24 October 2007

For the Pink Palace in the sky... -- Bands Twenty-One (21) to Twenty-Seven (27); Day 5

At 11 PM Saturday night, over 120 hours since I first began my CMJ journey, I stood on a Manhattan subway platform, patiently waiting for the L train. "So, would you do it again next year?" a friend asked. "Ask me again in a month," I told her, unable to muster a reasonable answer between the shrill pitch of the buzzing in my ears and spinning of my head. By this point, I no longer remembered what the inside of my eyelids looked like, I had forgotten the sound of silence, and I probably couldn't even tell you my name were it not printed on the all-access badge in my back pocket -- the laminated card that had come to replace my identity and soul. But I was revitalized by Indian food and coasting on adrenaline. Oh, and triumph.

Believe it or not, the impending train was to take me on my victory lap. To the winner's circle. An encore, if you will. Matt & Kim -- my 27th New York City band during the five days of 2007's annual College Music Journal Marathon. But first, a recap of the final six.

There's nothing like a little bit of home field advantage so in the afternoon I headed over to the Deli's unofficial CMJ party at Fontana's for a generous helping of hometown bands, planning to catch a few acts before parading up the Bowery for my last few bands. Who would've thought I wouldn't be able to tear myself away from the dark ambiance of Fontana's downstairs stage and the blooming NYC acts that graced it? The rundown...

Six to go. Radio America took the stage with some stunning three-part harmonies, the likes of which I haven't seen from an all male group since the last time I caught the Beach Boys live. But really, these boys had more of an E Street Band or Aerosmith vibe than the breezy sway of Endless Summer. Young, strapping fellows, Radio America probably have cool fathers because they know their classic rock. With the reverence of the Hold Steady and a little punk rock kick, the scorching dueling guitar solos were straight up face-melting.

One down, five to go. The Velocet somehow made 80s post-punk ballsy, like if Robert Smith could toss a pigskin. The guitars didn't so much wander as attack and the creeping rasp to Michael Davidson's voice had a ferociousness that's missing from a lot of the lemme-whisper-you-my-secrets "rock" of today.

Four to the floor. The next band was like a spoonful of Robitussin without Poppins and her goddamn sugar -- that garbage is for kids. Undersea Explosion, on the other hand, are men. Rapping on a cowbell, their lead singer didn't play with dance-punk irony, instead looking like he really wanted to make a dent in the thing. Behind him was a vigorous distorted bass and hints of some Sonic Youth discordance, but more apparent was a sludgy grit like the desert rock of Queens of the Stone Age.

Twenty-three plus 1 = Anthem In. The thing with this band is that by the time they got to their last song, "Down," I started to wish they just would've played it 6 times over, filling their whole set. A&R is asleep at the wheel on this one because with its disco beat high-hats and lyrics about the "dancefloor" there is no way this song is anything but a chart-topper. It's not even that their other songs are no good, but with something as contagious as "Dance," your job is done.

By this point I could pretty much taste it but when Bella Watt took the stage they exuded a freshness only a young band could. A male and female vocal trade-off topped atypical grooves spiked with psychedelia and the result was sufficiently hypnotizing, building a measured, spacey atmosphere. The haunting hymnal that was their last song teased some truly poignant moments to come in this band's career.

I couldn't have asked for a better 26th band than Sikamor Rooney. As I crossed the finish line, they whizzed by me, seemingly unaware the race was over. Their rapid-fire country punk sneered and spat with disregard like an unchained beast with rock star swagger. Scathing and snotty like the Black Lips with some of the retro sass of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the trio barn-burned through grimy numbers like the Iggy Pop-ish "Dirty Dog" noticeably drunk even though it was only 5:30. Their final song couldn't have been a better finale with a more perfect title, wrapping up my marathon with three fateful, self-explanatory letters that sum it all up: "N. Y. C."

Later that night, for shits and giggles and to flaunt my stamina, I headed to the Music Hall of Williamsburg for final bow, a curtain call. DIY hipster lovebirds Matt & Kim are sweeter than chocolate covered cotton candy and though I came out of there with three cavities, not once did I stop smiling. Seriously, though, my cheeks were sore. Kim punishes the skins at a mile a minute while Matt pounds on screaming synth keys, taking breaks only to tell us in the crowd how "fucking awesome" we all were and to read passages from his favorite book, Letters to E.T. Best stage banter? Without a doubt. Happiest crowd surfers? Mmhmm. A storybook ending to my CMJ epic? I think Matt & Kim and everyone else in the Music Hall said it best: YEA YEAH YEA YEAH YEA YEAH YEA YEAH YEA YEAH YEA YEAH YEA YEAH. - Joe Coscarelli

via The Deli Magazine which has collected my entire 5 day journey HERE

mp3 Matt & Kim Yea Yeah

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21 October 2007

"You think it's tough now, come to Africa." -- Bands Nineteen (19) to Twenty (20); Day 4

Sasha Frere-Jones, the pop critic at The New Yorker, recently wrote a controversial� article (among music nerds) titled "A Paler Shade of White" with the subtitle "How indie rock lost its soul." The piece's basic argument is that the new era of independent rock music has rid itself of any black influence including syncopated rhythms and other elements of soul and blues music. Frere-Jones slights indie behemoths like The Arcade Fire for their "end-of-the-world" style that eventually grates and falls flat because it's just too white. His argument has holes like cheese of the Swiss variety, but he argues vehemently with no trepidation in making grand claims (see: "You could argue that Dr. Dre and Snoop were the most important pop musicians since Bob Dylan and the Beatles."). Point being, let's hope Frere-Jones skipped CMJ this year.

Things this week have been blindingly white. Sure you've got your Q-Tips, your Devin the Dudes and your Cool Kids, but you've also got every skinny white boy and his six-string playing a version of the same "college rock" that dominated campus radio when people actually listened to campus radio. There are groups who pull it off, managing a fresh spin, and I've seen a few of them this week but the problem is that the bands who don't make it harder to enjoy the bands that do, inundating the listener with stale homogeneity. So on Friday night I switched it up.
I had also been promiscuous. Jumping from venue to venue was starting to feel empty and I was getting a reputation, so on this night, I settled in at the Filmore New York at Irving Plaza to take in the Afropunk showcase. The night was a marathon in itself, taking me past 1:30 AM with little in the way of New York City acts, but a thirst for some diversity prevailed. READ THE REST

mp3 Santogold ft. Spank Rock Shuv It

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"Ball 'til I fall." -- Bands Nine (9) to Eighteen (18); Day 3

I'm absolutely killing the game right now. Please call me Genghis Khan the way I conquered. From the early morn' to the early morn' I watched bands. In record stores, empty rooms, packed clubs and apartments. They played on high stages, low stages, the floor, the couch, and in chairs. They broke strings, sticks, light fixtures and hearts. And then they broke my will. Almost.

Thursday. Thirteen hours of live music. Ten NYC bands. Many more from places that don't matter nearly as much. The stalwarts, the amateurs, the boys, the men, the girls, the women, the ear-splitting, the soothing and The Next Big Huge Thing. Let me take you there.

My first stop was breakfast -- scrambled eggs and sausage -- hoping to provide myself the sustenance I needed to suceed. Then, Vampire Weekend�scored breakfast at Other Music. As in, "got it for free" (we all did). And as in, "provided the music for." Say what you will about their preppy quirk, pop-kitsch lyrics and subsequent short shelf-life. Will our children know who Lil John is? Probably not. So what. Fact is, these boys are near-perfect. Beyond the fact that the songs are infectious and clever, the band is flawless. Smack in the middle of a silent record store every sound better be squeaky-clean, circular guitar licks and Casio whirrs included. And it was. After the show, the band was traveling to the UK to open for The Shins. In a few months it could very well be the other way around.

The remainder of the daylight hours were spent patrolling the LES, centered around the Gothamist House at The White Rabbit. Here, New York City represented hard and often. For instance... Once upon a time there was a boy named Thurston. He fell in sloppy slacker love with Kim and they formed an eternal bond (and band), and so there was Sonic Youth. This is a guitar-rock fairytale that The Muggabears know very well with '90s worship present in every sludgy note. Three piece. Female bassist. Assault of the tremolo bar. Remember Sister and Murray Street? So do The Muggabears - check out this mp3. READ THE REST

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19 October 2007

"I like everything better when I make it." -- Bands Five (5) to Eight (8); Day 2

It's 3 AM and my head is ringing like Mike Tyson just boxed my ears. The thing is, it's not that recurring dream where Oscar De La Hoya dresses up in women's clothes and I'm a heavyweight champion (as opposed to real life where I'm only a featherweight champion). But let me back up.

Rolling on 4 hours of sleep when an early evening lull hit, I crashed for a power-nap, setting an alarm for 6:45 PM. The time came and in a sleepy haze I decided I had a few more minutes to rest before I would book it to Brooklyn. The next time I opened by eyes it was 9:45. Jay Garrick style, I was in Greenpoint in time for The Vandelles (picture) and the greater part of a CMJ showcase at Europa. Initially, I was the least hip person in the room as I was the only one to approach the stage -- guess I just didn't get the memo.

While the self-proclaimed "loudest band in New York City" were killing time in Williamsburg until their night-cap, undoubtedly reciting their Best New Music 'fork review to one another from memory, Brooklyn's The Vandelles were doing all they could to usurp the title by fuzzy coup. While A Place To Bury Strangers ride aggro-shoegaze revival, The Vandelles skip the gazing all together and just pulverize ears, burying their Dandy Warhols psych-rock in a deep, dark place.

The rhythm section, wo-manned by two unassuming, comely females, was a true force -- bass dipped in a hot vat of distortion and drums clawing and clamoring to be heard. You know the scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman is buried alive, forced to karate-chop her way through wood and tightly packed dirt? In that adrena-frezy, she'd play the drums like the chick from The Vandelles. Three-quarters through the set, the sound guy chimed in: "You're gonna have to turn that down." READ THE REST

A Place To Bury Strangers Missing You

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17 October 2007

"Wocka Wocka Wocka!" Day 1 -- Bands One (1) to Four (4); Day 1

This year a monolithic pairing between NYU and CMJ finds the Marathon's headquarters at the historic Puck Building. Think of it as a sort of indie-rock Death Star -- the center of the CMJ universe. Amidst promotional booths and piles of free swag sits the Day Stage, home to performances throughout the week. People mulled around with gift bags and free mags, Mountain Dew and energy drinks flowing like water. Dirty beards and thick-rimmed glasses were countless. On your marks, get set ...

The first stride in my marathon was Takka Takka's 1:00 PM Day Stage set. The boys from Brooklyn didn't so much kick things off as ease them in, their bright clean guitars weaving tight patches, always calming and clear. Pavement had riffs like this but they felt dirty, loose and sorta zany -- Takka Takka's intertwining grooves are polished and fine. The five-pieces' clarity was ideal for the daylight hour, sunlight shining in spears through the building's windows. Any brooding that might find itself at home in a dark, dingy club or bar was absent, replaced by laid-back, shuffling percussion and melodic bass-lines. The highlight, though, was the spirited facial expressions, winces and grimaces from the band's rhythm (and 3rd!) guitarist while providing smooth vocal harmonies. Entertaining, yes, but wholly unwarranted. An embodiment of effortlessness, Takka Takka don't toy with pain nor strain.

mp3 Takka Takka We Feel Safer At Night

My night in Alphabet City ran as smoothly as a three-wheeled wagon. Marred by my own inexperience, I tripped and ate a little mud (to 'run' with this marathon metaphor). Day 1 saw me miss three scheduled bands (sorry guys!) to be replaced along the way. Hear you me -- I will make up the ground I lost. READ THE REST

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15 October 2007

"I feel fine."

by Joseph Coscarelli

The CMJ 2007 Music Marathon & Film Festival lasts from October 16th-October 20th, five days of the world's best up and coming bands and filmmakers in rapid-fire succession. Running the CMJ Marathon in the name of The Deli Magazine consists of braving the elements -- long lines, big crowds, pricey drinks, etc -- and seeing twenty-six (yes, 26) New York City bands in this five day period.

Five straight days can feel like an eternity.

Legend has it that one Marathon runner swore off alcohol. But not prior to running, as part of some fascist training regiment that champions purity and protein shakes. No -- this is a different breed of race. After the CMJ Marathon, where the 26 performances replace 26 physical miles, with his wallet bled dry and liver soaked with booze, the only viable option was abstaining from drinks altogether. Get on the wagon.

Burnt out and dried up might be the only way to come out of this. Pheidippides, the Greek soldier from whose exploits the term "marathon" comes, was not so lucky. Upon arriving in Athens after his run, he collapsed dead from exhaustion.

And yet it's all so alluring. Imagine sprinting stage to stage, bolting venue to venue and dashing from party to showcase. The experience -- a form of binge-drinking for the show-going set -- is not exactly glamorous but there's something mythical about the urgency of it all.

Like a correspondent from the front lines, ducking bombs and dodging bullets in the form of power-chords and drum fills, it will be my job to bring the action to you, the sane music fan, while you pace yourself, see a few shows and enjoy what you miss through capsulized recaps and innumerable photoblogs.

Maybe I'm a glutton for over-exertion, constantly stretching myself too thin. Or maybe I just revel in a good challenge. Whatever the case, I'm charging into this year's Marathon (featuring NYC acts like Professor Murder, O'Death, Aa and many, many more) head on, with reckless abandon. If I come out on the other side hating alcohol, or worse, live shows, the suffering will be worthwhile if only for the stories I will tell.
Tuesday 10/16
1. Takka Takka - 1:00 PM - Puck Building Day Stage

2. Swati - 7:00 PM - Mo' Pitkins New Arrivals Showcase

3. Rachael Sage - 7:30 PM - Mo' Pitkins New Arrivals Showcase

4. The Felice Brothers - 8:30 PM - Southpaw

5. AA Bondy - 9:30 PM - Southpaw

6. Dean and Britta - 10:00 PM - Bowery Ballroom

7. The Rosewood Thieves - 11:30 PM - Southpaw

Wednesday 10/17
8. Excellent - 7:30 PM - Europa

9. Freshkills - 8:30 PM - Europa

10. The Vandelles - 9:30 PM - Europa

11. Bloody Social - 10:30 PM - Europa

12. Theo and the Skyscrapers - 11:30 PM - Europa

Thursday 10/18
13. The Jaguar Club - 6:00 PM - Indaba Loft

14. The Epochs - 8:30 PM - Blender Theater at Gramercy

15. Orba Squara - 9:00 PM - Southpaw (iPhone song!!!)

16. Pela - 11:00 PM - Bowery Ballroom

17. Elk City - 11:30 PM - Joe's Pub

18. Camphor - 12:30 PM - Joe's Pub

Friday 10/19
19. The Muggabears - 2:15 PM - Gothamist House

20. The Jealous Girlfriends - 3:00 PM - Gothamist House

21. The Big Sleep - 3:45 PM - Gothamist House

22. Sam Champion - 6:45 PM - Gothamist House

23. Santogold - 8:50 PM - Filmore at Irving Plaza

24. Earl Greyhound - 9:40 PM - Filmore at Irving Plaza

Saturday 10/20
25. Nous Non Plus - 7:00 PM - Indaba Loft

26. Matt & Kim - 11:00 PM - Music Hall of Williamsburg

Stay tuned for full blog coverage HERE.

CMJ stars I'll be skipping:
M.I.A. Paper Planes ft. Bun B and Rich Boy
Justice Phantom pt. II

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"Like bloodsuckers do."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've heard it all. Overdetermined. Blah Blah. What's one more?

At Wireless Bollinger, we did it four (4) times. In an experiment intended to produce varying opinions, I think how it turned out says something special: We've all been brainwashed.

Check out the four-part feature HERE.

Mine went something like this:

In Rainbows

To slight Radiohead over 10 years after their artistic and critical ascendance would not only be flagrantly contrarian, but also embarrassingly belated. The time for backlash has come and gone and it is no secret which side prevailed. Though periodically forgetting their role, Radiohead are one of the last vestiges of the Great Rock Band, concerned with the album, the art form and continuous progression, all in the truest sense.
That said, I've never been much of a fan.

Call me shamefully shallow, needy or even elitist, but Radiohead fail to invoke that special brand of intimacy. There has always been something far too egalitarian about it all. Bootlegs, b-sides and discussion boards aside, the thought of the harmony between meatheads cranking 'Creep' in their SUVs, vacuous teenagers feigning personal depth with 'Fake Plastic Trees' and obsessives scouring OK Computer for a coherent narrative has never sat well with me.

With the release of In Rainbows, the populous prevails again. By flipping the script, shredding the recording industry blueprint, and turning marketing norms on their collective ear (no advanced copies were distributed for reviewing), Radiohead has leveled the playing field. But they've also stripped the musical experience of individuality.

By releasing the album suddenly for download, the band has assured the singularity of the listening experience. There was no car ride home with plastic wrap thrown to the passengers seat or no anticipation for the first glimpse of the postman. Instead, we all enjoyed the same click, save, add new files, update device, et cetera, et cetera. Rumors have figures at 1.2 million downloads in the first two days. That is terrifying. Their scope is too broad, power too far reaching and range frightening -- a bit too Orwellian, too computerized. Fitter, happier. READ THE RESTRadiohead Paperbag Writer

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04 October 2007

"Some days, they last longer than others."

As you may already know, the first single from the new Wu-Tang Clan album, 8 Diagrams, is their take on George Harrison's legendary Beatles song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The track, "The Heart Gently Weeps", does not in fact contain a sample of the song, but instead is, as the Wu notes, an "interpolation" of the classic White Album track.

The song finds Harrison's son Dhani and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sharing guitar duties while the serene voice of Erykah Badu blesses the hook. I can only imagine that Frusciante plays the Clapton role handling the song's lead, but whatever the case, the result is so much more than I could've hoped for.

Sacrilege and the Beatles catalog go way back (Elton's "Lucy In the Sky"?; no thanks) but the butchering is fresh with the recent release of the much maligned Across The Universe. Bono doing "I Am The Walrus" is one thing, but when paired with rap music, many consider the canon to be in danger. We've heard Lil Wayne mess around with "Help!" and of course, Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, both of which are actually quite enjoyable but somehow the concept remains unsettling. But where Dangermouse's take on "Weeps" straps the piano-line with a glitch-y drumbeat and tops it with Hov's amped "What More Can I Say" verses, the Wu took an entirely different approach.

"The Heart Gently Weeps" is a low-key, woozy affair -- a far cry from the confrontational "Watch Your Mouth", the first taste from 8 Diagrams -- and aside from the shrill, treble-y lead, the song is content to glide along with a subtle groove. Slow drums and a languid organ flow with measured restraint while the melodic guitar line claws from the background with a static distortion. Badu's chorus takes liberties with the song's lyrics and feels light and hazy, a perfect compliment to the ire brought in nearly every Wu verse, even on a less menacing song like this one.
The highlight, not surprisingly, is Ghost's drug/street narrative which is surely less frenetic than say, "Shaky Dog", but (almost-)equally captivating. The song's mid-verse sing-song detour that borrows from the original's bridge is also an endearing quirk. The remaining verses are passable, standard Wu fare, in this case, a completely forgivable offense as the group shows themselves as unafraid to take the backseat, content to coast on the beat's atmosphere and warm familiarity.

God knows Mr. Tom Breihan will probably post about this tomorrow, but I figured I'd get my thoughts down before reading anyone else's. Anyway, enjoy.

Wu-Tang Clan The Heart Gently Weeps (via Loud.com)
Jay-Z and DJ Danger Mouse What More Can I Say
Lil Wayne Help!

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02 October 2007

"Mayonnaise colored Benz..."

My Battles feature from the summer issue of The Deli Magazine has been posted online, so if you haven't picked up the issue or aren't in the city, you can check it out. Battles are one of the year's greatest independent success stories largely because, as I see it, they've broke through without even hinting toward the brand of indie-rock that seems almost tailor-made for use in commercials. They're being embraced by a scene where they don't quite fit and I like the idea. Here's what I wrote:
War of the Worlds

"And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science, menacing all mankind and every creature on the Earth comes the War of the Worlds."

Yet, imagine this force of futuristic sci-fi sonic manipulation as used for good instead of evil. Picture a stage in which it is futile to discern whether the men control the machines or the machines control the men. As if, tangled in the sinews of winding wire, the humans are helpless amidst the sound wave battlefield. The blasts and squeaks weave with elasticity leaving just enough breathing room for each sound to register and the result is an eruption of rumbling engine noises driven by shattering percussion and accented with pointed shredding of strings and keys.
Each section builds like a movement of intergalactic warfare culminating in warped screeches and chants -- fragments of what earthlings might call "vocals" -- so doctored, distorted and altered that they meld effortlessly with the electronic explosions. And yet, snap out of the peculiar, mechanistic trance to find there is a distinctively human quality to it all.

The experimental manipulations at the hands of four New York City musicians is oddly assuring. In a 21st century world of Orwellian proportions, amid gadgets and artificial intelligence, Man prevails if only in their complete mastery of machine. What sounds like the apparatus takeover is actually the human touch -- ambitious instrumentalists, free of samples, creating each and every sound live, in an effort to conquer your ears and mind.

Battles has truly triumphed, and I'll be damned if they don't win the war to boot. The weapons are stockpiled; ex-Helment drummer John Stanier punishes the set while ex-Don Cabellero guitarist Ian Williams and ex-Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka melt faces above Stanier's wild tribal pounding. And then, there's Tyondai Braxton in a mess of keyboards, looking like he hijacked an electrical truck, creating live vocal loops and Daft Punk-ing them into a buzzing heap of pitch-shifts and vocoder.

After two astonishingly good EPs, the band has unleashed their long-awaited full length, Mirrored, upon the globe and brought along their manic live show for good measure. Impossible to ignore, the band was even profiled by The New York Times, proof that Battles' progressive soundtrack to electronic friction is a war of worlds worth fighting for. Tyondai Braxton waged his own battle, against a bad cell phone connection in the flatlands of Texas, to share his band's story with The Deli. READ THE INTERVIEW

Battles Ddiamondd

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01 October 2007

"Go ahead and switch the style up..."

Do you ever feel like you're constantly playing catch-up?

Not exactly... but now that I have your attention, let me introduce Clare Muldaur. She recently put out an album under the name Clare and the Reasons called The Movie on Frog Stand Records. And yes, it features Mr. Stevens on the great, jazzy "Nothing/Nowhere" and some string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, recently known as the genius behind the string-schmaltz of Ys from everyone's favorite indie-heartthrob harpist. But it's also filled with quirky, lovey-dovey storytelling and the languid, smooth female vibrato of Clare herself.
The album is truly one of the year's hidden gems and I can't imagine why it has not yet crept into the current consciousness. It's a wonderful, light little record and comes highly recommended. The Voice was a bit more lukewarm but I did my own write up over at Wireless Bollinger, part of which is right here:

Clare & The Reasons
The Movie

The mystery behind the ever-arbitrary hype machine, about who and what will garner internet buzz, meets a conundrum in the case of Clare Muldaur. More and more frequently musicians sell out their first handfuls of show or gain a following on the strength of an EP or even scattered demos, yet as the release of Muldaur's The Movie (credited to Clare & The Reasons) approaches, mum's the word. Let us call her Brooklyn's best kept secret.

As the underground so successfully becomes the over-ground thanks to hot shot bloggers and the magic of technological networking, there remains a few shortcuts to world wide (web) celebrity, each failing to ignite our potential heroine in limbo. The lineage is there – Clare's father Geoff Muldaur is a celebrated blues singer and producer from the folk revival in the Northeastern states. Next, consider the record's guests, including the inescapable Sufjan Stevens and composer Van Dyke Parks (recently of Joanna Newsom's Ys fame, not to mention his sidekick role to Brian Wilson). Couple innate hipster nepotism with some famous friends and you might expect the biggest internet sensation since Ms. Newsom or even Mr. Stevens himself. And yet somehow, the music world sleeps on it. READ THE REST

Clare & The Reasons Alphabet City

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