The MINOR NOTES Archive: The Estrogenius Radio blog

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Re-Branding of ESTROGENIUS

ESTROGENIUS Internet Radio went on the air in June 2001 with one mission: To provide exposure to under-played and under-appreciated female artists and vocalists. Not to get sappy or anything, but it has been my incredible honor to have dealt with so many talented artists, and even the occasional listener. (Kidding! It's, er, always this slow during the summer.)

Five years on, I felt like it was time for a bit of a shake-up. The music has been stronger than ever, but I thought that I could somehow be serving it better. Thus, I decided to re-brand and re-launch the station with a new identity: FEMALE FRONT.

What is Female Front? As I describe on my homepage (also re-branded, but still available at the same old links you always had, and now also at the convenient, it's a pun so bad, I had to share it with everybody on earth. I mean, a triple-entendre? How could I pass that up?!

Since I couldn't very well change all of that without also changing the blog, here's the important news as far as this space is concerned: It is moving to a new Blogger address.

Please bookmark, as that is where this blog will be continuing. This space will remain up as an archive, and as a handy way to redirect everyone who keeps forgetting to bookmark the new address. This post will also be duplicated to mark the inaugural post at the new blog.

To all of the artists and repeat listeners, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are two of the reasons why I do this (the third being myself, because I really need something other than corporate radio to listen to). And if you're a first-time visitor, thank you for stopping by; I hope you check out the station and enjoy it.

Oh, and the blog will still be called "Minor Notes", because that's another annoyingly cute play on words that I've come to like, and because all of this shit is confusing enough as it is.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Emilie Autumn Studio Robbed & Ransacked; Tea Unharmed

On June 4th, longtime ESTROGENIUS favorite Emilie Autumn revealed on her web forum that her home/studio/world headquarters had been robbed in late May, and that all of the studio equipment and computers were taken. As if that were not chilling enough, it turns out that Ms Autumn and a few of her band members were present (in other rooms of the building) when the robbery took place. If there is any consolation to be taken from this horror, it's that nobody was physically harmed.

Adding insult to injury was the timing of the violation: The robbery took place right when Traitor Records, Emilie Autumn's self-published label, was preparing to ship pre-orders of the brand-new EP Opheliac (a preview of the upcoming full-length album of the same name). The result, as Ms Autumn described in her forum, was devastating:

All computers, all ability to get online, all ability to record, gone. But the worst of it is the priceless databases containing the orders yet to be shipped, and the fan contacts for all of you...Not to mention the gigs of music and personal files lost forever. An absolute tragedy.

Emilie Autumn and the Traitor Records staff are working to rebuild the database and piece together which orders were shipped and which were not. In the meantime, they have requested that members of the mailing list re-sign up for it. Because my own order was one of those affected, I posted in the forum my offer to re-purchase the EP, whether because they are unable to find a record of my purchase, or if they just need the infusion of cash.

If you're in the Chicagoland area and have any information about the commission of this crime, please do the right thing and contact Traitor Records about it.

On the bright side, I believe that Emilie Autumn's considerable inventory of tea was not affected by this dastardly deed.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Go Betty Go Announce New Vocalist

After months of searching and auditioning, Go Betty Go have announced the hiring of a new lead vocalist: Emily Wynne-Hughes.

To recap the story: Go Betty Go's founding vocalist, Nicolette Vilar, announced that she was leaving the band last February (as reported in this blog). Remaining band members Betty, Aixa and Michelle vowed to carry on with a new vocalist -- as soon as they could find one.

Then the announcement came three days ago that the search was over, and that Go Betty Go had a new lead vocalist. Here's a snippet from the official press release:

We met Emily at the auditions held back in March. Five seconds into her performance we knew there was a future with Emily and GBG. Her strong voice and personality immediately got us wanting to hear and see more. We can’t begin to tell you how extremely excited we are! We have nothing but good news from here on out.

And here's part of a message from the new girl herself, Emily Wynne-Hughes:

I can't tell you how excited I am to join the GBG team! It's been more than a dream come true. Nicolette left big shoes to fill and I hope I can squeeze my feet into them! I have heard such wonderful things about the fans of this band. You guys are what make this all possible. I hope you like what I bring to the table and enjoy the new GBG with me as the singer.

For the whole story, check out the official press release at the GBG website. I would've been happy to post a picture of "the new girl", but apparently Emily is so new that there aren't any pictures of her available anywhere!

Here's to Go Betty Go and Emily Wynne-Hughes, wishing them continued (and newfound) success in the future.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Alyson Greenfield: Support Your Local Prodigy

When it comes to describing levels of talent, there are a few different descriptors that are commonly used: "Talented"; "Multi-talented"; and a third category, which Alyson Greenfield falls into, called "OK, now you're just showing off."

True, that last one is mainly used by insecure hacks like myself, but as I've pointed out before, one of the most reliable measurements of talent that I have is how lame I feel in comparison to the artist in question.

Of course, it's not Ms Greenfield's fault that I'm insecure, so let me apply a much more positive descriptor: "Renaissance Woman". I'm not exaggerating here -- just read her bio. She started playing piano at age 11, and has been a fountain of creativity ever since. She's in the process of composing music and lyrics for an upcoming musical, and she also co-wrote the screenplay to a short film that was based on a story by, yes, Alyson Greenfield.

Most recently, however, she's been in the studio recording her first full-length album, while also touring the East coast, including some of NYC's most notable Indie venues. But you don't have to wait for the album: Ms Greenfield's EP, Six Songs, is out now.

An Ohio native (currently attending grad school in Alabama), Alyson Greenfield's core musical genre could best be described (by me, at least) as Americana; but there are two cool piano ballads on the EP ("My Honey" and "Good Looks"), which I was naturally thrilled to find. Ms Greenfield is not averse to a little Rock & Roll as well, and I wouldn't mind seeing her explore more of that territory.

That is, when she's not pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing. In fact, she already looks a little like Sofia Coppola, and based on her creative talent, it's only a matter of time before Ms Greenfield is directing too.

Like all intelligent people, Alyson Greenfield is an enthusiastic supporter of internet radio, and of the mission of ESTROGENIUS; so I told her that I would return the favor by sending some traffic her way (in case you missed the link above, that's Help me accomplish this one thing, and maybe I'll feel a little less inferior.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Drunk Love

A very interesting band was just brought to my attention, and I had to immediately post about it -- partly because there's been a near-drought of interesting bands around here lately, and partly because I haven't posted in a freaking dog's-age. (More on that in subsequent posts.)

The band -- actually a duo -- is Drunk With Joy. Consisting of Mila Oshin and Kris Jager, Drunk With Joy was formed in London, UK in 2002. Their first material was released in 2004, and now their first full album, Sound Living, is about to drop.

Consider me instantly hooked. With smooth assurance, DWJ manage to pull-off that Goth/Electro sound that can so easily confound lesser artists. Ms Oshin's vocals are strong, sincere, and convincing. The arrangements range from orchestral to industrial, and so far I haven't heard a false note.

The Drunk With Joy homepage linked above has some audio samples, and more can be heard at their Myspace page. The press seems to have taken to Drunk With Joy, and now here's hoping that you, the public, follow suit.

Kris Jager and Mila Oshin of Drunk With Joy

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Off Topic: Rogue Wave! Part II

In the short time since my previous post about rogue waves, there have actually been some developments on the subject. And judging by the number of hits generated by that post, I am not the only one who's fascinated by this phenomenon.

During the last two weeks, rogue waves have been a topic on one of my favorite TV shows: Season two of Deadliest Catch on The Discovery Channel. If you are not familiar with the show (shame on you), it is an ongoing documentary series about the Alaskan crab fishing industry. Camera crews went out with five different boats to capture the experience of fishing the deadly Bering Sea. According to the show, forty-one crab fishermen have lost their lives in the last decade, and watching the show, it's easy to see why. The Bering has consistently bad weather and high seas.

On last week's episode, the fishing vessel Aleutian Ballad had to return to Dutch Harbor prematurely, in order to drop off a suicidal "greenhorn" crew member. The Aleutian Ballad was not a "regular" on Deadliest Catch, and did not have a camera crew on board. But while back in Dutch Harbor, the boat's crew were apparently given cameras by the show's producers, in order for them to capture footage on the fly. Good thing for us viewers!

After putting out -- again -- from Dutch Harbor, the boat ran into a severe storm. By 3AM,the captain (sorry, I couldn't find any detailed info on the Aleutian Ballad on the internet) commented that the sea state was confused, with waves coming from multiple directions, and that he was having trouble navigating through the storm. Suddenly, the boat was slammed by a 60-foot rogue wave from the starboard side. The camera, pointed out the wheelhouse window, captured the wave as it began to break over the deck; then the impact knocked the camera out the cameraman's hands, and put everyone onto the deck. The engines died, and boat lost all power and was left listing to port. The captain was recorded by the camera (still lying on the ground) saying, "I've got no steering!"

I doubt whether any skipper could experience a more heart-stopping moment. A boat is at her most vulnerable when reeling like the Aleutian Ballad was at that moment; in huge seas, without steerage, a second wave could easily capsize her, and then it's lights-out for good. Eventually, the Aleutian Ballad righted herself, and the captain got the engines started (the steep list had caused the engines to lose oil pressure). The crew got banged-up a bit: The captain apparently broke a couple of ribs, and his daughter (the ship's cook) was thrown out of her bunk with such force that her body smashed open a wooden door on the opposite wall. We in the audience had just witnessed either a strong recovery from difficult circumstances (glass half full) or a near-sinking (glass half empty).

Incredibly, camera crews on board the Time Bandit, a series "regular" (see ship's model at left), caught another monster wave on tape later that same week. I don't know if it was technically a rogue wave, since it seemed to be in line with the swell, but it was incredibly big, and it did have a trough in front of it. Captain John Hillstrand watched dumbfounded as the Time Bandit slid down into the trough, then he grabbed the mic and called a big-wave warning to the crew: "Bigbigbigbigbig!" The wave broke over the boat, and no crew were injured; but it could certainly have gone differently. That's why these guys make the big bucks. What a great show!

I can't help but wonder how much of a part the ships' designs played in their ability to recover from big waves. Both of the above boats are "house aft", which simply means that the superstructure (bridge, deck house, etc.) sits at the back of the boat instead of the front ("house forward"). I guess it doesn't matter if you ship a wave from either side -- if it's gonna get you, it's gonna get you -- but it seems like a big advantage to have the house aft when your boat's pointed into high seas. Also, it lets the skipper keep an eye on the water and the deck crew at the same time, which has to be a good thing. (Below: Time Bandit's partner vessel, Debra D, in relatively calm seas.)

Last time, I mentioned how the QE2 was one of the most famous ships to encounter a rogue wave. Captain Ronald Warwick described the sight of that wave as looking like they were "Sailing into the white cliffs of Dover". The wave height was equal to the height of the bridge windows -- an incredible 95 feet!

Sir Ernest Shackleton also famously encountered a rogue wave during his desperate journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island. But unlike the cushy, 963-foot-long QE2, Shackleton's boat was the James Caird, a 23-foot wooden whaler -- basically, a lifeboat. The expedition carpenter, "Chippy" McNish, had modified the boat by raising the gunwales and adding a deck over the top, to keep out the weather. Shackleton was on top of this deck, chipping away rime ice, when he spotted what he thought was a strip of clear sky high above the gray horizon. Then he realized that it was actually the white crest of an enormous wave that was bearing down on them! He managed to shout a warning down to the rest of the crew: "For God's sake, hang on! It's got us!" The wave smashed down onto the tiny boat, but somehow the James Caird, overloaded with ice and supplies, managed to stay afloat.

Alaskan crab fisherman, cruise ship captains, polar explorers...they all have one thing in common: They all take a risk every time they go out to sea. And they're all either braver, or crazier, than me! I'm guessing it's both.

Launching the James Caird from Elephant Island

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iron Range Maiden

I keep a fairly eclectic playlist on Estrogenius, but as I've admitted before, there is a paucity of selections from the Americana side of the musical universe. In other words, you'll hear no Country, no Bluegrass, no Folk and no Jazz. That is a personal choice, based on my own taste, and the fact that I think that women in those genres are comparatively well-served by traditional media; I play the artists and genres that I feel are underserved. Also, I generally don't like Country, Bluegrass, Folk and Jazz. There is that. However, I do play artists who take those genres and put their own unique spin on them. One example is the astoundingly good Natalie London, whose style can best be described as "Thrash Folk".

Americana in general has enjoyed a relative explosion in popularity in recent years, with breakout hits like the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, and the publicity garnered by Jack White's duties as a performer on the Cold Mountain soundtrack, and producer of Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose album.

Thus, perhaps it was inevitable that I, too, would cross-over and play some Americana. But being Me, I couldn't just play any ordinary artist; it would have to be someone a little different, and a lot better than the norm. Someone who fits the Estrogenius criteria of being an artist who is not getting enough exposure, but who deserves to be a superstar.

So, whose talent and skill managed to overwhelm me? That would be Minnesota's own Sara Softich.

Let's rewind a bit: Sara Softich contacted me about a month ago to promote her new release, Pipe Dream. When I saw that her previous work was a Country project called "Rusted & Bent", I was skeptical. But Pipe Dream was supposedly a major departure from that earlier work, in that it was a piano-based collection of ballads. Now you're talking! I asked Sara to send me the CD.

If you're folk-phobic like me, then you may wonder how I can possibly be so overwhelmed by such a simple album. How simple? The album was recorded using collaborator Jason Wussow's old 8-track recorder and the upright piano from Ms Softich's childhood. But that's the beauty of Pipe Dream: The arrangements may be simple, but the music is not. The tone remains dark throughout most of the album, and even the lighter tracks are tinged with melancholy. And that, as a dark-side Martha Stewart might say, is a very good thing.

The album opens with the title track, a perhaps-autobiographical account of a failed stint in Nashville, told sparingly with piano, organ and vocal. This beautiful song grabbed me to such an extent, that I already have a personal anecdote about it:

I've now been sick with the flu for about a week (which is why I'm so late updating the blog). Early on, when I was really getting slammed by it, lying in bed semi-delerious with unpleasant symptoms, one song kept playing in a loop in my head: "Pipe Dream." Why? I have no idea, but then a lot of things don't make sense when you're sick. Maybe the somber feeling of the song just fit my mood well at that time. The point is, imagine how powerful a song has to be to stick in your head for any reason. Congratulations to Sara Softich for creating a song that really got its hooks into me. That day, I looked at the blinds in my window and imagined red curtains blowing in the breeze.

And that's just track one.

The next track, "Ireland", makes me wish that Ms Softich had included a lyric sheet with the album. In this case, the upbeat (for this album) music belies a serious tale of separation. I especially liked the following few lines: Hear the burning of fiddle strings, chop the piano for kindling / Got a gallon of gasoline, divorce is better than death.

"Down in the Cellar" is a Cabaret-style song, and Ms Softich proves herself a natural at this genre too, as she also does with the instrumental "Corraine's Waltz". And I'm going to guess that after a a few more listenings, the haunting album closer "Wizard" will have a similar effect on my psyche as "Pipe Dream". Indeed, what's remarkable about the album Pipe Dream is not the variety of genres -- the artist has actually limited herself to a few closely-related subgenres of Americana -- rather, it's the consummate skill with which the album is executed.

For an album that seems to be marketed almost as a side-project, Pipe Dream is really a showcase of one artist's outstanding vision. Not only did Sara Softich lend her crystal-clear voice to the songs, she also wrote and produced the entire album. Therefore, although she was joined by a collection of great session musicians, the artistic success of the album rests with no one but Sara Softich herself; and this "new" artist acquitted herself with the skill of a seasoned professional.

Ultimately, I think that some musical works are greater than the sum of their parts. Some can transcend limitations (self-imposed or otherwise), and become an extension of the artist herself, not just a record of her observations. They can get inside your head and stay there, or they can change your emotional state in any number of ways. Sara Softich has succeeded at this, in the best way possible. This is a "small" album, made with few instruments and uncomplicated arrangements; but it still had a big impact on me.

In my view, Pipe Dream is a small treasure.