NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND:
New York’s Undiscovered Beats
By Jeff David
Fuck ‘em all. MTV, VH1, ITunes, Tower Records, Clear Channel, The Big Five and on and on and on. Take every major marketing
method that music as a business depends upon, shut it down, and find out how music naturally circulates. Find out what kind
of music circulates. And most importantly, just find the music without someone else telling me which music is worth finding.
Because if I’m going to write about music, it’s going to be about firsthand music, new music, New York music. And yes, some
of it will be bad, but at least it’ll all be real. At least there will be a reason for writing about it, even if that reason
is as simple as, “This is the music that found me today; here’s how you can find it.” Because let’s face it: you could litter
a field with the corpses of people who’ve reviewed Coldplay’s X&Y album, and walk across without touching the ground. Why should
I add myself to the pile? That was the start of the experiment.
And that is how I found myself wandering the city, listening to my surroundings with greater awareness than I ever had before,
ready to receive the bountiful supply of original music that had surely always been right in front of my face. Smiling and eager,
I prepared myself for the onslaught of aural stimuli, pen and paper and cell phone in hand.
And that was how I found myself slumped over my desk a week later, wondering which side of the family to blame for my boundless
and ambitious stupidity.
Me: “I mean, just look at this shit. I’ve got the guy who plays the pipa at Times Square, I’ve got fucking Girl From Ipanema
endlessly looping in my brain, and apparently you can’t get a bite to eat in this city without hearing either Enya or trance music.
I’m obviously going about this all wrong. What do you think, Suddenly-Introduced-Co-Worker Jake?”
Jake: “Well, you know – (phone rings)”
Me: “Where are the musicians? Where’s the original music? Will I never be able to hear about someone again unless it’s from an
ITunes celebrity playlist? Is that their grand design?”
Jake: “Hold on, that’s what I’ve—(customer walks up to the counter)”
Me: “This is just useless. What, do I have to pull a fucking Jane Goodall and live amongst the music-makers before they initiate
me into their commune society? I better go grab some mosquito netting, for Christ’s sake. Later, Jake.”
As I walk up the stairs and out the door, Jake yells after me, “Whoa, Jeff! Hold up!” I turn around. “I know where you can find
some original music.”
SadRed is named after the King of all Koi, the huge carp in one of the reflecting pools at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (bonus
points if you’ve seen him before!). And just like that aquatic motherfucker, this band can be delicate, intimate, calming, and
then BAD AS HELL when they want to be. Like when there’s a fly just lounging on the surface of the water, or when some kid pokes
his stubby, dirty little finger at you when you’re just trying to catch some rays in the shallows, the bastard. Damn kids.
But anyway, SadRed. These guys were supposed to be a jazz combo. They were raised and bred for it. Jake Bloomfield-Misrach (you
remember Jake, right?), singer, songwriter, and guitarist for SadRed, went to a music academy before meeting the other members in
NYU’s jazz program. They improvised together in their off time, even brought in clarinet and keys to round out the group. Sounds
like a tailor-made jazz story. So what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. The sweet, curvaceous lure of rock n’ fucking roll,
that’s what. It can’t be denied. And you can hear it in their music. Oh sure, there’s lots of ambient improvisation, irregular
meters, balanced counterpoint between instruments, and guitars trickling around clarinet lines while drumsticks tickle snare and
cymbals, I won’t deny it. SadRed’s full of accomplished musicians, and they accomplish all sorts of stuff whenever they feel like
it. But sometimes they’d rather punch you in the face. With a glorious power-chord-cymbal-smash- “these go to 11” sonic punch,
that is. It’s a metaphor. A metaphoric punch to your own, actual, non-metaphoric face. Got it?
Let’s take a step back. I pop in the album. Here goes. Track one: Happy Sea. Starts with warm, ambient, lazy musical musings.
Electronic sounds and guitars do the swirling, coupled with some space-filling drones and tones added to really submerse you into
the music. Submerse is definitely the right word, because SadRed makes full use of the panning spectrum, left, right, front and
back, to put you right in the midst of everything. Very scene-setting, mood-setting material, which I’m sure is the point. Reminds
me of that reflecting pool, as a matter of fact. Great beginning. By the way, beginnings are Priority One for me, once talent has
been established. I absolutely love them. If our written language had a level above caps-lock I would use it RIGHT NOW to praise
the power of beginnings. So, first test passed.
Turns out Happy Sea is one of three electronic, instrumental, ambient interludes on the EP, the others being Lovely Fantastic
and Filthy Wrestling. None are similar, though they all serve a similar purpose. Jake explains that he likes the open, connected
feel they create between songs. The interludes are used in their live gigs as well, with the band playing a 40-45 minute set with
no breaks. Lovely Fantastic is sparser and darker than Happy Sea; instead of floating around in warm, comforting music, you’re
drifting through a void, all alone. Well, not completely alone. There’s various languages being spoken in the background, there’s
some industrial-sounding guitar, and there are small samples of some speed metal drums flying past occasionally. Great place to
visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, you know? Filthy Wrestling is much more grounded. This time you’re in a subway station,
you can hear the train just sitting there (must be the F line—Zing!…ok, that was crap, I blame the informality of the
parentheses), and the guitars have more cohesive melodic material. Don’t get too comfortable, though, there’s also this sound
that I can only describe as a cross between war drums coming across the lake and the sound of the Titanic slowly sinking. Trust
me, it’s not something you want to hear in a subway station.
Jesus, look at the time! Why the hell have I been writing about the interludes?! Seriously, does anyone even listen to those?
They’re like those mascot races between innings at a baseball game. I mean, you’ve gotta put something out there on the field
while everyone goes to the bathroom or gets a drink, but it’s not like anyone’s sitting there just waiting for the damn races
to start…unless they’ve got money riding on them or something, but that would just be sad. Sorry, let’s get to the songs already.
The strongest track is Mating Song, the second song on the album. First off, there’s this infectious 5/8 meter (with the odd
5/4 bar tacked on at the end; you crazy kids!) that gets you nodding your head. Plus, the beginning is great. Did I mention how
much I like beginnings? CAPS LOCK. Just Like An Orange, the first track, is driven forward by the playful, flitting bass line,
with very clean guitar and vocal lines sprinkled in. Milo, the third song, starts with very unobtrusive guitar and drums while
the vocals carry it along gently. But not Mating Song. Time to get Queens-of-the-Stone-Age on your ass. Some righteous guitar and
driving drums is just what the doctor ordered, because frankly, it’s about time. They tease you with a shade of it
in Just Like An Orange, but not enough to get your fix. In Mating Song, the verses are reigned-in, accompanied by keys and minimal
drums, and there’s a quiet instrumental section as well, but there’s a sense of restlessness boiling under the surface. You
can tell everyone is just itching to break loose again. Mating Song is chock-full of passion and intensity and release. In other
words, it’s well named.
Milo is the last track on the album, and as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. As expected, it is the
longest track on the EP; we’ve got to make room for the long “make-the-moment-last” instrumental section at the end. Milo is not
the best song on the album; however, it is the best showcase of SadRed’s style and talent. The main vocal line (to the words,
“Come sweet Milo, here comes the boy that we want to see. Just the same though, today is the day that he is conceived.”) is a
ridiculously effective “sticky-tune” (term stolen from my girlfriend). I guarantee you that every time your brain shuts down
you’ll find yourself humming Milo. The song’s length also gives all the musicians a chance to display their chops, from the
tender chamber music sections to the raucous, crashing sections that fall out of nowhere into the song and disappear just as
quickly (there’s your punch in the face, by the way). Milo is a fitting summary of the EP, and plus it’s about some guy named
Milo. Bonus points awarded.
Time to throw some details in here. After all, if I didn’t find these guys on ITunes, you’re not going to either. SadRed is
Jake Bloomfield-Misrach (guitar, vocals), James Windsor-Wells (drums), Josh Myers (bass), Seth Paris (clarinet), and Jon
Anderson (keyboard). You can get the EP on their website, www.sadred.com. You can catch them live on
Nov. 21st at 9pm at the Tribeca Rock Club, and Dec. 11 at 9pm at Arlene’s Grocery. Or maybe you’ll find them strolling around
the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, recording people’s conversations or the sounds of water moving. Maybe you’ll see them at the
2nd Ave. F stop, letting precious minutes of their rock-shortened lives fall by the wayside while the trains try to fix their
hyperdrive. At least you won’t see them on TRL…yet. Actually, scratch that last part. You’ll never see them on TRL. But
that’s the idea, right? This is all about finding music instead of being hit over the head with it by the usual suspects.
That’s the experiment. And this was the start of it.