Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mondo Cozmo Lights Up Union Transfer In Return to Philadelphia

Midway through his band’s Wednesday evening set at Union Transfer, Mondo Cozmo frontman Josh Ostrander looked out into the crowd and defiantly stated “This is what not giving up looks like.” The night was more than just a concert. It was a homecoming and a celebration of an artist who was riding an incredible wave of success. Playing to a hometown crowd that he later admitted was inside the largest Philadelphia-area venue that he had ever played in, the Bucks County native led a band that left nothing on the table over an hour-long set that was packed with emotion and energy.

Mondo Cozmo at Union Transfer, 9/13/17
Ostrander had a long journey to the top of the charts. After over a decade with two different bands, his single “Shine” was released in late 2016 and took off like wildfire after it began to receive significant radio play. In January, the gospel-tinged number knocked the Kings of Leon’s “Waste A Moment” from the number one spot of the Adult Alternative Chart. Many in the crowd that filled up the lower level of the Union Transfer may have already been familiar with Ostrander’s story and appreciated  what his trek to the stage of the Spring Garden Street venue meant. Towards the end of the concert he looked for his brother in the crowd and acknowledged that people in the audience had taught him how to play guitar, smoke cigarettes, and drink the “right” beer.

Even if you didn’t know Mondo Cozmo’s backstory, it was obvious that Ostrander and the other four members of his band were seizing a moment and leaving nothing to chance. Throughout the night Ostrander jumped on to the drum riser and bounced around on stage with his cohorts as they tore through a set that focused on their recent debut record Plastic Soul. They appropriately opened with the slower-paced “Angel,” a song that repeats “If you believe in me, like I believe in you, then you tell yourself that everything is cool.” Mondo Cozmo then built up momentum with the gradual crescendo of “Chemical Dream” and never looked back.

After a run of tracks from Plastic Soul that included “Higher,” “Thunder,” and “Come With Me,” the band owned a cover of The Verve’s 1997 song “Bittersweet Symphony.” The cover blended well with their own material, but as a guitar riff shook the venue there was also something liberating about Ostrander singing a song whose lyrics declare “I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now.”

After closing the first set with the single “Automatic,” the band went backstage and returned for a brief encore with opener Illinois. The two bands played a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Atlantic City” and “Shine.” It was during “Shine” that the emotion of the evening appeared to catch up with Ostrander, who seemed a little choked up as those in attendance sang along to every word of the chorus.

Mondo Cozmo was preceded by Illinois and Flagship. Like Mondo Cozmo’s set, the evening was about more than just the music. I unfortunately missed Flagship, but Bucks County’s Illinois appeared to enjoy sharing the bill with an artist who was also their friend. They played for approximately 45 minutes, and aside from the heavy rocker “Queen Flea,” Illinois stuck mostly to their folk-rock style. Illinois was briefly joined onstage by CSNPhilly writer Reuben Frank, who sat in on keyboards for a song. In a column earlier this year (Point No. 25), Frank described the relationship between Ostrander and fellow Bucks County natives Illinois. According to Frank, Illinois took the younger Ostrander under their wing as he was learning how to play guitar and write songs.  

Philadelphia has an incredible music scene that has yielded some great artists over the last decade. Musicians like Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs, and Strand of Oaks have all experienced different paths in their career. On Wednesday night at Union Transfer, it was surreal to watch Josh Ostrander and Mondo Cozmo celebrate their own rock ‘n roll odyssey with friends and fans. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Three Great New TV Shows That You Might Have Missed This Summer

It was easy to be lost in the hype of old mainstays that had returned this summer like Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Orange Is The New Black. Three new shows also arrived this year that are worthy of attention before the 2017 Fall Television Schedule descends upon us. Here are three great new shows that you might have missed this summer:

G.L.O.W. (Netflix) – G.L.O.W. took the unlikely topic of a 1980s women’s wrestling show and created one of the most enjoyable binge watches of the summer. Staring Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron, the ten-episode series is an excellent blend of humor and drama. Based on the actual Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling that had aired from 1986 through 1990, the series succeeds in relaying the corny drama, stereotypes, and fun of wrestling. G.L.O.W. strikes an edgier tone than 1992’s A League Of Their Own, but brings a feeling similar to Penny Marshall’s film about a group of women trying to try bond together in an athletic setting.

The Defiant Ones (HBO) – The Defiant Ones is a powerful documentary that focuses on Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, two of the most impactful figures in the music industry. A four-part series that features interviews from a wealth of stars like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Trent Reznor, Sean Combs, and Eminem, The Defiant Ones is refreshingly diverse and comprehensive documentary. The series not only discusses the lives and creativity of both moguls, but also explores the rise of hip-hop and the evolution of Interscope Records. The comprehensive examination of different segments of American society makes The Defiant Ones an unusually remarkable film that can be enjoyed by a wide audience of music fans.

Ozark (Netflix)A new drama about an otherwise mundane suburban husband who uproots his family to the Ozarks after a money laundering arrangement with a drug lord rapidly falls into disarray, Ozark does not waste time immersing the audience in an uncomplicated premise. By the end of the first episode, violence and deceit have already landed a family of four in Missouri. The remainder of the season follows their attempts to reestablish their lives and money laundering operations in an unfamiliar rural setting that becomes more complex over time. The series is headlined by Jason Bateman (who also directed four episodes) and Laura Linney. Ozark is ideal for fans of Breaking Bad who are looking to get a fix on a drug cartel drama with a white collar twist. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Singles' Day: St. Vincent, U2, and Beck All Released New Music On Wednesday

September 6 was a strong day for new music. Three singles from big name artists who are at different stages of their careers provided a small sample of a promising crop of albums. Indie goddess St. Vincent, the prolific Beck, and Irish rock staple U2 all released singles ahead of new records that are due out in October and December.

“Los Ageless,” St. Vincent – St. Vincent dropped her second single, “Los Ageless,” on the same day that she announced her forthcoming record, Masseduction. The radio-made single is a follow-up to her profane “New York” and indicates that the new record may have an eclectic sound with at least some mainstream leanings. While the amazing ballad “New York” felt like an alt-rock spin on a Broadway tune, “Los Ageless” starts with a fashion runway style electro-beat before transitioning to a synth-heavy chorus. St. Vincent crafted Masseduction with producer du jour Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde). The record will be St. Vincent’s fifth album and is set to be released on October 13.

“Up All Night,” Beck – Even though Beck frequently changes the type of album that he puts outs, ranging from hip-hop, rock, and acoustic music, the overall blend of his work is a recognizable signature sound. This quality is on display for his most recent single “Up All Night,” which is a dance-friendly track that is distinguished by its vintage Beck Beat. The song is another insta-hit for Beck and promises to be a Top 40 and festival mainstay for quite some time. “Up All Night” is the third official single for his new album, Colors. The record has been a long time in the making. The previous two singles, “Dreams” and “Wow” were put out in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Colors is Beck's 13th record and will be released on October 13.

“You’re The Best Thing About Me,” U2 – Despite being one of the most established rock bands in the world, U2 is in a relative tweener phase. The band were lambasted for giving an album away for free and recently embarked on an anniversary tour for their timeless 1987 record The Joshua Tree. Although they have received some moderate radio play, U2 have not released an enduring single since 2005’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Despite this unusual phase for U2, the band is continuing to reach for the higher moment and will release Songs of Experience. The first single for the record is “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” an enjoyable track that starts with a simple guitar hook and features a self-aware Bono singing “Shooting off my mouth, that’s another great thing about me.” Songs of Experience will be the 14th studio album for U2. It is scheduled to hit stores (or iPhones) on December 1. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Is The Defiant Ones The Best Music Documentary Ever?

If you are a music fan of virtually any popular music from the last 40 years, HBO’s The Defiant Ones is for you. The four-episode series is a powerful examination of the rise and success of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, two of the record industry’s most influential figures. The documentary also incorporates each man’s background in a way that is a departure from traditional films and blends different segments of society together. Unlike most music documentaries, The Defiant Ones does not rely on a constructing a film around a few new revelations, but brings a different understanding of its subjects to a uniquely diverse audience that may be watching the docuseries for different reasons. Simply put, it is the best music documentary in recent memory and may be the finest music film ever. 

Most music documentaries feel tired. So many of them deify the achievement of the artist or explore nuances of the recording process in ways that are not accessible to the casual fan. The extent of Iovine and Dre's accomplishments do not allow this to be an not an issue with The Defiant Ones. Iovine has been a driving force behind so much timeless music (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty) that it would be hard to spend much time listening to classic rock radio without hearing a song that he influenced in some way. His work with Interscope Records also helped bring artists like Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt, and even Rico Suave into the forefront of pop culture. Dr. Dre’s own discography is of similar notoriety. Not only did he break out of Compton, CA with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, but he broke down cultural barriers as a member of N.WA. and as a solo artist. As a producer, he has influenced a plethora of artists as well, most notably Eminem. In The Defiant Ones it is Eminem who best defines their successful relationship as “Jimmy Iovine is the levitator. Dre is the innovator.” 

One of the most striking attributes of The Defiant Ones is the star power that has revolved around both men’s rise to success. The diversity of the cavalcade of stars is evident during the beginning of the first episode, when Iovine receives consecutive street cred nods from both Tom Petty and Sean Combs. Not every documentary can find common ground between the most important moments of hip-hop, alt rock, and classic rock, but the blend of talent that revolves around Dre and Iovine allows the film to become an unusually comprehensive documentary of modern music.

The documentary is also not a straight-up love letter to either man. While their achievements are deservedly celebrated, neither is lionized to an extreme and both have their faults explored. Iovine’s relentless personality and Dre’s past issues with the abuse of women (particularly his 1991 incident with television host Dee Barnes) are addressed by the filmmakers. The documentary also digs into the deadly East Coast-West Coast hip-hop wars of the 1990s. Iovine reveals personal misgivings about funding the music scene that led to so much violence. The benign toxicity of the situation remains clear when Dre declines to discuss his knowledge of events from this time with the cameras still on. This is a refreshing aspect of The Defiant Ones. So many documentaries gloss over the faults of its subjects, but this series gives both men a chance to discuss the negatives in their past. Even though Dre was understandably not forthcoming about the hip-hop rivalry, his stance felt genuine and did not appear to be a false posture for the benefit of the filmmakers. 

Another stimulating aspect of the series came from an unexpected topic: business. Many music documentaries stray from discussing the business side of the record industry. It is an unromantic aspect of the art form, but it was an unavoidable topic for The Defiant Ones. Both Dre and Iovine’s influence in the industry transcends their eye for top talent. They don’t merely have their finger on the pulse of music; they control an influential stable of artists. After discussing the rise of Interscope Records, the slightly reverential fourth episode focuses on their role in creating the Beats By Dre headphones brand and its $3 billion sale to Apple in 2014. By ending the docuseries with this aspect of their lives, The Defiant Ones reaches for a grander point in the careers of the two moguls. Not only have they defined the music of multiple generations, but they now define the style in which it is listened to.  

The Defiant Ones is a well-done snapshot of a broad variety of music, culture, and industry that it is more appropriately aligned with CNN’s ongoing Decades series than just a music documentary. The constant star power that is featured in the series is atypical for a documentary with a focused topic. By including so many artists and pop-culture icons, the guests demand constant attention from the audience. When Gwen Stefani, Diddy, Trent Reznor, and Snoop Dogg speak, it is hard not to listen to them discuss Iovine, Dre, and the moments that have defined the two moguls. Because their success is not merely widgets, but also Born To Run, The Chronic, The Slim Shady LP, and The Fame, the transcultural success of both men also reflects the music and moments of our own lives. Like Iovine and Dre, the broad impact of The Defiant Ones is unparalleled and transcends the customary norms of documentaries. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett Trade Places In “Over Everything”

When news first broke of a collaborative record between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, it instantly felt like one of those ideas that was just perfect. Both indie musicians are great songwriters who excel at casually narrating scenes with a unique intimacy. On August 30, the duo dropped “Over Everything” the first single and video from their forthcoming LP, Lotta Sea Lice.

Filmed with Vile’s Philadelphia and Barnett’s Australia as the backdrop, the six-minute video for "Over Everything" is a beautifully shot piece with an understated concept. With Vile clad in a white suit and Barnett wearing dark attire, the black and white video changes locations for both artists as they sing their partner’s parts. The video begins with closeups of the two musicians, but the camera gradually distances itself from its two subjects. By the end of the video both songwriters are just specs in the distance.

The song affirms the brilliance of their decision to make music together. The music is not only an excellent blend of their sound, but begins with both musicians deadpanning about solitude and songwriting. The song eventually drifts into an extended jam that feels like it could go on endlessly. 

“Over Everything” will be the first of nine songs on Lotta Sea Lice, which is scheduled for release on October 13. A North American tour with Vile and Barnett begins on October 11 in San Diego and includes a stop at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby on November 3.