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Jul 31st
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Music - Features

By the Book

By the Book

Indie quartet Stories in Braille translates epic narratives into ambient rock

Four experimental, indie rockers of Christian faith dare you to quit judging books by their covers. Meet San Jose-based Stories in Braille: Curtis Kern (drums) and Brandon Wright (bass)—two full-time college students—Jala Tass (guitar), and college student pastor Jay Kim (vocals/lyrics/guitar). Since 2008, Stories in Braille’s page-turning tales of love, unity and valor have been articulated through meticulously crafted ambient music, into albums that are, essentially, a more entertaining version of audio books.

“That’s the idea behind the band,” says Kim. “To tell stories that people can feel.” That philosophy is reiterated on the band’s Facebook and Myspace pages, where a quote by author Jim Fiebig is prominently displayed: “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.”

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Music - Features

Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

Mississippi-bred Paul Thorn sings of preachers, pimps, and small town America
One way to hear about the real-life effects of Capitol Hill rivalries is to read the newspaper. Or you could talk to somebody who travels to small towns for a living, entertaining the downtrodden and picking up fans along the way. Enter Paul Thorn—a Mississippi singer/songwriter who has been traversing America’s back roads for more than a decade, crafting musical stories based on the lives of the common man and pumping blood back into the heartland.

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Music - Features

All Grown Up

All Grown Up

Indie-rap crew, Atmosphere, shows signs of evolution in sound and maturity
Upon listening to the latest effort from Minneapolis indie-rap crew Atmosphere, the word "maturity" comes to mind. And while it is arguably a fair adjective to describe the new album, The Family Sign, the group's front man, Sean Daley, doesn't like it.

"I make rap music, so 'mature' is kind of a bad word," says Daley, the MC better known as Slug. He prefers the word, “evolved.” "Ultimately, this is music for kids," he explains.

The group's sixth LP has passion, machismo and plenty of snark—only in a more grown-up kind of way. And Slug is fine with that.

"I can't freak the funk," he says. "I can't make another God Loves Ugly"—2002's ode to debauchery and depression, wherein Daley bemoans the loss of his fictional muse, Lucy Ford, while drowning in booze.

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Music - Features

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

Michael Daugherty weaves orchestral music and electric guitar in ‘Gee’s Bend’
The electric guitar is an instrument seldom heard in symphonic music, but it’s the keystone of “Gee’s Bend,” the latest musical offering from renowned Ann Arbor, Mich., composer Michael Daugherty. Electric guitar and orchestra commingle in the piece, creating a timbral and stylistic patchwork in which rock, folk and contemporary classical music converge. “Gee’s Bend” makes its west coast premiere at the Civic on Saturday, Aug. 13 as part of this year’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

Daugherty, a longtime festival favorite, found inspiration for the piece in the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala. One of the poorest areas of the south, Gee’s Bend is populated mainly by African American descendents of slaves from the Civil War era. The town’s residents are known for their innovative style of quilting, noted for its vivid colors and unusual patterns.

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Music - Features

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Electric guitarist D.J. Sparr mixes things up at The Cabrillo Festival
Imagine a musician showing up to a symphony rehearsal with a Marshall amplifier in tow, and an electric guitar strapped to his back—the string players brace themselves, the violist covers her ears. It’s hard to be a rocker in a classical environment—but it’s just another day in the life of D.J. Sparr.

The guitarist/composer loves a good riff, but he also has a doctorate in composition and is well-versed in symphony rehearsal etiquette. After all, no classically-trained musician wants to be blown off stage by a guy who sounds like he belongs at Lollapalooza.

From outside Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colo., Sparr reflects, “You have to know how to adjust your volume, and it sounds silly, but there aren’t many electric guitarists who could come to a symphonic rehearsal and know how to deal with that—outside a couple of guys in New York, Chicago and LA.”

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Music - Features

Black and Blue

Black and Blue

Regardless of life’s punches, Jesse Sykes stays committed to the music
For Jesse Sykes, a Sunday morning in Seattle is a walk in the park—more like the woods, actually. Once she returns home though, reality sets in for the 44-year-old vocalist/guitarist, and she’s faced with the question that has plagued her for the last three years: “How can you understand life, if you haven’t addressed death?”

The question stems from both the blissful and detrimental events that have come to define her Seattle-based band, Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, during the extended recording period of their fourth LP, Marble Son, which began in September 2009. “We took our time because we didn’t even know if there would be an outcome,” says Sykes.

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