Rabbit Rabbit Radio

Click to go to Rabbit Rabbit RadioFor almost a year now, Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi have been running a song-a-month club that, to me, exemplifies the future of the magazine format on the Web.

Rabbit Rabbit Radio is a monthly exhibition that showcases one new, downloadable song each month, with lyrics, a small essay about how the song came into being, and often a video. The songs are studio recorded and fully crafted — these aren’t demos bashed out while the iPhone was recording.

Each installment also includes photos — artistic shots of forgotten places, gorgeous touristy shots of Europe, up-close puzzle shots of objects or scenes, or even pictures of Kihlstedt and Bossi’s little daughter and her friends — and a thoughtful, fun list-of-10-things that often includes reader input.

Kihlstedt's "Silverfish" notes, viewable on Rabbit Rabbit Radio. Click for the Rabbit Rabbit home pageSometimes, some of the pieces are bound together by a theme. July’s song was “Paper Prison (Silverfish),” accompanied by photos from a still-active professional bookbindery, and a video tour of Bossi’s father’s Colonial-era book collection.

A definite look and mood pervade Rabbit Rabbit Radio’s pages — playful, but also reflective and thoughtful, with a love for the things of bygone times. You get lots of Photo sample. Click to go to Rabbit Rabbit Radiosepia tones in their videos and Instagram photos, and a crackling inkpress font that pervades the site. The overall design — graced with images by Vancouver artist Mariko Ando — has the feel of a cozy attic full of a past generation’s wonders.

The music is anything but old-fashioned. Kihlstedt has developed a songwriting style of dark elegance, pieces rich with sadness and poetry, sometimes borrowing from Americana, sometimes building the intensity that suited her so well with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I’m not as familiar with Bossi’s music, but he’s been versatile during Rabbit Rabbit Radio’s first 10 months, with some artsy rock songs and the old-timey piano sentiment of “Ballad for No One.”

That Rabbit Rabbit look. Click for their home page.One of my favorites is “The Curious One,” a Kihlstedt song closer to the prog side of the scale, with a big, dramatic sound worthy of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and a surprisingly tuneful chorus. Lots of nifty violin playing, too. A stripped-down version of the song went out on YouTube last year, but you’ve got to hear the full-blown version, listenable on Bandcamp.

December’s installment is a haunting, pioneer-tinged ballad called “In the Dead of Night,” based on the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was taken by the Comanche tribe, joined their world, and sired Quanah, the tribe’s last great chief. By contrast, the November song, “Hero and a Saint,” is a fun bit of shrill rock. The accompanying photos, from a Kihlstedt/Bossi European tour, include such unexpected gems as the discovery of little Franklin & Marshall college becoming an international fashion statement.

As Kihlstedt and Bossi approach the one-year anniversary of the project, I’m hoping they find it as successful an experiment as I do. Yes, other people have done “multimedia” on the Web, but they’ve done it exceptionally well, with a warm, personal touch. Subscription prices are low, as little as $1 a month.

You can sample and purchase all the songs to date on Bandcamp.

An Edmund Welles Christmas

Edmund WellesHymns for Christmas (Zeroth Law, 2012)

edmundwelles5I’ve been a fan of Edmund Welles (the bass clarinet quaret) and recently posted about how their latest album took a turn for the metal. So I had to wonder what dark horrors would be dredged up when Edmund Welles went and did a Christmas album.

None, it turns out. Unless you count Christmas music itself as a horror. I have to admit, I’m in that camp, due to decades of exposure to syrupy muzak and cloying lite rock. There’s a Bay Area station that plays that stuff 24 hours a day during December — and they brag about it, and the Law does nothing to stop them. What a world.

I tend to forget that Christmas music started out as simple classical/folk songs. That’s what Hymns for Christmas delivers, an elegant, stripped-down approach that’s so refreshing.

Cornelius Boots, the brains behind Edmund Welles, wrote some eloquent notes (and a nice blog entry) about what the music means to him and how he shaped his approach, citing Dickens and handbell choirs along the way. It’s that kind of Christmas music, without the artificial sweeteners, played as gently as falling snow.

That, I can live with. And while listening, you can marvel at the range of the bass clarinet — which, as Boots points out, comes close to the range of male vocalizing. It’s possibly the most enjoyable Christmas caroling I’ve ever heard.

Listen for yourself at Bandcamp, CD Baby, or Cornelius Boots’ store … which is part of a snazzy new web site for all his work in general. This entry is peppered with links to it, but here’s one more just to be gratuitous.


DJ Post-Pink of KUSF In Exile played all of Taglish on a recent edition of her Innerworld show. Catch the full podcast here.

Grex appears Dec. 13 at the Starry Plough and at various west-coast venues shortly after. Look, here’s a poster with the dates.

Karl Evangelista/Grex QuintetTaglish (self-released, 2012)

I mentioned this one before but wanted to give it a more thorough look, given the free time over the holidays.

Taglish comes across as a mix of jazz and prog, with spirited sax solos by Francis Wong and Cory Wright, among others, and a variety of guitar licks from Karl Evangelista, with shades of blues and classical.

The word “Taglish” — and it’s a real word, not something made up for the album — refers to a spoken mix of Tagalog and English. Like Spanglish. Evangelista explains in the liner notes that the title reflects the personal mix of cultures and mindsets that comes from being Asian-American in general and also to the mix of musical traditions and knowledge infused into the music.

It’s a project inspired by Asian Improv Arts, the organization and record label that’s been producing Asian-American jazz for 25 years.

That range of ideas is evident in the first three tracks. “Iloilo Ang Banwa Ko” is an actual Filipino song. “Hymn” has the sunny sound of South African jazz, primed by John-Carlos Perea’s warm electric bass. (The tune is apparently derived from the Filipino national anthem.) And “Reb” has a short, honest-to-goodness jazz vocal from Scampavia, followed by some bright, sunburst guitar backed by gospel piano chords.

The songs were conceived as a suite devoted to four members of Evangelista’s family — his father, mother, wife (Scampavia), and sister. The “mom” segments carry a “slightly melanchoic tinge,” as he writes inthe liner notes, based on the bittersweet notion of having left home and being unable to return in the proverbial sense.

“Birds” is the song chosen to reflect those emotions; it’s slow and heavy-hearted but with a spirit of hope. Evangelista’s pointed yet restrained blues-guitar solo speaks for the tangle of emotions being represented.

Taglish’s second half slows the tempo down considerably but gets no less interesting. Grex by itself — that is, just Evangelista and Scampavia — gets highlighted on “Night Talk,” a slow piece with a vocal intro.

“Dreams” and “Dreams (pt. C),” towards the end, might be the most interesting songs.

“Dreams” traces a slow line, with time marked out by unison horns while the piano and guitar string complex little statements. It’s got quite the Henry Cow kind of prog-rock air, and it hypnotically draws you in as the musical line bends and winds its way.

“Dreams (pt. c)” puts a jazzy swing on the concept, driven by Jordan Glenn‘s crisp drumming. Here’s part of Rob Ewing’s trombone solo, leading into sax/guitar dual soloing by Wong and Evangelista.