adds their own, very 21st century sense of humor right on top.
A quick taste of that humor: According to lead singer Zingg, the band formed around a failed student group that he and guitarist Draper attempted to start during his freshman year. Clube de Futebol, originally, was the proposal for “this club that would get SBC funds to pay for a TV and the Fox Soccer channel so we could get together with our friends and watch soccer. The Portuguese spelling was an homage to Brazil’s beautiful way of playing the game. Needless to say, SBC never agreed to give us any money. But the name stuck.” The band name, O Presidente, was a product of the same failed Clube—it was Draper’s official title, in Portuguese of course.
That’s not the last bit of Brazillian influence you’ll hear on this record. On the 50s throwback “Take My Baby,” the group sings its final verse in—you guessed it—Portuguese. You’ve got to give these guys credit for continuity. That song is notable for its American inspiration as well. Beginning with a classic slide into an upbeat surf-guitar riff, “Take My Baby” is a concise tune with easy-to-place roots.
While you were busy watching all of Homeland over break, Robert Don ’15 and his St. Louis-based band Since 1902 released a new album, Slightly Elevated. In the days of yore—colloquially known as last semester—Wesleying featured their single, “Our Front Yard,” and now we’re back for seconds. The album marks a shift in the band’s sound and production quality. Some of you may be familiar with the band’s last full-length album, No Excuses Wednesdays (and if you’re not, you can—well, really should—listen and download here). While No Excuses has a more rock-inspired sound and features more of Don’s throaty National-esque vocals, Slightly Elevated is a foray into a poppier sound and highlights the vocals of bandmate Justin Enoch more (have no fear: you can still hear Don playing the guitar, bass, drums, banjo, mandolin, and doing a little singing). The production quality is also much higher than the band’s first releases and demonstrates their growth and finesse.
As the band describes the album on BandCamp,
Commemoratively titled, Slightly Elevated attempts to recreate the essence of Fancy Dress Day. The moment, as fleeting as it may have been, is crystalized forever through these 14 sumptuous tracks.
BJ Lillis ’12 says this is his break-up album. The break-up is between him and Wesleyan.
Fans of the Argus’ tragically defunct comics section (guys, remember “Feet People”?) and surreal Brian Wilson-obsessed psych-pop alike should be thrilled to learn that Orkinpods, the formerly anonymous bedroom pop project of comics editor emeritus B. J. Lillis ’12, has a new album online for the new year. It’s called The Loudest Sound, and it’s also Orkinpod’s finest, most confident work yet, which is definitely saying something, considering I loved 2011’s Boardwalking, Katy Perry cover and all. While Lillis’s previous work channeled the damaged surrealism of Smiley Smile-era Beach Boys, this one reminds me more of Sunflower or Surf’s Up. Gone are the synths and drum samples from the last record; in their place, Lillis employs rich arrangements involving upright piano, violins, ukelele, “harmonicas; audion electric chord organ; pots, pans, glasses; packing-tape drums; jar-of-pennies; laundry basket; maracas and shakers; backgammon pieces; pencils; [and] effects.” The songs are also longer and more fully fledged.
From the first notes of “The Scientists Say,” The Loudest Sound is lush, richly arranged pop music, with some of Lillis’s most gorgeous harmonies and intimate lyrics yet. Listen to it alone and try not to cry. Seriously, listen to the opening track:
My other favorite is probably “What We Bury At Night,” which finds Lillis crooning in a lower register over an almost a cappella backdrop of swirling harmonies, maracas, steel guitar whines, and god knows what else.
“Basically this album is about being in love, old American music, and Jesus.”
Continuing his ongoing quest to occupy something like 15% of my Top 20 Albums of 2012 list, Ben Seretan ’10 (I was going to write “of Duchampion fame,” but at this point I think “of Ben Seretan fame” is more appropriate) has got a new record on BandCamp. It’s called New Song, capping off a loose trilogy that includes last year’s New Music and 2012’s New Space, and it’s unsurprisingly fantastic, cycling through Americana-tinged originals, blues standards, and 48-minute boombox drones (okay, there is only one of those) with fluent ease. Between recording New Space, making a music video, dropping a collaborative LP with Portland band The Early, and materializing at Wesleyan to open for Oneohtrix Point Never in October, Seretan has stayed pretty busy in 2012. Somehow he has still made the time to take the audio of Grand Central with me next week. (Leave a comment if you want to join us.) (Serious inquiries only, please.)
Seretan recorded the album this summer, in a single afternoon (no overdubs), while in residency at the Wassaic Project. He wrote and rehearsed it in an old cattle auction barn. You’ll recognize a few of the originals from his performance on campus in October. According to Seretan, the setting strongly influenced the album’s thematic qualities: