O, Miami Lineup Looks Pretty Enticing

Miami may be known more for its celebrations of fashion and big splashy expensive parties that are sort of about art, but in April, a number of excellent writers will be flocking to the Sunshine State for the biennial O, Miami Poetry Festival. The festival combines traditional readings with more interactive events and activities with the goal of getting all of the 2-million-plus residents of Miami-Dade County to encounter or experience a poem. Past participants have included the likes of former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Kool Moe Dee, Tony Hoagland and James Franco because of course he’d be there, with banners, local businesses and more playing home to new verses.

The lineup, too, is pretty excellent for a literary festival without being too overwhelming. Visiting poets include Richard Blanco, who you may remember from President Obama’s second inauguration, heavy-hitting Chicago writer Achy Obejas, funny Internet person Megan Amram and Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore. Chase Twitchell, Natalie Diaz, Jean Portante, Frank Baez, Eduardo C. Corral, Victor Rodrîguez Núñez, Tom Healy, Stacey Waite and DéLana R.A. Dameron round out the visitors’ lineup for now. The organizers will be hosting an informational session for people who want to be involved with the festival today—check out the website for details.

Here’s a video of Agustina Woodgate from the last O, Miami, taking us through her process of “poetry bombing,” sewing poems into the tags of clothing items and other unexpected places. Hey, if it gets more people reading and appreciating words, then it’s not a bad idea.

Prolific Wunderkind Ty Segall Releases Yet Another Album This Year—And It’s Completely Different

Fans of sludgy, lo-fi, aggressive rock have only had one name on their lips this year: Ty Segall. The 25-year-old Californian, whose shaggy blond hair and baby face make him look like a young Thurston Moore, has already put out two albums in 2012. One, Slaughterhouse, has a spaced-out wall of guitar sound, while the other, Hair, is a lo-fi, feedback-filled, shambolic psychedelic trip. These records are the best kind of genre exercises: wildly fun and playful, but still operating within conventions that make them easy to listen to. Both records were deemed “Best New Music” on Pitchfork (average score: 8.45), and praised up and down the blogosphere. Stereogum spoke for many fans and critics when they called
 Slaughterhouse “a confident attempt at
making the ‘evil, evil space rock’ Segall
has repeatedly cited as his ideal sound.”

So why, on his third album of the 
year, Twins, is he leaving all that behind? “The whole ‘evil space rock,’ thing—honestly I wish I’d never said that,” Segall admitted recently while on a rare break in his European tour. Confronted with that Stereogum quote, his usually implacable Californian good–naturedness is punctured for a rare moment. “Evil space rock is one ideal sound,” he says, sounding a little baffled. “But, we like doing different stuff.”

From the opening chords on the new album, that’s clear. The screeching, lo-fi, dirty metal sound of almost all his other records (save, perhaps, last year’s tuneful Goodbye Bread) is gone. In its place is an unusually mature, structured, and melodic collection of songs. There are layered vocal harmonies, female backup singers, bridges, and snappy, memorable choruses. That’s not to say it’s not heavy—there are still plenty of lightning bolts of guitar wizardry. But the mix has calmed down, the notes all have plenty of space to breathe, and the background fuzz is at a minimum. At times, Segall almost sounds like 1990s Britpop kings Supergrass (especially on the album’s opener, “Thank God For Sinners”) or even Revolver-era Beatles. (“The Hill” has moments that sound like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or, as Segall calls it, “that song where they say ‘Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.’”)

Segall sees the record as more of an evolution than a departure. “I wouldn’t say that I have to sound distorted and gnarly and messed up on recordings for me to be happy with them,” he tells me. “I’ve always wanted to get that clean sound.” Indeed, the past year have seen a whole raft of lo-fi artists, from Frankie Rose to the Vivian Girls, attempting to release more full-sounding, mature albums. Segall is just another in a long line.

Not that he necessarily had any of this planned going in. When I ask him what his inspiration for the new record and its new sound was, he pauses for a moment. “Well, you know, I got this fuzz pedal that I really liked, and I really wanted to use. I was like, okay, start here and see what happens.” Some things never change.

Follow Chris Chafin on Twitter.

Yoko Ono Reunites For New Collaboration With Kim and Thurston of Sonic Youth

Never one to limit herself to one project, one medium or one artistic partner, Yoko Ono has joined up once again with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth for an avant-garde album she is calling YOKOKIMTHURSTON, which should be easy to remember. The full-length work will be released later this year, but for now, the trio have released an epic 14-minute single work called "Early In the Morning," now available via digital download (or limited-edition vinyl). Proceeds from the album will go to benefit Ashinaga Rainbow House, a home for children who lost their parents in the devastating 2011 earthquake in Japan. 

Ono previewed the collaboration by releasing video footage of "Mulberry," another lengthy collab track with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, from the "We Are Plastic Ono Band" show at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in October of 2010. She expresses her praise for the duo before offering some context behind the song, recalling a scene during the Second World War where she was picking mulberries on a hill at sunset to feed her younger siblings. 

Warning: the track below will prove to be high-octane nightmare fuel for some, combining feedback, throat-singing-maniacal-laughter-type-sounds and some creepy film projections. So basically, it’s everything and nothing like one would expect a collaboration between Yoko Ono and members of Sonic Youth to be. Roll clip. 

According to Guitarist Lee Ronaldo, Sonic Youth Kinda Sort of Broke Up

Lee Ronaldo, the guitarist for long-running and highly influential indie-noise outfit Sonic Youth, has oh-so-very-casually mentioned that the band’s recent shows in South America were "certainly the last for a while." Dudes in plaid shirts and tattooed baristas are going to have a rough week. 

Actually, to make light of the situation is unfair. Back in October, frontman Thurston Moore and frontwoman Kim Gordon split after 27 years of marriage. This placed the band into an odd will-they-or-won’t-they-split situation, and the recent gigs in South America seemed to suggest that the band would carry on despite the divorce. Yet Ronaldo’s excellent interview with Rolling Stone suggests that that may not be the case. When asked about the tour, Ronaldo said: "It was a pretty good tour overall. I mean, there was a little bit of tiptoeing around and some different situations with the traveling– you know, they’re not sharing a room anymore or anything like that. I would say in general the shows went really well. It kind of remains to be seen at this point what happens to the future. I think they are certainly the last shows for a while and I guess I’d just leave it at that."

Frightening! If Sonic Youth can’t continue, how can we? What are they, Community? We need to know when they’ll be back! We want a time and a place, Sonic Youth! You can’t take you away from us! Well dear readers, instead of licking the Holy Bible for strength and praying Thurston and Kim work it out, here’s a video of their fantastic cover of The Carpenters’ "Superstar." It should make you feel better on this dreary Monday eve.


Will The Thurston Moore-Kim Gordon Split Be the End of Sonic Youth?

Iconic ’80’s punk rockers Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have announced that they’re dunzo after 27 years of marriage. And while this is a blow to those who believe in ever-enduring love, it has music fans abuzz that this may mean a split for Sonic Youth. Relax! Plenty of bands have stayed together after members breakup.

Sunny and Cher stuck it out after their divorce; Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham continued playing together after their split, as did the band’s John and Christine McVie post divorce. Jack and Meg White kept things together before Jack went on to start a zillion others projects; Gwen Stefani jammed with her ex boyfriend Tony Kanal in No Doubt before moving on to do her own thing with the Harajuku girls; and Debbie Harry is back to playing with her ex Chris Stein. The list goes on and on of rockers who have made it work.

A statement released by Matador records says the band will still play their South American tour dates in November, but plans beyond that are uncertain. It’s not the end of Sonic Youth…just yet.

May Music Reviews: Okkervil River, Fleet Foxes, Cults

Austra, Feel It Break (Domino) The debut album from this versatile Canadian three-piece has a singular sound, at once electronic and danceable, but with minor keys, austere chord progressions, and rainy-day vocals that sound goth at first, but are actually operatic—lead singer Katie Stelmanis (center) is classically trained.

It’s almost as if the band—named after the Latvian goddess of light—takes it as a personal challenge to imbue electronica with gravitas, a weight that can be heard on tracks like “Beat and the Pulse,” a sinister yet poppy song reminiscent of New Order at its best, and lead single “Lose It,” which showcases Stelmanis’ plaintive voice. The final track, “The Beast,” begins with an artful piano riff and builds to full classical orchestration. Feel It Break is a delicate balance of power and restraint. —Victor Ozols

Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar) On I Am Very Far, lead singer Will Sheff shepherds his Okkervil River brigade into new terrain. Influenced by contemporaries like the National and the Decemberists, this Austin-based indie outfit has revamped their usual parabolic folk rock, delivering a surprising amalgamation of paradoxical forces—joy and sorrow, order and chaos. “Rider” is a rock anthem that zips along tight guitar lines and snapping snare, while “White Shadow Waltz” is a chamber pop explosion big on keys, horns, strings, and choral arrangements that never seem to unfold the same way twice. —William Kangas

Jessica 6, See the Light (Peacefrog) The outstanding debut album from this Brooklyn throwback act recalls a time when the city shone with glitter and cocaine. And it’s no wonder: Bassist Andrew Raposo, keyboardist Morgan Wiley, and singer Nomi Ruiz all met while touring in nu-disco figureheads Hercules and Love Affair’s live show. But Jessica 6 is first and foremost a house act, with Ruiz’s lush, androgynous vocals soaking up the beat on standouts “Fun Girl” and “White Horse,” in which Ruiz beckons, “Let me see you dance.” Not a problem. “Good To Go” slams on the brakes, a slow, candlelit jam that that would make Sade blush. —Caroline Seghers

Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts (Matador) Thirty seconds into Thurston Moore’s new album, you’re transported to the outskirts of Los Angeles back in the fall of ’94. With Beck as the record’s producer, this latest solo effort from the Sonic Youth iconoclast toggles between grace and weighty emotion. Experimental violinist Samara Lubelski elevates each track to soulful new heights. On “Benediction,” for example, Moore ponders the torments of human connection, while “Circulation” invokes in its listeners a blustery instrumental trance. With Demolished Thoughts, Moore proves just how fun wreckage can be. —Hillary Weston

Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) The second album from this Pitchfork-approved band of brothers proves their success will be anything but fleeting. Gentle, tickling guitars and baroque chimes are portals into a sun-drenched daydream. The title track emphasizes the band’s refusal to play by any set of rules, as lead singer Robin Pecknold cheekily croons, “Bow down and be grateful, and say, ‘Sure, take all that you see’/ To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls, and determine my future for me.” The Foxes don’t exactly break new sonic ground here, but fixing things that ain’t broke is a fool’s errand. —CS

Cults, Cults (In The Name Of/Columbia) Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion have established a cult-like following in mere months. Their full-length debut includes “Go Outside,” the hooky, insouciant lo-fi tune that focused the internet’s ever-roaming gaze on the Brooklyn duo. The NYU film students—Follin sings, Oblivion slings the guitar—are purveyors of that brand of mysterious, old school rock ’n’ roll swagger. On songs like “Abducted,” their swooning, ’60s-era girl group melodies are undercut by heartbreak. Others, like “Bad Things,” are interspersed with speeches from notorious cult leaders, adding a sinister undercurrent that teeters on the edge of depressing. —Nadeska Alexis

Cat’s Eyes, Cat’s Eyes (Cooperative Music USA/Downtown) The Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan and instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira’s mutual passion for iconic ’60s girl groups like the Shangri- Las is easily reflected in their debut effort, Cat’s Eyes. With the aid of Zeffira’s classically trained soprano voice, the twosome chart a torrid love affair, beginning with the wide-eyed ode “Best Person I’ve Ever Met,” to the pre-marital sex woes expressed on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” An abundance of dreamy vocals, a hearty helping of strings, and twinkling piano keys contrast sharply with Badwan’s down-low baritone and menacing horns on “Sooner Or Later,” the album’s darkest moment. By the time the closing track, “I Knew It Was Over,” rolls around, the album has already transitioned back into mistyeyed nostalgia. Serenity now. —NA

Thurston Moore Played a Surprise Show at Academy Records

Who wants to see a candid picture of a rockstar? Regular BlackBook contributor Rozalia Jovanovic snapped this picture of a performance by Kurt Vile at Academy Records in Manhattan, which Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore was kind enough to join. Rozalia wrote, “This is the only performance of Vile’s three free shows today at which Thurston Moore performed.”


Sean Lennon Scores Big

Sean Lennon is steadily expanding his musical horizons. He’s one half of indie/folk duo The Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger (GOASTT)—the other half is his smoking hot model/singer/girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl—and he recently wrote the film score for anther supernatural-sounding project, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, a vampire comedy starring Jake Hoffman, Devon Aoki, Jeremy Sisto, and Ralph Macchio, out in New York theaters today. We chatted with the decidedly down to earth musical mastermind on his day off about the origins of his band’s name, his solo projects, and the truth about working with his famous mom.

What’s the new Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger album title? I don’t know if I want to say, because basically we’re working on two albums simultaneously. One is coming out now and another one is going to come out at the beginning of next year. I don’t know which one is coming out first. I can’t say. I actually don’t know. We’re not sure which one we want to come out first.

Are you in the same stage of recording with both? Pretty much, I’d say we’re about 70-75% there, maybe more. It’s a strange thing, I’ve never really done two albums at once. We did it that way because we had a bunch of different songs that we wrote at different times and wanted to represent in different ways so they would belong together.

Are there distinctively different sounds for the albums? Pretty much. The first record is going to be more stripped-down, almost like a folk record, just acoustic guitars. The other record is a full band, like an electric album. Essentially we started just as a duet with one acoustic guitar and singing, so we wanted to have one record that represented the way we began.

How did you get involved in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead? Jordan Galland is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for over a decade, maybe 15 years. I was a rotating member in his band for years and I used to play drums or bass, or whatever was needed at the time. Then we started writing songs together. We also wrote screenplays. Basically, he’s an old collaborative partner. He wound up making Rosencrantz and it just made sense for me to try to do the score, ‘cause I had done so much work with him in the past and I kind of knew what he wanted. I was always interested in doing film scores so I wanted to try it. It was almost too convenient because I was just starting a label at the time with some friends called Chimera Music. It was a good time to try releasing something on our own and it was kind of a perfect record to be a guinea pig to try our new system of making CDs and distributing them.

What range of instruments was used in the score? The truth is that it was such a small project that the budget for the soundtrack was like $700 or something, so basically I played everything myself. It’s just me playing keyboards and then guitars and drums and bass. On two songs I had a guy named CJ Rodriguez play trumpet and a friend of his play French horn, so I did have two horn over-dubs. And then on one song, my friend Stuart Zender played bass on the end of one song, the very finale. My girlfriend Charlotte (Kemp Muhl) sang on a couple of songs, but basically everything else is just me playing. It had to do with the budget being small but it also just had to do with me wanting to do it really quickly. It was the first time I had ever really composed anything that was arranged or difficult, so it was just easier for me to keep everything in my head as l hacked out all the parts one by one, so I wouldn’t forget what I was thinking. I’m really am proud of the whole record. I have to say, it was probably the most archetypal, inspired experience that I’ve ever had in terms of just feeling that thing of like “Wow I’m really having a breakthrough!”

How’s the new system working out so far? I think its working out quite well. We had some glitches trying to get the CDs into a couple of bigger stores, but it was just a question of shipping boxes to the wrong cities by accident. For the most part, everything turned out great. We put out my mom’s record for the Plastic Ono Band and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead around the same time and they showed up pretty much everywhere in the world.

Who else is on the label? The Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger, there’s my mother’s Plastic Ono project with Cornelius, and then my friend Yuka Honda, who also runs the label. I used to be in her band, Cibo Matto. They were like a Japanese/New York band. She now has a band called, If By Yes. The album will come out at the beginning of next year with this girl, Petra Haden. Her dad was in Ornette Coleman’s band, the same band that coincidentally recorded with my mom in 1959. We’re not like a real record label; we’re more like a collective of a few friends who wanted to self-publish. We’re not a label; we’re not really signing people. We’re not funding other bands, we’re just self-publishing. It’s really small, only three people actually.

Do you plan to keep working with your mother? I think my mom and I are going to play a show in September. We just did a huge Yoko Ono tribute show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I helped organize and produce, that was really fun. We had people like Eric Clapton come, ‘cause he used to play in the original Plastic Ono Band with her. It was the first time they played together in the Plastic Ono Band in like 35 years, so it was really special. We also had a bunch of other really hip artists like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. Bette Midler was there. People were wondering: What’s the connection? It doesn’t seem like Bette would be influenced by my mom’s music, but she wound up coming because they’re just good friends. Everyone covered one of my mom’s songs and Bette covered a song that was from Double Fantasy called “I’m Your Angel” that my mom had written, kind of a love song. And she did such a really amazing vaudeville job; she turned it into sort of a comedy routine. That was really successful so we’re gonna try to do something, like a friends of Yoko/Plastic Ono Band tribute concert thing. I think in L.A. at the end of the year. I’ll be working with her then, and hopefully we’ll be putting out another Plastic Ono Band record on Chimera because that record turned out to be really great. I’d like to do another one.

Do you read your reviews? I read what people write about me, although I’ve been advised not to. Bette Midler recently told me, “You should never read anything they write about you; it’s never good. It just doesn’t do any good. It’s always bad for you.” And I’m sure she’s right, but I guess I’m still sort of intrigued enough by what people think. So yeah I tend to read what people write, and for the most part I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern. I tend to remember the things that people say that are negative more than I remember the things that people say that are positive. I think it’s a psychological thing. We tend to remember trauma more than we remember a nice day. The thing I find really interesting about when someone is really mean, or says something really nasty, is that I always find that I cant really disagree with that person’s point of view. I find that to be disturbing, because usually when someone is really putting you down, there’s some sort of truth to what they’re saying. What’s interesting about criticism is that it’s all on some valid level. It’s hard enough to put yourself out there and then if you’re confronting everyone’s insights it’s kind of stifling, but I can’t really help it. I’m just too curious. I try to take everything with a grain of salt and see if I can see where people are coming from. A lot of people who hate me tend to say, “Oh he has a really nasally singing voice,” and you know I can’t disagree with that. I’ve never actually really thought of myself as a great singer, but I try to sing my best and when people criticize me for not singing well I sort of take note of it and think, “Alright well I’ll definitely try and sing better, but I can’t really sing beyond my means. I can only sing as well as I can sing.” Sometimes it’s helpful for people to be critical because it pushes you to try to be better.

Where did the name Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger originate? I’d just started dating Charlotte and I was in her old apartment and I was just being nosy, looking through her journals and her old papers. I wasn’t doing it without her there, she saw me. And I found something really old. It was a play that she had written when she was seven and it was called the Ghost of A Saber Toothed Tiger, about these people running from the ghost of the saber toothed tiger in a Natural History Museum setting. It was supposed to be scary, but it wasn’t, it was obviously very sweet. And I thought, that’s a really great title, I think we should start a band called The Ghost of A Saber Toothed Tiger, just so that we can have a cool band name.

What are your go-to places? My favorite New York restaurant was this place called Shopsin’s General Store. It used to be on Morton street. It was owned by this guy Kenny Shopsin and there’s actually a documentary that came out recently about them. They were the last family-run restaurant in New York. I used to go to 7A a lot in the East Village when I was younger, but I just don’t really go out to drink much because I guess I’m not single and I have a lot of work to do. I used to go to Beatrice when it was open, ‘cause I was friends with some people there, but that place closed, I just haven’t been out in like a couple years. I like to go to LifeThyme, the health food grocery store, because they have really good produce. I mainly go out if I’m with my mother, just because she and I like to go out to eat at a nice place. We like to go to Sushi of Gari. Actually she really likes to go to the nice Italian restaurants, like the fancypants ones. There’s a place called Il Nuno’s uptown. I took her there on Mother’s Day.

Thank God for Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth is still ever so relevant within the world of music. Thank God! With only flickers of promising hope from young musicians, one is always prone to retreat to familiar and sublime melodies. That being said, I was so happy to say yes to an invite to hear the band’s new album, The Eternal, out June 9 on Matador Records. Coincidentally, my best friend — the lovely and always chic Miss Kristin Vincent — hosted the listening party at her Lower East Side bar, Home Sweet Home — submerged within the confines of the building’s basement, speakeasy style.

Thurston Moore’s visual skills as a painter complemented the party; above Home Sweet Home sits Envoy gallery, where Thurston’s art opening took place simultaneously throughout the evening. Lo and behold, I found myself popping up and down the secret stairwell between Home Sweet Home and Envoy, drinking vodka tonics and gabbing away with Kristin. By the way, drinks were free courtesy of Kristin, and I didn’t need that quintessential neon-colored wristband. Quite nice to have those kinds of friends, though I could hardly hear the band’s new album. Way too noisy.

Across the room, a sexy blond caught my eye. No, it wasn’t Kim Gordon just yet, but Marc Jacobs’ Swedish publicist Asa Larsson. We’ve met countless times, yet for whatever reason we’ve never been able to remember each other’s names. I told her I was to interview Maja from The Sounds, also from Sweden, soon. She suddenly burst out, “Oh, I looovvvveeee Maja, we’re going to dress her for one of The Sounds’ shows! You have to email me your interview.” Hence why I now know her name — that business card she passed along with email and name intact certainly did the trick.

Kim, with her daughter Coco in tow, finally arrived. I hadn’t seen nor spoken to Kim in over a year, but we did get a chance to briefly say hello. I asked if she’s ever been to Home Sweet Home. “Well, I don’t really hang out in bars much anymore — it’s cool though.”

While leaving the fête, I spotted friend-of-the-band Mr. Vincent Gallo talking to pals outside. Probably fresh off doing something Tetro-related (that new Francis Ford Coppola film in which he stars). No chit-chat with Vincent though.

I was disappointed about not properly hearing the album, but I felt better knowing its sounds would arrive in my email inbox the next day. Sure enough, it did not disappoint. My favorite track — the last one, “Massage the History” — oozes a spacey and cerebral reverberation, shimmering with guitar murmurs. The whole album knocks it out of the park. Thank God indeed.
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