REVIEW: Youth Code and Chelsea Wolfe and the Metro


"It was refreshing to watch women take other women on tour and reclaim heavy music as theirs."

 

by Rivka Yeker

As a kid I dreamt of being goth and looking as cool as Evanescence’s frontwoman Amy Lee. She was my idol (next to Avril) and the foundation of my music taste, specifically the part that loved metal. I wanted black nails and black outfits and corsets and in every game that I was allowed to customize a character, I’d make the goth self I’d always aspire to be.

Years later I feel more like an androgynous Emo person than a goth queen like Amy, but those goth-loving roots never escaped me. They still rest idly by deep in my taste in just about everything. Seeing someone as powerful and all-consuming as Chelsea Wolfe felt like my younger self’s dreams coming true.

The night started with Youth Code, a band I discovered by once making a Facebook status looking for new music recommendations. It was right after their recent tour with Code Orange so I spent hours of watching live footage of them going absolutely nuts on stage. They’re pretty much everything I could ask for in an industrial sounding electronic hardcore band. The band consists of Sara Taylor (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, sampling) and Ryan George (backing vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, sampling), two very passionate and talented humans who know how to put on an exhilarating set.

The two of them didn’t stop moving. Sara Taylor stood strong with a shirt that read “eat my entire fuck” and her voice, a strong surge of deep screams, filled the room in harmony with the vibrating synths. There was a moment where she came down to the crowd during my personal favorite song of theirs, “Transitions”, off their latest record Commitment to Complications and let the person in front of me (who had clearly seen this band before) take the mic. To which me and a few others joined them in yelling “I'm nailed to this earth in the wrong fucking skin / The pain of pushing forward giving way to caving in.” I felt like I was 16 again and it was perfect.

It had been years since I was last at the Metro so seeing a band like Youth Code allowed me to dance and mosh and get just as wild as them, but the crowd was a little stiff. It was an 18+ show and I’m sure everyone was mostly just there to be blown away by Chelsea Wolfe’s set, but Youth Code makes too catchy of a sound to not lose your shit. Afterwards my friend and I started talking about what it means to get older and what becomes less okay at shows, how there is a sort of unwritten rule created to sustain coolness. I shrugged it off since I was on such a high from Youth Code’s energy.

Shortly after Youth Code left the stage, the tone had shifted into something just as heavy, but darker, slower, and with more guitars. Chelsea Wolfe has a presence that encapsulates an entire entity. She wore these huge chunky high-heeled shoes that lifted her taller than she already was at 5’9. Her eyes were masqueraded with black make-up that made her look haunting and powerful. With her long black hair and long black dress, she had successfully embodied the goth queen that I think everybody in the crowd, including me, was prepared to worship.

She had started her set with songs from her latest record Hiss Spun which was just released in September. The record itself is filled with more metal elements than folk, which makes Wolfe’s discography so interesting since each album seems to achieve a different sound while still managing to maintain the same overarching dark mystical aura. The lights that lit up the band were mostly a deep red at first and during the track “Vex” off the new record, Sara Taylor from Youth Code joined Chelsea Wolfe on stage. It was a powerful and moving collaboration of two women who reclaimed genres that have traditionally been dominated by men as they gripped the mics with a sort of ferocity that exuded confidence and control. I felt my body shake from the intensity of the two of them together, knowing my younger self would’ve been elated and inspired by two women looking like badasses fulfilling something I wish I could’ve done.

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Chelsea Wolfe played for a solid hour and a half but it didn’t feel that long at all. Even as she approached her encore songs, I didn’t want her to leave the stage. She finished the night with a mind-blowing performance of “Scrape”, the last song off her newest album. She sung in a few octaves higher than any other song and did not hold a guitar. She held the mic closely and used the entire stage as a platform, allowing the lights to guide her and to consume her. Her silhouette was seen moving along with the music, guitars and drums all synchronized at once, and then the lights flickering off and then on, she stood and then fell while singing “My body fights itself inside / I feel it bow, this mortal hold.”

After feeling like I was held in a chokehold throughout the entirety of that last song, when it ended, I felt free, but all I wanted was more. She was mesmerizing, a magnetic pull into a dark embrace; one that felt grounded in femininity and fierceness.

I think that’s what made the show so important for me. It was refreshing to watch women take other women on tour and reclaim heavy music as theirs. I think we often pair heavy music with masculinity because it is a fairly male-dominated genre, but when women like Chelsea Wolfe take the stage, she presents and performs femininity while simultaneously melting the room with guitars. To me, femininity can be just as dark and just as brooding, just as intense and as deep as masculinity is perceived to be. There is so much power in a feminine essence and I feel moved by it when it takes on a form that defies feminine standards and celebrates them at the same time.

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REVIEW: St. Vincent's 'MASSEDUCTION'

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by Amanda Waters

Preparing for St. Vincent’s fifth LP, MASSEDUCTION, I found myself engulfed in the feeling of meeting up with a best friend who I haven’t seen in years. My mind was littered with questions such as,  “Will we still have anything in common? How much have they changed?” and the fearful, “Will we still like each other after all this time spent apart?” 

My love for Annie Clark has been my longest relationship— a tender and heartfelt 14 year old self fell in love with Clark’s first album discovered via MySpace. I found solace in Marry Me when nothing else seemed to make me go, “Yes, this was made just for me.” Following suit,  Actor, Strange Mercy, and the self titled St. Vincent were also monumental soundtracks to my formative years. My fingers crossed over and over for MASSEDUCTION to make me once again say, “This is the best St. Vincent album.”

The album’s first single, “New York,” was ever-promising and fulfilling for my wishes of tear-jerking heartbreak. Sadness, loss, and peppered-in profanity were rationed in perfect portions of being genuine and nonchalant. The lyrics were an all-familiar melancholy that we can recognize from Clark but the absence of her signature sound of shredding guitar was the first taste of what this new album would unfold.

Upon the releases of “Los Ageless” and “Pills,” I sat in my car and marinated in the new sound. Bumping rhythms and lyrics longing to stick to the walls of my brain were executed in an accessible form— ready for radio. Adjusting my mind from assuming St. Vincent could only deliver us whimsical wind instruments and a wailing guitar, I nodded with acceptance that songs can be despondent while perfumed with pop. 

A graceful transition from catchy bangers unfolded into our well-known friend in “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” First appearing as simply ‘John’ in Marry Me and a reintroduction as ‘Johnny’ in “Prince Johnny,” I am overjoyed to see my old love in a new form. I see flashes of it once more when I make my way to the tracks “Dancing With a Ghost” and “Slow Disco.” The structure mimics “I Put A Pearl In The Ground” and “Landmines” where we experience an instrumental interlude followed by a song that references the previous song title. 

By this point in the album, it is evident that I am being led down to its heart-wrenching core. “Smoking Section” presented itself in the most transparent and naked truth that I have experienced a musician taking me. I am amazed, terrified, and comforted that Clark made the decision to let us in on thoughts we all might have had but have been too afraid to confess. 

With her rise in fame and place in the spotlight, Annie Clark could have taken the route of locking us out on all of the sensitive subjects that were explored in MASSEDUCTION. Keeping true to herself with themes of mental illness, kinks, loss, love, and suicide - we are able to better digest these with a side of upbeat tunes. St. Vincent is just the same, but brand new.


Tracklisting:

  1. Hang On Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York
  9. Fear The Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing with a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section


Buy MASSEDUCTION on Vinyl here, or stream on Spotify today. All tour dates here.

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: 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.

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.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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

PREMIERE: "Rows of Roses" by Boo Baby

By Rivka Yeker

"Rows of Roses" is Chicago-based Boo Baby's first single off their newest album Orange You Glad. The video's simplistic yet tasteful style plays with aesthetics and somewhat of a bizarre plot line. Frontman Robert Salazar finds himself distracted by his own writing and ends up dreaming of roses, leading him to turn into a rose monster.

Silly yet strangely existential, the music video's sound reminds me of a more vibrant Sun Kil Moon. Salazar slowly dances on the line between nonsensical ramblings and poetry, but manages to still hit the mark for a solid indie rock song. 

The beauty of "Rows of Roses" is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, which makes the video all the more enjoyable. It is well-made and a fun story to watch unfold, perhaps one we might know all too well; it is the inner workings of an artist's brain when it decides to venture off into an unknown realm when it needs to hunker down and work. 

Check out Boo Baby on Facebook and be on the look out for their new record coming out January 2017.

The video was directed by Robert Salazar and Chris Le. 

Dumpster Tapes Presents: DEMOLICIÓN

By Elmer Martinez

Cabrona by Elmer Martinez

Cabrona by Elmer Martinez

Upon arriving at the Auxiliary Art Center for DEMOLICION, Dumpster Tapes’ Latinx artist showcase, I was immediately excited about the amount of brown people in the small gallery-turned-diy-venue. Being a recent transplant from a small town in Northern California I was never a part of a young music loving community of Latinx people and allies. As soon as I approached one of the members of psych rock outfit Bruised outside of the gallery, I was drawn into the inner circle of close friends that were either performing or supporting all of the bands that night.

After exchanging stories of how horrible it can be to get around LA and the current gentrification going on in Chicago neighborhoods, I wandered over to the front of the small, dimly lit stage and watched as Mia Joy opened up the night. Breaking the ice with an intense blend of shoegaze, the young quartet captivated the room with masterful reverb drenched vocals and a wall of sound.

Divino Niño  by Elmer Martinez

Divino Niño by Elmer Martinez

After the set I looked back and saw a packed house at 8:30pm on a Friday night, a not so easy feat that deserves recognition. As I talked excitedly to Alex Fryer, one half of the Dumpster Tapes, I could see why the night was already a success. Fryer is passionate about her work and understands that giving this group of Latinx performers a literal stage will bring a diverse group of people together. This cross-pollination of ethnically and culturally dissimilar crowds serves as a way to strengthen the DIY community as a whole.

The night progressed and many $1 PBR’s and Hamm’s were consumed, the stage glowed a deep red as Bruised began their aural assault. Bodies excitedly moved and the energy in the room was palpable. By the third act, there was barely any room to navigate in the small space as Divino Nino had everyone in the room falling in love with their dreamy brand of Latin American pop.

Bruised  by Elmer Martinez

Bruised by Elmer Martinez

Spirits were high as RAI played a set almost completely in Spanish. Someone next to me was even asking them to cover Cafe Tacvba (which didn’t happen much to my disappointment. Friends and admirers moved close to the stage as the empowered and unabashedly feminist Cabrona firmly poised themselves for a powerful performance. Cabrona’s (trans: “Bitches”) set encompassed the energy of punk with a definite nod to the stylings of traditional Latin American music by way of Fatima “Fatale” Gomez’ masterful violin lines.

Cabrona  by Elmer Martinez

Cabrona by Elmer Martinez

It was a real honor to be a small part of DEMOLICIÓN . Growing up in rural Northern California I never had the privilege of being part of such a strong community of Latinx artists and supporters. I truly felt like I was at an intimate gathering with mis primos and I am eternally grateful to the people at Dumpster Tapes and all of the performers for creating such a special experience.

Mia Joy  by Elmer Martinez

Mia Joy by Elmer Martinez

Alex Fryer of Dumpster Tapes 

Alex Fryer of Dumpster Tapes 

It's Okay to be Sad: A Review on Kamikaze Girls' Debut EP

Courtesy of Bearded Punk Records

Courtesy of Bearded Punk Records

The perceived bravado of rock and roll is legendary.

It is a world where exalted states reign supreme, not the sort of musical niche that invites introspection or thoughtfulness. With their latest E.P., Sad, U.K-based Kamikaze Girls are letting listeners know that, contrary to the rock ’n’ roll mythos, it’s okay to be sad sometimes. 

As a duo Lucinda Livingstone (vocals/ guitar) and Connor Dawson (drums), intend to, “[use music] as a means to challenge attitudes and taboos surrounding mental health.” This record delves fearlessly into the realms of emotional dualism, examining one’s ability to be simultaneously happy and sad through lyrical and sonic means.

On “Black Coffee” Livingstone growls, “Without you I'd sleep forever, without you I'd sleep / You made my bloodshot eyes no longer / Look like red decay” while Dawson bolsters her with a tumultuous drumbeat that begs for a mosh pit and a basement show. This duality — bloodshot tired eyes and a rabbit-heart pounding after one two many double shots is perfectly encapsulated throughout the E.P. Kamikaze Girls are kinetic, they exist in motion while understanding that life is complicated — so much so that it doesn’t always allow one to stop and think.

Vocalist Lucinda Livingston’s voice often careens into a scream as she sings. Her ruthless growl aches with sincerity, it calls forth comparisons to fellow hardcore queen and champion of vulnerability, Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves.

As a writer, Livingstone is brutally honest. She details her emotional downswings, headaches,  and distaste for funerals with candor and a healthy amount of rage.

The E.P.’s lead single, “Ladyfuzz” details reliving an overdose as Livingstone concedes, “You can leave me in the dead of night/ if that’s what you need to do.” The video was shot in Livingstone’s childhood bedroom, with bookshelves and beat up records still intact and drenched in an atmospheric blue light. Visually, the video calls forth the aimless and vaporous nature of sadness, how it seems able to fill a room without being seen invading the spaces that are supposed to be most comfortable — a bedroom or a hometown.

As Livingstone explains in a press release, “It still looks just like it was when I left it. Loads of old band merch, a LOT of Michael Jackson memorabilia, records and a bunch of stuff that I can't really have with me at the moment. With Conor knowing the meaning behind the song - and obviously standing by me as a friend when I wasn't well at the time - we kind of just wanted to tell it how it was. Not the happiest of songs, or videos, but it is what it is.”

Telling it like it is seems to be an integral part of Kamikaze Girl’s mission as a band. In addition to being the titular lead single, “Lady Fuzz” is also the name of a ‘zine that Livingstone curates which aims to celebrate female artists and musicians.  The idea that one can reclaim their experiences and turn them into something positive is fantastic. Kamikaze Girls proves that there’s no need to obliterate one’s own sadness, it is what it is.

Kamikaze Girls is currently touring throughout the U.K. with fellow Hooligan contributors, The Winter Passing. See them at any one of the dates below.

21st September The Cavern Exeter, UK

23rd September - DIY Space for London London, UK

24th September - The Key Club Leeds, UK

26th September The Bannerman Edinburgh, UK

1st October - Southsea Fest Portsmouth, UK

 “Sad” will be available September 2nd through Wiretap Records (US) and Bearded Punk Records (U.K.)

On the Rock: Cass Cwik Offers a Fine New Voice to the Chicago Music Scene

Courtesy of  Dumpster Tapes

Courtesy of Dumpster Tapes

“I’m constantly recording; it’s almost a problem.” This was the response I got from Cass Cwik when I asked him about his music-making habits and history. The 27-year-old Chicagoland native’s been at it since childhood, writing and recording, alone and with friends, on family computers and four-track machines; now his debut EP’s been released on Chicago’s promising Dumpster Tapes label. And it’s good to have it at last.

The seven songs that make up On the Rock, which came out in June, fit in pretty well with the local indie rock scene in general, and with Cwik’s labelmates in particular. With local acts like Cafe Racer and Varsity, Cwik shares a penchant for fuzzy, catchy pop songs that draw on sixties psych-pop and nineties-to-now indie alike. It’s not a unique mode, but Cwik's work is done well, and for fans and followers of Chicago music, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Cwik traces his musical roots back to an adolescent interest in American folk music and UK pop/rock bands of the sixties. These influences show: his simple, sunny melodies and cozy guitars recall the Byrds and early Stones, and a touch of the psychedelic harks back to Revolver-era Beatles, Syd Barrett’s Floyd, and Donovan. Cwik professes a long-lived love for Dylan, crediting the prolific folk-to-rock-to-jazz mastermind with teaching him much of what he knows about songwriting. Opening track “On the Evening Rock” does remind one of brighter Dylan songs like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, up to a touch of harmonica that feels refreshingly nostalgic.

As for more recent artists, Cwik’s sound is at times akin to the Deerhunter of Halcyon Digest (but without the darkness), or early Car Seat Headrest (but without the literary fixation). The vocals are hazy; guitars are crisp and melodic. And again, Cwik cites the Chicago music community as a perennial inspiration, characterizing it as “supportive and creatively driven in the best way.”

Photo by Ellie Rutledge

Photo by Ellie Rutledge

Narratively, On the Rock traces the arc of a relationship, from the love-happy bounce of its first track, to the desolate self-indictment of “Cannot Say”, which finishes out the record. Throughout, the lyrics are simple, introspective, occasionally heart-piercing. A rocky-shore metaphor ties it all together: we “lay it down easy on the evening rock” with the lover, who by the EP’s midpoint inevitably comes to “keep [us] on the rocks/ in a state of shock” rather than invite us into the comfort of their bed. Finally, “Cannot Say” relates heartbreak with no one to blame but oneself: “It’s not your fault I feel uneven/ I took a dive in a shallow bay.” (Frankly, I don’t listen to a lot of music by men these days; so, after some apprehension over the second song, titled “You’re a Sign”, I was relieved to land on the concluding track and its refusal to pin the male lover’s sorrow on the conscience of the love object.) The lyrics lack the poeticism of a Dylan, and they don’t match the inventiveness of someone like Syd Barrett; but they tell a story effectively and with feeling, and though it’s a story often told, it’s one we never seem to tire of hearing.

You can stream On the Rock, or buy the tape, on Dumpster Tapes’s Bandcamp page; keep up with Cwik by following his personal page, too. And, if you’re in Chicago, check out one of his upcoming shows: the next is September 15 at the Burlington, in Logan Square. Watch his Facebook page for updates.

Remedying Heartbreak with Damn Good Pop: Jarryd James & Broods at the Metro

By Jess Mayhew

I walk into the Metro, one of the musical Meccas of Chicago, for the first time. In the four or five years that I’ve been living in and around the city, I feel like Chicago is finally welcoming me into her center, but I’m too rushed to appreciate it. Spurred on into the venue by the sounds of an already-beginning show and dragging what feels like my consciousness and clarity of mind behind me, I am ushered into a space that feels like it balances on the precipice of being something sacred. Too big to be intimate, too small to become an overwhelming throng of bodies, the Metro greets me with the pounding drum pads and crooning voice of Jarryd James.

It’s been a tough day; engaging in an intense argument with a person who once occupied a large amount of anxiety-ridden space in my life will do that. And pushing myself into the crowd of people chatting amongst themselves, drinking, or already enthralled in the show, in preparation for a three-hour pop concert seems like the worst thing I could be doing for my state of mind.

Tuning in to the Australian’s intense pop songs, the drum and bass mixing together to provide a heart-rending, ear-splitting backdrop to James’ soaring falsetto, I find a heaviness in the music that mirrors the one I’ve been carrying inside of myself. But instead of feeling weighed down, or burdened, I feel anchored to the floor in a way I wasn’t expecting. I feel grounded. I hear whispered comparisons to Sam Smith from the concertgoers around me.

Looking at James’ face and stoic demeanor on stage, it’s easy to see that perhaps he’s not the most comfortable in front of a crowd of people. He seems to have turned inward, singing his intense and entrancing songs to himself while occasionally looking out at the audience for something — though what that is, I don’t know. Although he’s been in and out of the music industry for years now, there’s still something relatively green about him, something refreshing and earnest that makes the show feel more about his voice and music than anything performative he could do on stage.

About halfway through a considerably banter-less set, James quietly says, “I’m just going to keep singing my love songs until it’s time to go home.” As if on cue, Georgia Nott, lead singer of Broods, joins James on stage to perform their duet, “1000x,” to much excitement and applause from the audience. Their voices mingle together in a delightful way, his more soulful and subdued while hers takes on a strength indicative of her upcoming performance.

And, what a powerful performance it is. After James finishes a fantastic set, Nott and her brother Caleb take the stage. The overall run of the show feels as though it has a calculated emotional ebb and flow, starting off with the edgier, vivid “Conscious,” the closing song and namesake of the band’s most recent album.

When her brother’s harsh, buzzy synths double her vocals during the opener’s chorus, Georgia shouts the lyrics as if screaming into the void, as if she could not be heard enough: “Sweet paralyzation/No one here to keep me safe/Hyperventilation/I’m about to go insane.” Despite myself, despite my mood, I find myself getting goose bumps at the obvious rawness of the song and her emotions. She doesn’t care about sounding pretty, though she does; she doesn’t care about how she looks; all that matters in the context of this song is survival.

As Broods continues their performance, Nott’s voice modulates from powerful yells to soft, reedy whispers. All throughout, she moves her body across the stage, sometimes graceful, sometimes goofy, but never unsure or awkward. Nott commands and owns the stage, which has been turned into a honeycomb of hexagonal lights dousing the duo and their backing band in purples and blues and sometimes even, aptly, honey-yellow gold.

About halfway through the set, Caleb steps down from his platform, from which he has been orchestrating much of the instrumental content of the performance, to join his sister in an acoustic two-song interlude consisting of, “All of Your Glory” and “Taking You There.” After presenting the audience with their more emotionally intense and taxing songs, this brief, quiet intermission gives us all a little breathing room and provides a tactful lull in energy just before the upswing.

Bringing my own personal feelings of overwhelming heartbreak and negativity into the experience, I respect and appreciate Broods’ slow creep into their more upbeat, ecstatic work. It’s as if they spend the entire concert preparing you for the emotional climax, which begins at the joyous “Heartlines” and hits its peak at “We Had Everything” and “Full Blown Love.”

Though I might not have been prepared for a song as ecstatic and, well, loving as “Full Blown Love,” I find myself sold by Nott’s exuberant proclamations during the chorus, jumping up and down and pumping her hands to the sky as if to thank whatever deity for the love that inspired the song in the first place. I find myself loving along with her.

As the show comes to a close, the audience carries on their applause and shouts for a full minute before Broods takes the stage once more for an encore, performing “Four Walls,” “Bridges,” and “Couldn’t Believe.” By the final song, Nott is practically glowing, bright lights glinting off of her white outfit and providing an apt visual metaphor for the entirety of the performance: despite what emotions they were conjuring up, Broods always did so with a glowing conviction.

After the nearly three-hour show, despite having to walk back into the life I briefly left outside of the venue, I find myself with a slight smile on my face. I guess truly good pop music can soothe heartbreak, if only for a moment.

Mothers Open For Frightened Rabbit at Thalia Hall

Photo by  Kristin Karch  

Photo by Kristin Karch 

By Eileen Marshall

This was a Lollapalooza aftershow, and so it didn't start until 11pm at night; I work nine to five, which my body resists; by Thursday night, I'm tired, so Mothers was my main focus that night.

I did look up Frightened Rabbit’s recent set lists. While I haven't kept up with them, I thought I would have liked to hear "The Modern Leper", a song that wrecked me on the regular back in college. They do still play it, sometimes early in the show, sometimes late; so it was kind of a toss-up.

Frightened Rabbit's songs, including the one I most wanted to hear, are about that tension between understanding and enabling when two troubled people become intimate. From "The Modern Leper":
 

Well is that you in front of me
Coming back for even more of exactly the same?
You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg
Well I am ill, but I’m not dead
And I don’t know which of those I prefer.
 

I thought about this, and I thought about Mothers' music, how it treats the same subjects, and how the pairing of these two bands made a lot of sense. 

Mothers' debut album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, is one of my favorites released so far this year, but it’s hard for me to write about it, because listening to it rips me to shreds. Like Frightened Rabbit’s, singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristine Leschper’s lyrics center on self-loathing, on mental illness or something like it. They describe feelings of inferiority relative to one’s partner: for example, in “Burden of Proof”, with which the band opened their set last Thursday, Leschper sings, “Everything you touch turns to gold / Everything I touch turns away,” stretching the syllables into something aching, wailing. But the songs also insinuate a dynamic of abuse, suggesting that their “you” has some problems, too. "I cut out my tongue / Seeing yours would speak for the both of us"—these lines conclude "Lockjaw", one of the album's stand-out tracks. "Nesting Behavior" also ends with self-deprecation in which an accusation is embedded: "You always made it easy / Reminding me not to bloom." But the album's last words express a tentative hope of rising from the ashes stronger and kinder: "I burned up all my songs / And left them out for the dogs / I think I could learn to love."

As live performers, Leschper and her band are skilled and appear to know it. Presumably, many members of the audience that night had spent that day at the festival, likely hitting up its bars a few times; they came primarily or solely for Frightened Rabbit, and it showed. Opening for a better-known act is of course a crucial way for new artists to gain exposure. Mothers maintained a steady and confident professionalism despite the persistent crowd chatter; their set was brief but by no means a throwaway.

Even though softer songs, like the aforementioned "Burden of Proof", struggled to overpower the crowd's loudness; others, like "Copper Mines", fared better, with their revved-up tempos and more assertive rock style. Particularly impressive was the band members' success in coordinating tempo shifts with barely a glance at one another. Their setup is a standard four-piece rock band's, built of crashing drums offset by guitars that zigzag and ping like pinballs. It's reminiscent of Palm, who opened for Mothers when I saw them the first time back in May, and Ought. Leschper's vocals round out the sound: if Tom Waits or Bob Dylan has a voice like steel wool, perhaps Leschper's is the inverse, softness shaped into something hard and gleaming. It's beautiful, haunting.

Buy or stream When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired. See Mothers live.
 

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.