Emilie Autumn at Station 4 2011-02-19

I hadn’t heard much of Emilie Autumn‘s music, but I did know that she’s a violinist and that was enough to get me to see her live. It was questionable whether she’d be able to perform, as she had to cancel the past few dates due to a throat infection and no voice. The show went on and despite being under the weather with a voice less than 100%, she gave the performance her all.

It was an interesting night. Even though most of the music was pre-recorded (minus the vocals and an occasional keyboard or violin part), Emilie Autumn and her merry band of Bloody Crumpets put on a very visually interesting and entertaining show. The performance was quite theatrical in the burlesque style and definitely had what I’d call a musical theater feel to it. The venue, Station 4, wasn’t the best place for Emilie Autumn to play, as it’s a bit of a dive with a small stage and support posts down the middle of the floor and stage in contrast to the gorgeous costumes and Victorian themes of the performers and the show, but whatcha gonna do?

I was disappointed that there was not a lot of live violin, but as a fellow violinist, I understand how hard it would be to do much singing and playing at the same time. It’s nearly impossible to do so with proper violin technique and Emilie Autumn definitely has a very textbook playing style.

Some interesting moments during the evening included the Crumpets throwing freshly licked tea cookies out at the crowd, a bit called the “Rat Game” whereby a female audience member who has never kissed a girl before is brought on stage to kiss Crumpet Veronica, and one of the Crumpets did an extended crowd surf and then later donned stilts.

Even if you don’t like Emilie Autumn’s music, it is definitely worth seeing her live show, as she is a true entertainer.

On an somewhat unrelated note, after I got home from the show, I checked out Emilie Autumn’s Twitter page and saw this rant about people asking for freebies…free tickets to shows, free VIP passes, free whatever:

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/8smcuu

Her post struck a chord with me, as I have made it a point for the past 10+ years to support independent artists. It started by my decision to boycott the RIAA in 2000 (RockBand tracks are one of very few exceptions) and seek out music by independent artists and labels. Today, I not only spend my hard earned money on independent music, but I also attend a large number of concerts, help spread the word about the indie artists I find interesting via my podcast (of which I fund entirely out of my pocket), and also promote concerts. I put a lot of time, money and energy into supporting independent music and while I don’t expect everyone to put in the same amount of effort, freeloaders who just don’t get it do really annoy me.

Autumn writes:

“To all those asking for free tix, free this, free that, kindly permit me inform you that the amount of $$$ I have lost on touring during the past five years is nothing short of astronomical, is far more than an upper class American’s yearly salary, and could in fact purchase a small city.”

It is abundantly clear that Emilie Autumn takes her craft very seriously and I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be as a struggling artist to be constantly bombarded with requests from people who claim to be fans yet who are not willing to shell out a small amount of money for a concert ticket, music, whatever to help support the art they enjoy. It’s a small price to pay to help ensure the artist is able to continue making art and to continue touring. I understand that we are in an economic crisis right now, but if you’re really as big of a fan as you say you are, plan ahead, save up and get yourself to the show. If it’s not possible to for you to buy a ticket, don’t go begging to the artist for a free ride. That’s just rude.

Autumn’s post isn’t all negative. She says at the end:

“On the lovely side, fuck the major (and minor) labels of the world who claim that nobody is paying for music anymore, because there is ONE thing and one thing only from which I derive any income at all, and that is digital downloads bought via my own website and iTunes by honest, fair, and incredibly kind Plague Rats around the world who know very well that they could easily download pirated copies for free, but choose not to. For this I thank you endlessly and wholeheartedly, as do Basil, Sir Edward, and the other hundreds of Asylum ratties who get to eat because of you:).”

In response to Autumn’s tweet and after having purchased a hard copy of Opheliac at the show, I also purchased a digital download of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun & Bohemian Rhapsody EP and Laced/Unlaced (Double Disc). While I enjoy Autumn’s music, I wouldn’t consider myself a big fan. So why spend my money on 3 albums and a concert ticket in the span of 24 hours? Because promoting creativity and supporting truly unique and talented artists is important to me. Thank you, Emilie Autumn and all the other artists out there who choose make the sacrifices necessary to devote your lives to your original art.

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Cwn Annwn CD Release Show w/The Pimps, Gracepoint

I arrived to the Triple Rock about 5 minutes into Gracepoint’s set. As Cwn Annwn guitarist Neil James commented during the interview on episode 23, Gracepoint is an extremely technically talented group of musicians. They are also a very tight band. Sound-wise, Tennessee’s vocals are a cross between Second Coming’s Travis Bracht and Metallica’s James Hetfield. They had lots of nice guitar harmonies, fast drumming, and fancy bass playing.

I would have liked to see more movement on stage, however, especially out of vocalist Matt Tennesse. So while there were some very technically and sonically impressive moments out of Gracepoint, including some incredible Eddie Van Halen style tapping in harmony from both guitarists during the last song, I wasn’t really feeling Gracepoint, though I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again.

Rockford, Illinois band The Pimps was up next. The Pimps fuse quite a few different styles into their quirky rock. I heard everything from punk to 80s metal to country to prog rock. The Pimps also weaved in quite a bit of banter and story telling into their set, at one point even bringing up an audience member named Reed, hand selected by the audience, who’s a student studying Human Resources and appeared to be fairly unimpressed by the set. The band proceeded to crack a few jokes at Reed’s expense and then sang about his chosen profession.They closed with a cover of Charlie Daniel’s Devil Went Down to Georgia, which was the highlight of the set for me.

If you’re easily offended, it would be in your best interest to forget that The Pimps exist. There’s a shock value to some of the things said on stage and they were even selling t-shirts that said “Thank God I’m an Aethist” (I almost bought one but didn’t have enough cash for both a CD and a t-shirt). However, if you’re not easily offended and enjoy seeing a bunch of funny, witty, smart ass punks playing up tempo and musically interesting songs, then be sure to go catch The Pimps live.

Cwn Annwn closed out the night, playing their new concept album The Alpha and the Omega from start to finish. There were two highlight for me. The first was actually the instrumental track, Gaea’s Rebirth. I know the band was nervous about playing this one live because 1. it’s an instrumental 2. it’s long at almost 10 minutes and 3. it’s the 4th song on the album and thus the 4th song in the set, which could potentially send everyone outside for a smoke break or perhaps even back to the car with thoughts of warm blankets waiting at home (it was below zero degrees F out, after all). While a few people did take a smoke break, the majority of the crowd remained and remained enthusiastic throughout the song.

The band put on a phenomenal performance on a very technically difficult track.  The track really showcased bass player Mike Strohkirch’s skills on the 6 string fretless bass. Yes, I said fretless. I spoke with Storkirch briefly after the set and he said he’s only been playing fretless for a few months, which is quite impressive. James said this was the only chance to see Gaea’s Rebirth live, as they will be retiring it from their live sets going forward, and I was glad I was able to see it performed this once.

The second highlight for me was the final track, Nova. This one also appeared to be the crowd favorite. Nova is about as heavy as Cwn Annwn gets with frequent growls from both Stohkirch and James complimenting vocalist Julie Schultz’s clean and powerful melodies. I’m sure this song will be a regular inclusion in future live sets.

Overall, this was a solid performance from Cwn Annwn with lots of energy. Look for their next show in early March. They’re putting on a metal show / tattoo expo and full details are coming soon.

I:Scintilla Dying & Falling Review

Reposted from my Last.fm journal

I:Scintilla continue to push their genre defying sound in their latest full length, Dying & Falling, released on November 26. Before I get too far into this review, I do have to issue a disclaimer. I’ve been following I:Scintilla since 2004, when I stumbled across their MySpace page in search of new industrial-type bands. At the time, they were a young but promising band out of Urbana-Champaign, IL and what really set them apart from the other electronic bands I was encountering were the vocals, the emotion and the fusion of styles present in their early work. I:Scintilla have continued to gain momentum and international attention since signing with Alfa Matrix in 2006. I’ve watched I:Scintilla grow up as a band and feel in some ways like I’ve been on this journey with them, even though I’m just a passive listener.

As with most Alfa Matrix releases, Dying & Falling comes in two flavors – the 11-track, 1 disc regular edition and the 22-track, 2 disc limited edition box set. I have yet to be disappointed by one of Alfa Matrix’s 2-cd box sets and the box set is very well done. Singer Brittany Bindrim is also an artist and each page of the 12-page booklet for both editions contains her paintings along with full lyrics. Packaging for the 2 disc version also contains a poster, stickers, a postcard and of course, the bonus disc. Fans in North America can order either version direct from I:Scintilla’s site, where you’ll receive free shipping and can buy the album on it’s own or choose from various CD and merch combo packages.

If you’re outside North America, you can order direct from Alfa Matrix. They have some combo specials running that are worth checking out. In particular, you can order the 2 CD version of Dying & Falling and a 4 CD box set of your choice – one of the options is the excellent Vampire Freaks Fuck the Mainstream compilation, which is no longer available from Vampire Freaks and is becoming harder and harder to find. Get it while you can!

Swimmers Can Drown
The album opens with Swimmers Can Drown, which is a and sonic roller coaster. We’re greeted with a crunchy but quiet solo guitar and soon after, a thumping 4/4 bass line and synths quickly join before quieting down for the verse. Swimmers Can Drown certainly grabs your attention as an opener. Tension builds as the bass synth continues to thump in the background behind Britany Bindrim’s melodic vocals during the first two verses. Suddenly, the vocals turn angry for the pre-chorus, joined by distorted guitar and the whole bands lets ‘er rip for the chorus. The lyrics in the verses are very complex, even including and rhyming with the word “dogmatically”, but the poetic gymnastics in the verses don’t sound forced. The quick sonic changes provide a great introduction to the band’s diverse style.

Sharia Under a Beauty Curse
Crunchy, syncopated, stacatto, brooding, and distorted are all words that come to mind when describing Sharia Under a Beauty Curse. I:Scintilla continue to build energy and keep the intensity up with this second track. The subject matter is quite heavy yet the song manages to leave the listener with a feeling of empowerment, hope and overcoming adversity. These are recurring themes throughout the rest of the album.

Ammunition
The first two tracks on the album build on each other, increasing the tension and the album completely erupts once Ammunition kicks in. Ammunition was originally released on 2009’s Prey On You EP and is pure, raw anger personified. It is much, much heavier than anything we’d yet heard from I:Scintilla and the first time I heard this song in late 2009, it completely floored me. The mechanical drums and beats are relentless, even throughout the strobe-like breakdown. And while I like a good, growly set of vocals just as much as the next death metal fan, I also really appreciate when a band can convey the sort of emotion that comes out in Ammunition simply using clean vocals and dynamic range. That is a testament to I:Scintilla’s craft.

Worth the Wait
I heard Worth the Wait for the first time at a live show in Milwaukee this past July. I was immediately drawn to the song even though the sound wasn’t very good at the venue (the space doesn’t really facilitate an amazing sonic experience). The live mix was also a bit too bass heavy, which drowned out the vocals somewhat. Despite the sound challenges, this song’s chorus stuck with me well after the show was over.

It would be impossible to keep up the energy of the first three tracks after the explosion that is Ammunition and the listener gets a much needed rest with Worth the Wait. Worth the Wait starts out quiet with a minimal keyboard part before the heavily distorted guitars kick in with some punch. Along with the distorted guitars is a great bass synth that pulses and drives the song forward.

Despite the noisy entrance, I:Scintilla know when to scale back the sonic assault to highlight singer Brittany Bindrim’s vocals for maximum emphasis and effect. There’s some great lyrical imagery here with phrases like “Sun crawling up skin” and “History’s harsh waves crash and tear.” I have to say that this was the most surprising song on the album for me, even though I’d heard it live. There are a lot of subtleties that didn’t come across live at the Milwaukee show.

To me, this is ultimately a song about deciding to make a change in your life, being patient and following through amidst challenges and sacrifice to create a new beginning for yourself and follow your dreams by designing your own fate. The theme is very similar to one of my favorite songs, “Not Coming Down,” by the now defunct Milwaukee band You’re Pretty. I’m a sucker for dark yet positive or empowering songs that aren’t preachy and there are quite a few on Dying & Falling.

Mothership
Mothership is a straight up 4/4 rocker with resulting sound a little bit Republica, a little bit Garbage and a little bit Curve. No new ground is tread here musically, but Mothership is a fun, solid track and one that I’d expect to translate very well live.

Dying & Falling
The album’s title track is one of my favorites. There’s a great, grooving bassline that is in some ways reminiscent of the early 90s Susan Vega hit, Tom’s Diner. Bindrim’s vocals float beautifully over the grooves and electronic noises and convey a message of hope through the chaos and ugliness that constantly surrounds us.

The song is fairly melancholic. My brain conjures up images someone walking alone on the streets of Chicago and at Navy Pier on a cold, dark and cloudy November day. I:Scintilla generally don’t do a lot of vocal processing in their work, but they use vocal processing here to great effect in concert with lyrical repetition to add emphasis to various phrases. Despite the melancholy, there’s an uplifting message repeated throughout best described by the following lines:

“We are dying
We are falling
But there’s no reason why we can’t rise
While we’re here”

Bindrim and Cookas discussed this song in depth when I interviewed them for Aztalan Turf Podcast. The lyrics were written as Bindrim was coming to terms with her religious beliefs, but the ultimate message is that whatever you believe in, stand up for it and follow that path, even if it’s not the popular path.

Face the KillAfter a bit of a breather with Dying & Falling, the intensity is once again cranked up a notch for Face the Kill. Though the track isn’t very memorable for me, it’s certainly not what I’d call a throwaway track and I look forward to hearing it live.

The Shake
Hello strings! And I don’t mean guitars. We have real-life cello on an electronic rock album, folks. The Shake is easily the most raw we’ve seen I:Scintilla. The song begins with just a cello or two, piano and vocals. This is a big risk for an electronic rock band and if there’s any song your stereotypical “old school” fans are going to pick on, it’s going to be this one because it is so stripped down. But it’s definitely still I:Scintilla and it’s definitely a beautiful and powerful piece.

They show restraint and maturity throughout much of the song by letting the simple instrumentation and Bindrim’s very honest vocals work their magic on this very exposed and personal song. They do add some elaborate symphonic soundscapes near the middle and I think scaling the layers and soundscapes back a bit may have been more effective. You can hear an acoustic version of The Shake from their set at Dragon*CON on YouTube. There’s also an alternate version of The Shake on the bonus disc in the limited edition version. So while I do think The Shake is a very good song, I prefer the acoustic version and the Volatile Night Version on the second disc to the cut on the regular release.

Prey on You
Prey on You was the title track of the band’s 2009 EP. The sound, in particular during the chorus, is very classic I:Scintilla with some very nice, ethereal sounds behind an upbeat and danceable synth line and Bindrim’s lovely floating vocals. It also takes the classic I:Scintilla sound heard on Optics and pushes things a bit farther with some cool modulation (i.e. key changes for the non-music theory geeks) and is even more danceable than songs like Ultravioletfly and Cursive Eve. Though the song is quite long clocking at 6:32, it doesn’t drag. Prey on You is very fun musically, yet still contains numerous layers with lyrics discussing the topics of religion, faith and religious guilt.

Shattered
The trancey, danceable, Prey on You gives way to the pounding military drum corps-esque beats of Shattered. The snare marches this song forward relentlessly, working with the crunchy guitars, ethereal synths and powerful vocals to create a rich and full sonic assault. Wake up your neighbors with this one because it absolutely must be played at high volume.

Omen
Omen rounds out the album. The lengthy breakdown beginning at about 2:10 through the end of the song serves as a great ending to the album as the fast-paced verses dissipate into a slow and ethereal closing.

The Bonus Disc
The 2-CD version is worth it just for I:Scintilla’s cover of I Want It All by Depeche Mode, but there are lots of other goodies on the disc, as well. I’m not typically that excited about remixes, but the remixes here are all solid. My favorites are the Volatile Night Version of The Shake and the Neurobash Mix of Worth the Wait. Each remix adds a new take on the original without losing the original version’s soul.

Overall
Dying & Falling really showcases the band’s range without losing focus or energy. If you’re new to I:Scintilla, they are definitely a band to watch. Often, the biggest fans are the harshest critics and if I didn’t honestly believe this album was phenomenal, I wouldn’t have spent so much time listening to the songs on repeat in order to write this glowing review.

New Toy – Roland R-05

I just ordered a Roland R-05 digital recorder and thus far I am quite impressed. I bought it to replace the MiniDisc recorder I’ve been rocking for about 10 years now and while I still think MiniDisc is awsome, it has it’s limitations. Namely two big ones.

First, my recorder is one of the earlier MD models, so it can only record 74 min of audio. That’s fine in a lot of situations, but not for recording live music. If the set goes any longer than an hour, I’m in trouble. I often mitigate this by pausing the recording during the encore break, but that still means at least one song from the encore is cut off and the hardcore traders like to have the complete show intact.

The second big limitation is the availability of the media itself. MiniDisc never really took off, in my opinion, like it should have. That makes finding the actual discs difficult. I’m reluctant to delete any of the shows I’ve taped from the discs. Maybe part of that is laziness because I still have to transfer a few shows over and maybe part of that is paranoia, especially since I am backed up at two locations – local and offsite (thanks, CrashPlan!). There’s still something scary to me about deleting the actual material from the source disc.

So what makes the Roland awsome? I’ll be using this little gadget for taping live music and for recording interviews for the podcast. The Roland is built for serious musicians (duh..it’s from Roland), so it has a pretty high quality built-in mic in addition to a mic input for powered mics and a line in. This means that for interviews, I don’t need to mess around with an external mic. I can just set the gadget on the table and let it do it’s thing. The shape is a little brick-like (it’s about an inch thick), but it’s about the size of a 1st generation iPod. Maybe slightly smaller overall. It takes “normal” batteries – 2AA – as opposed to the MD which uses a funky “chewing gum” rechargeable battery. My chewing gum battery kicked the bucket a long time ago, so I’ve been using the external battery pack with 2AA batteries. That makes the MD more clunky than it could be. With just the standard AA batteries for the Roland, I can use my regular rechargeables without the added bulk of the external battery pack and I can also grab replacements in a pinch while on the go.

There are a number of other features on the Roland really impressed me when I was evaluating various other products, including a new MD recorder. The media is standard SD flash, which is fairly inexpensive and easy to come by. This also means there are no moving parts. I’m sure you can imagine how nice that is for recording a live concert when you’re in the midst of a crowd. I also have a lot more storage space with SD, so that means good bye to songs being cut off at the end of the show. Probably the coolest feature is that you can record in both wav (lossless) and mp3 (lossy) formats simultaneously. Yes, I said simultaneously. This will save me a lot of time because I won’t have to encode what I’ve recorded after the fact and I’ll still have the lossless source material. I’ll also be able to transfer the files direct from SD to hard disk or from Roland to hard disk via USB. With my current MD, the only way to transfer the source audio is to let the audio play and record it in real-time to disk. That’s a huge pain.

We’ll see how the Roland does when it goes out on the town, but so far, so good. For my needs, it was definitely a good purchase.