Saturday, July 2, 2016

Allison Iraheta & Halo Circus

Bunny by Halo Circus: a warrior’s anthem with a poet’s heart, and all American.

(Los Angeles) Bunny by Halo Circus may be the most important record of the year,  and perhaps the decade.

I don’t say that easily. I say it because Bunny by Halo Circus is not only a musical triumph, but it uniquely exemplifies and transcends the demographic and cultural change overtaking the United States, the emergence of a new American Latino generation. This change is a revolution of Millennia's and Allison Iraheta and her band Halo Circus is both the spear tip of that revolution and its future, present before us. Halo Circus sings in the key of the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, the USA.

Allison Iraheta’s Latin blood has been hidden under the beats of American pop. Born to immigrants from El Salvador, she was raised on the mean streets of Compton, the creative cauldron of South LA, where she sang, took voice lessons and  performed at the local Latin electronics store, La CuraƧao. She entered and won the reality contest show QuinceaƱera: Mama Quiero Ser Artista” on Telemundo, singing in English and Spanish.That took her to American Idol where she was refashioned into a pop star, went all the way to the finals, and exited with a record contract that produced two Billboard charted pop albums.


Iraheta’s music sold but her power and heart were muffled, pushing against a pop straightjacket, trying to get out while all around her the American Latino Music revolution was moving forward.  Pioneer bands like Los Lobos and Ozomotli were joined by newcomers La Santa Cecelia, Chicano Batman, Pitbull and Gabby Moreno. Mashups & blends were on the radio, YouTube, iTunes and in the parks and plazas and venues of LA. The timing was right when she met double-platinum producer Matthew Hager,  who had worked with Duran Duran.  They formed the band Halo Circus and the  straightjacket came off, releasing the  cathartic, bilingual urgency that is the album Bunny by Halo Circus.

The eruption has been slow building, like a volcano ejecting steam while lava rises from its core.  Carefully road testing songs on stages  and online before releasing singles, Hager monitored Iraheta’s rising lava to free its power only when ready. The result, dropped June 24, 2016, is an album of 13 songs that blow the top off of the volcano.  With Bunny, Iraheta’s vocal lava joins and superheats the boiling rivers of cultural and political revolution rushing through cities, barrios, farms and the ballot boxes throughout America.  

In Bunny, Allison and her Grammy level band – Matthew Hager on bass, the atomic-powered former Jeff Beck drummer Veronica Bellino and master guitarist Brian Stead -- collect the hope and pain of the Mexican corrido, slams it into the terrifying power of  Halo Circus’s precisely calibrated  rock and injects into your ears with a howling, sighing, vocal hypodermic. You are intoxicated, addicted and energized in ways no mere chemical can accomplish.


The key to this wicked cocktail is Iraheta’s voice, a finely tuned instrument that seduces you with world-weariness in the brief “He promises the Moon”, sends you screaming toward the sun in “Nothing At All” and then pulls you back gently into an orbit around the dark side of the moon in the mysterious “Far From Eden”.  Hager – who both produced the album and plays bass on it  - strips down the music in  “Yo Me Voy” while the Allison wrings your heart out  and then builds it back up to a volcanic climax, obliterating octave lines as she rises and soars.

But Iraheta comes back down to earth hard in “All I Have”, co-written with Hager. “She had the car, the condo, the kids/until it all came crashing down….she’s on the street fighting for tomorrow…I know that hope isn’t a plan” Iraheta sings, wondering “where we go for tomorrow”.

Where she goes is to “Verdad”, with its martial like music evoking the marching armies of many women on the street fighting for tomorrow.  Reinforced by a Mexican accordion and reveling in Bellino’s sophisticated and deceptively simple drumming, it halts to allow the howling Iraheta to downshift for a moment of calm before the pace accelerates.  For many, the metaphorical pinnacle of Halo Circus may be the English-language “Guns In His Hands”, where Iraheta directly confronts the barriers to personal life and social change.  Augmented masterfully by Victory Mori on classical guitar and Janeen Rae Heller on the musical saw, the song bluntly faces the reality: “I can barely hold you in/You come at me with guns in your hands/and tell me to dance….And I’m getting tired of this”.

The gloves come fully off in “Band Aid” written by Iraheta, Hager and their long-time friend and inspiration Paul Williams. “We want a revolution/a short cut to solution/no we really need a cure…we’re human after all/we are taught the awful art of being small.” She proclaims denouncing the band aid of her pop past and raising the flag of revolt. “Band Aid” is the anthem of  a warrior and a leader of change that reflects back to the early days of the Chicana Movement.

This is music for the Pan-American generation.  This is music to fight to , music to love to, to dance the dance of national evolution and walk the picket lines of social change. But it is also music from a deep heart that orders you to strip yourself naked of fear, cloth yourself with love and hope and put an Immigrant banner across your chest.  It both stakes out the new territory of metallic alt pop rock in the expanding genre of American Latino Music and moves it to a new level of demand and emotion. Where La Santa Cecilia's “ICE” lays bare the injustice of deportation, Bunny provides the angry power to fight it.

In this Bunny does not bridge  the lines of language and culture; it shows us that they have been erased.  It says we are young, we are music, we rock together, we love together, we hurt together, we are one together regardless of where our parents came from, regardless of where we came from. And it says we must fight together for our future . This is a warrior’s anthem, but one with a poet’s heart,  a combination that is uniquely Latin and All-American.



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Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kikagaku Moyo


Photo Credit: Kentaro
(New York) Kikagaku Moyo (translation: "geometric patterns") was formed in Tokyo in the Summer of 2012 by Go Kurosawa and Tomo Katsurada. Their music incorporates elements of classical Indian music, Krautrock, Traditional Folk, and 70s Rock. Kikagaku Moyo calls their sound psychedelic because it encompasses a broad spectrum of influence, but most importantly their music is about freedom of the mind and body and building a bridge between the supernatural and the present; improvisation is a key element to their sound.
The band released their first self-titled album in 2013 on Cosmic Eye Records / Sound Effect Records before touring Australia with the native Aussie band Dreamtime. By April 2014 Kikagaku Moyo had released Mammatus Clouds on cassette via Sky Lantern Records and recorded their second LP Forest of Lost Children which was released in May 2014 by Beyond Beyond is Beyond records. The band toured the U.S. at the same time sharing bills with Moon Duo, Eternal Tapestry, White Manna, Life Coach, and the Myrrors. They played at Austin Psych Fest and L.A. Psych Fest to high acclaim.

Their Self-titled record and Mammatus Clouds were later re-released on 12” vinyl by Captcha records in the U.S. and Cardinal Fuzz Records in the UK. The band toured the UK in the fall of 2014 to support these releases which ended up selling out in a matter of days. In 2015, Kikagaku Moyo released several split 7” records, the first with Kinski on God Unknown Records and a self-released split with Moon Duo. This was followed by a 35 day tour across Europe with sold out dates in Berlin, London, Paris, Porto, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Geneva. They appeared at Eindhoven Psych Lab and Duna Jam - the band has earned their reputation as fierce and captivating performers.


Photo credit: Maximilian Teucher

Like a long journey, House In The Tall Grass unfolds itself through many layers. Existing fans of Kikagaku Moyo will be comforted by the soft vocals harmonies and warm sitar, but what sets this release apart is the refinement of the band’s songwriting and their delicate execution. Side A begins with a pair of traveling songs where the interplay between the vocals, guitar, and sitar lift and suspend the listener on an unexpected journey. The patient listener is rewarded with tracks such as “Trad” and “Silver Owl” which demonstrate the masterful balance the band has between soft and loud; chaos and order, or being both cold and tender at the same time.


House in the Tall Grass, recorded between October and December of 2015 at Tsubame Studio where it was mixed, mastered, and produced by Yui Kimijima, takes the listener by the hand on a satisfying quest through destinations both familiar and unknown. It is a natural step forward for the band and perhaps the most refined example of their style to date.


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Athena

Athena lets the sunshine in for her first US album: Inspired, transformative, flawless talent.
(Los Angeles) If you were fortunate enough to be at one of Athena’s performances in Hollywood over the past year where she road-tested the songs for her first US-produced EP, Ready for the Sun, Part 1, cherish those memories because it will be a blockbuster and you were a witness to history.   One of the finest female voices on the planet and clearly one of the best songwriters, Athena lights up your ears with sunshine, pain and love in the new EP.

Both in her live performances and in her recordings, the Greek-English singer and environmental and children’s champion combines, honesty, vulnerability and confidence in every note, singing to you about  experiences and emotions that are simultaneously personal and universal. Produced by Ethan Allen (Sheryl Crow, Gram Rabbit, The Cult) at Santa Monica’s legendary Village Studios, Part 1 opens with the lilting and hooky  “You Bring Me Luck”, proclaiming that you are so natural/so magical, a good description for her uncanny ability to stretch her voice from a beaming smile to a soaring shout of joy.

Moving on to “Everything to me”, Athena warns of rain, her voice sailing as if driven by a solar wind. You are pulled along with her and  can’t resist humming the chorus. No wonder, when you consider the stellar talent she assembled to produce Ready for the Sun, Part 1: Deron Johnson (Miles Davis), Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks), Michael Ward (Ben Harper) and Jonathan Flaugher (Ryan Adams).


Then the sun goes down and the stars rise with the song “Stronger”, where Athena can shoot for the stars as a lover lit up the night. A universal theme but a poignant chapter of Athena’s story, deftly shaped with her voice and Allen’s production. Then “Autopilot” takes a sharp turn both musically and emotionally, asking – no, demanding -  “Can you hear what you sound like/Can you hear how you complain, lamenting opportunities lost because of excuses and fear.  No excuses for Athena, as she moves the poetic lyrics along with a sophisticated muted drum beat and whistling between the chorus and the verse.  You tap your feet, but you also think about the message.


The final song, All of You,  illuminates her vocal painting skill, conjuring up images in lines like  I’m in love with your edges/Those cracks and your broken tattoo. She has found her love and she is crazy, as they’ll tell her.  But this is only Part 1 and we know the story will go on.

Athena’s past albums, both in English and Greek, have  showcased  her voice and her sharp songwriting, but in Ready for the Sun, Part 1, she took the time and put in the work to go beyond those talents.  Athena creates not just music, but an intimate relationship with listeners.  You can almost see Athena’s voice emerging from your speakers wearing a smile of love, a frown of concern or a glow of joy. Ready for the Sun, Part 1 is her confession to you, a narrative of a piece of her heart that she gives you in confidence.

Artists from around the world flock to sun-drenched Los Angeles to mix with its talent pool, work with its producers and play in its many venues for its vast audiences. But only the best succeed. Los Angeles demands more than great singing and songwriting; it demands inspired, transformative, flawless talent. This is what Athena gives us in Ready for the Sun, Part 1. She is indeed, ready for the sun.


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LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!


Kris Angelis


Kris Angelis: acting, music, and making the world a better place.

(Los Angeles) Kris Angelis is a high energy, hard working, super talented phenomenon. Her very first album, The Left Atrium, won the 2013 LA Music Critics Best Female Album Award – no mean feat.  She also acts in film and TV, raises money to rescue child soldiers, brings music to at-risk teens, and performs in venues on both coasts. She has toured with Songs & Whispers, opened for Tyler Hilton, performed at the prestigious New Orleans House of Blues, made the finals in the Belk Southern Musician competition, played at Sundance, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, SXSW and NAMM 2016. Whew. If that was not enough, she has just released her newest project, the Heartbreak Is Contagious EP. She took a break from her busy schedule to talk with us.

R360. So, Kris, do you ever sleep? I don’t see how you can, given all that you do.
Kris. Yes! I do, sometimes.  I find time.


R360. The new EP is a bit of a new path for you. You collaborated with a couple of songwriters. How did that come about?

Kris. I have known Morgan Taylor Reid and Alexander Cardinale (her co-writers and producers on the project) for several years. They are wonderful songwriters and Morgan is an amazing producer – he recently worked on a song with Jason Derullo. So we were talking and said we should do something – it would be fun.  We went into the studio and from the ground up we wrote these songs. The process took a couple of weeks with some time off in there because we were busy.  And now they are out on SoundCloud. I am very excited about the sound and the direction it is going. I was delving into things that are scary to me which is the only way to make good art.

R360. The title song has an urgency and determination about it. There is a razor edge sharpness to the lyrics and to your voice. Is that a personal story?
Kris. Yes. It is. It about some experiences I have had, one in particular.  When you are heartbroken, you can’t love other people and that can cause other people’s hearts to be broken and that is why heartbreak can be contagious.

R360. That song is different than a song like “Rust”  from The Left Atrium or “Chase Me”. You have stripped your music down.  Did you bring that to the collaboration or did it develop as you worked together?
Kris. I had this whole experience I had gone through and I want to write about it- sort of like songwriter therapy- and I had the idea of “contagious” and said  to Morgan and Alexander, hey guys what about this and they said it sounded cool and we ran with it.


R360. The “house” in the song “Built this House” is a stand-in for the space that two people build for their relationship. Although it is not as spare as “Heartbreak” it is more cutting – bitter almost. What is behind it? Did you write it?
Kris. I did write that song. I wouldn’t say bitter. Maybe it comes across bitter, I hope not. It is really about dealing with the sadness of that broken relationship. And like how it can become like you are trapped in it, like a beautiful thing that has now become prison --  like I sing in the second verse,  and how to keep out of  it, how to see yourself clearly through the smoke of this burning relationship.

R360. The arrangement – clap beat, the echo. Did that flow out of you  and your producer, or did you try different things?
Kris. That was all Morgan. He has a really great knack for the feel for the vibe of a thing. He had much of the production done before the lyrics were finished and it definitely influenced how I sang it and the whole feeling.

R360. That must have been a very interesting communication between the two of you.
Kris. Yes.That is what I meant about things that were scary to me. I have never written that way, coming from the music first , the vibe, like this is kind of song we want to write. It was a cool little dance we entered into.  I really enjoyed it once I got over being terrified. I learned to let go, a huge lesson I will probably be working on my whole life, but it was good..

R360. You went to the University of California at Santa Barbara like I did.  Had you started your acting and singing career while you were in college?
Kris. Yes. That was one of the reasons I went there – it was close to LA and  could drive back and forth for auditions between classes. I actually worked on films and commercials while I was at UCSB.

R360. Speaking of acting, you have been in three films, Sister Mary's Angel in 2011), Liquid  and Visible Scars in 2012. You released The Left Atrium in 2013. Was the album going on in your head while you were acting?
Kris. Oh yes. I was writing those songs for years.  Some of those were written while I making films. It is sort of constant.  I find that it flows out me when I am doing something creative. The more I am doing something creative, the more creative things come out. I am sure that I was writing music while I was waiting to go on the set.

R360. Have you moved from acting to music or do you still have the itch to get back in front of the camera?
Kris. I do. I have focused on music for the past couple of years, but I have done some acting. I was with my twin sister in a Bud Light Commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was in another commercial where I got to play 6 different character. Let me brag about my twin sister here. She is going to be in the Magnificent 7 with Denzel Washington that will be coming out around Christmas.

R360. Your song “Rust”;  I love the concept of rust in love. And I love the lines, I will keep myself intact and you can keep your pride, and then later so I waded in the water hoping you might throw me a line/all I got was soaking wet.  Did you write that in a rainstorm, or were you scraping the rust off of a relationship?
Kris. That is really an awesome way to put it. I used to date a musician and it is about that relationship. Most of the lyrics are in direct reference to the lyrics he wrote about me. Then he put out an album that references the lyrics in this song. I won’t say who and throw him under the bus...

R360. You are part of a fundraising drive to raise money for child soldiers.
Kris. It is called Project AK-47 by the Live Music Cares organization which goes into countries and rescues child soldiers and victims of sex trafficking and  helps them set up schools and safe houses.  So they not only rescue trafficked children, they build the foundations to stop the practice. It just stuck out to me – I hear a lot about it and how awful it is and I liked the preventative aspect.

Patrick. You were also part of the Extreme Tour for At-Risk Youth. How did that happen?
Kris. They contacted me and said they liked my music and thought I would fit in with the tour. I toured in California.  We would play in state  parks and schools and we got to meet these youth who were so amazing. Many were in communities with no arts or music funding that they were hungry for it…it made me realize the benefit that  music can have.

R360. And we will also see you raising money for a children’s hospital next week in LA?
Kris. Yes, on May 22 I will playing at the Love For Life Foundation benefit for Children’s Hospital of LA. On the day before that, I will be doing a fundraiser for the HARA Motion Picture Conservatory to raise money for at-risk youth music and film programs and they will make a feature film produced by children under 18.





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LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!