Sir Croissant

Sir Croissant: for fans of Big Thief, Daughter, and Bon Iver
sir croissant

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There is beauty in youth, beauty in talent, and when the two overlap the result is often grandiose, unexpectedly fulfilling. This is pretty much what must have been going through the heads of those who attended the first ever show of Sir Croissant in Žiža, an alternative cafe in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A venue that is usually chatty and noisy in the evenings – even when there’s a show. That night, though, when the local songwriter took the stage, everyone went abruptly silent, captured by his vocals from the very first few seconds.

One impressive thing here is that Igor Božanić alias Sir Croissant, who chose the name after a live album by Sia, is only 16-years-old, and has already released two EPs. The first one, Let Me Sleep, was recorded in his room with a webcam microphone, giving a lo-fi vibe that however doesn’t hide the most recognizable stylistic traits of his work. There’s the placidity of Lisa Hannigan in his vocals, but also the emotional tension of indie bands like Daughter and Big Thief, as his guitar picking masterfully matches the feelings he wants to evoke.

These qualities emerge much more vividly on his new EP, if i was a fish i would cry, also thanks to the synths of Milica Pendić, supplying the music with resounding nuances of holy. But it’s his songwriting and his storytelling skills that improved the most in just one year: songs like “johnson and johnson” and “doglady” are beautiful examples of how variegated his music can get, other than displaying his overflowing and empathic narrative made of romanticizing simple gestures and childhood memories. What he can achieve in the future is not calculable: what’s sure is that there’s something truly precious and important here.

Sir Croissant: Facebook Bandcamp Website Twitter

Writer and musician from Milan, Italy. Hardcore punk background, DIY enthusiast, Balkan culture scholar. Check him out on Twitter at @advaence

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Avital Raz

Avital Raz: “Making people uncomfortable since 1996…”

Avital Raz

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When I listen to Avital Raz, I hear the traditional folk storytelling of artists like Bob Dylan with a modern twist and some dark humor. The Israeli singer-songwriter, now based in Sheffield, tells poignant stories with simple acoustic playing and some nice orchestral touches. Read up on her fascinating career so far here.

From Bandcamp:

“a vocal artist who travels across many genres. Her songs may resemble old English lute songs, Indian Classical Ragas, Cabaret, Blues or Eastern-European Jewish melodies. A multi-cultured get-together of many strange characters, all rolled up into one quirky singer-songwriter.”

Avital Raz: Website SoundCloud Facebook Twitter

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Matador

Matador: “It is better to listen to it with headphones”

matador

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Matador is Santiago Bogacz, who does all the guitar playing and singing you hear on his latest album that came out late last year, which is eerie and spacious and haunting and really beautiful.

From Bandcamp:

“It is better to listen to it with headphones.”

Matador: Facebook

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Afous D’Afous

Afous D’Afous: Because there’s more to Tuareg rock than Tinariwen

Afous D'Afous

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The latest Sahelsounds release is a collection of songs by Tuareg rock band Afous D’Afous, one of the Sahara’s best guitar bands and a leading group of what we know as “desert blues” in the West. Based in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, Afous D’Afous’ music is more upbeat and pop-sounding compared to the serious and heady grooves of Tinariwen, who are probably the most famous Tuareg rock group outside Africa.

From Bandcamp:

“In the past decade, there has been an explosion of ethnically Tuareg rock bands on the world music stage. Built around the electric guitar, the genre ranges from stripped down minimalist nostalgia filled ballads to distortion heavy tracks for dancing. Known collectively in the West as “desert blues” for its pentatonic scales and finger styles that recall Americana, in the Sahara it’s simply known as “guitar.” The style has emerged as contemporary pop music back home and today there are hundreds of bands, playing locally in weddings and public celebrations. The effect of the world music industry is not lost on the Sahara however, and the Western music market still maintains dominance over the Tuareg guitar scene. For the majority of Tuareg “guitar” bands, success still comes via the West. Artists travel abroad to record albums, and there are no shortage of indie-rock heavyweights anxious to jump into the role of producer.

An exception to the rule is Kader Tarhanine’s group “Afous D’Afous.” This six person rock outfit from Tamanrasset in southern Algeria is by all accounts unknown in world music circles. However, at home in the Tuareg community, they are without a doubt the most celebrated, famous, and in demand group, second only to Tinariwen. Kader Tarhanine rose to popularity in 2010, with his recording of a song “Tarhanine Tegla” (My Love is Gone). The track, a low-fi love ballad, recorded with a crunchy electric guitar over a pacing drum machine, went on to become an anthem throughout the diaspora (earning Kader the nickname “Kader Tarhanine”). In 2015, Kader formed his group “Afous D’Afous” and traveled to Algiers to record the full length debut “Tenere.” The 9 track album was released on CD in a limited run in-country, accompanied by a huge press rollout. The band appeared on Algerian national television, quickly becoming a country favorite and representative of the Tuareg ethnic minority. The album quickly disseminated throughout the diaspora, traded on cellphones in the conflicted Azawad, beamed through private WhatsApp pirate networks, and soundtracking smuggler’s routes, blasting from Land Cruisers at high speeds through the border zones of the open desert.

“Tenere” is a departure from the rest of the contemporary Tuareg rock albums. Of the myriad of Tuareg releases that have caught the ear of the West, only a tiny few are produced at home, sans Western producers. “Tenere” offers some of the most complex compositions in the genre to date, tightly arranged and polished. There is something sonically throwback, though Afous D’Afous crawled out of 70s rock studio album. It is long cited that Tuareg rock styles are largely inspired from heavyweights Dire Straits. This may be the most true to form rock album to date, and there is certainly a few riffs that recall Mark Knopfler. The electric guitar, front and center, drives the tracks with uptempo rhythms, all led by the soulful voice of Kader, measured and balanced with the chorus call and response. In addition to this classic rock aesthetic, the production adds some unlikely elements, reflective of contemporary globalism – layering pitch bending North African synthesizer, reverb saturated dub, and even Indian tabla and sitar!

While Tuareg guitar has become a commodity in the world music industry, Afous D’Afous has continued to in relative obscurity, all while remaining one of the most popular guitar outfits amongst Tuareg fans. They tour constantly throughout the Sahara to sold out crowds in Bamako, Niamey, and Agadez. They have yet to tour abroad. The irony is not lost on the band, and we’re excited for the opportunity to partner with them to correct this glaring oversight.

The remastered Sahel Sounds release of “Tenere” pulls together the complete recordings from their debut album, available for the first time outside of the diaspora. The vinyl edition of 1000 features old school 3-color offset printed jackets.”

Afous D’Afous: Website Facebook Twitter

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla

Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla: Instrumental synth and lute from the Sahara desert and Sahelsounds

Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla

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‘Top WZN’ is another Sahelsounds collection that focuses on Mauritanian WZN (instrumental music), a sort of pop music for this West African country. Both Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla are masters in their own right at the manipulated lute and the Arabic scaled pitch synth that, played together, sound oddly soothing in its freakouts and delicate tempos – you can never tell where the songs will go, which keeps you on your toes.

from Sahelsounds:

“The album (originally released on cassette in 2009) showcases Jeich Ould Badu and Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla, playing a signature genre of instrumental music. Known as اوزان (transliterized as “alwazan” “wezen” or “wzn”), literally translated as “rhythm,” it colloquially refers to a contemporary genre of instrumental music, defined by synthesizers, electric guitars and lutes, and electronic drum patterns. Jeich Ould Badu is from a celebrated family of griots, and learned to play music at a young age. He plays the tidnit, the traditional Hassaniya lute – modified and updated, the goat skin replaced by flattened tin, and hacked together with phaser pedals and built in pre-amps. Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla is one of the most well known keyboard musicians in Mauritania. He plays an Arabic moded synthesizer capable of the quarter tone scales adapted from the fretless strings of classical Moorish traditions.

Popular Mauritanian music is often performed publicly with large troupes of guitarists, tidnits, synthesizers, and multiple rhythm sections. But in the past decade, the influx of small recording studios and a booming cassette industry has led to artist driven productions. WZN has followed suit, and has been transformed into an established genre. The slick studio sound, warbling tidnit, and microtones of the synthesizer are an integral part of today’s musical landscape, blasting from open air music shops and taxi cabs throughout the capital.”

Sahelsounds / Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla: Website Facebook Twitter SoundCloud

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Sampieri & GMC

‘Sampieri & GMC’: blissed-out psychedelic free folk from Argentina

Sampieri & GMC

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I’ve recently discovered the wonderful Pakapi Records, an Argentina-based label that focuses on promoting South American artists. The standout for me so far is this 2015 collaboration between Sebastian Sampieri (Sampieri) and Guillermo M. Cerredo (GMC). ‘Sampieri & GMC,’ when you’re in the right mindset, is a blissed-out collage of psychedelic free folk.

From CassetteBlog.com:

“This new lysergic adventure is a blunt split plagued by experimental music, sampledelia, electronic and acoustic sounds, synthesizing a cross of folcklore, tribal mantras to pure electronic and a narcotic and descriptive shared collage.”

‘Sampieri & GMC’/Pakapi Records: Bandcamp Facebook

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Exclusive Interview with Peter Oren, A Folk Singer With A Twist

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Photo by Alex Doane

Very few 23-year-old folk singers are ever compared to Bill Callahan, but Peter Oren is not like most folk singers.

With a calming, deep voice that reminds me of Callahan but matched by more observant and direct lyrics, Oren follows in the footsteps of the politically minded protest folk singer-songwriters who came before him (Dylan in his Greenwich days, Phil Ochs, etc) while making his own way with his atmospheric singing and songwriting. Unlike most folk performers these days, whom would rather be Marcus Mumford than Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger, Oren actually has something to say and a powerful voice to say it, and that makes this young singer-songwriter someone to look out for.

I had the chance to talk with Peter about his songwriting and of the many people and places that have inspired his music and lookout on life. Below is our conversation:

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Does songwriting for you have a particular structure (lyrics first then music or vice versa) or do you find that songs come out of nowhere and the lyrics and music come together at the same time?

“I definitely don’t have a formula for songwriting. I have a pocket-sized notebook and pen on me at (almost) all times to catch whatever thoughts or phrases come my way. Musical phrases come on their own as well, and I collect those with my phone’s recording device.

Sometimes everything comes at once. Sometimes I mix and match, or begin and leave it open for a while. I try to keep the idea/ lyrics at the forefront of whatever song I’m writing. I slip up on occasion and write a song that doesn’t really mean anything to me, but usually lyrics are the top priority. I think a clever or powerful line can make all the difference in a song.”

 Some of the best moments of songwriting are those first few times you play your new song and it sounds amazing and it’s the greatest song ever written and you’re going to change the world with your new, totally unique song.

But when you step away from the music and try to go back to it to fix a section or to record it, it’s easy to only look at all the things wrong with the song – the lyrics are bad, it’s a bland chord progression, this song sounds too much like this song, etc. How do you keep that songwriting mentality strong? It’s easy to forget that songwriting is actually hard work.

“I feel it’s important to let everything out of your system, whether it’s good or bad songwriting, and deal with figuring out what’s good after. I’m sure every excellent songwriter has dozens of bad songs they’ve written and forgotten about. The trick is to trust yourself fully as an artist and always go with what your passion is.

I’ve got bits and pieces of over a hundred songs floating around here and there, but not many are likely to hear any of it. The good stuff floats to the top, whether it’s because you know it’s good and love to play it (even before anyone’s heard it yet) or because you play it for others and most everyone agrees it’s a keeper.”

Jack White has this idea of creativity and inspiration that he works best by figuratively putting himself in a box and trying to come up with songs when he’s forced to only use certain instruments or record something in a very short timeframe. Do you agree or disagree that setting some sort of restriction can enhance creativity?

“There’s definitely something to be said for Jack White’s approach. Whether it’s writing or improvising on stage, Need can force creativity out of people. However, I feel that Need that arises organically (often internally) can be more fruitful and artistically valuable than Need created artificially.

For example, I have (on at least one occasion) written something that helped release me from a period of depression and gain perspective. This feels more artistically fulfilling to me than coming up with a new guitar riff because the tape is rolling or because a crowd is watching. I also have a tendency to quit or leave town without a concrete plan, and I take pride in this because it’s under such circumstances that one enters the unknown and has to deal with it.

So if you’re asking me if I find it better to do something than sit and wait, I say yes, do something. But I prefer to align such efforts with real Need rather than artificial need because I’d rather hear a song written by someone with an existential crisis than a song written under pressure just because that artist felt it was time to put out a new record. Hope that makes sense.”

Who are your literary (or just non-musical) heroes and how do they influence the way you write your songs?

“Wendell Berry and Scott Russell Sanders. Ross Gay is a local favorite. Peter Gelderloos is a really talented anarchist writer who always seems to give me a new and powerful take on the world today. He is super eloquent and thought-provoking.  Hermann Hesse for Beneath the Wheel and Siddhartha. Hemingway, Albert Camus, and William Faulkner for various reasons. Vonnegut is incredible. David Berman is both a songwriter and a poet I love. Aldous Huxely for Brave New World in particular. Kerouac.

These writers have all influenced my world view in various ways. Some, such as Berman, Hemingway, and Faulkner all influenced my style as a writer whether by encouraging simple, declarative sentences (Hemingway), using run-on stream-of-consciousness, big-picture existential passages (Faulkner), or maneuvering abstract metaphors and descriptions that seem to add up to feelings more than ideas (Berman).”

Do you remember the first song you wrote and what inspired you to write it?

“I think the first song I wrote was actually “Try Hell,” which is online at swales.bandcamp.com. I adjusted parts of the lyrics between writing it at 18 and recording it at 21, but it’s basically all there. I was caught up with (and still am) a feeling of nausea and absurdity which stemmed from being born into a day and age where we burn fossil fuels despite the fact we are changing the climate, grow vast fields of soy and corn in a monoculture, and remain rooted in institutional religions, where we look for answers.

Obviously the “we” in the previous sentence is loose. The chorus in that song, “If you think it’s hot here, try hell,” was borrowed from a church sign in Paoli when my friends and I passed through in the summer after our senior year. It was a hot day. My friend Nick Greven spotted it and suggested I put it in the song I was writing that night around the campfire. It fit the theme perfectly.”

It’s easy to throw a Bob Dylan comparison at you, but what other major musical influences are in your life? Your music reminds me a lot of Bill Callahan in the way that you approach singing and writing, and I’m sure people want to hear about other good folk artists.

“Yeah yeah Bob Dylan. Hell of a songwriter. Bill Callahan is definitely the bomb, you’re spot on there–I’m definitely a big fan. As far as older stuff goes, I love Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Blaze Foley, Arthur Russell, and John Prine. Artists making music now who I love include Bonnie Prince Billy, AA Bondy, and Blake Mills.”

 What is your secret music guilty pleasure? Like, are you a closet Spice Girls fan or do you have every single Shakira bootleg? Don’t be ashamed!

“Die Antwoord? Does that count? “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce?”

Who is an artist who you wish more people knew about?

“The Weather Station. Tamara Lindeman writes super beautiful songs. They’re simple and elegant–delicate and personal.”

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Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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