seen and heard: superhuman happiness, poor remy, morgan o'kane, milla brune

By Carly DeFilippo
Photos by Jose Camargo and Yana Gilbuena

Oh, early summer. That time of year when we dance ’til we drop at outdoor music festivals, stay up way too late on weeknights and question if we ever could leave NY. Newly infected with sunshine-induced optimism, we Sofar NY’ers scaled the steps to a fifth floor Soho walk-up, squeezing in with 60 other newly tanned music fans, for a chance to hear the very best up-and-coming bands.


First up was the aptly named Superhuman Happiness, featuring futuristic bleeps and bloops that faded into tinny guitar, muted horn and upbeat vocal lines. This curious mish-mash of musical talent was a literal juggling act of instruments and techniques, on one hand featuring a certain island sway, on the other sounding like the perfect band for an 80s houseparty. But within the group’s remarkable range, there was one consistent element: seriously catchy intro & outros, no matter the song’s particular style.


Next came Sofar second-timers Poor Remy, a bit more twangy than when we saw them last. The trio’s energy is distinctly high—in their own words, they “yell about [their] feelings.” But rather than an angsty teenage sound, their charmingly peculiar movement and gravely tenors meld in a modern folk style—and we’re loving watching this young band come into their own. 


Morgan O’Kane was slated next, bringing along NOLA cellist Leyla McCalla as a special guest. She kicked off their four song set with a beautifully arranged and moving setting of Langston Hughes’ “Girl.”


From there they launched into O’Kane’s signature style, with the help of guitarist Ezekiel Healy and spoon-player Liam Crill. In O’Kane’s hand the banjo becomes a mode of transcendence, accompanied by a rocking foot stomping that mesmerizes any onlooker. The addition of Crill’s unusual spoonwork brought an additional level of authenticity to the group’s homespun style, a sort of secular seance for a simpler place and time.


As for the finale, we were graced by Belgium’s own Milla Brune, an established European talent just breaking into the American music scene. If her voice is soft, it doesn’t lack for power—with an agility and soulful depth that most pop singers would envy. Brune shared the inspiration for one song in particular, “Precious,” inspired by a little girl who Brune struck in a came-out-of-nowhere car accident (Happily, the little girl recovered.) Touching in its recognition of the fragility of our day-to-day existence, the song demonstrated the best of Brune’s storytelling, reflective wisdom written into each line.


seen and heard: beaty hearts, aabaraki, firehorse, seryn sounds

By Carly DeFilippo
Photos by Jose Camargo

Beyond featuring amazing live music, Sofar Sounds is a veritable tour of NYC’s real estate, from high-end lofts to low-fi warehouses. Among the most exciting places we’ve been hosted of late was the Cole Haan design studios in the Flatiron district. Inside an unassuming corporate building, we discovered a spacious, high-ceilinged living space, with snacks, giant pillows, couches…and a man painting the wall?


That wall was a canvas—a very large one at that—and the man was none other than Chicago artist Joe Miller, who had volunteered to live-paint a background for the evening’s artists. As we moved from indie pop to soulful, singer/songwriter and bluegrass sounds, his canvas evolved in drizzles and waves of warm color.

First up was Beaty Heart, sent to us from Sofar’s home base in London. Looping melodies and lyrics, they layered organic sounds including their own vocals, animalistic cries and instruments such as a “gourd piano”. The effect was almost that of an indie-pop chant, with songs that ended suddenly, never quite where I expected it.


Next came Aabaraki, a local, soulful quartet with witty, sexy lyrics and resonant sound to spare. From the hilarious lyrics of “Karate” (your booty, your body/it hits like karate/the kung-fu, the come thru/jiu-jitsu, i need you) to the deeper grove of “Girl”, they readily expressed their interest in the lovely ladies. But even when those feelings bordered on edgy, the wink in Aabaraki’s signature style won us over, song after song.


Then we were on to Leah Siegel of Firehorse, a longstanding favorite of our NYC organizers. Leah, whose style has been compared with that of Jeff Buckley, claims she’s not used to playing stripped-down sets, but her mastery of echoing electric guitar and tension-building vocals suggests otherwise. With a storytelling lyrical style and incredible control of her vocal range, you could easily have heard a pin drop anywhere in the expanisve Cole Haan space.


Topaz Jones, who had played earlier this month at our gig in Williamsburg, surprised our MC, Jodie, with a surprise performance of their hip-hop and symphonic band blend. It was a downsized sound from their prior performance, but their energy and creativity were still running high.


Last but not least, the Texan troubadours of Seryn. This six-piece newgrass band harnesses the power of both sudden silence and layered vocal harmonies. They also demonstrated an impressive range of instrumental skill. One member of the band, for example, jumped from playing a xylophone with a bow to percussion, followed by a finger-picking banjo solo. Evoking both hope and nostalgia, their mature lyrics were as resonant as the band’s multi-layered sound, and it’s safe to say we all can’t wait for their next trip to NYC.


And to end on the right foot – a huge thank you to our hosts at Cole Haan. Not only did they provide a beautiful space, but all of the artists took home a pair of snazzy new kicks!


seen and heard: sofar sounds

I've recently had the pleasure of joining the blog team at Sofar Sounds, an intimate, underground concert experience hosted each month in private apartments and other unusual venues all over the world.The following post covers the most recent New York Sofar gig, held March 26th in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Read the original post here.)


In my usual line of work—food writing—the traditional measure of greatness is “that which merits the detour.” With music, it’s not how far we’ve traveled to get there, but rather how far the music can take us from where we are. Braving crowded cold or steamy hot rooms filled with debatably polite strangers, craning necks over heads taller than our own, just for the sake of a listen— the best music can help us escape from this place, or transform it into something far greater.

When it comes to settings, Sofar has the head start, as the venues tend to be naturally charmed, even at their most crowded.  In this case, it was a walk-up Williamsburg apartment, complete with exposed brick, where fifty-or-so music lovers came together—seated, quiet, waiting on a listen.

First up was Afeefa & the Boy, an Orlando-based group stripped down to a singer/guitarist and percussionist. Afeefa emanated the vibe of a traveler—not for her shawl and harem pants, but for her drawling speech, the waxing and waning voice of a storyteller. Her affected pronunciation almost recalled Amy Winehouse, laid upon layers of a much simpler, guitar-based style. Andrew, her drummer, filled out the sound with a range of organic percussion, from mellow tribal beats to shakers and the reverb of a lone cymbal.


Next came Leif Vollebekk, a Montreal-based musician playing guitar and harmonica, backed by harmonium, percussion and upright bass. The quartet immediately distinguished itself from the usual singer-songwriter set-up with an improvisational structure that swelled slowly with abstract sound. It started low, with a few exploratory notes drifting in from the bass, as the scratch of a cymbal recalled the creak of an outdoor gate. Leif’s rough, unfinished timbre came in, coloring lyrics about the simplest moments or snippets of conversation, ending many of his phrases with a subtle lift, as if he was asking us to weigh them as questions. This was a band of exceptional note—one that creates on the spot, revisiting their repeated tunes with the fresh intentions of a first rendition.

Dawn Landes, a country-infused folk artist, brought us back from the break. Accompanied by a friend on the banjo, she played guitar as they harmonized in the iconic intervals of the genre. Yet it was in her last piece, a solo—“Bluebird”—that Dawn revealed her true appeal. Her fragile voice shudders at the end of each phrase with a striking vulnerability. When all other sound is pulled away, you notice the strength of her choices, and can better appreciate her raw talent.

Last, but not least, was Sofar veteran Anthony Hall. This pop singer and guitarist was on his seventh go-round and articulated the evening’s appeal for everyone. “No one here must have ADD—because no one is checking their phones, at all.” Whether testing the crowd with his controversial “Emotional” or bringing the show home with a cover of “No Diggity,” Anthony had the whole crowd laughing and harmonizing. In a borough where “pop” borders on a derogatory term, it was a refreshing reminder of the appeal of a simple, genuinely delivered song.