Tag Archives: spoken word

Marla Mase – Half Life EP Review

The eccentric and always surprising writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter from New York City, Marla Mase, is about to release her new EP, Half Life. Just one year after her last full-length release Speak Deluxe, Marla has now signed with True Groove Records and, along with her label mates, signed a worldwide major distribution deal with The Orchard. Her new EP Half Life is due out February 25 2014. At once confrontational and completely vulnerable, the EP’s name is best explained in a quote by Junot Diaz, “The half-life of love is forever”.

Marla Mase said of the EP: “I wanted to go back to the personal. They say you can find the universal in the personal.” Half Life is streaming in full now on bandcamp ahead of its release later this month.

Marla is known for her provocative, raw performance style and intelligent lyrics. Her music ranges from rock n’ roll to experimental spoken word, funk and punk rock. She is backed by the Tomás Doncker Band. The Huffington Post featured her in 2013, saying “…her feisty message of peace and perhaps wake up the beast in all of us.”

Speak Deluxe was a 16 track CD containing human rights and feminist perspectives on tracks like Piece of Peace, Lioness, Scream and AnnaRexia, a reggae track featuring Garrison Hawk from Bill Laswell’s Method of Defiance. AnnaRexia is spearheading the StayImperfect Project or Love Your Butt Campaign, which Marla created to empower women to love themselves and their bodies. Proceeds from AnnaRexia go towards theprojectheal.org, a non-profit founded by two teenage eating disorder survivors, that raises funds for girls whose families cannot afford to send them to treatment.

Mase also developed The Speak Show, a multi-media concert/performance piece using music (from Speak Deluxe), spoken word, dance and visual imagery to explore the themes of confinement, sexuality, body image, trauma, oppression (internal/external) and freedom as a means of celebrating the raw reality of our human condition as expressed through the eyes, bodies, voices of women. It was booked twice for NYC Summerstage 2013 alongside major acts such as The Zombies, Dead Prez and Django Django.

Marla has her MA in writing and performance from NYU and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Most importantly Marla is the mother to two beautiful souls.

So with all this experience of life, it seems strange how she’s chosen to call her latest EP, Half Life. But this EP is more than half full.

Track one Drown In Blue from the first note sounds like a Patti Smith track. The guitar and drums accompanied by Mase’s vocals “I’m on the move” is automatically Smith-esque, especially in regards to the vocals. Mase uses her voice in this track very effectively. The lyrics “I’m on the move” are sung in such a way as to demonstrate the angst and uncertainty Mase is feeling. Something is gaining on her and her vocals reflect the emotions attached to being chased by something whether it’s regret, fear or thought. The lyrics continue, “Got to keep busy/Or I’ll lose my mind/Walk fast/Talk fast/Work fast/Think fast” demonstrating this need to be constantly moving, to create distance between that regret, fear or thought.

Title track Half Life steps away from the rock influences and introduces Mase’s soul and funk influences. It’s a gentle track which sees Mase’s vocals transform from angry to seductive, soft and sensual. Half Life features a saxophone solo half way through which helps to enhance the soul and funk feel of this song which in turn aids the sensual meaning behind the lyrics. The spoken word, “I’m a practical woman/And I get what I want/I’m a practical woman/Who believes in magic, who insists on it/Not just in the night time but all the time/And not just with you/In everything I do” captures the essence of this track – a song about intimacy and love. It’s surprisingly different from the rest of the songs on the EP showing a much more relaxed and gentle side to the otherwise known as crazy and, as she herself has said, schizophrenic Marla. It’s probably the most enjoyable track on Half Life.

The Heart Beats sees country and blues influences seep into the EP. The Heart Beats is pure poetry – Marla discusses the need for humans to feel connected to and loved by one another. The track sees her talk about the heart as a body organ pumping blood around the body as much as it sees her talking about the spiritual heart of opening up to one another, accepting and belonging: “There are six billion people in the world, two billion of them are children…Each beating a hundred thousand times a day/Electrical circuits/Coexisting/Cohabiting/Co-joining/And the beats/They merge/They mingle/They seek out other beats/Yes the beat is always looking for itself/To be in rhythm/To be in sync/To be one/It’s our global soul calling…It has been said that love always finds its object and never stops until it does so/It has also been said that love is an act of freedom/Emancipating not ourselves but the other/Yes the beat is always looking for itself.” Mase ends the track with this single line: “We’re all in this dance together” summing up the idea behind this beautiful piece of poetry. The Heart Beats gets you thinking about the wider world and how many people there are all with their hearts beating at the same time. All those people in the world all living and breathing together. It’s a track that shows how it’s our hearts that bond us together in relationships, passions and in everything we do.

Gaping Hole brings a  light-hearted blues feel to the EP. It has pleasant uplifting melodies after a heavily philosophical track like The Heart Beats. It’s a brilliant track with  70s influences being easily heard.

The Half Life EP sees a reprise of first track Drown In Blue. The reprise version of Drown In Blue sees Mase sing backed by some blues acoustic guitar. It’s calming and preferable to the original version.

Hold Fast Your Dreams ends the EP and is a gentle and inspiring song to end the EP on. Hold Fast Your Dreams is jazzy and almost like elevator music. Mase’s vocals are airy and refreshing as she sings, “Hold fast your dreams/Within your heart/And keep them safe/In your world apart/With wishes that/Have not come true/Let hope and magic work for you/Hold fast your dreams” before she goes into spoken word. Another piece of beautiful poetry, “You see with one eye/Life was exactly as it was explained to her/But with the other/She saw into, through, above their world…” Mase’s spoken word on Hold Fast Your Dreams is so similar to Patti Smith, it’s a real struggle to differentiate between the two.

Marla Mase has outdone herself with this EP release. Although Speak shone, the Half Life EP shines ten thousand times brighter. The Half Life EP will be released on February 25 2014.

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Josh Matthews – A-Sides Album Review

Based in Philadelphia, Josh Mathews is about to release his first album A-Sides. His music, which stems from a lineage of street poets like Richie Havens and Sixto Rodriguez, has been described as Urban Folk but his pensive, guitar-wielding persona is anything but derivative. One part mid-western hip hop delivery (Atmosphere), one part 60’s folk commentary (Jackson Brown); A-Sides is an unique journey through the thoughtful, inquisitive, hopeful and often brutally honest mind of a young man who takes his time on this earth very seriously. An unadulterated slice of his life.

Josh Matthews

Josh Matthews A-Sides artwork

Working through the tracks, and there’s a generous number, each has an identity but the whole has a coherent identifiable charm. Some top choices are: Lockdown, With A Sound, Why Not, Everything I’m Not, Two Ton Feet, Dear John and Home.

On Lockdown you can hear the rawness of the streets he spent three years busking across America on. Appearing on these songs are howling dogs, traffic, footfall, basic guitar picking, whistling, tapping of the guitar for a beat and lyrics about abstract thoughts. The final shriek reveals the fear and semi-horror of it all.

With A Sound’s lyrics, “Caught between a rock/I’m afraid to fail and I’m afraid to succeed/So I’ll take my pack and carry it on my back/And fade away… “ tell the story of a homeless person. It’s a melodic song with a typical folk narrative.

Why Not has a sweet open-hearted sing-a-long chorus, “I want love/Obvious love/I want love to strike me like a hammer”. It’s a simple guitar song with bare feeling, accompanied by what sounds like the tapping of spoons and a bongo.

Everything I’m Not is very Leonard Cohen inspired with its compressed quirky and clever lyrics, softened by the accordion,“Everything that I’m not and all that I am has been said and done, that’s part of being a man”.

Two Ton Feet is destined for a designer jean or phone advertisement with its simple ironic smile appeal. However, Dear John is the perfect and sad illustration of the awkwardness of male communication with Interlude acting as a manic, desperate and drunken phone call referring to the same topic, appearing just before Dear John on the record.

Josh Matthews

Josh Matthews in the studio

Home is the ultimate wandering minstrel angst with its lyrics, “I wanna feel it pump through every single vein/I wanna hear it loud and clear in my feelings and feel it in my brain/A home/A home/A home”.

This album is different in a reassuringly and familiar way and big things could come to Josh Matthews.

A-Sides is a Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and Seasick Steve themed record with a modern twist on the sea chanty and folk genres.

A-Sides will be released on January 14.

By Kate Dexter

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Introducing…Poeticat

Poeticat is Baj Kenrick (guitar), Catherine Martindale (vocals), Vic Meadowcroft (percussion), Ziggi Jadovski (vocals) and IvoRamalho (bass).

Hailing from London, Lisbon and Basildon, Poeticat are a truly unique proposition; fusing the thought provoking spoken word delivery of  Catherine Martindale who has been a prominent figure on the spoken word and poetry scene for sometime with the experimental vocal harmonies of fellow European Theatre Arts graduate Ziggi Jadovski. This alone creates something very original. Now add a surreal and captivating genre-bending melting pot which is given an overwhelming sense of roots and power with the phenomenally warm bass lines of Ivo Ramalho formerly of Worldly Savages. Taking the band in another direction is percussionist Vic Meadowcroft on the Cajon who pulls in from Latin American music and African rhythms bringing it all together in a loose yet fluid journey while the prowess of guitarist Baj Kenrick reaches into the songs, burrows under the skin and adds another twist with complex metal guitar riffs and melodies that call upon Testament to Metallica. This is the true alternative spirit that is missing in the current musical climate.

Poeticat

Poeticat

They flit from modern dystopian outtakes from moments that recall Diamond Dogs era Bowie to hefty experimental punk slabs of socialism via genre-bending voyeurism. It takes people with real bravery to try to do something with individuality. Spoken word has been creeping into the mainstream in recent years in the eclectic forms of The Streets, Scrubious Pip, Saul Williams and Kate Tempest but Poeticat move it in a completely new direction experimenting with every aspect of the music as well as the vocal techniques and interplay between Catherine and Ziggi, story telling, dance routines and they have also had guest appearances from Nelson ‘Papachango’ Marquez of cutting edge Latin band Los Chinces.

Catherine’s spoken word is very reminiscent of Kate Nash but she has an angst and enthusiasm that Nash lacks. The poetry ranges from political (Centre Of The Concrete Square) to love (Rooftops/Kind Words Soft Kill). There’s huge diversity in Poeticat. This is a band with massive potential to make their political voices heard through the power of spoken word. Patti Smith started out on the poetry scene in New York, reading poetry in clubs backed by a guitar before landing up forming a full rock band and entering in to the music industry. Catherine has this similar unique ability to express her thoughts, emotions, opinions and understanding of the world and its political and social structure through beautifully crafted and intelligent poetry. She captivates her audiences through her dictation but the real secret and power are in the words that are written on paper. She has a strong writing ability which will lead her to succeed in the same way.

Poeticat

Poeticat

Regulars among a diverse circuit, Poeticat received a five star review at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and have played festivals such as Glastonbury, Latitude, Bestival, The Big Chill, Kendal Calling, Beat-Herder, E4 Udderbelly and have supported Kate Nash, Ed Sheeran and Jamie Woon.

Poeticat are supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council. In December, they recently played their Brixton Windmill residency in order to promote spoken word performance to the wider music mainstream.

Poeticat will also be playing another residency on Saturday 1 February at Brixton Windmill. Each residency will incorporate interactive art installations by Elisavet Kalpaxi and include bands and spoken word poets.

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Marla Mase – Speak (Deluxe Edition)

Marla Mase is a writer, performer, producer, singer and songwriter from New York City. On top of being multi-talented in the musical and artist side of life, she has been awarded an honorary ‘Messenger of Peace’ award by Friends of the UN for her work as a visionary artist and songwriter. Marla Mase isn’t your typical punk rock chick.

Marla Mase

Marla Mase and the Tomas Doncker Band

Marla Mase has become known for her provocative and raw live performances and thought-provoking lyrics which focus on the injustices of the world, media pressures upon women among other political and social issues. Marla Mase isn’t a passive member of society. She uses her thought-provoking songs to inspire others (just as others like Bob Dylan did in the past). However, unlike those huge inspirational artists of the 60s and 70s, Mase doesn’t take a back seat. Whatever she sings about, she also puts into practice. Songs like Queen of Imperfection and AnnaRexia highlight the issue of the pressure that is put on women by the media and society to look a certain way. Mase sings about this while also actively campaigning. AnnaRexia is spearheading the StayImperfect Project or Love Your Butt Campaign which Marla created to empower women to not only accept but love themselves and their bodies. Proceeds from AnnaRexia as well as emerging artist, Lael Summer’s track, The Good Fight (whose EP Marla co-produced with Doncker) will go towards theprojectheal.org, a non-profit organization founded by two teenage eating disorder survivors, that raises scholarship money for girls whose families cannot afford to send them to treatment.

For the above reasons among others, Mase has been noted as being a true musical pioneer of our time. She is about to release the deluxe edition of her album Speak. Speak was first released in 2010. The deluxe edition features the ten original tracks plus six extra ones such as AnnaRexia and Piece of Peace.

Marla Mase has been compared to the likes of Jim Morrison and Patti Smith. Two of the most inspirational musicians of the 60s and 70s. Mase certainly has a Patti Smith feel to her music and to some extent, her appearance and attitude to life. Songs like Open Up My Heart and Queen of Imperfection really do ooze Smith’s attitude and spirit. Her musical style reflects that of Smith’s as well. Her music is poetry in song. She mixes spoken word, punk, rock, global soul and reggae influences to produce a sound all her own. It seems Mase belongs in the 70s but is a few decades too late.

Lyrically, Mase is not as strong as Smith or Morrison, she is less literary and more factual. Her songs’ messages are easier to understand than that of Smith’s or Morrison’s. For example, the lyrics of and meaning behind track five, New Cell Phone are pretty obvious – the world has become too digitalised, mobile phones and the internet are the only way people communicate now. Mase sings about changing her number and trying to escape the world around her.

Marla Mase

Marla Mase performing live

Mase is more straight forward in her approach to lyrics, she’s clear and direct. However, saying that, Open Up My Heart is a narrative about a protected princess who longs to witness real life and experience true love. It reminds me of the story of the Buddha in some ways, a protected being who wishes to see the real world and how others live, even if that means witnessing love and hate.

Other favourite tracks on Speak are Queen of Imperfection, She Hooked Him Up, Divine Restlessness and Dance the Tango. Usually it’s easy to distinguish your favourite tracks on an album but this time round it was hard. Most of the tracks are outstanding due to the way they open your mind and make you think about the world and how we all live in it together.

Queen of Imperfection sees Mase singing her heart out about how she is not ‘perfect’. No-one is perfect and this is something we should all celebrate. The lyrics, “I’m cracked, flawed and defective just like you are…My body has some wear and tear because it ain’t been airbrushed and I don’t care…Ain’t no cover girl/Ain’t no pornographic supermodel movie star/My hair ain’t combed/My house is a wreck…” are all too true. We should embrace that we are all real and unique and not false like Hollywood movie stars.

She Hooked Him Up has a great funk beat that will instantly have you tapping your feet. This song is about the power of sex in society. Sex sells as we all know far too well.  Divine Restlessness is one of the few slow numbers on the record where Mase sings about switching off and fully relaxing in an Eastern meditative way; reaching the Divine. Dance the Tango is a song that feels separate from the rest of the album which is why it’s a favourite. This is the only track on the album with folk influences and is a welcomed break from the punk influences found in the rest of the tracks. Vocally, Mase sounds more angelic and less angry in Dance the Tango. It has a great melody and beat that will have you bobbing along in no time. It’s a narrative about a woman who died and her obituary was read in the paper. However, it missed out how she enjoyed dancing the tango, “They forgot to mention how you liked to laugh and how you loved to dance the tango”. Dance the Tango focuses on remembering the little things about those people you love; those things that made them happy, not about how much you miss them when they’ve gone.

Mase has the ability to write lyrics and create songs that open your mind. They will get you thinking. There are layers to her songs meaning you can take what you want from each one. Those interpretations above are my own but you might listen and find other meanings in the songs. There are not many artists that can write in that way these days. There are not many artists who can create songs that make you think about the wider picture. For most songs we are a passive audience but when you listen to Mase, you will become an active audience member.

Speak (the deluxe edition) will be available from Thursday 28 February. You can listen to the stream here.

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