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Fine Tunings: Addicted to Idol

Now that the top 12 American Idol finalists have been whittled down and the competition is heating up (more mentors, less back story), the television ratings juggernaut is once again dominating conversations by office water-coolers, on Facebook and via Twitter. Even my pals who freak over anything Fox manage to sneak a peek at Idol. So pervasive is its influence.

When Idol first aired it was more or less considered a music industry joke because of its mass appeal to the lowest common denominator. It was once believed only tween girls and grandmas voted and nobody took any part of it very seriously. But when Kelly Clarkson’s career took off, Idol was instantly legitimized. Nobody seemed to notice the format is as hokey and old-fashioned as a high school talent show. Glee and the High School Musical films have changed that perception as well.

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A Q&A With Five For Fighting

For years, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting has been making a name for himself as an evocative and emotional storyteller.  With hits like “100 Years” and “Superman,” Five for Fighting connects with audiences unlike many other acts of this generation.    Speaking of love, war, culture, family, humanity and mortality, Ondrasik uses his talent to help others. In addition to connecting with the human experience, Ondrasik gives back to it by working closely with numerous charities. His latest album, Slice, is very much like a slice of life in its depiction of friends, family and even servicemen.

The culmination of a life spent playing music, Ondrasik’s work has found a home in listener’s heads and hearts.  The big-hearted singer/songwriter got the chance to catch up with OurStage about his tour, charity work and what’s next for Five for Fighting.

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The Prince of Trip Pop

Jason Ball of Hopeful Monster

“Making it” in Canada’s exalted indie pop scene might go something like this: Recording with session players from Matt Mays & El Torpedo, The Guthries and The Heavy Blinkers. Touring Europe with Sufjan Stevens. Playing the wedding of Kevin and Nina Barnes from Of Montreal. These are just a few highlights on the indie-cred-heavy resume of Jason Ball, the brains behind Hopeful Monster. Ball refers to his music as psychedelic chamber pop, and it’s a good description. Like the Beatles and Flaming Lips, Hopeful Monster drops dreamy pop gems like hits of LSD. “River Reflexive” is a confetti cannon explosion of xylophone, horns, organs and keys — a Technicolor doodle of a ditty.  But if your weakness is a wistful piano ballad, put on “Dream Car” and recline your seat. Analog synths, fuzzed guitars and sweet female back-up vocals result in one utterly endearing melody. “In our dream car every road’s familiar, but is it real?” Ball asks. As long as the buzz never wears off, it doesn’t matter.

Poptarts: Darling Parade

As a female-fronted power pop group, there’s no doubt that Darling Parade gets their fair share of comparisons to bands like Paramore and Hey Monday. For the most part, these comparisons are pretty accurate. But if you scan YouTube for a little bit and watch their live videos you’ll notice one major difference — Kristin Kearns, the lead-singer of Darling Parade, rocks both the vocals AND electric guitar during all live shows. Any girl that can rock a mic and an electric guitar is pretty impressive and a total badass in my book.
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Liner Notes: Absofacto – “Safari”

Jonathan Visger is known around OurStage as the lead singer of the Indie Pop Channel heavyweights Mason Proper. His side project, called Absofacto, explores more self-examining song subjects while offering a slightly darker sound than the typical Mason Proper fare. With a funky bassline and surf-influenced guitars, Absofacto’s “Safari” is becoming a fan favorite. In this edition of “Liner Notes,” Visger explains how his tendency to be a wallflower inspired the track:

Jonathan Visger

Jonathan Visger

“Safari” was one of these songs I had around for a long time that just would keep nagging at me to finish it, despite my best efforts not to. It’s stylistically not my normal thing, but the melodies just interlock in a really nice way and eventually it won the fight and I polished it off. For me, it’s about people watching in sort of a party-type situation. Honestly, I have a hard time relaxing and feeling engaged in large groups of people, so I usually end up kind of wallflowering with an equally introverted companion, if there is one available.

The song has a romantic tinge to the choruses, but in the end it would seem I turn into an antagonist and sort of blatantly insult the person I’m with and drag them out on the dance floor and insist they cut loose. It’s actually very hypocritical of me… but also something I would probably actually do. I’m sure I already have, and just repressed the memory so I won’t remember that I’m a jerk. I mean, only sometimes though.

Under Supervision: the you know who…

Self-described as a duo of 80s-loving gear-geeks, the you know who… recall 80s hits with the perfect flair of today’s pop.  The product of Chau Phan and Matt Engst, the sound is something that Europeans embrace and stuck up Americans eventually give into.  Either way, the you know who… has listeners dancing.   For this reason among others, the flashy duo was easily selected as a band to watch in Sweden.

With their sound overseas, the you know who… found success with Lindex, the Swedish equivalent of a combined H&M and Victoria’s Secret, who chose the band’s cover of “Putting On The Ritz” for their Fall 2009 campaign.  Subsequently, the band signed with Warner Chapel Sweden and produced their first full-length debut.

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Poptarts: Margot Blanche

There’s something strangely evocative about the combination of 1920 s burlesque music and modern day pop sensibilities found in Margot Blanche’s music. It is at once reminiscent of the racy days of speakeasies and prohibition, and the glory days of pop legends like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. It has the power to transport the listener to a place they’ve never actually been, a place completely different than where most pop exists nowadays. Each Margot Blanche performance is a complete burlesque experience full of dancers, costumes and sex appeal. Blanche easily charms the audience with her impressive vocals and vintage sound — think the Back to Basics version of Christina Aguilera.
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Tour De Force: Parachute Musical

Parachute Musical has come a long way since their early days in DC. The band was formed in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2007— when they relocated to Nashville — that they began to really take off. From the time they released their debut, self-titled album in 2003 to January 2010 when they released their two-song single No Comfort, their sound has grown sharper, clearer and stronger. When lead-singer Josh Foster and band mates Tom Gilbert, Andrew Samples and Ben Jacoby moved down to Nashville, they immediately began touring and growing their fan base around their newly found home. By the time they released their sophomore album Everything Is Working Out Fine In Some Town they had quite a following in the southeast, and since then have toured all over the US.
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Download of the Week: Zigmat

ZigmatAfter touring the US, Mexico and Brazil and signing with Spanish and Brazilian labels, it’s clear this week’s MTV Music “Needle in the Haystack” is a band destined for international success. Last May the Brooklyn duo Zigmat released their full length debut Sounds of Machines. The release caught the attention of critics at Billboard Magazine who likened the band to trip-hop and electrorockers Air, Goldfrapp and Massive Attack. However, the Zigmat sound that vocalist Monica Rodriguez and bassist Stephen Yonkin have been developing since their formation in 2006 is in a world of its own. The band’s hauntingly beautiful, yet danceable rhythms and melodies come full force on this week’s free download “Light of the Moon.” Monica’s powerful vocals take center stage in front of a reverb-drenched guitar and chunky-sounding synth bass lines. It’s all very fitting for the song they claim “paints a dark picture of pseudo-sadistic lust.”

Poptarts: Tim Halperin

The first thing that struck me about OurStage artist Tim Halperin (other than his powerful voice and catchy piano-driven tunes) was his series of “Sorority Tours”. Over the past months he’s been touring sorority houses around the south and midwest, playing anywhere from five mini-shows to full on sets. In this YouTube video you can understand why he does it, a room FULL of sorority girls cheering and clapping is pretty self-explanatory.
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