REVIEW: 'Alone At Last', Tasha



by Ava Mirzadegan

There is an abundant strength within Tasha’s radically soft words.

On her debut LP, Alone at Last, the Chicago musician and poet places her entire being into a body of work that is both ambitious yet relaxed. Her words masterfully wrap themselves around each second, leaving treasures to be uncovered in the mind of the listener.

The narrative winds its way through self-care, feminism, love, race, and queerness without giving the listener more weight to carry. Tasha aptly described the album as a collection of “bed songs,” with each song enveloping the listener in a comforter of sound.

Within overwhelming darkness and fear, Alone at Last is an album of reflection, rest, and renewal. A nightlight bringing hope of a better tomorrow.

Standout tracks: “Take Care,” “A New Place,” “Kind of Love,” and “Lullaby”

The opening track, “Take Care,” is a spoken meditation, imploring us to believe in our own inner worlds. It serves as an introduction to a new kind of activism — one of defiant self-love and a vital need for tenderness.

“Take care of your little body... Take care and repeat it ritual until the syllables run-on sentence down your spine, so that when the next deaths come, because they will, we will have vigor enough to remember their names.”

Tasha extends her words as an invitation, leading us into a world where we can seek refuge from our harsh reality and build a home within comfort. A world where rest is not synonymous with weakness and taking care of ourselves is not equated to selfishness.

She refers to this world in the following track as “A New Place.” The first step into melody maps out the expansive and shifting album. Stylistically, she seamlessly transitions from finger-picked guitar, oscillating synths, to more textured bass-driven rhythms. Her artistry transcending genre.

“Maybe we the future we envisioned all that time ago.”

Reflecting on the reality that the listeners are the future and that everything is dependent on the present, Tasha shows that their imagination is indispensable. She is the kind of figure I wish I had been able to look up to as a young girl. A poet and songwriter that not only has a strong personal voice, but one that is able to amplify the voices of the voiceless.

“Or maybe we’re destined for light now.”

In darkness, it’s hard to imagine what light would feel like. Tasha’s warm vocal tonality and thoughtful guitar serve as a reminder of what goodness can come even in dark times. The beauty of the song and album cutting through our lives within a bleak social climate.

Tasha’s composition in the fourth track, “Kind of Love,” is the kind of perfect that is almost indescribable. It is sensual and intimate, with the song’s narrative mirrored in the musical themes and instrumentation.

It begins with hazy guitar, suspending the listener in the uncertainty of new love. The introduction of xylophone and percussive human sounds reflecting the twinkling thrill of exploring someone else. The woozy bass-line and layered vocals emulating the inner voices of self-doubt and bliss that come along with relationships.

Alone at Last covers entire universes of ground, still everything is rooted in Tasha’s identity. The second to last song, “Lullaby,” is a tender blend of buzzing electric guitar, glockenspiel and overlapping vocal harmonies, allowing for Tasha’s words to offer sympathy and reassurance to a tired mind.

Black women are held up against an archetypal expectation of being “the strong black woman.” Tasha’s lullaby puts this stereotype, and all other stereotypes for model minorities, to rest, with the hope of waking to a better reality. By giving these women the room to “keep [their] magic to [themselves],” Tasha is lifting the grips of racial and gendered gravity, allowing them the freedom of flight. Even if it is just for a moment.

Alone at Last out now via Father Daughter Records.

Order link


Alone At Last

Each purchase of the vinyl LP comes with a limited edition poetry zine featuring pieces by Tasha, Imani Jackson, Keisa Reynolds, Kara Jackson, Jamila Woods, and Stella Binion -- all Chicago based, black women writers. $1 from each LP sold will be donated to #NoCopAcademy, a collective of organizers doing work to prevent a $95 million police academy from being built on the westside of Chicago.


REVIEW: Cosmic Johnny, 'Good Grief'


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cosmic johnny


"good grief"

Now available via Bandcamp.


Cosmic Johnny has created an existential crisis you can dance to. The Boston four piece has a firm grasp on penning hooky melodies and mathy guitar riffs that stay in your mind all day.

Their latest album, Good Grief, is a visceral embodiment of the early twenties itch of suburban youth. Ironically, the album is a joyous tribute to life. Despite the focus on fear and anxiety, it finds a way to be brave in the face of it all. The lyrics are gritty and honest, openly discussing mental health in ways that are remarkably unafraid.

Standout tracks: “Theme from Good Grief,” “Hell is a Basement,” “Resentment,” and “Houston”

The first track, “Theme from Good Grief,” acts as the perfect introduction to the album. It’s like an opening paragraph of sorts, covering reclusive tendencies, lack of social connection, and the inability to open up. In what feels like a discussion within one’s head, Mike Suh goes back and forth between ideas. The guitars play complimentary broken chords leading into fuzzy stabs that answer one another. The recurring themes taking the place of recursive thoughts.

“And you never had a good time hanging out with the party kids/ But you never had a good time on your own.”

Hell as a concept first appears in the album’s third track, “Hell is a Basement.” The song immediately drew me in, with an intro reminiscent of Minus the Bear’s “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey.” What follows is an achingly clever comparison of basement parties to the pits of hell. Suh describes their awareness of the mortality of everyone in the room. But even with such morbid themes, the song is lively and practically begging to be danced to.

“Resentment” recounts the unwanted downward trajectory of a relationship, overlaid with a relationship with regret and drinking as reactionary escapism. The song feels drowned in guilt, with the arms of hindsight keeping them submerged. “It might be my fault/ for not knowing how to look at you/ without this sinking feeling.”

The song takes an incredibly powerful turn in its refusal to continue living with crippling self-doubt. Suh indignantly states that “the back of the mind is not a nourishing place to live.” Finishing with the repeated refrain “I just want to live.”

The main riff in “Houston” climbs up in a series of arpeggiated notes only to rise and fall a half step at the end. It’s a theme mirrored in the lyrics’ exploration of the bounds of knowledge within ourselves and the universe. An exploration of how understanding is in some ways unattainable. Even in moments of clarity and bouts of productivity, there will always be unanswerable questions.

In a period of sleeplessness, Suh describes their lack of connection to the world and people around them. Picking apart individual personhood, they give in to the dread of meaninglessness and dissociation.

Yet in the repetition of the words “we’re all alone,” I can’t help but feel a sense of connection. Even in the prospect of our lives being inconsequential, there is beauty found in being together through the mess of it all.

Perhaps the best part of this album is the way the band presents opposing concepts, both musically and through lyrics. The sense of joy is placed side by side with dread, memory with loss, meaninglessness with purpose. It is in these comparisons that Good Grief is able to raise the subject of existence in a way that is still hopeful.


Stream Good Grief Below:


REVIEW: Many Rooms "There is a Presence Here" Debut LP Engenders Beauty That Instills Faith in a Universal Order


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many rooms
"there is a presence here"

 

 

Released April 13th, 2018 through Other People Records.


by Ava Mirzadegan

There’s a feeling I get within the depths of my body when I hear music that I know I will connect with, similar to musical Stendhal Syndrome. An effervescent wave flushes up from within me, my skin rises to form mountain ranges, and I become immersed completely. It is a rare feeling, but I felt it the moment I began listening to There is a Presence Here, the debut LP from Many Rooms.

The project of Houston-based musician Brianna Hunt is a captivating series of revelations from a mind that is caught between faith. Hunt’s musings on divinity and nihilism speak from the visceral root of fear of the unknown - perhaps the most inherent human emotion. Yet in spite of this great unknown, There is a Presence Here engenders the kind of beauty that can instill faith in a universal order.

The opening track, “Nonbeing,” starts off with lyrical post-rock-esque guitar and dreamy vocals asking the question “what if I die and nothing happens?” It is a question that Hunt explores in every song, begging for meaning. She is painfully aware of the fleeting nature of the physical world around her, a sentiment that becomes clear in songs like “Which is To Say, Everything.” She speaks to the nameless “you,” an epithet for those who have passed on.

Even in the face of mortality, Hunt draws upon the courage to live fully. “Dear Heart” is a conversation between Hunt, her heart, and God. “Why did you refuse to answer me/ I’m trying to be more honest,” she cries, her quick diminuendo and tone capturing the desolate essence of spirituality. The song’s refrain acts as an affirmation. “Courage, dear heart.”

The piano in “Hollow Body” lifts and transforms the track into an airy soundscape. A left hand plays a simple four note bass-line while lightly tapped keys evoke the chiming of a chapel bell. Her bare voice gliding effortlessly above the spacious bed of sound - a tone that is recreated in “The Nothing.” The sixth track questions the existence of an omniscient and benevolent God that cares for every prayer that is brought to his ear. Hunt repeats “do you look into all those scars?” until a shaky hum takes the melody from her tongue. Uneasily, she states “I know that you won’t leave.”

The title track is carried by the resonance of a piano and layered vocals. Wearily, Hunt discusses the fragility of her body and mind, culminating in a request for the grace of God. A second voice comes in to sing another melody, creating polyphony appropriate for the question “When there’s nothing left/ Is there room in your chest?”

Through Many Rooms, Hunt is able to reach beyond the confines of her corporeal body. There is a Presence Here is a devastatingly raw expression of the human spirit. The album, released through Other People Records, is now available to buy or stream online.


Stream There is a Presence Here on Spotify:


REVIEW: Goat Girl's Self-Titled Debut Album


Photo by Holly Whitaker / Courtesy of  Chromatic Publicity

Photo by Holly Whitaker / Courtesy of Chromatic Publicity


by Ava Mirzadegan

Goat Girl doesn’t care what you (or your fancy hair) think. The South London band’s full-length debut is a dose of cyanide with apathy on the side. With drowsy vocals and eerie backing accompaniment, every song seems straight out of the Peaky Blinders soundtrack. Each of the album’s 19 songs act as vignettes of unrest and despondence.

The first track, “Salty Sounds,” gives a taste of what the album has to offer. A slightly de-tuned piano plays a dingy half-step circus tune, leaving the listener uneasy for a minute. Similarly, most of the album’s songs are under or around 3 minutes long, allowing the constant shift between sonic landscapes and subject matter.

Album standouts: “Creep,” “Viper Fish,” “The Man,” “I Don’t Care Pt. 1,” “I Don’t Care Pt. 2”, “Throw Me a Bone,” and “Tomorrow”

Unemphatically violent, “Creep” addresses the pervasive experiences of women on public transport. The outline of a bass guitar is colored in by a fiddle, giving a western ghost-town vibe, while Lottie’s voice drawls about the scummy behavior of a fellow passenger. “Creep on the train/ I really want to smash your head in.”

The fourth track, “Viper Fish,” is spurred along by a stop-and-go drum beat, lingering drones, and two-part vocal harmonies. The song picks up with fuzzy guitar licks and jangly chords as they implores the listener to find an antidote to phallic influence and “this accumulating smoke.” The build up consists of the repeated phrase “Don’t shed a tear/ we all feel shame.” It crescendos into an abrupt transition into the next track, an echoey spoken word piece.

Despite the song’s title, “The Man” is less about a man than it is about shifting the romantic narrative of heteronormative gender roles. The declaration “you’re the man for me” is more empowering than infatuated in nature, asserting a more active stance in the relationship. Lottie is telling said man that she’s made her decision… and he might have what it takes to be her’s. The music video, a clever reversal of Beatle-mania, shows the four piece establishing their dominion over countless fawning fanboys.

Perhaps the most up-beat song on the album, is the guitar-driven “I Don’t Care Pt. 1.” It is a  jagged ballad of apathy, punctuated by snare drum and tambourine. Reciprocal guitar and bass riffs make way to the cathartic chorus, “I don’t care.” Picking up a few tracks later, “I Don’t Care Pt. 2” has an equally 50’s-style country-tinged guitar. A continuation of the chorus is followed by heightening hums.

In a modern gothic-folk take on 70’s acid rock, “Throw Me a Bone” warns against concession prizes. “If you throw me a bone/ then I’ll throw you back a sharp stone.” Goat Girl isn’t looking for a pat on the back or a participation ribbon. They’ll earn what they work for, no thanks to anyone- a theme that is mirrored in the album’s final track.

“Tomorrow,” demands for the rightful destinies they are entitled to. A drab look into the future of “all work and no play,” Goat Girl refuses to be a fool for tomorrow. They are both regretful and unsatisfied in their remembrance of giving up their yesterdays. “I was born to be a dancer/ I won’t take no for an answer.” Teetering off into a field recording of birds and wildlife, the album ends on a semblance of optimism and hope for the future.

Goat Girl is a collage of feminism, politics, and just plain badassery. In what reads like an erratic series of journal entries, the band of young Londoners takes you on an unsettling merry-go-round of despair. The album was released April 6th on Rough Trade Records and is available on all streaming platforms. They will also be coming stateside for a handful of support dates with Parquet Courts this summer.

Stream Goat Girl on Spotify:


GOAT GIRL TOUR DATES

April 12th Liverpool, UK @ Shipping Forecast
April 13th Dublin, IE @ Grand Social
April 14th Sheffield, UK @ Picture House
April 16th Birmingham, UK @ Hare & Hounds
April 17th London, UK @ Garage
April 19th Leicester, UK @ The Cookie
April 20th Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
April 21st Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
May 5th Hebden Bridge, UK @ Trades Club
May 14th Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
May 15th Brussels, BE @ Ancienne Belgique
May 16th Paris, FR @ L’Espace B
May 23rd Boston, MA @ Royale*
May 24th Providence, RI @ Fete Ballroom*
May 25th Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall*
May 26th Montreal, QC @ Theatre Fairmount*
May 27th Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Theatre*
May 28th Detroit, MI @ El Club*
May 30th Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre*
May 31st Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line*
June 1st Lawrence, KS @ The Granada*
June 2nd St. Louis, MO @ Ready Room*
June 3rd Nashville, TN @ Basement East*
June 5th Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel*
June 6th Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle*
June 7th Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*
June 8th Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer*
July 21st Thirsk, UK @ Deer Shed Festival
August 16-19th Brecon Beacons @ Green Man Festival
Sept. 6-9th Portmeirion, UK @ Festival No. 6

* supporting Parquet Courts


REVIEW: Emily Yacina's "Katie" EP Confronts The Complex Questions of the Human Condition


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emily yacina
"katie"

Released February 10th on Bandcamp.


by Ava Mirzadegan

A little over a month ago, prolific bandcamp musician, Emily Yacina, released a three song collection entitled Katie. Short and bittersweet, Katie is seemingly simple yet laced with the complex questions of the human condition. The album art, a magic 8-ball icosahedron with "K A T I E" written on it, evokes the finding of an answer in the album's namesake.

On the first track, "Good graces," Yacina's voice mostly stays within the higher end of her register, accompanied by soft guitar strums and lilting synth harmonies. As the song goes on, the flow of energy builds and releases: a sonic representation of emotional tide lines.

"I come clean I want you on my team/ even if you’re miles ahead.” Her words describe the sensation of longing in the face of separation. Whether that separation is emotional or physical, Yacina's meditation can be applied to fit any experience.

"Where are all the certainties I knew?" she asks, of no one in particular. Her question setting the tone of the mini-album, with the theme reaching beyond feelings for a person into a more existential longing.

Either by way of serendipitous circumstance or clever circumspection, the second track, "So easy," clocks in at 1 minute and 23 seconds.

The song depicts the experience of falling in a love so effortlessly perfect that she is filled with questions of how it could be. "You hold my heart still/ how'd you find me here?" An instrumental passage fills the stillness before Yacina's voice returns to say "wipe the sugar off/ my mouth with your hand/ here I fall for you."

On the nominal track, "Katie," she sings about the fortitude of her emotions and desire for an omniscient view of the world around her. It’s a concept she's sung about before, in "As We Go" off her 2011 release, Reverie.

The final track brings back a focus on the past and present. She notices "a penny from 2010 is buried in the dirt." The reflective morbidity of the line is almost buried within the song itself, which is lighter at first listen.

"But I'm in the sky instead." Floating among the clouds, Yacina is grappling to maintain footing, using Katie as a means for grounding her.

Alternating between the strumming of muddy chords and arpeggiated picking, the tonal rise and fall are especially poignant. A shift during the last verse from ascending to descending notes reflects the return to reality in another's arms.

Katie is a well-thought-out body of work that exemplifies Yacina’s willingness to delve deeper. It’s available on Spotify and bandcamp, as a pay-what-you-can album. While you’re at it, spend some time with her other releases — you won’t regret it.

Keep up with Emily Yacina on Bandcamp, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.