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  • Singer-songwriter Nick Santino has blossomed into quite the solo artist since leaving A Rocket to the Moon in 2013. Where his former band had only hints of the midwest and barely a twinge of country to it, his newest EP is decidedly country. It bears more resemblance to Santino’s short lived sort-of-solo act Nick Santino & The Northern Wind. Under that moniker, Santino released Going Home EP and The Ones You Meet Along the Way: A Collection of Stories from the Road EP in 2013. The records are more electric than his newest EP, but they provide a good transition between his career as a frontman to his career as a solo musician.

    Compared to his past alt rock efforts, Savannah is completely stripped back, populated by little more than Santino’s slow strum. The EP is built almost entirely by acoustic guitar and gentle piano, a backdrop which fits Santino’s voice perfectly. Savannah sounds like Santino has cemented himself in whatever sub-genre of country he’s cornering. It isn’t anything like what Brad Paisley or Luke Bryan play, but rather something resembling an acoustic session. The slide guitar and various other instruments of Santino’s 2014 release Big Skies are nowhere to be found. Instead these six quick tracks, which follow up Live in Sao Paulo, a split EP he recorded with The Maine, make a science out simplicity.

    The opening track “Rio” is a bright point. The storyline is sweet. Santino paints a picture of eating breakfast in bed and running away to Mexico that puts a smile on any listeners face. It’s a genuine and gentle song that outlines the escapist nature of young love. If Say Anything’s “I Want To Know Your Plans” had a xylophone and a southwestern twinge the two songs could be siblings.

    The softness continues for “Madeline,” but by that point the love has died. Sorry for the spoiler. Santino swoons and sadly sings about Madeline in this something of a cookie cutter love song. His rhymes at times are clever, but there isn’t anything strikingly original about the track. Compared to the rest of the EP, there’s a swell of many stringed things and perhaps the odd woodwind that gives the song a much larger presence, but that’s the only thing worth noting. The next song “I Just Wanted You to Know” simplifies the formula again. It continues on the somewhat uninspired break-up song trend. The lyric “I said I was doing fine, but we both know that’s a lie” is a moment in the song when the sentiment is concisely conveyed, but the listener (or at least this listener) wants to be shown not told.

    There’s a shift for the second half of the EP. Beginning with “How to Live With a Ghost” Santino really starts to shine. The last few songs shows Santino’s skills as a storyteller in a way the somewhat first few failed to do. “How to Live With a Ghost” impresses more in one song than he has in three. Half a love story, half a ghost story, the track is both touching and heartbreaking. The simple strikes of the piano pair perfectly with the rhyme-heavy lyrics. Where he missed with “Madeline” Santino hits the mark here. It’s pretty clear that the song is about the ghosts of girlfriends past, but Santino managed to take fairly cliched imagery and make it new. Lines like “There’s a ghost in this house / she’s the creak in the floor / she’s the breath on my neck / that I’ve come to ignore” feel more potent than those in “I Just Wanted You to Know.” Later on the repetition of “No, you can’t go away now” has almost this haunted, howling quality as if Santino, not his lost love, is the specter.

    Record out December 19th

    Record out December 19th

    There something similarly cliche, but renewed about “That Old Corolla.” At first the song feels a little blasé, with its sorrowful lines about growing up, driving around, stealing liquor and feeling “forever young.” However, Santino crafts his thoughts on the loss of youth into stronger sentiments. It isn’t as successful as “How to Live with a Ghost,” but Santino manages to really tap into the foolishness and carefree attitude of youth. He channels it for lines like “we held the summer sun just like a water gun / taking aim at shooting stars” in a way that made yet another song about growing up feel inventive.

    Santino ends strong with “Savannah.” The song bares some resemblance to tracks like “Dakota,” “Annabelle” and “Like We Used To” from the A Rocket To The Moon songbook. Over the course of his career, Santino has penned quite a few break-up songs and each feels like the latest version of the last one. “Savannah” is the newest in the line and perhaps the best. Santino carves out the feelings of moving on and getting back to yourself in the simple, but accurate lines, “went for a ride / never felt so alive / for a moment I forgot about time” and “I was waiting to feel your embrace / oh savannah / why did you push me away?” This kind of writing is what has earned Santino his following as he’s strayed further away from his pop rock roots. If he wanders further down the dusty road of country and keeps writing songs like “Savannah” and “How to Live With a Ghost” he’ll have no problem getting people to continue to listen.

    -Zoe Marquedant

  • Happy New Year from Los Angeles, California! This month, I’ll be featuring fashion stories from the “Golden State,” kicking it off with 20 year old L.A. songstress, Layne Putnam, otherwise known as LAYNE. Recently, I met Ms. Putnam at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to chat about her three favorite fashion items. I was greatly impressed with her bright spirit and ambition. Raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Putnam released her first album entitled Better Than Me at 15. “Growing up in the Black Hills gave me the desire to want to explore and invent,” says Putnam. One of her biggest influences has been her father, Kenny Putnam, a musician who spent many years touring with Roy Clark. There were always instruments around the house, and those seemed to fascinate Putnam more than conventional toys. Unlike most teens, she was playing almost every weekend at different venues throughout South Dakota, and was featured twice on public radio and multiple times in the newspaper. By age 18, she already dropped a second release called Mind Games, and moved to L.A at to pursue her dreams.

    On January 2nd, LAYNE will release her new EP called Warrior. The young indie-popper has a very clear idea of the album’s overall sound: “I want people to see the production we’ve spent so much time creating come to life, and to hear the huge wall of sound—even if there are only two or three players on stage.” You can check it out on iTunes, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, and her first two records on her official site LaynePutnam.com.

    In the meantime, find out LAYNE’s most prized fashion possessions and check out a sneak peak of “The Lonely” off her new EP after the jump.

    Jacqueline Colette Prosper, @yummicoco

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  • “Bound and Unbound” which is currently on right now at the Brooklyn Museum is the first ever retrospective of artist Judith Scott. The show is curated by Catherine J. Morris of the Sackler Gallery and Matthew Higgs director of White Columns Gallery. Drawing from her seventeen-year art making practice, the show features over forty sculptures and drawings that span Scott’s career. Many of the works in the show are objects that have been wrapped with various pieces of yarn, fabric and other materials that Scott worked with. The bundled package-like-sculptures sit on low display structures throughout the two rooms of the gallery’s space.

    Born in 1943, with Down Syndrome, Judith Scott would go onto become an internationally recognized fibers artist. Scott spent the first thirty-five years of her life living in a institution geared towards individuals with disabilities. In 1987, she was introduced to the through her twin sister and legal guardian, Joyce Scott which helped to put her on a creative path. The CGAC was founded in 1974 in Oakland, California by artist Florence Ludnis-Katz and her husband psychologists Elias Katz. CGAC is still active today and offers art based programs and residencies to individuals with physical and mental disabilities. The time that Scott spent at CGAC would not only greatly change the way in which she would be able to communicate but also allowed her to grow as a person and artist. Scott was also famously featured on the cover of academic writer and queer theorist, Eve Sedgwick’s 2003 book Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.
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    Many of Scott’s wrapped objects are recognizable but become distorted through the process that she has put them through. Scott’s process seems obsessive, meditative and labor intensive. The covered objects range in size and length and sometimes morph into one another. Some objects are more distinguishable than others such a as a wire hanger that has been wrapped in yarn and a musical instrument. Other objects are harder to make out and add to the the eccentricity of them. Another interesting element to Scott’s work is that all of her pieces remain untitled and are simply numbered. This not only adds to the ambiguity of the object but also leaves them more open to interpretation.
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    When Scott first started attending classes at CGAC she began to paint and draw. Over time she eventually enrolled in a class with fibers artist Sylvia Seventy. It was this class with Seventy which helped Scott to find her ideal medium—sculpture. Scott’s first sculpture, a cluster of sticks which she bound with yarn, cloth and twine which she added beads and paint to is featured in the exhibition. This particular sculpture set a precedent that Scott would revisit throughout her career although she would go on to create other works which deviated from this. The majority of Scott’s work was made sitting at a large table which is evident from the flat shapes they took and they way in which they could be easily hung which is apparent in the earlier work. Over time Scott’s piece would take on more complicated forms which is apparent in the work from the like 1990s through early 2000s.

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    One sculpture features a shopping card that has been filled to the brim with fabric and yarn and the top has been covered as well. Within the same room there is also a chair that has been wrapped in Scott’s quintessential fashion. They are beautiful and odd; and encompass many of the things that Scott was not able to verbally communicate but has done so through her own visual language. Although Scott had a limited way in which she was able to express herself, these works allowed for her to do so in another way. The show is incredibly thought provoking and makes one rethink the power that art has.

    “Bound and Unbound” is on view until March 29th, 2015. The Museum is open Wednesday: 11 a.m.–6 p.m/Thursday: 11 a.m.–10 p.m./Friday–Sunday: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

    –Anni Irish

  • Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Though it’s ubiquitous this time of year, you probably never thought too hard about Christmas music. For people like Mitchell Kezin, however, it’s practically all they think about, all year long. Kezin is the filmmaker behind the documentary Jingle Bell Rocks!, which delves into the world of holiday music aficionados, guys like himself (all of the movie’s subjects are male) who obsessively collect holiday-themed songs and albums, the weirder and/or more obscure, the better. At the end of each year they put together a compilation mix of their best finds. It’s safe to say that the general public have never heard most of these songs (“Santa Claus is a Black Man,” “Séance with Santa”).

    As the film shows, it all started for Kezin at the age of five, when he first hears Nat King Cole’s melancholy “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” which includes “The laddie didn’t have a daddy” among its depressing lyrics. The young Kezin, whose parents were in the process of getting divorced, became fascinated with the song. Another revelation occurs in his teens upon first hearing Miles Davis and Bob Dorough’s caustic “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern),” from the Jingle Bell Jazz compilation LP. Thus began the filmmaker’s obsession with alternative, not necessarily upbeat, Christmas tunes.

    Ashamed of his unusual hobby, Kezin initially thought he was alone in his Christmas music fixation, but to his joy it turns out that there are others as fanatical as he. Several of these fellow collectors are included in Jingle Bell Rocks!, along with musicians and other figures behind offbeat and memorable holiday tracks.

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

    Prominently featured is Bill Adler, former director of publicity for Def Jam Records and Rush Artist Management, an avid Christmas music fan. He and Kezin visit Joseph “Rev Run DMC” Simmons, who tells the story behind the making of the iconic (at least in NYC) rap track “Christmas in Hollis.” Kezin also visits bebop pioneer (and eternal hipster) Dorough, who recalls writing the lyrics to the still-scathing “Blue Xmas.” Kezin and Adler eventually connect with renowned Calypso singer Mighty Sparrow in their quest for a Calypso version of “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot.” Also included in Jingle Bell Rocks! are interviews with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, John Waters, and DJ Dr. Demento, all of whom are (unsurprisingly) enthusiasts of offbeat holiday fare. Various other musical acts (Clarence Carter, The Free Design, Low, El Vez) talk about their own unusual Christmas offerings. As the film shows, holiday music is truly genre-spanning, with hip hop, jazz, folk, funk, soul, Latin punk, and alternative rock, among other styles, all represented. It’s also theme-spanning, including songs both “adult” (“I Saw Mommy Spanking Santa Claus”) and regional (“I Want the South to Win the War for Christmas.”). It’s not surprising that the subject is a goldmine for music geeks.

    Entertaining and informative, Jingle Bell Rocks! also manages to be a bit heart-warming. The sharing of all this odd Christmas music actually evokes holiday spirit for Kezin, who finds peace and goodwill via his community of like-minded collectors. For more information about the film: jinglebellrocks.vhx.tv

    On the topic of unheralded holiday gems, here are a few films of Christmases past that you may not be familiar with:

    (Classic) The Cheaters (1945). Directed by Joseph Kane and rarely shown on TV anymore, this darkish, offbeat (for its time) movie stars Billie Burke as the matriarch of a shallow, wealthy family who decide to take in a homeless man for the holidays. Lessons are learned.

    (Modern): Off Season (2001), This drily witty TV movie, directed by actor Bruce Davison, stars Rory Culkin as a depressed, recently orphaned kid living with his aunt (Sherilyn Fenn), who works at a motel. When he suspects that a cranky motel guest (Hume Cronyn) is actually Santa, things get interesting. Clever and unsentimental.

    (So bad it’s awful): Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972). For those perverse souls who like their holiday fare weird and incomprehensible, there’s this. Considered by some the worst Christmas movie ever made – quite a distinction – the movie (directed by and starring virtual unknowns) boasts a nonsensical plot involving Santa’s sleigh stuck in Florida sand, the story of Thumbelina, and Pirate World amusement park. Plus very bad music.

    Happy Holidays!

    Marina Zogbi

  • The AFP Holiday Celebration, which starred Chris Hurd from the NYC alt rock band Tucker Woods, rock/funk group Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe, southern rockers Kurtz, singer-songwriter Lachi and Barry Komitor of Bad Faces, took place this past Wednesday at the Bowery Electric. With the walls decked in strands of tinsel and string lights, the last show of this year’s Homegrown series brought everything from Southern-tinged rock to soulful funk to the stage.

    Chris Hurd, who usually plays guitar and sings for the band Tucker Woods, took to the mic without his bandmates drummer Donald Pusateri and bassist Devang Baheti. To open the evening, he played an acoustic set of both Tucker Woods tunes and original work as well as an unexpected cover. Hurd’s set included a stripped back version of the new Tucker Woods single “Sleepwalker” and “Alright” off of their debut EP Tucker Woods. He played through the cheers and shouts for “Freebird!” from his friends and fellow musicians. Hurd’s own song “Light It Up” was a strong point in the set, as was his cover of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis.

    The next act up was Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe. They opened with “I Am American” and brought a well-informed political edge to the evening. The band’s second song “Punanny Politixxx,” added gender politics and reproductive rights to the conversation. To a backdrop of funky bass, saxophone and drums, leading lady Shelley Nicole belted her way through the equally uplifting “Box,” losing her Santa hat in the process. Her performance was so dynamic that it was easy to lose track of saxophonist V. Jeffery Smith, bassist Ganessa James and drummer Matsu. Their performances although talented dwarfed behind Nicole, who drew the majority of the audiences eye with her white and black unitard and bubbly stage presence.

    Lachi and guitarist Dan Wilga

    Lachi and guitarist Dan Wilga

    Up next was New York’s own Kurtz. With John Kurtz himself on guitar/vocals, Matt Brandau on bass and Bill Dobrow on drums, the band played a selection from their new record Kurtz, which was released off of Lazy Fox Records that night. From the opening track “Finer Feelings” forward, Kurtz’s catchy, southern-influenced rock filled the room. “Blonde Leading the Blind” and “We Were Fine” were two noteworthy points in the set. Over the course of the evening, the band played through the majority of their self-titled record, including the songs “Fur Trapper,” “A Little Mean” and “Anytime.” The latter track was a slower jam that crescendoed into a crashing finale.

    Lachi delivered one of the night’s most powerful performances next. From “Unforgettable” to
    “Champion” to “Boss,” there was such determination in the singer-songwriter’s set. Lachi, who was accompanied on stage by her guitarist Dan Wilga, reached out and swung her arms through the air punctuating her songs and thus cultivating quite the presence on stage. In comparison Wilga seemed rather stoic, standing and strumming away at his Takamine. Lachi seemed perfectly comfortable in front of the mic and even more comfortable with her own voice. “I’ve Decided” really showcased her ability to push herself, but not beyond her abilities. Lachi then launched into “It’s Our Time,” which she announced was her new single that was just released on iTunes. She ended the set with the equally impressive and powerful “Over It.”

    Barry Komitor and Brian Stollery of Bad Faces

    Barry Komitor and Brian Stollery of Bad Faces

    Last up was AFP’s own Barry Komitor. The AFP teacher and board member also heads up the electric Americana band Bad Faces alongside drummer Mike Severino, bassist Brian Stollery and guitarist Adam Douglass. Beginning with “Mary Lou” off of the Bad Faces album Broken Window Dressing, Komitor played a mix of ballads, Americana and original work. Next while perched on his stool, Komitor played through acoustic versions of “Ballad of John Henry” and “The Soul of a Man.” He then covered “Dink’s Song”/”Fare Thee Well,” bashfully admitting that he picked up the song from the movie Inside Llewyn Davis. Brian Stollery joined Komitor on stage afterwards and together the two played “Between Us Two” and “The Old Boys,” which are also from the Bad Faces album. The songs needed no other instrument or accompaniment other than their two voices and guitars; they fit the stripped back setting perfectly. The set was ended with the crowd favorite “Friend of the Devil” from The Grateful Dead’s 1970 album American Beauty.

    -Zoe Marquedant