Friday, May 11, 2018

Playlist April/May

  • Laura Veirs—The Lookout (2018)
  • LUMP (Laura Marling + Mike Lindsay)—Lump (upcoming 2018)
  • Father John Misty—God's Favorite Customer (upcoming 2018)
  • Ry Cooder—Prodigal Son (2018)
  • Sonar with David Torn—Vortex (2018)
  • Beach House—7 (upcoming 2018)
  • Jess Williamson—Cosmic Wink (upcoming 2018)
  • Buddy Guy—The Blues is Alive and Well (upcoming 2018)
  • Sting and Shaggy—44/876 (2018)
  • Marillion—Brave box set (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants 3 (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (upcoming 2018)
  • Adam Holzman—Truth Decay (2018)
  • Steven Wilson—How Big the Space? (Record Store Day single 2018)
  • Led Zeppelin—Rock 'n Roll (Record Store Day single 2018)
  • Botany—Deepak Verbera (2016)
  • Nik Bartch's Ronin—Stoa (2006)
  • Jah Wobble + Bill Laswell—A Dub Transmission (2001)
  • Fleetwood Mac—25 Years: The Chain box set (1992)



My interview with Loma in The Boston Globe

Many musicians compare being in a band to a marriage. In the case of Loma, their debut album almost prematurely ended in divorce.

I'd been anticipating the trio's eponymously titled debut for quite some time. Loma is a hybrid of two great groups from Austin: Jonathan Meiburg from Shearwater + the two members of Cross Record. Shearwater has long been one of my top-five favorite bands. I first came across the band's 2007 masterpiece Rook and I think my review of it at the time, below, captures my astonishment at my discovery. It was like finding America's answer to Talk Talk.

SHEARWATER: Rook (Matador Records) 

This Texan art-rock group, fronted by Jonathan Meiburg, has caught the ear of music critics but has yet to colonize the charts. Perhaps that's because there's little evidence that the four-piece has ever thumbed through the Lennon/McCartney songbook. There are few discernible choruses and the tracks eschew conventional pop-song structures. Opening track "On the Death of the Waters," for example, is structured like a bell curve: It starts out hushed as a prayer, swells into an outburst of guitar and trumpet, and then subsides into the ether once again. That's not to say that Shearwater can't pen a good hook. "Rooks" is propelled by a sure-footed backbeat, a glissando guitar progression, and horns straight out of Morricone Western as Meiburg, a part-time ornithologist, sings of birds ensnared in washing lines to evoke the natural order in disarray. Just as compelling: "Leviathan, Bound" is built on a duet between a hammered dulcimer and a piano. Elsewhere, the band employs violins, harp, banjo, tuba, French horn, trombone, and vibraphone, but the organic music feels minimalist and spacious rather than baroque and cluttered. Shearwater's main instrument, however, is Meiburg's one-in-a-million voice, a sonorous vessel of unfiltered emotion. The headphone album of the year.

Since then, I've done many interviews with Shearwater's songwriter, singer, guitarist and sole constant member Jonathan Meiburg. (See the right-hand side column of this page to find them.) He's one of rock music's most intelligent, erudite, and interesting musicians. Who else spends their spare time outside of music doing ornithological research in some of the world's remotest regions. Over the years, Jonathan's work as a naturalist has taken him to the Falklands, Masoala peninsula of Madagascar, the Chatham Islands of New Zealand, a tiny Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic, and an Aboriginal settlement in the croc-filled swamps of northern Australia? Jonathan was once stranded for a month on an uninhabited volcanic desert island.

One of my favorite aspects of Shearwater is that its sound is constantly evolving. So when I heard that Meiburg was making an album with the duo Cross Record (who were the impressive support act on the last Shearwater tour), I was highly intrigued by the prospect of the collaboration. But then I heard a rumor that the project had fallen disastrously apart.

I recently interviewed Loma for The Boston Globe to get the full, fascinating story of how they overcame difficult circumstances to finish their glorious debut record - You can read the story here.
Catch Loma's current tour of the US and Europe at these dates:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Playlist March

  • Wye Oak—The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs (2018)
  • Soccer Mommy—Clean (2018)
  • Ed Schrader's Music Beat—Riddles (2018)
  • I'm With Her—See You Around (2018)
  • Francis Dunnery—Live in Japan (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (2018)
  • Loma—Loma (2018)
  • Mark Pritchard—The Four Worlds (2018)
  • Sufjan Stevens—Age of Adz (2010)
  • TV on the Radio—desperate youth, blood thirsty babes (2004)
  • Sigur Ros—() (2002)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Steven Wilson tour program

'Twas a pleasure to interview Steven Wilson for his new tour program. The focus of my piece is the live side of Steven's work. An in-depth look at artistry behind how Steven designs his concerts from the setlists to the staging, lighting, and visual display. The program is a handsome production thanks to the design of Carl Glover + photos by Lasse Hoile and Joe del Tufo. Look for it at Steven's current tour of Europe and upcoming US tour (see:

Here, below, are excerpts from the interview with SW that didn't make the cut for the tour program:

When you’re performing on stage, what sort of things go through your mind? Are you thinking, “I have to tap that guitar pedal in the next bar and then go over to the keyboard next?”

There comes a point where all those things have become automatic, they become instinct and you don’t even have to think about them. Actually, the worst thing that you can do is think about it too much. Because the moment I start to think about it, that’s when I suddenly panic and forget lyrics or what I’m supposed to do because you’re no longer relying on that subconscious instinct. So it’s better not to have that stuff in your mind.

When I'm actually in the middle of playing songs, I'm not sure what I'm thinking really. We have a lot of fun on stage and we have a lot of in-jokes. A lot of the time I might be thinking, “How can I put Craig off?” Or, “How can I make Nick laugh?”

How do you deal with hecklers? 

The hecklers that I get at my shows tend to be smart-arses who want to shout something out to show everyone else how clever they are. Being a smart-arse myself, I enjoy engaging with those kind of people, in fact I’m probably guilty of conversing with them for too long sometimes. The band will start to look at their watches and wonder when we’re going to play the next song!

I guess I do talk quite a lot between songs. I can’t abide clichéd showbiz stage banter, so I’ve learned that it’s best to talk to an audience like you’re talking to a single person one-on-one, relaxed and don’t be self-conscious about what you’re saying. That way you’re not doing the “reading from a script” thing.

Do you ever find your mind wandering—seeing someone in the audience that you recognize or who looks interesting for some reason?

Sometimes you have people literally leaning over the front of the stage and you can’t help but engage with them. I might be admiring a pretty girl or marvelling at a particularly grotesque T-shirt someone in the front row might be wearing!  The one thing that’s very difficult to avoid is obsessing about someone in the audience that doesn’t seem to be enjoying it. They might be a partner who has been dragged along to the show; it’s not really their thing but they come along to keep their other half company. You start to fixate on that person. It’s almost like the show for me becomes just for that person. If I can make that person enjoy the show, then it’s a success!

What does an audience have to do to merit a rare additional, unplanned encore?

Haha! Obvious, just don’t let us feel like you’ve had enough, don’t let the enthusiasm drop. But they have to do it as a collective, it’s no good if just a few people are screaming for more, it has to be the whole audience. Although in theory the show ends when the setlist ends, I have been known to come back on for an impromptu extra song or two if the audience were passionate enough about it.

What sort of mishaps have you or other band members had on stage?

Ah, Spinal Tap again!  Well, we have a lot of visual elements in the show, as well as some audio on backing track, mainly sound design and backing vocals. Not massive amounts, but things that make the musical tapestry more immersive. Because of that, we have to play to a click track which synchronises the music with the visuals. I remember when we were on stage in Sao Paulo in Brazil and we made a big entrance playing “Luminol”, but for whatever reason, we got out of synchronisation with the backing track and all the backing vocals were coming in at all the wrong moments, it was a total train wreck!  So much so, that it was just not possible to recover, so after about 3 minutes into the 14-minute song, I said, “STOP THE SHOW!”, and made a joke about it with the audience. I told them, “We’re going to walk off stage and we’re going come back on stage pretending as if nothing happened.” And of course the audience loved it. The worst thing you can do is be embarrassed, because then they feel embarrassed too.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Playlist January/February

  • Vertical Horizon—The Lost Mile (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (2018)
  • Loma—Loma (2018)
  • Calexico—The Thread that Keeps Us (2018)
  • Nils Frahm—All Melody (2018)
  • Field Music—Open Here (2018)
  • Jonathan Wilson—Rare Birds (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants 2 EP (2018)
  • Joe Satriani—What Happens Next (2018)
  • Francis Dunnery—Live in Japan (2017)
  • Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch—Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack (2017)
  • Max Richter—Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (2017)
  • Johnny Clegg—King of Time (2017)
  • Ride—Weather Diaries (2017)
  • Jon Durant—Parting Is (2017)
  • Elbow—The Best Of, deluxe edition (2017)
  • Seth Lakeman—Ballads of the Broken Few (2017)
  • Flock of Dimes—If You See Me, Say Yes (2016)
  • Lana Del Rey—Born to Die (2012)
  • Fistful of Mercy—As I Call You Down (2010)

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Robert Plant interview in The Boston Globe

I interviewed Robert Plant for today's Boston Globe. (You can read the online version here.)

It's the third time I've interviewed the singer, who is my all-time favorite artist. (You can read the other two pieces here and here.) The first album I ever bought, at age 12, was Robert Plant's Shaken 'n' Stirred upon its release in 1985. I'm not sure I had even heard of Led Zeppelin at that point but all I knew was that the lead single, "Little by Little," was the greatest thing I had ever heard (check out the music video, below).


Since then, I've followed every step of the vocalist's career. I love the fact that every one of his records is different and that I have no idea what he'll do next. He's one of the few artists of his vintage who hasn't lost his artistic thirst and curiosity, a theme I explored in my piece. I think that the reason I'm drawn to his work time and time again is that he's such an expressive singer - he doesn't feign emotion, he channels his most intimate feelings into his vocals.

If you're unfamiliar with much of Plant's solo career, then I'd recommend his latest album Carry Fire (2017), Mighty Rearranger (2005), and Fate of Nations (1993) for starters. Or try this Spotify playlist, below, compiled by Plant himself as a survey of some of his best songs.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November and December playlist

      • LOMA—Loma (upcoming 2018)
      • Steven Wilson—Last Day of June: OST (2017)
      • U2—Songs of Experience (2017)
      • Bjork—Utopia (2017)
      • Sufjan Stevens—The Greatest Gift: Outtakes, Remixes + Demos from Carrie + Lowell (2017)
      • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds—Who Built the Moon? (2017)
      • Courtney Swain—Growing Pains (2017)
      • Marillion—The Gold (2017)
      • The Yardbirds—Yardbirds '68 (2017 release)
      • Tears for Fears—Rule the World: Greatest Hits (2017 release)
      • Rush—A Farewell to Kings: 40th Anniversary edition (2017 release)
      • Eno + Hyde—High Life (2014)
      • Buddy and Julie Miller—White Chalk (2009)
      • Fever Ray—Plunge (2017)
      • Otis Taylor—White African (2000)
      • Roland Orzabal—Tomcats Screaming Outside (2000)
      • Shawn Colvin—Cover Girl (1994)
      • Dead Can Dance—Into the Labyrinth (1993)
      • Joni Mitchell—Wild Things Run Fast (1982)
      • Peter Gabriel—Peter Gabriel 3 (1980)

Now on Newsstands (and airline seats)

I wrote a short, front of book piece in the November issue of American Way (the in-flight magazine for American Airlines) about an ambitious multimedia Leonard Cohen exhibition in Montreal. (You can read the piece on page 18 via this link.)

The Museum of Contemporary Art's Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything isn't a gaudy Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame-style memorabilia display—don't go looking for his famous blue raincoat or fedoras. Instead, curator John Zeppetelli invited 40 artists from across the world to channel Cohen's influence into new works.

Michael Putland
The troubadour’s words and melodies have been recontextualized in newly commissioned works that explore his recurring themes: love and lust, politics and war, religion and redemption.

“There was an endless, thwarted quest for happiness. But then also a kind of resignation. There is a crack in everything and that’s what allows the light to come in,” Mr. Zeppetelli, the museum director told me via a phone interview.

Visitors can enter a virtual, surround-sound concert room, whose four walls will display montages of Cohen performing hit songs such as “Suzanne” over several decades. Another listening space includes exclusive cover versions by musicians such as Moby, Julia Holter, and The National with Sufjan Stevens. Candice Breitz formed out an amateur choir of Cohen fans who recorded their own version of the artist's landmark album I'm Your Man. A video installation titled The Offerings explores Cohen’s philosophical outlook. There's also a Wurlitzer organ whose keys have each been programmed to trigger audio of the singer reading his own poems. Zach Richter created a virtual reality experience titled "Halleluljah." If, to quote a Cohen song, you want it darker, then spend some alone time in the Depression Box designed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman ("Waltz with Bashir).

The singer gave his blessing to the Museum of Contemporary Art to stage the exhibition A Crack in Everything, which includes items from his personal archives, including autobiographical sketches.

Planning for the exhibition was underway before the singer died in 2016. The exhibition took on a different tenor following his passing, Zeppetelli admitted.

“We were planning for almost two years and fantasizing about inviting Leonard to the opening and showing him around just to demonstrate to him how vital his work has been, not just to his fans and music lovers, but to all kinds of people. He was very chuffed about that, that he could be an influence to people outside of his area, not songwriters and fans, but to other artists in different disciplines.”

The exhibition at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal runs through April 9, 2018.


Also on newsstands: The new issue of Prog magazine includes an interview I did with renowned Washington Post politics reporter David Weigel.

In addition to the demanding beat of covering Donald Trump on the campaign trail, Weigel wrote The Show that Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. The hardcover edition, published by W.W. Norton, has been such a success that it quickly sold out its first print run. During my piece about Weigel's love of progressive rock, he told me about how he got turned on to Yes and got turned down by Robert Fripp.

The magazine includes exclusive interviews with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush (both of whom I was honored to interview when I wrote the book The Art of Rush) as well as Peter Hammill, Brian Eno, Godley & Creme, and Tim Bowness.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October playlist

    • Melanie De Biasio—Lillies (2017)
    • LOMA—Loma (upcoming 2018)
    • Fever Ray—Plunge (2017)
    • Bass Communion—Sisters Oregon (2017)
    • Robert Plant—Carry Fire (2017)
    • St. Vincent—Masseduction (2017)
    • Courtney Barnett+Kurt Vile—Lotta Sea Lice (2017)
    • Wolf Alice—Visions of a Life (2017)
    • Four Tet—New Energy (2017)
    • Ibeyi—Ash (2017)
    • David Gilmour—Live at Pompeii (2017)
    • Black Country Communion—BCCIV (2017)
    • Beach Fossils—Somersault (2017)
    • Jeff Beck—Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2017)
    • Jeremy Enigk—Ghosts (2017)
    • Neil Finn—Out of Silence (2017)
    • Broken Social Scene—Hug of Thunder (2017)
    • Ghostpoet—Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam (2011)
    • Funkadelic—Maggot Brain (1971)