PREVIEW: Palm at the Beat Kitchen 6/6

By Eileen Marshall

Courtesy of Palm

Courtesy of Palm

Palm’s new EP, Shadow Expert, opens with a conversation. Two guitars, one in each speaker, take turns talking, proving the song’s title, “Walkie Talkie,” apt – to a point. Because then the guitars start playing together, no longer conversing but not really talking over each other either; they’re locked in step, and yet they seem to be doing their own thing.

Such tensions and apparent contradictions define the Philadelphia four-piece’s music. It’s a carefully-choreographed dance masquerading as chaos, tightly controlled but always feeling on the brink of collapse. Time signatures tug at one another, and the guitars, played by Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt (who also share vocal duties), cascade and squawk on the line between melody and discord. Jazzy, syncopated bass and drums, contributed by Gerasimos Livitsanos and Hugo Stanley respectively, complicate and energize, serving less as anchors than as stormy seas pitching the songs along. Atop the driving and sometimes harsh swell of the instrumentation are draped dreamy, droning vocals that conjure Animal Collective. These serve more as instruments than as carriers for lyrics, but when the lyrics do come forward, they join simplicity and surprise in a way befitting of the music. See for example the emphatic chorus to “Ankles,” from 2015’s Trading Basics: “I don’t need you anymore / I don’t need you any more than you need me.”

Excepting the occasional splash of industrial noise or drum machine patter, Palm works in traditional rock instrumentation. But there’s a mechanical quality to their music, a faltering regularity, like the thrum of a factory where something hits a snag and recovers itself. The way the guitars follow and refract one another suggests the manic flutter of shadows thrown by strobe lights, shadows you could almost trip over. But the band doesn’t trip, or if they do, they catch themselves. (Perhaps this is what it means to be a “shadow expert.”)

Live, the seeming effortlessness with which the four hold everything together is striking. They skillfully execute tempo shifts requiring a high degree of coordination, all while hardly looking at each other. It’s almost as though, rather than controlling the music, the music was controlling them. At times the band’s members – Alpert in particular –  match the music with similarly frenzied and jerking bodily movement, as though possessed by some sort of fritzing robot spirit (an oxymoron, but, as we’ve seen, Palm trades in those). Watch their Audiotree session to see what I mean – and why their live show is definitely worth checking out.

Palm plays Beat Kitchen Thursday with Palberta and Chicago locals Lala Lala opening. Their US tour continues through July.

REVIEW: Lorde and Partying Away the Pain

It’s hard to imagine what we did in Lorde’s four year absence. Since the New Zealand singer released her debut album Pure Heroine when she was 16, Lorde became the pop star on everybody’s lips. She was unconventional: lyrics dreaming about fancy cars and jewelry underscored by big percussion not generally seen in the genre, all while being thrusted into stardom because of it. Melodrama, her triumphant return, and her first Billboard No. 1 album, is a fuzzy, fragmented portrait of her life in her absence.

In its most basic form, Melodrama is a break-up album. But the ways in which Lorde pieces it all together is what makes it so raw and authentic. Especially in “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” where she comes to terms with her breakup, but just wants to dwell on it a little bit longer. She’s growing, she’s prioritizing herself and her feelings instead of her relationships, “I care for myself the way I used to care about you.” Then the tone shifts completely, including the music style, and it becomes a song about “fuckin' with our lover's heads” and repeating over and over that this generation experiences love differently, if at all.

She’s been very open about how true to her life this record is, and she’s given herself the space to be vulnerable. While she’s still younger than most popular artists, she has grown up from her Pure Heroine self, and is incredibly self aware. She knows that being a teenager and being in love comes with being irrational and obsessive, and losing your cloud of judgement -- but she also gives validity to the melodrama of it all.

The underlying crux of this album is the that going from a normal teenager in a small town to a world-wide name took a toll on herself and her relationships. In “Writer in the Dark,” she realizes that she has to compromise her relationships because of her stardom. “Stood on my chest and kept me down/Hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd/Did my best to exist just for you.” She tried to separate her fame from her relationships but she couldn’t, and it drove her ex-boyfriend away.

Lorde took a few years to be a teenager, and it didn’t go how she planned. She spent most of it dealing with her breakup, either through partying or waking up in other peoples beds or obsessing about her old flame. She tried to make a classic “teen anthem” song with her singles “Sober” and “Perfect Places,” and both times she finds herself coming to terms with the fact that she’s lost. 

“Sober” starts off with a disconnected repetition of lyrics, mimicking someone trying to remember what happened the night before. She’s enjoying herself and finding new people to talk to, but she’s dependent on the drugs and the alcohol to maintain her relationships, “but what will we do when we’re sober?” she asks.

In “Perfect Places,” Lorde hits the nail on the head concerning what’s wrong with these “teen anthems,” which usually have a loud chorus about how being a teenager means you’ll live forever. She’s navigating all those emotions through parties, and realizes that she’s genuinely terrified of being alone.

“I think I’m partying so much because I’m just dreading sitting at home by myself hearing my thoughts hit the walls,” said Lorde. “I think parties are a really interesting mental exercise/take on a few different layers when you’re feeling like this.” She’s become dependent on how parties make her feel, but who is she when she gets home? That’s the conflict she’s afraid to face.

Melodrama was well worth the wait. In the interim, Lorde  gave herself time to experience life, which she then reflected and commented on in a masterfully conceptualized portrait of her emotions. Teenage emotions are irrational, but Lorde shows how real they feel in the moment, and gives power and validity to them when they are so often written off as melodrama.

REVIEW: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, SPORTS, and Diet Cig at SubT


IN ORDER: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya by A Klass, SPORTS by Jess Flynn, Diet Cig by Andrew Piccone

IN ORDER: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya by A Klass, SPORTS by Jess Flynn, Diet Cig by Andrew Piccone


by Jess Mayhew

Going to a show that features three artists you’re excited about isn’t the easiest to cover. I’ve been having a love affair with Nnamdi’s DROOL for the past few months, but I’ve been digging Diet Cig’s discography for a while – not to mention all the great things I’ve heard about SPORTS. So which one shines in a review? Which one gets the bigger word count, or the brighter verbiage? As it turns out, all three of the performances glittered in different ways, highlighting their uniqueness as musical acts.

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya opened the show. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, it ranges from indie guitar music a la “Art School Crush” to the avant-hip-hop, synth-heavy stylings of DROOL. And most people at Subterreanean that night weren’t prepared for such a leap in genre, let alone Obgonnaya’s outward performance. At first, singing and rapping over tracks off of his iPod, we got the goofiness of the “let gO Of my egO” music video, with perhaps a little less grandiosity.

But then he picked up his SG and let loose a cacophony of noise, with the help of his drummer and bassist, throwing in full-band covers of DROOL tracks, older songs, and some jamming that could have opened up a Bongripper show. While the audience might not have known what to make of it, it was dramatic, dynamic, and all-around enjoyable.

SPORTS was up next, and I have to say, I was intrigued not only by their sound but by the fact that I hadn’t seen a band successfully snag the name “SPORTS” before. Thankfully, they lived up to my interest and provided some solid, fiery indie rock with a polite punk attitude. With most songs clocking in at a little over two minutes, they ran through a gamut of them in their half-hour slot. It was like speed-reading through my college journal, but in the best way possible and if I had been witty and brave enough to throw shit at the people who deserved shit-throwing.

Guitarist/vocalist Carmen Perry drew most of my attention with a powerful voice capable of dishing out scorn and snark while still remaining vulnerable, and some lightning-quick guitar skills. Not to mention she plugged right into her amp. Right into her amp! No effects! Definitely a cool thing to see in an age where pedalboards weigh about 40 pounds.

Finally, of course, Diet Cig comes out. The stage is relatively bare, with Noah Bowman on drums in the far back and the pixie-esque Alex Luciano on guitar and vocals and high-energy magic. Face painted in glitter, Alex Luciano has officially taken the cake for how many high-kicks and jump-twists can be done at a pop-punk show. Plugged into a wireless system and free to move about the empty stage, her energy was utterly unmatchable. And the energy she managed to work out of the crowd matched her own.

With a sweet, lilting voice that sometimes swells into a belt and a reckless abandon in her playing, the lyrics she sings are mirrored back by a frenzied, joyful crowd. Starting out with the searing “Sixteen” and moving on to others from previous their repertoire, including Diet Cig’s newest album Swear I’m Good At This, each song is dealt out like an ecstatic blow to the crowd, which happily takes it and swallows its energy. Of course, the music is what brought us all there that night, but it seems like the rush of watching Luciano and Bowman combust into elated energy was the real delight.


REVIEW: Kamikaze Girls' "Seafoam"

via Bandcamp

Seafoam opens with stray synth-inspired chords as Kamikaze Girls’ lead vocalist and guitarist Lucinda Livingstone laments, “One young man / put a gun to my head / held me down/ and took my possessions” a brief silence follows, then a literal wave of feedback, drums, and guitars floods the one’s listening device of choice. The bridge of “One Young Man,” is imbued with the raw instrumentation of an early Garbage or L7 track, remnants of riot grrrl resurfacing in 2017.

It’s clear from the opening note of this record that the Kamikaze Girls are done holding back — both lyrically and instrumentally. Their sound grew in the time between the release of Seafoam and their E.P. SAD, it became more expansive, whatever timidity that SAD have possessed is gone, and a brash, confident sound is now firmly in its place.

“Berlin” perfectly showcases this newfound confidence, the drums and guitars charge forward as Livingstone sings, “I feel like I’m having a heart attack/ and I can’t breathe.” One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about Kamikaze Girls is their openness and honesty when discussing mental health. Rather than relying on distant metaphors to express anxiety, Livingstone places the listener directly into her own experience. The chorus segues into the anxiety driven mantra of, “And I know now/ that I wasn’t cut out for this/ I know now that I couldn’t exist/ in a concentrated city.”

The hardcore edge of “Berlin” is softened by the slightly poppier next track, “Teenage Feelings,” which somehow manages to act as a quarter-life crisis and a windows-down summer jam, bolstered by upbeat drums.

“KG goes to the pub,” is a reclamation, with scathing guitars and pounding drums, and a brave spirit that defies a culture of casual misogyny and slut shaming. It acts as a “fuck you” to every cat-caller or gross guy who had the gall to hit on someone at a bar when they are just trying to have fun. Yet, it also articulates the ever-present anxiety that one experiences in a public space after they have been cat-called or harassed, but that doesn’t lessen the defiant spirit of the song as Williams howls, “I’ll knock your fucking lights out.”

It’s tough to pick a favorite track with Seafoam, but as a fellow, “nervous millennial,” “Deathcap” remains dear to me. It’s an exploration of societal dismissal of millennial anxieties, shifting perceptions of mental health, and a smattering of existential dread.  The track starts with a solid wave of feedback, shifting into a tumultuous riff that drives the song forward at breakneck speed. It’s a song that I find myself returning too when I also feel anxious, a sort of touchstone.

Overall, this record presents a vivid, empathetic understanding of personal and societal pressures. It’s a record that has the capacity to empower the listener to fight back, whether it’s against a cat-caller or their own sense of self doubt. The final track on the record is a new-wave esque ballad called, “ I don’t want to be sad forever.” In it, Livingstone offers the impassioned plea, “We need to fix this together/ and we need to fix this now.” It’s true, Seafoam is a record that recognizes emotional dualities, but it also recognizes that there’s no need to go it all alone. You can lean on your friends, you can stand up for what you believe in, and even if it seems like it now, you won’t be sad forever.

REVIEW: White Lung at The Empty Bottle

10/27/2016

By Michael Hoarty

Photo by Elmer Martinez

Photo by Elmer Martinez

One of the few moments of stage banter from vocalist Mish Way, the vocalist of White Lung, was responding to someone in the front row demanding for more bass. 

She goes, “Are there any other complaints? Let’s just get this cleared up right now.”

Maybe it’s not “punk” for a band like White Lung to care about sound quality in a live setting (for what its worth, from where I was standing, everything sounded crisp throughout), but White Lung isn’t your average punk band. This tour is a victory lap for their tenth anniversary as a band, as they tour behind their most recent album, Paradise. The album showcases a more melodic and fine-tuned sound than what they had done in the past, but live, it all blended together for a loud-as-hell and energetic tour-de-force. Paradise was majority of the setlist, with 8 of the 14 songs played being from the album, but they managed to play it with the same energy that they conveyed when they brought back older songs like “Bag” and “Take the Mirror” off of their 2012 album Sorry.

That liveliness came heavily from the sonic crispness. Way would occasionally fall on her knees and scream into the mic, but she spent most of the show with her eyes locked into nothing in particular, her arm occasionally gesturing as if she were performing a sort of rebel-rousing political speech. Guitarist Kenneth William stared at the ground for most of the show, grasping his entire and riffing it like his life depended on it. The whole band seemed to care less about looking cool as they did about sounding good, and damn if they didn’t sound really good.

The Empty Bottle was the perfect venue for a show like this. Its intimacy and the unfortunate sparseness of the crowd, only added more clout to Way’s brooding stage presence. The set only lasted 40 minutes, but as I walked out of the Empty Bottle, my ears verged on bleeding, but in the best way possible. The band didn’t need 90 minutes to make a show feel whole - they got on stage, did their business, and left everyone floored.

REVIEW: The Winter Passing's "Double Exposure"

COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY

COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY

The Winter Passing’s 2017 E.P., “Double Exposure,” starts out with a riot of sound, there’s a wave of feedback and crashing cymbals, layered over quick guitar riffs. Confronting the listener with a wall of sound is one of The Winter Passing’s specialties. It’s how they opened their 2015 release, “A Different Space of Mind,” which opens with jubilant drums similar to the Pixie’s “Head On,” as siblings Rob and Kate Flynn alternate vocals.

In the opening track of “Double Exposure” Kate Flynn’s clear, sharp soprano takes over the bridge admitting, “You’re the only place that I feel safe.”

The second track, “Significance” opts for a more mellow, contemporary indie sound with looser bass-lines and a more relaxed drum beat. The instrumentation acts in direct opposition with the lyrics wherein Flynn begs, “Stay with me/ I’ll try to be all you need.”

A level of growth is expected between any band’s first and second E.P. In comparison to their 2015 release A Different Space of Mind, their sound got tighter and more cohesive, but this cohesiveness does not lessen the unbridled joy that seems to seep through each track. These tracks tackle some tough subjects, such as struggles with depression and anxiety — but the music itself is almost triumphant. It perfectly demonstrates the disjointed axis that one inhabits while trying to find joy in the midst of anxieties.

On “Like Flowers Ache for Spring” Rob and Kate Flynn sing, “We don’t think about/ leaving the house,” amidst an upbeat pop-punk drum beat, and somehow inferred tension between the upbeat sound and the resigned nature of the lyrics perfectly exemplifies depression. It’s not just a cartoon-grey-skies Cymbalta commercial completely devoid of color or any happiness for eight to twelve months, it’s this feeling that when something good does happen it feels scary and weird.

Other stand out tracks include “E*Sca*Pism” which features only Kate Flynn and her organ. The notes of the organ are eerie and electronic inspired, similar to an early eighties no wave song or a Stevie Nicks B-side. Flynn is mournful as she admits, “I’m used to running/ away/ from the light of day,” as the notes of the organ circle around her vocals. The gentle looping of the notes mirrors the repetitive nature of anxious thoughts.

This album operates interestingly on a lyrical level. Rob and Kate Flynn each wrote the lyrics separately, eventually combining their separate writings to present two distinct narratives which intertwine to provide the listener with the lived experience of anxiety and depression. This speaks to the simultaneous universality and isolation of mental health struggles, so often people feel like they are alone in experiences with anxiety or depression, but in reality it’s an experience that is shared by millions of people worldwide.

There is a bombastic energy in the Winter Passing’s sound, they clearly love and believe in the music that they’re playing, you can hear it in the excited pop punk guitar riffs and Kate Flynn’s exalted vocals and it makes Double Exposure an exciting listen.

Oftentimes within D.I.Y. or punk scenes, anger seems like the default emotion. Granted, there are mile-long lists of things to be angry about, but this record exemplifies tackling heavy subjects with cautious optimism.

Forgoing the Palatable with Moonrise Nation

Imagine an aching heart, but the good kind. The kind that stings to remind you that you’re alive; one tinged by melancholy or nostalgia or gratitude. That’s what listening to the recently released single by Emma McCall, Arden Baldinger, and Eva Baldinger, collectively known as Moonrise Nation, feels like. Somehow simultaneously echoing and minimalistic, the trio’s lilting vocal lines, reverb-drenched harmonies, and swelling instrumentation on their new offering, “Demo Day,” presents an intriguing entry into the world of alternative folk.

With the new single and their first full-length album, Glamour Child on the immediate horizon, Moonrise Nation has a lot to be excited about and a lot to occupy their time. But they nevertheless sat down to answer some questions for us, revealing what it’s like to work with family, how they incorporate cello into their ensemble, and what inspires their creative processes.


I’m going to presume Eva and Arden are sisters. What’s it like working and creating music so closely with family? 

Arden Baldinger: Working and creating music with family is both wonderful and challenging at times: Challenging in the sense that it can be difficult to keep our sibling relationship separate from our business relationship.

Eva Baldinger: There’s a special connection experienced as siblings performing together that goes beyond the way our voices meld.  There have been times that we hear the same melody when workshopping a song, or are able to fill in the blanks for one another rapidly. It’s been a great journey for us thus far, and our personal relationship has grown as a result.

Having three vocalists isn’t the most common setup – do you use the three vocal lines to tell different stories in each of your songs?

AB: We try to embody three voices more in our songwriting than the singing itself. Since each of us writes, each person gives a different perspective on life experiences. That being said—

Emma McCall: Showcasing each voice is something we approach as a priority when we produce songs. Each of us has a unique vocal texture and performance style that impacts a song’s overall feel. This is especially represented in a song like “Demo Day” where each verse is divided between us and the chorus is in unison. We wanted to give the song a shared quality while simultaneously allowing each person to explore their own emotional delivery in the verses.

How do you work to incorporate the cello into a relatively traditional pop/rock ensemble?

AB: The incorporation of the cello tends to occur during the experimentation process we go through at the beginning of our collaboration.

EB: There have been a few times the cello is a foundational element of song, such as in the song Snow. The rest of the instrumentation formed around the cello line.

EM: Because the cello is such a vocal instrument, we try to let it shine by itself, keeping it clean and straightforward.

How do you all as a band write the instrumentation? How do you feel it conveys meaning or emotion to your songs?

AB: Emma writes primarily on the guitar, while Eva and I tend to write on the piano. I think that each instrument acts as an extension of each band member’s voice, so it adds a personal flair.

EB: We learned a lot about what it means to craft a song (top to bottom) throughout the course of recording this album. Working with our producer Stephen Shirk was a game changer. He taught us to only add musical lines and elements that were intentional. This helped keep us on track. It’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole when exploring different instrumentation.

Ultimately, certain notes or rhythms help accent the lyrics. For example, the way the drums, guitar and harmonies build throughout the course of Eye to Eye and then abruptly fall off after the last lyric is sung creates a space for brief reflection after this intense build. Instrumentation adds a third dimension to the music, and helps us guide the listener closer to the emotional space we were in when we wrote the song.

Where does the title of your album come from? The cover artwork is very striking, as is the artwork for your single “Demo Day.” What was the inspiration for those pieces and how do they tie in to your sound?

EM: The artwork for our singles, and the LP, were all painted by the Baldinger’s grandmother.

EB: Her work is very haunting, and oftentimes requires a second look. We felt our music paired well with it because while the first thing that draws a listener in may be the melody or harmonies, further listening helps you realize we are speaking about subjects that aren’t always palatable.

The title itself is a play on the notion that women especially are held to a very high standard, both in the industry and world at large. At times, people focus so much energy on their external impression, they fail to develop their core essence. Their “realness” is overlooked. When society places an uneven amount of value on aesthetic appeal, you are bound to have some emotionally stunted individuals (reference to child in the title).

There currently is a lot of pushback against the notion that beauty is one-dimensional. The woman in the painting embodies the traditional representation of “glamour,” yet the artwork surrounding her is coarse, with uneven lines and unintended pops of color. A bit more expressive and free than the perfectly done up model.

Emma, the lyrics for “Demo Day” are incredibly vivid. What inspired you to write the song? 

EM: “Demo Day” came out of the turmoil of a relationship that was very intense and left me very confused about relationships. In a lot of ways this song marks the moment I realized that sometimes relationships don’t work and it is out of your control. The song is very romantic but I wanted to also express the grief in learning some hard truths about being in love.

Where or whom do you draw inspiration from?

EB: All over the place. Our parents, especially our mothers. They are both very independent, outspoken women. And our fathers are incredibly supportive, and honest in their critique of our music. As far as artists, musicians such as Feist, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac come to mind. Beyond that, we draw inspiration from those around us. Not only our lives, but things people discuss with us, their experiences. That’s oftentimes where we find the most inspiration because through conversation, you find that many issues that at one point made you feel isolated allow you to connect with others more readily and on a deeper level.

How do you feel releasing your first full-length album? How is it different from releasing an EP?

EM: The amount of growth that took place in between these two releases is difficult to describe. The EP was a freshman effort and it means a lot to us. We look back at the EP fondly and reflect on a time when our sound was still taking shape. The LP looks very different than the EP in so far as we really feel as though this represents our sound as more diverse and dynamic than the EP. Working on the LP was a lot like boot camp. We worked with Stephen Shirk on this album and he pushed us to dig deeper than we knew we could. It was emotional... there were tears, arguments, grins, and congratulations. We are very excited to release this body of work.

What has your experience been, being an all-female-identifying band?

EM: As women, finding our footing in the music industry has been difficult. We are often confronted with the reality that this male-dominated industry relentlessly tries to objectify and glamorize women, rather than praise their performance and creativity. So our idea of Glamour Child is cheeky, in the sense that the content on the album isn’t about fame and vanity, but rather a vulnerable look at what it means to be three young women finding their way.

What’s up next for Moonrise Nation, after the release of your next album in the spring?

EB: The album will be coming out this summer. Throughout the spring we will be playing a host of shows in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Following the release, we are looking to head out West for a bit and then loop back through the Midwest and East Coast, as well as a bit of the South. The goal is to play as many shows as possible, and to spread our music in a more grassroots fashion.

What advice would you give to young artists looking to break into the music scene, whether at a local or national level?

AB: Take ownership of your product, be grateful to those who have helped along the way, and be gracious to everyone you meet (you never know who will be a good ally in the future!)

EM: Make the music that you and your friends like. Hone your talents in writing and playing so that you can better relate to people and don’t create something for the sake of pleasing someone else. Also… treat it like the beautiful undertaking that it is. Music takes time and patience, think about why it is you are making music and then try to use that to direct you.

REVIEW: Paramore's "After Laughter"

LINDSEY BYRNES

LINDSEY BYRNES

With the recent influx of pop-punk themed cocktail hours and emo nights, I’ve tentatively developed a theory that we’re living in a 2008 renaissance. I recently found the perfect pair of black skinny jeans that would make my middle school self drool, and I heard a new Panic! At the Disco song on the radio. Most importantly, three years after their self-titled release, Paramore released their fifth album, After Laughter.

This album marks the return of band’s original drummer, Zac Farro, and a new synth-infused sound for the band. The lead single, “Hard Times,” utilizes ska-inspired beats that are similar to Rock Steady-era No Doubt. It’s more upbeat than previous records, and it could be the band’s first true pop banger. It’s infectious, but a troubled lyrical reality lurks beneath the neon hues of the music video as  Williams sings, “All that I want/ is to wake up fine/ Tell me that it’s alright/ that I ain’t gonna die.” It may seem superfluous to note, but no amount of synths can conceal a tough situation where the ideal outcome is simply not dying.

In the follow-up track Williams asks, “Just let me cry/ a little bit longer/ I ain’t gonna smile/ if I don’t want to.” This is actually one of the healthiest impulses I’ve heard in song-writing. So often, people are quick to try and eradicate their negative emotions  rather than give themselves the space to actually feel them.

Come to think of it, providing a space for fans to actually feel things is one of the reasons why emo as a genre has continued to thrive within rock ’n’ roll. This impulse to allow is one of the reasons why Paramore was such a great pop punk band in the first place. I first found Paramore a decade ago (!!!), when they released Riot, a record that both blew my mind and presented me with my first real crush. I was struck by the edge of the riffs and the pounding of the drums, as well as Williams’ very real and complex articulation of a deeper sadness that I didn’t yet have a name for.

The idea of discontent hiding beneath pristine realities is an integral theme throughout Paramore’s discography, and this record is no exception. “Fake Happy” starts with the stray acoustic chords and segues into tighter funk-infused guitars as Williams muses, “I bet everybody here is fake happy too.” In this track, Williams contemplates the tenuous nature of happiness itself as she admits, “I should have known that when things are going fine/ that’s when I get knocked down.” It’s an undeniably honest sentiment hidden beneath a pop guitar hook.

The following track, “26” is actually a softer acoustic track, paired with a string orchestra. It’s an eventually decadent orchestration, but the ethos of the song is similar to “Misguided Ghosts,” off of Paramore’s 2008 release, “Brand New Eyes.” The idea that, “dreamin’ is free,” would seem cheesy but Williams makes singing “Reality will break your heart,” thus allowing the honesty to drown out what would otherwise be considered cliche. Williams’ ability to use raw lyricism to transcend cliches has always been one of my favorite things about her writing, it speaks to her upbringing as an emo fan, and devotee of Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World.

Williams’ emo heritage also appears as she sings, “I can’t think of getting old/ it makes me want to die,” on “Caught in the middle.” It’s a line that’s deliciously saturated with feeling — one that anyone who appreciated Pete Wentz’s 2007 eye makeup job will also appreciate.  Similarly, the decision to include MeWithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss on, “No Friend” is another nod to Paramore’s pop punk roots.

Yet, musically Paramore references more mainstream pop projects like “E*MO*TION” era Carly Rae Jepsen  or HAIM via bouncy ‘80s inspired bass lines. This combination of emo sentiments with pop-rock riffs is magical. This record did the impossible: it has provided the former emo kids/ current emo twenty-somethings a summer soundtrack that won’t depress the shit out of whoever is riding shotgun.

This record is successful because Williams maintains an unflinching level of honesty throughout. The fact that she refuses to compromise her confessional style of songwriting is one of the reasons why the band’s experimentation with a pop sound feels so seamless. Sure, there may be some synths, and the line up may have shifted, but the core ethos of honesty and killer pop punk riffs that made Paramore so remarkable when they released their debut record, All We Know is Falling in 2005 is still there.

There are many things I regret about eighth grade, writing a four-page essay about Paramore is not one of them. I always knew they could make a killer record. After Laughter is triumph.

7403a1949dcfa699dbf64bec6b12b572.1000x1000x1.jpg

After Laughter

1. Hard Times
2. Rose-Colored Boy
3. Told You So
4. Forgiveness
5. Fake Happy
6. 26
7. Pool
8. Grudges
9. Caught In The Middle
10. Idle Worship
11. No Friend
12. Tell Me How

Stream Paramore's After Laughter on Spotify and Apple Music.

REVIEW: Cayetana's "New Kind of Normal"

GRANDSTAND MEDIA / EMILY DUBIN

GRANDSTAND MEDIA / EMILY DUBIN

Cayetana’s second full-length, New Kind of Normal kicks off with the banger, “Am I Dead Yet?” It features those existential, introspective lyrics about hopelessness and depression that we all love so much. There’s something special about such an upbeat song that makes you wanna jump on your bed, but paired with gut wrenching emotional lyrics that are almost too relatable. Singer Augusta Koch asks repeatedly, “Is there a way out of this?”

The opener rolls into the first single, “Mesa.” “Mesa” appeared on Cayetana’s split with Melbourne’s Camp Cope in January 2017. The song is catchy, with punchy drums and a noodly riff, paired with those raw and poetic words that Koch expresses so openly. A song like this precisely displays the band’s vibe as a whole.

“Side Sleepers,” one of the album’s slower songs, seems to focus on the difficulty of navigating one’s own mental illness while maintaining a relationship. Koch expresses feelings of discontent and wonders simply if it’s possible for someone to remain at the side of a person experiencing depression.

“Will you love me still when I can’t get out of bed? Will you love me still with these sick thoughts in my head?”

The last track is floaty and hypnotizing, a perfect way to end an album with such a nice mix of upbeat bops and slow, unhurried tunes. It features a sleepy guitar and ambient background noises, with Koch’s soft but powerful voice echoing over top. “The world is wide/ the world is wide/ and I forget that all the time.”  The song ends with the sound of a car driving away, a plane in the sky, a faraway bird chirping, closing the album softly, contentedly, like an exhale.

Check out Cayetana at one of the tour dates below, and stream New Kind of Normal on Spotify now.

5/9 - Durham, NH @ University of New Hampshire
513 - Poughkeepsie, NY @ Vassar College
5/26 - Lakewood, OH @ Mahall's
5/27 - Howell, MI @ Bled Fest
5/28 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Smiling Moose
7/6 - Washington, DC @ Songbyrd
7/7 - Lancaster, PA @ Lizard Lounge ~
7/8 - Belmar, NJ @ Paul's Tavern ~
7/9 - Boston, MA @ Great Scott ~
7/17 Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place ^

* Record Release Show
~ w/ Worriers & Camp Cope
^ w/ Snail Mail

FULL TRACK LIST:

1. Am I Dead Yet?
2. Mesa
3. Too Old For This
4. Bus Ticket
5. Easy To Love
6. Side Sleepers
7. Certain For Miles
8. Phonics Failed Me
9. Grumpy's
10. Follow
11. Dust
12. World

PREMIERE: Sacramento's Flourish Releases Personal Track, "Blue Lights"

In solidarity with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness month, Sacramento band Flourish has released a personal track titled “Blue Lights” 

The song is a vulnerable look into front-woman Amber DeLaRosa’s personal experience with reporting sexual assault. The lyrics remain vague enough for listeners to relate in their own interpretation, yet so stark that no stone is left un-turned as she recalls the line of questioning from police, friends and family. 

The song opens first with grating strums on an electric guitar, then all at once the ensemble joins in to introduce the weight of the content to come. Equal parts light as it is heavy, the melancholy nature of the melody enables DeLaRosa to bear her anguish in a way that allows her to present the difficult topic of sexual assault. Make no mistake, listening closely to the lyrics of Blue Lights, there is no sugar coating. 

DeLaRosa’s voice echoes the questions asked of her, in genuine quest for understanding yet contempt and confusion. For each time she is asked “What were you wearing?” or “Was there anything you could have done?” You can hear DeLaRosa grapple with the shifting blame tossed upon her. 

As the song continues, her docile cooperation grows into an empowered rejection of the way the questions deny her pain, and imply her fault in the matter. By the time she is asked, “Why didn’t you run?” DeLaRosa roars the line back, leaving all involved to question their own responsibility in the events unfolding. In the chilling last line, DeLaRosa’s voice carries on without musical accompaniment, leaving listeners with a sense of how alone she’s felt in the aftermath. More importantly, sharing with other survivors of sexual assault that they are not alone in this pain and confusion. 

For any that follow Flourish, know that DeLaRosa’s story is not of tragedy but of triumph. As she lays each song to rest, listeners heal alongside her. 

REVIEW: Molly Burch at Schubas

by Eileen Marshall

KEVIN ALLEN

KEVIN ALLEN

It's hard to know what to say about Molly Burch. Her music rather goes without saying; it doesn't require any special interpretive framework. Hear thirty seconds of Burch's recently-released debut album, Please Be Mine, and you'll know what you're dealing with: love and longing, laid out in the mode of pop-country singers and "girl groups" of the fifties and sixties. Reviews of the album invariably describe it as "nostalgic" or "retro", which is accurate, to a point. But Burch's work isn't merely an homage to a past era; it's a new entry in a tradition that feels timeless.

A beautiful voice never gets old, and Burch's voice is her chief asset. In the live setting, Burch sings with the same practiced ease that you hear on the record. This isn’t surprising considering that she and her band recorded most of Please Be Mine live in a single day at the studio.

Singing came before songwriting for Burch, and when she eventually did start writing, it was with the goal of crafting songs that would suit her voice, she says. In this she's surely succeeded: both on the record and in her live performances, Burch's striking range is on display. Equally powerful in high and low registers, she swoops from a delicate warble to an emphatic shout with confidence and grace. It's the kind of vocal skill that makes you forget that singing is hard work.

KEVIN ALLEN

KEVIN ALLEN

Though you'd be forgiven for mistaking Please Be Mine for the product of an earlier time, her Schubas set featured arrangements that belied the impression of temporal displacement. Lead guitarist Dailey Toliver's solos pointed to more modern influences with their harsh frenzy, their buzz and growl. These moments were a highlight, and a good reason to see Burch and her band play live, rather than just sticking to the record. Hearing Burch work her vocal magic in person is, of course, another compelling reason.

Then there's the intimacy that comes with being in a room with Burch while she performs material that is personal and raw. Burch's lyrics are about rejection from both sides; she sings of desire and regret, always vulnerable and aching.

The album's title track, with which Burch opened her set at Schubas, is an abject supplication. After breaking up with her partner, Burch hopes for a reconciliation she doesn't feel she deserves: "I'd love a hand to hold / Is yours still for me? / I know I don't deserve you back," she sings. The song's chorus is plain and to the point, repeating, "Please be mine," in a drawn-out, heartrending wail. Her set's next song, "Please Forgive Me,” runs along the same lines, as its title would suggest.

From there, Burch played a couple of her more upbeat songs, "Wrong for You" and "Try," before setting aside her guitar to focus solely on the vocals for "Loneliest Heart" and "I Love You Still,” two slower ballads. Self-denigration colors all of these songs, as Burch chastises herself for hurting her beloved—like Fiona Apple, Burch has been a bad, bad girl—and promises from now on to exercise not just kindness and care, but also meek obedience. "I'll be your pet," she sings on "I Love You Still", an image she repeats in two other songs. It's a typically feminine attitude that recalls old songs performed by jazz singers like Billie Holiday, whom Burch cites as a major influence.

But there are moments where Burch affirms her self-worth. On "Downhearted,” one of her stronger songs and the one she chose to close out her set at Schubas, she sings, "I know there is much more to me than thinking about you / I've got a lot to give, I know that this is true." There's a push and pull between subordinating herself entirely to her love and asserting her independent value. These themes aren’t new, but they bear revisiting; Burch’s take on them is skillful and moving.

Burch continues her US tour supporting Sallie Ford through April, before heading to Europe in May and June.

TOMBOi Is Building The Future They Want For Themselves: An Interview with the Band

Photo by Hayden Palmer

Photo by Hayden Palmer

TOMBOi is unlike anything you’ve ever heard of. The queer electro-pop band from Jacksonville is made up of Alex E on vocals, Paige McMullen on guitar, and Summer Wood on drums. They merge bubblegum dance grooves with gut-hitting lyrics that tackle homophobia and sexual freedom. Their first full length album Spectrum embodies their experiences as a collective of queer women in the south, while putting a rhythmic beat at the center of it all. We got to chat with them at the tail end of their tour about activism, the DIY music scene, and all things Spectrum.


YOU’RE JUST COMING OFF YOUR SPECTRUM TOUR. HOW’S THAT BEEN?

PAIGE: This is the first time that we, as a band, have gone to the west coast. It’s been so cool to run into so many friends around the country; and people that you don’t know that you maybe just connect with online via social media. It’s amazing to see how far the music community and the queer community is everywhere and you can always find friends.

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING SUCH A VISIBLY QUEER BAND IN THE SOUTH?

ALEX: Things have started to change for sure. There’s been a huge push to pass the Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville  and that finally passed this January. I think through that push, the outreach in the community, conversation, and that dialogue has really evolved in Jacksonville. Not to say that it’s easy for the queer community as a whole in Jacksonville. Some people can’t even use the restroom without being given a hard time. That being said, traveling the United States, the South is pretty much everywhere.

PAIGE: We were driving up the coast of California and Alex pointed out a confederate flag and we were like ‘what is that doing here?’ That mentality exists everywhere.

ALEX: But we’ve also found that what counteracts the negative exists everywhere too.

But I am cautious when we’re in certain places just because I know that out of the three of us, if someone were to have an issue with queer people, I’m the one they would probably mess with the most.

DO YOU THINK YOUR MUSIC IS POLITICAL?

ALEX I think being queer, or being a marginalized individual, whether you like it or not, you are political. Your existence and wanting to be visible is kind of this political statement.

Writing for TOMBOi, I never intended for it to be a political thing, but as we were diving more into queer scenes and queer culture and really embracing what that means.  You can’t help but be influenced by [it].

I just wanted it to be really pop-y, happy love songs that you can dance to and have a good time to the same way you can to a mainstream pop song. Most music still has this heterosexual undertone to it, so I just wanted to write the opposite of that.

But through that you meet people who tell you their stories, and you’re part of a community and we’re all involved politically on some level of just wanting where we’re from to be better for the next generation. I don’t know that we’re the best at it but we at least do what we can and we try. We’re not saviors by any means.

PAIGE: People have personally asked me about the fact that we label ourselves as a queer band. Because people think our music isn’t gay, but it is. And it’s also a way for queer youth and people who are looking for media that addresses them and their specific marginalized situation and something that speaks to them.

Photo by Hayden Palmer

Photo by Hayden Palmer

LET’S TALK ABOUT SPECTRUM. HOW DID THE NAME COME ABOUT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?

ALEX: [The name] Spectrum came about as we were touring and working on putting this album together and having conversations with various queer communities up and down the east coast. I think there’s a national dialogue going on about how mental health is on a spectrum, sexuality is on a spectrum, how identity is on a spectrum. There’s more than these very black and white terms that we’ve come to know.

We’ve really been fortunate to get to know these rad youths from a local high school called Douglas Anderson. We performed at an event that they held for their gender and sexuality alliance called Spectrum. It really signified that this idea of a spectrum is very relevant to a younger audience and maybe to an older audience that wishes this dialogue had been there. I can say that, I wish that the dialogue was a little more progressive when I was their age.

HOW WAS RECORDING THE ALBUM DIFFERENT THAN THE EP?

PAIGE: We did a lot of things differently this time around. For one, we fundraised through IndieGogo. It was a good way to get people hyped about it and to get people involved in the process.

These songs we’ve played for the past couple years to hone in on them and perfect them, so it was a more concentrated and conceptual album. The first one we were like let’s get some songs out there and this one we all worked independently and as a group on our various parts.

ALEX: I had my laptop stolen, Paige and friends and I were held up at gunpoint. They stole some stuff from the show, and it was terrifying. It made us realize that if they stole the more analog gear that I had that was the real basis of what TOMBOi was doing in the beginning, then it would be really hard for us to play the show the next night. The community fundraised and they got me a new laptop and I put some money in and got a controller and modded them together and bada bing bada boom the next generation of TOMBOi was born.

When making Spectrum I mixed and mixed and mixed and mixed for like six months and I still hate it.

PAIGE: There’s definitely a point where you have to say it’s finished. We’re not gonna keep working on this. But for musicians and creatives, nothing’s ever finished.

SUMMER: For the full length we used photography and wanted to show all the colors of the spectrum. I worked with Hayden Palmer to collaborate on the visuals for the packaging. I was thinking of some kind of visual collage that represented all of the songs and us and our background. I came up with a list of items that I felt were representative of those things, like a playing card of a king and a queen that would represent PGP and gender. There’s probably like 30 things in that collage and all of them connect with us somehow.”

YOU OPERATE IN THE DIY MUSIC SCENE. WHY IS INDEPENDENCE SO IMPORTANT TO YOU AS ARTISTS?

PAIGE: The minute you’re indebted to someone, whether it be a record label or anyone in general, you have their expectations, and it can alter what your original concept was. It’s definitely intentional, the fact that we do everything ourselves.

ALEX: We’re from Jacksonville which isn’t necessarily known for its record labels and outreach and support for musicians. So instead of waiting for people to come and offer us things we built the future that we wanted for ourselves. We talked as a band about how to be a sustainable entity and not just be three friends who are making music. We wanna do this and we wanna do it in a way that makes sense and is actually kind of practical which sounds so un-rock star.

You’re kind of conditioned to think you’re not supposed to think about business or the logistics, that it’s just getting on stage and partying. We decided to turn ourselves into a business. We have a band agreement that, say, if there was any money how that money breaks down.

PAIGE: It’s been a learning experience in terms of navigating the music industry as a DIY band, and we’ve done it largely out of necessity. It’s benefited us because we know our rights, and it allows us to help other people succeed within the DIY community and we’ve also received help in that way from other musicians. It’s a two way street.

HOW HAS THE QUEER SCENE IN JACKSONVILLE EVOLVED SINCE TOMBOi STARTED?

ALEX: We didn’t start this band to make a queer scene and I don’t even think that we’re responsible for it because it takes a group of people to do it. But I definitely think that when we were starting a dialogue in the community, it was at a relevant time for people and really encouraged other artists to come out and prove that you can do this.

PAIGE: As far as the Jacksonville scene, we’re largely indebted to Girls Rock who helped to filter an environment for queer artists and lift people of color up and queer artists up and give them safe spaces. Summer is involved in Girls Rock and has put on a lot of events that brought a younger generation out and inspired them that if you want to make music you got this safe place. The community and the support is what makes people feel safe to come out.

ALEX: It takes a community for sure to build a safe zone. Even though it is the south and there’s some things for sure that we’d love to change about our city, there are some things that are just changing about Jacksonville. The way people are starting to grasp more inclusive dialogue, you usually find yourself in a conversation in Jacksonville where people are trying to understand and they’re trying to be an ally in some way shape or form.

WHAT’S COMING UP?

PAIGE: Right now the big thing we’re pushing is our newest music video that just came out that was directed by Keagan Anfuso. It’s for the single Rainbow Warrior which is the first single from Spectrum. We wanted to incorporate all parts of the spectrum into that video.

Spectrum is available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud, and be on the lookout for a vinyl record of Spectrum set to come out in the next couple months.


You can find TOMBOi everywhere at @tomboiband and tomboiband.com.

26 BATS! Release "Touch Mai Face" / Debut Album 'Cave Cuts' Dropping April 26th

“Touch Mai Face” is the synthy, sensual single off of 26 BATS! debut album, Cave Cuts, releasing on April 25th at Icehouse MPLS and online on the 26th. Reminiscent of early FKA Twigs, the video explores the tension of the performative body through modern dance. The backdrop is simple: a draped sheet a prone to wrinkle as it interacts with the form of the dancer. The synths and chorus of the song itself ooze sensuality, similar to that of early ‘2000s as the lead singer, Bailey Cogan, croons “damn you’re hard/ the bones around my heart.” The song is both a throwback and something entirely new, causing R&B to twist, turn, and tumble right into 2017.  Hooligan is delighted to host the video for “Touch Mai Face,” and we look forward to when Cave Cuts is released in full.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.) How did you come up with the concept for the video for “Touch Mai Face?”
Bailey Cogan (B.C.) When I wrote the lyrics to the song, a scene of a foggy cemetery with two decaying bodies in a sexual trance came to mind. For the video I wanted something more relatable, more moving but staying true to the eerie and sexual vibes of the song. I came up with the concept of a person whose partner passed away, but they can still feel their spirit or ghost-like presence but have a burning desire to see them and touch their face.


H.M. I like how you worked with modern dancers in this piece, have you worked with dancers before?
B.C. Thank you! I have not worked with a dancer before. Destiny Anderson, the star of this video, was incredible to work with. I told her my idea for the plot and she effortlessly translated it into movement. I played the song over the speakers. Michaela recorded the video, and Destiny told the story -- needing very little direction. We decided to let the dance speak for itself rather than adding plot points in the video.

I have been studying the work of Merce Cunningham and in his choreography, he lets the movement tell the story; which is what the three of us decided to do with the video. People can take the dance as something beautiful visually and/or they can also see the meaning behind each of Destiny’s movements.


H.M. How has your visual work interacted with your work as a musician?
B.C. Music videos are a bit of a new thing for  me. When I am coming up with ideas for visuals I ask myself; how can I make this song that means one thing into something else that translates well on camera? Which is something that is hard for me and that I am not experienced at.  That is why I worked with videographer, Michaela Stein, on this video to materialize something professional and artistic. I gave her the opportunity to take the reins and make something she can be proud of.


H.M. Have you ever thought of doing a completely visual album?
B.C. Yes, I have definitely thought of that. At one point, I wanted to make Cave Cuts into a movie, but with lack of experience and resources that idea will be recycled hopefully for another project later in my career. With incredible projects like Lemonade by Beyonce, or the works of Gorillaz and Frank Ocean; visual albums are next level, which inspires me.
 

H.M. What’s your favorite part about making visual work to exist alongside your music? Do you think the two are inherently intertwined?
B.C. I think one of the coolest parts about making visuals for my music is that they aren’t inherently intertwined. They can exist alone. But, together they create a sensory experience that can really move people. This  is why I make art -- to heal.


Cave Cuts will be available to stream on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple music via Kremblems on April 26th. You can like 26 BATS! on Facebook or follow them on Instagram @26bats.

One Miami boy’s dark side of the “Moonlight”

A24 Films

A24 Films

A little boy turns on the stove. Next, the bathtub faucet. He heats a pot of water, pours it into the tub and mixes in dish soap. He’s home alone. Sitting in the makeshift bath, he cups the soapy water and raises his hands above his head before unleashing on to his body. Alone and dejected, he cleans himself.  

Barry Jenkins' superb 2016 film "Moonlight" follows one deeply-compelling boy’s life at three different ages: Little, Chiron and Black.

The movie originated as the semi-autobiographical unproduced play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Years later, Jenkins came on board as writer and director. He knew McCraney’s tale of growing up in Liberty City, Miami, with a drug addicted mother; he’d experienced most of it himself.

"Moonlight" was the last movie I saw in the "Obama years." It served as an unexpectedly cathartic transition into a new administration likely to be unkind to today’s Chirons.

The first black president overseeing the landmark passage of marriage equality. Chiron's story likely wouldn’t have been produced or critically acclaimed eight years ago, or even two. Obama’s legacy allows this story to be told.

It’s no easy film to watch. Moonlight focuses on a boy foreign to guidance and love. An alien in his own community.

Little is tailor-made for a program like My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama’s initiative to promote the lives of young black men.  

He eventually finds his “keeper” in Juan, a crack dealer. Sensing himself in the young boy, Juan divulges his similar upbringing while on a trip to the beach.

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be,” Juan says.

The remark, albeit a little too deliberately, sets up the major focus of the film: identity. The relationship between Little and Juan isn’t stale. Juan is no wise old man; Little’s abrupt presence rattles his sense of purpose.

Played masterfully by Mahershala Ali, he creates a hard demeanor with an innate sensitivity peaking out past the golden chains and grill. Juan sees the ill-effects of his career manifested in the life of a lost child — a child he used to be.

But that’s the success; there’s beauty in the pain. Cinematographer James Laxton captures sadness in a tropical, bright Miami.

While at the beach, Juan teaches Little to swim. Laxton immerses the camera bobbing up, down and submerged in the water by a tide. Juan isn’t just teaching him to swim; he’s giving him the tools to swim away from his childhood.

Even in the most standard of scenes, Laxton demands wrought emotional responses.

Chiron spends much of one night aboard subways and platforms since his mother won’t let him come home. He eventually finds himself at the beach where a clandestine encounter occurs with Kevin, a childhood friend.

It’s a tough scene to watch, in part because Laxton so intimately frames each shot. Chiron rests his head on a subway windowsill, dejected. He wanders down to an eerily empty beach while palm trees sway in the night sky. Each shot intrudes further and further in to the yearnings of an isolated child.

In the third act, the two men reunite and reflect on their formative years. Neither of their lives turned out as expected with stints in prison and complex family woes.

A decade later, Kevin finally found his purpose. "It's a life," Kevin says about now living as a single bisexual dad on parole working as a night cook.

Black isn’t there yet. But as he tells Kevin, "What do you expect?"

Growing up a gay, black boy with a drug-addicted mother in the hood of Miami, Black’s life isn’t “saved” by a pull yourself up by your own bootstraps mentality dominating conservative thinking.

However, Chiron isn’t the only one on a journey to self-actualization. His mother Paula too goes through her own metamorphosis, although not one immediately helpful to her son. Naomie Harris brings an understanding — even love — for a working mom’s slow descent into drug addiction.

Even after shaking down her deeply isolated teenage son for money, she demands he go to school. He must better himself, though his environment gives him every reason not to.

Praise again goes to Jenkins, who based Paula off of his own mother. That’s the success of the role; there’s a truth — an identity — behind the character. She’s not just another coked-out absent mom. She’s a former health care professional who, after her own rehabilitation, returns the aid in assisting other addicts. These are characters no doubt dependent on the Affordable Care Act for their health.

Each scene is accompanied by a haunting, almost Gregorian score. Nicholas Britell’s classical composition starkly contrasts to the inner-city setting. That’s the beauty of "Moonlight"; the tug between what is seen and what is felt.

That’s also Chiron's biggest struggle. Who he is and who people see are vastly different. Sure, he’s a poor, gay, black boy, but he also is a caretaker, a student and an individual — that’s intersectionality.

"Moonlight" leads the 2017 awards season with 96 wins. It too picked up eight Oscar nominations. Though, "La La Land" received 14 nominations and tied the all-time record previously set by "All About Eve" and matched by "Titanic."

"La La Land" is receiving praise for ushering in a return to Hollywood's "Golden Age." While undoubtedly a superb, grandiose musical, it’s just not a film indicative of the current political and social landscape. It doesn’t have to be, but it sure picked the wrong year to premiere.

Like Trump’s election campaign, "La La Land" is wild, crazy and fun to watch. "Moonlight" isn’t. It’s a look at the type of people Trump wants to reform: inner-city dwellers, drug lords and the incarcerated.

It’s more than just honest, engrossing storytelling; it’s a memento to a now bygone administration's views of culture, politics and expression.

Music As A Healing Force: Julien Baker and Ben Gibbard at Thalia Hall

Taken by Morgan Martinez

Sometimes, records show up when you need them to.

After years of half-heartedly listening to poorly recorded lo-fi demos in my friends’ basements in exchange for relief from boredom on a Friday night, Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle entered my life as a record I can truly get behind.  It’s a record that speaks to the nonlinearity of healing, and the relentless nature of any mental health struggle.

After a particularly draining semester, I was drawn to the lyrics of Sprained Ankle’s title track: A sprinter/ learning to wait/ a marathon runner/ my ankles are sprained. For the first time in months, listening to this record, to this song, I was able to relax.

Taken by Morgan Martinez
Taken by Morgan Martinez

Julien's set was transcendental, to say the least. She opened with Good News,my favorite track off of Sprained Ankle. The lyrics are one of the best depictions of anxiety that Ive ever heard; its a song that is painfully affirming. That night, as Baker's voice filled the room, volleying past the balconies, I was in awe that such a powerful emotive force could be generated with just vocals and a guitar.

This next one goes out to some friends who are here tonight, who treat me so much better than I deserve.At this point, already in a vulnerable state thanks to the opening number being my lets process your feelingssong, I was a wreck.

The balding rock dad in a track jacket standing next to me looked concerned as I blubbered Im just really, really proud of her,between sobs. That poor rock dad couldnt have known that earlier that day I took Julien and some other Hooligan compatriots to all my favorite places. For all the strangeness and hurt of 2016, it was the year I learned that being proud of my friends is my favorite emotion.

Taken by Morgan Martinez
Taken by Morgan Martinez
Taken by Morgan Martinez

The first time I heard Death Cab for Cutie, I was eleven years old. I saw the music video for I Will Follow You into the Dark” on VH1 and quickly downloaded the song off of iTunes like a law-abiding citizen. I loved the microcosm of a narrative contained within the song and I similarly thought that 6th grade was, as vicious as Roman rule.” Death Cab continued to be a musical touchstone for me throughout my teenage years and twenties.

Transatlanticism got me through my first facsimile of both a long-distance relationship and a break-up, Expo 86” is my anxiety anthem, and I like to walk to the train while listening to Plans.

Ben Gibbards set was a solid mix of Death Cab, solo material, covers, and Postal Service songs. Gibbard opened with Women of the World,” an Ivor Cutler cover fitting for the current political situation, which made me grateful for his self-awareness as a listener.

Since the show itself was an acoustic set, I was skeptical as to how the techno anchors of a Postal Service track would translate into an acoustic setting, but the stripped down guitar made me realize the power of the lyrics. Without the joyful synths, I was able to comprehend how Brand New Colony” is devastatingly romantic without resorting to platitudes.

The gravity of Gibbards presence didnt hit me until he launched into the Death Cab classic, 405” and I couldnt help but smile as I sang, misguided by the 405/ it lead me to an alcoholic summer.

Taken by Morgan Martinez

Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands whose discography can appear deceptively small. As the set continued I kept having to reconsider my favorite Death Cab song — it was Cath! No, it was Brand New Colony! Oh fuck, it was definitely Soul Meets Body”, how could I forget about Soul Meets Body? Hearing these songs live when they usually entered my life through tiny laptop speakers was surreal; the live rendition of Passenger Seat” gutted me. When I started listening to Death Cab, I never imagined Id be able to one day hear I Will Follow you Into the Dark” live. It was magical. I told my co-worker that, Ben Gibbard was amazing and he melted my face off,” to which my co-worker responded, I dont know if anyones ever reacted to Ben Gibbard like that.

However uncanny it may seem, I was in awe of Ben Gibbard even when he gently critiqued the skill level of a drunken crowd members mouth guitar. The fact that I get to write that sentence is a gift. Thus, I never realized that Ben was a breathing sentient being until he was standing in front of me. I was so used to putting three hour Transatlanticism” on loop to study that my brain couldnt comprehend that he was a real person, capable of banter and mannerisms just like myself
 

When I was younger, I couldnt shake the feeling that music was going to act as a conduit for something greater within my life. I didnt know what it would be, but I knew it would be important and worthwhile.

Last year, I lost some of that reverence for art. I stopped listening to records and I doubted why I bothered to go to shows in the first place. Listening to Ben Gibbard strum the final chords of Such Great Heights” as the audience clapped along, I remembered the incredible capacity that music has to unite and heal. Ankles [get] sprained, people hurt you, but sometimes all you need is the perfect record to get back on your feet.

Taken by Morgan Martinez

Don't let 'La La Land' be this year's 'The Artist.'

Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Every awards season, one picture resonates with film critics unlike its competition. This movie doesn’t always have to be the front-runner. But with focus on either the film industry or the press, the picture inherently spurs a sort of insider glee. Last year “Spotlight” held the honor by depicting a famed newsroom. Now, “La La Land” follows suit.

Praise for a modern-day jazz musical navigating one Los Angeles couple’s relationship and career turmoil should come as no surprise. Director Damien Chazelle works almost exclusively on jazz films. Starting with 2009’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” he followed to high acclaim with 2014’s “Whiplash.” Two years later, he’s finally an insider with a bigger budget and bankable stars on his side.

All of this led “La La Land” to infatuate critics. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman called it, “the new-fangled version of a sprawling Tinseltown classic.”

He’s not wrong. The films extends beyond just a return to cinema's golden age. As Gleiberman notes, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling heartbreakingly depict the loneliness of trying to make it in Hollywood rarely explored with such nuance in film. Mia is any modern ingenue without a secure path to her big break. Then there’s Sebastian, a jazz aficionado angered by his beloved genre’s decline.

The movie exists in Sebastian's world. With whimsy and magic, the film progresses as an ethereal beauty. An epic opening musical number and multiple extended dance sequences provide purely joyous viewing.

However, this pomp and circumstance dupes critics. The glorious vitality blinds an imperfect film. After all, Mia finds her career success; most aspiring actors cannot say the same.

Yet, this insider obsession is nothing new. The hype surrounding “La La Land” recalls another recent return to the classics: “The Artist.”

The black-and-white silent film follows the relationship between one of Hollywood's leading men and an up-and-coming dancer at the dawn of talking pictures. It's the loss of traditional art in favor of new media as told by romantics. Sounds like a familiar tale.

“The Artist” went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Since then, the French-film and its stars remain largely forgotten when discussing the best movies of recent years. Looking back, it’s not much more than Hollywood praising a film about Hollywood.

Four of the last 5 best picture winners at the Oscars focused film or reporting. With the exception of 2013's “12 Years a Slave," “The Artist,” “Argo,” “Birdman,” and “Spotlight” all centered around people in or near the profession of film and press. Based on the precedent, “La La Land” should have a safe route to success. 

Though certainly benefitting from industry nostalgia producing critical acclaim, "La La Land" suffers from a problematic storyline. Mia and Sebastian both repeatedly perform segments of the original jazz song "City of Stars." It's undeniably a great track, yet Sebastian pointedly praises jazz for sounding different with every listen. The writing and the output are not cohesive.

The imperfections extend beyond just script snafus. In a series of tweets, musician Rostam Batmanglij criticized the film's lack of diversity. The former Vampire Weekend member condemned a jazz film with black musicians as fringe characters, although he praised John Legend's performance as Sebastian's collaborator. 

At a minimum, it's problematic. The picture is another sad entry in to a long line of Hollywood films ignoring essential diversity.

Fortunately, “La La Land” is certainly no lost cause. It’s the best cinematic musical in recent years, far surpassing 2012's “Les Miserables.” Emma Stone deserves the credit. She's revelatory showcasing a prestige star power never before fully realized.

But the film needs a bigger audience than just the in-crowd. Its biggest competitor does exactly that.

In observing an young man coming to terms with both his sexuality and family, “Moonlight” inherently--and expertly--showcases diversity and exploration of “new” cinematic territory. Meanwhile, “La La Land” is another ode to the romance of film, and film insiders by nature love film. It’s a great feast for a starving critic. Beyond that, it’s more excess fat than meat.

An Interview With Knives of Spain's Gwen Young

Performing under the name knives of spain, Gwen Young’s sophomore EP Telluric is transcendental. The record utilizes everything from analog synths to flutes to create a captivating, almost mystical sound. Knives’ sound calls forth comparisons to goth-rock goddesses like Kate Bush or Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins; bestowing these comparisons feels like a rarity, but I am unable to think of someone else more deserving to coexist in this gossamer world. Hooligan spoke with Gwen Young over email about the benefits of cassettes and the timeless appeal of Brian Eno. You can read the interview below and stream Telluric over bandcamp.


Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

They’re so numerous, but some who’ve stuck with me the longest are Talking Heads/David Byrne, Brian Eno, Stereolab, Sugarcubes /Bjork, Cocteau Twins, Arthur Russel, Moondog, Smog, XTC/Andy Partridge, Throwing Muses, Leonard Cohen, J.S. Bach, Astor Piazzola, Lou Harrison, Harry Partch, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and a huge variety of non-Eurocentric music.

What is it like to work with Hairy Spider Legs? (The label that released Telluric)   

The best! Telluric is my second album, and since my first (Opening Sequence) was a self-release, this is my label debut and I think it’s been very productive.  I reached out to Patrick Holbrook (who runs H.S.L.) for this album because he was one of the very first folks outside my immediate network to take notice of what I was doing back in 2012 when I released Opening Sequence, and I’m elated that my follow-up is on such a great label. 

We have the same DIY ethic and therefore we have a very compatible working relationship.  I feel lucky to work with someone I know genuinely appreciates and identifies with how much goes into being the sole creator and executor of a project, as Patrick not only manages the label himself but has an active solo project called Well Yells. Hairy Spider Legs works with an outstanding roster of unique, genre-defying acts and I’m thrilled to be one of them! 

Where did you learn to play the accordion? 

At home!  I’ve managed to teach myself enough on accordion to use it in my compositions, and the same applies to all the other instruments I play except for flute.  I earned a bachelor’s degree in classical music with a focus on flute performance, so in college I got some rudimentary keyboard instruction that gave me a good foundation to approach accordion.  But I may have never taken it up if it weren’t for pure chance; a while back, my dad gifted me an accordion he happened upon for an irrefutable deal at a flea market.  It hadn’t occurred to me play one before then, and it was love at first sight! 

What do you like about cassette tapes as a medium for distributing music?

Distribution these days is a bit of a conundrum.  Our consumption of music increasingly favors the digital format. To some degree, analog releases present a tangible form of resistance to this by preserving sound in the physical realm.  There’s also a warmth in analog that’s very tasteful to the ears.  Vinyl continues to reign in analog, but it’s pricey to do a quality, good sounding vinyl pressing. Cassettes are a way to get you the next best thing in analog sound for an extremely nice price.  Plus they look really awesome, and if you have an ancient car like I do you can pop them in your tape deck! The Telluric cassette comes with an accompanying mp3 download as well so listeners can also load it straight onto their listening machines. 

What is the best and worst part of your songwriting process? 

The best part is probably the moment I see something forming, when I’m taking the chisel to the block. The worst part is having time constraints that prohibit me from working on new material whenever I feel like it, and I imagine that’s a pretty common complaint for most folks. 

Describe your dream collaboration. 

Oh gosh!  Collaborating would be change of pace for knives of spain since my modus operandi has always been to do it all myself; I record, produce and mix my own work, and play all the instruments (classical guitar, flute, accordion, analog synth, zither, toy piano, and lots of hand percussion).  But collaborating is definitely something I enjoy, and since this is a dream I’d have to bring in some dearly departed talent along with others who are fortunately still with us doing their magic.  I think I’d ask Moondog and Lou Harrison to collaboratively compose for flute, strings and percussion.  Then I’d mesh David Byrne’s quirky guitar lines on top and throw in some crazy samples from his collection of vintage world music.  I’d get Leonard Cohen to pen some delicious words and we’d do some crooning.  Then I’d pull in Brian Eno’s electronics and production to tie it all together.  I guess the result could potentially be titled My Afterlife in the Bush of Ghosts. 

What Is Classical Music?: An Interview with Roger Goula

When Roger Goula’s Overview Effect was first brought to my attention, I was immediately intrigued. Being a huge fan of ambient sounds with a classical foundation and a modern electronic twist, I knew that this was something I was deeply interested in. This album embraces the sounds that feel like space would if something so serene and chaotic could exude noise. The album is a journey, one that tells a story of the unknown, the stars, and how they exist elsewhere yet amongst us all at once.


There is a whole wave of neo-classical artists like Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, that create music that I always describe as cinematic because it is music I can visualize. What does the music you make symbolize for you?

It’s an interesting question because I also write film music, and I don’t know what came first. I don’t know if I became a film composer because I write this kind of music or if I write this kind of music because I’m also a film composer.

What I do know is that my music always has a narrative to tell. It might be quite hidden at times or very exposed other times, but somehow, since I can remember, music, for me, has always related to telling a story. It symbolizes a very deep feeling, I guess. It’s not explainable with words.

Your approach to creating music relies heavily on existential thought. What do you do, specifically, with your compositions that can portray this idea of the galaxy vs. individual being?

I see my music sometimes as a philosophical reflection that can’t be explained with words. There are many philosophical thoughts behind Overview Effect (which didn’t necessarily come when writing). I had a very broad thought of how it had to sound, and somehow the philosophical thought came after and fit perfectly. Generally speaking, the album is about how our existence/condition relates to our world.

I've always been fascinated about physics and astronomy. My grandad had a telescope at home and we used it to look at the planets every night. Somehow, without really knowing how, I acquired some knowledge in astronomy.

So you make the music first and then apply the thought? Kind of like, making the music is translating your thoughts into notes?

Somehow yes. But one complements the other. It’s always like doing research about yourself. I didn’t start writing saying, I’ll write a piece called “Pale Blue Dot” that will do this and that. Not at all. I wrote this album very intuitively and then after, I realised all of the songs related to one another and it all made sense. The titles fit perfectly and the journey of the pieces made sense to me. I wanted to be honest with the material and that’s what came out. Many people tell me that this album is very much me. That pleases me because it’s very difficult to do that.

Are you classically trained in anything specifically? How did you learn all the instruments you play?

Yes, i did study classical guitar and composition at the Barcelona Conservatory. I compose a lot on the piano too...and my computer. For my film music I started to learn other instruments, like all the plugged instruments and some brass and wind..but those are not in this album.

How did the electronic influence come into play?

I’ve always been doing electronic music. I’ve never trained on that, just learned the necessities. Two things I always been fascinated with since I was a kid have been music and inventions. I used to make my own instruments and record them on a tape cassette and I still do that. For me, composing is an invention; a discovery.

What direction do you think “classical” music is heading into?

It’s an interesting question because I think many people confuse the terminology. Classical music... what is it exactly? “Classical”...I mean, is Stockhausen a “classical” composer?  I don’t think so… yet we still call it classical. Or is “classical” playing the “old” stuff like the “old” instruments? I’ve been in classical music for 25 years and I am more and more confused.

If we think about the “classical” composers, they were always innovating and challenging the scene and their peers. At the time, it was contemporary music. So I feel the same. I’m writing the music of my time with instruments (which is anything that makes noise) of my time. It’s funny because it has such a conservative name for something that is looking forward.

Are there any movies you wish you could’ve done the scores for?
Definitely Blade Runner.

Who are some of your biggest influences?
Johann Johannson , Max Richter, Bach! Always Bach! He was a big inventor… a lot of renaissance polyphony.  Also Vivaldi. This is controversial..but big symphonic music doesn’t say much to me...I recognise its beauty and admire the composers…but…I’m not so keen on romantics.

Satie, Debussy...Inventors again..Ben Frost, Tim Hecker, Hildegard Von Bingen, Gesualdo, Rameau, Authecre, John Cage, Hauschka, Bjork, Radiohead, Steve Reich, Glass, John Adams, John Coltrane, John Zorn, Arvo Part, Gorecky, Penderecky, Aphex Twin, William Basinski, David Land, Murcof.

Is there anything you wish people felt or understood when listening to your music?
I would love for people to feel an admiration for the infinitude of space and at the same time feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to live. I want them to feel hopeful. If they can grasp that feeling just for a second; that feeling of belonging to the universe where all entities matter and relate to each other, I would be very happy. I think there are composers that look at earth. They write for feelings. Other composers write for something bigger. They write to try to understand our existence. I am slowly realizing that I am the latter.

Accepting Absurdity in 'The Brand New Testament'

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Jaco Van Dormael’s latest film The Brand New Testament explores the overlap of fantastical realism, dark comedy, and existentialist thought. The result of these concepts clashing is an exceptionally witty and enjoyable film about God. In The Brand New Testament, God lives in Brussels, Belgium, in a high-rise apartment that he never leaves. He controls the world through an isolated PC in a room that no one is allowed to go in. He is abusive towards his wife and daughter Ea, and his son Jesus Christ, or JC, is now a small statue resting in the family’s home.

The film follows the narrative of Ea, as she rebels against her father and releases everyone’s death dates straight to their cell phones. As news breaks out about the times of people’s deaths, Ea decides that she is going to rewrite the New Testament and confides in her brother JC to figure out how to go about it. He tells her to choose apostles and that it doesn’t matter if they are random because nobody will know. Ea selects her new set of apostles from her father’s cabinets filled with cards representing every human alive on earth. After deciding on her six new apostles, she makes her way down to Earth, where she meets a homeless man who will be her scribe in creating the Brand New Testament.

The film’s style is heavily influenced by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), everyone’s favorite whimsical French love story. While The Brand New Testament is by no means solely a love story, there are many stories woven throughout the film. It focuses on the lives of each of the apostles, and as mundane and standard as they are, they become quite enthralling with the help of Ea. She brings light into their somewhat dim existences, reminding them that their life will one day end and that they should fulfill the desires they wish to achieve.

The Brand New Testament is a rich experience, one that not necessarily questions God’s existence, but laughs along with it and the ridiculousness of life itself. It is a film that asks a whole lot of why not? Meaning it makes the moves it wants to make and doesn’t seek for approval, because it understands its own absurdity. It goes where it wants to go and never takes itself too seriously. Enjoyable to watch, funny, and loaded with a talented cast, The Brand New Testament reintroduces what it means to examine and comment on a universal thought while managing to maintain a zany dream-like world that we all sometimes find ourselves wishing to live in.


Check it out in a theatre near you!

REVIEW: Conor Oberst at Thalia Hall

JONI JONES

JONI JONES

By Katie Burke
Photos by Joni Jones

Conor Oberst is not a hero, but he was mine for a while. When I was 14 I wrote the lyrics to a Bright Eyes song on my bedroom wall. Because I was emo and mostly because my parents let me. Sunday night I got the opportunity to feel the freedom of my twenties and the ache of my teens. By the looks of the crowd I can assume that is what we were all doing in some way. I was sitting toward the back and ahead of me I could see people who had just met arm in arm, careening back and forth together. Several times throughout the show I heard a shout of “I love you, Conor!” It was as if the fandom of a boy band had entered the bodies of 30-somethings.

Oberst opened with “Tachycardia”, allowing those of us (read: me) who only knew his popular solo work to get our ya-yas out. His new album feels familiar enough for those who aren't acquainted with it to sway comfortably and almost mouth the words as if you knew them. I'd never been to a show alone and instead of feeling lost I felt comfortably singular. I got to cry to a delicately bare album with my hands in my pockets and no one was there to half-heartedly ask if I was okay.

JONI JONES

JONI JONES

A common and quite frankly, boring observation that many have had of Conor Oberst is that his voice is flawed. But I think that the cuts you feel when he sings is reason enough to understand that talent is completely relative. As always, Conor displayed his ability to tell stories. He remained at the piano for the first three songs. One of them being “Gossamer Thin”, a song that sounds like escape. His back was turned toward the crowd while he alternated between the harmonica and sweeping the keys. The songs off Ruminations felt lonely in a way that was different from his other work. Without much musical accompaniment (there was one other bassist) the lyrics were allowed to take control. Each song began to feel more and more like an extended poem.

By far the most beautiful part of the night was Oberst's closing song, “At The Bottom of Everything.” Which was coincidentally, the one I had written on my wall as a teen. Before the opening chords he pleaded with the crowd a bit. Asking us that if we believed in humankind, in equality, in love, that now was the time to make it known. Someone who I had been sitting next to put her hand on my shoulder, as I saw so many other people in the crowd begin to do. In that moment, “I” became “we” and singing along turned into screaming along.


“And into the caverns of tomorrow / with just our flashlights and our love / we must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge”

Of all the ways art can function in our lives, I most value its ability to unify.

JONI JONES

JONI JONES