Connectivity and the colossus: Swedish metal mavens Meshuggah on alternate musical pathways

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meshuggah_kolossMeshuggah: Koloss (Nuclear Blast, 3/27/12)

“Do Not Look Down”


The average brain of an adult human has 100 to 500 trillion synapses. Each new electric impulse, each wrinkle that develops in our minds, leads to our understanding of the world around us. How this is done is still a mystery, and our experience of music is at the forefront of this complex puzzle. Somewhere between vibrations in the air hitting our eardrums and memory, we each confront and interpret the sounds of our surroundings and perceive the phenomenon of music — that which is made of rhythm, pitch, timbre, and dynamics.

French Miami

French Miami: Self-Reliant Post-Punk from the Bay

Bay Area post-punk trio French Miami is focused on the integrity of its art. Its DIY reputation and self-described “dynamics and bombast” have landed it more than a few fans — including one rock legend in a bar in Ohio.


Battles: Experimental Rockers Rally After a Shake-Up

During the recording of Battles‘ new album, integral multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton left the group to pursue solo endeavors. The remaining three members had to adapt quickly, producing a stunning sophomore album in just four months.

Man Man

Q&A: Man Man

Man Man: Life FantasticMan Man: Life Fantastic (Anti-, 5/10/11)

Man Man: “Knuckle Down”

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Oddball rock band Man Man has crafted its best album yet in Life Fantastic, a record that showcases the band’s finest songs with its strongest production to date. For the group, it was a significant and symbolic new direction, recording with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Rock) in Omaha, Nebraska. We got a chance to talk to frontman Ryan Kettner from the road and ask him about the sneaky shape that Life Fantastic took and the experience of working in a “real-deal, bona-fide studio.”

Let’s start with an easy one. What would you say to describe Man Man?

That’s the easy one? (Laughs) Exorcism.

That’s it?

That’s it. Exorcism.

What are you most excited for people to hear on Life Fantastic?

Just to hear the record. I’m real proud of this record. I think it’s our most deceptive record we’ve ever made. I think it’s our best record we’ve made, but I think it’s our most deceptive because the initial impression is, “Whoa, it sounds polished and different.” It’s sneaky because the production’s so good that you can lose sight that there’s a dark, dark center to this tasty treat.

What do you mean by that?

Our new album, it’s a grower. People who like our older stuff, but maybe are turned off by the production, really got to dig in, ’cause like I said, it’s a lot sneakier than any record we’ve done. It gives the impression that it’s tame, but it’s about as tame as sending your dog to obedience school because it bit off somebody’s face. It still might be in that dog to bite off someone else’s face. I wouldn’t keep it in a room with my infant daughter. Which, for the record, I don’t have.

How did working with producer Mike Mogis help shape this album?

Well, the band’s always been a balance of extremes: control and chaos, beautiful and ugly. I feel like Mogis really captured that. There are some songs on the record that are outright beautiful, but then when you realize the content of the song, it’s different. It kind of throws you off. And that’s a good thing.

Todd Reynolds

Q&A: Todd Reynolds

Todd Reynolds: OuterboroughTodd Reynolds: Outerborough (Innova, 3/29/11)

Todd Reynolds: “Transamerica”

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Violinist, composer, and producer Todd Reynolds has taken on an outsider, almost renegade role in music. Though he had a strict classical upbringing and a leading seat in an orchestra, Reynolds took his own path for a more personal means of expression, utilizing electronic loops and effects as a context for his dizzying improvisational instrumentation and emotive compositions.

His new double album, Outerborough, is an all-encompassing look at the myriad ways that the artist creates and collaborates, with one half of the album composed and performed entirely by Reynolds, and the other a disc of Reynolds performing pieces written by friends such as Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of The Books, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Phil Kline, and more.  Speaking with Reynolds from his home studio, the virtuoso experimentalist shares his passion for music and explains why he choose the path that he did.

What was your musical upbringing?

Well, I’ve been playing the violin since the age of four. Around high school, I ended up studying with the late, great violinist Jascha Heifetz, one of the most famous concert violinists who ever lived. I then went to music school back in Rochester, joined the Rochester Philharmonic, and was principle second violin. I then moved back to New York, went back to school, and began my career.

When did you start exploring electronics as part of your compositions?

Even from my earliest days of college, I was interested in the outside aspects and the avant-garde side of music. So I was pretty heavily invested in that music. But I started using electronics shortly after I left the orchestra. I went back to school to get a master’s degree, and it was in that time that I went in that direction.

Maggie Björklund

Q&A: Maggie Björklund

Maggie Björklund: Coming HomeMaggie Björklund: Coming Home (Bloodshot, 3/22/11)

Maggie Björklund: “The Anchor Song”

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Coming Home, the debut solo album from Danish songwriter/guitarist Maggie Björklund, is a warm and inviting record of richly textured compositions highlighting her masterful pedal-steel guitar. Recorded in and evocative of the Southwest United States’ particularly melancholic brand of folk, the album also features turns by Calexico, Mark Lanegan, Rachel Flotard, and Jon Auer, and already is one of ALARM’s favorite albums of the week.

As Björklund prepared to fly back to Europe after spending some time in the US, we caught up about the new album and the benefits of opening up musically.

What have you been up to while in the States?

Oh, I’ve done a lot of things on this trip. We made two fantastic videos. We recorded my songs played live with most of the guys from the album (Mark Lanegan, Jon Auer, and Rachel Flotard). That was really great and fun to do. We just got back from SXSW; I played a bunch of shows, including my official showcase. It went really well.

Was that your first time at SXSW?

Well, this was the first time with my own music. I’ve played there before. I know the turmoil of the 6th Street nightlife. But I had good responses at SXSW; people really stop and listen. It was very positive.

How did you become involved in music originally?

Well, I have always played music, since I was really little. It’s not something that I chose in that way; it’s just been a part of my life always. But as for becoming professional in music, I formed my band The Darleens in Denmark (after being a session guitarist in Hollywood). We were signed to Sony Music almost immediately, and that was my entrance.

When did you start playing the pedal-steel guitar? Why?

That was only 8 or 9 years ago, I think. I completely fell in love with it as soon as I started. It’s been with me every day since. The story with the pedal steel is that I had bought it several years earlier, because I love instruments and I always want to try and see what everything is like to play. So I bought the pedal steel from a friend and tried to play, but I just could not get anything good out of that instrument. I put it in a cupboard for a couple years; I was really annoyed with both the instrument and myself. But then a few years later I took it out again, and for some reason I had matured musically or whatever and I got some good sounds out of it. I was so thrilled.


Q&A: Deerhoof

Deerhoof: Deerhoof vs. EvilDeerhoof: Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl, 1/25/11)

Deerhoof: “The Merry Barracks”

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If you’re familiar with the band, it takes less than 10 seconds to recognize a Deerhoof song. If bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki‘s beautiful, extraterrestrial voice and seemingly improvised lyrics don’t tip you off, surely the impetuous drumming of Greg Saunier, or the sharply jangled guitars of John Dieterich and Greg Rodriguez, will. Like a Galapagos of music, the quartet has evolved purely on its own, each member an island and each song a new creation found nowhere else on Earth.

The band’s dynamic approach to songwriting has led to a catalog stuffed to the brim with experimentation, and its tenth studio album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, is no exception. Here, Dieterich answers some questions from the road and kindly reveals his secret weapon in the ongoing battle against evil.

What happened in the past two years to influence the sound of the new record?

I guess the main thing that happened was that we all moved away from the San Francisco area and ended up in different cities.  So we have had to figure out a new way of operating as a band and try to stay connected, even from far away.

What is the current dynamic in the band in terms of songwriting? How are the songs constructed?

Each song is different, but the basic method is the same, in that everyone writes on their own and brings in their ideas, whether it’s in the form of recorded ideas and demos, or a guitar or bass riff or a vocal line, or whatever.  Then, as a band, we just try to get it to a place where everyone is happy with it and feels like it’s something we want to do.  A lot of material gets thrown away, as well.

Mount Eerie

Mount Eerie: Naturalistic Black-Metal Folk

For his 2009 album, Wind’s Poem, Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie explores “feelings in nature” through a dense, textured soundscape with moments of black-metal heaviness.

Avi Buffalo

Avi Buffalo: Rock Prodigies’ Trial by Fire

Avi Zahner-Isenberg traded in his skateboard for a guitar at age 12. A short eight years later, his band, Avi Buffalo, is signed to Sub Pop and touring the world on the strength of its self-assured rock-pop debut.