Thursday, April 30, 2009

Camera Obscura

CAMERA OBSCURA ***1/2

My Maudlin Career

We're ready to be heartbroken, again

Going by the Belle and Sebastian career calendar -- and why not, that's where they got everything from their bookish aesthetic to their guitar tones -- Glasgow's second most popular retro-brass, sock-hop mopes should be well into their experimental phase by now. Instead their brilliant orchestral pop blueprint remains, thankfully, untouched. From the sounds of it, success hasn't done much to lift singer Tracyanne Campbell's spirits though ("You Told A Lie"). Throughout eleven maudlin tracks, she channels her heartbroken 1950s teenager character for another go round ("French Navy"; "The Sweetest Thing"). Strings and hearts swoon, handclaps and snares pop and bells and chimes ring out. It might sound formulaic if it weren't so stylishly gorgeous. (4AD; www.4ad.com)

Alternative Press

New Found Glory

For a genre with a sometimes unfair reputation as disposable and inconsequential, there are certainly a lot of bands who have managed to build a long career out of pop punk. Now in their twelfth year, Florida's New Found Glory continue to build on their legacy with the recent release of their sixth studio album "Not Without a Fight."

All the touches you might expect are here: snotty vocals, spiky power chord punches, sticky sweet harmonies, gang choruses and stop and start dynamics. The subject matter remains largely familiar as well, with the band hurling wounded missives about lost love and the stresses of life on the road tempered regularly by a cheeky sense of humor.

Notably, there's also a bit more aggression in the music than some of their poppier efforts in recent years, in particular the tongue in cheek albums like "From the Screen to Your Stereo Part II" where they covered sappy soundtrack hits from the likes of Sixpence None the Richer and Lisa Loeb. That aggression and sense of humor show up in the video for the first single from the album "Listen to Your Friends." In it the band take on the role of mixed martial artists squaring off against one another. The fighting angle is appropriate, given their up and down experience with major labels and the usual pitfalls of a decade plus on the road, says drummer Cyrus Bolooki.

"At times you do have to fight for what you believe in, especially for us with our music and politics and everything that happens in this industry. With this record it's like a new coming of New Found Glory. We're on a new label, new management. Things have sort of started over for us. We just want to make sure kids know we're still here and we're not going away."

Fortunately they haven't had to actually try out any of those moves on each other for real. "We've been in this long enough, and we're all united in the same purpose. No matter how mad we get at each other, put us up on stage after that and we're back to the way we were."

That brotherly cohesion explains their long, successful run.

"There's definitely something about the connection between us. A lot of bands have member changes, but for us it's been all the same guys. Any time we can look back and remember what it was like in 1997 in a van trying to make it 400 miles away from home let alone 4.000 ... the fact that we can all look back and know how far we've come, and how amazing it is that we're still here, I think that really keeps us together."

New Found Glory with Bayside, Set Your Goals, and Fireworks
Friday, 6 p.m.
House of Blues

Boston Metro

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Team Shred

With hundreds of homegrown bands coming and going through Boston over the course of any given year, it's impossible to stay on top of them all. One dude's certainly tried his best though. "There's so many bands in town, and I wish I could use them all," says Shred, the independent concert promoter and DJ perhaps most well known for his successful run as local music director at WBCN. "I've always been a proponent of growing the Boston music scene and putting bands in front of new audiences when I can." That's an understatement.

In December of 2007, he was booking shows at the short-lived Bulfinch Yacht Club, when the room's impending closure left him hanging. "I had all these shows in January, and I was like ... what the heck? I gotta move these shows. I had been saying to friends for a while, 'I've got to start a new thing,' and then by chance, I needed a home for all these shows, and Team Shred was born."

This week, Team Shred will host its first annual Knight Out, an extremely ambitious, one-day, six-club, 29-band festival. It's been two years since he had to organize the WBCN Rumble, he says, and he wanted the challenge of doing something big.

In putting together his own promotion group, he's been able to draw from his years working for other people and put those lessons into practice for himself. "I think it's just an extension of booking for the Middle East or O'Brien's, or being local music director. Now I'm like a free agent doing it. I never lost contact with all my bands."

In some ways, striking out on his own has allowed him to foster better relationships with the clubs he had worked for exclusively before. "I think that I grew a lot. I sort of grew up, and that's sort of weird because I'm no spring chicken in the music scene.

"I've become a veteran. I'm a veteran fucking ball player," he jokes. "I've been in the league for a number of years!" True enough. He promoted his first show in 1982 at a small performance space called Gallery East, down by South Station, a place where SS Decontrol did their first show. "That was like my growing up," he says, "because I was at the first SS Decontrol show."

Although those punk and pre-Boston hardcore roots were formative in developing his music taste, he says it's a lot more inclusive lately. "I listen to KISS 108 when I'm looking for new music now," he says. "KISS and Hot AC stations are the only ones that consistently play new music." He also listens to every band that contacts him on MySpace. That's the type of effort that requires either extreme patience, or just a straight-up genuine love of music. Maybe a touch of masochism too.

"I still get excited to hear good, new bands, to find new bands and expose them, and help them out if I can." The lineup of acts for the Knight Out festival includes a pretty big spectrum of genre, style and geography, with everything from the glammy NYC upstarts Semi-Precious Weapons, the Iranian indie rockers Hypernova, the oddball experimental metal of Salem's Captain Cutthroat and the classic rock of Waltham's The Midnight Howlers.

"I just wanted to have a fun night out. I think our music scene could use it. Let's goof around and have fun, and hopefully find a new band you'll learn to love."

Weekly Dig

Monday, April 27, 2009

Peter, Bjorn and John

‘Living’ in perfect harmony

Peter, Bjorn and John on their sound and the future beyond their huge hit

When you’ve scored a worldwide pop rock hit, you can follow it up one of two ways: by writing more of the same, or by deliberately defying the sound that won you acclaim in the first place.

Peter, Bjorn and John, the Swedish trio who delighted everyone with a pulse with the pop euphoria of their breakout single “Young Folks” in 2007, seem to have chosen the latter on their fifth record, “Living Things.”

Whereas ’07’s “Writer’s Block” popped along on a peppy, twee acoustic strum and crackling drums bounce, their new songs are studies in world music-influenced minimalism.

“You always want to do something in reaction to what you did before,” says drummer John Eriksson. “We also try to get better and better and dig deeper into what’s the Peter, Bjorn and John sound. That will change; we will see what the next five records will sound like.”

For now the sound finds Peter Morén’s vocals carrying almost the entire burden of the melody while whispers of percussion and synths color in briefly around the edges. The tunefulness here is more indirect and gives the individual pieces more room to breathe. “We try to avoid playing everything at the same time,” says Eriksson. “Space makes it easier to hear all the details.”

Much of the detail here comes from the introduction of African, Brazilian and Japanese folk rhythms and percussion instruments. It’s an effect he likens to playing music inside of a rain forest.

“It’s organic: There are a lot of wood sounds. ‘Writer’s Block’ was like skin; this is like wood, the African way of playing on things you have — not necessarily an electric guitar, you can play on three strings that you nailed to a wooden plank.”

People who may have only heard “Young Folks” and its simple, whistled hook might expect that. But Eriksson says they don’t exactly have the band wrong: “‘Young Folks’ is kind of like our business card.”

And unlike a lot of bands who score an international hit, they have yet to develop a grudge against it.

“I think it’s fantastic. A lot of musicians have one famous song. ... It’s good for people to get to know you through one song, but then they can discover all the other things that you do.”

Peter, Bjorn and John Tomorrow, 8 p.m. The Paradise 967 Comm. Ave., Boston MBTA: Green B Line to Pleasant 18+, 617-562-8800 www.thedise.com

Boston Metro

Careers: The new kid in school

Make the right steps to fit in at the office

Success! You’ve got a new job. Unfortunately, the real interview process has only just begun. Over the first few weeks, social interactions with your new colleagues will determine just how well you fit in.

“I think the cultural fit really sets the tone for whether the person is going to work out, but also how positive an experience the person will have on the job,” says Emily Westerman, associate director of the Office of Career Management at NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

One of the first things she usually coaches clients on, she says, is the importance of determining the cultural norms in an office. Do people go out for lunch together, for example?

In that regard, it’s crucial to spend time observing. “Take a step back,” she says. “You want to make sure you don’t do things that are going to alienate people.”

Inviting the gang down to the pub for happy hour on the first day may not be a great idea then. But tagging along if it’s something they’re already planning is crucial, even if you don’t want to. Again, let the norms of the office be your guide.

“If people don’t understand why you’re not participating, in some cultures that could sabotage you.”

Going with the flow seems easy, but it also has to be coupled with a professional and personable openness. Try this crazy move: Introduce yourself to everyone right away.

But, says Westerman, “You need to be careful to make sure you respect the personal and professional boundaries.” What those are will vary depending on the industry you’re in, and the established norms. Age is a key component as well.

“When your younger, it’s more natural for your work place to be your social network. When you’re older and when you get to a management role, that’s when you need to be more careful of boundaries.”

Ultimately, like forming any type of relationship, it should be a natural progression. Observe and react, and let the established cues be your guide.

New York Metro

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Careers: Visualization

Maybe unemployment isn't so bad after all. What if all you needed to do to get a new job was simply think about it really hard? Gini Graham Scott, author of the new book “Want It, See it, Get It! Visualize Your Way to Success” says it may just be that easy. Metro spoke with Scott about her book.

So how does this work?
Basically you visualize very clearly what you want – something realistic. Then you visualize the various steps you need to get it. It's a series of techniques about how to visualize, how to plan ahead...To basically work out the plan through your powers of visualization.

Is it hard to learn how to do?
Many people have the ability to visualize. It's something that can developed. As you work on it you can develop the skill more. An alternative might be to talk to yourself, using self talk.

How is visualization different than just saying “this is what I'm going to do?”
It's a way of seeing more clearly. Some people are more analytical. This is an alternate way of imagining different scenarios. It's like being a movie director and you see a scene playing out in front of you visualizing different alternatives. It's a way of playing out in advance things you would like to see happen. Athletes use some of these skills.

So in the same way a baseball player visualizes hitting the ball, people can visualizes a successful interview?
Exactly. Imagine yourself going to that interview. What are you going to say? It's a way of more intensely pre-experiencing what's going to happen. Create different scenarios for how the interview might go. It might not go exactly that way, but you apply what you've learned so you might have different answers prepared. I've used it all my life.

New York Metro

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bat for Lashes

Bat for Lashes Two Suns
Parlophone
ESSENTIAL "Glass"
Bat for Lashes plays at the Paradise Rock Club on April 27.

When "What's a Girl to Do," the breakout single from Bat for Lashes, a.k.a. Natasha Khan, was first released, its harpsichord creep and haunting vocals hinted at an artist with style and sleek swagger to spare. The UK press soon took notice, nominating the record for the prestigious Mercury Prize. It was such a startling stab of casual enchantment it felt almost otherworldly.

It's almost hard to believe, then, that this follow-up record is so boring. Much of Khan's blueprint remains intact - tracks like "Glass" are full of foggy synth washes, minimalist percussion, and dramatic piano sweeps - but there's nothing remotely approaching that initial promise.

The relative lack of drums throughout may be tempering the mood. No question this is meant to be a haunting mood piece, and her gorgeous voice - somewhere between Björk and Tori Amos, to name the obvious referents - makes up in some part for what's lacking in dynamics and compelling hooks. When the beat kicks up on "Pearls Dream," underlying a squiggly bass synth and Khan's multitracked vocals, things pick up.

Still, atmospheric music like this is supposed to lull you into a dreamy haze, not put you to sleep.

Boston Globe

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ratatat

Ratatat on expanding their instrumental music

When it comes to instrumental electronic music, sometimes its biggest drawback can also be a great asset. When you free a composition from the specificity of lyrical framework, it opens up a vast space into which listeners can pour their own intentions. In that sense Brooklyn-based duo Ratatat's trippy, electronic/guitar bangers, ambient twiddle-dee-dee and brow-furrowing beat compositions are both fraught with potential and devoid of meaning.

On their first two releases Ratatat drew from a variety of musical and cultural touchstones — hip-hop, hair-metal riffage and IDM — to carve out a unique, but ultimately familiar space. Instantly recognizable parts harmonizing and playing off one another into something unheard. On the most recent “LP3” they moved that sound further afield, recontextualizing their identifiable signatures into a broader global whole. Guitarist Mike Stroud seems to have sent his guitar backpacking around the world, while producer Evan Mast's synths kept up a frantic time-jumping excursions into the past and future.

“Leading up to that record we were listening to music from all over the place,” says Mast. Syria, Iran and Iraq in particular. “Every different culture has its own approach to music, and some of it is so different than what we're used to. It can be really inspiring.”

When the framework of a group's music is so potentially omnivorous, it becomes easier to incorporate those far flung styles. “Ideally we can take it in any direction,” says Mast. “But we have our limitations. We got a lot better when we were making 'LP3.' I think we were more open to really different ideas that we probably wouldn't have followed through on on 'Classics.' We got a lot freer. To me that's a more exciting way to think about music.”

Another lesson they picked up along the way was the benefits of speed. “On some of our older stuff we were taking months to write some of those songs,” he says. “I think when you spend that long on a track it overcomplicates it sometimes because you're trying to keep yourself entertained while your doing it. On 'LP3' we spent a day or two days, and it's more focused because of that.”

Focusing the songs live can be an issue as well sometimes. Since most of their recording process is a system of adding layers upon layers, the band, who are performing as a duo on the current tour, often have to edit themselves. If anything is lost in translation their growing audiences don't seem to have noticed. Opening for Daft Punk and Bjork set the bar pretty high in terms of audiences however. “Those were kind of like the dream shows. After that it was like, we should stop opening for people because it's not going to get any better than that.”

They've moved on to full headliner status by now though, selling out larger venues this time around than ever before. “It's pretty rad. Our first tour was opening for Interpol in all these rooms that seemed enormous, and now we're playing the same ones headlining. It's a good feeling. We've come a long way.”

Boston Metro

Barcode: Bambara

Drink to the planet

It can be hard sometimes to justify the enormous amount of energy that goes into producing the food and beverages you find at most bars and restaurants. In recent years, of course, many places have begun incorporating eco-friendly practices into their operations as demand for locally grown and organic products has increased. Now, green-minded drinkers might ease their conscience further by imbibing at Bambara.

Like other hotels in the Kimpton Hotels Group, Hotel Marlowe - where Bambara is situated - works environmentally friendly products and practices into their mission. At Bambara, they do things like use only recycled materials for food packaging and recycle cooking oils for bio-diesel fuels. They also bottle their own water on the premises.

"We don't sell regular bottled water," says assistant general manager Bill McKinney. "We have our own in-house filtration system. That way we're not wasting glass, not paying for a ship to come over from Italy with Pellegrino."

With that approach in mind, Bambara is featuring a collection of "green" cocktails to celebrate Earth Day on Wednesday. For example, there's Green Aid (Square One Cucumber vodka, basil, lemonade, $11). To start, Square One is a certified organic spirit. And during the warmer months, the basil, along with other herbs like mint and rosemary, are grown in a garden at the hotel. The lemonade is from Jansal Valley, a farm in Massachusetts. It's a nice balance of tart and citrus with a wholesome vegetal taste. It's a green cocktail both literally and figuratively.

The Mother Earth (True Earth vodka, Makers Mark, Aperol, fresh tangerine juice, agave nectar, $10) is also worth a try for its blend of bitter, sweet, and fresh, natural citrus.

The Eco-rita (Herradura tequila, blue agave nectar, fresh lime juice, $12; below center) works a natural angle as well. Herradura is an organic spirit made with sustainable farming practices. It's an extraordinarily smooth tequila on its own, and at some bars, it's wasted with subpar margarita mix.

Here, the blue agave nectar gives it a natural sugar. The fresh lime juice is a nice touch as well, although that goes without saying. If you find yourself drinking at a bar somewhere that's not squeezing its own juice by now, slowly turn around and step away from the bar. And, perhaps, make Bambara your next stop.

Bambara, 25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge. 617-868-4444. www.bambara-cambridge.com

Boston Globe

Friday, April 10, 2009

Barcode: Petite Robert Bistro

Sweet blends

With it's bright yellow walls, low cafe tables, and tiny bar complete with absinthe fountain, Petit Robert in the South End is pretty much the epitome of the French bistro. The small bar gives way to a pantry and open kitchen that seem carved out of a rustic living space that wraps around into an elegant but relaxed dining room. "This is the real, real concept of a bistro," said bartender Denis Vallet in a thick Burgundy accent. "This feels like home. It's quick, and not too fancy."

True enough, although Vallet's creations behind the seven-seat bar, and his reliance on French spirits and traditional French cocktails, certainly seemed fancy to us.

It was a warm evening, so Vallet directed us toward The Demi-Peche (creme de peche, peach liqueur, Kronenbourg, $6.50). It's a traditional beer cocktail, a sparkling blend of peach and citrus from the white French beer. Nice summer-weather sipping. The Mauresque (pastis, orgeat syrup, $6.50) usually comes served with a water bottle and a side of rocks. Since the pastis is very strong, both in its anise flavor and its alcohol content, bargoers are given the option of diluting it to their taste. The almond flavored syrup is teeth-meltingly sweet.

The Dirty French Chef (rum, rhubarb juice, balsamic sugar, $9.50; below) jumped to the front of the pack. They squeeze the rhubarb in house, said Vallet, which takes forever. It's worth it for the mingling of spiced rum and earthy rhubarb with touches of sweetness and a caramel color. "It's the improbable menage a trois," said Vallet. "A bizarre, bizarre mix, but a perfect, refreshing curiosity."

The Rive Gauche (gin, St. Germain, Sauvignon Blanc, lemon juice, lime, $9.50) switches gears completely. Here the dry white wine takes on the sweetness of the elderflower liqueur and the citrus blasts its regular character to the next level.

"I'm not crazy about gin," said Vallet. "This is good if you don't like gin." Indeed, the gin relaxes into the background here, providing mostly a slight perfume.

While there's plenty of sweetness (maybe too much, depending on your taste) in all the above, they don't compare to Vallet's dessert-themed creation.

"I like to make cocktails with dessert," Vallet said, presenting the Lemon Tart Martini (Citron vodka, peach schnapps, lemon custard blend, $10.50). Unlike most pie-style dessert drinks, this doesn't just sort of hint at the dessert, it is dessert. In fact, Vallet blends a sliver of tart into the mix. The Oh La La! Chocolat (vodka, Baileys, dark and white Godiva liqueur, white chocolate rim, $11.50) isn't actually made with chocolate cake, but it may as well be for its rich flavor and thickness and piping-hot temperature. One sip, says Vallet, and you'll know where it gets its name.

Petit Robert Bistro, 480 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-867-0600. www.petitrobertbistro.com

Boston Globe

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Barcode: Bina Osteria

Much like the construction of a memorable cocktail, the interior design of a bar is only as good as the raw materials you have to work with. At Bina Osteria, the newish Italian restaurant in Downtown Crossing, they've done their best in that regard, transforming a peculiarly shaped space into a high concept design that almost resembles an art gallery with its stark white walls and free flowing geometry. The long, thin room is broken up awkwardly by thick support columns, but they've used that would-be hindrance to good effect, bracketing smaller spaces within the whole. We set up shop in relatively secluded seats at the u-shaped terrazzo bar.

When it comes to the cocktails, the Bina folks hew to a unique European aesthetic.

"We get a lot of questions on the cocktail list because it's not the type of stuff people are used to," said bartender Heather Brulte. "But we get people to try new things."

One thing we'd never tried was Becherovka, a Czech herbal bitters with strong cinnamon and anise flavors. It formed the base of the Kost (Becherovka, lemon, Tabasco, simple syrup, $10; below right). The cinnamon and Tabasco cut with citrus is an eye opening flavor combination, and it hits you with its varied spice at both its start and finish.

The beer list veers outside the norm as well, with on-tap offerings like the Belgian Delirium Tremens ($10) and Kasteel Donker ($11).

More familiar ingredients can be found in the Caprese, (pepper-infused vodka, tomato water, balsamic, basil, $10, but they're put to creative use. It's a peppery salad in a glass that comes with a learning curve. "I can't finish that drink," said our drinking companion, "but I respect it."

Although its base spirit is rye, the Paddy Wagon (Rittenhouse rye, Mandarine Napoleon, clove, lemon, simple syrup, $10) is a lot more user friendly. The Mandarine comes in where most bars would use a liqueur like triple sec, and it provides a more natural orange flavor. "It makes our cosmos better, too," said Brulte.

Amaro is another of their favored bases, as in Thé Freddo (Nonino Amaro, Aperol, ginger, $10). An homage to the infamous late night beverage in nearby Chinatown, it means "cold tea." This one's almond heavy and bittersweet. Like most of the others on the list, it's best appreciated slowly.

Don't miss the Grappa Fizz (Acqua di Cedro, egg white, lemon, $11). Expertly shaken to a beautiful foam, it's like a lemon ice with a touch of vanilla and nut. "This can be made so wrong," said the bartender. Not this time.

Bina Osteria, 581 Washington St., Boston. 617-956-0888. www.binaboston.com

Boston Globe