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.

Power Play: the Coathangers, Diet Cig, and L.A. Witch at Beat Kitchen, 7/23/16

By Eileen Marshall

The room's temperature was warm, and so was its mood.

Fans braved heat topping ninety degrees (plus a pretty fearsome thunderstorm dwindling into drizzles) to pack Beat Kitchen in Chicago's Roscoe Village neighborhood last Saturday evening. I don't know if I'd ever gotten so sweaty at a show before, but the Coathangers, as well as opening acts Diet Cig and L.A. Witch, made it worthwhile by delivering the fiery yet playful punk rock we all wanted.

The Atlanta three-piece is made up of Julia Kugel, Meredith Franco, and Stephanie Luke (AKA Crook Kid Coathanger, Minnie Coathanger, and Rusty Coathanger, respectively), who got together a decade ago on something of a whim, mastering their instruments after the fact. Their fifth and latest studio album, Nosebleed Weekend, sees the band bolster their long-sustained attitude and energy with a solid technical proficiency; their chops were on display in the live setting, too.

The Coathangers. Photo by Mark Little.

The Coathangers. Photo by Mark Little.

Like fellow fierce and fun riot grrrl revivalists Kitten Forever and Skating Polly, the Coathangers' members trade off vocal and instrumental duties over the course of their performance; even with these shake-ups, they played a mostly-uninterrupted set Saturday night, never really needing a breather despite high temps augmented by body heat and stage lights. They executed the role rotations seamlessly, and their passing around of the mic meant lead vocals ranged from a Kathleen-Hanna-like sassy squeal to a menacing growl closer to Courtney Love. Their music melds (girl) power and playfulness, a dynamic that's especially evident on standout number "Squeeki Tiki", where the aggressive refrain—"You can have it / I don't want that shit / It's just a bad memory / Of what I did"—prefaces a squeaky-toy solo that actually manages to be quite catchy.

Sorry-not-sorry to harp on the heat: you might expect warm bodies in close quarters to succumb to sour moods, but this crowd stayed overwhelmingly positive throughout all three sets. Mosh pits and crowd surfing were friendly; applause was generous. Some even called for an encore! (There wasn't one; however, the Coathangers turned up at the karaoke bar where I was hanging out later on that night, suggesting that they really do love their jobs.) And, though not big on banter, the band did take a moment to express their gratitude for the audience—not just the obligatory thank-you, but something that felt heartfelt.

Diet Cig, the night's second act, also made sure to show the crowd their appreciation. Alex Luciano, the Brooklyn band's guitarist and vocalist, gave a special shoutout to the women and trans and nonbinary folks in the audience: "It's hard to be a marginalized person in this world ... but you're not alone. We love you." (The "women in music" trope is tired, but when the scene is still largely dominated by dudes, I can't avoid mentioning that of the eight musicians on stage that night, only Diet Cig's drummer, Noah Bowman, was a man.) Bubbly and undeniably cute, Luciano shared that she was turning twenty-one in two days, showing us the "x"s on the backs of her hands. For someone so young, her confidence and skill with managing a crowd were impressive.

Diet Cig. Photo by Maggie Boyd.

Diet Cig. Photo by Maggie Boyd.

Musically, what Diet Cig does is not unique: theirs are fast-paced pop-punk earworms; stripped of words, they'd blend into the œuvres of countless other bands. But the project is special in what it has to say about punk femininity. Luciano's lyrics, as well as her stage presence, dispose of dichotomies between cute and edgy, vulnerable and tough. (A comparison with Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves is partly superficial but seems apt nonetheless.) The complex interplay of hardness and heart is encapsulated in the closing lines of "Sleep Talk": "If I told you I loved you, I don't know who / It would scare away faster." Luciano brings no shortage of energy to her performance, which featured plenty of high-kicks, a jump up onto an amp, and tireless bouncing and bounding across the stage (did I mention how hot it was?). She proves that a high-pitched voice doesn't have to be a small one.

L.A. Witch kicked things off with a solid set of songs that take a surfy sixties-girl-group sound and imbue it with punk edge and a dark sensibility.

***

Check out a Coathangers show when the band resumes touring mid-August, and see Diet Cig, too.

Review of TEENS OF DENIAL; or, Review of Car Seat Headrest's Pitchfork Aftershow at Empty Bottle, Chicago, 7/16/16; or, Review of My Pesky Emotions (The Ballad of A)

Photo by  Morgan Martinez .

Photo by Morgan Martinez.

FIRST VERSE:

And how should I begin?

Last Friday: I went from zero (an unhurried forty-five-minute walk from my apartment to Union Park for day one of Pitchfork Festival) to sixty (impatiently bemoaning the amorphous blob-line waiting to get through the gates over which Car Seat Headrest's first song drifted) in three seconds flat.

Last Friday, Saturday: I went from zero (fine with missing Car Seat Headrest's sold-out Pitchfork aftershow, they'll come back, I'm not that into them, no big deal) to sixty (leaving the festival five hours early to lurk around Empty Bottle for three hours waiting to snag one of a few door tickets; though sleep-short and body-weary and standing-sore, I held my place at the front of the crowd through two opening bands [not to say that Detroit's Stef Chura and Chicago locals Pool Holograph didn't themselves play super solid sets]) in three seconds flat.

Last week, this week: I started at zero (Teens of Denial sounds pretty good, but I'll probably not listen to it more than a few times), slid a foot lightly onto the pedal (I'm tired and feeling lousy at work, but at least I really like this album now, hm), and shot up to sixty (setting up an enormously goofy Facebook page named "True Car Seat Headrest Fan Club" [aiming to dodge the trouble I might get in for designating the page "official"]) in three seconds flat.

I can't write this without admitting that I'm having to reread my recent piece on Jessica Lea Mayfield and parasocial relationships to calm myself down; it feels almost unethical to omit that.

I tweeted to Will Toledo requesting a brief interview even though (because?) I've been posting many wildly lascivious tweets about him.

I'm in a place where listening to Mitski is an act of self-care, because it's not listening to Car Seat Headrest.

I'm in a state.

*

CHORUS:

I give up I give up I give up I give up
I give up I give up I give up I give up

*

SECOND VERSE:

How can I move on after beginning?

Teens of Denial reminds me of another of my favorite records released so far this year, Mitski's wonderful Puberty 2. But where Mitski masters the thirty-minute album and the three-minute song, Teens stretches above an hour and recalls other expansive albums that have affected me profoundly in the decade since I started to find myself musically. (In our post-"epic win" world I kind of hate using that first word but feel I can't avoid it here.) With The Monitor it shares elaborate ship metaphors and battle-cry choruses; themes of death and rebirth emerge over the course of Teens, The Moon & Antarctica, Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, and Kendrick Lamar's works. Like Broken Social Scene's self-titled record (and the others I've mentioned, really, now that I think about it), Teens is exhausted by living and yet manages a great deal of genuine tenderness. These albums feel giving: halfway through them you're satisfied, and then they offer you more. They also approach (in my opinion) perfection: no filler, nothing superfluous. (I have to wonder if women artists don't yet feel quite comfortable taking up so much space and time. It's hard to come up with Infinite Jests or Blonde on Blondes by women—Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me, with its appropriately generous-tending title, is one example that does come to mind. But conciseness is a skill, too.)

Musically, Teens doesn't sound new. It sounds classic, which is not at all a bad thing; it also sounds really good, marking a departure from the lo-fi quality of Toledo's previous releases and featuring exhilarating guitars and vocal crescendos. Toledo's great accomplishment, though, is his lyrics. It's not so surprising that this album and Mitski's latest both refer to adolescence in their titles: both are about angst (if not mental illness proper), self-knowledge, growing up, and the hard slow work of all that. I'm twenty-five. These things are interesting to me.

*

CHORUS:

You will always be a loser
I give up I give up I give up I give up

*

THIRD VERSE:

What might I have asked Will Toledo, had he responded right away to my request? Some ideas:

How does it feel to finally get this kind of recognition after working unsigned for so long? Is it strange, or does it just feel earned? Were you always ambitious as far as eventually attaining some level of fame? In "1937 State Park,” you sing: "I didn't want you to hear that shake in my voice; my pain is my own"—do you write for an audience, or are your songs, above all, your own?

Teens is concerned with self-improvement and includes a lot of advice, or self-talk that doubles as advice. Did you worry about crossing from earnest over into corny? (I don't think that he does.)

What comes first, lyrics or music?

Do interviewers ever annoy the hell out of you?

And what comes next?

*

BRIDGE:

“Unfortunately I am afraid, as always, of going on. For to go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.”
―Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Let's take a look at the lyrics:

"Stop your whining, try again. No one wants to cause you pain. They're just trying to let some air in, but you hold your breath. I hold my breath." I'm going to make a playlist called "I Choose Sadness". It will include Teens's opening track, Mitski's "A Burning Hill", and Rilo Kiley's "The Good that Won't Come Out", among other songs I wish I didn't relate to.

"We're just trying, I'm only trying to get home: drunk drivers, drunk drivers. Put it out of your mind and perish the thought—there's no comfort in responsibility." We're growing up, let's get uncomfortable.

"This isn't sex, I don't think. It's just extreme empathy. She's not my ex. We never met, but do you still think of me?" These lines hit close to home and don't help at all with the wreck of a parasocial relationship I've found myself in.

"I've been waiting all my life. I've been waiting for some real good porn, something with meaning, something fulfilling. I'd like to make my shame count for something." Neither do these.

"How was I supposed to know how to not get drunk every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and why not Sunday?" My college years could have been so much more productive had I only known how. Lately I am learning to appreciate the experience of not getting drunk at shows. It feels so good.

"Hangovers feel good when I know it's the last one. Then I feel so good that I have another one." Learning is difficult. Living is difficult.

Keeping this brief is difficult.

"We're dancing, right? This is dancing."

*

CHORUS:

It doesn't have to be like this
It doesn't have to be like this

*

OUTRO:

"How am I supposed to [open up my heart] when I go to the same room every night, and sleep in the same bed every night, the same fucking bed with the red comforter with the white stripes, and the yellow ceiling light makes me feel like I'm dying? The sea is too familiar; how many nights have I drowned here? How many times have I drowned?"
—Car Seat Headrest, "The Ballad of the Costa Concordia"

(Even just thinking about some of Toledo's lyrics makes me cry.)

Back to last Friday: after Car Seat Headrest's Pitchfork set, I headed to another of the festival's stages to stake out a good spot for Carly Rae Jepsen's. That crowd did grow large, and it might have been the most ecstatic one I'd ever been a part of. But then it's Saturday night and spirits are just as high amid Car Seat Headrest's Empty Bottle audience.

Jepsen's latest album has won over a diverse swath of listeners with lyrics that feel universally accessible as well as intelligent and mature. (Emotion is a bit like a kids' movie that adults praise as being "actually really smart".) Toledo's lyrics are more likely to make you suspect they were written especially for you: they're complex, verbose; they describe experiences and emotions that don't get a lot of radio play. But the thing is, they'll make you and you and you believe they were meant just for you and you and you. The crowd at the Bottle that night shouted along with the same kind of passion that Jepsen's fans had expressed the day before.

CREDITS

Buy or stream Teens of Denial, ASAP. Try your best to see Car Seat Headrest play live whenever you're graced with the chance.

PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL: Julia Holter, Carly Rae Jepsen, Circuit Des Yeux, and More

Heading to Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend? With performances by artists such as Beach House, Sufjan Stevens, Royal Headache, Blood Orange, Miguel, FKA Twigs + more, we'd be surprised if you weren't. We'll be at the festival all weekend weighing in on all of our favorite moments and capturing some of the best performances, but in the meantime, Hooligan writers wrote up a quick list of six artists whose sets we're not missing out on this weekend.
 

JULIA HOLTER
7/15, green stage, 4:35pm

PHOTO BY RICK BAHTO

PHOTO BY RICK BAHTO

By Eileen Marshall

I think it's safe to say that Carly Rae Jepsen is a big draw for a lot of this year's festival-goers. If you're planning to camp out at the Green Stage on Friday to await the queen of
E•mo•tion, you're in luck, because you're going to see Julia Holter, whose experimental orchestral pop acumen made her album Have You In My Wilderness one of last year's best.

Expect a string quartet supporting Holter's keys and silver-smooth voice (though she's from Los Angeles, her vocal style sounds accented; it's reminiscent of Françoise Hardy), backed by traditional rock drums. Her latest work moves away from the ambient abstraction of her other work and toward the kind of thing you'll want to sing along to, but the lyrics remain weird: her songs delineate dreamlike vignettes; the lines are dizzyingly vivid, complementing the rich swirls of the instrumentation. Lines like "Is it time to dance? / I'll fall; you know I like to fall / I'm hopeful for / The rush hour car" feel like a poem that evokes more than it explains, or a clue in Twin Peaks. Holter's wilderness may be disorienting, but it is an exceedingly pleasant place to be.

Fans of Beach House will likely appreciate Holter as well, which is convenient: the critically-acclaimed dream pop outfit closes out Friday's Green Stage lineup.

 

TWIN PEAKS
7/15, red stage, 5:30pm

PHOTO BY POONEH GHANA

PHOTO BY POONEH GHANA

By Genevieve Kane

For those unfamiliar with Twin Peaks, you may be thinking to yourself, “I swear I’ve heard that name before. Why do I know that name?” No, Twin Peaks is not the Dallas based chain restaurant. Or the hit cult classic show that suddenly just swarmed hip art kids by storm. Once you listen to the band Twin Peaks, you will never confuse any of these again.

Twin Peaks holds serious roots in Chicago, which of late has been a hotbed for new and promising artists. The band holds ties to the Smith Westerns, another Chicago band which has frequented music festivals such as Lolla and Pitchfork. Twin Peaks is known for their 60’s garage rock vibes, which are very reminiscent of later works of the Beach Boys. If the Beatles and the Pixies were to procreate and produce a musical child, the result would be Twin Peaks. A summer staple jam of mine is the song Making Breakfast, from their 2014 album Wild Onion. If you are a fan of The Walters, The Orwells, Joe Bordenaro, or everyone’s favorite dad Mac Demarco, then you will certainly dig Twin Peaks. These bands are on the forefront of this new wave of garage rock, which seems to be a fusion of 60’s psychedelia and 80’s punk, and they are making their mark on Chicago and trust me when I say that you do not want to miss out on it.

If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to look up Twin Peaks right now. Their music videos border the bizarre, and never fail to amuse or perplex. Whenever I listen to Twin Peaks I feel as though I am being included in some exclusive friend group that somehow knows the secret to a halcyon life and, that by hanging out with them, am making the most of my youth. If you are looking for a good dose of garage rock on Friday, then make sure you include Twin Peaks in your lineup.

 

CARLY RAE JEPSEN
7/15, green stage, 6:25pm

By Rivka Yeker

Since releasing
Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen has reached the hearts of queers, femmes, and punks alike. With the help of releasing visually pleasing and socially progressive music videos like "Boy Problems", she has managed to shift perspectives on how pop music should be and what (femme) pop artists should say. Jepsen's music is unbelievably catchy, but her work is also great for relatable belting-in-the-car-with-your-friends summer jams. Make sure you grab the most excited looking person in the crowd and embrace your femininity at Carly Rae @ Pitchfork!

You'll dig this if: you didn't realize that full-length pop albums could be as good as ABBA's until you heard Emotion.

 

CIRCUIT DES YEUX
7/16, green stage, 1:00pm

BY SAMANTHA SATURDAY

BY SAMANTHA SATURDAY

By Eileen Marshall

"I just try to keep it real, and she was always keeping it so unreal." This is one description of Jackie Lynn, the elusive outlaw singer after whom Haley Fohr's new album is named, offered in the short documentary that accompanied the album's release. It's funny because Jackie is not real; Fohr, the Chicago-based experimental musician who records under the Circuit des Yeux moniker, invented her. On Jackie Lynn—released last month and credited either to Jackie Lynn or Circuit des Yeux, depending who you ask—Fohr pushes the trope of the mythic rags-to-riches-to-rags star by crafting a literally-mythical persona with a wild backstory and framing the record as her character's creation. It's an interesting project, and one that gave Fohr space to explore her range: her trademark tenor warble is gentler here than elsewhere, the songs are more compact, and drum machines and synths come to the fore, displacing the orchestral strings and woodwinds of her previous work.

My own introduction to Fohr came about a year ago when I went to one of her shows on a whim; I came away profoundly impressed. She is a commanding performer, and I'm excited to see her play again, though I don't necessarily expect to see much of her face: live, she's often cloaked by a curtain of her own hair, as though concealing herself as puppet master or playing Wizard of Oz. If she's styled as Jackie Lynn, however, that will mean white suit, red cowboy hat, and heavy-duty dust mask, for some reason. We'll see.

Circuit des Yeux kicks off Saturday's lineup, so be sure to get there early to catch this can't-miss set.

 

JENNY HVAL
7/16, blue stage, 3:45pm

PHOTO BY JENNY BERGER MYHRE

PHOTO BY JENNY BERGER MYHRE

By Eileen Marshall

Jenny Hval's 2015 album Apocalypse, girl opens with an imperative: "Think ... big ... girl"—the words are whispered but pronounced slowly and clearly; they are soft and sure. What follows answers the command while also challenging what it means to think big, and what it means to be a girl.

Hval is concerned with dualities and in-betweens, with the "amphibious, androgynous," to quote 2013's Innocence Is Kinky (whose title itself plays with the blurring of binaries). On Apocalypse, girl, she meditates on life and death, body and spirit, crucifixion and rebirth. Sonically, the record achieves a balance between atmosphere and hook, layering catchy vocal melodies over patchworks of found sound reminiscent of the Books, and ranging from the jazzy pop of "That Battle Is Over" to the hypnotic ten-minute drone of album closer "Holy Land", where Hval's voice swings between a low growl and an airy coo. It's an album you could fall asleep to, but you could just as easily attend to its every word as you would reading a book. In fact, Hval studied writing and has published a novel, and it shows in her lyrics, which have obviously been crafted carefully; Pitchfork's review of Apocalypse, girl aptly compares Hval's writing to the text art of Jenny Holzer and Tracey Emin.

It's music that's good to listen to when everything else makes you feel your feelings too much: while there is emotional content here, it's mediated by analysis and tempered by humor. "Feminism's over, and socialism's over. Yeah, say I can consume what I want now," Hval croons as though the lines would make good sexting fodder. Later she tackles gender roles in love relationships, musing, "It would be easy to think about submission, but I don't think it's about submission; it's about holding and being held"—even the album's most tender moments are filtered through Hval's "complex and intellectual" worldview.

Then there is her live show, which verges on performance art or something out of Beckett. Watch this excerpt (trigger warning: blood) and then decide whether you can afford to skip out on Hval's set on Saturday. Oh, also: you can expect to hear some eerie new material in advance of her forthcoming album, Blood Bitch; check out "Female Vampire", its first single.

 

THE HOTELIER
7/17, blue stage, 5:45pm

By Rivka Yeker

The Hotelier has been around for a while now, rounding up all the pop-punk kids with their first record
It Never Goes Out in 2011. Their progression has been impressive, and with the release of their second record, Home, Like NoPlace Is There, people were blown away (I know I listened to it once a day for a long time when it first came out). They matured in their lyricism, their sound, storytelling, and the overall production of (what I presume to be) a perfect record. They just came out with their most recent album, Goodness, which has taken me quite a few listens to truly understand the direction that this band is attempting to go in. I'm still not sure, but I know I like it. It's honest and pretty, and something I don't think anyone should miss live. Vocalist Christian Holden has always made intimate venues seem like tiny bedrooms, filling each corner with an impressive and powerful voice. This is a band you do not want to look over, but be prepared to be a bit shaken up and calmed down all at once.

You'd dig this if: you were into the whole emo revival thing, but are tired of white dudes yelling about ex-girlfriends in really straight-forward and aggressive ways and want to hear something with more substance and meaning, but with the same kind of pop punk/emo musical elements

Coming in on a Wave of History: Downtown Boys at West Fest

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  Photo by Christopher Grady. 

Photo by Christopher Grady. 

I'd cried at shows before, but never in the way where your face crumples into ugliness —  never in the way I cried while watching Downtown Boys play last Saturday at Chicago's West Fest.

You could say it was the ugliness of whiteness breaching the surface as though literally called out by the Providence-based band and its activist strain of punk. Each of their songs is a storm raging against American society's injustices, and if you fail to make out the message over the raucous noise and the furious shouts of frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, the snarling spoken interludes should help to clarify things. To paraphrase guitarist Joey La Neve DeFrancesco during one of these interludes: "If you've felt comfortable today, and you're thinking, 'This band is so political,' think about the things that make you comfortable. They're political, too." This is a band that restores punk to its radicalism, never hesitating to point the finger straight in the face of a predominantly white audience.

In fact Ruiz, in the course of decrying the way that marginalized groups are pushed out of their neighborhoods as affluent white tenants move in, did point an accusatory finger at a (white) man leaning from the window of his (probably expensive) apartment overlooking the festival stage. Then I watched as this man nodded along to "100% Inheritance Tax", a song calling for the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps it's a testament to the efficacy of marrying activism to the arts and entertainment: people come to move around, bounce, dance, have a beer maybe, and forget the world (another word for entertainment is distraction); they leave mobilized.

They also dance. The songs are fun and catchy, even if their subject matter is dead serious. They go hard and fast, they shout and shred, with a saxophone in the mix keeping things melodious. I think theirs would make good running music, as work by Titus Andronicus and Perfect Pussy have done for me in the past—it's exhilarating, motivating—and at just twenty-three minutes in length, Full Communism, their 2015 debut full-length, is more of a sprint than a marathon. At the same time, the music video for "Wave of History" is the most educational one I've ever seen.

I don't need to say that last week was hard. In the aftermath of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police, it was tempting to seek out a distraction, a forgetting. But the ability to do so is a privilege not afforded to all, and Downtown Boys didn't allow us that privilege. Ruiz took a moment to remind us that Black Lives Matter protesters were at that very moment taking over the Taste of Chicago festival downtown; I wondered if she and her bandmates wouldn't rather be there than here, playing a show; I wondered if I shouldn't rather be there than here, watching a show. Art should make us uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable with my whiteness; I found myself thinking, "I'm sorry I'm white," which is a cop-out, the kind of self-hate that edges on self-pity. "I'm sorry about whiteness, and I will work to make it better," I tried to think instead.

I felt uncomfortable with my position toward the front of the crowd as well, because as much as I love this band's music, I came to see that it's not really for me, or at least not chiefly. I am not its priority. The lyrics are bilingual; at one point during the set, Ruiz simultaneously interpreted DeFrancesco's remarks into Spanish. The show's most touching moment came at the end, when Ruiz descended from the stage toward the barrier (finally—you could tell that she wanted to get nearer to us all along, that the festival's setup impeded her confrontational style) and ceded her microphone to a young woman in the front row during the chorus of "Monstro". "She's brown! She's smart!" she screamed, appearing thrilled with the honor, and thrilled to be brown, and smart.

Downtown Boys deliver hope along with heft; they remind us not only of our responsibility to fight injustice, but also of our power to do so. We must take on the world; we must also love ourselves. This is what Ruiz left us with, introducing "Monstro" with guidance meant for everyone but especially for the dispossessed and discriminated-against: "Make sure that the fire inside you burns brighter than the fire outside you, but that you never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm." I'll leave you with that.

*

Check out one of Downtown Boys' upcoming shows:

7/23 - Denver, CO - Summit Music Hall
8/4 - Boston, MA - Middle East
8/24 - Washington, DC - Rock and Roll Hotel
8/27 - New York, NY - Afropunk Festival
9/8-9/10 - Raleigh, NC - Hopscotch Festival
9/17 - Asbury Park, NJ - The New Alternative Music Festival

Buy or stream Full Communism on Bandcamp.