Black Ends Bring Ground-Breaking “Gunk Pop” to Substation This Saturday

Gunk pop. That’s the phrase Nicolle Swims—lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Seattle band Black Ends—coined to describe the group’s distinctive ruckus, which builds on Seattle’s alternative rock history but signifies a new and more diverse era for Seattle rock music. “I feel like my voice is kind of gunky,” Swims explains. “My guitar pedals can be pretty gross and weird sounding too.”

Comprised of Swims, as well as bassist and keys player Ben Swanson and drummer Jonny Modes, Black Ends released their most recent EP, Stay Evil, last summer. Swims says the band is currently working on a new music for an LP they hope to release and tour with soon.

The resemblance between gunk pop and grunge can’t be denied, and sure enough, Black Ends—who play one of their first shows back since quarantine at Fremont’s Substation this Saturday—spring from the same twisted sense of humor that fueled the genius of Kurt Cobain and several decades of white-dude Nirvana copycats. While Swims cites Nirvana as her favorite band of all time, there’s nothing cliché about Black Ends. Swims expands the definition of the Seattle sound simply by being herself.

Swims grew up in Federal Way, a city of about 100,000 people located just south of Seattle. She played saxophone in high school band, which she admits she “sucked at,” because she really wanted to play guitar. “I’ve always loved that instrument and grew up loving it,” she recalls. “My mom bought me a guitar and I started taking guitar lessons and I loved it so much.”

Graduating from high school in the nearby town of Burien, Swims went on to pursue a music degree at The University of Idaho, while her family relocated to Alabama. “I didn’t like that college; I wanted to move back with my parents for a little bit, so I went to school in Alabama and just played at open mics there for like six years,” says Swims. But she desperately wanted to return to Seattle, saying, “I missed it a lot.”

In 2018, after studying classical guitar at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Swims moved back to Seattle with the intent of starting her band. She already had some original music written, and had also conceived a name for the project.

“I had a book on the end of my bookshelf called Black and I was like, that’s a cool band name: Black Ends,” she says. “It was super simple. Everyone thinks it’s about death or something. It was just a book on the end of my shelf – a really cool book by Deborah Willis, a celebration of Black culture.”

That simple inspiration is partly what makes Black Ends’ music so fresh and important—it challenges Seattle’s predominantly white alternative rock idiom by situating Swims, a BIPOC woman, front and center. The rise of Black Ends represents a growing community of POC-led rock bands in Seattle.

“Before the pandemic, I used to get together with Alaia from Tres Leches, Eva from the Black Tones, Shaina Shepherd, and SassyBlack,” says Swims. “[Seeing more BIPOC-led bands in Seattle] makes me feel very good, like we’re doing something right. And I’ve seen, online, more Black girls are playing rock music than ever, and it’s really awesome.”

The growing prevalence of Black womxn artists in Seattle rock is largely due to the on-the-ground work of bands like SassyBlack and The Black Tones, who repeatedly highlight Blackness and the Black roots of rock music in their work—a torch that Swims also carries, while noting there’s a lot more work the community could do, too.

“I feel like there should be more Black bands getting booked in general,” she says. “I feel like there shouldn’t be all-white boy bands anymore, like the shows that are all white boy bands. That’s just over.”

It is over, and Swims’ quirky sense of songwriting, raspy voice, and Nina Simone-meets-Kurt Cobain vibe, which makes for some of the most innovative music Seattle’s seen in years, is a breath of fresh air.

“I mean, I have a lot of influences, ” Swims points out. “James Baldwin, I love his writing a lot. Nina Simone, I really love her. Jeff Buckley, he’s one of my favorite singers ever. I really like Elliot Smith a lot too.”

Despite the global pandemic, Black Ends have only gained momentum and notoriety throughout Seattle, to the point that they’re now playing fancy parties with bands like Childbirth, a Seattle supergroup made up of Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat, and Stacy Peck of Pony Time, as well as one of Seattle’s up-and-coming festivals, Fisherman’s Village Music Festival, where they’ll play September 11th at midnight. This Saturday, they play alongside Actionesse, a 5-piece horncore band that’s earned nods from The Seattle Times and NPR’s All Songs Considered.

“More people started asking us to play as the days went by – I guess, word of mouth, people heard about Black Ends, and realized we weren’t bad, so they started asking us to play shows in Seattle. We never really had to ask people to give us shows,” says Swims. “I’m having a great time.”

Follow Black Ends on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

How Maila Nurmi’s Niece Unearthed the Hidden History of Goth Icon Vampira

Maila Nurmi came to Hollywood in the 1940s, dreaming of fame and fortune. And after more than a decade of ups and downs, she had, briefly, attained it. She achieved international renown as Vampira, the world’s first horror movie TV host, setting the standard for what a horror queen femme fatale should aspire to, as well as laying the groundwork for the goth look decades before its time. Her cult status was further assured by her role in Ed Wood’s classic no-budget feature Plan 9 From Outer Space. And over the course of her eventful life, she crossed paths with numerous legends: James Dean, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley.

But that was then. When her niece, Sandra Niemi, cleared out her aunt’s apartment after her death in 2008, she found that Maila Nurmi had died in poverty. The only pieces of furniture she owned were a sofa and a plastic patio chair. Friends had often paid her rent, or the phone bill. But amidst her other possessions — the clothes, the memorabilia, the 30 pounds of beads — Sandra made an astonishing discovery. Maila had been chronicling her story over the years, “Pages and pages and pages of handwritten writings,” Sandra says. “Letters that she either forgot to mail, or it was a first draft. Scraps of paper, just a sentence or two, written in the margin of a calendar or a newspaper. Or just a scrap of paper by itself, sometimes wadded up and put in a pocket of an old jacket or a purse. Just a memory here and a memory there.”

When Sandra gathered up all the bits and pieces, they filled two plastic garbage bags. “I knew I had to put this together. And I wasn’t thinking ‘book.’ I was thinking, I’m going to find out who Maila is, and what she did with her life. What I always wanted to know and never could find out.”

But this was a tale that begged to be told to a wider audience, and over the next twelve years, Maila Nurmi’s niece sifted through her aunt’s writings, added her own research, and finally published Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi (Feral House). It’s the remarkable story of a cultural icon, whose personal idiosyncrasies curtailed a career that might have gone further, while her disdain of anything that smacked of conventionality meant she was a stranger to her own family. “I got to thinking, I’m the only one that has all this information about Maila,” Sandra explains. “There was more to her than just Vampira; that was such a brief part of her life. I thought, you’ve got to do a book, because if you don’t, Maila will only be a footnote in history. I didn’t want her to be a footnote. She deserved a lot more than that.”

Maila Nurmi was born Maila Elizabeth Niemi to Finnish parents on December 11, 1922, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her father moved the family frequently as he pursued a career as a journalist and editor, and by the time Maila graduated from high school, she was living on the other side of the country, in the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon. Not wishing to be sentenced to a lifetime’s work the local fish cannery, Maila escaped to Los Angeles in 1941, appeasing her father’s disapproval by initially living with relatives.

Her early attempts to launch a career provided a rude awakening. A talent agent, luring her with prospects of future work, persuaded her to pose topless, after which no future work materialized. She escaped assault from another agent by smacking him in the eye. “No more showbusiness for me,” she wrote on one of those scraps of paper. “Everyone concerned is FILTHY!”

But still, she persisted. She eventually found work as a model. While living in New York, she appeared in Catherine Was Great with Mae West. Her dancing skeleton routine in the show Spook Scandals landed her a screen test with noted director Howard Hawks. But then her independent streak kicked in. Outraged that Hawks said she’d need to get her teeth fixed, she tore up her contract, told the director, “I am not a commodity to be traded or sold to the highest bidder!” and stalked out of the office, to his astonishment.

“She shut the door on any movie career she would have had,” Sandra observes. “And she very well could have had a great career. She was insulted that he thought she was less than perfect. And she didn’t want her teeth fixed; she was afraid of dentists. So that was the end of that. Of course, she was young; twenty-one, twenty-two, thinking, ‘Well, the world is my oyster. I can have any job I want. I don’t need him.’ And she did need him. But she did it her own way.”

Maila continued working on the fringes of the entertainment industry, getting gigs as a model, a photographer’s assistant, in the chorus line, bit parts in films. A liaison with Orson Welles brought no physical pleasure (“Orson was not a gentle lover and was possessed of an urgency to complete the act”), but did result in the birth of a son, who was given up for adoption. Childbirth proved to be such an excruciating experience she vowed to never again have children.

She could still play the part of a star even if she wasn’t one yet. Sandra was enamored when she first met her aunt in 1953, as a six-year-old. “I had never seen anyone so beautiful,” she says. “She walked out of the back bedroom to make her entrance — now I know that’s what she was doing — and she was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.” Wearing a shimmering gold lamé dress, shoes with transparent heels, and colorful makeup (bright blue eye shadow that went “from the eyelashes all the way up to her eyebrow,” vibrant red lipstick), she seemed like something out of a fairytale. “I was looking at this goddess thinking, wow, that’s my aunt Maila! She was my own private Cinderella.”

The next year, Maila’s moment arrived. Her prize-winning attire as a black-shrouded zombie (inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams) at a costume ball attracted the attention of Hunt Stromberg, Jr., KABC-TV’s program director, who was looking for someone to host the station’s screenings of old horror films. Maila decided to sex the character up for her audition, turning the black dress around so the zipper was in front, cinching her already slender waist (the result of excessive dieting), and padding her bust and hips. A black wig and three-inch fingernails provided the final ghoulish touches. Vampira was born.

Nightmare Attic, soon to be renamed The Vampira Show, debuted on May 1, 1954. Vampira opened the shows by slinking down a cobwebbed hallway toward the camera, finally erupting in a blood-curdling scream. She delivered black-humored commentary (“I went to a delightful funeral yesterday. We buried a friend of mine — alive”) while sipping on cocktails like the “Mortician’s Martini” (one part formaldehyde, one part rattlesnake venom, a dash of culture blood, garnished with an eyeball). She was an immediate sensation, and Maila found herself being inundated with requests for personal appearances, profiled in Life, Newsweek, and TV Guide, and an in-demand guest at film premieres. Stardom was hers for the taking.

But her explosive success burned out all too soon. She soon came into conflict with the station’s management, resenting their attempts to pair her with the host for their romance film slot, a softer character named “Voluptua.” She had to learn to get along with her bosses, she was told. But as always, she did things her own way. Things came to a crashing halt in 1955 when she disobeyed KABC’s demand that she not appear on a rival network’s program; the infraction led to The Vampira Show being cancelled. There was a short-lived revival the following year on KHJ-TV. But Maila felt the show was hampered by the poor quality of the writers, and it was cancelled after 12 episodes. Vampira’s run was over.

There were also personal disappointments. Her common-law marriage to screenwriter Dean “Dink” Riesner ended. She was shattered by the death of her close friend, James Dean in 1955. “She felt like he was the first person she ever, ever met that was from the same planet,” Sandra says. “And then he was gone and she was alone again. She never got over his death, ever.”

Her relationship with her family fractured as well. When Maila’s mother died in 1957, Sandra and parents came to LA for the funeral. To Sandra, the Cinderella princess was now a “sad girl in rags,” who didn’t change her clothes during the entire visit. “She asked my mother, ‘What are you going to wear to the funeral?’ And my mother thought, ‘Oh, thank God, she’s going to change her clothes!’ But she didn’t. She just turned her sweater inside out. And I’m sure now, looking back on it, it was to say, ‘My life has been turned inside out.’”

It was the last time Maila would ever see her brother Bobbie. “My father wanted to have a relationship with his sister,” Sandra says. “But to Maila, he represented everything she despised. He and my mother had built this little tiny two-bedroom house, and he had a job, and he had a family. And that’s everything she did not want. She did not want to be domestic in any way.” An invitation to visit Astoria was rejected. Maila dropped out of sight. “I’d say to my dad, ‘I wonder where she is, I wonder what she’s doing.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, you know, she doesn’t want to be found.’”

Self Portrait with Chuck Beadles

Maila did what she could to get by as her opportunities seemed to dry up; she had small parts in films like Plan 9, The Beat Generation, Sex Kittens Go to College. She worked as a housecleaner. She entered into a short marriage of convenience with Italian actor Fabrizio Mioni. She owned an antique shop, Vampira’s Attic. She perused swap meets, dressed up her finds with feathers and beads, then sold her wares from a table on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Havenhurst Drive (Grace Slick and Shelley Winters were customers). She provided fire-and-brimstone recitations on the single “I’m Damned”/“Genocide Utopia” by garage rockers Satan’s Cheerleaders. She moved frequently, and changed her name more than once. Marlon Brando, a former paramour, sent her money when she was hard up.

Sandra never stopped wondering what happened to her aunt. “I knew nothing about her,” she says, “And I was always obsessed with finding out. I had written to many, many newspapers, magazines, and television shows, asking if anybody knew where Maila Nurmi was, Maila Nurmi who had been Vampira. I never got one response. So I didn’t know if she was dead or alive.” When Sandra’s father died in 1977, she asked the Red Cross for help in finding her aunt so that she could let her know he had passed. “They couldn’t find her. Little did I know that she was going under the alias of ‘Helen Heaven’ then.”

Then, in October 1988, Sandra spied an item in Star magazine about a lawsuit Maila had filed against KHJ-TV actress Cassandra Peterson and other associated parties over their syndicated show Elvira’s Movie Macabre, which she contended infringed upon the trademark she held for Vampira (Maila ultimately lost the case). Sandra reached out to Maila through her attorneys, and soon her long-lost aunt replied with an eleven-page letter. “To think that Bobbie has died and I didn’t know,” she wrote. “Shame on me.”

In August 1989, Sandra and her daughter Amy drove to LA for a visit. “Maila was living in a reconverted garage with no refrigerator and no stove,” she recalls. “She had a hot plate. And just a toilet. She didn’t have a shower; she had to wash out of the sink. And there was one window in the living room, way up high like you would find in a garage, and that’s where Stinky Two lived. He was an abandoned bird that couldn’t fly, so Maila took him in and he lived there up on the window ledge.”

Despite the lack of amenities, hey had a wonderful time. As they drove around town, Maila regaled them with anecdotes and pointed out sights of interest (“That’s the hospital where all the celebrities go to dry out or die”). They splurged for a brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel, running into I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden and getting her autograph. They drove to Griffith Park, where scenes from Rebel Without a Cause had been shot, to see the commemorative bust of James Dean. And the stories never stopped. “Maila never lacked for commentary,” Sandra chuckles. “She loved gossip, and she had lots of gossip to say.”

On their last night together, Maila unearthed some treasures for Sandra: family photos, Vampira scripts, a love letter from Marlon Brando proposing marriage (Maila turned him down: “He was a sex addict and a hypocrite”). She talked about Orson Welles, and the son she’d given up, wondering where was he was now. She recalled her brief affair with Elvis, whom she’d met in Las Vegas (“The way he moved those hips on stage, I was expecting a symphony, but I got Johnny One-Note”). They ended the night by singing the Finnish national anthem, and went to sleep on the floor, as Maila had no bed. Sandra told her aunt the week they’d spent together had been one of the best times of her life.

The two corresponded until 1991. Then, once again, Maila dropped out of sight. She was often without a working phone (and wouldn’t always answer when she had one), and when she moved again, Sandra couldn’t even reach her by letter. She never knew why her aunt stopped writing, but thinks it may be because Maila’s life was becoming more active. The 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards had named Plan 9 as “the worst movie of all time,” rekindling interest in the film and its director, Ed Wood. She was interviewed for Rudolph Grey’s 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., and Tim Burton’s 1994 bio pic Ed Wood raised her profile even higher. “She was in demand,” says Sandra, “and I guess she just blossomed.” Maila had been on disability since she was diagnosed with pernicious anemia at age 46, which impaired her ability to walk. The income she received from convention and film appearances was most welcome. She also began painting, and selling her work online.

On January 10, 2008, Maila was found dead in her apartment, due to heart failure. She was 86. Sandra read about her aunt’s death in the paper, and headed to LA. “Through what can only be described as a miracle,” she finally found her aunt’s last residence, and the written record of her life that she’d worked on for decades.

Work on the book was a challenge. Some of Maila’s writings were dated, others were not. “Some were just a sentence or two; who she hated now, what they had done to her. One was an ‘Autistic List.’ I showed it to her friend Stuart Timmons, and I said, ‘You’re on this list. Do you think maybe she meant Artistic List? And he goes, ‘No. It’s Autistic.’” There were also the understandable nerves of a first-time author. “I’d write a little bit and think, well, this is crap. Nobody cares. I mean, horrible, horrible self-doubt. Awful, awful. Put it away for a year. Come back to it. It just haunted me.”

Then inspiration arrived, via a twist that nobody was expecting. In 2017, Sandra had given her daughter a DNA kit from as a Christmas gift. Two years later, Amy came up with a match, and delivered the stunning results to her mother: “I know who Maila’s son is. I know his name. I know where he lives and I know his phone number.” Maila’s son, whom she claimed was the offspring of Orson Welles, turned out to be David Putter, a retired lawyer who’d served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Vermont. David had never known his birth parents, and his adoptive mother died when he was four. “So he’s kind of a motherless waif,” says Sandra.

In their first phone conversation, David asked Sandra if she knew who his birth mother was. “I said, ‘Oh, do I know who your mother is? You’re talking to the only person on the planet that is just finishing up her biography!’ Then I told him that she was Maila Nurmi — Vampira. And he said, ‘Oh my God. I waited seventy-five years to find out who my mother is. And I find out that she’s a vampire!’”

Finding Maila’s son broke through Sandra’s writer’s block, and the biography was finally finished. “I just wanted Maila’s story to be out there because she deserved it,” says Sandra. “She deserved a little immortality, and I was the only one that could do it. I wanted people to know that she was very intelligent. She was funny. She was extremely creative, resourceful, and she never sold out. People all through her life tried to buy Vampira. And as poor and poverty stricken as she was, she never sold out. She hung on to Vampira, until her last breath.”

Today, Maila Nurmi can be found at one of her favorite places: the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, situated behind the Paramount Studios lot, and the final resting place for luminaries like Judy Garland, silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, Wizard of Oz director Victor Fleming, and singer Yma Sumac. It was paid for by her friend, Dana Gould, whom Maila met when he was the host of The Big Scary Movie Show on the Sci-Fi Network. “She’s right on the roadway, and directly across the roadway is the huge lake with swans on it, the most beautiful spot in the entire cemetery. She has a primo spot; I couldn’t have handpicked a better place for her to be,” says Sandra.

“And Maila spent a lot of time in that cemetery. I have pictures of her in Hollywood Forever, sitting on one of the great director’s tombstones,” she adds. “She liked to be there. Her friend Greg Herger told me they went there often, and would have their lunch and just sit there and talk. She’d said, ‘I love this place,’ and now she’s there. I’m thrilled with where she is.” An image of Maila as Vampira is on her headstone. And when you look at it, you can almost hear her saying, “This is Vampira, until next week, wishing you bad dreams, darling.”

Toronto’s Bernice Mix Mindfulness and Imagination on New LP Eau De Bonjourno

Photo Credit: Colin Medley

On a small island just outside of Toronto in the summer of 2019, Robin Dann and her band, Bernice, unknowingly made a record that would be extremely relevant to the unforeseeable year ahead. On Eau De Bonjourno, Bernice covers themes of isolation, disconnecting self-worth from productivity and escaping into the imagination. Dann and her bandmates Thom Gill, Dan Fortin, Phil Melanson and Felicity Williams combine their deep knowledge of jazz and shared curiosity for experimentation to create an album that truly transports the listener. 

Dann says that this is the first time the band attempted songwriting as a group, a new challenge that proved to be worth the clunky learning curve. “Collaborative songwriting… I think it’s never easy until you land on a flow,” explains Dann, the band’s lead vocalist and (previously) primary songwriter. “Thankfully, Thom and I have been playing together for so long, we have almost like a psychic connection that works really well… I think the songs on this record are some of our best that we’ve ever written.” The band wrote all of the songs for Eau De Bonjourno in an old school container on Toronto Island. The way that Dann explains the residency – creating and relaxing with friends on a sunny island – sounds like a literal fairytale compared to the way most of us have been living our lives for the past year, more or less in complete isolation. 

Shortly after Bernice finished recording the album in late 2019, everything changed, including the meaning of some of their new songs. Take, for instance, “Bubble,” a song that Dann initially wrote about being uncomfortable in crowds; in 2020, crowds meant contracting more than just social anxiety. The song’s lyrics – “You’re not allowed in my personal bubble/Please step away from my personal bubble” – sound like they could be 2020’s catchphrase. “When we wrote that song… it was a lot more related to having mixed feelings about being social and being in crowded spaces and having a lot of friends that have anxiety around that,” says Dann. “Now, that’s not what it’s gonna be about. It’s gonna be about this year’s experience for anyone who listens to it now. I love that – I love how a song can just change identities when it needs to.”

Most of Dann’s lyric writing contains an innate universality, allowing the song to mold its meaning to the psyche of whoever’s listening. This elasticity is mimicked in the band’s instrumentation — a lush orchestra of experimental synths following syncopated rhythms. And while Dann’s crystal voice and intuitive melodies contain traces of R&B and pop, the band’s heavy jazz influence is evident in the improvisational nature of the music. This “play it as it comes” disposition is something Dann comes back to again and again in the record. Mindfulness and self-acceptance play a central role in this record – and in her everyday life. 

On “It’s Me, Robin,” Dann presents the idea that just being is enough. And in a time when so many of our lives have been put on pause, this idea is more than welcome. The song starts out with an unapologetic introduction: “It’s me Robin/You don’t really know me/I thought if I just expressed this/You might just let me be me and accept that/I’m here, still here/I am really here.” In this song, Dann is simply and elegantly stating that a person is not a list of their accomplishments, social connections or financial assets, that being yourself and being at peace with who that person is is as good a vocation as any. “I don’t agree with [the idea of] some lives having more or less value than other lives,” explains Dann. “It’s like, am I gonna accept myself just for who I am no matter what I do? Or am I gonna continuously try to better myself and do more for my community? And can you live with both somehow? I feel like I’m confronting that a lot.”

These existential questions are ones that seem to have been screamed into the ether for millions of years, and although Dann is still searching for the answers herself, she gives such succinct advice on that it feels she’s on the right track: “Give yourself the same love you receive, believe in your inner value,” she concludes.

Dann’s constant reminders to find worth from within and immerse yourself in the moment are therapeutic in nature, but even more so when sung in her translucent, soothing falsetto. Especially on “Lone Swan,” which was inspired by a swan who would follow her around Toronto Island. Dann explains that swans are creatures of wonder to her – that one day, when swans are extinct, humans will look back in disbelief that we shared the planet with them. “Swans are interesting to me because they have this horrible reputation, but you see them and you’re like, ‘You are not of this world,’” says Dann. “Like, how do people see swans and just accept that they’re real? I see a swan and I’m like, that’s an alien, like that is coming from another planet, it’s not a bird.” 

Simple, but awe-inspiring moments like this throughout Eau De Bonjourno remind the listener not to take our surroundings for granted, but not to take them too seriously either. This balance of playfulness, self-awareness and intention is what makes Bernice’s music so pleasant to listen to, and even heal to. Maybe, one day, we’ll be able to look back on pandemic times the way Dann predicts our predecessors will look at swans – in shock and awe that they ever existed. Until then, I suggest taking a page from Dann’s book on living: “If I did nothing but love myself and love one other person, that’s fine.”

Follow Bernice on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Laura Carbone Captures the Magic of Live Music with “Tangerine Tree”

With the coronavirus limiting our ability to participate in large events like concerts, artists have had to innovate to continue bringing their fans the magic of live performances. Some have offered live-streamed concerts, while others have recorded covers of their quarantine comfort songs, and others still have performed at socially distanced venues. Meanwhile, Berlin-based alt-rock artist Laura Carbone came up with her own solution: to dig up footage from a past live performance that was near and dear to her heart and turn it into an album.

The performance in question is her 2019 show at Harmonie Bonn (in Bonn, Germany), which was broadcast on Rockpalast (Rock Palace), a German TV show that films and airs live rock performances. Carbone grew up watching Rockpalast, which has featured the likes of Radiohead, Sonic Youth, The Smashing Pumpkins, and David Bowie, so it was a dream come true for her to be counted among them.

“I grew up in Germany in a teeny tiny town where 500 people were living there, and I didn’t have much to stay in contact with the sonic world, but I knew Rockpalast,” she remembers. “I started dreaming about one day being able to play on this stage as well.” After obtaining Nirvana’s Nevermind, she became hooked on rock music and started playing the guitar, then began performing covers before releasing her first solo album, Sirens, in 2015.

She released another LP, Empty Sea, in 2018, and was planning to record a new one this spring when COVID hit. Because she was no longer able to go into the studio, the plans got cancelled. Then, Carbone got a call from her drummer Jeff Collier suggesting that they ask Westdeutscher Rundfunk, the TV station behind Rockpalast, if they could use the recording from the show. “I had so many moments when I could not think, when I was not positive toward the future, and receiving this call and idea was a no-brainer,” she recalls. “We were blessed in receiving this.”

Smack in the middle of the album, titled Laura Carbone – Live at Rockpalast, is “Tangerine Tree,” a warm, melodic song full of fantastical imagery about meeting up with someone in a dream. “Silver linings, fading rainbows/Come take my hand tonight/I’m your blackout at your sunrise,” Carbone sings against dreamy electric guitar.

“‘Tangerine Tree’ is a vivid dream inviting you to dive in and float in it for a while,” she says. “Like the comfort of familiar good feelings that keep on visiting you every now and then in your sleep. Temporary, falling for a moment, and letting go again.”

The influence of ’90s grunge is evident in Carbone’s vocal style and heavy instrumentals, but there’s also a positivity and beauty to her music that shines through in the live recordings. On “Swans,” another highlight from the album, she builds dark, almost gothic lyrics like “I’d give my blood plasma/Noise kills the silence silent” to an uplifting chorus with an enchanting melody: “It’s just a new phase/new phase of the moon.”

It was important for her to include the whole setlist on the album “to give the impression of being present at the show,” she says. “It’s so beautiful how we can feel when the band is warming up — I can hear it in my voice and how tense it was when we started — and I think it’s such a nice flow when the audience joins in and we start getting into the flow of the music.” 

Another feature of the album that captures the feeling of a live performance is the interludes — a highlight for Carbone is the improvised guitar interlude between “Lullaby” and “Tangerine Tree.” She recounts, “We had so much time that was given to us and not enough songs, and so we chose to go even more with the flow in between the songs.”

In addition to songs from Sirens and Empty Sea, the album includes an unexpected cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” The song starts off slow with dark guitar riffs, then escalates to passionate belting and erupts into haphazard yelling, drumming, and guitar.

Despite the wide range of subject matter covered in the songs, Carbone considers the overall theme of the album to be “bittersweetness and melancholia and a beauty that’s very often reflected through what surrounds us.”

Carbone, also a photographer, is keen on letting her fans in on her process — she currently shares her music in progress, essays, and photography on her Patreon, and in response to subscribers saying they appreciated learning what happens behind the scenes of her music, she started the podcast What It Takes to Create a Record, which contains insights from her band and production team, including the last album’s mixer Scott Von Ryper, guitarist for The Jesus & Mary Chain.

She hopes her latest album can offer some relaxation to listeners during a stressful time. “They should chill the fuck out for the whole set, close their eyes, and just lead themselves to wherever they need to be in this moment,” she says. “Maybe they need to time-travel back into a live music scene, or maybe they just have to be up in space or dive into water. I just hope they take their time and pause from what’s going on. If they put it on and a shower of blissful sound is streaming through them, that would be beautiful.”

Follow Laura Carbone on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

RSVP HERE: Shadow Monster live streams via The Footlight + MORE

Welcome to our weekly show recommendation column RSVP HERE. Due to live show cancellations we will be covering virtual live music events and festivals.

Photo Credit: Michelle LoBianco / @brooklynelitist

Shadow Monster is the solo project of Gillian Visco, a staple of the Brooklyn music scene since 2007, having  played in bands including Photon Dynamo and the Shiny Pieces and The Glitch. Since 2012 Gillian has played solo under the Shadow Monster moniker, writing introspective tunes until she paired up with drummer John Swanson (also of Sic Tic and The Glitch) in 2017, evolving their sound to heavier, moody (yet minimal) grunge. Shadow Monster is an exercise in exploring your shadow side and exorcising inner demons through songwriting. Their debut record Punching Bag was released in October 2019 via Dadstache Records, they played a ton of shows in 2019, and had plans to tour to SXSW this year (which were unfortunately canceled due to Covid-19). You can still see Gillian of Shadow Monster from the comfort of your quarantine on Saturday, playing a solo set live streamed from The Footlight Instagram alongside sets by Nathan Xander, and Kiril of Bears. We chatted with Gillian about her quarantine routine, the effects of isolation on her creative process, and what to expect from her live stream performance.

AF: You’ve been in NYC since 2007, and I’m sure have seen it change a lot. Have the changes in NYC affected how you’ve written music and performed over the years?

SM: It’s true – New York is always morphing and venues that I thought would be here forever are already gone. I tend to be a nostalgia-hoarder, so the art of letting go has been the most valuable lesson I’ve learned while living and playing music here. When you strangle the past like it’s the best thing that’s ever going to happen to you, you leave no room for the unexpected. The years I played solo I wrote quiet fingerpicking songs, and now I thrash around onstage and scream. But the root of it remains the same. I think an artist’s entire career is like chasing after something you remember vaguely from a dream. Maybe we never get it perfect – but perhaps the value lies in the passion for going after it at all. New York has taught me that patient joy in reveling in the rollercoaster and allowing myself to evolve into the most authentic version of the artist I am at this moment in time.

AF: What was the process for writing and recording your debut album Punching Bag?

SM: The songs on Punching Bag were written over a two year period while I was dealing with a bad breakup. I lost myself in a cave of turmoil and felt completely disconnected to the world around me. John Swanson started playing drums with me in the summer of 2017. Playing shows and arranging these songs with John was the main thing that pulled me out of the dark place I was writing them from. In March of 2018 I lost my job and we decided to spend every day working on getting our best seven songs recorded. We recorded everything on our own in John’s room and once finished, we brought the tracks to Brian Speaker at Speakersonic where they were mixed and mastered.

AF: Do you have a quarantine routine? What albums, movies, and shows have you been getting into?

SM: The first thing I do every morning since I’ve been in quarantine is try to get out of bed. This usually takes around an hour… It’s a habit I’m going to break… next week. So after I climb that mountain, I start my day by having a coffee, watching some news, drinking lemon water and meditating. I meditate before bed too. I find it’s a really great way to bookend the day, especially during times of high stress and anxiety. I’m a Virgo so naturally I have an ongoing list of things I’d like to accomplish during this time at home. Something that has stuck is a quarantine art series I’ve been posting on Instagram featuring a character I call NoName. I normally never have much time to devote to visual art so I’m just diving in head first now. Drawing is great for anxiety.

Shows I’m watching: Tiger King, Sex Education, High Fidelity, Preacher, 30 Rock

Shows on my list: The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter

AF: Has being in quarantine helped or hindered your creative process?

SM: Being in quarantine has been interesting to navigate creatively. There’s a whole aspect of my personality that loves being locked in my room, working for hours on a song, writing poetry, playing records, lighting candles, enjoying my space. But then there’s this other half of me that loves people and music and loud bars and dancing and staying out too late and escaping the confines of my mind. I’m figuring out how to adapt. We have essentially lost our social life so everything feels a bit off-balance to me. But feeling off is a great place to make art from. It’s the cabin in the woods trip I always talk about taking. And I don’t even need to pack.

AF: What’s your livestream set going to be like?

SM: I’m super excited to do a livestream show on Saturday through The Footlight’s Instagram page. I’ve done a couple of livestream sets over the past two weeks, (, Left Bank Magazine, Bands Do BK) but this one is going to be a longer set. I plan to give a couple brand new songs a shot that I’ve written during quarantine. I’ll play some songs from our album, and I’m working on a cover. I’m implementing a drinking game in the set too. Get your quarantine drink of choice ready and bring your pets.

AF: What is the first thing you’d like to do if and when everything goes back to normal?

SM: I WANNA GO TO A SHOW. So bad. So so bad.

RSVP HERE for Gillian of Shadow Monster, Nathan Xander, and Kiril of Bears livestream on The Footlight’s Instagram 8PM EST. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday tune into to their page for an hour long show. Donations accepted through the link in their bio to help support the artists and the staff of The Footlight. 

More great live streams this week…

4/3 Big Freedia via Facebook. 9pm est, RSVP HERE

4/3  Rick from Pile via Instagram. 8pm est, RSVP HERE

4/3 Francie Moon, Moon Bandits, Tejon Street Corner Thieves live stream via Coping with Dystopia Instagram. 6pm EST RSVP HERE

4/4 Cam Tony (Mac Demarco) via BABYtv. 8-10pm EST $5-50 RSVP HERE


4/4 25 Hour Comedy Fest via Socially Distant Improv Instagram. 11am EST RSVP HERE

4/5 Carrie Anne Murphy of Clapperclaw, Huh, Bad Credit No Credit, and The Sundae Fantastique show will be live streaming every night at midnight EST. RSVP HERE

4/5 Sunday Silent Film: Salome w/ live accordion music via YouTube. 2:30pm EST RSVP HERE

4/8 Sondre Lerche via Facebook. noon est RSVP HERE

4/9 Dolly Parton bedtime story live stream via YouTube. 7pm est, RSVP HERE

Daily: Lauren Ruth Ward coffee chat via Instagram. noon-3pm pst, RSVP HERE

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

Lizzo press photo by Luke Gilford, courtesy of Atlantic Records.

Every year I keep a running list of new album releases. The idea is that I’ll have new stuff on my radar, along with a go-to playlist if I’m feeling adventurous (or bored) and want to hear something new. This year that list grew to nearly 9,000 songs, and I’m still adding stuff I missed from this year to it. When it came time to make my year-end list, I had some ideas about what would be on it, but I decided to do something more immersive than I’d done years prior (basically narrowing my list down to ten albums). This year, I decided to rank every record I listened to that came out in 2019, resulting in a list of more than 200 albums. That’s a lot, certainly. It’s my job, of course, to listen to music. But what was more mind-boggling was that, when I made a separate list of albums I hadn’t had a chance to listen to or simply didn’t stick in my mind, it was more than double that number. Y’all, a lot of music came out in 2019. And a lot of it was really, really good.

I think our list at Audiofemme is unique in that it gives each of our regular writers (and some of our contributors) complete ownership over their favorites, and that makes our list unusually eclectic. That’s especially true this year; last year’s lists featured a lot of love for Mitski and Janelle Monae, while this year’s lists were so disparate there’s very little crossover from list to list. So while it’s hard to choose one overarching narrative around who slayed hardest this year – Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen releasing the best albums of their careers, Big Thief releasing two amazing records, Jamila Woods and FKA Twigs going big on concept albums – I think we all know that person was Lizzo.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
    2) Big Thief – Two Hands
    3) Boy Harsher – Careful
    4) FKA Twigs – Magdalene
    5) Cate le Bon – Reward

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)

    Top 10 Albums:
    2) Hand Habits – placeholder
    3) Crumb – Jinx
    4) Pottery – No. 1
    5) Orville Peck – Pony
    6) Cate le Bon – Reward
    7) Kim Gordon – No Home Record
    8) Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
    9) Black Belt Eagle Scout – At the Party With My Brown Friends
    10) Big Thief – Two Hands
    Top 10 Singles:
    1) Sharon Van Etten – “Jupiter 4”
    2) SOAK – “Valentine Shmalentine”
    3) Jonny Kosmo – “Strawberry Vision”
    4) Mineral – “Your Body Is the World”
    5) Drahla – “Stimulus for Living”
    6) Mattiel – “Keep the Change”
    7) Girlpool – “Minute in Your Mind”
    8) Charlotte Adigéry – “Paténipat”
    9) Weyes Blood – “Andromeda”
    10) Palehound – “Killer”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)

    Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
    Summer Walker – Over It
    Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
    Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
    Mannequin Pussy – Patience
    Raveena – Lucid
    Top 3 Singles:
    Summer Walker – “Anna Mae”
    Solange – “Binz”
    Jamila Woods – “ZORA”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Guayaba – Fantasmagoria
    2) Ings – Lullaby Rock
    3) The Black Tones – Cobain & Cornbread
    4) Lemolo – Swansea
    5) Stephanie Anne Johnson – Take This Love
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Lizzo – “Juice”
    2) Karma Rivera – “Do More Say Less”
    2) Heather Thomas Band – “When I Was Young”
    3) Stephanie Anne Johnson – “Never No More”
    4) Sarah Potenza – “I Work For Me”
    5) Ariana Grande – “Thank U, Next”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Charly Bliss – Young Enough
    2) PUP – Morbid Stuff
    3) Kim Petras – TURN OFF THE LIGHT
    4) Microwave – Death is a Warm Blanket
    5) Caroline Polachek – Pang
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Jess Day – “Rabbit Hole”
    2) Ashnikko – “Hi, It’s Me”
    3) Saweetie – “My Type”

  • Cillea Houghton (Playing Nashville)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Yola – Walk Through Fire
    2) Louis York – American Griots
    3) The Highwomen – The Highwomen
    4) Sara Potenza – Road to Rome
    5) Rising Appalachia – Leylines
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Kacey Musgraves – “Rainbow”
    2) Louis York – “Don’t You Forget”
    3) The Highwomen – “Crowded Table”

  • Luci Turner (Playing Atlanta)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
    2) Harry Styles – Fine Line
    3) Brittany Howard – Jaime
    4) MARINA – Love + Fear
    5) Death Mama – High Strangeness
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Sam Burchfield – “Blue Ridge June”
    2) Pip the Pansy – “Siren Song”
    3) 5 Seconds of Summer – “Teeth”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
    2) Wale – Wow… That’s Crazy
    3) Roddy Ricch – Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
    4) DaBaby – KIRK
    5) NF – The Search
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) DaBaby – “Intro”
    2) Polo G – “Pop Out”
    3) Lil Baby – “Yes Indeed” (feat. Drake)

  • Amanda Silberling (Playing Philly)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Palehound – Black Friday
    2) Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
    3) Charly Bliss – Young Enough
    4) T-Rextasy – Prehysteria
    5) Leggy – Let Me Know Your Moon
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Mannequin Pussy – “Drunk II”
    2) Charly Bliss – “Chatroom”
    3) (Sandy) Alex G – “Southern Sky”

  • Tarra Thiessen (Check the Spreadsheet)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
    2) FEELS – Post Earth
    3) Francie Moon – All the Same
    4) Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
    5) Crumb – Jinx
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Dehd – “Lucky”
    2) Bodega – “Shiny New Model”
    3) Y La Bamba – “Entre Los Dos”

  • Natalie Kirch (Pet Politics)

    Top 5 Albums (in Chronological Order):
    1) JANITOR — She Hates The Hits
    2) Haybaby — They Get There
    3) Holy Tunics — Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree
    4) Bethlehem Steel — Bethlehem Steel
    5) Francie Moon – All The Same
    6) SUO – Dancing Spots and Dungeons
    Top 5 Singles (in Chronological Order):
    1) Big Bliss – “Contact”
    2) Gesserit – “Silence”
    3) Vanessa Silberman – “I Got A Reason”
    4) New Myths – “Living Doll”
    5) Miss Eaves – “Swipe Left Up”


  • Liz Ohanesian

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Hot Chip – A Bath Full of Ecstasy
    2) (tie) Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence // K Á R Y Y N – The Quanta Series
    3) !!! – Wallop
    4) Yacht – Chain Tripping
    5) Chromatics – Closer to Grey
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Billie Eilish – “Bad Guy”
    2) Roisin Murphy – “Narcissus”
    3) Boy Harsher – “Come Closer”

  • Lydia Sviatoslavsky

    Top 5 Albums:
    1)  Xiu Xiu – Girl With a Basket of Fruit
    2) slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
    3) Boy Harsher – Careful
    4) Thee Oh Sees – Face Stabber
    5) Sylvia Black – Twilight Animals
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Squarepusher – “Vortrack – Fracture Remix”
    2) Coyu & Moby – “I May Be Dead, But One Day The World Will Be Beautiful Again”
    3) Cocorosie – “Smash My Head”

  • Tamara Mesko

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Bad Books — III
    2) Pedro The Lion — Phoenix
    3) Laura Stevenson — The Big Freeze
    4) An Horse — Modern Air
    5) Black Belt Eagle Scout — At the Party With My Brown Friends
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Kevin Devine – “Only Yourself”
    2) Rain Phoenix feat. Michael Stipe – “Time is the Killer”
    3) Sigrid – “Strangers”

  • Erin Rose O’Brien

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Stef Chura — Midnight
    2) Angel Olsen — All Mirrors
    3) Lisa Prank — Perfect Love Song
    4) Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated
    5) Cheekface — Therapy Island
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Caroline Polachek — “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”
    2) Priests — “Jesus’ Son”
    3) Lana Del Ray — “The Greatest”

  • Katie Wojciechowski

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) The Highwomen — The Highwomen
    2) Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center
    3) Various Artists — Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’
    4) Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride
    5) J.S. Ondara — Tales of America
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) MUNA — “Good News (Ya-Ya Song)”
    2) Lizzie No — “Narcissus”
    3) Noah Gundersen — “Lose You”

  • Micco Caporale

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Orville Peck — Pony
    2) Boy Harsher — Careful
    3) Lingua Ignota — Caligula
    4) Heterofobia — Queremos Ver El Mundo Arder
    5) Knife Wife — Family Party
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Dorian Electra – “Flamboyant”
    2) Orville Peck – “Dead of Night”
    3) Solange — “Binz”

  • Jason Scott

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Allison Moorer — Blood
    2) Gabriella Rose — Lost in Translation EP
    3) Emily Scott Robinson — Traveling Mercies
    4) Girl Wilde — Probably Crying EP
    5) BHuman — BMovie
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”
    2) The Highwomen – “Redesigning Women”
    3) Katy Perry — “Never Really Over”

  • Ysabella Monton

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) King Princess – Cheap Queen
    2) Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
    3) Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
    4) Kim Petras – Clarity
    5) Charli XCX – Charli
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) King Princess – “Hit the Back”
    2) FKA Twigs – “holy terrain”
    3) Charli XCX – “Gone” feat. Christine and the Queens

  • Holly Henschen

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Marielle Allschwang & the Visitations – Precession of a Day: The World of Mary Nohl
    2) Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
    3) Sudan Archives – Athena
    4) Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
    5) Sigur Rós – Sigur Rós Presents Liminal Sleep
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) King Princess – “Hit the Back”
    2) Sleater-Kinney – “Hurry on Home”
    3) Lizzo – “Tempo”

  • Erin Lyndal Martin

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love
    2) Mariee Sioux – Grief in Exile
    3) Carolina Eyck – Elegies for Theremin & Voice
    4) Julia Kent – Temporal
    5) Rhiannon Giddens – There is No Other (with Francesco Turrisi)

  • Rebecca Kunin

    Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
    Mal Blum – Pity Boy
    Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
    Durand Jones and the Indications – American Love Call
    Tony Molina – Songs from San Mateo County
    Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
    Top 3 Singles:
    Brittany Howard – “Stay High”
    Angel Olsen – “New Love Cassette”
    Jacky Boy – “Get Along”

PREMIERE: Sondra Sun-Odeon “Roses in the Snow”

Photo credit: Anna Aguirre

Time and distance often having a cooling effect on the memory, but in Sondra Sun-Odeon’s case, they gave her the tools she needed to sharpen the knife. It’s been seven years since her debut album Ætherea, and with her newest offering she steps firmly back into the musical orbit. “Roses in the Snow” is  five minutes and 47 seconds of intense meditation on grief and anger, but ultimately also a reflection of healing – a hot bath in which soak an addled mind.

“Roses in the snow / I gave you everything,” Sun-Odeon sings, striking an eerie tone and timbre right from the start. The driving guitar and drumbeat create an unusual dissidence with Sun-Odeon’s soprano vocals, reminiscent of Kate Bush’s soaring, witchy style. The song is a kind of rumination on those first lyrics, the repetition swirling out of control near the finish, where we’re enveloped in a guitar solo that winds and crashes its way to an ending.

Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Roses in the Snow” and read our interview with Sondra below.

AF: Tell us about your childhood. You’ve said your family was pretty poor and “had no stereo or radio growing up“. You were introduced to the piano and learned to play from Chinese opera videos. Did that restrictive musical lens help foster a curiosity in you about other kinds of music?

SSO: My parents were poor immigrants and my sisters and I are the first generation of the family born here, so we didn’t have much beyond the basic necessities growing up. My parents didn’t see the necessity of things like a stereo or radio, but at the same time, they felt it was important for us all to have piano lessons, for some reason! So my first experiences with music were actually the classical music I was playing in orchestra (I also played violin at school) and on piano, as well as the music of Chinese opera videos my parents would watch, which I was fascinated with, mainly for the costumes! I would not call these lenses restrictive, however—they probably aren’t typical for someone making the kind of music that I do right now, but I think my experiences inform a unique perspective on music and what my brain likes to hear and write.

AF: It’s been seven years since your debut solo album Ætherea. Did the development process for your new album take time, or were there some scrapped projects along the way?

SSO: I actually started recording some of these songs in 2013 with my Brooklyn band, but some relationships within the band deteriorated during these sessions and I also was dealing with personal trauma, so recording came to a halt when I decided to leave NYC to tour solo.

After touring the country and bouncing back and forth between LA and NYC for a year, I desperately needed grounding and found myself in LA, unable to move back to NYC like I had planned. I needed space to process the really fucked relationship I had been in and completely detox from what felt like an addiction to a relationship in which I lost all sense of who I was, with a person whose behavior toward me was at times disrespectful and took advantage over me. During this time, I did a lot of personal work, undergoing an intense emotional/spiritual growth spurt from having crawled out of a deep hole of depression and shattered delusions. It took three years before I could get to a point of even wanting to hear some of these songs again (because they were largely written about experiences I’d had in this very fucked relationship).

I had been severely disconnected from my own self as an artist while working in the NYC fashion industry, and I needed to bring my life back into alignment with my values. I became a yoga instructor and committed to healing myself and expanding my artistic practice. In the time since the last album, I’ve explored performance beyond the band format – performing my written prose and long-form poetry along with vocal manipulation live. In the first year of being in California, I played a lot of 12-string open-tuned acoustic baritone guitar inspired by Robbie Basho and have an EP of those songs I’ll release someday. I also composed and performed an hour-long vocal/instrumental drone piece called “Unsilencing” at Basilica Drone earlier this year, that is based on a song from the album, Drowning Man: An Invocation for the Demise of Patriarchy.

AF: How do you go about writing a song? Do you normally start with a subject in mind or does the music come first?

SSO: Most of the songs are written in the moment of feeling deep emotion and come fairly instantaneously. It’s usually a feeling that comes first, the music, then the words. But sometimes, the music comes first—a phrase, a melody line. My songwriting process is changing though; instead of waiting for the strike of emotional spontaneity, I am taking a more compositional approach lately.

AF: “Roses In The Snow” started as a reaction to an out-of-body experience you had. Was it a kind of sleep paralysis?

SSO: No. The experience came from deep emotional distress. I felt my soul and consciousness wanting to leave my physical body and hovering above it because of the psychic pain it was in; I was in profound trauma from having just ended a pregnancy amidst the crumbling aforementioned relationship.

AF: Your upcoming album DESYRE continues in the tradition of Ætherea by featuring an astounding lineup of collaborators including Thor Harris (SWANS), J.R. Bohannon (Ancient Ocean), Lia Simone Braswell (A Place to Bury Strangers) and Mary Lattimore. Why is it important for you to feature other artists in your own work?

SSO: I love working with the energy, ideas, and talents of the many incredibly talented friends I’ve been blessed to have in my life. Working together to create something larger than yourselves is one of the most satisfying endeavors in life. It’s also way more fun to share the creative process with others. What a gift to be able to collaborate with others, to be present to the expression of who they are via how they hear/see and contribute to your work!

AF: What musicians are you currently listening to?

SSO: I don’t listen to music when I’m writing because I like to keep my mental canvas blank, but when not in writing mode, I mostly listen to music by friends, like John’s (J.R Bohannon) beautiful solo guitar work, Mary Lattimore’s music (which I play heavily in my yoga classes), Lia’s solo project Lalande and her band APTBS, Thor & Friends, Jolie Holland. I’ve also been enjoying Aldous Harding, the newest Low album, Tim Hecker, Arca, and Natalie Rose Lebrecht’s new album of late.

AF: What are you reading?

SSO: I just read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Ooof, chilling! So dark, so brutally insightful. She’s a genius. Also, heavily reading all things Rebecca Solnit these days. Currently reading her book Men Explain Things to Me. Also, Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger.

AF: What do you hope an audience member takes away from a Sondra Sun-Odeon performance?

SSO: I hope they are moved in some way to feel something, anything.

Sondra Sun-Odeon’s second full-length album Desyre is out November 22 and is available for pre-order on Graveface Records.

ALBUM REVIEW: Microwave Solidifies Lyrical Superiority on Death is a Warm Blanket

It’s inevitable that your favorite bands will eventually release an album that challenges you in some way. Georgia band Microwave’s newest release, Death is a Warm Blanket, is certainly one of those albums for me.

Their 2016 LP, Much Love, a heartrending thirty minutes of beautifully written and arranged tracks lamenting the complexities of love, metal health, and crises of faith, made quick work of cementing its place on my all time favorites list. This is partially due to the machinations of main vocalist Nathan Hardy, whose incredible voice finds the perfect balance between raw and tender with deceptive ease. One of Much Love’s trademarks is songs that switch gears halfway through, with ambling, lullaby-like melodies that devolve into vocal stylings one would expect to hear on a full-blown emo album.

On Death is a Warm Blanket, Hardy and his bandmates Tyler Hill (bass), Timothy Pittard (drums), and Wesley Swanson (guitar) have certainly not abandoned their love for frequent tonal shifts, but instead have decided to lean more heavily into their propensity for discordant sounds, throat-shredding vocals, and couch-tipping despair.

Write off all of your old friends, advises Hardy on album standout “Hate TKO.” Tolerance is a well-swept path to hell. Something I’ve always loved about Microwave is that not only can they deliver a gut-twister of a line about romantic relationships (see: Cause I’m not yours/no, that’s not right/I’m just a novelty you’re toying with to complicate your life from Much Love’s “Whimper”) they can deliver equally heartrending lines about the complexities of friendship, or, worse, your relationship with yourself.

Considering that my relationship with Microwave so far has been one of tunnel-minded infatuation with Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket required some adjustment on my part. The band’s writing prowess is still undeniable, but upon the first few  listens of Death it was hard for me, as someone who does not gravitate towards emo/post-emo and hardcore music, to connect as immediately with the new songs.

Despite this, a few weeks out from release, I have had a love affair with almost every song on Death is a Warm Blanket, always a good sign for an album’s potential staying power. Of course there are those albums you experience like a burr in a blanket, the ones that enjoy repeat plays for weeks, months, even years, but it take a special succession of episodic experiences for an album to stick with you for the long haul, a knot tied tight in the tapestry of your musical life.

Unlike Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket is not a easy listen. Microwave still pays close attention to the transitions between songs — the one between “Pull” and “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart” is so imperceptible as to almost seem like an accident — but there is no one and nothing to blame for the lack of ease other than the plain fact that this album choking with disappointment. I think it’s too easy to say that an album with one hand gripped firmly around the emo moon landing flag is “angry.” Anger, to me, implies a baselessness, a throw-it-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks attitude, like the punks of yore punching down with reckless abandon, using the guise of rebellion to hide the fact that they’ve got their heads as far up their ass as the rest of us.

There is nothing baseless about the disappointment and exhaustion that coat this album. There is certainly a level of theatricality — the Frankensteinian townspeople metaphor in “Hate TKO” comes to mind, as well as the fact that they opened the album with a song called “Leather Daddy” — but the title song really distills the album down to its discomforting essence with a single line. I really needed a blanket/I didn’t know how to ask, Hardy sings on “DIAWB,” his voice distorted to near-intelligibility. It’s lines like this that keeps me coming back, even if I have to plunge a pickax through the arrangements to find them. Somehow, this line manages to feel both far-flung and claustrophobic, this small horror of navigating adult life: I didn’t know how to ask.

It’s not all wolflike screams and shaking fists at the sky, however. At turns beautiful, at turns grating, “Pull” begins with a haunting, lantern-light melody that sounds like Hardy is chastising someone for not letting him go while standing in their doorway. I secretly would kill for a fully acoustic version of this song (I literally had a dream about it) but have come to accept the plunge into crunchy guitars and screams that happens seconds after Hardy half-whispers I can’t do this again.

“Hate TKO” (See R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass’s 1980 hit “Love T.K.O.” for likely title inspiration, T.K.O. meaning “Technical Knock Out”) also slides into a moment of strange softness — or, at least, a softness reminiscent of submersing yourself in white noise a la Eleven from Stranger Things — as a childlike, accented voice reminds us that we have an endless supply of love within us for anything we choose.

Album closer “Part of It” is a bit of a sleeper hit, tonally similar to their earliest work in the sense that Hardy has found himself perched between the false promise of religion and the dark pit of believing in nothing, still certain the latter is the lesser of two evils, but still pretty unhappy about it. In a perfect world I don’t think I would sing/my voice would shrink in peaceful atrophy, he muses, a killer line that genuinely pissed me off the first time I heard it, because I’m almost sure I’ll never write anything that good.

While only time can determine if Death is a Warm Blanket will stitch itself into my musical tapestry the way Much Love so confidently did, I know that I’m in it for the long haul with this band. If I wasn’t willing to challenge my musical taste at all, I probably would never have taken the steps that led me to discover Microwave in the first place. And that would be ever so much further away from that perfect world.

Microwave is on tour now. Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Lemolo Premieres “South of Sound” Single Ahead of New LP

Photo by Jacquilyn Shumate

As much as the Seattle sound is about notions of counterculture and nonconformity, the ever-present majesty of the area’s natural surroundings is embedded within it as well, offering a sense of cohesion among what is otherwise a city of musical eclecticism. The melancholy gray skies, majestic evergreen forests, and churning waters of the Puget Sound all have their way with the music made in this area. Lemolo—vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Megan Grandall—is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Lemolo’s forthcoming release, Swansea, out Oct. 11, is a little pop/rock, a little ambient electronic, a little folk singer-songwriter. Grandall draws many different musical influences that, on their own, are seemingly disconnected from place. But, when knitted together organically by the demands of her lyrical inspirations—her turbulent inner-world and the lush environment of Grandall’s hometown of Poulsbo, WA—there’s a through-line that wasn’t there before. Swansea’s eleven original roiling soundscapes—echo-y, ambient canvases kissed with Grandall’s gentle vocals—are magnificent, pensive and intoxicating. It’s an album that can only be from the Pacific Northwest.

Lemolo gave Audiofemme an exclusive premiere of the single “South of Sound,” below, discussed her collaboration with legendary Seattle-area producer Nathan Yaccino (who’s worked with Seattle music royalty like Soundgarden), and explained the difficult and miraculous experiences that birthed her third tender and triumphant full-length, Swansea.


AF: Is this single “South of Sound” a tribute to your South Seattle home? Or, does it have another meaning? How was the song born?

MG: The song is about the ending of an unhealthy relationship, and knowing it was unhealthy before it was over. When I’m singing that “we’re headed south of sound”, it’s a play on words to mean that my partner and I were heading in a bad direction where things are no longer “sound” or safe. But I also like how the song incorporates water imagery which is a slight homage to the Puget Sound where I live. 

AF: Tell me about your childhood, and how you were first exposed to music. How many instruments do you play? Are you self-taught?

MG: I grew up loving music, and started playing the piano when I was 3 years old. I took piano lessons throughout my childhood, and then taught myself how to play guitar and write songs in high school. Music and songwriting has always been an important outlet for me and I’m so grateful I found it at a young age. 

AF: What are some staples of your songwriting style, in your eyes?

MG: A common theme in my music is that all of my songs are very personal accounts of my own life and experiences. I’ve used songwriting as a tool to help me find healing in my own life and process my emotions. I’ve also heard people tell me that they can tell that I’m from the Pacific Northwest when they listen to my music. The landscape where I live is filled with natural beauty – I named my band after Lemolo Shore Drive in the small town where I’m from and where I live now – Poulsbo. It is sandwiched between the Puget Sound and the Olympic National Forest. And I think the natural world around me definitely inspires the mood of my music. 

AF: When you formed Lemolo in 2009, what would you say your artistic mission was? Has it morphed over the years?

MG: My mission has always been to make music for as long as it brings me joy and healing. Lucky for me it is still the case, which is what motivates me each day as an independent artist. 

AF: How does Seattle—specifically its landscape, music history, even its tech-y present—inform your music? 

MG: Being a part of the Seattle music community has been a really positive experience, and I’ve found that musicians here are very supportive and encouraging rather than competitive. There is also a wonderful community of people who support local and independent art, which I am grateful for every day. I am a huge supporter of KEXP 90.3 FM as well, and they have played a big role in me being able to share my music with people around the world and have a larger platform. And as I mentioned, the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest is a continual source of inspiration for me.  

AF: Your forthcoming album, Swansea, is due to drop Oct. 11. Why did you decide to call it that?

MG: I learned of the word Swansea when I received an online order for one of my records from a fan living in Swansea, Wales about five years ago. (I serve as my own record label, so I handle my own shipping and order processing which has been a wonderful way to meet my fans!) When I read the word it immediately struck me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It conjured up a lot of imagery for me, and I kept it in the back of my mind while I was writing the songs for this record. As a songwriter, I’m always keeping track of words that intrigue and inspire me. I created a whole concept of what Swansea means to me in relation to this record.

AF: Tell me about that concept. I see the definition of “Swansea” quoted in your press release:  “The vast place we find ourselves in when we lose someone. We are alone for the first time in what feels like forever, almost as if we are out to sea in our own solitude. But it is not necessarily a sad place. It is where we find strength in remembering how to stand on our own two feet.” Is this feeling coming from an autobiographical place, post-loss?

MG: Yes. This whole album is themed around loss of various forms that I have experienced in the recent past. The songs are about a combination of different types of loss, from the loss of love, the ending of relationships and friendships, and the loss of a friend due to suicide. Writing this album was very therapeutic for me, and was a good reminder that I can be okay on my own. 

AF: Tell me about the personnel on the album, especially the string players who give it a really special, ethereal sound. You worked with Nathan Yaccino to track this record. What sort of insights did he give you?

MG: I worked in close collaboration with producer Nathan to create the sound of this record. I brought the finished songs to him, but we then spent a lot of time working together on just pre-production, tweaking the songs and experimenting with layers and structures before we even started recording. And once it came time to record I was honored to work with him on drums, percussion, vibraphone, and various other layers throughout the record. He’s a very talented multi-instrumentalist. We also worked with Alex Guy (of Led to Sea) who arranged and performed the strings on four of the songs (“Seventeen,” “South of Sound,” “Swansea,” and “Running Mate”), Maria Scherer Wilson on cello, and Jon Karschney on french horn. And I had the pleasure of performing vocals, keys, guitar, and synth bass, and various other additional layers as well. 

AF: What does the future hold for Lemolo?

MG: I love to write songs and make melodies, and I have so many more new songs than I’m able to keep up with. So it is my dream that I am able to continue to record and share them, for as long as it continues to bring me joy. And I’m hoping that my new album is able to connect with people and move them in some way as well. 

AF: Will you tour with Swansea? 

MG: Yes! We leave for tour today (Thursday)! And I’m dreaming about touring the east coast with this new record too. Hopefully in 2020!

Follow Lemolo on Facebook for more updates, and check her out on one of the tour dates below.

9/19 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo* | Tickets
9/20 – Mission, B.C. @ Copper Hall^ | Tickets

9/22 – Spokane, WA @ Lucky You Lounge* | Tickets
9/24 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux* | Tickets
9/26 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room* | Tickets
9/27 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater* | Tickets
9/28 – Fort Collins, CO @ Washington’s* | Tickets
9/30 – Kansas City, MO @ recordBar* | Tickets
10/1 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe* | Tickets
10/2 – Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo Coffee* | Tickets
10/4 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall* | Tickets

10/5 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Hi-Fi* | Tickets
10/6 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar* | Tickets
10/12 – Seattle, WA @ St. Mark’s Cathedral with Special String Ensemble | Tickets
10/18 – San Francisco, CA @ Neck of the Woods | Tickets
10/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hotel Cafe (9-10 PM) | Tickets
11/2 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo+ | Tickets
11/16 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios+ | Tickets

*with Noah Gundersen 
^with Andrew Judah
+with Kuinka


LIVE REVIEW: Xiu Xiu @ The Chapel

Xiu Xiu, touring with members of Swans’ live ensemble, played SF’s The Chapel on 5/28. Photo by Shomei Tomatsu

“Loner,” Thor Harris murmurs matter-of-factly, temporarily seizing the mic from Xiu Xiu frontman, Jamie Stewart. “Lonerrrrrr.” It’s a fitting accusation to thrust into this particular sea of transfixed eyes, as it’s just about halftime and the notion of being little more than jumbled limbs in a heaving crowd has been hastily forgotten. Not long after Xiu Xiu’s sonic slink into the ether, the average schmuck is far too agog to notice the quivering mass of those that are surely sweating on arms and breathing on necks. No, we’ve collectively embraced a healthy dose of social apathy, and we’ve got Stewart’s yowling to thank for it. So when Harris calls out for the loner, we silently respond en masse. Of course, he’s simply reading the first few lines of “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy,” the fifth track off of Xiu Xiu’s latest album, Girl with Basket of Fruit. But it feels as if he’s addressing each one of us directly, rubbed raw by Stewart’s aching bellows and the throbbing bassline of guest bassist Christopher Pravdica, best known as the longstanding bassist of Swans.

The Chapel (a former funeral home in the San Francisco Mission District) possesses the warmth and coloring of an internal organ. Indeed, the Suspiria-red walls fractured by Blue Velvet-hued lighting creates the sort of glow one might discover if they were to slip through a pulmonary artery. However, Xiu Xiu appear to be right at home. They graciously open with perhaps their most well-known song, “I Luv the Valley OH!” and Stewart ensures that that shriek of an OH! is just as gloriously cathartic as it is on the recorded track. Following this nod to their 2004 album, Fabulous Muscles, the trio eagerly launches into their latest, including the aforementioned “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” (sadly performed without the intoxicating vocal contributions of lyricist Angela Seo), “It Comes Out as a Joke,” “Scisssssssors,” and the album’s namesake track.

Wasting no precious energy on mindless banter between songs, Stewart commits to the performative purge: jumping, jerking, and writhing onstage. His characteristically precarious wail travels from bellowing roar to splitting shriek to curious quack to seductive whisper and back again. In short, the man is seriously well-equipped. The instruments Stewart samples over the course of the show span an equally compelling range (including a slide whistle and what appears to be a makeshift maraca), and his cowbell clanging and cymbal slamming during “It Comes Out as a Joke” is absolutely no nonsense. Thor Harris, Xiu Xiu’s congenial drummer (like Pravdica, known for his work in Swans), also scrambles standard instrumental roleplay. In addition to his spoken word-esque reading of the “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” (which nonchalantly closes with “And I am kind of a dopey-ass goofball weirdo so I can get why some people don’t like me”), Harris bashes a gong and samples wooden claves. Pravdica, too, is not confined to the bass guitar. One would be remiss to forget his brief affair with those castanets during the encore performance of “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” (A Promise, 2003).

In pathetic sum, language seemed pretty superfluous by the time I stumbled out of The Chapel, lulled into an awe-bitten, catatonic state. I haven’t even mentioned the lolling lament of “Get Up,” (FORGET, 2017), the absolute blessing of “Clowne Towne” (Fabulous Muscles, 2004), and Stewart’s literal use of snapping scissors as percussive party to the performance of “Scisssssssors.” Fellow affected attendees sucked on cigarettes outside the venue, speechlessness the rule. Given the glaring limitations of the English language, perhaps it is best to refer now to the absurdist bio supplied by Xiu Xiu for their show listing, excerpted from “Ice Cream Truck” on Girl with Basket of Fruit:

“It could be handfuls of reds,” it begins, followed by absurdities that vacillate between the disturbing and the delicious. “It could be mescal in a bottle & baby on a boob, hair dyed blonde for nobody, nobody move.”

It could be that the act of writing this review was an exercise in futility.

It could be that was the best twenty bucks I ever spent.

ONLY NOISE: Glenn Branca’s Final Ascension

I wound up at the Kitchen sort of by mistake. It was a Tuesday – February 23rd, 2016 to be precise. It had been a year since the worst week of my life, and sitting at my desk after a long day of designing women’s underwear, I longed for a little culture that evening, a little date with myself. So I scrolled through concert listings on Oh My Rockness, hoping for a name to leap out at me. February is not the most happening time for live music in the city, and my backup plan involved a movie and/or overpriced meal for one. But the backup plan wasn’t necessary; as I scanned through the concert listings, a name did leap out at me, and though I wasn’t positive why I recognized that name, I bought a ticket without hesitation.

That name was Glenn Branca, and in the days since his death last week, headlines, tweets, and obituaries can all agree on one thing: if you weren’t familiar with Branca’s music, there’s no way you have escaped the music he’s influenced. His brash guitar symphonies were loved by the likes of David Bowie, and imitated by Sonic Youth. He was a pioneer of the No Wave movement alongside John Zorn and James Chance, and he pushed the boundaries of music, noise, and everything in between. His first two solo records, 1980’s Lesson No. 1 and The Ascension from the following year demolished and restructured the contemporary approach to the electric guitar, rock’n’roll, and classical composition. Branca’s work was loud, dangerous, and so cutting edge that it moved legendary avant garde composer John Cage to feel “disturbed” by it.

Branca was the man that conducted serrated, unnerving orchestras with 100 electric guitars, slapped punk rock into something more upright and threatening with his early band Theoretical Girls, and released early music by Swans and Sonic Youth on his record label, Neutral. His legacy coincides with the explosive art movement in ‘70s and ‘80s New York, but unlike many of his contemporaries, Branca never lost a scrap of relevancein fact, his mystique and ability to stun an audience only seemed to intensify with age. It must have been some peripheral knowledge of all these accomplishments that congealed in my gut when I saw Branca’s name on the concert listings for the evening. Perhaps it was the faint memory of an interview with him I’d read in a copy of The Believer’s 2014 music issue. Either way, I am glad I trusted my gut.

When I entered the Kitchen in Chelsea, the staff was passing out earplugs as guests took their seats. I remember thinking that I’d never been encouraged to wear ear protection at a venue with bleacher seating and a median age of 58, but I figured they knew best. I sat down with my packet of foam plugs and leafed through the pamphlet I’d been handed, which gave the whole event a whiff of the fine art or theater world. I still wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. And then Branca and his six-musician ensemble crawled out onto the sunken stage.

It was rapturous. Branca, who had stopped playing guitar years prior during Symphony #1, was a dedicated conductor until the end of his life, though his methods of conducting were unconventional to say the least. He used his entire body to communicate with his ensemble, who that night included one drummer, one bassist, and four electric guitarists (one of whom was Reg Bloor, his widow). That evening’s rendition of the Third Ascension was marked by Branca’s spasmodic movements: flits of the wrist, flicks of his hips, and general shimmying that somehow effectively communicated volume, rhythm, and attitude to his performers. It was in fact loud, and so dissonant that it was blissful, like the moment pain becomes cathartic. I remembered a quote from that Believer interview I’d read two years prior, during which Branca said, “If you don’t like loud music, don’t bother with my music.” This, I learned, was a characteristic thing for Branca to say. He was a fabulous curmudgeon, who wore the same black outfit every day, his blazer pocket crammed full of pens like soldiers standing at attention. His teeth were chipped, and he looked like a more brawny, attractive older brother to Shane MacGowan.

In between songs at the Kitchen, while his group fiddled with odd tunings, Branca felt obligated to talk the crowd. His raspy voice and mischievous demeanor felt instantly familiar, perhaps because he seemed a kindred spirit to Tom Waits, or perhaps because he was simply the embodiment of the crotchety old man I hope to become one day. In an attempt to fill the silence, Branca told the audience, apropos of nothing, about the best hot dog he’d ever eaten. It was on a hoagie roll, not a bun. He talked some trash about John Zorn, and introduced his wife Reg Bloor, who seemed delightfully peeved by his antics.

I left the kitchen that night with my mind completely blown open, a side effect of the shrapnel storm Branca’s ensemble hurled toward the bleachers. Walking to the train I felt like I was floating, or maybe vibrating like a struck tuning fork. It was the same feeling of intoxication I had only experienced once or twice before: watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen for the first time; seeing Diamanda Galas live at a temple on Halloween. Considering the weight of my experience at the Kitchen, I checked weekly to see if Branca and his ensemble was playing in town. I did this in 2017, when they performed at BRIC, and I remember feeling particularly lucky to live in a city where one minute I could be sat at my bedroom desk reading, and the next I walking to see one of the most original and exciting musical performances in existence.

The week before Glenn Branca died, I typed his name into Oh My Rockness’ search bar to see if he had any upcoming gigs. I didn’t know he had throat cancer, but I wasn’t surprised by the news when I found out. Upon hearing about his death, I felt both devastated that I’d never experience his music live again, and immensely grateful that I got to experience it at all. Glenn Branca was a New York treasure you had to really dig for, if not allow yourself to stumble upon, and like all of the best things New York has to offer, he was liable to disappear at any time. Sadly, that day has comebut while the man is no longer with us, his work will be obliterating musical norms for decades to come.

ONLY NOISE: Don’t Be In Love With the Autograph

On Monday, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum posted a lengthy Reddit AMA explaining his reluctance to sign autographs for fans. The statement was originally published in a pamphlet Elverum hands out to concertgoers in search of his John Hancock. The statement is six single-spaced pages and nearly 3,000 words long. In it, Elverum not only questions the implications of autographing records, but instills the custom with philosophical weight. “I believe in equality and I don’t believe in god,” Elverum writes. “I believe that successful and well known people are regular people, of course, and I am made uncomfortable by our tendency as humans to elevate some people while not elevating others.” Elverum feels that the second he takes a Sharpie to his work, he is drawing up a barrier between the genuine human-to-human exchange that took place before this request – such as having a conversation.

Despite his unconventional position on this subject, the artist is quick to turn his argument against himself and examine the issue from every angle, particularly that of the fans. He goes into detail about a childhood collection of football cards that he sent to his favorite player Walter Payton when he was a boy. Payton signed every card and returned them, much to Elverum’s wildest delight. The songwriter claims that these cards remain in his parents’ attic to this day. “These little pieces of cardboard were important to me mostly because the boundary had been crossed and erased between this god-like football man from TV and me, a kid from the forest outside a small town in Washington,” he says. “The autographs represented that breach to me, proof that this special man and I were inhabitants of the same world, and there was a real tangible line between us, with evidence!”

The issue of celebrity signatures didn’t come fully into focus until later in Elverum’s life, after average Joes (and fellow Washingtonians) like Kurt Cobain and Beat Happening’s Bret Lunsford made their own mark on music history. The paradigm shifted for Elverum, who even then wanted to maintain relationships with heroes that didn’t teeter atop golden pedestals. “It’s not that I don’t have long rich fantasies of the conversations and interactions I’d like to have with my favorite artists, writers, thinkers,” he wrote on Monday. “I do. I want to personally know these brilliant people, and I enjoy hearing about their secret unglamorous regular life moments, the mechanics of their normalcy. I enjoy the reminders of my sameness with them because it reinforces the possibilities that lay open for me, always. An autograph is detrimental to all of this door-opening.”

Elverum speaks of a particular day in his adolescence, when the brand new Beat Happening album arrived at a local record store where Bret Lunsford worked. For months Elverum and his pals had been hanging around this shop, “becoming more comfortable, acting cool (we thought), and earning trust and respect.” After Elverum and his two buddies bought the new CD, his friends did something that horrified teenage Elverum. “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][They] took the shrink wrap off the jewel case right there in the store and asked Bret if he would sign it. I felt embarrassment wash over me…I wanted it to be known that I didn’t care if Bret signed my CD.”

Many will disagree with Elverum’s longwinded essay about signing autographs, and even I bristle at some of its melodramatic phrasing, (“I die inside while doing it. My skin crawls. I hate it so much.”) But it’s difficult for me to disagree with Elverum’s stance on this issue, because as a fan, I feel exactly the same way. For years I have wondered why this rite has become so sacred, always preferring to beat the crowd out of the venue to lining up at a merch table for the chance to get an autograph. It seems to be a phony way of meeting your idols, similar to stopping your favorite musician on the street and asking for a selfie. The signature, the picture – the moment in general feels automated and disingenuous. These days I marvel at the reasons someone would want to even meet their artistic heroes, who rarely live up to our image of them, let alone get their autograph.

I say “these days” on purpose. Like Elverum, my childhood was dotted with fandom and autograph requests. I wrote to fan clubs for the signed headshots of Jonathan Taylor Thomas (affectionately known to his fans as J.T.T.) and Rider Strong. I adored the glossy photos, and felt certain that they indicated a special bond between these heartthrobs and me. The last time I remember consciously asking for an autograph from a (somewhat) well-known musician must have been around 2004, when my mom took me to see the ‘80s punk band Youth Brigade in Seattle. Always a master of one-upmanship, my mom gloated to me about how she’d been drinking at the bar with Youth Brigade’s drummer Mark Stern before the band’s set. Envious of my mother’s charisma and ability to legally drink in bars, I was hell bent on getting my own souvenir. After Youth Brigade’s set I spotted lead singer Shawn Stern at the merch booth. He sold me a white band shirt and signed the bottom of it. Even then it was anticlimactic, and if I even still have the t-shirt, it’s been worn and washed so many times, Stern’s signature is likely no more than a faded gray smudge.

My relationship with autographs really changed when yearbooks became a part of my school life. I admit, part of my denial to sign people’s annuals was pure boorishness, but the other part of my argument arose from this question: “What’s the point?” It didn’t make sense to exchange purple Sharpie pleasantries with people I didn’t know or like, and it made even less sense to do it with close friends, who I would see frequently throughout the summer months. Today, asking a professional musician for an autograph makes the least sense. I personally feel more intimacy with an artist by listening to their work and drafting up my own versions of our interconnectedness.

In the fall of 2016, a long distance boyfriend sent me a few packages over the span of our short relationship. Two of these packages contained signed vinyl records – one was a Mark Lanegan 12” signed by Lanegan, and the other was a Cass McCombs/Michael Hurley split 7” signed by Hurley. I was flattered at the time of receiving these presents, but now, long after the relationship dissolved, I wonder what made that guy think I cared about autographs in the first place. What he doesn’t know is that these records are currently slumped up against the rest of my collection, given no special treatment despite their “signed copy” status. Sometimes I even consider giving them to people who would appreciate them more.

Perhaps that is the only capacity in which I can stand to ask for autographs: on someone else’s behalf. Last November Swans played a set of farewell gigs at Greenpoint’s Warsaw. I had no plans on attending, but when a close friend came down with the flu and offered me his ticket, I couldn’t very well say no. My friend was devastated, having purchased his ticket months in advance only to be stuck at home vomiting when the show finally rolled around. I knew I couldn’t leave the gig empty handed, so in an attempt to repay the $50 ticket he’d just gifted me, I went to buy my him a t-shirt. I made my way to the merch table and bought one right before a swarm of fans flocked to the table – apparently Michael Gira was about to start signing autographs. Just as I thought, “Thank god, I can split before all of that hubbub begins” Gira appeared right in front of me, uncapped Sharpie in hand, with an expectant look on his face. I realized in that moment, that though it made me uncomfortable, it would have been far more awkward to tell Michael Gira, “nah, I’m good,” than it would have been to just let him sign the damn thing. I wanted it to be known that I didn’t care if he signed my t-shirt, but it wasn’t for me, anyway.


PET POLITICS: Co-Pet Parenting with Frank and Jenna from Sic Tic

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Sic Tic photo by Janeth Ann Gonda

Sic Tic has one of the most innovative rock sounds in the Brooklyn scene, pairing the raw rip of grunge with the precision of jazz musicians. I have had the pleasure of seeing them evolve over the past five years to form their current line up; their sound went to a whole new level when guitarist Frank Rathbone asked bassist Jenna Nelson and drummer John Swanson to join the band several years back. They have also been active members and proponents of the Brooklyn-based DIY label GP Stripes.

Frank, Jenna, and John are the type of people whose connection you feel through their stage performance—not only in the sense of creative back-and-forth, but of friendship. There is a warmth about the band’s vibe that you can feel, and I think that is a testament to their closeness as individuals as well as artists. Knowing that Frank and Jenna also co-parent some fur babies together, I was interested in hearing how the process of being partners in so many facets of life crossed over into various channels.

AF: When did you each start playing music, and what were your first instruments?

JN: Viola was my first instrument, which I began playing in fifth grade. I was good friends with my neighbor who was a year older, and she played the viola when orchestra club began in fifth grade, so I wanted to as well. She stopped after that first year, but I really liked it and continued playing. I spent a lot of time hiding out in my closet (I’d kill for a closet this size in NY) when I was growing up, especially in middle school because I was socially awkward and got teased a lot. Sometimes I would sneak my dad’s old acoustic Ovation guitar out and pretend to play “Wild Thing” and imagine a different life for myself, which, in retrospect, seems a lot like my life now. I got my own guitar in high school and wrote dozens of awful sappy emo songs. I was also very active in my youth group and sang in the band. I sort of played the bass, too, but I was just borrowing it and didn’t really know what I was doing with an electric instrument yet. I finally got my very own bass when Sic Tic formed!

FR: I learned the trumpet from my grandpa when I was 8. When I was 12 my uncle gave me a guitar and I started a band with my friends in my basement. We would write a ton of songs, record them to tape, then never play them again. I still have all those tapes.

AF: Was there a particular band, song, or genre that drove you each respectively into the music sphere?

JN: I was really into Rickie Lee Jones when I was in preschool. I would carry this ragged record cover around with me, even to the grocery store. It’s a picture of her wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette. Pretty sure I knew all the words to this album. I remember being afraid the first time I heard music with screaming in it – but the kind of glittering fear that drives you toward the thing. It unlocked something inside me that had been bottled up for a long time, or started to at least. I wanted to learn how to evoke this feeling, to feel powerful.

FR: When I was in 3rd grade the high school band, orchestra, and drum line came to our school. I remember feeling moved by the drum line.

AF: How did Sic Tic form?

FR: I had a few other groups that played under the name Sic Tic, but they were disbanded when I met Jenna. When we first started dating I wanted to show her my music so I wrote some songs and booked some recording sessions. Jenna started learning the songs and we decided to start up a group. I had been sending songs to my old friend John in Texas, so I called him up and asked if he wanted to come to NY.

JN: Yeah, we started dating in mid-2013. I hadn’t been involved with any music for a long time and wanted to get back into it. I’d been living in Brooklyn for about seven months. Mutual friends kept telling me what a great musician Frank was, but he didn’t play anything for me for the first several weeks. When he finally did I was like “damn, they weren’t kidding!” He recorded that solo album to impress me, which obviously worked. I encouraged him to keep the name Sic Tic. The following summer we were ready to get serious, and at the same time, a room opened up in our apartment. Frank called John, who had been living in Austin for two years, and was like, “Dude! We need a drummer and we have a room, get up here!” I think that was a Tuesday and he showed up with a backpack and a guitar on Friday. Gigawatts Fest 2014 was that weekend and we all went out and got stoked to be a band together. We had our first show that September at Palisades.

AF: How did you two meet?

FR: We smiled at each other a few times at Little Skips. Then one night at an art opening there our friend Linda introduced us. I told Jenna I always thought she was cute.

JN: We sort of instantly hit it off. We went to a couple shows that night, at the Silent Barn and Fitness, which used to be in our basement, and then he said he had to go walk his dog… I basically never left.

FR: Pretty sure Shorty sealed the deal.

AF: How does the writing process work within your band?

JN: Frank writes most of our material. Usually he gets a rough idea of a song done and then brings it to me and John. We’ll work out the arrangement, drums, bass, and vocal parts together from there. Then maybe we’ll make a demo and see how it all sits, rework it, etc. We all live, practice, and record together. John’s been putting a lot of work into our home recording setup lately, so that’s been more accessible to us.

AF: Have you ever written a song about animals?

JN: Just human animals!

AF: Can you introduce your fur babies to us please?

FR: Shorty is a little biscuit colored pit bull.

JN: With white paws and chest, nine-and-a-half-ish-years-old. Very affectionate, cat enthusiast, hater of the doorbell, the most personality of any dog I’ve met. She’s basically my therapy dog. We also have a cockatiel, Joey, who is endearingly obnoxious. We’re frenemies. Frank found him at Little Skips, too, trapped in the gate.

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Jenna & Shorty – photo by Jenna Nelson

AF: What’s Shorty’s backstory?

FR: 7 or 8 years ago my friend Maggie was working at a vet clinic. Someone brought in a pit bull they had found abandoned in Prospect Park, tied to a fence with a big bag of food. They named her Honey. Maggie sent her my way and I took her in and called her Shorty.

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Frank & Shorty – photo by Frank Rathbone

AF: Did you have pets growing up?

JN: My family almost always had a big dog and an indoor/outdoor cat. There was also a smattering of Betta fish and various small rodents. For a year or so when I was in fifth grade, we had to rent a house that was furnished and the owners left some of their pets behind! This included a pretty generic fish tank and a hedgehog that lived in a big box in the carport that we had to feed cat food. In college I had a chinchilla, and later a ball python which I would bring around to parties.

FR: Yeah, we had a lot of animals in the house too. Dogs, cats, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, lizards, fish, frogs. We had a parrot named Picasso that escaped. I drew a picture of him and put posters up around town. The next few months we would get calls. He was hanging out with a flock of crows.

AF: What were your first experiences with animals? first pets?

JN: My first pet was a Siamese cat named Jasmine that had been my mom’s before she married my dad. At one point they lived on a lake and she caught fish. She died perfectly healthy at 17, bitten by a coral snake. Up until the year we moved into that hedgehog house, my family had lived in these dense woods in central Florida, bordering a nature preserve, near Rattlesnake Lake, off of Rattlesnake road. This is the land that was an island before the rest of Florida emerged from the ocean. You could find ancient shark teeth in the white sands of the woods, between 200–year-old oak trees and towering pines. There were herds of wild boar that would come through our yard, flocks of wild turkeys, our neighbors pair of peacocks, beautiful iridescent Indigo snakes, bald eagles, owls, the rare panther… Nearly all of our neighbors had horses, but I was allergic and my parents were too hippy to give me allergy medicine, so no horses for us, although I did take riding lessons. We also had chickens, and a turkey once which I was very sad to find out was not actually supposed to be my pet.

FR: I don’t remember. They were just always around.

AF: If your pet had a band, what band or genre would it be for? What instrument would they play?

FR: Shorty really likes soft finger picky folk songs. She would be the singer.

AF: If your pet could be the mascot for any food item, sports team, musical gear company, etc – what would it be?

FR: Blueberries.

JN: We joke sometimes that she would run a junk yard called “Shorty’s Trash Mountain.”

AF: Did you meet any cute or interesting animals on tour?

JN: Yes! We did our first tour in the fall with Haybaby which was completely a dream come true. Leslie graciously put us up in Richmond – we played a lot of places near there, so we were able to stay in their beautiful house for like 5 nights – and we got to hang with the two cats a lot. There were also got some nice fish and their downstairs neighbors have a couple of very friendly dogs. Sic Tic played our first show with Haybaby and personally, they are one of my absolute favorite bands on the planet, ever, and they are wonderful people. I get kinda overwhelmed with happiness thinking about that tour, and when it was over I honestly missed seeing them perform every night.

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Sic Tic photo by Secret Loft

AF: What are Sic Tic’s plans for 2018 (and beyond)?

JN: We’ll be releasing a lot of music and more music videos. Still working on the timeline for everything, but we are very excited about the new material. Hopefully we will be hitting the road again soon! I’ve got the tour bug. There’s so much of this country I have not yet seen and I want meet everyone and share sounds. Touring overseas or out of the States is also a huge goal! Iceland, Germany, Japan, Norway!

AF: Do you have a favorite song about animals?

JN: The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? That’s the first thing that comes to mind. I really like that one for karaoke.


AF 2017 IN REVIEW: The Best Live Shows of 2017

Austra @Warsaw

This was my first show of 2017, unless you count sets by Janelle Monae, Alicia Keys, and Indigo Girls that dotted the Women’s March on Washington days prior. I may have been late to the game regarding Austra, a beloved Toronto band already two albums into their career, and it wasn’t even their music that first grabbed my attention. It was the striking artwork for their third record, Future Politics. On its cover, a woman leads a handsome mare, cloaked in Austra’s signature shade of red. As it turned out, the album was as slick and strong as its imagery.

I sought out this strength one night at Greenpoint’s Warsaw, where Austra moved the whole room to dance with abandon. Lead singer Katie Stelmanis was captivating, her soaring voice sounding miraculously better than on the record. If it weren’t for her obvious talents as a pop star, Stelmanis would have an easy time making it as a stage actor or Broadway diva. The band plowed through the new album’s heavy hitters like “We Were Alive,” “Future Politics” and “Utopia,” sprinkling older favorites throughout the set.

Just days after Donald Trump had been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, Austra made the Warsaw crowd believe that if we sweat hard enough, we could construct our own utopia right there on the dance floor.

Girl Band @Saint Vitus

Girl Band, Dublin’s all-boy noise foursome, rarely leave the stage without first inciting a small riot. They’re one of the few bands I’ve seen that can touch something primal in audiences, waking them from their New York, no-dance comas. This spring show at Saint Vitus was no different. The crowd was a little rigid initially, but once Girl Band slammed into “Paul” off of 2015’s Holding Hands With Jamie we all went wild. Daniel Fox’s warbled bass line whipped us into a swirling frenzy. We attempted to scream along with lead singer Dara Kiley, but our sweat and thrashing limbs did most of the talking.

Perfume Genius @Brooklyn Steel

This gig was without a doubt my favorite live performance of the year – and I almost didn’t go. Audiofemme’s own Lindsey Rhoades, who could not make it that evening, asked if I would go in her absence. “Sure,” I said, having no clue of the treat in store. I’d listened to the record, and was of course proud of the Seattle band’s success being from Washington myself, but the sheer magnetism of PG mastermind Mike Hadreas blew me away. He slinked and slithered through each song, howling like a hellhound one minute and whispering like seraph the next. In those moments onstage, Hadreas seemed to be Bowie’s heir apparent. He certainly had a Ziggy Stardust-worthy outfit.

Blanck Mass @RBMA/Sacred Bones

It didn’t hurt that as Blanck Mass’ Benjamin John Power was whipping up beats, Björk was head banging by the PA system… in a hot pink clown suit. But even without Our Lady of Iceland publicly endorsing the set, Power’s gut rattling music had me enraptured. Power always performs in total darkness, giving shape and weight to his intense soundscapes. You can almost feel his songs wrap around you like a python beginning to squeeze. When he cued up “Please” – my #2 favorite song of 2017 – I suddenly understood what it’s supposed to feel like when you get the good MDMA. I’d only ever had the bad shit.

Aldous Harding @Park Church Co-op/Baby’s All Right

I saw Aldous Harding twice within a week at 2017’s Northside Festival. The first time was at Park Church Co-op in Greenpoint. Harding wore an all-white suit, conjuring the combined spirits of Tom Wolfe, David Byrne, and Jerry Hall. She was otherworldly, contorting her voice to reach the vaulted ceiling, then summoning it down low, to rattle the wooden pews we sat on.

The second time was at Baby’s All Right, a far less romantic locale. Still, Harding bewitched me with her strange posturing and mythological voice. As she sunk into the lovelorn depths of “Horizon,” I was near tears. I closed my eyes. I mouthed the words, “Here is your princess/And here is the horizon.” And then a sharp splat cut through the room. The crowd parted like the red sea, and there at the center was not Moses, but a 60-year-old, portly man, barfing all down his t-shirt. After a period of bug-eyed shock, Harding laughed and returned to her set. I went outside to breathe better air.

Bing & Ruth @Basilica Soundscape

There was so much to see at Basilica Soundscape this summer, and yet the first band that played on the festival’s opening night is what stuck with me the most. Bing & Ruth’s David Moore seemed to be painting with his piano keys, while the accompanying cellist and clarinet player extracted color from their own instruments. They invoked a staggering beauty that went unmatched for the remainder of the weekend, in my opinion. Bing & Ruth make music that’s incredibly difficult to describe, but I feel lucky I was able to hear and feel it in person.

Sean Nicholas Savage and Dinner @Baby’s All Right

This was not my first Sean Nicholas Savage rodeo, but it was by far the finest, largely due to opening act Dinner’s inspiring performance. Danish singer/songwriter Anders Rhedin knows how to work a crowd, and does so with a divine combination of goofball and deadpan tactics. He had us sitting on the ground like school children, clapping like a gospel choir, and dancing like disco wildcats. It was a nice round of cardio before Sean Nicholas Savage began his vocal calisthenics. We swayed for Dinner, but we swooned for Savage.

Diamanda Galás @Murmrr Theater

I couldn’t have imagined a better Halloween. After walking a mile through Fort Greene, squeezing past trails of children in Halloween costumes, candy spilling from their cloth sacks, I approached Prospect Heights’ Murmrr Theatre. The stage and pews were cloaked in red light, and the baby grand piano was the requisite black. It was a fitting atmosphere for Diamanda Galás, the singer, composer, and pianist I recently crowned as the Queen of Halloween.

Galás was bewitching. Her piano seemed to awaken the ghost of Thelonious Monk and Satan himself, while her voice was alight with several spirits; some crooning, some growling, some downright shrieking. Galás is a medium above all else, and this last Halloween, she seemed to communicate with other worlds.

Swans @Warsaw

This was another show I almost didn’t attend. I’d already seen these noise dinosaurs two summers ago, and didn’t plan on showing up for their goodbye gig at Warsaw last month. But when a good friend got the flu and offered up his ticket gratis, how could I pass? I got to the venue in time for a plate of pierogis and kielbasa, and through some fortunate twist of fate, had a pair of earplugs in my purse. This was a very good thing considering Swans were playing at decibel levels strong enough for sonic warfare. As Thor smashed his gong, I felt like I was inside of a tank as it unloaded ammunition. Even my feet were vibrating.

Animal Collective @Knockdown Center

Nothing could’ve prepared me for how mesmerizing Animal Collective’s set at Knockdown Center was a couple of weeks ago. The evening’s objective was for Avey Tare and Panda Bear to perform 2004’s Sung Tongs in full. I entered Queens’ Knockdown Center full of skepticism; how exactly, were they going to summon that wall of sound with just two dudes?

I still don’t know the exact answer to that question, but the task was accomplished. After ample fiddling by roadies (one of whom sported a biker jacket and looked like he was named Butch) the stage was set, and the travel-sized version of Animal Collective settled into their chairs. What transpired over the next hour plus was a village of sound supplied by two men, four microphones, and some expert pedal work. Whatever their process was, it blew me away. I was wrapped in surround sound, every blip, crack, and whir massaging my body with the tiniest pulses.

LIVE REVIEW: Girl Band @ Saint Vitus

It’s been a year since I last saw Girl Band, and I’m a bit more prepared this time around.

Boots: check.

Pulled-back hair: check.

Pre-show snack: check.

Purse-less. That’s the big one. After getting caught in a swirl of flailing bodies at their last New York gig, I’ve consolidated my belongings into a jacket instead.

Phone. Gum. Tiny notebook.

Wallet. Keys. Tiny pen.

Advil. An appetizer amount of rage – just enough for dancing.

It’s not a daily anger I’m bringing to Saint Vitus, but a squirrel’s store of frustration easily disposed of after one of Girl Band’s sets. But that catharsis is contingent on one thing: will there be jumping? As the Irish four-piece crash into their first song, I am not so sure. The sold-out crowd is motionless, justifying the worst of New York audience clichés. Even Girl Band seemed on the “mellow” side, whatever that means for an a-melodic noise group. Had I prepared too much? Was I holding an umbrella on a dry day? I felt a bit stupid, sweating in a heavy, overfilled jacket while other women wore lightweight shirts and clutched purses, visibly more comfortable than I.

One, three, five songs passed. Lead singer Dara Kiley guzzled water as the representative Irish audience members heckled lovingly, shouting highly original material such as “IRELAND!” and “Come on IRELAND!” I was beginning to worry I’d suited up for nothing, and that my little supply of ferocity would dissolve into its truer state: hangriness.

What I’d forgotten about is Girl Band’s ability to leverage potential energy throughout their sets. Despite their untethered sound, Girl Band are not chaotic. They approach their performances with surgical precision, exuding more focus than blind fury. Like EDM mega DJs, they conduct the pulse of the room with each song – knowing exactly when to break it down, stretch a measure, and drop the beat like an anvil from 12 stories up. I suddenly remember this as the band break into a patch of new songs, which are structured far more like deep jungle techno cuts than noise punk thrashers. One is purely instrumental; with a driving drum rhythm that demands movement. Bassist Daniel Fox and guitarist Alan Duggan practice maximum restraint as they advance and recede in volume – something that whips us into a bit of a state. We are dancing. It is not enough, but it is all part of the plan.

Anticipation. Swans have volume; The Flaming Lips have props; Girl Band has anticipation. Feeding off the frenzy of a crowd primed for a unanimous tantrum, they know precisely when to strike with the big guns. So when they burst into “Pears For Lunch” off of 2015’s Holding Hands With Jamie, the vibrating build-up of tension bursts into kinetic energy. The jumping and shoving ensues.

If Girl Band were once taken to task for not actually being girls, then their use of the word “band” might also be questionable. If a band plays songs on instruments, what does Girl Band play? Are their records made of songs? Or riots? Are they playing their instruments? Or assaulting them? Arguably only drummer Adam Faulkner is approaching his instrument in a “traditional” way, while Duggan and Fox manipulate theirs; Fox making a slide guitar of his bass with a beer bottle, and Duggan beating his guitar like a drum. Even Kiley would be ill-described as a “singer,” as he often utilizes his serrated scream rhythmically. I can’t help but notice this calculated nature of theirs on stage; it has become all the more apparent now that the crowd has burst into unruly motion.

The last three songs are blood-boilers; we are fiendishly pleased when Faulkner strikes the opening beat to “Lawman.” By now I am steeped in sweat, attempting to regulate my breath between verses like a swimmer I saw on TV one time. I’m probably doing it wrong. After a stabbing six minutes of “Lawman,” Girl Band launch into “Paul,” and my suspicion that they were saving the most incendiary tracks for last is confirmed.

Perhaps Girl Band have mastered a kind of regimented wrath; micro-dosing with madness. Their work is an example of what anger can achieve when it is sharpened to a fine, sparkling point. Freud called it sublimation, but for Girl Band it is merely the creative process. As they arrive at their final song, Kiley thanks the crowd. The quartet rip into “The Cha Cha Cha” – a 29-second, distorted shout storm. A bite-sized bit of rage.

PLAYING DETROIT: The Belle Isles, SHELLS, Stef Chura and Mega Bog

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Erin Birgy of Mega Bog Photo by Andrew Swanson

My first musical outing of 2016 was also the first of the year for The Seraphine Collective, “an inclusive, supportive, and active community of feminists designed to foster creative expression and camaraderie among underrepresented musicians and artists in Detroit.” Our venue? Lo and Behold record and book store, a tiny and toasty hideaway wedged in Hamtramck (or Detroit’s “Little Poland”) perfectly suited for the freezing temperatures outside and our shared, palatable mid-week ennui. Taking to the stage (well, floor, respectively) were three dear-to-Detroit local artists alongside a quietly celebrated up and coming national touring act, all of which provided a unique and unified inspirational soundscape for the year ahead.

The Belle Isles

Owner of Lo & Behold Richie Wohlfeil debuted his two-week-old brainchild The Belle Isles (named, of course, after Detroit’s beloved state park paradise). A slinky lo-fi three-piece (Richie on the mic and guitar along with Conor and Deb on drums) reminiscent of Mayer Hawthorne and MC5 with hints of John Frusciante vocals. The song “Detroit Funk” was a hodgepodge of funk and “do-do-do-do’s” straight from that song by The Cure with all of those “do-do-do-do’s.” “Hey, what should we do next? The Summer Song? I don’t remember the words but fuck it. I’ll make it up.” Richie swigs a beer and rails into a song that he did in fact forget the words to. Good thing we were in a book store, as there were a few he could borrow.

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Shelley Salant is a one woman Velvet Underground/Wilco/Brian Jonestown Massacre, but most importantly, entirely herself. Barefoot with nothing but a borrowed electric guitar and a loop pedal SHELLS made seismic waves in our tiny venue. Vocal-less and relying entirely on her ability to collage multiple chord progressions without hesitation or transition was, for me, one of the most impressive moves I’ve seen in a long time. Her songs spoke without words: an abridged novel of noise. Every piece had an exposition, conflict, and a sweeping resolve.

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Mega Bog


On an ambitious 43 show tour Seattle-based Mega Bog stopped by our little haven. The most playful of the night, they infused Jenny Lewis’ whimsical style with Fleet Foxes’ (but only if they had been listening to Best Coast records). Erin Birgy fronts and mothers Mega Bog. She is effervescent in the way her voice hops around, reminding me of the way Regnia Spektor used whimsical manipulations of vocals on Soviet Kitsch, which is perfectly paired with the Mega Bog’s dissonant, dreamy instrumentals. Any band that actively uses a triangle, I’m in.

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Stef Chura


Stef Chura alongside boyfriend and Jamaican Queens drummer, Ryan Clancy filled the space with what felt like a collaboration between Karen O and The Modern Lovers Jonathan Richman if they scored a 90’s teenage runway film. Stef’s voice is dominant with a confident meekness that is shrill by means of catharsis. So much so that guitar and drums seem secondary. Her vocal playground is purposeful, warped, and effective. It’s a freeing expelling of emotion but stripped down and wonderfully messy like early Flaming Lips recordings.

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On Basilica SoundScape & Authenticity

Julia Holter Basilica

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Gamelan Dharma Swara
Gamelan Dharma Swara, photo by Lindsey Rhoades

Touted as a cure to “festival fatigue,” this past weekend marked Basilica SoundScape’s third year in Hudson, NY, two hours north of the city. Nestled in that bucolic landscape hulks a cavernous 19th century foundry revamped and rechristened by Hole’s Melissa Auf der Mar and her partner, filmmaker Tony Stone, as an arts collective. With Brandon Stosuy (of Pitchfork fame) and Leg Up! Management’s Brian De Ran organizing a line-up of experimental music’s best and brightest, the shindig also boasts artisanal foods, art installations, and an avant-garde craft fair.

In many, many ways, it is the quintessential “anti-festival” – the only act I remember seeing on actual festival bills this summer was Deafheaven, who played Saturday night. It’s so different, in fact, that you begin to wonder why or how its organizers would even mention “festival” in the same breath as “SoundScape” except as a framing device for people who wouldn’t care in the first place and certainly wouldn’t be attending – those people that like festivals even, who plan to meet up with their crop-topped and cut-offed friends by carrying around some ten-foot, vaguely humorous sign or balloon animal all weekend, those people that don’t get festival fatigue because they live for any opportunity whatsoever to drop molly in a field with a hundred thousand rave-orbing Skrillex devotees. With capital-F Festivals popping up in or around nearly every major American city, this is no longer a market cornered by Coachella and Bonnaroo, but they all have the same vague feel – wide open grounds, multiple stages that make it impossible to see every act, overpriced tickets and overpriced concessions, ‘roid-raging security, and mostly unimaginative line-ups. The thing is, tons of people still go to these events as if it’s the only way to see live music. These people need no “anti-festival.” So who, then, is something like Basilica SoundScape really for?

Unlike most mid-sized towns with relatively small music scenes, New York City’s “scene” is pretty diffused due to its sheer size. But there is a specific intersection of journalists, musicians, labels, managers, PR teams, and their social circles who form the sometimes insular “insider” bulk; this is the subset of people Basilica was curated by and for, and they headed up to Hudson in droves. Though supposedly SoundScape attracts locals, most of the faces in the crowd were familiar to anyone tangentially related to the industry. Much the way SXSW can feel like a vacation for music-industry folks and culture critics (even though we’re all still “working”), SoundScape felt like a bizarro (though admittedly awesome) tailor-made alternate universe for an incredibly niche crowd. While that’s not exactly a bad thing – most of us do what we do because we are actually passionate about bands like Swans – there was a different kind of fatigue to the whole thing, even if it wasn’t “festival fatigue” so to speak.

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Julia Holter Basilica
Julia Holter, photo by Lindsey Rhoades

That being said, Friday’s performances were breathtaking. The most appropriately-named band on the roster, Endless Boogie, stretched their searing psych jams to their limits. Julia Holter’s performance was a personal highlight, her hands deftly springing over her keyboard, her vocals emotive and grandiose enough to fill the entire space but remaining somehow intimate. With a more sparse set-up than some of her typical full-band performances, it was a treat to see her play solo. Following her performance, Gamelan Dharma Swara filled the floor of Basilica Hudson, observers posting up all around the ensemble of twenty or so seated behind traditional Balinese percussion instruments. Xylophone-esque, the bars are tamped by hand after striking with mallets, their ornate golden forms producing tones just as gilded, the whole sound a complete wonder. That segued into the transformative drone of electronic wunderkind Tim Hecker, whose complex compositions act on the senses in peculiar ways. His low-end is amped to earth-shattering proportions, so as to produce a very physical sensation in the throat and chest (and even skull) while washes of shimmering melody play just beneath. It’s the best kind of thing to zone out to. Taken together, this onslaught of transcendent performances was worth the trip alone. Afterward, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry performed his inventive Music For Heart and Breath compositions, all of which are timed to the players’ own breath or heartbeats via stethoscope – a novel idea, although in such a cacophonous space full of distractions it unfortunately fell flat.

So, imagine now the type of person who would soak that all up while sneering at the idea of Outkast-and-Jack-White-headlined, corporate-sponsored Festivals – the music writers, the experimental composers, the record store clerks, the somewhat elistist Brooklynites who’d never be caught dead at Governor’s Ball (unless they were covering it for some internet publication or other). That’s who was there, and that’s who a thing like SoundScape is meant to impress. And yet, there wasn’t any real air of snobbery, because snobbery hinges on looking down at someone, and at Basilica, we’re all in the same discerningly curated boat, our sails full of our own good taste. And that is fine and good, and unsurprising, but let’s not pretend that SoundScape is solving any of festival culture’s actual problems, or even acting as a model for anything other than a DIY-ish version of something more similar to All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Really, one of the more innovative aspects of Basilica programming were the Saturday evening readings by Mish Way (of White Lung), Los Angeles poet Mira Gonzalez, and Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves. It’s an interesting concept to bring spoken word pieces into a lineup that features post-hardcore acts like Swans and Deafheaven, and the fact that all three readers were women felt progressive and uplifting. Graves’ piece was published in full on The Talkhouse and dealt with gendered double standards and examined authenticity through anecdotes about Andrew W.K. and the media’s treatment of Lana del Rey. It’s a bit of an odd comparison in some ways, Andrew W.K.’s “persona” having been invented prior to the popularity of the longform thinkpieces del Rey’s been such inspiration for, but at its heart was the very real feeling that female celebrities face far more scrutiny (and for that matter, scrutiny of a different breed) than men in entertainment ever do. Graves used Andrew W.K. as a talking point because she’d recently met him and familiarized herself with his backstory, but I couldn’t help but wish she’d left del Rey out of it and chosen instead to share her own struggle to be taken seriously or seen as authentic. Pop music is a whole other monster – something she touched on in her essay only briefly – because it reaches such a wide audience and by its very nature demands its performers have some sort of gag or gimmick, and that does manifest itself differently for women in pop than it does for men in pop. At Basilica SoundScape though, the kind of authenticity folks seemed most concerned with was proving their own, their presence at such a groundbreaking, culture-altering event the best sort of cache.

So Basilica SoundScape is absolutely worth attending if you truly appreciate a well-curated lineup in which the details and intersections behind every act are carefully thought out by its organizers. For those types of show-goers, SoundScape will likely continue to be that breath of fresh Autumn air as long as the gorgeous venue that hosts it stands. While it may alienate the mainstream festival attendees of today, hopefully SoundScape will act as a beacon that proves there’s always a different way – particularly for those that put big-box events together. If SoundScape can build on this year’s successes and continue the trend of innovation next year, even the Lollapalooza lovers are bound to notice.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

INTERVIEW: Emily Reo talks Olive Juice, DIY Touring, & Basilica SoundScape

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Emily Reo photo by Daniel Dorsa

Emily Reo‘s swirling brand of bedroom pop is the kind that makes you feel like you are sinking and floating all at once. Recording almost every sound herself, from watery beats to hazy synths to manipulated vocal loops, Reo has produced two albums in the last five years: 2009’s Minha Gatinha and last year’s Olive Juice. The first, for all its lo-fi dreaminess, had a certain sense of mystery that made it irresistible, particularly in a moment where home recording was having a hey day. Looking back, the record feels more like a raw collection of experiments than the fully-realized aesthetic Reo achieved with Olive Juice, which saw the artist revamp some of that early material while adding a batch of exciting new tracks and a stirring cover of Built to Spill’s “Car.”

To compare the songs side-by-side is to see how much Reo has grown in five years, and is an indicator of how far she can and will go as she continues to tour, produce tracks, and write new material. It’s with this in mind that the curators of BasilicaSoundScape, now in its third year, included Reo in this year’s lineup alongside acts like Julia Holter, Tim Hecker, Swans, White Lung, and Deafheaven. Taking place two hours north of NYC at Basilica Hudson in a reclaimed 19th-century factory, the festival features readings, art installations, and a host of sister events and afterparties that, when taken together, fly in the face of the huge, corporate-sponsored festivals that have cropped up all over the US these past few summers. AudioFemme will be on-hand for the event next weekend (September 12-14th), and though weekend passes are sold out, single day tickets are still available. We chatted with Reo about her involvement with the festival, her DIY approach to touring and making music, and the frustrations she faces as a woman in the industry.

AudioFemme: I’ve been a fan since Minha Gatinha. What propelled your decision to re-work some of those songs for Olive Juice?

Emily Reo: That rules, thanks for listening to the early stuff! Over the course of developing some of the songs from Minha Gatinha for my live set I started to prefer the newer versions, and really wanted to share what they had grown into. Minha Gatinha to me feels more like a collection of rough demos than a proper release and I wanted to give some of those songs a better chance.

AF: How did your ideas about production and your recording process change between the two projects?

ER: Between Minha Gatinha (2009) and Olive Juice (2013) I spent the better part of four years teaching myself more about recording and production while also honing in on a more specific sound that I identified with. Where Minha Gatinha was the process of figuring out how to write songs, Olive Juice was the process of taking songs and turning them into a cohesive package with an intentional aesthetic. More specifically, I started using more advanced recording programs, learned the basics of mixing and EQ-ing, and realized my personal limitations and the benefits of working in a studio with other people.

AF: Now you’re branching into producing other artists’ songs, like Yohuna’s excellent “Para True”. How did that collaboration come about, and is that a role you’d like to take on more in the future?

ER: After I finished recording Olive Juice, I started using midi to create sketches for future songs. In the process, I got really interested in making beats and learned more about production. When my good friend Johanne (Yohuna) asked me last year if I would add a beat to her song “Badges” I was so excited. Next I added a beat for “Para True” as well as mixing the track, which was a first for me and a great learning experience. I definitely see us working together more in the future, it’s something we’ve talked about for a really long time and we’ve sent things back and forth to each other for a few years now without much follow through. Her songs are indescribably gorgeous and it’s so rewarding to contribute something that can take them to the next level.

In general, production is something I would love to get better with and continue working on. Besides being a great skill to have for personal use, music production is generally a male dominated field which frustrates me a lot and just makes me want to learn how to do it myself even more. I know of so many incredible female producers that should be getting a lot more attention than they are, and I hope one day all pop songs aren’t still made by the same ~10 men. It would be really cool to have the skill and know-how to produce hits somewhere far very down the line if I don’t feel like DIY touring when I’m 50!

AF: So you’ve spent the last few years moving around a bunch, from Florida to NYC to Boston to Los Angeles. Has that affected your songwriting process? Do you feel at home in L.A. or are you contemplating another relocation?

ER: I actually just moved back to NYC in July. I loved my time in Los Angeles but haven’t been inspired to stay in one place for very long. And as much as I’d love to feel settled and stable, the process of moving around feels pretty liberating. For the past two years or so I’ve been living in short sublets, which allows me to experience a lot of different living situations between tours.

As far as moving affecting my songwriting process, it can be hard to get into a groove and really concentrate while I’m re-settling into each new place, but it keeps me from falling too deep into a routine. As long as I have somewhere comfortable to sleep and concentrate I can get things done. Until I find a place that really feels like home I’m enjoying spending time and working on projects with friends in different places, and might move again in the spring depending on how things are going.

AF: As much as you’ve remained nomadic, you’ve put down roots in that you’ve affiliated yourself with collectives like FMLY – how did your connection to FMLY come about? How does your affiliation with them help you further your goals as a musician?

ER: Honestly, FMLY is something that introduced me to a lot of guiding principles that I take with me everywhere I go, but it’s not something that I currently feel rooted with. The nature of a large and amorphous community/collective is that it’s ever changing, and because of this it isn’t always something that everyone will align with all the time. At one point it was exactly what I needed – I had just finished college and moved to NYC, and it introduced me to communal values and some really incredible people. But now my interests fall with taking a lot of the things I learned through my experiences with FMLY in a different direction than some other folks aligned with the collective might be interested in. Which is totally fine and great and the point of something like this – it should inspire creative and independent thought, not conformity. Sorry if this is vague or not the answer you were looking for, but I’m asked about FMLY a lot and although I’m super appreciative to have met many great people and been introduced to tons of rad communities through these ties, it’s just not something that has a direct daily impact on me or my music at this point in time.

AF: You just finished a bunch of dates with Cuddle Formation, playing mainly house shows, arts collectives, and other progressive spaces, called Utourpia. Can you talk a little about what organizing that tour was like?

ER: I love to travel and try to go on a long tour at least once a year, and since my partner Noah (Cuddle Formation) and I were planning on moving back to New York for a little while we figured the best way to drive across the country is on a tour. Tours give us the opportunity to visit as many places and friends as possible, while playing fun shows and making some gas money to keep us going. We basically made a list of all of the places we wanted to go, reached out to friends (or friends of friends) who live nearby and managed to book all of our shows. We’re really lucky to know such an incredible network of musicians across America who could help and/or point us in the right direction.

We were actually really surprised and honored that folks took interest in our method of “DIY touring,” which to us as musicians sans booking agents is just the only way we know how to tour and visit friends. The Fader even published a piece about Utourpia, DIY touring and communities in their print issue that just came out which was not something we would have expected going into this humble process!

AF: What were some of your favorite moments from the tour?

ER: Some highlights of the tour were in Vancouver at a space called Fingers Crossed, and a house show in Eau Claire, WI. We’ve always had incredible experiences in Canada between our first show in Montreal (in 2013) and Vancouver this year on Utourpia, and unlike shows we would play in New York or Los Angeles where a handful of people would come out and seem mildly interested these communities in Canada are incredibly supportive and enthused. Fingers Crossed is a gorgeous art space with every wall covered in murals and a bunch of risers built together by the collective. The environment was beautiful, the people that came out to the show were so fucking nice and the entire night was responsibly planned and purposeful. In Eau Claire we had the perfect house show situation, so many friends of the folks that lived at the house as well as parents came out (all-ages at it’s finest). I love when everyone can feel comfortable walking into a room whether they’re watching their friends or their kids play. That’s what it’s all about. The show was over right by 11 because it’s important to show your neighbors that you respect them and appreciate their willingness to have 5 loud bands play next to their windows, haha. And I honestly think Sayth (our friend Eric who also ran sound all night) played my favorite set I’ve seen so far on tour. There was a ton of talent as well as collaboration to make the show happen. I also really appreciated a space we played in Eugene, OR called The Boreal, which kept their safer space show policy on the front door. It’s important for both show-goers and artists to feel comfortable to create the best possible environment for a show.

AF: So what are your feelings, then, going into playing something like Basilica SoundScape? Because it’s oriented around the idea of an arts collective, it’s similar in some ways, but the scale is much different.

ER: I’ve admired Basilica SoundScape ever since it began and I feel so incredibly honored to have been invited to be a part of this. It’s definitely the largest scale festival I’ve been asked to play, and unlike festivals with corporate sponsorships or questionable intentions I don’t feel like I have to compromise anything. I’m also a huge fan of so many of the artists playing, it’s curated beautifully and everyone putting this together has been an absolute dream to work with. I realize that compared to everyone else on the schedule I’m like a kid walking into the first day of kindergarten, but the Basilica crew has treated me with so much respect and kindness I feel completely welcomed entering this prolific community.

AF: On Twitter, you voice a lot of frustrations with regards to sexism in the music industry. What do you feel are some of the biggest hurdles facing female musicians, and what can we all do, regardless of gender, to alleviate some of that tension?

ER: I wish I had a magical solution, but it’s a huge struggle not only for women but queer, POC and other artists of marginalized groups to get half as far doing double the work, and it doesn’t help that we’re constantly being treated in ways that make us feel completely deflated. I voice my frustrations (which are usually induced by sexist statements or actions I encounter both at shows and on the internet in regards to my music) in an attempt raise awareness of the very real experiences we have, and hope by doing so maybe someone out there will think before saying something offensive, or at least not deny that these oppressive acts take place with alarming frequency. I’m not trying to be the PC police, but the only thing I can suggest is for everyone to be extremely conscious of what you say and how you act towards the people around you.

AF: What’s your next undertaking? Can we expect another album soon-ish? More touring?

ER: I’m currently on tour with my good friend Warren playing in his band Foxes in Fiction, opening for Owen Pallett. With some other tour plans in the works. I also have some solo tour plans that I’m working on for early 2015 and am planning on spending the majority of winter writing and recording my next album. I have a smaller release that should be out before January as well, with more details to come next month!

Foxes In Fiction Tour Dates w/ Owen Pallett

09-08 Seattle, WA – Neumos
09-09 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Imperial Theatre
09-10 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
09-12 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
09-13 Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
09-14 San Diego, CA – Casbah
09-15 Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
09-18 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
09-19 Dallas, TX – The Loft[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


Jesus of Cool

If Elvis Costello had a reclusive older brother, it would be Nick Lowe.  Among music nerds, Nick Lowe is not exactly an obscure name.  However, I’d say he’s one of the most painfully overlooked songwriters of the past few decades.  Within England’s mid ‘70s-‘80s New Wave scene, I can’t think of anyone who had more fingers in so many pies.

Lowe’s relationship to Elvis Costello was vital in their early days together.  As well as playing live with Costello and as on his records, Lowe produced Costello’s first five studio albums.  I believe it was the record sleeve of Trust that jested: “*Nick Lowe not to blame for this one.” Lowe was in fact “to blame” and it’s a great fault to bear.  He also wrote :(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?: while a member of Brinsley Schwarz (1969-75).  This emotive ballad has been constantly mis-credited to Costello, and while I doubt Lowe loses sleep over it (his royalty checks know who wrote it) it’s a shame so few recognize Lowe as the savant he is.

Lowe also had a long-standing musical relationship with English New Wave vet Dave Edmunds.  Edmunds and Lowe co-wrote albums worth of songs while remaining solo acts.  The second they congealed their talents formally under the name Rockpile, they released one album, and broke up.

Additionally, and this is my favorite Lowe factoid, he was an invisible hand in lifting English punk to the level it is now.  The man produced not only The Damned’s first single “New Rose,” but their entire debut album, Damned Damned Damned. You want more?  He also married June Carter-Cash’s daughter from her first marriage and was close friends with the Carter-Cash family, chilling, playing, and recording with Johnny Cash on a regular basis.

Despite this tome of accomplishments, Nick Lowe has only had two songs in the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart (“I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass,” and “Milk and Alcohol” which was performed by Dr. Feelgood).  “Cruel To Be Kind” was Nick Lowe’s only composition to ever make the US Top 40. Cruel indeed.

My interest in Nick Lowe extends from the fact that my dad has most of his albums on vinyl.  I grew up listening to them.  Yet whenever my dad has a selection of albums by the same person, he always seems to be missing their first release.  Therefore it’s my duty to go to record stores, find it, and then hold it above his head.  My dad has almost EVERY early Elvis Costello album, yet he doesn’t have My Aim Is True; but I do.  The same went for Nick Lowe.  He has every album, but no Jesus Of Cool, Lowe’s debut solo album released in ’78.  So I was thrilled when digging through a dusty basement in Greenpoint a few years ago and finding an original UK release of it.  For ONE DOLLAR, Dad.

The record is a pop-opus.  It’s also the catchiest F-U to the music industry ever written.  Track one, “Music For Money,” is a heavy-hitting rock anti-anthem.  The lyrics pointedly and humorously compare the sycophantic nature of the record industry to that of prostitution:


Music for money//Busking for bucks//Greeedin’ for greenies//Singing for sucks

Music for money//Isn’t it queer//Handsome promotion//No – here

Music for money//Bleeding for bucks//Quippin’ for rabble//Fakin’ for fucks



The next two songs, “I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass” and “Little Hitler” are milestones in acerbic pop.  Nick Lowe, much like Elvis Costello, Morrissey, and Bob Dylan, is an absolute master of making you smile at an insult.  That is to say, lyrically his songs are biting and sardonic, but they’re the catchiest, smoothest, and most sweetly produced pop songs you’ve ever heard.  Naturally, Lowe produced the album.

The record’s scope is also impressive.  Each track is fully equipped with minimalist texture and perfect harmonies, but the songs range from silly pop hits, to sincere ballads, to eerie compositions.  One of my favorites is 36” High, which sounds like no other Nick Lowe song.  It’s a strange, bass-heavy, lo-fi, synth teasing homage to guilt and loss that proves Lowe’s dexterity and genius as a songwriter.  There’s also a song on the album entitled “Nutted By Reality.” I could write an article on the greatness of that alone.

Visually the record is just as brilliant as it is audibly.  The cover depicts Lowe dressed as archetypes from six distinct genres of music…everything from folk-hippie to early metal head.  The record is sub-titled “Pure Pop For Now People,” but the letters of the title are hidden in the corners of each photograph.  The record’s hind-side displays three tacky glass swans, floating on water with sprigs of foliage and carnations.  Even the record sleeve has tedious inside jokes emblazoned upon it, my favorite being a graph of “The Artiste At Work” which plots Lowe’s commercial success over his career.  The amount of thought that went into every aspect of this record is downright mind-blowing.

If you haven’t heard this album, give it a listen.  If you hadn’t heard of Nick Lowe, now you have.


Side One:

01: Music For Money

02: I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass

03: Little Hitler

04: Shake And Pop

05: So It Goes


Side Two:

01: So It Goes

02: No Reason

03: 36” High

04: Marie Provost

05: Nutted By Reality

06: Heart Of The City

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BEST OF: Soundtracking 2012

Oh, the treacherous end-of-year best-of list.  What makes the cut, and what doesn’t, is always going to stir up controversy.  The tradition endures despite its shortcomings, the biggest of which being that it’s a bit arbitrary and trite to say that something is “the best” and compare it side-by-side with things that may be completely different; often the only common denominator amongst the albums on these lists are that they contain music, period.

That being said, I actually enjoy skimming through the majority of them; I always “discover” a record I missed in the previous months, maybe two or three, maybe more.  It’s impossible to hear everything, after all, so it stands to reason that if you trust the source of the list then the list might reward you.

As for me, I often make my own list (usually before reading others) and I base it only on one thing – what albums resonated with me most?  It’s less about what I deem “best” and what was most meaningful or provocative or simply played over and over and over again without me really tiring of it.  Albums I can go back to next year or the year after and say – “YES, that was my 2012”.  The following records go beyond those prerequisites, and are ones that I hope will both prove to be timeless and yet also will transport me back to this time in my life.
AFDirtyProjectorsDirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
In the past I’ve been annoyed by Dave Longstreth’s maniacal attention to detail and perfection, even as much as I loved many of his records.  Part of the reason for this is that I feel like he’s bragging with every turn, saying, “Look at me!  Look at my genius!  Look what I can do!” and in a way it’s also that his headiness around composing and inspiration is almost too daunting.  But Dirty Projectors have worn me down with their undeniable originality and lush arrangements and impossibly gorgeous female vocal virtuosity.  Whereas the tracks on 2009’s equally brilliant Bitte Orca meandered and shifted arrangements abruptly, some of Swing Lo Magellan’s magic lies in the actual catchiness and accessibility of these tracks.  They are a little less mathematical and so slightly more vivid.  Because the album eschews theme in favor of Longstreth’s personal stories and feelings, it resonates in ways that past albums haven’t approached, from a completely different angle.  Plus, the first time I listened to this record I was in a blanket fort.
AFGodspeedGodspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
The exclamation point, usually appearing after an interjection or strong declarative statement, is used in grammar to indicate strong feelings or high volume.  Never, then, has such rampant use of the punctuation mark been so appropriate than in the release of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s fourth studio album and its first in ten years.  The core members of the revolving collective reunited to tour in 2010 after a seven year hiatus, so it’s appropriate that the release contains two reworked versions of unreleased songs that saw a lot of live play.  In every towering movement, GY!BE proves that they haven’t lost that which makes their music essential – the droning, see-sawing build-ups to explosive orchestration, anarchistic echoes in both sonic spirit and whatever sparse voices can be heard around the din, an intense sense of mood and purpose.  Godspeed is a band that means a lot to many, and it might have been easy to take advantage of that and throw together something trite that didn’t add much to a dialogue that had ended in ellipses in 2003.  But ‘Allelujah! feels entirely right in every way, as though it was made alongside the band’s previous records.  It cements Godspeed as the singular purveyor of such darkly cathartic and moving pieces.  And I’m pleased to say that the live show holds up, too – it had me crying actual tears more than once.  Strong feelings and high volume, indeed.
AFGrizzly-Bear-ShieldsGrizzly Bear – Shields
Listening to Shields had a peculiar effect on me.  It was like seeing someone for the first time in a long a time that I used to date when we were both very young, and realizing that they’d grown up.  And knowing that it hadn’t happened suddenly, but that the person’s absence from my life had made it seem that way, and wondering if I’d grown up, too.  Horn of Plenty and Yellow House may represent the Grizzly Bear I fell in love with, and Veckatimest represents a period when the band meant less to me, when I fell out of touch with what they were doing.  But Shields has an incredible power behind it, one that I recognize and respect and receive with a knowing warmth.  It manages majesty while showing restraint.  It’s measured and beautiful in an almost mournful way that reins in the poppier tones on tracks like “Gun-Shy” “A Simple Answer” and “Yet Again”.  After a controversial article in New York Magazine used Grizzly Bear as an example of the impossible task indie bands face at making a living doing what they love, Shields proves that there’s something to be said for just making art the way you think is best, regardless of what success it brings.
afkillforloveChromatics – Kill For Love
It was a banner year for Johnny Jewel.   The songs featured in last year’s indie blockbuster Drive helped bring his work to a wider audience and set the stage for what would become the opus that is Kill For Love.  First came the tour-de-force Symmetry, an ambitious “electro-noir” faux soundtrack project released with Nat Walker.  The thirty-seven tracks on that album, which featured collaborations with Ruth Radelet, were in a way a precursor to the studied moods and dark nuances that persist on Kill For Love, particularly in its instrumental tracks.  But those tracks act as tendons, both vulnerable and powerful, for the real muscle – like “At Your Door” “Lady” and “A Matter Of Time” in which Radelet’s haunting, detached desperation are both frightening and sexy at once.  And then, of course, there’s the glittering, anthemic title track – nearly four minutes of ecstatic synths and lyrics like “I drank the water and I felt alright, I took a pill almost every night, In my mind I was waiting for change while the world just stayed the same”. It would practically hold up in a courtroom if, in fact you did kill someone in the name of love.
AFarielpinkAriel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Lo-fi recording savant Ariel Pink has been working at making a name for himself for almost a decade, releasing a handful records on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks imprint.  But in 2010, backed by 4AD and with high-quality studio recording at his disposal, Pink released Before Today and the world finally took notice.  Previously renowned for his slipshod home-recording techniques, odd sense of humor and quirky compositions, Before Today signified to Pink’s audience that he was first and foremost a songwriter with a knack for thinking outside the box.  Pink’s most recent release, Mature Themes, offers a convergence of these two realities; bizarro arrangements, sound effects and subject matter abound, but are anchored by authentic psychedelic flair.  The record’s underlying ideas about sexuality seem ‘mature’ by any censor’s standard but are here addressed with biting irony, approached the way a twelve-year-old boy might make a joke about, well… schnitzel.  That’s the genius of Ariel Pink – one is never sure whether he’s providing valuable social commentary or just poking fun at the fact that he’s in a position to do so.  He sings “I’m just a rock n’ roller from Beverly Hills” and that is, perhaps, the only way to describe the enigma of his work in any succinct manner.  But Pink never forgets to throw props to the acts that inspired the creation of this record and everything that came before it, having brought attention to “father of home recording” R. Stevie Moore through his own enthusiasm for Moore’s work, and here championing brothers Donnie and Joe Emerson, whose transcendent lovesong “Baby” Pink covers in collaboration with Dam-Funk to close out the record.
AFhtdwHow To Dress Well – Total Loss
Tom Krell’s first proper record under the moniker How To Dress Well is a sprawling but sparse meditation on human relationships, namely on the ways that they can support us or disappoint us.  There are two elements at work that make Krell’s work so remarkable.  First, there’s Krell’s heartbreaking falsetto and the passions inherent in his pushing it to its most yearning extremes, helped by his earnest lyrics.  And then, of course, there’s the production – the hue and texture of the music that provides the backdrop for those heart-rending vocals.  Whether Krell is letting thunderous white noise roll over ethereal R&B hooks, distorting distantly plucked harp, utilizing grandiose samples, or melding soaring strings and churning beats, he does it all with grace and clarity.  The static and crackle that coated 2010’s Love Remains have melted away, and though there’s plenty of HTDW’s trademark reverb on this record, Total Loss as a whole feels more direct and even beautiful for it, sparing none of the atmosphere.  Krell has managed to essentialize what it is that makes his music so moving and with Total Loss has found a way to distill and perfect it in this gem of a release.
AFGOATGoat – World Music
Labeling something “World Music” is kind of a bizarre practice; after all, the entirety of music is composed on planet Earth – at least, as far as we know.  Goat, for instance, are apparently from a tiny village in Sweden founded by a voodoo-practicing occultist and populated by past incarnations of the band currently touring being this, the first album the band has ever recorded.  It contains the kind outrageous and well-traveled psychedelica that actually makes joining a cult, or a commune, or a collective of mysterious musicians, or whatever, seem like a good idea.  The members pointedly keep their identities shadowy, part a comment on the fleeting nature of celebrity in modern society but also as a means of forcing focus on the music itself, though it would be hard to ignore the joyous intensity and effortless virtuosity that infuses every track even if you knew who was playing.  The anonymous female vocalist on these jams is what sends them over the edge; in an era where wispy or witch-like feminine affectation is rampant, the songstress in Goat offers urgent chants, wailing until her voice breaks, her singing sometimes frenzied, sometimes devotional, sometimes both.  Yes, there are more than a few nods to goat worship, but there are almost as many to disco.  At its core, World Music is about carefree hedonism, about the act of devouring disparate influences and letting them wash over the senses, about auditory transcendence and the trances it induces.
AFmerchandiseMerchandise – Children Of Desire
There are two things that stopped this release from catapulting to the top of the list.  First, it’s technically not a full-length record, although as EPs go it definitely plays longer than most.  Second and more importantly, Merchandise let me down with their lifeless (read: drummer-less) live sets I saw this year.  But I’m hoping that they’ll pull it together and blow my socks off eventually, which shouldn’t be very hard since these songs have indelibly etched their mark on my heart.  The earnest crooning of Carson Cox has drawn comparisons to Morrissey – not much of a leap, especially when he’s singing the lines “Oh I fell in love again.  You know, the kind that’s like quicksand.  I guess I didn’t understand.  I just like to lose my head”.  He’s also got a bit of that sardonic sneer that Moz is known for, most evident during “In Nightmare Room” with its caustic guitar and repeated line “I kiss your mouth and your face just disappears”.  But Merchandise don’t simply mimic influences; the sound at which they’ve arrived is completely contemporary and difficult to categorize.  The most telling lyric is the opening line of “Become What You Are” an elegant kiss-off to inauthentic appropriation that evolves over the course of ten minutes from pop gem to kinetic, disorderly jangle.  Cox sings “Now the music’s started, I realized it was all a lie -the guitars were ringing out last year’s punk”  and a moment later, flippantly waves it all away: “It don’t really matter what I say. You’re just gonna twist it anyway. Did you even listen to my words? You just like to memorize the chorus”.  They’re a band wholly committed to the integrity of becoming, of shucking off old skins and processing the experience.
AFbat-for-lashes-the-haunted-manBat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
Natasha Khan becomes, with each album she releases, more and more essential to music at large, and with The Haunted Man she proves it song for song, from spectral lead single “Laura” to the radiating all-male choir on the album’s title track.  Khan suffered intense writer’s block at the onset of writing the album, calling on Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for advice, taking dance classes, and finally finding inspiration in life drawing and movies.  As a result, the album is infused with a reserved theatricality that’s more finely grained and intensely focused than much of her previous work.  Khan’s voice rises and glides powerfully over her arrangements, which even at their most orchestral remain concise and unfettered by extravagant ornamentation.  The power and restraint that play out on this album edge it out over those of her contemporaries and solidify her spot in a canon of greats, heir to a particular throne inhabited by such enigmatic women as PJ Harvey, Kate Bush and Bjork.
AFFlying-Lotus-Until-the-Quiet-Comes-e1342620571552Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Though many predicted that the end of the world would coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar, as it turned out December 21st, 2012 was just an ordinary day.  But if the apocalypse had come, there would be no more fitting soundtrack than the work of Steven Ellison, otherwise known as Flying Lotus.  Appropriately dark and dream-like, Ellison here eschews the density that made 2010’s Cosmogramma such a complex listen, revisiting free jazz techniques and traditional African rhythms.  As the album progresses, a sense of journey unfolds, tied together by live bass from collaborator Thundercat.  Each track is infused with a sort of jittery calm, fluttering and lilting and filled with epiphany.  Guest vocals from the likes of Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke are treated as no more than additional instrumentation; Ellison is possessed with a sense of purpose and ownership to the music he’s carefully constructed.  In these tones, one can see whole worlds crumble.  It’s not unlike an out-of-body experience, really, one in which to listen is to drift outside oneself.  Ellison has proven that he is a serious producer, interested in growing and exploring subtle musical shifts rather than cashing in on one particular sound and driving it into the ground.  Until The Quiet Comes provides examples of the loudest kind of quiet one can experience, unfolding as beautifully and austerely as anything Flying Lotus has ever released.

That rounds out my top ten for the year, but there were a handful of others that stuck with me as well.  Below find some runners up with links to AudioFemme coverage from throughout the year!
Phédre – Phédre
Purity Ring – Shrines
Swans – The Seer
Death Grips – The Money Store
Mac DeMarco – Rock N Roll Nightclub/2
Liars – WIXIW
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Peaking Lights – Lucifer
Frankie Rose – Interstellar
Holy Other – Held


i know what you did last year.

For some, 2011 was just a year where seemingly every other girl/gay man in Brooklyn decided to shave a random swath of hair down to the scalp. But for me, it was a collection of moments that have inspired me to whole-heartedly evaluate the way I experience music and actually make something out of my passion.

i know what you did last year.
a collection of tracks representing the highlights of a year’s worth of live events.
by tiny_owl on 8tracks.
click band names in the text for youtube videos of select performances!
My meditations on this began out of a repugnance for getting older. I had tickets to see Washed Out with openers Blood Orange and Grimes, but the night of the show, a Monday, everyone bowed out, citing the old “have to be up early for work” excuse. It dawned on me that while I was still serving tacos in a tiny Mexican restaurant, these people, my friends, had careers, and that these careers were so important that they could not waste hours of sleep to see a once-in-a-lifetime lineup play to a packed house, everyone with dancing shoes on. I wrangled a friend who, like myself, had few daytime responsibilities, or at the very least could handle being a bit sleepy the next day. We had a phenomenal time, but even so I was bummed. Was I somehow immature or unaccomplished because I enjoyed this sort of thing? On Thursday, aheart-to-heart with a friend who had bailed resulted in the followingconclusion: the two of us were at different places in our lives, andapparently I was not the adult.
The thing is, it didn’t really matterto me. If being an adult meant forgoing unexpected Bastille Dayfireworks over the Hudson after a free tUnE-yArDs performance so thatI could efficiently alphabetize files in a cubicle for a steadypaycheck, then I was content to sling salsa for at least a few moreyears. I wouldn’t trade losing my shit over those first hauntingstrains of Dirty Beaches’ “Lord Knows Best” billowing throughGlassland’s papery clouds to change a dirty diaper, because Alex Zhang Hungtai is the coolest dudewho ever lived, and that night he vowed to “croon the fuck out”which is exactly what happened.
I wouldn’t want to miss the chance tojump on the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage for Star Slinger’sclosing cut “Punch Drunk Love” or to witness Phil Elvurum on thealtar of the gorgeous St. Cecilia’s church, his soft voicereverberating angelically around the cathedral. Or to have folk heroMichael Gira kiss my hand after the Swans show, which was theloudest, sweatiest, and single most transcendent rock-n-rollexperience I’d ever had. Nor would I miss the incredible stageset-up as it virtually came alive to Animal Collective’s ProspectPark set, even as the heat and hallucinogens caused teenagers allaround me to pass out. Had I not decided on a whim just a day before the show, I would never have seen Dam-Funk shred akey-tar as we sailed around Manhattan on a ferry, the sun settingagainst the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty waving hertorch over the deck. I braved the pollution of the Gowanus Canal tosee a Four Tet DJ in a garden that managed to be verdant despite allthe toxins pulsing through the ground.
This was my fourth year at CMJ, and itstands as one of my favorite events because in that moment, you’reright with those fledgling acts, waiting to see a performance thatwill build their buzz or totally break them. This year, at a TrashTalk performance replete with band members flinging themselves frombalconies, a friend of mine well into her twenties found herself in acircle pit for the very first time. Later that week, I watched PatGrossi of Active Child strum a person-sized harp, its stringspractically glowing as they vibrated against his fingertips.
Fiercely loving music is one thing thatdoesn’t get boring for me. As I age, it doesn’t get old. Seeing aParty of Helicopters reunion performance at Death By Audio inFebruary proved that. I used to see them religiously when I lived inOhio. In my veins was the same blood that was present when I wastwenty, and every muscle, every cell, remembered what to do – Idamn near gave myself whiplash, working myself into a frenzy.
And despite spending hours researchingobscure bands for music supervision projects I freelance, I stilldiscover bands just by attending shows. While dancing my ass off atthe 100% Silk Showcase at Shea Stadium, I discovered a whole label’sworth of material harkening back to club jams of the nineties, andthe Amanda Brown vs. Bethany Cosentino debate was forever settledin my mind in favor of the LA Vampires frontwoman; Brown is avisionary while Cosentino is just cute.
In roughly fifteen years of attendingrock concerts, I’d say I had the best one yet. I’ve decided thatsince growing up is not worth the trade-off of giving up live music,or changing the way I experience the music that I love, that I willhave to marry the two. While this trajectory began years ago, thisis the first time I’ve felt any sort of mission behind the fandom. Iam the person people call and ask “are there any good shows goingon tonight?”, the person with extra tickets who drags friends alongto see bands they haven’t heard of, the person who brings a hugegroup of old friends together for a show, the person who barring allthat will go to a show alone and still have a blast. I am one of thethousands of people who log on to Ticketmaster at 9:55am forRadiohead tickets and still won’t get any. I’m the person at thefront of the crowd, snapping a few quick pictures for those whocouldn’t make it, and then dancing like a thing possessed for therest of the set. For me, it’s dedication. It’s all part of beingsomeone who was there.