ALBUM REVIEW: L.A. WITCH Play With Fire on Sophomore LP

This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following review, written by Emelie Sanchez, an intern from the Journalism program.

Photo Credit: Marco Hernandez

L.A. Witch is a rock band from Los Angeles founded by Sade Sanchez and Irita Pai in 2009. With the release of their sophomore record, Play With Fire, the three-piece, composed of Sanchez on vocals and guitar, Pai on bass, and Ellie English on drums, create a sultry and vintage-sounding album with a strong “fuck you” attitude.

Out today via Suicide Squeeze, Play With Fire is red-hot and saturated with reverb, creating an almost drugged out vibe. Even with the heavy reverb, none of the instruments get lost within each other. It is the perfect sophomore record for a band like L.A. Witch, and it shows their growth from the release of their 2017 self-titled debut and their 2018 EP, Octubre.

Bold, fast album opener “Fire Starter,” blazes forward into “Motorcycle Boy”—a feisty love song inspired by classic cinema outlaws like Mickey Rourke, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen. But the album doesn’t dwell in the past, with Sanchez issuing a solemn warning to today’s youth on “Gen-Z”: “Generation Z, this world will make you bleed.” The album blends different genres effortlessly; it’s like time traveling through the different eras of music. They go from country influences (“Dark Horse”, “Maybe the Weather”) to the psychedelic ‘60s (“Gen-Z”), into the early punk scene of the ‘70s (“True Believer”), ending with the damaged art-rock of early ‘80s New York City (“Starred”). 

Play With Fire is a suggestion to make things happen,” said Sanchez in a press release. “Say and do what you feel, even if nobody agrees with your ideas.” The record’s seductive, ephemeral style evokes the films of David Lynch: that feeling of being trapped somewhere familiar but everything is slightly off; randomly stopping into a dingy nightclub in the middle of nowhere. You’re completely bewitched by a woman there, and you know full well you’d do whatever she asked of you, but by the end of the night, she’s missing. Play With Fire will leave you under its spell long after the smoke clears.

Follow L.A. Witch on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

REVIEW: Lauren Ruth Ward Burns Hot on Vol. II

Photo Credit: Carly Valentine

Lauren Ruth Ward spits fire. She always has. Her vocal lashes are cut from a Janis Joplin cloth, and her configurations are nearly as gutsy, raw, and unruly. Ward’s second album, Vol. II, is a real soul-shocker of a collection ─ she douses musical gasoline all over the place, lights a match, and lets it all go up in flames. The trail she blazes is personal, hyper-political, and indebted to queer womanhood.

But who the fuck is Lauren Ruth Ward?

She’s a reckless rabble-rouser who scavenges humanity’s stunning misery and collects the damages as trinkets. Her work to-date ─ including 2016’s self-titled EP and 2018’s Well, Hell ─ shoots from the hip with an Annie Oakley precision, a western drawn that makes her tough as nails and seemingly unconquerable.

A Los Angeles transplant, by way of Baltimore, Ward smacks away any conventions and all expectations. Her 2018 release led to signing with Weekday Records, under the Sony umbrella, but when the indie label folded in late 2018, she was left with three songs in her arsenal, among them her punky “Valhalla” opener. It’s a bespeckled setpiece that strains past traumas out of her bone marrow. “I ate shit on the walk of fame,” she chews and spits onto hardened rock chords.


Her endurance as a storyteller shows up in delightful and bright spades, and she transports the listener into a purgatory filtered through an enlightened state of being. “Most times, I feel like a bat out of hell / They refer to me as a firecracker / I’m living in my personal hell / I don’t need your ammunition,” she splits her tongue with “Water Sign.” She doesn’t need your pity or senseless descriptors; rather, she welcomes your understanding and empathy.

“Real Life for the Most Part” spills from her lips as a psych-rock wonderland, and her vocal, blissfully hypnotic and savage, sparkles as one of her crown jewels. She snapshots our inescapably catastrophic existence: “Don’t blame me, I’m a bastard / Baby-Boomer plastic / You know I’ve never asked for this / To be born so tragic.”

Ward swerves unexpectedly with back-to-back campfire confessionals. “Friendly Fire” crackles with glowing embers, eventually dying out, and “Goddess” worms through the greying charcoal and ash to rediscover life. “A true shine like when Vali speaks her mind / You’re the goddess in my shrine, divine,” she whispers on the latter, a striking work of beauty. Drums pitter-patter in fanciful routines, and when the song cracks open, her voice slowly rising into the heavens, there remains an earthy, mystical quality.

With Vol. II, Ward ropes together a superstar lineup of collaborators. She penned every poison-laced lyric, and musician Eduardo Riviera composed and arranged the guitar parts. Together, they co-produced the entire record, alongside producing contributions from David Davis, Claire Morison, Andrew Martin, Matt Linesch. You’d expected the many hands in the pot to result in an uneven, drastically varied collection, but that is simply not the case. The album feels whole, and each part grinds as cogs in a machine, pushing forward to a common creative goal.

“Must Be Nice” is Ward’s artistic pinnacle here, an apt closer to leave the listener in absolute awe. Her fangs are newly-sharpened, and she chomps hard on an epic takedown of the patriarchy. Clocking in just under five minutes, she sums up the annoyance, the rage, and the hurt that stems from straight white men giving little concern for anyone else outside of limp platitudes. “Must be nice to be able to choose what is best for me and more importantly what’s best for you,” she sings, aiming her throaty vocal cords right at the serpent’s head.

She leans forward even more, and her gaze grows increasingly penetrating with each brimstone stanza. “I said, it must be nice to be assured and calm / You walk right into the room / Everybody takes a seat in your palm / Not me, babe.”

Everything boils over and leads to this knockout covenant: “Female is the future.”

Lauren Ruth Ward is the voice we need in 2020. Vol. II confirms her willingness to confront not only herself but the world ─ slicing through archaic beliefs and traditions, past traumas, and the current sociopolitical hellscape to honor the marginalized and bestow upon the most tired her own tremendous strength.

HIGH NOTES: Listening to Dirtwire’s ‘Electric River’ on Mushrooms

Dirtwire photo by Mika Gurovich.

Over Thanksgiving break, I found myself with a friend in a San Francisco hotel room on a rainy day without any plans. I also found myself with a bag of cubensis mushrooms another friend of mine had just grown, as well as the Soundcloud link Dirtwire’s latest album, Electric River.

Dirtwire — consisting of trio Evan Fraser, David Satori, and Mark Reveley — describes itself as “an americana, bluegrass, blues, electronica, folk, world group from Oakland.” This album in particular was inspired by the band’s experimentation with psilocybin mushrooms. Its cover depicts Maria Sabina, a Mexican medicine woman who healed people using this increasingly popular psychedelic, and one of the tracks, “Sabina,” is even dedicated to her.

“We wanted to capture a name for that magic that is the psychedelic experience, and we decided on Electric River,” the band said in a press release. “We have been using psilocybin mushrooms as a tool to open ourselves to other dimensions of sounds and creativity since the first recording Dirtwire ever made. We feel it’s time to tell this story and are very excited to see that there is a change going on in the collective consciousness in terms of how we relate to plant medicine.”

My first impression of the album’s first song, “Talking Bird” featuring Mbilou and Aya, was that I thought I’d heard it before. What it reminded me of, I realized, was the Bwiti music from Gabon that’s used for iboga ceremonies. After looking further into it, I realized that’s because Mbilou — who’s playing the mongongo (“mouth bow”) — is part of the Bwiti tribe.

The next track, “Cannonball,” sounds like a completely different band (in part because it is just the usual Dirtwire members), giving off chill indie-rock vibes reminiscent of alt-J and incorporating harmonica, the one instrument that provides a constant thread throughout the album. In fact, each song sounds like it could be from a different artist, which is what makes the album appropriate for a mushroom trip. The music helped direct my friend and I through a variety of philosophical discussion topics, from the meaning of karma to the motivations of men’s rights activists to how goddamn pointless life feels sometimes.

Some of the songs have more obvious spiritual influences; “The Eagle and the Condor” ostensibly references an ancient Amazonian prophecy that society would split into two groups for 500 years starting in the 1490s, with the cerebral, masculine Eagles overpowering the intuitive, feminine Condors. The music sounds like two different energies in conversation, with voices warped as if blowing in the wind with these two birds.

The group’s blues influence is most evident in “Psyloon,” with its heavy harmonicas and irregular rhythms. String instruments feature heavily on this track, as well as “Ali,” while “Datura” paints a jungle scene with wind instruments. “Strength in One,” featuring Trevor Hall, is a catchy and inspirational track that conjures up Xavier Rudd, with lyrics like “if we gonna survive, better find a new way.”

The highlight of the album, though, is the hauntingly beautiful and hymn-like “Seem to Freeze” featuring Emma Lucia. It begins slow and gentle and then the rhythm picks up, building to a chorus you can’t help but sway to (especially if you’re on mushrooms). The mood of the trip hit its peak each time I heard Lucia’s breathy “ooh ay ay ay” and the enchanting chimes that follow.

Overall, Electric River represents all the beautiful and varied facets of psychedelic mushrooms, from their tribal origins to their vast modern musical influence. And best of all, that’s evident whether you yourself are tripping or not.

PLAYING THE BAY: Boy Scouts Artfully Embraces Resignation on New LP Free Company

Taylor Vick of Boy Scouts. Photo Credit: Ulysses Ortega

It’s hard not to heavily associate new music with the time of year that you first heard it, where a few notes or a chorus can propel you back in time to months before, your eyes and ears filling with the sounds of springtime or the scrubbed-clean scent of winter.

Free Company, the new LP from Oakland band Boy Scouts, feels engineered for that strange time between summer and winter that some may refer to as “fall.” But here in the Bay Area, August through Halloween is a unpredictable haze, a season of busts and starts and long, lazy shadows, where everyone acts just a little bit strange, not sure what to expect from each other or themselves. It’s a far cry from the postcard fall aesthetic of cowl-necked sweaters and acres of fiery treetops, but carries its own magic just the same.

Free Company steps into this annual wind-down with brittle confidence, its strongest songs by far the ones that embrace resignation with a firm hand, leaning into the inevitable end of a relationship with exhausted eyes but determined words. Album standout “All Right” contradicts its title with a wink and nod as Boy Scouts vocalist, lyricist, and main instrumentalist Taylor Vick moons I’m all right, I swear/I’m all right/how dare you. Coming right on the heels of that is “Throw Away Love,” a great lyrical showing with an episodic feeling, like Boy Scouts is looking to expand the canon of their personal storytelling in micro: your friends I thought they were mine too/turned out they left along with you/now I’m a living example of/throw away love. Limiting the song title to one verse was a smart idea on Boy Scout’s part, as it would have been easy to turn those last few lines into a repeated chorus, but by making us wait for the payoff, the line — and the song itself — gains emotional weight and resonance.

Vick’s voice is quite distinct, floating somewhere in the realm between adolescence and adulthood. This isn’t to say that she sounds childlike or immature, but moreso that her voice can inspire a sense of nostalgia, especially on “In Ya Too,” where her easy delivery is doubled up during the chorus, making me feel like my eerie twin camp counselors pulled out a guitar during the s’mores roast.

The album overall is even-keeled despite the emotional weight; shower-sobbing breakup playlist music this is not, but post-breakup playlist music — when you have begrudgingly tried to “learn from the experience” and found the lessons wanting — it certainly is.

Album closer “You Were Once” works as a great wrap up of the album’s themes; guarded nostalgia, impermanence, the fallibility of friends and lovers. It was the year that I lost my friend/I knew I’d never be the same again, Vick sings, some of that even keel crumbling into the ocean at the last possible second, not unlike the best of us when we try to pretend we are more fine than we truly are.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mabel Falls Flat With High Expectations

Like many, I sat down to listen to emerging UK pop artist Mabel’s debut full-length High Expectations with just that, high expectations. The songstress comes from remarkable music industry stock, the daughter of Swedish singer-songwriter and rapper Neneh Cherry and British songwriter and producer Cameron McVey, known for his work with prolific artists like Massive Attack and Portishead. Her personal stock has been steadily rising as well: she toured as the opener for Harry Styles and has had a handful of Platinum selling singles since releasing her first on Soundcloud in 2015. So it’s gotta be good, right? Unfortunately, no.

Perhaps the best thing that could be said of this release is the production itself: the tracks sparkle as pinnacle examples of what pop music should sound like. And yet, that’s part of the problem. This record sounds like Mabel makes music she thinks she’s supposed to make, instead of espousing any original sound or artistry. Under the guise of these polished pop products are stale lyrics and derivative slang. “FML” feels like a bargain-brand Kali Uchis, cringing with forced turns of phrase like “Got me wishing I was taking off clothes with you / two weeks and I felt so close to you.” She rests heavily on the laurels of millennial / Gen-Z slang: take track “Mad Love” for example, which tries to earn points by repeating the phrase “All night, give me mad love” over a stock pop backing, resulting in a track that sounds like one you’d only hear in an Uber. Similarly there’s “OK (Anxiety Anthem),” hopelessly topical in subject matter, the modern youthful predilection for anxiety and depression in the face of the world’s woes and our lack of intimate connectivity. She sings “It’s okay to not be okay” over and over in a way that’s desperate for viral shares but lacks any true substance.

The dim highlight of the selection of songs is “Trouble,” if only because it felt fresh to use a matronly phrase like “Looking for trouble” in the context of a hip pop song. The entire album’s lack of originality is enough to instill a sense of anxiety; has the heightened visibility offered to otherwise lackluster talent through Instagram and similar outlets destined us for an epidemic of cloned creatives? The same way Urban Outfitters gives every teen and twenty-something the means to dress like Billie Eillish, High Expectations makes me fear we’re fated to a musical selection limited to a bunch of knock-off Ariana Grandes.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Heartfelt Nostalgia of Tony Molina’s Tapes from San Mateo County

Bay Area indie artist Tony Molina has always had either foot in two worlds, which is perhaps the only obvious observation one might make about him. He maintains deep ties to the punk and hardcore scenes in which he cut his teeth, having played with bands like Healer, Caged Animal, and Bone Sickness in the past. He evades definition, however, in that his solo work is audibly a far cry from these genres. He pens earnest power-pop ballads with soaring guitar solos and melancholic lyrics about lost love and forgotten friendships, more akin to Weezer or The Replacements than the powerviolence and hardcore sounds of his other projects. 

His latest release is a rarities collection put out by Smoking Room Records Friday, July 19, entitled Songs From San Mateo County. Over the years, Molina has lessened the vocal distortion and heavy reverb of previous releases for a cleaner sound, but has held onto the tender lyricism, cheeky guitar riffs and short song lengths – each track clocks in at under two minutes. The tracks on this collection are for the most part unheard until now, unable to be streamed and only available on analog cassette releases: “Where’d You Go,” “Not The Way To Be,” “Can’t Find My Way” and “Separate Ways” all appeared on 2014 cassette West Bay Grease, and “I’m Not Down” appeared on 2008 recording Embarrassing Times, both put out on Molina’s own Bay Area label 650 Tapes.

Molina wishes we’d all stop talking about how short his songs are, saying in an interview years ago that he was “sick of that shit,” but it’s hard not to. It’s the greatest, and most plainly apparent, evidence of his hardcore roots. And it makes sense, in that hardcore music is more about the emotiveness of the sound than the content itself – the searing, fast instrumentals and the screamed, oftentimes dark but incoherent lyrics are ephemeral in time but strong in message. They are supposed to feel a certain way: angry, anxious, disillusioned. Molina takes this stylistic device and applies it to these wistful songs to create a different type of feeling but a feeling all the same, one of nostalgia and longing. It doesn’t matter that he trades songs among releases, because it’s about the big picture. The collection is bookended with an instrumental intro and outro; the intro gears us up with a power-pop riff while the outro melts into a twinkling surf rock ditty, the end credits of a heartfelt movie, music you ride off into the sunset to. As a unit, all fourteen tracks contribute to a fifteen-minute whole of a sentiment, or even the memory of a sentiment, rather than units in and of themselves. These songs are evergreen, containing emotion so universal as to mean the same thing in 2008 as in 2019, albeit evoked by different circumstances. After all, on track “Been Here Before,” Molina observes: “The more I change, the more I stay the same.”

PLAYING THE BAY: Slumped Prepares for Summer Onslaught with Self-Titled LP

photo by Zoe Griffing Heller

The genesis of summer is upon us, and with its verdant green and gold also comes a reckoning. What do we do with the remnants of ourselves left over from winter and spring? If you’re heartbroken or enraged or otherwise blasted to bits, the long, sun-soaked hours practically beg you to use their battery life to extract all those bits and pieces of bad like some three-month-long game of Operation, one discarded beer can at a time. On their recently released self-titled LP, which comes on the heels of their 2018 split EP with Grumpster, Oakland rockers Slumped seem well aware of the fact that summer is the only time of year you can scream your frustrations without the wind throwing them back in your face. Just a scan through the song titles feels like hearing a friend cycle through their go-to self-effacing speech: we start with “Felon,” and we end with “Self-Destruct.”

Beyond diving into this album, I also had the pleasure of speaking to Slumped’s vocalist and guitarist Nate this week. The band’s primary songwriter, Nate brings his in-process songs to his bandmates Conner (lead guitar), Connor (base), and Jacob (drums), where the foursome work together to flesh out the finalities of the sound. While there is always going to be “tons of compromises,” during such a process, it’s clear to me that Nate is grateful for the ease of collaboration he has cultivated with his bandmates. 

Slumped went in to the creative process of this album looking for, according to Nate, a “thicker” sound. “Gibson over Fender” he emphasized. Crunchy guitars certainly are the name of the game here, topped with distorted vocals and some hints of a more theatrical, White Reaper-esque brand of garage rock, most notably felt during the ascending, wa-wa ending guitar riff on “Sometimes,” which had me wishing I was in the hills (of Oakland, Berkeley, take your pick) air-guitaring with a madly sloshing La Croix.

“Cowboy Riff” and “Quiet Place,” both pre-release singles, don’t sound like they would be out of place on the Freaky Friday or 10 Things I Hate About You soundtracks, an assertion that may seem like an insult to some, but couldn’t be anything further from it. Both of those soundtracks were expertly crafted by someone who recognized that a dash of alternative could elevate the pop leanings of typical teen fare — and vice versa. (And how can you have two pissed-off turn-of-the-century rock girls without some actual rock?) The humming repeated chorus of spiral!/spiral! and entreaties of yeah I’m trying/can you hear me? on “Cowboy” and the bouncy guitars and air-punch riffs of “Place” only make me think that Slumped has more pop sensibilities than they care to let on — at least for now. “Place” is a point of pride for Nate, who wrote it while grappling with becoming an adult and learning that you “can’t expend your energy on people all the time,” quoting the song’s core line to me: on accident/I give everyone everything.

Nate described his work as a feeling like a “diary for myself.” While this isn’t a surprising sentiment to hear from a writer, he also found it gratifying to know that his close friends were likely aware of the meanings behind the songs, regardless of how ambiguous he may have set out to make them. Nate also finds himself fascinated by the experience of Slumped’s listeners. He likes the idea that people are forming theories that may be completely separate from the truth, perhaps reflecting the listener’s experience more than his own. And yet, he was delighted when I told him of my interpretation of “Ruin My Life,” which he confirmed as pretty spot-on. The process of song creation seems to be a constant mirror flip for Nate, switching between the realm of the intensely personal and introspective to the exhibitionistic. I appreciated his honesty about it, mainly because I think most writers — including myself — find some playful satisfaction in the two-sided coin of our venerability and our own perceived mystery.

The gut-punch “Ruin My Life” was my favorite of the bunch, a stop-in-the-middle-of-the-street summertime catharsis song. Listening for the first time on my bed, my face must have looked exactly like the frown emoji, and I may have actually uttered aww aloud. The lyrics are a simple but effective portrayal of the hand-twisting drama of wanting someone to see right through your attempts at neutrality while also wishing you could hide all your feelings under the world’s biggest blanket fort like a reverse Princess and the Pea. Preceding a raucous instrumental lead-out, the song’s final lyrics get at this best: oh god I hope you haven’t figured me out/pick up the phone and/ I’ll tell you now/if you just pick up I could/tell you right now.

Today, it is a shocking 73 degrees. I can’t wait to fling my first piece of wintertime shrapnel aside with that line echoing in my head.

Nate’s local band recs: Grumpster // awakebutstillinbed // Pity Party // Kevin Nichols

Check out Slumped’s Facebook for tour updates — they’ll be back in the Bay on June 29th, opening for Decent Criminal.

ALBUM REVIEW: Common Holly “Playing House”

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photo by Sean Mundy

Playing house is one of the earliest and most innate forms of childhood emulation. It is how we pantomime maturity, and begin to learn self-preservation, domestic upkeep, and the treatment of others. From pretending to prepare a meal, to sweeping the tree house, this form of child’s play is our first expression of wanting to “grow up.” For Canadian artist Common Holly, Playing House is an expression of consciously entering adulthood. It is also the name of her debut record.

Helmed by songwriter Brigitte Naggar, Common Holly greets us with a tender and sophisticated meditation on the end of a formative relationship, and the importance of purposeful decision-making. Of Playing House, Naggar said in a press release that the record “is my first real effort to create something that is entirely deliberate—the beginning of my journey of thoughtful action, and of daring to express myself outside of my bedroom.”

“Deliberate” is the perfect word for Playing House – its stunning arrangements and artful production reflect intent and restraint. Opening track “If After All” is expertly composed, commencing with a font of liquid before breaking down into a multifaceted pop gem, somehow incorporating finger-plucked guitar, swelling strings, and minimalist drums without sounding overwrought. Naggar’s girlish voice carries the same melody throughout the song, but the instrumentation blooms from indie folk to sweeping ballad before culminating in hard rock distortion and busy electric guitar. “If After All” is such a strong composition, I almost wish it was buried deeper in the record, as it’s a tough act to follow.

Though less musically intricate, “Nothing” speaks to Naggar’s ability to contrast form with concept. The dulcet vocals and bedroom rock delivery of “Nothing” portray innocence, while Naggar’s lyrics are anything but. Naggar sings of a crumbling, codependent relationship in which every attempt to problem-solve results in suffocation: “If I got you in a room/ if I got you to hold still/it would probably too soon/to hold you there against your will.”

This level of self-awareness is palpable throughout Playing House. Naggar deconstructs a banal yet dysfunctional relationship throughout the album, holding herself accountable as much as possible. Discussing this theme in a press release, she said, “Especially at the end of a relationship, there comes a time when the best thing you can do for someone is to leave them alone even though it might feel like you’re abandoning them. Sometimes trying to resolve things and being over-present is an act influenced more by guilt than by empathy.”

“In My Heart” is yet another manifestation of that concept. A quietly complex country number, it employs pedal steel and neatly placed piano. The song’s softness negates its harsh message of letting someone go: “Don’t try/In my mind, in my mind I can’t help it/With my heart, with my heart I can’t help you.”

Resting midway through the record is the gorgeous “Lullaby” featuring Montreal pianist Jean-Michel Blais. “Lullaby” depicts Naggar at her thematic pinnacle – the anatomy of the song is true to lullabies, indeed, while Blais’ creeping keys suggest the twinkling of a nursery mobile rotating above a crib. Naggar’s lyrics, however, are biting and brutal despite this naïve melody. “If you’re busy undermining all the things I had to say,” she sings, “I know it would have been wrong for me to try to stay.” The track’s closing coda plays on a familiar children’s game, but turns that on its head for a darker finish: “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Naggar intones, before promising: “I will keep away.”

The weighty blues of “The Rose” finds Naggar nodding at The Black Keys. The song is soft to start, but builds up and breaks down into Auerbach-worthy guitar, eventually spinning out with grunge distortion. In keeping with this dark turn, “The Desert” is a painterly narrative with sparse string arrangements evoking The Dirty Three. Hand drums and piano crawl behind scant guitar and Naggar’s reverb-heavy croons, weaving a soundscape strong enough to close the record. Though it seems that Naggar didn’t want to end things on such a heavy note. Playing House’s final cuts resort to sweet and weightless melodies instead.

The title track exudes a singsong, sonic innocence. Its melody is full of childlike “doo doo doos” and lyrics that are one word away from being playful: “I’ll play mama, you’ll play daddy and we’ll ruin us beyond repair/at the cabin, on the lakeside, if we take things too far.” It is a song you can almost skip or swing to, until it dissolves into a foreboding vibration fit for Twin Peaks.

Closing track “New Bed” is Common Holly’s most stripped-down offering on Playing House, and perhaps its most optimistic. It is the song that finalizes the breakup; the hopeful closure and calm after the storm. Naggar is vulnerable and resigned when she sings, “I feel that we will get along just fine/if everything goes the way I have in mind.” The song fades out with rain and faint sirens, but what they’re chasing, we do not know.

Playing House is out now on Solitaire Recordings. Don’t miss Common Holly on her upcoming tour.

September 28 – Nomad Folk Fest
November 2 – Brooklyn Bazaar, New York, NY w/ The Hotelier, Oso Oso & Alex Napping
November 3 – Songbyrd Music House, Washington DC, w/ The Hotelier, Oso Oso & Alex Napping
December 5 –  Communion Showcase,  Rockwood Music Hall,  New York, NY
December 8 –  Theatre Fairmount, Montreal, QC w/ Chad VanGaalen[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ALBUM REVIEW: Happyness “Write In”

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photo by Emilla Orving

They’ve done it again. My favorite (contemporary) British trio is back with a follow up to their 2015 debut Weird Little Birthday. If Happyness have given me anything aside from ace interview material and two years of fabulous music, they have laid the groundwork for something very dear to me as a music journalist: the ability to follow a band’s career indefinitely.

Though I hope I’m not jinxing their livelihood, Happyness seem to possess a great potential for longevity. In this high turnover industry, sometimes all one can ask for is a band you can grow with.

The group’s sophomore LP Write In tells me these three Londoners won’t be disappearing any time soon. While this record certainly bears the Happyness stamp, it also conveys a breadth of growth and maturity when stacked up against their previous recordings. That maturity exists in song structure, yes, but also in lyrical content, which has become, to use bassist Jon EE Allan’s word of choice from a press release, more “earnest.”

If on Weird Little Birthday Happyness charmed us with their searing wit and irreverence, on Write In they move us with their sincerity and vulnerability. It seems that Allan, guitarist Benji Compston, and drummer Ash Cooper have become more whole as songwriters, and as people. It’s almost as if they’re, dare I say, growing up – and I’m fond of how gracefully they are doing so.

Write In’s opening number, “Falling Down” is immediate evidence of such grace. Its somber, slow build expands with layers of lush sound, culminating in shrieking synths. Somehow austere and glittering, morose and hopeful, it is the perfect song for a bedridden, rainy day…and that’s just the kind of day I’m having.

Highlights of the record are almost too numerous to mention, but I am going to do so regardless. “Anytime” is a downright masterful pop song, with its My Bloody Valentine-esque sludge and contrasting bright riffs (that keyboard! Those “oohs”!) That a gorgeous melody could peek its head through so much distortion and fog is a lovely thing.

“Through Windows” speaks to Happyness’ self-proclaimed love of Burt Bacharach, but also brings to mind the brilliance of Harry Nilsson and Blur at their finest. It is songs like this that establish these gents as stellar songwriters; their attention to detail defying their inattention to what t-shirts they happen to be wearing at any given moment.

“Bigger Glass Less Full” is Write In’s more aggressive outlier, much like “Refrigerate Her” on Weird Little Birthday. It doesn’t completely match, but it’s a welcome pop of color amidst the murky warmth of the surrounding tracks. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “This C Is A B A G” is particularly open and intimate, allowing you to really step into their cozy recording studio. The track concludes with tiny cries that register almost like sonar dolphin songs – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these guys know how to write keyboard hooks that skewer you.

Toward the LP’s end, “Anna, Lisa Calls” stands out as a quintessential Happyness track…a poppy and thoughtful slice of indie rock. Just when you think they’ve outdone themselves, the album closes with “Tunnel Vision On Your Part” – the title track of Happyness’ 2016 EP. The sweeping, melancholy ballad bookends the record perfectly, evoking a similar sadness to “Falling Down.”

Despite their newly stoic approach, the band members haven’t snipped away their senses of humor. With song titles like “The Reel Start Again (Man As Ostrich)” and an endearingly funny music video for “Through Windows” featuring a clever microwave scene, Happyness aren’t taking themselves too seriously…but I hope they don’t mind if I do.

Write In is out now on Bar/None Records.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ALBUM REVIEW: Charly Bliss “Guppy”

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Photo by Jacqueline Harriet

Brooklyn power-pop outfit Charly Bliss deals in the stylings of nineties’ girl-fronted power pop bands: sugary sweet vocals layered over Warped Tour-worthy pop punk riffs. They haven’t escaped comparisons to bands like Veruca Salt or Letters To Cleo, and they won’t here either. But this niche of music – “angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion,” as described aptly in 10 Things I Hate About You – has received far less respect than it should have all these years.

Any type of entertainment deemed “girly” or otherwise dominated by young women gets treated with a shocking paucity of respect as art. Okay, maybe it’s not that shocking, given the genre’s post-Nineties trend toward pre-packaged Disney-fication. What makes Charly Bliss so enticing is that they’ve revived this style, adding their own dark humor and smarts to package it up for grown-ups. The macabre turns the lyrics can take balances out the sweetness of frontwoman Eva Hendricks’ vocals. Paired together, they’re brimming with irony and sarcasm – a Glossier-pink commentary on the reality of millennial womanhood.

There are moments where they deal directly with specific issues modern women face, most notably on “Scare U” when Hendricks sings “I wanna talk about it / But I don’t know what I mean / I don’t wanna scare you / I don’t wanna share you.” This is such a familiar scenario – girl meets boy, girl and boy start hooking up, girl really likes boy but doesn’t want to speak up about her emotional needs as to avoid appearing anything but “chill,” whatever that even means.

But most of the sardonic wit, and underlying meaning, exists in more unexpected places, when Charly Bliss plays on the cutesy images and tropes of nineties power pop bands. “Ruby” isn’t about an ex-girlfriend or the most popular girl in school – it’s about Hendricks’ therapist, an ode thanking her for helping Hendricks overcome a fear of fainting in public. The track “DQ” isn’t about ice cream – they kill off a dog in the first lines, and as a plot point in the song the restaurant doesn’t become anything fun, but rather a dreaded dead-end on the path to adulthood.

All in all, this album is a darkly comical twist on what you would expect an album with these sonic earmarks to broach. It showcases the real problems millennial women face; it’s not all fuckbois and unanswered texts, but also serious neuroses and existential ennui. Like a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, Charly Bliss makes us face the serious stuff with a facade of glossy pop punk.

Charly Bliss play an album release show for Guppy at Baby’s All Right on May 18th. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ALBUM REVIEW: Future Islands “The Far Field”

“It’s not easy, just being human, and the lights and the smoke and screens,” sings Sam Herring on Future Islands’ latest record, The Far Field. It isn’t. Our lives are a sloppy amalgamation of highs and lows, love and hate, obsession and apathy. In essence, this record faces this reality head on: it’s a devastatingly beautiful case study on love and infatuation, the thin line that separates them, and the sting that comes close behind.

Musically speaking, this is the Baltimore band’s final descent into straight indie-pop. With five albums under their belt already, it’s difficult to find anything else to reinvent, audibly speaking. And so they dig deeper, doing what they do best even better – pairing impossibly catchy tracks with deeply moving, emotionally insightful lyrics. Yet the catchiest songs on the record – “North Star” and “Shadows” (featuring Debbie Harry!) – are not the most compelling. It’s because they lack the sheer emotional depth and the stark truth of the other tracks that hammer home the difficulty of our humanity. We fall too easily; we fail to stay neutral by our very nature, and oftentimes that hurts us.

This becomes apparent right off the bat with opening track “Aladdin,” on which Herring sings “I built a ship for two / It waits for me and you” before he asks “Is it real?” He wants, he builds the ship, he projects the relationship he wants onto whomever “you” is before he can even really know what “you” thinks or feels. And don’t we all do that? It’s the way we idealize situations and people; we imagine the reality we’d like to live in, all the while forgetting that’s not how life works. And when actual reality crashes down upon us, it hurts.

This obsessive imagination touches on nearly every track of the record, opening scab after scab while you realize you’ve felt every feeling he describes. “Beauty of the Road” captures the way it’s sometimes hard to remember the last time you saw someone because you never imagined it could possibly be the last time, boiled down to one wistful line: “I never thought you’d really go.” On “Cave” he sings “All I hold is all I own,” one of those rare moments on the record where he removes his rose-tinted glasses to face the stark reality of our solitude. We can’t make anyone do or feel anything, and our suffering is often a direct result of refusing to accept that. It’s those light and smoke and screens he mentioned earlier – life is by nature uncertain, and this uncertainty is uncomfortable to live with. But he acknowledges our ability to let go of this, to accept the fact that we can’t control anything but ourselves. On “Ancient Water” he sings “Too many wasted days and nights, obsessed with the flickering moments of my life, forgetting what giving and living can be–what it can mean, first forgiving myself…” It’s the moment we realize rumination doesn’t serve us, that we aren’t chained to the memory of what was and that we’re “strong enough to be free.”

After all of this – the idealization, the denial, and ultimately the self-realization and forgiveness – the greatest irony of all is that the last word on The Far Field is “stay,” leaving us to wonder what it would be like if life actually worked that way. It’s a moment of terrifying realization: that no matter how much we say we’ve gotten over it, our past is still a vital aspect of who we are and it’s nearly impossible to truly let anyone go. It may seem as easy as asking them to stay, but Herring’s lyrics remind us that life’s beauty resides in the complications.

The Far Field is out now via 4AD. Check tour dates here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sorority Noise “You’re Not As _____ As You Think”

Hartford emo band Sorority Noise released their third full length record, You’re Not As _____ As You Think, this week. It’s so self-aware it’s like the Scream of emo records. It’s formulaic as far as pop punk records go, but the band almost points it out ironically, trying to hedge out a comfortable space in the period between pimply adolescence and grown adulthood. They intersperse these moments of realization in the lyrics, layered over pretty standard (albeit well-done) pop punk, so that it captures these growing pains.

A lot of lyrical elements from Sorority Noise’s previous records carry over onto this one – drug abuse, the pain of loss, depression and mental illness – but with a new perspective. You oftentimes catch the word “still” – on the opening track (and no doubt the best on the record) “No Halo,” vocalist Cameron Boucher sings “the same things that plague you still plaguing me.” The following track, “A Portrait Of,” Boucher continues, “I still have demons, they won’t be leaving anytime soon.” It’s like a friend talking to you about an ex-girlfriend to the point of self-realization where it’s like, I really need to get over this.

They are maturing in that they’re noticing the patterns in their destructive behaviors, and know they need to change them, even if they haven’t gotten there yet. In “A Better Sun” Boucher sings “I did cocaine to impress my mouth-breathing friends” with an air of self-disgust so blatant it’s clear they’ve grown from their mistakes.

This record is basically a peek into the inner-psyche of your standard “brooding male” boyfriend character. He’s emotional and “complicated.” He’s experienced loss and gained depth. But you’ve been there enough times to know the last thing you need is another self-deprecating sad boy who sporadically stops answering texts for weeks at a time. Logic screams no but you go for it anyway because it’s really charming in a demented way, the predictability of it all. This record is like that – you’ve been there before, you know what’s going to happen next, but you listen to it over and over because pop punk is meant to be impossibly catchy.

All in all, Sorority Noise is more self-aware than you think. While they don’t rewrite the rules on this record, they know their tropes and they play them well.

Stream You’re Not As _____ As You Think via bandcamp below.


 The idea that beauty can be extracted from suffering is a bristling comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. Jamie Stewart has mastered this alchemic process in his 15-year post as Xiu Xiu founder and frontman. As we await impending doom – perhaps a nuclear fiasco, the severing of civil rights, or xenophobic federal doctrines – the thought that artistic expression has always withstood tragedy is a bite-sized bit of optimism. In a way, Xiu Xiu’s music is an anthem for this tiny silver lining.

Xiu Xiu’s latest record FORGET pulses with the blood of creative perseverance despite despair. Stewart summons a broad palette of emotion throughout, with the help of Xiu Xiu’s Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman, as well as appearances by Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, Charlemagne Palestine, performance artist Vaginal Davis and more. What some have dismissed as “exasperating” and “predictable” is in fact a dynamic and stimulating work, straddling the gamut of Xiu Xiu’s sonic potential.

FORGET kicks off in a brash way, with crass rap snippets by Enyce Smith on opening cut “The Call.” This jolt of agitation displaces us before the Xiu Xiu-typical gothic fog has even rolled in. Stewart’s gloomy croon glides over us, recalling Peter Murphy of Bauhaus – its sex appeal justifying its dreary malevolence. Smith’s snarling raps weave throughout “The Call,” adding provocative discordance. Though the effect might not work on paper, it is successful in sound.

Despite being the record’s most melodic, even uplifting track, “Wondering” triumphs as Xiu Xiu’s most strident “fuck you;” defying their own experimental legacy with a glittering pop song. Only Xiu Xiu could write a song so infectiously catchy and dance-enhancing that you don’t realize the words you are singing along with…namely: “Down on your knees/Swallow defeat.” It may be muffled, distorted, and strange, but Xiu Xiu’s unconventional production doesn’t rob the track of any sweetness. Without a scrap of hyperbole, one might call “Wondering” among the best pop songs ever written.

It’d be hard to find another band that could inject this much variety into a single record, let alone an entire career the way Xiu Xiu has. Their leap from “Wondering” to the following cut “Get Up” is a classic example of their versatility. Where “Wondering” is no doubt a dance number, “Get Up” is a drowsy ballad akin to Cocteau Twins with its breathy synths and climbing arpeggios. But it isn’t all dream pop appeal – Stewart channels his inner game show host when he shouts, “Rise from the dead!” This is one small example of the impeccable, fleshed-out production throughout FORGET; its soundscape inhabited by so many deliberate and well-placed details.

Aside from “Wondering,” the highpoint of FORGET is the frantic and visceral “Jenny GoGo,” which pairs Stewart’s darker side against his own fragility – while somehow remaining a fabulous dance track. The production on “Jenny GoGo” is far more gritty than “Wondering,” but no less intricate. Stewart’s vocals volley between frail whispers and Suicide-like shrieks that split the frenzied air. If you dig the work of Alan Vega and Martin Rev, Fad Gadget, or Einstürzende Neubauten, this one’s for you.

FORGET’s most disparate song is the eight-minute closer, “Faith, Torn Apart,” which commences with chapel bells before slipping into a gloomy and sinister rejection of piety. Demonic voices, haunting chants, and atonal synths warble and hypnotize before Vaginal Davis reads a closing poem, presenting herself as a child of a war-torn country:

“…My bindi has been rubbed to the side/My frown is for always/My family will never see me again/My goofy jokes hide my goofy damnation/My giggles excuse what just happened/My tears and my drool are all the same/My fear is for one and all/My dead-end childhood is just beginning…”

“Faith, Torn Apart” takes more time to digest than the rest of the record, but is all the more rewarding once its played a few times.

Is the most remarkable thing about Xiu Xiu their ability to master and subvert the pop song? Is it their ability to maintain our attention after 15 years of intrigue? Or is it their devotion to exploring the depths of sound, humor, and human emotion – no matter how terrifying? Surely, it’s a greasy, sweet, curdled, and bloody blend encompassing all of the above.

ALBUM REVIEW: Vagabon “Infinite Worlds”


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Vagabon press photo by Ebru Yildiz

Laetitia Tamko opens her debut record with “The Embers,” painting herself as “a small fish” in a world of fiercer creatures. “You’re a shark that hates everything,” she repeats. “You’re a shark that eats every fish.” In the music video, Tamko sits on a bus, surrounded by nondescript white guys with blindfolds on, unaware of her presence as she sings. But then she finds the freedom in being left to herself, dancing, comfortable in her own space in the world. Later, the men carry her above them.

Watching it reminds me of the recent conversation between Dirty Projector’s Dave Longstreth and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, bemoaning the lack of new, good and original indie rock. The conversation, which took place on Instagram, earned some well-deserved eye rolls and the criticism that the two don’t realize the major players in the genre are increasingly non-male and non-white; they only had to look beyond those that mirrored themselves to find musicians like Tamko, who has created an amazing album that contains an emotion and fire that makes it seem beyond just her first major release. Her talent for introspection, as well as a worldly awareness, make it easy to get lost in her universe. 

On Infinite Worlds, quiet, indie-folk moments give way to heavy rock and in the middle of it all, the dreamy, electronic jam “Mal à L’aise.” Her best lyrics rise out of sadness instead of being brought down by it, and use the feeling of being small or out of place as motivation to push back. The song where it all comes together in a perfect, heartbreaking way is “Cold Apartment,” which builds and pulls back until words seem to escape Tamko; her soaring vocals dissolve over crashing drums and power chords until we’re left with just the gentle guitar melody the song started with. The album feels new and fresh, even after a few listens. If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out below.


ALBUM REVIEW: Bonobo “Migration”

Migration – the sixth studio album from electronic mastermind Simon Green (aka Bonobo) has been met with mixed reviews. But what is interesting music, if not polarizing? Upon first sitting with the 12-song LP, it became instantly apparent to this reviewer that one should hear it in the dark. After hitting the lights, its lush arrangements had space enough to dance around at full capacity. And dance it did.

The title track, “Migration,” ushers us into a rich soundscape with dulcet piano. The keys are minimal yet seductive, much like the work of contemporary pianists Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. Weaving behind them is an atmospheric collage comprised of distant intonations and rolling snares. It is a song both familiar and impossible to grasp – and there is nothing more satisfying or frustrating for a music critic than to hear a landscape of sound that you don’t have the vocabulary to describe. Green has managed to summon all of this by song one.

“Break Apart” takes a slightly different direction, starting off with hissing tape and slowing things to a slur. Despite the delicate plucking of strings and eventual swell of horns, “Break Apart” is essentially an R&B song, with breathy vocals provided by L.A.’s Rhye. On “Outlier,” we swerve down another path – one with a far friendlier tempo for the club. The first dance track of the album, “Outlier” maintains a uniqueness that defies typical EDM formulae. Whether slow burners or techno pounders, Green’s songs act as sonic narratives that ripen and unfurl each minute. Bonobo’s frequent use of crescendo functions as a climax in these narratives.

“Grains” returns us to the slithering tempo Migration began with, making fine art of the vocoded vocal sample – in this case, the drawling non-sequiturs of Pete Seeger. The sluggish track exemplifies Green’s ability to sculpt enormous depth of sound with seemingly few frills.

While Green entrances with his otherworldly compositions on the first half of Migration, the record’s pure pop, vocal-centric second half is less intriguing. Bonobo’s collaboration with Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker) on “No Reason” yields a pretty by-the-charts pop song, with Murphy’s voice taking the reigns and Green’s arrangements in the back of the saddle. It should be the other way around. The same dilemma can be found on “Surface,” a Sade-lite number featuring Nicole Miglis. These would be fine as stand-alone singles, but within the record as a whole they dilute Green’s exceptional talent as an electronic composer.

As much as it pains a writer to say: words seem to cheapen the boundless expression Green can convey with his music. Fortunately, Migration weighs heavier on the wordless side – allowing the mind to float in its various intricacies, shades, and tides.

Migration is out now on Ninja Tune Records.

ALBUM REVIEW: Kishi Bashi “Sonderlust”


The music we’ve come to expect from Kishi Bashi has a certain flair for the ethereal, the magical, and the adventurous. His latest album Sonderlust isn’t a deviation from this; rather, it jumps right into the style and sound that embodies this talented musician.

Sonderlust begins with the single “m’lover,” introducing the album with a gentle tinkling of keys and strings that’ll prick your eardrums and immediately captivate your heart. Pips and pops scattered throughout the track behind Kishi Bashi’s charming vocals as he seductively croons about wanting someone to be his lover—listening to it is pretty much a necessary aural experience. (Seriously, this track is just so many different types of sexy.) The next song, “Hey Big Star,” is as sparkly and otherworldly as a track with the word “star” in the title should be. It’s a true toe-tapper, with an easy-t0-follow beat and a poppy, addictive rhythm. The following track holds a more analog feel to it, sounding like a song from an old Super Nintendo video game soundtrack. It’s a slower jam to groove to, one that feels reminiscent of a chill 80s love song in certain ways. “Can’t Let Go, Juno” holds an air of impending drama, with its heavier (yet still beautifully ethereal) sound. Toward the end, it breaks off into an entrancing keyboard solo, carrying you through its space and time with delicate tinkling.

In the middle of the album, you reach the climax and resolution of the built-up tension from the previous track in “Ode to my Next Life.” It feels alien and galactic: like you can see yourself walking along the surface of the moon in a spacesuit, defying gravity while this soundtracks your life. It’s a confidence boosting, ego touting song, which, if we’re being totally honest, should probably become a necessity on all albums moving forward. “Who’d You Kill” is smooth and savory, yet quirky, calling to mind the type of music you might hear in a movie like “Ocean’s 11,” but with a very Kishi Bashi twist added to it. “Why Don’t You Answer Me” has a sense of urgency to its fast-paced beat, as if something depends on an answer to its posed titular question, and “Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)” feels like a perfect continuation of the previous track. It flows together perfectly, slowing the previous vibe down in a natural way where a listener won’t feel disjointed or jarred. Sonderlust closes out with Kishi Bashi’s fun, energetic single “Honeybody.” It’s a pop song that reaches out and grabs you, then holds you close to dance you around the room. It’s a fantastic way to end an album because it leaves you in a place where you need to hear the entirety of it again immediately and will probably find yourself clicking replay as soon as it closes.

So what are you waiting for? Hop on the Kishi Bashi bandwagon (if you haven’t already, that is).

EP REVIEW: Lee Triffon “Different Sun”


Welp, 2016 has been hellish, and we officially all need 200 percent more chill in our lives. And Tel Aviv-born, LA-based Lee Triffon is here to bring us those much-needed laid-back vibes in the form of her new EP Different Sun.

The album begins with Triffon’s wispy vocals projecting an ominous and slightly mysterious energy in her titular opening track. The music ebbs and flows with her airy voice, carrying you on a cushy cloud of low-key electronica. It transitions into her popular single “Mirrors in the Sand” from there. In this track, the songstress stretches her range a bit more, telling a heartfelt tale using raspy vocals alongside a slow synthy backing. The midpoint of the EP sees “Silver Bullet Gun,” which is a more unique style from the previous two tracks, deviating into a more pronounced and ambitious song than her other two–it reaches out and grabs you, holding you captive to its enchanting sound. Although slow, it’s repetitive tracking makes it so the song reverberates around your head. The next song, “Caves,” is a bit faster than the others at times, and has an urgent yet unsettled feel to it. It further complements Triffon’s mysteriousness, a quality which is palpable in all the songs on Different Sun. “Caves” is the last glimpse of sunlight on a particularly brisk winter evening, making it seasonally appropriate, but also a great way to end out an album. The last track is an orchestral version of “Mirrors in the Sand,” which is a more magical and theatrical spin on the original single.

Take a listen to Different Sun below, and maybe it’ll help you feel a bit more reinvigorated for the coming year.

EP REVIEW: Ex Reyes “Do Something”


Flowery and airy, carrying you away from the hellscape that our country has become in the last two weeks to instead deliver you to a place where beauty and comfort exists is Ex Reyes’ new EP Do Something.

The EP starts out with their single “Bad Timing,” which is a jazzy, upbeat track that showcases falsetto vocals from Ex Reyes, aka Mikey Hart. It’s epiphanic and revelatory, which is a perfect lead into the piece as a whole. It also flows smoothly into the next track, “If U Come Runnin,” which will tinkle around your head for days with its quirky synths that spiral away.

From there, you’ll experience “Keeping You in Line,” which will do anything but that. You’ll feel yourself floating this way and that throughout this track as the music washes over you and transports you to a different world. Following that is a sobering dose of reality from the brief interlude track “Hard to Stand,” which will ground you after your mysterious journey from the prior song. The EP closes out with “Where U Callin From,” which features Wild Belle. With brassy elements that recall ska days of yesteryear and tinkling keys that dance up and down your spine, it’s a fantastic note to end the album on. Plus, Wild Belle and Ex Reyes’ vocals seamlessly complement one another.

If you’re looking for a bit of music to help you realign and center your soul, then you’ve found the artist to follow.

PLAYING DETROIT: Handgrenades “Tunnels”


Alt-indie five-some, Handgrenades delivered their sophomore LP Tunnels earlier this month, a diversified, hook-laden kaleidoscope that explodes with disciplined revelry. There’s nothing particularly weighty about Tunnels, and no molds were forged nor broken but what is accomplished here are a series of consistent and caffeinated arrangements that propel the record into the new familiar. Each track wants to so badly to be so many things but is done so with equal parts focus and frenzy resulting in a record that ends up being an inspired version of itself.

“Daily Routine,” has a bloody but sunshiny mid-2000’s-vibe alt-anthem with jittery percussions and heartbroken choral bursts of desperation leading into “The Watcher,” with foggy distortion and jutting guitar licks feels trapped between genres without a destination. The albums valiant single “Suffocating,” though lyrically meek, is rescued by its Muse-esque vocals and purposefully and effectively spastic instrumental choreography giving the aural illusion of both gasping for air and receiving it making the track. “In Abesetia” dances with theatrics and “Wrapped in Plastic” parties with Brand New inspired vocals and guitar vs. percussion spacing and when preceding Tunnels eery final track “Daydream” (which is sort of reminiscent of Radiohead’s track “Daydreamers” from their latest but with ample restraint) reminds the listener that this record is a complete thought. All the territories they sought to explore were touched, and in doing so, Handgrenades concocted the perfect formula to fuse their wide and wild expressions with a polished fervor that seems more seasoned than not and more than sincere than flippant.

Find the light at the end with Handgrenades’ latest below:

ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Gordon “Timber Remixed”


Not too long ago a friend asked me, “What music consistently gives you the chills?” It was more difficult to answer than I would have imagined, and I could perhaps attribute said difficulty to the unrelenting musical sameness we are bombarded with daily. What may have given someone chills in the 1960s, say, psych rock, may no longer have that effect, due to its repetition and ubiquity. So when I first heard Michael Gordon’s Timber Remixed and the hair on my arms stood at attention, I knew it was something special.

Originally releasing Timber in 2009, Gordon – a founding member of the Bang on a Can collective – conceived the work live, when he placed six wooden 2x4s of differing lengths in a circle and then arranged six percussionists around the newfangled instruments to create wildly primal rhythms. The varied lengths of the 2x4s allowed for different pitches to come forth and the wood’s sonic properties resonated to the point that the audiences believed electronics were present.

In September, Mantra Percussion’s Mike McCurdy – who has been heavily involved in the recording process and live performances of Timber – told Stereogum:

“As Timber was first brought to the public’s attention in 2010-2012, one of the most frequently heard responses from audiences, listeners and reviewers were about the electronics in the piece. But there are no electronics in the piece! As it was performed over the years, a disclaimer was actually given in the concert program before each performance that the sounds being produced were all natural, and that the wood itself had such lush harmonics as to deceive the ear, as though some electronic process was being applied to the sound.

All this talk about electronics got Michael Gordon thinking, and he proposed the idea in the fall of 2012 to find people to remix the album. So we came up with a favorites list of composers and musicians to take the music and do whatever they wanted, as long as the underlying composition could be perceived.”

The result is Timber Remixed, a gorgeous, haunting record that is so otherworldly it is difficult to describe. I wouldn’t even say one can hear this album, as it seems more appropriate to say that you will feel it…as if it is happening to you. A kind of vibratory massage throughout the body. As McCurdy mentioned, star producers stud this album, including the likes of Tim Hecker, Fennesz, Oneohtrix Point Never, Squarepusher, and Hauschka to name but a few. Each track is like it’s own warped world, though the 12 remixes form a galaxy as a whole.

While the original Timber is a testament to lumber alone, doing for wood what Glenn Branca has done for the guitar, Timber Remixed re-contextualizes Gordon’s vision into a layered multiverse of electronic manipulation. Timber’s pitch is higher, while Timber Remixed is more guttural, like the boom of a falling redwood.

Favorite moments occur during Fennesz’s ambient, spacey, whirring take on the piece, as well as Greg Saunier’s aggressive, staccato beats that recall video game machine guns. But the final remix by Hauschka has to be my favorite, as it disassembles and puts back together the material, fashioning a complex collage that sits nicely between reworking and staying true to the original.

Please take the next available two hours in your schedule. Lie on your bed, turn off your lights, and listen to Timber Remixed. It’s cheaper than Flotation Therapy and you won’t get salt in your eyes.

Timber Remixed is out now via Cantaloupe Music.


01 “Jóhann Jóhannsson”
02 “Sam Pluta”
03 “Tim Hecker”
04 “Fennesz”
05 “Oneohtrix Point Never”
06 “Greg Saunier”
07 “HPRIZM/High Priest of APC”
08 “Ian Williams”
09 “Squarepusher”
10 “Ikue Mori”
11 “Mira Calix”
12 “Hauschka”


EP REVIEW: Del Caesar “EP 2”

Del Caesar - EP cover art high-res

This week, the thought of getting out of bed and doing anything at all filled me with dread; scraping together thoughts and words about an album was the last thing I wanted to do. I feel for any band releasing music this week, I really do. Everyone feels terrible, and everyone’s mind is definitely not on music. But what originally drew me to Del Caesar makes me glad I’m writing about their latest release, EP 2, even now.

EP 2 opens with the jaunty “Like They Always Say,” which has an energy that defies the fact that it seems to loosely take place the morning after a bender. “Lie To Me” has a catchy call and response chorus that lodges pleasantly in the brain, while “Never Be Alone” is a moodier, soulful track that opens with perfectly complementary guitar parts.  “I’ll Bet” so encapsulates the sound of a 60’s/70’s love song it’s hard to believe it’s not a cover.

Their sound is true-to-the-original, decades old garage rock, with melodic bass lines and fuzzy, psychedelic guitar solos. There are flashes of the Stones in the vocals, which contain a hint of a playful sneer, and glimpses of T. Rex in the guitars. It truly feels like listening to a different era, which, at the moment, means a nice escape from reality. I highly recommend that you do yourself a favor this weekend and check out this album. Here, you can even listen to it below:

ALBUM REVIEW: Cool Company “Slice of Paradise”

Cool Co 1

You may recognize Cool Company from a few of the recent reviews we’ve done on them. We featured their single “Slice of Paradise” and chatted with them for a brief interview on their inspirations and upcoming work, and now we’re here to showcase the release of their full-length album Slice of Paradise.

Cool Company is a hip-hop/R&B duo made up of two fellas based in Bushwick, Brooklyn: Yannick Hughes (Cool Yan) and Matt Fishman (Fat Matt). The pair met back in 2006 during a choir class and have been making chill, laid-back jams together since 2012. At first, it was just friends making music together, but that relationship quickly expanded to a more serious musical adventure, which led to the May 2013 debut of their self-titled full-length.

After their first LP dropped, Cool Company went on to release their popular single “Call You Back” in November 2014. It was a piece that catapulted the band into a new direction: It led to a publishing deal with CDF Records in Switzerland and Italy, and it was also a showcase of Fat Matt’s producing skills, as the single was released with a remix produced in-house by Matt.

In 2015, the duo released their poppy EP Summer Daze, and some remixes from pieces on the EP soon followed in 2016. However, the band was relatively dormant until June 2016, until they released their first single from Slice of Paradise, “Why You Gotta Make Me Do It.”

Slice of Paradise itself is a deviation from the more poppy side of what the band had been putting out so far, and it instead focuses on laid-back tracks that meld together in a seamless blend and is sprinkled throughout with multiple interludes. It almost feels like you’re listening to one long song; the album overall is cohesive and smooth, perfect to listen to on a relaxing afternoon.

It begins with “When Did We Get so High?,” which is the musical equivalent to that feeling you get when you open a new book and know within the first page that you’re going to have a hard time putting it down. It drags you in with gospel-esque singing and smooth rapping, then transitions into the next track, “Ride or Die” without missing a beat. This second track brings a more upbeat, fun energy to it, complete with expert producing. “Faded” goes a step further to kick it into a more energetic gear; it’s tantalizing and dream-like, moving through your mind in a blur –before you realize it, the track is over, and you’re moving onto the next one. After that follows the titular track, which is sexy and glamorous, making it the perfect centerpiece of the album.

After the first interlude, “Hopeless,” the album moves onto “Tuck You In.” It’s a sweet yet savory track that’ll make you want to get down in more than one sense. “End of the Night” is full of titillating keys and vibrant synths, and “Stare and Smile” takes the production to another level. “Habit” is an eccentric yet relaxed track that’ll fully immerse you into the album (if that hasn’t already happened, anyway).

Following yet another interlude, “Headphones,” is the enjoyable and much-awaited “Why You Gotta Make Me Do It.” It’s full of switchbacks that make your head spin, but in the best way possible–it’s an exciting track to keep on repeat. From there, we reach the final interlude, “$50,” and close the album out with “Life.” As its name suggests, it vivacious and stunning; it’s a great way to end a piece that has most definitely provided its listeners with ample material to groove on.

Slice of Paradise overall is a fun, chilled out album that, at times, will make you want to dance and then switch in one seamless motion to wanting to Netflix and chill. It’s seamless production, never-ending supply of synths, and fresh raps make it an album to digest as soon as you have the time to devout to it.

ALBUM REVIEW: Regina Spektor “Remember Us to Life”


It’s been some time since our eardrums have been graced by new music from Regina Spektor. At long last, the Russian-born New York-bred songstress has released a new full-length, Remember Us to Life, and while it isn’t a total deviation from her past works, it was also incredibly much-needed.

The album kicks off with her leading single from the piece, “Bleeding Heart.” It sees Spektor flexing her usual impressive vocal range, as well as an overall upbeat and high-spirited aura. It tinkles around in your head and ends on a more aggressive note, promising coming music that you’ll be captivated by. “Older and Taller” and “Grand Hotel” take more sentimental tones, which is completely expected with Spektor–a mix of high and low energies interspersed with intimacy and vulnerability.

From there, the album takes a turn toward the quirky and ethereal with “Small Bill$,” and just as quickly switchbacks to contemplative and personal with “The Light.” The back and forth continues as “Tornadoland” is full of energetic keys while “Obsolete” takes more of a solemn approach.

If you’re looking for a new sound and a reinvention from Spektor, then you might find yourself disappointed. However, if you’re looking for good vibe-y music and the talents of Regina Spektor that we’ve all come to know and love, then you’ll be head over heels for Remember Us to Life.

ALBUM REVIEW: Camille Bloom “Pieces of Me”

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photo by Gaelen Billingsley
photo by Gaelen Billingsley

It was the philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While I’m not certain that Aristotelian philosophy was at the forefront of Camille Bloom’s mind while songwriting, I can’t help but consider it a subconscious theme to her fifth studio LP Pieces Of Me, which she self-released earlier this month.

Despite having started her career in Seattle nearly fifteen years ago while transitioning out of another – teaching high school English à la Sting – it seems that Pieces Of Me has become the “a-ha!” moment for Bloom. The record has received widespread applause from the likes of Impose Magazine, No Depression, The Seattle Times, PopDose to name but a few. Now it has us on our feet clapping as well.

Pieces Of Me provides a remedy for a paradoxical problem: wanting to listen to a record that is diverse yet cohesive all at once. You’d be hard-pressed to find another album so adventurous in its genre-hopping. Some truly unique compositions crop up on both the bluegrass-infused title track as well as “Zombie,” a searing social commentary set to sinister, plunking jazz rhythms.

No shocker here, but some of my favorite moments occur on the album’s more forlorn cuts; take the somnolent piano ballad “Everywhere But Here” for instance, which sounds sweetly ominous with its cinematic strings and crescendo vocals. The pared-down “Turn Back to You” nourishes all of the hopeless romantic, sap-atoms I possess, and who could deny those harmonies? *Swoon*

Pieces stands tall like a well-constructed sandwich; varying ingredients piled between two hearty slabs of bread-though these slices would have to be gluten free, as Bloom informed the University of Washington’s Medicine Pulse podcast earlier this year: she suffers from celiac disease. The parallel pieces holding everything together are the album’s two versions of “Lift Me Up.”

Both commencing and closing the record, the opening iteration is a rapturous, stringed affair simultaneously hopeful and melancholy. However, the dance-remix closer paints the song in washes of synths and should absolutely be saved for the last dance. It’s the kind of late-night, low-lit pop-drama fit for Robyn herself.

Throughout Pieces you will find tasteful arrangements seasoned with swells of cello, warm trumpet tones, expertly plucked mandolin, and electric guitar so sexily understated it is baffling. While all of that might sound heady on paper, the instrumentation is grounded and never overpowers Bloom’s distinctly crystalline vocals. I suspect a large portion of the record’s success can be attributed to Camille Bloom’s new producer: Camille Bloom.

After years of recording with producers such as the acclaimed Martin Feveyear (who takes a mixing and mastering credit on Pieces) Bloom wanted to take a crack at doing it herself this time. After crowdfunding the record’s required budget and building a home studio on her farm property in Washington State, Bloom spent hours in the newly christened Silo Studio with engineer and percussionist Logan Billingsley laying down tracks, tweaking, and comping. The result is quite the accomplishment, not only reaffirming the artist’s chops as a songwriter, but her new byline as a producer to boot.

After listening to the record in full, one might ask: what are the pieces of Camille Bloom? Songwriter. Producer. Teacher. Singer. Wearer of brightly patterned shirts. Scorpio. Wife.

Even putting all of her qualifications into a list or resume seems reductive, and I am brought back to what that guy Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” So no matter how wonderful each piece of Camille Bloom may be, what they add up to is something so lovely that even I struggle to put it into words. So I will just let her.

(Did I mention she’s my big sister?)

Watch the video for “Pieces of Me” below.