From The Desk Of Spirit Family Reunion: Self-Released Music

When the folks in Spirit Family Reunion raise their voices in song, they deliver an inspiring message. Their mostly acoustic approach combines elements of rock with hints of bluegrass and country music. They have a feel that approaches the fervent emotions of gospel music, but their messages stay grounded in the secular world. Banjo player Maggie Carson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on the band

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Carson: Let’s take a moment to appreciate and encourage all the independent bands working so hard out there.

There are so many great unsigned musicians working their butts off to get their music directly from their hearts to your ears, many by necessity and some by choice. Even the term “unsigned” has a negative connotation to it. We need a “pro-life”/“pro-choice” term for musicians who release their music independent of labels. We put out our first full album, No Separation, a couple of years ago on our own, no record label. It wasn’t a choice, it was just what it was. Now after playing 300-something shows and bringing our music to so many more people than we ever expected, we are extremely proud to be self-releasing our newest record, Hands Together.

This isn’t intended to shame musicians who sign to labels. There are many brave and talented musicians who worked hard for years on their own before having the opportunity to work under a label. Signing with a record company might help you take steps toward wherever you want to go, because labels have connections and marketing money that can provide a musician with useful exposure. Of course it is also completely possible today for musicians to get good exposure without a record company. Lets push for more of that, more good exposure for good self-released music.

Signing a big record deal often seems like the apex to the career you’ve been working for. But its important to refocus and realize that the most important peak is your creative one, and you absolutely can get there with or without a record label.

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Film At 11: Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes is a Kentucky-based pianist and composer known for her work in influential chamber-rock group Rachel’s. Now she readies for the release of new album The Clearing, due out May 26, and shares a new video for the track “The Air In Time.” The clip shows people interpretive dancing on a black screen and focuses on body movements. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: Mew’s “+ -“

Mew

Since 1994, the Danish indie rockers in Mew have found interesting and engaging ways to bend progressive rock into exotic new shapes that appeal to modern sensibilities. Their latest album, the cryptically titled + -, is a departure from their last release, which sported a title that doubled as a short story. In addition to its seriously truncated name, + - finds Mew channeling several diverse musical approaches, dispensing with the obtuse songwriting/production techniques that marked 2009’s No More Stories... and tapping into the band’s natural rock/pop tendencies.

Opener “Satellites” soothes and stings like a math-rock tribute to Genesis (both early-club and late-arena versions), while “Making Friends” could pass for an Owl City reverie with a little Muse bombast thrown in for good measure. “Rows” and “Cross The River On Your Own,” finish + - in epic fashion, taking up nearly a third of the album’s length with shifting moods and tempos. Cameos from pop princess Kimbra and Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack are the delicate icing on Mew’s richly satisfying prog/pop cake.

—Brian Baker

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MP3 At 3PM: Jeremy Bass

JeremyBass

Classically trained musician Jeremy Bass will release his bossa-nova-inspired new album, New York In Spring, on June 9. This is the second of two seasonal LPs in 2015, and he now offers “Firefly” for free download. The calm, simple track shows the talent of this musician, and it makes for easy listening on a relaxing day. Download “Firefly” below.

“Firefly” (download):

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MAGNET Classics: Pernice Brothers’ “Overcome By Happiness”

PerniceBrothers

The Making Of Pernice Brothers’ Overcome By Happiness
By Michael Pelusi

The trinity ball is a 56-year-old tradition of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. During the celebration, held after the last day of classes, thousands of students don formal wear, enjoy live music and unwind to commemorate the end of a long school year.

In 1999, Northampton, Mass., group Pernice Brothers played the ball, along with Supergrass and others. The band members have very particular memories of the event. “The cream of British society sends their children to this school,” says guitarist Peyton Pinkerton. “And there were people shagging up in trees. All dressed to the nines, mind you.”

“We were playing ‘Wait To Stop,’” says bassist/producer Thom Monahan. “We’re standing in front of 1,500 to 2,000 drunk Irish kids in formal gowns, all dancing wasted-as-fuck to that song. We always said that was the make-out song.”

When reminded of the event, frontman Joe Pernice can at first only say, “Oh my God.” He continues with a memory of the song’s creation. “When the lead guitar comes in on ‘Wait To Stop,’ we really wanted it to have a ’70s slow-dance vibe to it. We were imagining it being in Carrie. Real ’70s slow-dance sadness. And it was really fun when it happened. There were kids slow-dancing to it. It was awesome.”

How many of those soused, swaying, spit-swapping Irish kids knew that a year prior, that band onstage had released that song on one of the most masterfully, sadly beautiful albums of their—or any—age, 1998’s Overcome By Happiness (Sub Pop)? Or that beforehand, the band’s frontman was doing most of his performing at a kitchen table?

“I definitely think Joe is one of the most underrated, incredible songwriters,” says Monahan, now an in-demand producer (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver) in L.A. “He’s fucking amazing. I do not think that that guy has gotten his due.”

“Anybody who creates such quality material in such a short amount of time, it always astounds me,” says Sub Pop head Jonathan Poneman. “And Joe was really on a roll.”

Pernice shrugs off this kind of talk. “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh this record is so great, it should be heard by millions of people.’ I promise you, I’ve never felt a sense of entitlement.”

Before the Pernice Brothers, there were the Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice’s prior band. They specialized in an especially moody brand of alt-country. They played Pernice originals with titles like “Fiery Coffin” and “Grudge Fuck,” as well as irony-free covers of Glen Campbell’s “Where’s The Playground, Susie” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Mr. Please.” They were initially a rock band named the Scuds, until they started informally gathering around a kitchen table to play country songs. Once rechristened, they started bringing the kitchen table up onstage.

“The Scuds were these dudes who were always playing these late-night jams at this house ’round the corner down this really shady, wooded little road,” says Monahan, who had just moved to Northampton in the mid-’90s. He wound up recording their 1995 album, Dance The Night Away, ushering in a 10-year collaboration with Pernice. “I happened to have an eight-track, and I just dragged it into (guitarist) Bruce Tull’s house, and we did Dance The Night Away,” he says. “It was fairly romantic, I gotta say; windows open, rainstorms blowing through in the middle of takes.”

Monahan found about Pernice’s prodigious writing ability when the two became roommates. “He was always writing,” he says. “Joe and I were living together in this apartment. Joe would always be playing songs in the kitchen. It was just ridiculous. He was just churning them out. I’d wake up in the morning and he’d be playing some song he’d written. I’d be like, ‘God, another one!’”

For their final album, 1996’s Massachusetts, the Scud Mountain Boys had landed a contract with Sub Pop, thanks to the enthusiasm of the label’s East Coast rep, Joyce Linehan, who lived in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. But Pernice was already a little restless. “We were a certain genre of music, just by what our skill sets were and what we all liked to play as a group,” he says. “And I just wanted to do more than that.”

Enter Bob Pernice, brother of Joe. While not a professional musician, he still played guitar and occasionally sat in with the Scud Mountain Boys. Pernice Brothers first joined forces as a band to record a handful of songs with Monahan and some other musicians at Bob’s house. Two songs, “Jimmy Coma” and “Monkey Suit,” came out as a Sub Pop seven-inch in 1997. These songs, Bob Pernice says, were “straightforward rock.” It wasn’t quite the sound Joe Pernice had in mind. “I think he was gravitating towards something a little bit more complex and refined,” says Bob. “Maybe (the seven-inch) was a stepping stone.”

According to Joe, “I wanted to do something that had a full orchestra, a lot of piano-based stuff. I wanted the guitars to have less of the country twang.”

The seeds of the Scud Mountain Boys’ demise had been planted. Not that it was a decision that came easy to their soon-to-be former frontman.

“I struggled with it,” Joe admits. “The Scud Mountain Boys, those guys were my closest friends. These guys are your closest friends, the music’s pretty good, and you just made a record that’s been really critically acclaimed, and you could probably build on that. I contemplated not doing it, because I thought, ‘Jesus I’m giving all that up, just for what?’ To take a crack at making this kind of record when I don’t even know if it’s going to work? At the end of the day, I just had to go with what I really wanted to do and not worry about any of that other stuff.

“And I’ll tell you what: It was not only a turning point in my musical career, it was a big turning point in my life, because I grabbed my balls, as we say, and I did it. I just thought I had to do it. And I risked this other thing, and I risked friendships, and my friendships certainly suffered for a long time. So, it was a big risk, but I had to do it because I knew I wouldn’t be happy just doing the Scud Mountain Boys anymore.”

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From The Desk Of Spirit Family Reunion: Just Coffee

When the folks in Spirit Family Reunion raise their voices in song, they deliver an inspiring message. Their mostly acoustic approach combines elements of rock with hints of bluegrass and country music. They have a feel that approaches the fervent emotions of gospel music, but their messages stay grounded in the secular world. Banjo player Maggie Carson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on the band

11JustCoffee

Carson: Just Coffee is a small company in Madison, Wisc., that we had the pleasure of getting to know last year. They embody the three most important values for any company: creating high-quality products, keeping prices competitive and just as importantly demonstrating a steadfast commitment to thoroughly ethical practices. They say they are “dedicated to creating and expanding a model of trade based on transparency, equality, and human dignity,” and I believe them. There is a section of their website titled “Transparency” where you can see the contracts they have signed with small coffee farmers and co-operatives around the world. Fancy coffee is huge business these days, and lots of the top companies make efforts toward some version of responsible practices. Without the name brand recognition or the Wall Street funding, Just Coffee is bravely and rightly pushing even further. And their coffee kicks ass.

That’s why we were so excited when they said we could have our very own Spirit Family Reunion roast. It was like when Arizona called Arnold or when Jerry called Jerry, but with a company we could really stand behind. Just try a bag of the Congo single-origin Wake Up, Rounder Roast and get to know Just Coffee.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Spoon

MAGNET fave Spoon recently released the Inside Out Remixes EP with contributors Fabrizio Moretti, Tycho, Brian Reitzell and Operators. Now Sppon has a new video for the track “Inside Out.” The clip follows frontman Britt Daniels through many adventures and overall focuses on human interaction. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: Prurient’s “Frozen Niagara Falls”

Prurient

In an about-face to the insular world of American noise music, which he’d been the preeminent voice of for nearly a decade, Dominick Fernow’s 2011 album Bermuda Drain saw him integrate melodic synthesizers and (gasp!) discernible lyrics, downplaying the highly abrasive elements that he’d become synonymous with. The result was easily the best and most fully realized release of his career, and since then, Fernow—who does business as Prurient, Vatican Shadow and a host of other increasingly arcane aliases—has further explored contemporary electronic music with an increasingly head-on approach, most compellingly on the menacing demon disco of 2013’s Through The Window.

Frozen Niagara Falls, though, sets out to define Fernow’s legacy—and succeeds so comprehensively that it could effectively be repackaged as The Essential Prurient. From the stark imagery and alternatingly ear-splitting and serene sonics of standout “Cocaine Daughter” to the jarring inclusion of acoustic guitar on sublime closer “Christ Among The Broken Glass,” it’s far and away Fernow’s most affecting recorded work to date.

—Möhammad Choudhery

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MP3 At 3PM: Falling Stacks

FallingStacks

U.K. rockers Falling Stacks ready for the release of their debut full-length album, No Wives, due out June 9. This is a humorous band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, saying its own music sounds like “the thrashing and squawking of a buzzard with its leg caught in a mantrap.” Now the guys offer chaotic track “No Stops” for free download. The song moves from more noise sections to more mathy parts, but keeps the underlying vibe going. Download “No Stops” below.

“No Stops” (download):

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Phoning It In: “ECNALUBMA” And “Starry Eyes”

TMBG

They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

After 19 consecutive weeks of posting Phoning It In, we finally got our own category on the MAGNET site, and then … we miss a week. (Who is this “we”? It’s just me. Fritch. Army of one. Deflecting blame.)  This week, then, it’s a Dial-A-Song double shot. Which is fitting, because these two tracks play like the A-side and B-side of a single. A single that doesn’t chart very well.

“ECNALUBMA” is “ambulance” spelled backward. The song has an odd momentum, aided by skittering horns and drums, but it never seems to reach its destination. Cover songs are at an automatic disadvantage; “Starry Eyes” by ’70s power-pop band the Records is a fine choice but doesn’t have the sneery British accent of the original. Credit is due, I suppose, for the Johns not attempting a British accent.

File-A-Song (“ECNALUBMA”): 5/10

File-A-Song (“Starry Eyes”): 4/10

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