Friday, July 29, 2011

Listening, Lately to Loops

Music is a big part of my life again, so it might as well be a presence on this blog too.

I find myself drawn lately to musicians in solo or small projects using loop pedals. I have long felt limited by my solo music, just keyboard and voice, so it's inspiring to hear the potential for what loops let you do on your own.

Originally a solo project using vocal loops to create harmonies, texture and rhythm, Yellow Ostrich now also has a drummer and trombonist/bassist. And really good songwriting. Since their newest album The Mistress is going to be re-released by Barsuk, you can no longer get it off bandcamp, but you can hear the wonderful "The Whale" below, a song of love carrying you into the great unknown. I missed the first half of their set at McCarren Park during the Northside Festival (with Sharon Van Etten! and Beirut!) because I was signing the lease on my new apartment, but I got to chat with Alex afterward and express my appreciation for his music. They're playing at Glasslands on August 19. Sadly I will be out of town.

I also am paying closer attention to music featuring organs, since I'm now playing organ in my band and wanting to learn about its features and what kinds of sounds and playing styles work best. So I'm enthralled by the new project Moonface, from Wolf Parade's frontman whose album Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I Hoped comes out next week. For now you can stream it at Spin. "It's music played with an organ, organ beats, organ beeps and bloops, and some digital drums. Music based on layers and loops, the hypnotizing sound of a Leslie speaker, and the onslaught of melody." Not to mention Philip Glass-like arpeggios.

Idiot Glee is another one man project from Kentucky that's got an organ and vocal loops and 50s doowop melodies. You can download his new single "Trouble at the Dance Hall" over here.

And speaking of excellent use of looping, let's not forget Andrew Bird who fills out a complete sound with guitar and mandolin and violin and whistling all on his own. This video of "Tenuousness" is a great example.

Camping in NYC

Did you know you there is a campground within New York City's limits? I didn't until last week, when I found myself joining friends for a camping excursion to Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport, now part of Jamaica Bay/Gateway National Recreation Area. It wasn't the best time for camping during the 100 degree plus heatwave. Thankfully, by the time we got there in the evening, it felt about ten degrees cooler than in the city proper with some breezes coming off the nearby water and the shade effect of trees. We made sure to bring and drink several jugs of water and coolers of cold beer. You can get there by car, bike, or by subway and then bus. We took a car to be able to carry all that gear, but several people in our group somehow made the hour plus bike ride in the heat.

There are about five group campsites, with little to medium shade coming from small trees and bushes. Each "campsite" has a picnic table, firepit and grill centered around an open field for frisbee. It was the perfect kind of setting to gather people together to kick back in semi-nature in celebration of someone's birthday. I only wish it hadn't been so hot so we would have wanted to stay all weekend and actually kick back. Even though a fire was the last thing we needed, we built fires anyway for cooking veggie burgers and to ward off the bugs.

We took long late night walks on the expansive paved runways, which felt in the darkness like eerie scenes out of Lost, and made new friends with other campers we ran into on our explorations. The unsettling sound of planes taking off and landing overhead at JFK just across Jamaica Bay comingled with a variety of birdsongs.

It was so hot that we were forced out of our tents in the morning before 8am, surprised to realize that our tent was in shade as we hoped when we set it up, even though it certainly didn't feel like it from inside.

Since the campground is just across the bridge from the Rockaways, we made a five minute drive over to the much buzzed about Fort Tilden Beach, where there are no lifeguards, where girls go topless, where you can freely drink cans of beer. I was surprised to see it looked like an actual ocean beach, like the Jersey shorelines I'm familiar with, rather than Coney Island's crowded, tame and murky water. The whole lot of us headed straight into the water to cool off, some diving under waves, some floating and bobbing, some standing knee deep in cold water to enjoy the occasional crashing spray. However, in what I understand was an anomaly, when we'd step away from the water, the flies swarmed relentlessly, dozens at a time surrounding and biting our calves. It was too much after a sweaty and itchy night already. So back into the air conditioned car we went, back into the weighty 110 degree heat of the city. Someday I'll make the long bike ride to experience Fort Tilden beach properly and hope for no flies.

PS. Did this heat wave make anyone else concerned about a future of global warming where there are more excessively hot days each summer and less available air conditioning as we run out of fuel?