Tuesday, January 31, 2017

NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest Vids - Big and Small and Some Not Behind Desks Highlights Dream Seekers

I have loved and listened to NPR for decades and so submitting a video to this years NPR Tiny Desk Contest feels both exciting and preposterous. My submission involved a simple set up, a camera on a tripod and a heartfelt song. In sampling a small slew of submissions yesterday I was stunned at not only the amount of talent but the level of professionalism not only in the performance but in the videos themselves and all of the sudden I felt rather small. I was also a bit perplexed and mildly stunned that some of the videos didn't really involve standing behind a desk as prescribed by the rules and while most actual Tiny Desk Performances on NPR involve artists who strip their music down to basic elements (and that is the charm and fun of the Tiny Desk shows) some of the submissions are full blown electric performances in a rather large space. For me, that does somewhat dull the spirit of what the Tiny Desk concert is and is meant to be. For gosh sakes the word "tiny" is there for a reason.

I am so utterly stoked to have submitted a video and all along the reason for submitting was simply getting in the fray itself and being a teeny tiny part of the institution that is NPR itself. How bloody brilliant is that, at least in my mind. So to those of you who are situated under rocks and may not have heard of all that NPR has to offer (socially, politically, musically) or are not familiar with the Tiny Desk shows or contests I hope you go to You Tube and search Tiny Desk Concert. You will find so many incredible performances in the most intimate of settings. AND thank you Bob Boilon for creating the Tiny Desk concept in the first place. I bow to you.

Below are some of the recent contest entries including mine (I am the one wearing the striped shirt) showing just a drop of the pool of performances. Today I will go to work with South Hill Banks charming harmonies and bouncy cadence in my soul. Enjoy.
Robb Donker

Sunday, January 29, 2017

From the Journey Files: The Mysterious Liberating Green Jacket

It is interesting how an intimate object can change you, change you in a deep creative way. As someone who has written about indie music for the last seven years and recently decided to dip my toe (x that) dive head first into the singer songwriter persona after having left that way of being an entire life time ago I can attest, no, confess to the power of such an object. For me it is a vintage Sears Roebuck green sports coat.

Several weeks ago I was looking for some sort of funky jacket that I could throw on for a submission video I was shooting for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest. It was not a hard look, a dedicated search. I was not going to drive to a dozen thrift shops, just one. It was all or nothing for that day. My wife and I visited a local Goodwill in my area and after quickly navigating through the mostly horrible selection of suits and jackets I felt this one. It felt formidable and while it is some sort of poly blend it feels strong and resilient. It feels like you could pull someone up from a cliff or lower them down from a second story window if your house is on fire.

As I held it up with a Spock like raised eyebrow it definitely looked old but sharp and, quite frankly, too small for me. I put it on anyway and while I had to suck it in a bit to button it closed it felt good. Like a second skin really and I have to lose weight anyway. The 3/4 shiny lining looked kitschy but interesting and it was “The Classic Condition” and if there is one thing I am in constant need of it is some class. When on, the shoulders kind of stand out military straight and the gold medal buttons may look corny now but in some other world or time they probably provided someone with that extra bling they needed even before that word was in fashion. In some real way this green jacket was speaking to me and at $5.96 it was a steal.

The NPR contest stated that all performers must do so behind a desk. So I fashioned a fold out table like one in my basement and threw some vintage things on it. A vintage Corona typewriter, a 1950's Astatic harp microphone and a funky Halloween piece with clackity teeth rounded out my motif. Other nice features are always there like the iconic black and white framed photo of a sleeveless John Lennon taken by Bob Gruen (circa 1974).

All that window dressing was fine but it was the green jacket hanging on my wooden chair that clearly made the most difference in my ability to perform. When I slipped it on, pulling and tugging at it to conform to my body it felt like a hug of confidence. I jaunted upstairs, out the front door and pulled some flowers with purple hues from my wife’s hanging planter. Sock hat on my head and one glove to cover a band aid on my left had and I was ready. Not only did the vintage green jacket make me feel like a performer it also beautifully matched my old 72 Jumbo Guild guitar. They seemed destined to perform together.

Over the next several weeks I dawned that jacket again and again for a series of videos to choose from for the contest and now it has become the thing I have to put on to perform. It is like my cape. Like David Dunn in Unbreakable reaching for his green security pancho that is like a shroud and cape that old, old jacket for brief moments in time make me feel unbreakable too. Then I look at the video performance and thing I suck but for those few minutes that damn jacket works magic on me. I eventually Googled this coat and while I could not find it exactly my research has made me believe that it was made in the 60’s so it is a survivor. That much is true.

My rebirth as a writer of songs will involve doing some live performances in front of actual people and I cannot fathom doing so without this magical jacket. I know this is the absolutely corniest thing to say or write but I like to think this jacket found me. This notion appeals to my Disney like sense that there are magical moments from time to time and besides it is an Irish green just like Tinkerbell’s outfit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kera and the Lesbians Single "I'm Late" featuring The Wild Reeds Is a Tropical Alt Folk Time Machine Born Out of Love and Love Lost

I have had a mad crush on Kera and the Lesbians since I interviewed Kera and the boys 5 years ago. At the time I wrote - They conjure up a bootlegged brew of porch blues infused garage rock that transforms you to another time when rock and roll was evolving from swing jazz, boogie woogie and Southern ragtime.- and I still think this description holds true.

Their latest single "I'm Late" burns and sways in multiple decades. It features the amazing folk trio The Wild Reeds (on backing vocals), Aaron Sterling on percussion and Matt La Rocca on lead guitar. Produced like a time machine by Jon Joseph Polluck it sends your mind to a dozen places at once. From the transistor sheen on Kera's vocals to the tropical punk / 40's Coconut Grove sway it is glitzy yet edgy. Dreamy, sultry and haunting, it feels like a voyeuristic martini vacation and like most vacations ends way too soon.

About this evocative track Kera Armendariz shared:

 “This song came almost effortlessly. I remember writing it as she was swimming in the pool, watching her and realizing how lucky I was at that moment. Lucky to know someone who believed, challenged and brought out the best in me in the nine years of knowing her. I realized long ago that not all relationships last. Coming and going in waves, that all you can really do is appreciate the time spent in one another’s lives. It will always be heartbreaking no matter how much time passes losing someone you deeply care about. I wrote it for you, for me, for us.”

The band will be releasing more singles this year and I look forward to each and every one. Pour yourself a drink with an umbrella in it and get lost in "I'm Late" (feat. The Wild Reeds).

-Robb Donker

Feb 11   San Francisco   The Chapel ^
Feb 12   Portland             Rontoms
Feb 13   Arcata                The Greenhouse
Feb 14   Los Angeles       The Satellite #
Feb 17   Davenport          Gas, Seed, and Feed Festival

^  Dead Sara
#  Reggie Watts

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hear "An Answer For Everything" - from Tim Kasher's Upcoming 3rd Solo Album "No Resolution"

Tim Kasher is a man who seems to have a boundless well of creativity and the energy to bring his visions to life so we can all enjoy them. Over the last 2 decades with his bands Cursive and The Good Life and as a solo artist he has produced 17 LPs and EPs. Play the Kevin Bacon Six Degrees of separation and his associations include Bright Eyes, Commander Venus, Lullaby for the Working Class, Mayday, Okkervill River and his first (band incarnation) Slowdown Virginia.

Kasher's third solo album No Resolution released from 15 Passenger (the new label founded and run by Cursive) will be released March 3rd. The press notes reveal a captivating soundtrack:

No Resolution is the natural continuation of Tim Kasher’s constantly evolving body of work. It is his most cinematic creation, a moving and cathartic collection of soundscapes that feels more like a suite of movements than a standard pop album, complete with instrumental breaks conjoining the nine songs. Fittingly, the 15 pieces will be featured in Kasher’s directorial debut film of the same name, which he also wrote, to be released later this year. Across the album’s strong story the characters – an engaged couple on the brink of a break up – grapple with the specific and the broad, including the restlessness of adulthood and smothering external pressures; relationships in various states of transition and the walls built within them; distrust, indecision, and despair; and the existential anxiety that drives a deep need to leave a mark on the world.
Filled with lush arrangements, No Resolution is some of the most beautiful and finely orchestral music from Kasher, yet it is also his most subdued and understated work. The string arrangements that dominate the album don’t simply hang in the background or accent the pretty melodies, they move the songs forward and force out the melodies as guitars do in traditional hard rock music. There is also a warm sophistication to No Resolution, with its fluid vibraphone tones, and also exhibits Kasher’s deft pop hand, with sudden horn blasts and dynamic shifts.

I so look forward to hearing the full album but for now Kasher has released the song An Answer For Everything a beautifully wistful and ultimately sad relationship song. Enjoy it below.

Robb Donker

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hatchet Baby and the Dead Mouse (Stories from the Basement)

originally posted at Medium
Hatchet Baby and the Dead Mouse
There is something about inhabiting the “50” decade. You start re-evaluating things. Not just your purpose or place in life but just things in general. You start making your dreaded bucket list. If you are a parent you may be wondering when that child in college will graduate and eventually move out or you might be terribly missing the kids who did exit the house hold off to find themselves in places far away.
In my case I am the one who moved away from my homeland of California out to the foreign woods of Georgia. While I still have one child slaying dragons in college to hug and hold, the other two are building lives back home brick by brick. Having cut out a sliver of the music writer pie in Cali along with connections galore to music venues and festivals the move to thisplace has set my feet in middle aged cement. I still write for my ever growing passion / music blog American Pancake but as of late my creative interests have been pulled at every turn back to song writing, back to playing and recording. Putting myself out there.
Oddly enough I find myself not writing about personal passions or stories, no I am way to insecure about revealing myself to others in that sort of real way. While I had thoughts of being a pure Dadaist type of composer by twisting my songs into musical puzzles I find I am too conventional to really do that. I have adopted a pure stream of consciousness style of lyric writing / imagining and amazingly enough while they may of not meant anything to me when I thought of the words, those words do serve as poetic license itself to bring meaning to those who hear them. Creating an aesthetic and words on the fly have made for some interesting song titles. Two come to mind that “Hatchet Baby” and “Dead Mouse”. The words “hatchet baby” literally fell from my lips as I played the strange drop d chords. “Dead Mouse” came to be from a self deprecating joke and not coalesced from the process of playing guitar but the words to the song were completely stream of consciousness stuff.
What is interesting to me is that upon closer reflection some of these stream of consciousness songs do seem to have meaning to me and about me after all. It is like my subconscious mind unwittingly has revealed itself. Take for example the song “Dead Mouse”. The phrase came to be when I joked about my beard looking the color of a dead mouse after I had tried dying out the gray. It was funny and I just thought it should be the title of a song. Weeks went by and then one day while writing a guitar section words sputtered out all at once.
I can’t sleep… I can’t dream… standing at the edge of the forest, the edge of the forest….
he’s mocking me…. with his shiny eyes… and bucktooth grin he’s waiting for the surprise
dead mouse is coming…. the dead mouse is coming… he’s staring at me
I can’t feel… I can’t touch… my tooth is burning but my eyes are numb, my eyes are numb
standing alone… in the hidden room… trying not to look at him and he is looking all too soon
dead mouse is coming…. the dead mouse is coming… he’s staring at me
Now someone who I know who is a talented writer of poetry took her stab at interpreting the song before she knew it was basically floral jibberish. She ascertained that the “Dead mouse” represented death or fear of death or growing older. Whoah. And that not being able to “feel” / “touch” represented not seeing the “dead mouse”. Again, Whoah.
I thought these theories were nothing more than just that until I realized that I was after all dying the gray out of my beard. And, yes when my father passed away and my mortality slapped me squarely across the jaw I did feel utterly numb and, in a way, have had a dulled numb sensation ever since. Maybe it is a cold hard fact that anything you imagine, anything that falls from your lips at a purely creative moment is about something and those somethings are about you pure and simple.
I am listening to “Dead Mouse” in an entirely different way and I just cannot imagine what “Hatchet Baby” might be about. For now I am afraid to look.
-Robb Donker

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Best Songs of 2016 !!! Our Favs Part 1, 2 and 3

It is that time of the year boys and girls when I list my favorite songs of 2016. Well, actually, it is well past that time as I procrastinated again and again. Due to multiple writing projects and a super busy work load at my day job I have kind of neglected my blogging as of late. So I had the brilliant idea to vlog my list of favorite 50 songs instead of writing the list. I mean that would be easier, wouldn't it. Not so much as it turns out. The rendering process was slow, I talk to much and after I uploaded the 3 part project I was hit with copyright infringement claims.

It is sad when someone can't even comment on music and play a snipet of what they are reviewing. I mean this is the normal course of business for tons of people doing movie reviews is it not?? Well, I have had to mute a few reviews but have decided to finish what I started even if it is 2017.

The list is just a bunch of songs. There is not countdown to number one AND in fact, number 5 is not in my mind better than number 20. In an effort to be free form and random, numbers were assigned randomly and the 3 groups of songs were put together with an online random number generator.

I hope that you enjoy the list. Check it out and if you have time please check out all 3 videos. I promise to not talk so much next time.

Robb Donker

Best 50 Songs Of 2016 (Our Favs) Full List- Note that they appear over 3 videos in a haphazard order and the placement in the list was picked randomly.

2. Radiohead - The Numbers: Jonny, Thom & a CR78 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti6qhk3tX2s
3. Ty Segall - California Hills : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ma7pPlmeudI
4. Jeff Rosenstock - To Be A Ghost : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu6wXUNc3nY
5. Nick Cave - I Need You : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAMZYpZi_M4
6. Cherry Glazerr- Told You I'd Be With The Guys : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFgz9aiiZlQ
7. Diarrhea Planet - Lie Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M0Oi7A8YeQ
10. Phantogram - You Don't Get Me High Anymore : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jryzEU7WAlg
12. Sarah Bethe Nelson - Paying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF7Ly4kHcKg
13. Dog, Paper, Submarine - Spongeboy : https://martinmanssonsjostrand.bandcamp.com/track/sponge-boy
14. Glass Spells - Away From Space : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRtN4QArcag
16. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Bare Necessities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0oIoR9mLwc
17. Yeasayer- Gerson's Whistle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZhFpgTIDfE
18. Kishi Bashi- Hey Big Star: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nau9z_YiGJA
19. Murena Murena - Le Van's Wife: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFSeBdPZreY
21. Jenny Besetzt- Dorothy Everything's Fine: https://jennybesetzt.bandcamp.com/track/dorothy-everythings-fine
22. Lily Virginia- All Night : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6GS4zj70V0
25. Gileah Taylor- Jon Of The Four Track Heart: https://gileahtaylor.bandcamp.com/track/john-of-the-four-track-heart
31. Agnes Obel-  It's Happening Again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT-ECHaz4PE
33. Vomitface- Senior Pictures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUFUPlq1BEE
39. Dumb Numbers- No One: http://dumbnumbers.com/track/no-one
40. Robbie Cavanagh- Which Way To New York: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUkSxEs33Jc
41. Summer Flake- Look How Far We've Come: https://summerflake.bandcamp.com/track/look-how-far-weve-come
43. Matthew Logan Vasquez- Personal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz-0HifwS8w
45. Seabreeze Diner- Anna Belle: https://seabreezediner.bandcamp.com/
46. Sunflower Bean- Easier Said: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xykuu_pVZak
49. Petite Meller- Milk Bath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ0hQGRD-Hw