Saturday, 31 October 2009

Saturday Spotlight: Imogen Heap

Well, I'm back from a bit of a break from blogging (how's that for alliteration?) -- self-imposed, I'm afraid, due to having more work than you can shake a stick at needing to be done and leaving little time for the things I love to do, like blogging.

But I'm here now, and rest assured, I'll have more going up each week than just a Saturday Spotlight from now on. A Being Erica mid-season recap and a review of Moulin Rouge - The Ballet are already in the works.

But enough about that -- let's get to the music.


Imogen Heap is, quite frankly, the sort of artist that doesn't fit well into boxes; she shatters genre barriers with the same force as someone like Tori Amos or The Beatles. You could call it "electronica", you could call it "pop" -- what Ms. Heap makes is music, in every sense of the word.

She released a debut album called I Megaphone in 1998, but it was with Frou Frou, her collaboration with Guy Sigsworth, that her career arguably began. Their first (and only) album, Details, was well-received upon its release in 2002 -- but it took opener "Let Go"'s inclusion in the Garden State soundtrack two years later for the mainstream to take notice.

The inenvitable thing about a collaboration like Frou Frou, however, is that sooner or later people assume Heap just contributed vocals and Sigsworth did all the heavy lifting -- which is as far from the truth as you can get. It seems fitting, then, that her second solo album would be called Speak for Yourself-- a record produced, orchestrated and financed entirely by herself.

The album's sales rose significantly when "Hide and Seek" was played during a critical moment in teen drama The O.C., sparking enormous interest in Heap and her music. (Note: A recent hit by Jason DeRulo, "Whatcha Say", sampled the song; Heap's fanbase seems to be divided over its quality.)

Speak for Yourself offered a few more hits for Heap, like "Goodnight and Go" and the breathtaking "Headlock", which had an equally captivating video to match.

One of the constant criticisms directed at artists like Imogen Heap is that their music, which owes much to its structuring in the studio, doesn't always translate well in a live setting; however, with her inventive recreation of songs like "Just for Now", in which an awe-inspiring level of layers is used to create a unique experience, Heap has proven her critics wrong.

Ellipse, her most recent release, came out in August; since then, she's gained plenty of (well-deserved) attention for her innovative songwriting process and eclectic musical taste, something which first single "First Train Home" has in spades.

Finally, here's her recent cover of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (seems fitting, what with Halloween and all), which takes the song and completely transforms it, reminding the listener of Heap's powerful voice and incredible musicianship. Hope you enjoy.

Until next time,


Saturday, 10 October 2009

Saturday Spotlight: The Clientele

Well, Winnipeg was hit by a snowstorm yesterday afternoon, an event which appears to have been a surprise (or so I've heard). With most of us turning up the heat indoors, it seems appropriate that British indie-pop quartet The Clientele release their latest album-- the warmly-titled Bonfires on the Heath-- around this time.

I found out about The Clientele through the wonders of poking around iTunes -- a similar process that led to my discovery of Combustible Edison -- and began listening to their 2007 album God Save the Clientele. The disc wasn't perfect (some of the songs were a bit too melancholic for my tastes), but songs like the uptempo "Bookshop Casanova" with its great hook and charming music video won me over pretty quickly:

The Clientele was originally made up of Alasdair MacLean (on vocals and guitar), Mark Keen (on drums), James Hornsey (on bass) -- Mel Draisey (on violin, percussion, backing vocals and keyboards) joined later. After recording an album's worth of material without attracting interest from record labels, the album was shelved and the group released a variety of singles instead. These singles were later collected to form the 2000 release Suburban Light, an album that was recently listed as the 80th greatest album of the decade by Pitchfork, a UK music magazine known for having high standards when it comes to reviewing music.

Listen to "6am Morningside" and "An Hour Before the Light" and decide for yourself if it deserves that sort of recognition:

Three years later, the group's "proper" debut album, The Violet Hour, was released. As the name would suggest, it's an album perfect for those late summer nights where the overall atmosphere can sometimes take precedence over lyrics -- "House on Fire" and "Voices in the Mall" are lovely songs, but you can't really make out what's being sung.

The Violet Hour was followed by what I consider their best work thus far, the 2005 album Strange Geometry. It's an album partially about London and partially about getting over the end of a relationship, as the first two tracks, "Since K Got Over Me" and "(I Can't Seem To) Make You Mine"-- which was featured prominently in The Lake House-- make clear.

Mel Draisey became a Clientele member as of God Save the Clientele, and her contributions have been greatly appreciated, giving songs like Bonfires on the Heath's "Harvest Time" a richer, fuller sound than much of their pre-God Save the Clientele's output.

To be honest, The Clientele produce such unassuming music that, for a time, I completely forgot about them and that I enjoyed their music so much. Hopefully this Saturday Spotlight has been as much a lesson to you as it has been to me: if you hear a great band, don't forget they exist; otherwise, they could just as easily slip through the net.

Until next time,

From a very chilly Winter-- I mean Winnipeg,


Saturday, 3 October 2009

Saturday Spotlight: The Weepies

Unlike some of the other artists I've featured in Saturday Spotlights, The Weepies might be a group you've already heard of, whether it be on Grey's Anatomy, in a commercial, or somewhere else I haven't discovered yet.

Don't take this to mean that The Weepies have sold out; rather, Steve Tannen and Deb Talan have just found ways of getting their name out there, and anyone that immediately labels their music as overtly commercial because of this should really take another listen.

What you get from The Weepies is heartfelt folk-pop that, befitting its newfound home in primetime dramas, is the perfect score for the best -- and worst -- days of your life. Both Tannen and Talan sing on their albums, although Talan does most of the vocals, in a voice that IndieMuse described as "Joni Mitchell... [or] a folkier Frou Frou [fronted by Imogen Heap]."

Both of these comparisons ring of some accuracy, but as far as I'm concerned, Deb Talan has more in common with Joni Mitchell's earthy soprano than with Imogen Heap's ethereal vocals.

Unlike Joni Mitchell, however, I'm pretty sure Talan doesn't smoke. And if she does smoke, as you can hear on "Gotta Have You" (from their major-label debut Say I Am You), she's doing a first-rate job of hiding it.

How Deb Talan and Steve Tannen first met is a complicated story to tell, so I'll let this old bio from their Myspace explain it for me:

"Girl walks into a bar…
Her name is Deb Talan. She’s an up and coming singer/songwriter who has garnered tremendous word-of-mouth support and critical praise for her debut CD, Something Burning. Boston’s legendary music venue Club Passim has become her performing-home, but tonight she’s there to check out a new songwriter she’s been obsessing over, a musician from New York City named Steve Tannen. She’s been listening to his debut CD, Big Señorita, non-stop for about a month.

Guy walks into a bar…
His name is Steve Tannen. He’s at Club Passim in Boston to play a show supporting his debut release, Big Señorita. He’s been playing rock and roll in NYC dive bars for a couple of years, but since the release of his solo CD he’s garnered tremendous word-of-mouth support and critical praise. He’s nervous because Boston is a new town for him, but he’s even more nervous once he looks out at the crowded room and instantly recognizes the pretty young woman down front as singer/songwriter Deb Talan. In a word, he’s intimidated; he’s been obsessing over her debut CD, Something Burning, non-stop for about a month.

Deb Talan and Steve Tannen began writing together the first night they met and soon formed THE WEEPIES. “We were fans of each other. When we met, there was an electric connection that made us both nervous. After the show, when everyone went home, we stayed up all night playing songs for each other, drinking a bottle of wine and trading an acoustic guitar back and forth in a tiny apartment,” says Talan. “That night has lasted four years so far,” adds Tannen.”

Not long after, the duo independently released their first album, Happiness, and before long had attracted attention from the folks at Nettwerk Records. The rest, they say, is history.

Here's a song from Happiness, the festive "All That I Want":

While they may now have a major-label contract, The Weepies still have a uniquely independent way of going about business, especially when it comes to music videos. Almost all of their videos have been fan-produced; the clip for "Nobody Knows Me At All" is particularly impressive.

After the release of Say I Am You and its accompanying two-year tour, The Weepies went into a self-imposed hibernation of sorts to rest and write songs. The record that resulted, Hideaway, continued the duo's knack for producing quiet folk-pop; however, many of the songs on their sophomore release were tinted with varying degrees of melancholy, as the opener "Can't Go Back Now" and "Antarctica" attest.

Recently, The Weepies have begun to collaborate with other artists, primarily in the area of songwriting. They successfully helped Mandy Moore reinvent herself as a contemporary folk singer on her album Wild Hope; one of the songs they cowrote with Moore, "All Good Things", also made an appearance on Hideaway.

True to their name, The Weepies have established a place in the hearts -- and ears -- of listeners everywhere with their emotionally honest music. They're not particularly radical when it comes to the folk/pop genre, but they're very good at what they do, and at times, that's all that's needed.

A new album of theirs is currently in the works, if their Twitter feed is any indication; keep an eye out for it, and if it's anything like the joyous pop of "All This Beauty", their fans will have something to celebrate.

Until next time,