MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Blondie, Nora Brown, Faye, Dreckig, Bobbie Gentry

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Blondie pulled off one of the greatest pranks in popular music. Their international smash “Heart of Glass” was one of the best disco songs of the era, an irresistible confection that had a bit of a tart edge (the line “pain in the ass” was enough to get the song banned from radio play on some stations). But the people who rushed off to buy the album the song was featured on, expecting more of the same, were in a for a big surprise. For Parallel Lines (1978) wasn’t a disco album at all. It was invigorating new wave, with sneering put downs (“Just Go Away”), celebrations of stalking (“One Way or Another”), and a speed-infused Buddy Holly cover (“I’m Gonna Love You Too”). As an unintentional bait-and-switch, it was magnificent.

Against The Odds: 1974 – 1982 (UMe/The Numero Group) is the box set that chronicles the band who brought new wave to the mainstream, from the grimy streets of New York City’s Bowery district to the soundtrack of The A-Team (the “Incident at Crystal Lake” episode, if you want to get specific). The box features the band’s first six albums in sparkling remastered sound. Their biggest hits are already etched in our collective memory, so it’s great to be able to dig deeply into the bonus material: a reggae-fied version of the Shangri-La’s “Out in the Streets;” the airplane tragedy of “Flight 45,” cut from Plastic Letters; various permutations of “Heart of Glass;” the garage rock trash of “Underground Girl,” and much more besides. Not to mention the accompanying 100-plus page booklet with scads of information, band interviews, and photos. It’s the first box set the band has ever released, and it’s a must have.

Nora Brown started playing music at age six, making her a virtuoso by her current age, 16. She specializes in traditional songs and homespun melodies from Appalachia, as performed on banjo. Her latest album, Long Time to Be Gone (Jalopy Records), has sixteen songs that are simple but affecting. You need skill to make an album that’s mostly instrumental be so engaging, and Brown is the kind of superb player that holds your attention throughout.

On a tune like “Miner’s Dream,” her playing is so expressive you don’t even notice the absence of lyrics. “Wild Goose Chase” has a rambling quality that brings to mind visions of geese tumbling over the hillside. Because most numbers are instrumental, it feels like an extra treat when she does sing, as on “Jenny Put the Kettle On” and “Little Satchel;” hers is a low, unaffected voice adding a light note to the proceedings. Her extensive liner notes are a bonus, relating the stories behind the songs. Brown is the kind of sure-footed musician that gets you excited about the possibilities of what she’ll do next.

After recording an EP of what they called “first draft songs,” Charlotte, North Carolina’s Faye emerges with their debut album, You’re Better (Self-Aware Records). Faye’s core duo is Sarah Blumenthal (bass) and Susan Plante (guitar), mixing together their roots in, respectively, punk rock and classical music to whip up a batch of spunky indie pop (propelled by the drumming prowess of Thomas Berkau).

The lyrics are taut and at times disturbing: “I am the hand, you are the teeth” (“Teeth”), “Let me run my hot, dirty feet/All over clean sheets…” (“Dream Punches”), “I imagine life without a trace of this existence” (“Nag D”). But this isn’t an album of gloom and doom; the roiling power of the music sees to that. There’s a reason the power trio of guitar-bass-drums is so effective; it strips the music to its bare essentials, giving the songs a greater punch. Consider the closing song, “Mortal Kombat,” inspired by the misogyny Blumenthal and Plante have experienced as musicians. From a slow and almost somber start, the song suddenly lurches into overdrive as the two come into their own, singing “You’re in my head” as they admit about how toxic put downs can lodge in your head, and then delivering the kicker — “But I can sure walk away.” Holding their heads high, no doubt.

Dreckig (“dirty” in German), the Portland, OR-based husband and wife duo of Papi Fimbres and Shana Lindbeck, have created what you might call Latin Electronica on Digital Exposure (Broken Clover Records). The two sing alternately in Spanish, German, and English, and their voices aren’t the only organic sounds; the instrumentals “Dream Moon” and “Meaty Okra” feature lead “vocals” by a flute. There’s a light dreaminess to much of the music — the mood is more chill than high BPM — and songs like “Non Zero Sum” lull you into a blissful state.

The 2018 Bobbie Gentry box set The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters was rightly acclaimed for its insightful look at the singer/songwriter/producer whose accomplishments go far beyond the success of her signature song, “Ode to Billie Joe.” Those who didn’t want to spring for the box can now pick up the single disc drawn from the set, newly subtitled Highlights from the Capitol Masters (UMe). Check out the BBC versions of “Billy the Kid” and “Niki Hokey”/“Barefootin’,” the demo of “Feelin’ Good,” and the alternate version of “Mississippi Delta.”

PLAYING DETROIT: Blow Pop Finds Escape in ’80s Sounds with “Friendly” Premiere

Before the pandemic, Keaton Butler and Avery Reidy were just friends. They were also living the hodge-podge lifestyles that most working musicians end up scraping together to make ends meet. Butler was bartending, engineering sound for live shows, and performing in three different bands. Reidy was traveling around the country every week, Monday through Thursday, working as an acoustics consultant. Since the pandemic hit, their lives have changed drastically: they went from performing on stage to performing on screen; Butler transformed from country queen to bubble gum goddess; and the duo went from being friends to becoming lovers. Blow Pop is the amalgamation of years and friendship between Butler and Reidy, a shared love of Prince and Donna Summers, and a need to escape into something light during these heavy times. 

“It’s sort of like a break to us,” Reidy says. “Just fun and easily digestible… no frills. It felt like we needed it for ourselves, and we thought maybe people would enjoy it.” Last year, they released three songs – “Put You Down” in June, with “So Right” and “Nobody” following in November. But Blow Pop is just getting started.

Like the 7″ singles of decades past, Just Friends – out digitally this Friday – is comprised of two songs: A-side “Friendly” premieres today, exclusively via Audiofemme. The couple recorded both tracks while staying with family in Florida; traveling there meant they had to trade in their usual array of instruments for a single midi keyboard and a mic. This change in medium opened new doors of creativity for the pair, who wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered the songs on their own. Instead of acoustic guitar, they layered synths and booming percussion to create a wall of sound that supports Butler’s impermeable vocals. 

On “Friendly,” Butler tells the familiar tale of reconciling with an ex. The song opens with sparse electric piano and Butler singing, “Won’t you treat me again like you did back in the old days/Cuz I want nothing more than for us like before to be friendly/I’ve heard through our friends that you’d rather pretend you don’t know me/But I’ve spent way too long feeling like I did wrong/That’s the old me.” The percussion comes cascading in as Butler vows not to let hard feelings get in the way of her happiness. Her unapologetic lyrics and nostalgic melodies are reminiscent of ’80s pop queens, which is fitting considering she has Debbie Harry’s face tattooed on her arm. “She’s like my idol,” says Butler. “My biggest influence writing for this project is probably Blondie.” 

Aside from Blondie, Butler says Dua Lipa has had a big influence on her effervescent songwriting. “Over the summer, I just wanted [to listen to] something really happy,” says Butler. “So I was just listening to Dua Lipa a lot.” Like so many of us over the last year, Butler and Reidy have been searching for ways to escape, to pretend reality is anything other than being in the same apartment everyday, doing the same thing. Blow Pop is not only a sonic escape, but also a complete role play – an opportunity to immerse themselves in different characters that live far outside of constricting reality. 

Both Reidy and Butler are well accustomed to performing; whether it’s for Butler’s pre-pandemic country night, charading as Missy Mae at Trixie’s Bar, or Reidy’s proclivity for acting out random scenarios with strangers, it’s clear that both of them get a high from taking on various identities. “It’s a big mental escape for me,” explains Reidy. “Even doing mundane things when I was working a nine to five felt like performing to me. I used to… do these noise surveys where I’d just have to talk to like a million people and it was like a character – like I turn this different person on. It’s kind of always how I’ve looked at life.” The world’s a stage, so they say.

The couple definitely harness their inner glam rockers as Blow Pop. Both “Friendly” and its B-side “Got the Moves” inspire the listener to put on some pink tights and red lipstick and dance like they’re at the disco. “Whenever we do a photoshoot, I only wear her clothes,” says Reidy. “That’s been the norm at this point, which is why we’re so colorful and fun.”

Just Friends is yet another beautiful, bright piece of music to come out of the rubble of this year, speaking to the buoyancy of pop music and the resilience of people who make it.

Follow Blow Pop on Instagram for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: This Is A Man’s World

Luci Turner performing on stage with her band, BEAU + LUCI, in 2018. Photo by Alexandra Scuffle.

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Luci Turner takes stock of the trials, tribulations and triumphs she’s experienced as a young woman working in the music industry.

Life in the music industry isn’t easy. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” What Thompson never had to face, however, was a drunk fan telling him to smile more, or attempting to grope him behind the merch stand. 

As an indie musician, music journalist, and editor by trade, and publicist, social media manager, band manager, tour promoter, head of merchandising, marketing team, and handler by necessity, I’ve worked on every side of the industry, accomplished tasks I never thought I’d have to out of absolutely necessity, and learned skills I probably would’ve been just as happy never learning. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the really ugly: the unfortunate (read: nonexistent) restroom situation at an off-road mud park in the middle of nowhere in south Georgia; the incident involving a very intoxicated young man who managed to land himself in a trash can in an attempt to get an arm around my sister’s waist; the Gollum-esque man who got a nice grip on my right buttocks and proceeded to tell me, “No, it’s okay. I’ve got daughters.” Obviously that did not make it okay, and I’ve still got questions.

As I look back on these occurrences, it’s obvious that despite the advances made over the decades, the music industry is, in many ways, still a man’s world. But my belief — and my hope — is that, with the music itself as an equalizer, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

I grew up in a very small town, a back-pew Baptist born with the somewhat shameful affliction of being a female. I learned to sit down, cover up, and keep my mouth shut at a young age, because that was what was acceptable and expected. I learned to cross my legs and hold my tongue, and I learned at the age of ten that I had to stand farther away from the microphone because I could belt out a song with greater volume and enthusiasm than the boys in the choir. 

But my “alternative education,” as I call the music my father exposed my siblings and me to, told a different story. There was power to be found in being a woman; pride, even. I remember seeing photos of Debbie Harry, clad in short, skin tight dresses or ratty oversized t-shirts, her hair bleached an impossible shade of white and her eyes lined with heavy black liner, glamorous and provocative and undeniably female, and thinking, “I want to be just like her one day.” She was strong, fearless, bold, and utterly unconcerned with what anyone thought of her. She was the antithesis of what a Southern Baptist girl should aspire to be. 

Debbie Harry opened a door for me. In fact, she blew the whole house up and put a whole new world on display. As I listened to Blondie obsessively and began to discover other bands fronted by powerful women — Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Heart, Patti Smith — I couldn’t help but wonder why it had taken me twelve years to discover them. Didn’t anyone ever wonder where the women were when listening to the classic rock stations? My exposure to rock wasn’t limited, so why were all of my favorite bands comprised solely of men? Hearing “Heart of Glass” for the first time was so impactful that it startled me, even at such a young age, with the realization that so few women were represented on the radio, or in the pile of CDs hidden away in a spare closet.

Years later, as my sister and I made our way into the music industry as singer-songwriters fronting a rock band, that realization — and the questions it sparked — never left the back of my mind. As we found ourselves leading a band of four young men, working with male producers and engineers, and dealing with various managers/snake oil salesmen looking for a quick buck and a plane ticket to Australia, Los Angeles, or New York, we were constantly reminded that we were girls — young girls, with little experience, no technical training, and no family or friends in the industry who knew the business and had already walked the path. But at the same time, we found ourselves in the precarious situation of being forced to learn our own lessons, own up to our mistakes, and take ownership of the victories, despite the producer who made a point to exclaim, “Who’s your daddy?” in the moments where tensions rose and creative control was questioned. 

Looking back, I still remember the sickening realization that I would never be considered an equal by that producer. His words spun around in my mind, infuriating, subjugating, and disrespectful. Would he have said “Who’s your daddy?” to a man — regardless of age — or simply considered the options and allowed the artist to follow his gut? We were faced with a similar maddening situation on the stage, as well, in a group of men hired to back us. All four were older, if only by a few years, set on holding their experience, credentials, and manly wisdom over the heads of two young women who, in their opinion, lacked everything but marketability. 

We weren’t considered equals. We were “the girls” — a product to be sold — and they were the musicians. We couldn’t possibly have the same knowledge, connection, or love of music; we were too young and too female. It was an attitude enforced by management, of systematic inequality and a lifelong belief that to be male was to be more: powerful, intelligent, worthy. It was with that group, however, that my sister and I experienced the most growth, because we were constantly and consistently challenged. There were private moments of great frustration, when I felt like I was either going to burst into tears or lose my temper, because it could never be easy; our opinions were always questioned, our ideas met with egos. 

Letting that group of players go was one of the most relieving moments of my life, but the endurance and sheer tenacity it created in me was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Still, though, I had no answer to the question that haunted the back of my mind: where were the women, and what would happen if, instead of having to prove ourselves to men, we were surrounded and supported by other women? 

That question was answered, at least partially, in the span of a few short months, as we became more involved in the Atlanta music scene. We were befriended by musicians of every age — male and female — who made one thing very clear: there, and on stages across the country, we weren’t “the girls from Waycross.” All that mattered was the music and what we could do with it. 

The playing field was level when it came to the music. Worth was based on how good we were, how passionate we were, how willing we were to look foolish, make mistakes, and feel vulnerable, not our age or gender. Money and marketing teams can’t change that. Radio directors and talent buyers can’t, either, and while the issue of women’s presence on the radio, at festivals, and in the music industry as a whole — not only as artists, but as producers, engineers, journalists, and executives — demands to be addressed and improved, in my heart, there’s only one reason that it matters at all. 

In music, we are equal. Not in the festival lineups, the radio play, or the mindsets of too many — not yet — but we’ve tasted and felt the equality that some of us may have never known before. Once you get a taste of it, there’s no satisfying the hunger. As long as there’s music to be played, there will be women fighting for their place on the stage, men and women who rally around us and stand beside us, and generations of songwriters coming behind us, ready to prove again and again the revolutionizing, unifying, unspeakable power of music. 

While music, at its core, is equalizing, there’s a long way to go in equality for women in the music industry. For more information, check out these 5 Women in Music Organizations to get involved. 

NEWS ROUNDUP: Secret Project Robot, The Radiohead Ant & More

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The sculpture garden in Secret Project Robot’s former space on Melrose. The new location’s “smaller but more intimate” sculpture garden is under development with the help of Kathleen Dycaico and Monica Mirabile.

  • Bushwick’s Secret Project Robot Is Reopening

    The DIY venue will reopen on Broadway in Bushwick, near the Kosciuszko St J stop. Its eight partners have stated that the venue is “entirely self funded” by them, and will only hire artists, helping to “keep artists thriving in a New York City landscape that is less than financially friendly to the creative.” The reopening date is set for May 4th- details here!

  • The Latest Rockstar Species Is Named After Radiohead

    Revealed soon after the Pink Floyd-inspired shrimp, there’s a new species of ant named after Radiohead. Sericomyrmex radioheadi is a type of silky ant which have figured out how to grow their own food. These creatures live in the Amazon and farm fungus gardens for nourishment. Why Radiohead? Ana Ješovnik, one of the authors of a Zookeys study on the insects, stated they wanted to honor their music, and “acknowledge the conservation efforts of the band members, especially in raising climate-change awareness.” Read more here.

  • RIP Jonathan Demme

    Demme was a revered film director who directed, among other classics, the Talking Heads live concert doc Stop Making Sense. David Byrne posted an essay in tribute to the filmmaker on his website, noting that Demme helped him when he was developing True Stories and highlighting his good taste in and love for music: “Jonathan was also a huge music fan—that’s obvious in his films too…He’d find ways to slip a reggae artist’s song or a Haitian recording into a narrative film in ways that were often joyous and unexpected.” Read the whole thing here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ONLY NOISE: Lost and Found

I take the same path to the same coffee shop every week. Down DeKalb Avenue, a right on Franklin Avenue, a left on Greene Avenue, and a final right on Bedford Avenue. My gait is calculated and mechanical. A determined trudge. There is nothing romantic about this habit, and while I’d like to applaud its efficiency, I haven’t actually done the math to prove that this course is the fastest. In truth, I take this route because it is the one I first took to the coffee shop. It is repeated out of reflex and muscle memory and stubbornness. It is firmly rooted in a strong longing for routine.

This path is so engrained that my body dictates every step while my mind is free to think – something I do best while in forward motion. Walking puts me in a trance – alert enough to dodge oncoming vehicles, but rapt in layers of thought. So rapt, that I nearly missed the fat Fela Kuti box set propped up against a wrought iron gate on Greene Ave one Spring day. I stopped abruptly three feet past where the box of vinyl rested, then ambled slowly backward looking left to right to see if anyone was watching me. This I am sure, did not look suspicious at all.

The box was over an inch in depth. It was black and white with a banner of teal across the front reading “FELA” in block letters. I couldn’t help but crouch down and open it immediately, praying that its owner wouldn’t come bolting down the stoop of his brownstone to reclaim it. Perhaps an angry lover had left it on the sidewalk along with other prized vinyl from his collection…like, that Fat Boys LP right next to it…and, that…Kajagoogoo maxi single…

Ok, these records were probably left out on purpose, but I still couldn’t believe it. Lifting the box’s slightly scratched lid I found an alarming amount of Fela Kuti records. I was expecting three, maybe four LPs, perhaps with some booklet taking up a majority of the box’s real estate. Instead I found a seven record pileup, each one opened yet minimally played and well cared for.

There was Zombie, Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 With Ginger Baker Live, Roforofo Fight, He Miss Road, Alagbon Close, Ikoyi Blindness, and Everything Scatter – a glorious heap of his recordings. I was in shock; seven intact, fabulous albums, the collective price of which would have been well over $100. It felt as though I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove, but I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever abandon it.

I grew paranoid again, remembering a time when my dad and I found a handsome sack of toys in the woods behind our house. At seven I was overjoyed at this discovery, but also puerile and hesitant, imagining the sad kid who’d lost their bag of wonders. My dad assured me that finders were keepers, and it was on our property anyway. To ease my concern he assured me that if the toys’ proprietor came looking for them, we could hand them over.

And that’s just what happened. The neighbor girl was ecstatic when reunited with her pink satchel of toys. I felt devastated but virtuous by returning it. To this day I cannot remember what was actually in the sack – just the absolute thrill of stumbling upon it in our mossy forest.

By the time I was halfway down the block my paranoia had dissipated, but I still clutched the Fela Kuti box tightly to my chest just in case. My sense of elation was difficult to unpack – I am by no means a believer of fate or the “universe” gifting me anything…but I surrender to the sensation of it from time to time. I have come across some of my favorite things this way – finding them while looking for nothing.

I first discovered Will Oldham because a neighbor left a stack of CDs in the hallway of my apartment building a few years back. It was in one of many fruitful “free piles,” a name my roommate and I thought we’d coined. The album was an oddball EP recorded with Rian Murphy called All Most Heaven. It had one of the worst album covers I’d ever seen, but something about it shouted “What the hell? Take me home!” It was eccentric, no doubt, but I loved it nonetheless. Its four twangy songs eventually graced a small road trip to upstate New York one summer (our car only had CD capabilities). Opening its jewel case now, the silver disk is nowhere to be found. It may still be in that car, but my only hope is that it has found a way into the music collection of anyone who would bother adopting a stray CD in 2017.

In our age of Spotify Discover Weekly and record subscription services and pre-programmed radios and playlists tailored to every hyper-specific situation we can dream up, coming to music organically and spontaneously is uncommon. It seems rare enough to exchange music between two people in the same room, let alone find one of your favorite records in the street. I wouldn’t suggest the scavenger lifestyle as anyone’s sole source of musical discovery, but I will say there is a taste of destiny in it. I don’t believe in destiny either, so anything that conjures a sense of it feels pretty damn nice, if not fleeting.

The other week I had finished my book and was looking for a new one to read. I had just spoken to a friend about how I’d oddly never read Hunter S. Thompson, which is strange as he fits the profile of my favorite writers (depressed, debauched, wry). Days later I walked through my basement, past a stack of books an old roommate had left three years ago when he moved out. I was drawn to a turquoise spine peeping out from under a couple of Bret Easton Ellis tomes. It was The Rum Diary, Thompson’s first novel. I am enjoying it tremendously, and can’t believe it has been waiting silently under my nose for three whole years.

Come to think of it, it was that same roommate who provided me with another bout of serendipitous discovery. When he moved, I upgraded to his bedroom after five years in the windowless cavern next door. His room had not one, but two windows, and he’d left his superior mattress and an enormous credenza that was far lovelier than anything I’d ever allow myself to buy.

I took my time moving in – I set up my haphazard bookshelf. I stuffed my 500 pairs of underwear into one of the credenza’s many drawers. I arranged my desk with reference books and a quantity of pens that would suggest I was deeply concerned about a imminent global pen shortage. After deciding that all of my portfolios from college would go in one of the credenza’s large cabinets, I opened the door and found around 80 forsaken vinyl records leaning against one another. I believe my mouth truly dropped open. This pile of albums ended up doubling the size of my collection, and included some true gems. There was Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Prince’s Controversy, Talking Heads’ 77, Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, Lou Reed’s Transformer, and dozens more. It seemed like luck, or at least something like it, and I took it as a good omen – something I also do not believe in.

I hauled the LPs I didn’t love (Donovan, Heart) to the nearest record store and swapped them for a $25 dollar credit, which I used to pad my collection with bizarre French funk punk records, Peel Sessions, and anything I could find by Prefab Sprout. Puzzled by my fortune, I still couldn’t understand why someone would desert a collection that had clearly been accumulated over a few years…but I was more than happy to give it a new home.