Bryce Rudow is a freelance political/pop-culture journalist and he likes music. You can send all hatemail to [email protected] and tweet vitriol at him @brycetrudow. Go to his website: BryceTaylorRudow.com
Last week I spent two glorious days at the Future of Music Coalition’s annual summit in D.C. and while the entire event was a deeply rewarding experience both in terms of what I learned and who I got to rub shoulders with, I apparently can’t go anywhere without getting trouble.
Sometime late morning during the first day, I attended a panel called ‘Whose Transparency is it Anyway?’ about how a lack of transparency in the industry was (shocker) screwing over a lot of people. It was informative and actually pretty entertaining, half easy-to-understand explanations and half impassioned orations/arguments.
Plus Tom Silverman, the founder of Tommy Boy Records, was sitting right in the middle of it all, his black suit and matching fedora helping to emphasize the grizzled veteran look that his weathered but warm face exuded.
Now before we go further, let me preface the next part with this: I love Tommy Boy Records and Tom Silverman is a legend for what he’s done. I thank him for that from the bottom of my De La Soul.
However, all that didn’t stop me from tweeting this at him:
— Bryce Taylor Rudow (@brycetrudow) October 27, 2014
You see, ASTR, whom you might remember from last year’s Sweetlife Festival, is a shitty pop duo out of New York City whose Varsity EP has racked up millions of plays on Soundcloud thanks to them being the first signing of 300 Entertainment, the label founded by former Warner Music Group CEO and current music mogul Lyor Cohen.
But what almost no one in the industry seems to remember/know at all is that Zoe Silverman, the pretty face of ASTR, also happens to be Tom Silverman’s daughter. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find this out.
How has this not come up in an interview with ASTR about Zoe’s musical influences or where she came from? Why is it that the journalistic pillar of Red Bull Sound Select is one of the only outlets to bring up her family ties (also noting that Zoe was “signed a major label deal right out of high school as a teen-pop singer”)?
Don’t you find it odd that in the era where nepotism isn’t even seen as tacky anymore that the Silvermen and women involved have tried to keep this one under wraps?
Well, either way, when Mr. Tom Silverman saw his phone light up mid-panel with a tweet directed @ him, he decided to ignore whoever was talking and read the message. I watched him very carefully read what was on his screen and scan the crowd for the tall blonde person whose avatar was affixed next to the tweet.
And then he just stared at me for a few long, hard minutes.
When I got home that night, I thought for sure Queen Latifah was going to be sent there to smother me with a pillow in the middle of the night, but instead, I just got a simple tweet back from Mr. Silverman himself:
@brycetrudow Do you know what her deal is?
— Tom Silverman (@TomSilverman) October 27, 2014
It was a bold move, attempting to dismiss my accusations because of a lack of information on my part.
Except I did know what her deal was.
You see, ASTR is signed to a label called Neon Gold, a ‘boutique’ label out of NYC that has intimate ties to All Things Go, the website I occasionally write for and whose founders I have known since we were kids.
To give you a primer on Neon Gold without burning too many bridges…
- It was founded by Derek Davies (a nice guy I would consider a friend of a friend), whose family has so much money that the hot tub on the roof of their Georgetown townhouse is the 4th coolest thing about their house, and Lizzie Plapinger (1/2 of the indie pop group MSMR), two friends who met while attending summer camp in Martha’s Freaking Vineyard in Massachusetts.
- In 2008, from their dorm room office, they launched their first 7” single, Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead.” If you aren’t aware, it became a hit.
- From there, they gained notoriety launching early singles from the likes of Ellie Goulding and The Knocks.
- In 2010, they signed a distribution deal with Columbia Records. It essentially entailed that Derek and Lizzie would find the talent, work with them early on, and when they were nice and fat and ready to be devoured by the masses, they would get called up by Columbia (see: St Lucia, HAIM, Haerts, etc). Ashley Newton, president of Columbia Records, said in a statement, “Columbia and Neon Gold have formed a partnership so we can support their growing reputation and identity, enabling them to acquire rights and really explore and expand their vision.”
- They spent the next four years becoming THE cool label in NYC, simultaneously raking in cash.
- On January 10th of 2014, they signed a deal to become an imprint under Atlantic Records and issued their 50th release, none other than the debut EP from ASTR.
So, as you can see, I felt pretty confident when I tweeted back to Tommy Boy:
@TomSilverman I write for All Things Go, whom you might know are more than friends with Neon Gold. I don’t mean to harp on the point; just
— Bryce Taylor Rudow (@brycetrudow) October 28, 2014
@TomSilverman noting there are other types of transparency in the music industry that didn’t even get touched on (too much QOIUSDGH codes?)
— Bryce Taylor Rudow (@brycetrudow) October 28, 2014
I never heard back from him after that (I assume because I misspelled ‘noting’) but it doesn’t really matter anyway, as Neon Gold’s Lizzy Plapinger herself once admitted:
“If there was ever an industry where rising through the ranks was less important, it would be the music industry.”
For this week’s column though, I’m going to try and stress transparency in all the write-ups. If we’re going to let our government be a murky, cesspool of non-transparency (thank you to everyone who didn’t vote by the way!), we can at least know the truth behind our entertainment, am I right?
On to the music!
- Chvrches – “Dead Air”
Chvrches’ latest single, “Dead Air,” was released yesterday and will be found on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, in what has to be one of the more transparent attempts at cross-marketing; I’m fairly sure you only need one circle to draw out a Venn diagram of Chvrches and Hunger Games fans.
Sadly, though, while the Hunger Games films series gets better each go around, daring to show audiences the kind of graphic imagery that author Suzanne Collins casually skirted around in the books because Peeta would cry, Chvrches seems content to double down on their original formula. That is, if we’re to assume this is a look at an actually new material.
If I had to guess though, I assume “Dead Air” is probably a leftover from their 2013 album, The Bones of What You Believe, and that this was more of a cash-grab/marketing move on the band’s part than an attempt to write a great movie soundtrack song. You’ll hear it a few times this week, once during the credits of the movie, and possibly as a rare cut during a longer live set, but it is a nice reminder that Chvrches, a band that once had us all wrapped around their throwback-pop finger, is still around.
Let’s just hope this next album isn’t full of “Dead Air.”
(sorry, it was too tempting a Dad Joke to resist)
- Busy Living – Lyd
This song “Lyd” by Busy Living is a perfect test case for trying to write about transparency.
First off, I would have NEVER heard this song if it wasn’t for their PR person, Anna Stoddart of GoLightly Media, shooting it to me last week. While that technically makes this an inorganic discovery from the get-go, Anna’s one of the good ones and I trust her taste. However, to be transparent, I honestly don’t know if I would have written this song if I had just, say, stumbled upon it on Hype Machine. If it wasn’t for Anna asking me my thoughts on it, I might not have listened as intently as I normally would have to this good-not-great song.
Because it’s pretty easy to gloss over this one. It’s not doing anything new that’s for sure, but it does have a bit of spark to it; like a poor man’s ‘What Is Mine Is Yours’ (Passion Pit Remix). In fact, it’s close to being something pretty damn enjoyable. There’s just this tinge of ‘radio rock’ behind it all though…
And that’s where we comes back to the concept of transparency.
I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was a bit off with this song/band, so I went back and did a little digging.
I found out the reason ‘Lyd’ has a hint of crappy radio-rock is because before this single, Busy Living were a crappy radio rock band. Their first EP, 2012’s It’s A War Out There is a barely listenable collection of Americana butt rock that I’m surprised they’ve kept up on Soundcloud (where is their manager on that one?).
So good on them for changing it up. I don’t know what happened to the other two members of the band that appear in the album art for It’s A War Out There, but I’m sure they’re busy living somewhere. And smart move getting Jim Eno of Spoon to produce the new stuff.
But don’t, Anna and company, try and tell me this band is an indie pop upstart out of L.A. whose always been focused on, to quote their PR one-sheeter, ‘crafting artful, arena sized indie-pop set against the beat of a post-punk backdrop.’ These are dudes who realized that their first EP sucked, developed a more accessible sound, and hooked up with a guy who is part of one of the most universally loved indie rock albums of the year to produce their album.
That’s a good enough story, as is.
I know I wrote a lot earlier and there are some local acts — which I should admit I have met in the real world because #transparency — that have released things recently, so here’s an easy-to-digest smorgasbord of them:
- Dullard – “Dave Chapelle Died For Our Sins”
Dullard (aka Ramtin Arablouei of Drop Electric) loves him some Ableton. However, as their former lead-singer Kristina Reznikov liked to remind me when I called her a ‘game manager quarterback’ of a vocalist, he actually split production duties with Kristina when it came to Drop Electric’s material.
But Dullard is Ramtin indulging his every whim. And at the very least, it’s solid “I’m writing my column at Tryst” background music.
If you’re a fan of Drop Electric, you’ll probably enjoying hearing a different genre from one of its main songwriters. If you like solid instrumental music when working/zoning out/smoking shit loads of the good kush, you won’t be disappointed with this. If you like Ramtin and that’s most of the reason why you choose this random slew of instrumentals to enjoy and promote, then you’re me, and you can go to sleep at night since you admitted that bias.
Paperhaus – “Untitled”
Paperhaus follows up their lead-off single, “Cairo” with a 6-minute long, mostly instrumental track because they have way too much faith in audiences.
Fight off your ADD and listen to it at least once all the way through, but this song seems destined to be experienced live. Like TONIGHT at Bathtub Republic, one of the better DIY spots in the city.
BONUS: Paperhaus will be performing Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” on Sunday, December 14 at the U Street Music Hall. It will be awesome. Learn more here.
Typefighter – “Wall Song”
Since I spend a majority of my time arguing my strong adamant opinions about the DC music scene, I get asked a lot about who my favorite DC band is, and after some hemming and hawing and admitting that this city has an unfortunately weak and shallow roster of GREAT bands, I usually end up saying Typefighter.
They’re not the most musically talented band out there and their live shows aren’t theatrical multimedia experiences, but their album The End of Everything is front-to-back one of the best pop-rock albums this city has seen recently and the cast of misfits that make up this band are some of DC’s most well-loved characters.
“Wall Song” is a middle-of-the-road Typefighter song, but it’s a good enough reason for me to write about this band (again) and mention their show TONIGHT at DC9 with PUP that I will most certainly be attending.
Get tickets here.