Strangely Soothing Songs

As it is Claude Debussy’s birthday, I thought I’d share some music I find soothing, in my own way. What you have to understand, though, is that people are just born with differently wired nervous systems. When they want to wind down or reenergize, different people will go to classical, or coffeehouse, or chill lounge, or even Coldplay. I just happen to be soothed by loud music with a groove. It seems to help if there are metallophones involved. Cut up vocal samples, too. If you notice any particular trend, seriously, let me know. But for whatever reason, these songs all occupy the same musical space in my soul. When I need it, these are examples of what get me and my particularly atypical nervous system when I need them to.

I’ve linked each video with a little description, and at the bottom of this post is an embedded YouTube playlist that will play them in the basically arbitrary order in which I thought of them. So come back to this post whenever you need it, weary traveler. Make a cup of hot tea and rest your feet by fire. Then jam the hell out. Enjoy.

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Bubbeleh’s first album!

Bubbeleh is a Klezmer band comprising some incredible musicians and personal friends of mine. Some are of Jewish descent, like the always entertaining Phil Rankin and Max Kutner (who just finished touring with Frank Zappa’s old band!), and some are not, but all seem to get that Klezmer music is some of the most fun music to perform in existence. The players hail from all walks of musical life such as jazz, latin, metal, punk, classical, plus all sorts of obscure genres I’ve probably never heard of. That sense of fun comes through in every track and live performance, which is what makes them stand out to me as a multi-genre ensemble.

I was lucky enough to see them play at El Cid last week, and while I’ve seen their show before, that night held a particular sort of magic. In the company of the wildly original Orange Tulip Conspiracy and Balkan powerhouse Orkestar MÉZÉ, Bubbeleh held their own and more. Hip teens and twenty-somethings danced their asses off to this music, which we still characterize as “exotic” in this context, but mark my words: not for long! As the mixmashing of music genres intensifies thanks to no-lag communication speeds across the world, musicians are going to need to step up their game in terms of what other-culture flavors they bring to their music. Applying pop, jazz, and what-have-you sensibilities to their upbringing in Jewish music, Phil, Max, and their host of uber-talented compadres have landed on a formula that works, and works well.

Bubbeleh has just over 24 hours left on their Indiegogo campaign to fund their first full-length album, and I’m sure would be most appreciative if you donated anything you can! Or, if not, spread the word by sharing this post or their Indiegogo web address:

World Music and Rhein Percussion’s Debut Album

In grad school, at least in my grad school, they did their best to, as politely as they could, shove world music down your throat. This has interesting consequences. As hard to believe as this is, not all world music is good. In fact, most of it is bad. Because the phrase “world music” covers, like, 90% of music. It would be really weird if all of it was good.

Maybe because I grew up listening mostly to some strange combination of jazz, Arabic music, and my school bus driver’s favorite R&B top 40, I don’t tend to go nuts for music just because it has a world beat. Great, this uses maksum, how awesome. It’s still just another bad rap track. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the very first time I heard Big Pimpin I flipped out, but a young half-Syrian kid can only handle so much.

What I’m saying is that it’s easy to write off world music as something kitschy, or some kind of gimmick, and sometimes you’d be right. This happens even in the world of academic chamber music… but not even remotely in the case of Rhein Percussion. Rhein means “to flow”, and they seriously do. This album grooves, regardless of how uneven the meter might look on paper, and it does so in a natural, authentic-but-super-fresh manner. They flow seamlessly between improvisation, complex tala and electronics, sometimes combining all three at once.

These guys played on my recital, and many have since said their performance was a highlight. Rhein Percussion consists of a core group of CalArts drummers, with a rotating cast of collaborators. The tracks on their self-titled debut are all composed, mixed, and recorded by ensemble members and friends. Their signature sound combines world rhythms and instrumentation with drum set, and some truly profound soundscapes emerge. Amir Oosman, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a master kit player. Dan Ogrodnik’s knowledge of hand drumming styles knows no bounds. Josh Carro, it’s been rumored, must now carry around an extra set of tablas because the ones he’s playing sometimes spontaneously burst into flames of ecstasy.

On two tracks, Brian Foreman‘s unique brand of electronics and live processing casts the group’s already modern sound into a deep, dark future filled with buzzy beats and rhythmic surprises that modern live electronic production so often lacks. Other collaborators who should blow your mind just by seeing them all on one album: Matthew Clough-Hunter on gamelan, drummers Sean Fitzpatrick and Etienne Rivera, and Ryan Bancroft, Rusty Kennedy, and Andrew Rowan on conch shell. How cool is that?

When the electronics fade, this excellent album rounds out with a couple live performances. The ensemble has already started performing around Los Angeles, just recently at the awesome Blue Whale with the world famous Hands On’Semble, and they were even featured a coveted slot on the 2013 CalArts Jazz CD. Take a listen below, follow them on Facebook, and name your price for their album on Bandcamp.

Katastrofi at Highways Theater

I am part of an experimental theater performance at Highways Theater in Santa Monica. The final show is tonight at 8:30 p.m. and runs about an hour. I beat box and take part in various other silly and entertaining things. Last night was a great success, and tonight is sold out. But I wanted to give a shoutout for anyone interested in rush tickets.

“New Shoes 3 is the third installment in an ongoing series of new dance and physical theater works by Southern California-based artists. Annabel Movement Ensemble’s Tumultuous explores the archetypes in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Making connections between office workers and athletes, Hanna Kovenock, Julia Marasa and Paige Tighe play with the idea of breaking out of the constraints of capitalist culture in LABOR-ation. Deena Selenow, Paul Fraser and Genevieve Gearhart’s Katastrofi merges Sophocles’ tragedy The Women of Trachis with Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” In The Day I Met Anne Frank, Winter Dance Theater uses Frank’s story as a jumping off point for a piece featuring dance, theater and song.”

Niyomkarn – Hue

I am currently listening to Niyomkarn’s new headphones album, Hue. It was produced on the open source program SuperCollider and is entirely in 3D audio (hence the requirement for headphones). I’m now about halfway through the third track, 28 [FISH], and suddenly we’ve gone from the sound of oily fingers on alien glass to a softly rising sun with TV static, then back to the alien glass except now there’s bugs on it.

There are parts of this album that make my ears and brain very uncomfortable in the most pleasant of ways. Other moments are so delicately constructed, especially in terms of panning, that I had to lie down and close my eyes. Between the chaotically rhythmic blips, beeps, drones, noise, static and sirens is an introspective silence from Niyomkarn, an insistent, calm little plea to listen closely. This is my favorite kind of message in music, and some would say it’s the only message.

Too often, composers compose for a purpose. I know I am very guilty of this, if “guilty” is the right word. But some music adamantly exists merely to point out that sound is awesome. That’s what Hue is. An electronic painting of nothing the eyes can see. It’s full of surprises in a genre that often encounters the problem of being so unpredictable, everything is predictable. Maybe in Hue’s case, this is achieved with the three-dimensional mix. The sounds will parade about inside your head, like a fairy circle if the fairies were surrounded by totally rad forcefields and constantly zapping between superpositions.

I’m now on If and Only If, the center track. Two soundscapes faded back and forth, as if vying for attention, giving way to a massively dead center full-spectrum pulse tone called Drops. This drops into (it’s an accurate title) an Indian Rag-esque tabla jam, and it works so well here. Maybe going to CalArts prepares you to be ready for itinerant rag-esque tabla jams popping out at you from every direction. But Jason Guthrie’s drums are soaked in electronics. They feel utterly appropriate. The live performance of this music is really apparent here.

On the other side of If and Only If, we are faced with music that has discovered sampling, harmony and rhythm, but it has unearthed these strange objects on its own and so come to us as hints and dream-thoughts. The effect is palpable. Theory II is a paramecium rave, leading then into lush swaths of harmonic and vocal sampling in Hers.

And this ending. This ending right here. I won’t spoil it, but I can safely say Hue is a journey I’m glad I took. Though the music may scare you at first, I’m here to tell you that music is supposed to do that. It’s supposed too make you uncomfortable in a way that refuses to let you go.

Find Niyomkarn’s album on Bandcamp. Listen there or via the player below.

Cheshire, Bot, Jaar

This is a track from Aussie producer Cheshire on Adapted Records, featuring some kind of electroswingstep mashup genre that scratches every single one of my most nuanced itches.


A bot has put together a pretty fun playlist from a redditor’s comments in a post entitled Those songs that upon the first time hearing them you know you’ve found something amazing. Here’s the full playlist in the bot’s comment.



Nicolas Jaar has remixed Random Access Memories and it is extremely mediocre. I’m linking it here anyway because reasons.

Kimbra and Her VoiceLive on Soundcheck

Here is an awesome, awesome video from Soundcheck of Kimbra (the best part of that Gotye song) performing Settle Down and live looping on a TC-Helicon VoiceLive FX box. The VoiceLive is a simplified version of what I do when I’m creating weirdo vocal edits and layering in a studio, except prepackaged in a box with a really swift interface. What I’m saying here is that I really, really want one.

When I first started performing live looping in the mid-1800s, I had to buy a micro-amp and a bunch of guitar pedals to plug a microphone into. People first started to take notice when KT Tunstall hit with her JamMan on Black Horse and a Cherry Tree, but that was still originally meant for a guitar. Now the very existence of the VoiceLive is proof that people like Kimbra are becoming more and more common. We’ve come a long way since the days of fretted strings and a rock kit, and I couldn’t be happier.

Kimbra is amazing. Insanely funky, original, and talented. Seriously, check out her page. Or this full playlist on YouTube. Thank me later. Well, actually thank me now, in the comments, that works too and gives me all these uncontrollable warm fuzzies. Just like Kimbra. Boom.


The term “supergroup” gets bandied about a lot I feel, and I suppose it kind of depends on how you look at it. If I were to go up to the average radio listener and say:

“Holy shit, Excision, Downlink, and KJ Sawka formed a live band together! Can you freaking believe that?”

Rather than get a real answer, they would try to figure out if I wanted their money and then quietly walk on. But if you went up to the average EDM-head asking the same question, they’d freak. Because it’s pretty damn exciting.

I’m in no way dubstep’s biggest fan. It’s true, I did gush about Skrillex on this blog a few years ago because I obtained a copy of his EP before the term “brostep” even existed, and I was (and still am) very excited about the new palette dubstep gave popular music culture. But due largely to its mainstream commercial success, the dubstep fad has passed, and thank god, because maybe it (or its derivatives) might actually get good again.

Point being, in that realm, Excision is a huge name, and Downlink is relatively popular as well. And KJ Sawka is the drummer for a little band called Pendulum, which I’ve also written about before on this blog, because they were pioneers in providing live electronic dance music using no prerecorded tracks. I’ll just leave this right here:

Destroid is electronic dance music delivered in a fairly novel way. They come armed with what appear to be modded Ztar MIDI controllers and a mythology so steeped in mystery half their fans don’t even know who’s in the band. They dressed up in alien robot suits, released a comic book, and released a series of viral videos of aliens invading the Earth using modulated bass synths, which is hilarious if you stop and think about it. They’ve now performed two or three shows around America this summer to enthusiastic reviews from the heads who were searching for something with kinda the same punch but on the next level. Destroid seems poised to bring that do the EDM scene, and I think it’s pretty badass.

(PS, in the course of writing this article, I discovered the pseudopop trash Pendulum became seemingly overnight about three years ago, and it hurts my heart. Okay, enjoy the video.)