Music Review: The Modern Things by The Modern Things

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Andrew Sutherland of The Modern Things for a long time now. I have great respect for and find much enjoyment in the music he makes, in all its forms, from the ambient, drum and bass, and industrial output of his high school years and later; to his former band Tides’ radio-friendly rock; to the ultra-hip beauty of his newest band, The Modern Things. And even though he played piano at my wedding, I am letting none of this color the review I am about to write. The new album simply deserves the praise.

Listening to the album, the band’s influences and comparisons are apparent, but this is not to say that The Modern Things is derivative. Instead the band wears its influences on its sleeve, and they should be worn proudly, and as a badge of honor, when the comparisons are to bands such as Coldplay, U2, and Bloc Party. Imagine Coldplay produced by DJ Shadow; U2 produced by Kieran Hebden (Four Tet); Bell X1 produced by Howie B or Jacknife Lee; or Sting produced by Lamb. It is where the band takes these influences that is amazing, and, well, fresh and modern.

Like the Bjork song suggests, “all the modern things…have always existed.” The music that this band makes sounds familiar, like you’ve always known it, but have just been waiting for it to be realized. Sophisticated electronic music combines with pop sensibilities, soaring guitars, elegant harmonies, fascinating lyrics, and simply awesome talent. In about 27 minutes The Modern Things gives you a huge, breathtaking musical experience. The songs are at once U2-sized, yet also quite personal. “Is it Enough” could fill the largest stadium with its sheer breadth and power, yet put on a pair of headphones and “Maple” will bounce around your head space for a delicious few minutes.

This is rich, shimmering music. This is the sparkle of a northern city during a sudden midsummer night’s rain. This is a sunrise on morning dew refracted through a computer screen. This is a sound birthed in the dark space between the ears of every child of the electronic age. This is life in digital. And it is beautiful.

Do yourself a favor. Download The Modern Things for FREE.  NOW!

Andrew Sutherland (ca. 1997-1998)
Andrew Sutherland (ca. 1997-1998)

20 Questions with Andrew Sutherland of The Modern Things

1. Could you give me the Andrew Sutherland bio, i.e., how did you get to where you are today?

Gee whiz Josh, this is a pretty big question. I was born in Vermont, took piano lessons, moved to the Boston area, went to college for sound recording technology and music performance, stopped taking piano lessons, played in bands, and wrote music… bam, I’m in my late 20s.

2.How long have you been making music?

Since I can remember- although recording and manipulating music, which I find to be my creative focus, since about 6th grade when I got my first 4 track tape recorder.

3. What equipment (instruments, software, etc.) do you use?

Geek alert- what I’m currently using: I sequence and mix in Logic Pro 8, which is fantastic. I’ve started using Abelton Live, which is all over the Modern Things record. I also have a few keyboards that I use (Roland Fantom X6, an old Korg Lambda, a Yamaha CP30) for laying out ideas. I use a Korg Kaoss pad pretty heavily, which, if you’ve used it, is like a whole different way of manipulating audio. It’s a touch pad with an X and Y axis that modifies the sound. I also use a theremin, I have a few good condenser mics for vocals and ambient recording, and I have a MiniDisc recorder that I carry around to capture random stuff.

4. Who are your heroes, musically and non-musically?

My snobby picks are John Cage, Shoenberg, Erik Satie, and Claude Debussy. In terms of stuff that I listen to constantly and really look up to, I’d say Brian Eno, Aphex Twin (Richard James), Bjork, and Jack Dangers [Meat Beat Manifesto]. Non-musically, my father.

5. What have you been listening to lately?

I just picked up an album called “III” by Milosh. Really mind-blowing production, good songs, interesting mixes… like nothing I’ve heard in a while. I’ve also been listening to a group called Telefon Tel Aviv, and their album “Map of What is Effortless”. Some other stuff that hasn’t left my iPod are Keane, Mute Math, Ulrich Schnauss, Lusine, My Brightest Diamond, Burial, Underworld, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I’m also getting back into old U2 records (Boy through Unforgettable Fire).

6. Who would play you in the post-mortem Andrew Sutherland biopic, and what would the film be called?

Jeff Goldblum in “How to sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week and still be creative”

7. How did The Modern Things come about?

We all used to be in a band together called Tides, which broke up about a year ago. We really missed making music together, so we went for it.

8. Describe your band mates in one word.

Matthew Benjamin: Honest
Eric Michaud: Computer
Dan Robinson:  Brilliant

9. Where did the name The Modern Things come from (the Bjork song perhaps)?

Yup.
We were originally going to be “mountain of needles” but that sounded too weird.

10. Describe the band’s music in five verbs.

Kick, punch, jab, uppercut, bananas

11. How does The Modern Things differ from your previous work, and prior bands, such as Tides?

Um, it feels more fluid to me. We went in without the pre-defined idea of having song structure – we really wanted to get across a vibe first. We also decided we were going to record something that WE thought sounded cool, not necessarily what we thought other people would like. Sounds selfish, but it really forces you to be committed to ideas, and to make something great.

12. Some of The Modern Things influences/comparisons, such as Bloc Party, seem obvious.  Any not-so-obvious influences upon the band’s sound?

Sure – if you could hear the songs in the proto-form (before we added drums and bass and guitar), they all started with these really funky beats and rhythms. We pulled a lot of ideas from afro-pop, Cuban rhythms, etc. Once we started layering instruments, it straightened out, but you can still hear those influences deep down in the bass lines and drums. “Come Back to Me” is a good example. We’re all huge Peter Gabriel fans, so that makes sense. 🙂

13. Could you tell me a bit about the writing and recording process for the album?

I brought some really bare-bones ideas into the rehearsal space, and we played them over a PA from my laptop. We would arrange the parts on the fly, and come up with song structure. We’d record the rehearsals, and if we dug the recordings we’d start laying down parts. I can’t stress how different these songs sound from their initial conceptions. Everyone in the band contributed totally different ideas to each track. Lyrics, melodies, parts, it was all a group thing. Everything was recorded on a couple of laptops running Logic Pro and Pro Tools, recorded in a rehearsal space, in our bedrooms, etc. Very DIY, very loose.

14. The band is giving away the album for free on the band’s website, and the album’s liner notes mention how it was the band’s intention to distribute it freely.  What prompted this decision?

We’re as bored and frustrated as everyone else with the music business, so there’s that – we just don’t really want to be involved. It’s always been our goal to get our music in front of as many people as we can, and to remove all the barriers. We make it so people can enjoy it, play it in their cars, connect with it, etc. I don’t need ten bucks to know that you are digging it.

15. What’s next for The Modern Things?  Will we be seeing any upcoming The Modern Things live shows, or new studio material?

Dan just moved to California, so we’re officially bi-coastal. I’m sure we’ll collaborate on some stuff soon, but no shows planned. We’re just living life, going to work, driving around and eating food, etc. Maybe we’ll make some more music.

16. You’ve created a copious amount of solo material, but only officially released a small portion.  Any plans to release any of your older material?  What are you personally working on currently?  Is there any new Andrew Sutherland solo material on the way?

I’ll let you know! (probably not that old stuff – some of it is cringe-worthy)

17. Pirate or ninja?

Oh, ninja totally. ‘Cause I know one, and he’ll kill me in my sleep if I say pirate.

18. What’s your take on the current state of music and the music industry?

As an artist right now, I could care less if I get paid for my music. I’m kind of in that place, but I know a lot of other artists aren’t. I love music, I love hearing new stuff. And I buy it if I love it. I use Pandora every day, and hear some good music. If I dig it, I’ll download it from iTunes. Most of the music I’m buying is from small labels (Plug Research, Ghostly International, BPitch Control, etc), so I know that the artists I’m downloading are getting paid. I think the industry as a whole is in trouble, but some of these smaller labels are doing things differently and are going to thrive in the next few years. But honestly, I don’t really know anything. I’m just some guy.

19. You’re putting together a zombie band. What dead musicians would you want to reanimate to play with and what would you name the band?

Beethoven on drums, Chopin on piano, Liszt on guitar, Bach on bass guitar. It would be called Classical Gassicles.

20. Anything else the world should know about you, The Modern Things, or any other random musings, rants, or comments you’d like to share?

I like turtles.

Andrew Sutherland (ca. 2008)
Andrew Sutherland (ca. 2008)
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3 responses to “Music Review: The Modern Things by The Modern Things

  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. To be honest I think the British are much better at doing drugs and drinking than Americans. Americans are all soft when it comes to taking drugs. The English can really do it.MikeSkinnerMike Skinner, British musician, The Streets

  3. Pingback: Interview with Andrew Sutherland, aka Secret School « Sa1va7ion

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