Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Sea Change in Rock Music

I've heard a lot of folks complain how 2017 was hyped as the indie rock would make a comeback, but instead it has easily been the worst year for rock music that my generation has lived through and it seems like all the bands from the indie-rock revival of the 2000s are truly on their last leg.
Wanted to take a minute to shed light on a sea change that I see happening in rock music and a new breed of songwriters emerging.

*I feel like I should mention that there WERE great rock records that came out last year in 2016 - such as David Bowie’s “Black Star” and Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” - and that not only were these records perhaps the most personal records that these artists have in their entire discography, but also pushed rock music into territory it had not been in before (such as Bowie creating an ensemble of some of the greatest new jazz musicians around for “Black Star” and Greenwood’s orchestration on “A Moon Shaped Pool” being more prominent than on any other of their records).  However, I don't see this as the path that most rock songwriters will follow - as these paths are not easy one’s to go down without collaboration - not everyone can play like the all-star ensemble of new jazz players that Bowie recruited and there is absolutely no one in the rock community who can orchestrate like Greenwood (other than when bands recruit Nico Muhly)…*  

**and to clarify - I'm not talking about mainstream/rock-radio music which hasn't been worth listening to since rock radio stations had to follow locked playlists** 

ANYWAY - Let’s start get the worst out of the way first: 
Arcade Fire’s debut “Funeral” is undoubtedly one of the greatest indie rock albums of the 2000s.  Every record they’ve put out after that has gotten consistently weaker - but this new record, "Everything Now" is much bigger dip and an all time low for them.  This soulless disco failure is straight up gag-worthy.  It’s hard for me to even tell if they’re serious on this…if it’s a joke, it’s not a very good one. 

Wolf Parde’s new album, "Cry Cry Cry" lacks the good songwriting that made their early work so compelling.  The first and last songs by Spencer are decent - but pale in comparison to almost any of his work with other projects he’s done.  

The new Grizzly Bear album, “Painted Ruins” lacks any excitement and sense of the magic of their earlier work.  The lyrics are once again more cryptic at times - but the mystical mystery that was present on the abstract lyrics of “Yellow House” are no longer present and as complex as the compositions are and as much as they work to try to make interesting grooves - they fail to be engaging or to make any emotional connection.  

Dirty Projectors’ first new album in 5 years (self titled) shows Dave Longstreth trying out more of a modern R&B sound - and while his arrangements on Solange’s album “A Seat at the Table” did add a lot and is a significant part of why that album is so great - on his own he fails to really sound authentic in the genre, falling into cliches.  And although he’s never been a phenomenal lyric writer (often choosing words for their sonic quality rather than their meaning) lyrically this breakup album really falls flat.  

The National’s “Sleep Well Beast” has some really good songs (like "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" and "Guilty Party"), has some solid lyric writing, the production is better than the last couple albums, and I think they did a decent job of creating an atmosphere on it and I like some of the textural elements.  But the songs themselves are not up to par (some tracks I need to skip on the later third).  This record more often than not sounds like the band has exhausted the formula of their song-writing and although are trying to push forward in new sonic directions, fail to truly deliver with it.  The worst part of the record is the orchestration.  At his best Bryce Denser sounds like a bad Nico Muhly impersonator.  I’m not angry that this record exists - but it does bring up the real need for collaboration and dims my hopes that the National can ever come out with another great record.  

"Crack Up" is the Fleet Foxes first album in 6 years - It's not as catchy as their debut and not as focused as their follow up, “Helplessness Blues", and instead shows the Fleet Foxes trying out something more progressive, dense, and experimenting more with song structure with mixed results (as this is not what this band does best).  

There are plenty more indie-rock records (and rock records such as Beck and At the Drive In) that came out this year that failed to live up to the expectations that were set for them and I could go on for a while…but let’s just leave the bashing at that and go onto the the shift that is happening: 

The shift that is happening 

I think Spencer kind of nails why all these bands are sucking right now (including the band he's in, Wolf Parade) on the closing track of their new album “Cry Cry Cry” when he sings:
“How can we sing about ourselves?
How can we sing about love?
How can we not sing about love?
How can we not sing about ourselves?”

It’s simply really hard to write about the terrifying shit that’s happening in the world - and maybe it’s not for some people to make art about right now.  But simultaneously I completely understand how it seems extremely silly to continue writing about yourself in a time when so much is happening in the world - And I think this is what a lot of these song writers are struggling with.  I also think that the song forms / way of writing pop music have been exhausted and the way that these 2000s indie rock bands are writing in is no longer relevant - and they’re all trying to figure out what to do now.  While some are trying to be more progressive and complex (such as Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes) and falling flat because of loosing all emotional connection, while others are trying to fit into existing scene/genre’s that are currently relevant (such as Dirty Projector’s failed foray into R&B) - none of the direction that these bands are taking is leading anyone anywhere worth going.  

The shift that I see happening is towards a more direct style of writing - one in which the song writer is more linked to the listener - on a pure emotional, raw, spiritual and visceral level - a style that is based on telling direct experiences, without the need to camouflage it in metaphor and allegory.  One of the people most responsible for this shift happening is Mark Kozleck, specifically with his 2015 record “Benji”.  And Mark Kozlek has continued to push this direction even further with his more recent output - becoming even more personal and stream of conscious - often resembling more of a journal than a lyric form.

But it is this album, "Benji" that has been sited by other song writers as an inspiration to an overwhelming degree - maybe most noticeably by Phil Elvurm in which he sites "Benji" as an influence on his new record “A Crow Looked at Me” in which he deals with the recent passing of his wife and reflects on his new life as a single father.  In the linear notes he states "The things that happened to me and my close people seemed incompatible with any kind of artistic expression, the idea seemed perverse...Then I heard "Benji" by Sun Kil Moon...and it occurred to me that there might be value in just saying the things that had happened, describing the events without attempting wisdom or big statements."   

The new singer-songwriters that have been emerging are continuing to forge this path.  One of the most notable examples is Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief - whose recent writing has stayed as personal and intimate as their debut, but has taken on a more mystical and mysterious vibe.  The best example of this that jumps to mind is the song "Mythological Beauty" in which Adrianne reflects on her childhood relationship with her mother and a near death traumatic event.  

In some ways I see this as the new start (or new phase) in a cycle.  A sort of equivalent to the restart of songwriting in rock music in the 70s with punk rock - when musicians wanted to drop the technicality of the progressive rock music that was happening and return to the roots and raw feeling of rock and roll that could be accessible to anyone (unlike the more cerebral music of the progressive rock bands at the time).  Not only did you not need to be a trained musician to listen to this music and appreciate it, you didn't need to be a trained musician to play it or write it - anyone could pick up a guitar and start a punk band.  And that's kind of how I see this new shift in songwriting - anyone can relate to the direct stories that a songwriter is singing if they're real...and everyone has real experiences that they can sing about - so in a sense it's a style that is an easy one to adopt.  And I feel like people are ready for this and are open to this kind of radical honesty in songwriting since people are beginning to see the cathartic value in telling their stories, and how in doing so it is possible to shift how people perceive and understand the society we are living in (such as with the #MeToo phenomenon).  

In some ways I guess this is the path that I have begun to gone down with some of my recent song-writing - so perhaps I'm a bit biased in my way I'm viewing this (lol)...but since I've heard so many people complain about the state state of rock music in 2017, I  wanted to share this positive shift that I see happening to shed some light on this new direction in songwriting. 

Much love,
Mike Sim 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fall Update 2017


I released an EP of reimaginings called Just a Phase.  It's up for streaming and download on bandcamp & soundcloud.


You can now stream some of my music on Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Music, Pandora, & Tidal


Apple Music


I'll be playing a show on November 17th in JP with Of the Sun & Paul Elrich - it'll be the first show in Boston in a year and I'll be debuting a new piece I've been working on since the summer.

I'll also be playing a similar set at Trendy Shit Town on December 2nd. 

More info on these show to come



I'm planning on releasing a visual album of original material on the 2018 summer solstice. 
So far two songs are completely recorded - One features choreography by Wisty and drumming by Sound Shaman 
Stoked to say Brady Custis of Coaches (who mixed the "Just a Phase" EP and the later half of "Twin Peaks") will be mixing this record as well.   
This will be the first in a series of 4 visual albums (the other three will be coming out between 2019 and 2021). 


-An EP based on dreams I've had

-An EP based on swiping apps and online dating

-Another EP of reimaginings

As always, thanks for listening

Much love,
Mike Sim 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Just a Phase (EP)


this is a collection other people’s songs
I changed some of the words - some I didn't really know how they go
this is the most naked and personal I’ve felt on a record so far  - despite the fact that these songs are not my own
(sometimes it’s easier to be yourself in someone else's skin) 

Reimagined, performed, and recorded by Mike Sim
Mixed and Mastered by Brady Custis


Songwriting credits:
She Said:
:::song collage:::
song-writing credit to: The Beatles, Third Eye Blind, Bjork, and the Backstreet Boys & Mike Sim

She Said: 
A reimagining based on the song by Amy Alvey off the album "Big Ten" (2012)

 A reimagining based on the song by the Goo Goo Dolls off the album "Dizzy up the Girl" (1998)

Dirty Mind: 
A Reimagining of the song by Prince off the album "Dirty Mind" (1980)

I Wanna Be Your Dog:
A reimagining based on the song by the Stooges off the album "The Stooges" (1969)

Many thanks to Brady Custis - this record would not be what it is if it wasn't for his work shaping the way it sounds in mixing and mastering.  Being able to collaborate with him on it was truly wonderful and I hope to work with him again on future records.  If you haven't checked out his band Coaches - do so - they've got an EP called "Shush" that's super dope and will be coming out with a full length soon.

Also - thanks to my brother Ryan for his eyes / direction in creating the album artwork for this.

And thanks y'all for listening

Much love,
Mike Sim 

Monday, September 18, 2017



Property Materials at Deep Thougths JP (HUMANHOST, Moondrawn, Solei, CASUAL DECAY, & J Bagist) 

The National @ The Wilbur 





The Pharcyde @ Middle East



Grizzly Bear @ HOB


King Crimson @ The Orpheum


A Perfect Circle @ Agganis Arena 

Hassle Fest 9 @ ONCE 

FRIDAY 11/10 LINE UP (final line up & order may change)
Dan Deacon (MD)
Xiu Xiu (CA)
Ed Balloon
Viki (MI)
Erica Eso (NY)
Sidney Gish 
Brandie Blaze
Pink Navel 
Solo Sexx
Lost Dog
Rex Mac
SATURDAY 11/11 LINE UP (final line up & order may change)
Pere Ubu (OH)
Sunburned Hand of the Man
Ono (IL)
Pill (NY)
Obnox (OH)
Trinary System
Silk Purse (NY)
Buck Gooter (VA)
Creative Healing
Ak'chamel The Giver of Illness (TX)
Nice Guys 
Lady Pills 
Omni (GA)
Escuela (NY)
Brain Famine
Leopard Print Taser
Salem Wolves


Slowdive @ Paradise Rock Club 


Mogwai @ Royale


Pinegrove @ Royale 

Converge @ Brighton Music Hall 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival 2017

After 63 years of curating the Newport Jazz Festival - George Wein is still doing it right.  Although the line-up wasn't as consistently amazing as it was in some of the recent previous years, the festival did a better job of booking some well chosen cross-over artists and continued to try to bridge the gap between jazz and hip-hop (which I wrote about last year on my thoughts of the festival in 2016) as well as featured some of the most forward thinking and progressive jazz artists alive today.  


(Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith performing some of their material off of their 2016 album "A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke)

The headliner on Friday was Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  It was the original line-up - with the phenomenal harmonica player and pianist Howard Levy and they played a lot of their classic material from those early albums.  

(Bela Fleck & the Flecktones) 


Vijay Iyer Sextet was the most exciting set of the weekend to me.  The sextet is comprised of Vijay Iyer (piano, Fender Rhodes), Graham Haynes (cornet, flugelhorn, electronics), Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), Mark Shim (tenor saxophone), Stephan Crump (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) - They played material off their upcoming album "Far From Over" which will be coming out August 25th on ECM - which I'm sure I'll be writing about in my top albums of 2017.  The compositions they played were groove centered and sounded rooted in the early M-Base music (such as the early funkier Steve Coleman releases) and melodically and rhythmically mind bending.  

DJ Project Logic (DJ Logic's jam band) was the biggest letdown of the festival.  DJ Logic is one of the musicians most credited to bringing jazz to hip-hop - and this ensemble is more or a less an improvisational collective.  A lot of jam oriented projects are pretty hit or miss - depending on how the jam is that set - but this project failed more often than not.  They showed up over a half hour late leaving keyboardist James Hurt to play solo for this time.  Once the rest of the band showed up, they spent 15 minutes playing in a way that sounded more like a soundcheck than a performance and then a lot of the times it just sounded dull and uninspired.  And the biggest bummer about it was African Kora player Foday Musa Suso (who was the player I was most excited about in this ensemble) was not even there for it.  DJ Logic is a great turntabilist - and it was cool being able to hear him play with the Philadelphia Experiment on Sunday - but he is completely incompetent as a bandleader if this set was any indication of his abilities as one.  

Another highlight for me on Saturday was Henry Threadgill's Zooid.  Threadgill is one of the most important composers in jazz history and at age 73 he's still one of the wildest around today.  It was a much more stripped down ensemble comparatively to his double up ensemble on “Odd Locks and Irregular Verbs” (which was in my top 10 albums of 2016).  The compositions played were like a hypnotic maze - melodically angular, and harmonically otherworldly.  


The fort stage on Sunday started out with the Maria Schnider Orchestra.  She played a lot of new material which was incredibly beautiful, often very cinematic, and in the case of one of her new compositions called "Singularity" quite apocalyptic.  

(Donny Mcaslin playing with the Maria Schnider Orchestra) 

Jason Moran's Fats Waller dance party was a lot of fun - he played mostly off his great 2014 album "ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller" as well as a reimagining of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (which was played more in the style of Fats Waller) and a song called "All Rise" which was not on the album - but was one of my favorites of the set - it began very traditional harmonically and kept twisting rhythmically until it spiraled out into chaos, then coming back full circle.  

(Jason Moran as Fats Waller)

Bokante replaced Andra Day on the main stage in a last minute schedule change due to her being sick.  They are a new international ensemble featuring singer Malika Tirolien (from Guadeloupe), three guitarists from Snarky Puppy (Michael League, Chris McQueen, and Bob Lanzetti), lap steel virtuoso Roosevelt Collier and several percussionists - one of them being Jamey Haddad, one of the most inspiring teachers I had at Berklee who opened up my ears to music from many different countries.  I was surprised at how great this ensemble was since my expectations were low because of three members being from Snarky Puppy (whose music has become more accessible, generic, and dance oriented over the years) - But after seeing how other previous members of Snarky Puppy have left for other projects and it seems like these guitar players have been putting more energy into this project than they currently do with Snarky Puppy, it seems as though the success of that band has allowed them to pursue other projects with more creative freedom such as this band.  Bokante's set was incredibly groovy, psychedelic and fresh - looking forward to checking out their new album and to hearing where this ensemble goes.  

The Roots were the closing set of the Festival.  Unfortunately this set overlapped with Hudson (the supergroup featuring DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski & Scofield - I would have absolutely loved to see this as well since all these players are amazing - but since the album they put out was somewhat disappointing, and I hadn't seen The Roots in a decade and it seemed like the more important set in regards to a historic happening with the Newport Jazz Festival, I chose to see the Roots.

To be clear - the Roots are not jazz - but as the NJF have been trying to bridge the gap between jazz and hip-hop and book cross-over artists that are in this area - The Roots being a live-band hip-hop act were a logical choice to book for a headliner in this vein continue pushing the festival in this direction.  

Their set was extremely solid overall - consisting of a lot of their classic material from their older albums, a decent amount of covers/medleys, and solo-improvisations from different members of the group.  My biggest complaint was some of the covers didn't work quite as well - such as the cover of the Herbie Hancock song "Actual Proof" which fell flat, and "Sweet Child of Mine" (which although was fun and the crowd seemed to be excited about it - I couldn't help thinking about how many other things they could have been playing - and it wasn't the a pretty strange place to be playing in such a straight forward way at the NJF - even if it was only briefly in the context of a medley).  But the classic material they did play made up for this - the highlight for me being "Without a Doubt" into "Dynamite" off their masterpiece "Things Fall Apart".   Questlove's timing is remarkable and the Roots are truly great performers - they were able to put together a wildly entertaining production that was a great way to close out the festival.

This year was historic in regards to them booking a relatively straight-forward hip-hop act and I'm curious to see where the NJF will go from here - if they'll continue to book hip-hop artists to try to bridge the gap between these two communities - and if so who they will book.  I could see artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, and Flying Lotus (given his lineage) going over relatively well.  I'm also curious if they will try to push to booking cross-over artists in other genres to draw more of an audience - such as artists in the jazz-influenced post-rock community such as Tortoise and The Sea and Cake.  The festival sold a little over 8,500 for the Saturday and Sunday - which is a little over two thirds full (when compared to the Newport Folk Festival which sells out the 12,000 person capacity before the line-up is even announced) - which I feel like is probably at least part of the reason for them booking acts in this category.  My biggest hope is that in doing so that festival goers who do come only to really see these headliners do get exposed to other acts and are turned on to them and that the festival continues to stay true to continuing to book the best and most progressive acts in jazz today.

Much love,
Mike Sim

Monday, July 31, 2017

Newport Folk Festival 2017

I got the opportunity to go to the Newport Folk Festival this past weekend.  It was the first year I’ve been since 2012 and after going again this year I hope to never miss a year again. 


Big Thief was the reason I was there and was easily the highlight of the festival on Friday.  Their set was very different compared to their performance at Brighton Music Hall I caught earlier this year and felt incredibly raw and very in the moment.  They did a few tracks off "Masterpiece", a few off "Capacity", and the other four songs were new unreleased songs.   

The version of Lenker playing the song “Capacity” by herself brought me to tears and the reimagined version of the song Mary was absolutely gorgeous and the highlight of their set for me.  I don’t want to say too much about the new material…but I’m very excited for the direction Lenker is heading as a song-writer.   

You can listen to the full set via NPR: 
Caught a bit of Ben Gibbard's set which provided some good nostalgia hearing a few of those Postal Service and Death Cab tunes solo acoustic.  And Fleet Foxes' played from all three of their records - some of the new material didn't sound as tight without the production that is on the record, and was surprising to hear as much material off that first record - but overall it was definitely a fun way to end the first day at the fest.

(Fleet Foxes)


(Angel Olson playing with Jim James)

The only thing I feel like writing about from Saturday is Wilco's set which closed out the day.  The set was absolutely amazing and significantly darker than the last time I saw them at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012 - In “Via Chicago” they got way noisier and the drum freak out escalated to a point that was crazy gnarly, Nels Cline’s solo in “Impossible Germany” was mind blowing, and the some of the rockers (such as "I'm the Man Who Love's You" and "I'm Always in Love") grooved incredibly hard.  They closed by bringing out Billy Brag out for the song “California Stars”, which is a song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie that they put music to on their 1998 record “Mermaid Avenue”.  Wilco are one of the best live performers in rock and roll - and I'm incredibly thankful to have had the chance to see them again in this amazing venue.  


Pinegrove were rad - If you hadn't heard them before they're like Emo-country-rock - if that sounds appealing to you, check them out.

(Rhiannon Giddens)

The set which was billed as Speak Out was a protest celebration from a variety of artists including Sharon Van Etten, Jim James, Billy Bragg and Nathaniel Rateliff, Margo Price, Lucius and a many more.  These artists covered some classic rock/folk tunes such as Dylan's "Masters of War" and Lennon's "Working Class Hero" but also more current and less expected songs as well.  As a whole the program was truly emotive - the only moment that I felt was not pulled off was featuring Shakey Graves who sang on a tune, "I'm Better Than You" - which was satirical, but to me the joke didn't quite fit with the rest of the set and detracted from the set.  

(Sharon Van Etten singing Sinead O' Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds") 

It was really cool to see this and to see the Folk Festival come full circle - in a way back to it's roots in the 60s in which the music was so connected to the civil rights movement.  It was so powerful hearing protest songs promoting peace coming from a military fort in this political climate in which there is so much hate, racism, and xenophobia. 

The last set of the day was John Prine - this set was truly magical.  He played a lot from his classic self titled debut, as well as several cuts off "Bruised Orange" and his 2005 record "Fair and Square" with guests such as Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd), Jim James, Lucius, Margo Price, and Justin Vernon.  The whole thing thing seriously felt like a dream and still on cloud nine from being able to catch it.  You can listen to the set via NPR

Looking forward to the Newport Jazz Festival next weekend - till then...

Much love,

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Top 5 Albums of 2017 So Far

5-DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar - 8.7 

Kendrick's Lamar's worst album so far is still the best hip-hop album of the year so far.  This album is more raw and less filtered and feels almost like a mixtape at times - and although conceptually it doesn't hold together as a whole and there's some real clunkers like "Loyalty", "Love" (which might be his all time worst song), and "God" - there are some real gems as well such as "DNA" and "Humble" and plenty to make "DAMN." an essential listen for any hip-hop fan.

4-Anti-Hero - Kneebody - 9.3 

This is probably Kneebody's most consistently solid release so far.  Highly recommended if you dig the group's previous work or for anyone interested in groove-oriented modern jazz.  

3-A Crow Looked at Me  - Mount Eerie - 9

This is the best thing Phil Elverum has released in nearly 15 years and is one of the the most emotionally draining and psychologically intense record's I've ever heard.  He wrote and recorded it immediately after his wife passed away from cancer and is a meditation on this loss and beginning his new life as a single parent.  


2-Stubborn Persistent Illusions - Do Make Say Think - 9.3 

Do Make Say Think are among the greatest post-rock bands - on par with groups such as Tortoise, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Stereolab.  "Stubborn Persistent Illusions" is their first album in 8 years and might be their best.  


1-Capacity - Big Thief - 9.5 

Big Thief's follow up to last year's "Masterpiece" is truly phenomenal and is the best indie-rock record that has come out in years.  The grooves are more hypnotic, the lyrics are more intimate and filled with mystery, and their is a bit more of a mystical vibe in the mix.  I haven't been able to stop listening to it since it has come out and it has truly been an inspiration.