Thursday, October 29, 2009

When pressed, most people would say ...

By Andrew Beam

When pressed, most people would say that New York City has the most eclectic mix of culture compared to their town. Those that live in the Saratoga and Albany area might be surprisingly unaware of the music that is right down the street at their local venue/bar. “It’s easier to move to Brooklyn and make a go of it,” Josh Potter, associate editor of Metroland magazine, says of the culture filled city. “When you go there, though, you have to sell your soul a little.” Potter feels that this is an exciting time for the Saratoga/Albany area, as great music as he says always comes in “waves.” With the overtly diverse Phantogram, the area’s darlings who just recently signed to Barsuk Records, an independent label based out of Seattle, a lot of attention has turned to the Saratoga/Albany area. Here are the top five bands that the focus may fall upon:

1.) Railbird

The legend of Sarah Pendinotti is quite strong in the Saratoga area. She had been in bands such as the Sarah Pendinotti Band, Raptor, and is currently in a band with bassist Ben Davis in an acid/folk band called Fit Club. What has garnered the most popularity for them is their main outfit Railbird, a psychedelic/experimental/folk band, who incorporates a little bit of the electronic age, is a driving force in the area. “I’ve only been in the area for two years,” Potter explains, “[former bassist] Tony Martellis caught my interest, that’s how I heard about them.” He refers to Pendinotti as an incredibly “charismatic front woman”, but this does not mean that other band members aren’t relevant. “They’re a very democratic band,” he says, “There is wonderful interplay between the two guitarists.” What may also influence this interesting blend of genre’s may come from Pendinotti’s fascination with science fiction, but Potter himself is not all that sure it is incorporated. “It comes out of a folky/singer/songwriter thing,” he explains, “They suddenly became really prolific.”

2.) Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

If the name doesn’t all ready spark some sort of interest, maybe the collection of players and interest may tickle your musical craving. Lead Singer Alex Muro (though there is frequently an element of gang vocals) takes the reigns of guitar, trumpet, accordion, trumpet, and tuba; drummer Tim Koch adds the typewriter, coffee mugs, and trombone; Dan Pardee contributes singing saws; Donna Baird plays the cornet and french horn; Louis Apicello plays the kazoo… well you get the idea. So this jazz/folk/indie band from Albany is very unique. “I think it is the drug fueled Americana, but they’re not on drugs I think,” Michael Janairo, Arts and Entertainment editor for the Times Union says, “It seems like there is a lot going on. They’re fun, and it was great to see they got a lot of press at SXSW through NPR. It makes this area look good.” At any point in time, there is a jumble of different instruments heard, and the energy flows through their sound. They stay true to the area, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. “They’re very staunch Albanians,” Potter explains, “They’re purists. They went to school here and they remain here.”

3.) The Red Lions

While they are a band with a mixture of people from New York City and Ithaca, they’re base is in the Albany area where lead singer and guitarist Eric Margan. Their sound can be explained as a delicately orchestral based, folk/ragtime blues band, but can switch to an upbeat blue fusion with a horn section. “It is lush neo-romanticism,” Janairo says, “it is pastoral without being country for a digital sound” Live is where this band is in its natural habitat. They include the string elements with the Duo Parnas live, with Madalyn Parna on violin and Cicley Parnas on cello. Their album and band ethic is very independent as noted by Janairo. “They’re debut album is amazingly well produced for a do-it-yourself record.”

4.) Super 400

Sure, there are other bands that are trying to be the next big indie band that wants to be swept up in the arms of Rolling Stone as one of their “Breaking Bands”. Then there is band Super 400 who just want to play some straight up Rock N’ Roll, the way it was intended. For a band that was once signed to Island records, they certainly don’t seem to care about their position now. Chris Wienk, radio DJ for public radio station WEXT in Troy, said that he doesn’t fancy old fashion rcok all that much, but Super 400 is just something “special.” “When you hear it on CD, you can tell live they are technically so proficient on their instruments,” Wienk says. “You can tell their style comes from Cream.” They are a band with a wealth of talent, but they are not the kind of people to go on and brag about it. “Kenny [Hohman, guitarist] might be one of the best guitarists you’ll ever see,” Wienk says, “He could be flashy, but he is very subtle in what he does.” Wiek also feels that when drummer Joe Daley gets behind the kit, the man “is the beat.” “He mellows right into it,” he says. “He seems like he’s all over the place, but he is very controlled.” While bassist and singer Lori Friday may be a kick-ass-rocker-chick, she is also a great musician Wienk says. They’ve involvement in the community certainly doesn’t go unnoticed, as while playing in the band, they also teach guitar to people in the area. “They are very community-minded,” Wienk claims. “They did a show for us for free and gave up a Friday Night gig’s pay. Back in January, they insisted on buying their own tickets, and then some.”

5.) Phantogram (formerly Charlie Everywhere)

This is a band where not only the local community, but all over the world. Consisting of singer and keyboard player Sarah Barthel and guitarist and beat-maker Josh Carter, the Saratoga natives can fool many listeners as they bring aboard with them a much more urban sound that would make you think they’re from New York City. The best way their sound can be described, because they are such a difficult band to pin down with an explanation, is street beat/psych/hip-hop. “I think unwittingly, Josh and Sarah created a new space of music,” Wienk says. “It is a marrying of ambient sounds to hip-hop rhythms while adding some shoegaze.” There is no doubt that this band is very unique, it is the reason why Wienk thinks they had such a great appeal to labels. “They have this haunting feel that sucks you in, and without knowing it, you end up falling in love,” Wienk explains, “They are not copy-catting.” After signing to Barsuk records, many in the area were quite ecstatic to hear the news as WEXT tweeted about it, they’re former label Sub-Bombin, a record label based out of Saratoga, posted the news on their website, and local publications raved. Janairo is quite happy to see a band of their caliber get signed to a label. “It’s a good sign to see them get signed,” Janairo says, “and they are definitely a band to watch. I would say what they play is what the direction indie pop is headed.”

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