Martin McNulty Crane V comes from a long line of exceptional Martins. There's an orphan who became attorney general of Texas and fought the KKK, a lieutenant who fought in WWI, an airline pilot who raised his family in Iran, and a scientist. Our Martin Crane, who now records as Brazos, is on track to become a leading musical light, with a burning creative mind and a searching soul.
Brooklyn (by way of Austin) -based Brazos gained recognition in 2009 with Crane's self-released debut album, Phosphorescent Blues. The album was hewn around 'The Observer,' the 1969 Adrienne Rich poem Crane put to music. From the bouncy, free-formed vocal phrasing of that adaptation grew a style that combined raw energy and dance rhythms with the subtle intricacies of jazz and folk.

Twenty-plus years of stories, twenty-plus years of perfecting music's craft, Ski Lodge's Big Heart is exactly what a debut record should be: the culmination of a creative force's life on this planet. Andrew Marr, the multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter behind Ski Lodge, has created a deeply personal record that overflows with lush melodies and insatiably catchy choruses. His songs occasionally deal with dark matters—infidelity, painful break-ups, loneliness, disjointed father-son dynamics—but Marr bathes them in a blissful light ripe for sing-alongs.
"I try to write songs honestly, and a lot of the things going on in my head that I struggle with might be deemed 'dark,' but I don't think that means I can't sing about them in a way that is musically upbeat or poppy," Marr says, from his home in New York City. It's a dichotomy that also translates to Marr's choice for musical moniker. He explains the name Ski Lodge "evoked an image of being warm by a fire, alone or with friends, while outside exists the cold and cruel winter."
Big Heart, Ski Lodge's debut full-length, out this summer on Dovecote Records, is Marr's fullest realization of this hot and cold split. Marr wrote all of the lyrics and music, and played nearly every sound that ended up on the record. However, this was the first time the 26-year-old worked in a professional studio with a producer, the indelible Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast, Fool's Gold), over several weeks in Los Angeles. The combination of Marr's intrinsic songwriting and Pesacov's LA-defining production skills resulted in music with fuller breadth and scope than Ski Lodge's previous release without losing any of the wry innocence that made 2011's self-titled debut EP so much fun.
The one exception is the lead single "Just To Be Like You," which was recorded with the full band in Upstate New York using producer Kevin McMahon (Walkmen, Real Estate). Prefix Mag called the track "sugary sweet pop," while Pitchfork warned its readers not to "be deceived by the energetic, hopscotching riff" before lauding the single's dark depths. The song and its accompanying video of cult imagery are an exploration of contrast that fits in perfectly with both the album and Ski Lodge as a whole: deeply affecting and unmistakably danceable.

Julie Meckler

At times, French songstress Julie Meckler's story can sound almost cinematic. Leaving behind a life as a theater actress in her native Paris, Meckler immigrated to the US in early 2008 and bought her first guitar in New York City. There, the music began, as did her journey across a country she'd never seen before. After visits to Buffalo, Detroit, Portland and Vancouver, she settled in Chicago just as her visa expired. This began a determined, hopeful path as she opted to stay despite fears of deportation and never seeing her home country again. Over four years of honing her craft onstage - from gallery lofts to songwriter circles to sold out bills at venues such as the Hideout, Empty Bottle and Schubas - she's assembled a collaborative group of Chicago veterans that includes bassist Brett Bakshis (Wooden Rings, Belleisle), guitarist Will Phalen, guest guitarist Ryan Anderson (Go Long Mule), trumpeter James Davis (ALDRIC, Zing!), and drummer/percussionist Shawn Rios (Stolen Silver, Dick Prall).

Touted in the Tribune's Metromix as one of "15 Chicago Artists to Watch" alongside The Disappears and The Smith Westerns, Meckler and band have spent the last two years hard at work at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio with producer/multi-instrumentalist Will Phalen(The Stereo Addicts, Musikanto, Bailiff). The result of their labor, the aptly-titled Queenshead, offers a rather diverse collection of songs narrated by her hauntingly unique voice, vulnerable storytelling, and climactic intensity. Her youthful curiosity and playful dance into the unknown is matched with a wary wisdom gained only from risks taken and lessons learned along the way. Reggae, 70s AM radio vinyl, Mariachi, lush reverbed-out Blues, orchestral Pop and Post-punk all have a voice in the mix. It's all there, imbedded in the arrangements. Standout tracks include the pulsating guitar rocker "Forest," the despairing yet thorny Dub cut "Bitch," and the dancey Graceland-infused title track "Queenshead." And while the album will draw listeners with potent genre-spanning singles, it's a record created to be absorbed in its entirety. Each piece is a vital element of the story, yet mystery and unanswered questions still prevail; every tune portrays a different character, unpredictable and sensitive yet blunt in their nature.

Upon the arrival of Queenshead, momentum and fanfare continue to build. The group has dropped their video for the single "Manhattan" (shot both in France and the US) and is about to release their next - their Bossa Nova-infused take on David Bowie's 1968 Ziggy Stardust cut "Soul Love." Inevitably, new material is emerging as a part of their live show. And as most stories love a good ending, Meckler has not only married along the way (to jazz trumpeter/composer James Davis) but has also gained a Green Card and will return to France this summer to finally reconnect with her country, family and friends and show them her new artistic musical ventures. While hometown fans can expect more headlining bills in the later part of 2013, it won't take long for those everywhere to have their chance at seeing Julie Meckler on the road, performing with the same intimacy that can be achieved through a pair of headphones and a record player. Her soundtrack is our movie.

"Meckler's presentation drew the listener into her world. Watching her was like ducking into a dark theater on a summer day to watch a foreign black-and-white film."

"This Parisian transplant pens moody tunes that rival epic mood swings. Witness "Deportation Blues," which opens in muted tones before the guitars and Meckler begin snarling at one another at its staggering climax." - Metromix

"Julie Meckler rocks like a French PJ Harvey, feminine and dominant." - Goth Traveler


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