Sasami Weaves a Cathartic Tapestry of History, Anger, Art and Fantasy on Squeeze

The writhing, bloody-mouthed woman-monster illustrating Sasami Ashworth’s sophomore album Squeeze is fearsome but familial. As the musical, lyrical and sensory terrain of her latest album divulges, the Californian singer-songwriter has been digging into her past, her mother’s family history, and discovering generations of capture, imprisonment, racism and displacement. The fury that emerged was only compounded by her own experience of being put in her place by techies on tour.

“I went into making this album with the intention of making a heavy rock album because touring the first album with mostly a queer femme band, I was met with a lot of toxic male sound person energy: questioning our abilities and knowledge of our instruments, and always asking us to turn our amps down. Inherently, that just manifested in me being more chaotic and turning my amp up louder, becoming more aggressive. I knew this chaotic, restless energy that’s on Squeeze was already bubbling on my first album tour,” she explains.

Ultimately, Squeeze (out February 25th via Domino Records) manifested as eleven tracks of macabre industrial and hypnotic sonic textures. Sasami produced most of it herself, with acclaimed garage rocker Ty Segall co-producing on a couple of tracks. “Ty is so strange and funny and goofy and bizarre, a perfect collaborator,” Sasami says.  COVID restrictions limited who she was able to work with, but they are a fine roll call nonetheless: her studio partner Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) co-engineered and composed; Christian Lee Hutson and Hand Habit’s Meg Duffy added guitar and encouraged Ashworth’s folksier leanings. None other than Megadeth’s drummer Dirk Verbeuren rumbles in devilishly on a number of heaving, grinding bangers, including opening track “Skin A Rat,” a snarling, metal-industrial grinder built on militant drums, a tidal storm of crushing guitar riffs and the sing-song, suggestive refrain about three quarters in: “There are many ways…to skin a rat.”

Ghosts of Nu Metal weave their spectral fingers throughout the album, never more so than on “Say It.” The savage, distorted percussion (courtesy Moaning’s Pascal Stevenson, aka Fashion Club) is softened by Sasami’s soothing, calmly collected voice, even as a chilling mechanical refrain, disembodied and hollow, assures “Everything’s okay/Lie to me/Why don’t you rip it off?” There’s a resignation in Sasami’s sultry, cool response: “I don’t want you to apologize, just say it, say it, say it.”

She insists that there was no one person, nor one experience that inspired each of the songs. They were designed to be malleable to a spectrum of listeners, contouring to whatever personal grievances and ideologies they needed to hear echoed back to them, or expunged in cathartic howls.

“Whereas my first album is very autobiographical and diaristic, I built this album thinking way more about how a listener would use the songs to have an emotional cathartic experience, or creating art that echoes an emotional sentiment…” she explains. “I really wanted to make music that could soundtrack anyone’s, not just my own, experience of wanting to process frustration, rage, disappointment or anger, whether it’s systemic oppression or personal unrequited love or lack of communication. The main through-line I’m exploring is what if I, instead of trying to brighten my negative mood or get bogged down by sadness, leaned more into frustration, rage and violence? Then, in a fantasy kind of way, I’m able to burn some of that excess rage or frustration.”

The snaking, malevolent bass chugging away, skewered by shredded guitar fizzing like broken power lines on “Need It To Work” sounds like an action hero theme song warped and misshapen, eminently more interesting than a Bond song. But she nimbly evades pigeonholing by situating “Need It To Work” next to the ’90s folky-grunge-country of “Tried To Understand,” which channels some big Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow energy. “Feminine Water Turmoil” is a whole mood in itself, a rising tide of strings that surges and builds before transitioning into album closer “Not A Love Song,” in which Sasami’s lovely, yearning voice radiates over the surface like a sunrise over wide expanses of ocean. “I tried to turn it into something so profound/It’s not a love song/Just a beautiful, beautiful sound,” she sings, and it is beautiful and profound, with the timeless quality of a Celtic ballad. 

“I wanted to build the album more like a movie or a haunted house as opposed to being one long mood or meditation. There are different scenes or rooms on the album,” Sasami says of the constantly shifting soundscape on Squeeze. “It was definitely a risk… [I was] trusting that my voice was enough of a through-line to connect it. I very intentionally put some slap bass and distorted guitars on some of the songs that, within a certain genre, wouldn’t always have that. ‘Call Me Home’ is a mashup of folk, synth-pop and heavier rock all mixed up into one song. It was a very intentional experiment in putting things together that don’t always go together.”

She had years of musical training, live touring, studio composition, recording and production experience to rely upon when going out on a limb. A 2012 graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Sasami started out as a composer of orchestral arrangements for film, screen commercials and other artists’ albums. From 2015 she played synths for scuzzy-rock band LA band Cherry Glazerr, before pulling up anchor and setting sail as a solo artist at the beginning of 2018.

From the get-go, her solo tracks won industry acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and The Fader. She toured with – amongst others – Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail and English indie band Menace Beach. Exactly twelve months after going solo, she released her self-titled debut. Singles “Jealousy” and “Free” (featuring Devendra Banhart) only solidified her reputation for tight arrangements, a light hand on production, and a nuanced appreciation for the interplay of hard and soft, organic and machine, violence and sympathy. Though it sounds very different from her debut, the rogue experimentation of Squeeze could not have happened without SASAMI introducing her to a dedicated audience.

“It comes from a place of being super grateful to have gotten attention on my first album, humbled knowing that people will listen to this album,” she confirms. “The instrumentals all came first on this album. Music in itself is a language and I wanted to tell stories with the instruments first, then find lyrics and words that tap into the same emotional world that’s being built. That’s why I was drawn to nu metal and classical music, because they’re so contrasting and so extreme. I wanted to create a feeling of whiplash, a chaotic environment, very intentionally.”

Traversing the extremities of sound and emotion was not without cost, but Sasami is candid about the realities of working within such revered and fiercely protected genres. “That was hard for me, to be shameless. It’s so easy to be insecure and worry about what people will think about your choices, especially [when] metal and certain realms of rock are gatekept and very white cis male-centered,” she says. “It’s scary to put yourself out there and even put yourself in the same world as that music, knowing very well that women of color are the most criticized artists in a lot of ways and held to a certain standard that other people aren’t.”

Ashworth is a descendent of the Zainichi people on her mother’s side, a diaspora of ethnic Koreans who lived in Japan during Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The descendants of the Zainichi – the second largest ethnic minority in Japan – are still systematically oppressed in present-day Japan. The word “Zainichi” is Japanese, meaning a foreign citizen “staying in Japan,” implying only temporary residence and inherently reminding people of their outsider status for generations.

“I grew up understanding a little bit that my mom had a difficult time as a Korean person in Japan,” Sasami remembers. “But growing up, especially being a typically Asian-looking person in a white neighborhood in America, I was so obsessed with assimilating into Caucasian culture that I wasn’t digging into my mother’s history.”

The pandemic circumstances provided her with the time to do a deep dive into her family’s mixed Korean and Japanese history and culture. “Being in America during 2020, while we were going through this extremely intense cultural reckoning about racial identity and inequality, it’s natural that it pushed me to do more research about my family’s heritage and my personal identity and how I connect with my family’s historic identity,” Sasami says. “Zainichi people chose to either claim their Korean identity despite oppression or assimilate more into Japanese culture.”

In reconnecting to her roots, Ashworth stumbled upon stories of the Japanese yōkai folk spirit Nure-onna (translation: wet woman) and was immediately awe-struck by this mysterious water creature, emboldened by how Nure-onna was feminine and noble, yet powerful and vicious enough to brutally destroy victims with her blood sucking tongue.

The album artwork weaves together Sasami’s historical, personal tapestry, just as her skillful balancing of sonic elements draws you in to Squeeze: sweet, sour, grinding and gristle, dramatic, melodious and deeply feminine. There is something earthly in it, in the pared-back, stoic nature of her voice contrasted with the heavily treated, warped harmonies that snarl in and around her. There’s a darkness, too, though it is not so much horrifying as a curiosity, like the vampiric deity with the head of a woman and the body of a snake that adorns the album cover.

“My mom’s youngest brother – he actually passed away recently – was an anime artist, producer and director, so when I wanted to build this fantasy avatar for my album cover, it made sense to draw inspiration from that,” Sasami says. “I connected with Andrew Thomas Huang, who has collaborated with fka twigs, Bjork, and Charli XCX, and he was down to find inspiration from Japanese and Korean folk tale characters.”

Sasami’s Nure-onna avatar has been modified with crab-style legs in respect to her Cancer star sign, and despite the bloodied mouth, the creature – like Ashworth – is captivatingly beautiful in all its diverse meanings and nuances. “I was actively experimenting, trying to push genre… to marry something so harsh, industrial and heavily aggressive with a texture that’s more intimate and personal. I think that all humans have such a range of emotions and characters that all these contrasting elements fit together, and it’s very human to have these super contrasting things within one body,” she says.

Sasami is humble and candid in conversation, wearing the hats of artist and observer just as skillfully as she juggles production and songwriting. But thematic heart of Squeeze is a self-assurance, and a validation that our fantasies and realities must exist beyond judgement, only inviting awareness and curiosity. “I think it’s a very human thing to want to feel powerful while maintaining some sort of beauty and femininity,” she reflects. “It’s about ownership as opposed to what’s right or wrong… being honest with how you feel, what you want to be, and who you want to be.”

Follow Sasami on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

LIVE REVIEW: Austra @ Warsaw

There aren’t a whole lot of pop stars that are moved by The Accelerationist Manifestothe philosophical text penned by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. In fact, I’d feel safe waging that Austra’s Future Politics is the only electro pop LP to be inspired by the post-capitalist school of philosophy.

Crudely put, Accelerationism in its left-wing iteration is the eventual deterioration of capitalism by way of its own expansion – the theory that capitalism will asphyxiate from dwindling oxygen in a room it has outgrown. Metaphors that come immediately to mind include the metastasizing of cancer cells, and Violet Beauregarde from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Violet is so inundated with the object of her desire (gum) that she expands and near explodes. The desired object, in excess, is her demise.

All of this is rolling around in my head as I stand in a large crowd at Greenpoint’s Warsaw, waiting for Katie Stelmanis and company to appear on stage. Admittedly, I am a newcomer to Austra’s music, but I suspect I am the only one, as the room buzzes with anticipation around me. I reflect on Austra’s video for their new record’s title track, and wonder if it was inspired just a teensy bit by John Carpenter’s Orwellian film They Live.

The music video opens with a manifesto of its own:

“How do we find hope when things seem so bleak?

For me, hope lies in the future. It lies in the potential of a future world that doesn’t exist yet; a world can be created only if we can imagine it. It’s time to build visions that are radically different from anything we’ve known before. 

It’s time for future politics.”

Austra’s music videos are frequently narrative, and “Future Politics” bears no exception. Aerial shots depict hoards of unconcerned citizens on autopilot – walking to work like zombies in a shining but sterile metropolis. Like Rowdy Roddy Piper’s (RIP) character in They Live, Austra’s subjects undergo an awakening, signaled by a bloody nose and epileptic dance moves.

“I don’t wanna hear/That it’s all my fault,” Stelmanis sings. “The system won’t help you when/Your money runs out.”

They are forever changed after their revolutionary activation, and find refuge amongst like-minded outcasts on the edge of town, relishing in the little nature that is left for them.

At Warsaw, the stage is bathed in carmine light. Stelmanis seems fond of the color red, as it overwhelms the cover of Future Politics and many of the singer’s outfits. I can’t help but feel that it’s intentional – the sanguine shade of revolution, love, and anger. One of three keyboards is emblazoned with the words “BRIGHT MUSIC, DARK TIMES.” On the corners of the stage, orange “flame” props blow around like air dancers at a car dealership. When Austra finally take the stage, (Stelmanis in a long crimson dress) they burst without hesitation into Future Politics’ opening track, “We Were Alive,” which exhibits Stelmanis’ otherworldly voice. Live, the song gives me chills, in part for its musicality, but also for its beautiful bleakness. “What if we were alive?” Stelmanis bellows. I wish I had the answer to her question.

Austra plays several songs from their new LP, all in album order. Stelmanis says very little between songs, which surprises me slightly. Due to the political nature of the record, I half expected some rhetoric – words of upheaval or inspiration at the very least. But perhaps her music is enough. Art has been a medium of dissent since its birth; you don’t need a sermon to understand that George Orwell was critical of the government, or that Francis Bacon wasn’t a big fan of the Catholic Church.

But understanding the subtext of art doesn’t guarantee a revolution. Art will always reflect our societal consciousness, whether intended by its maker or not. The artist is a medium through which we understand our world. Art is inevitable. Action is up to us.

Check out Austra’s latest video, “I Love You More Than You Love Your Self,” below. Future Politics is out now on Domino Records.

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Huw Bunford of Super Furry Animals


“I keep forgetting I’m on a boat!” Huw Bunford, lead guitarist of Wales’ Super Furry Animals, is sitting in a booth on the Hornblower Infinity, 4 Knots’s designated artists lounge for the one-day festival on Pier 84. “Sorry, I just saw the horizon go up and down (laughs).” It is mildly unsettling trying to hold composure for an interview while feeling the slightest swells rock us left and right. All around are musicians snacking on buffet cheeses and crackers, chatting and ordering drinks from the bar. In all honesty, I keep forgetting we’re on a boat too.

Bunford, or as he cordially introduces himself, “Bunf,” is soft spoken, gracious, and exceedingly kind. These are not three adjectives that leap to mind when one imagines a rock star who’s been in the biz twenty-odd years. There’s a lot more ease about him – a casual uncertainty regarding the future that typically marks bands in their first year. Perhaps it’s the well-rested temperament of a man whose band has just emerged from a six-year hiatus.

Super Furry Animals are not only touring again for the first time since 2009, they’re also riding high on the deluxe edition rerelease of their 2000 album Mwng (pronounced Mung as I learned the hard way). The record, sung entirely in Welsh, was anomalous not only to the band (all prior recordings were in English) but also to the U.K. music industry of the time, which was strongly steeped in Britpop.  But as opposed to the Beatle-ific, Kink-centric nods from contemporaries such as Oasis and Blur, Super Furry Animals took on everything from funk to psychedelic, to space rock. Their diverse sonic anatomy makes it difficult to solder them to any specific time period – which may be why a reissue and a resurrection is so appropriate.

Bunf was kind enough to take the time to answer a few pressing questions, and chat about iTunes, wltimate painting, and SFA’s biggest fan.

AudioFemme: Welcome back to New York!

Huw Bunford: Thank you.

AF: So you’re back from a hiatus, you just played Glastonbury, and you’ve reissued Mwng after 15 years; what’s it like touring together as a band now? Is there a different dynamic?

HB: No. It’s strange really, it’s just like none of us have been away. It’s a very bizarre feeling. Before we did Glastonbury we did a short tour just to publicize Mwng really-the reissue-and there were about eight dates around Britain, and that was the first time we’d played for six years and we rehearsed before it and Cian [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Ciaran: keyboards, synths, etc] said when he walked in the first day, he looked in and our roadies had set up everything exactly as we’d remembered.

AF: It’s like when you talk to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and it’s as if no time has passed.

HB: Yeah, it’s very strange.

AF: What was it about Mwng in particular that you wanted to rerelease it instead of other records in your archive?

HB: Well, one thing about this is that there was no plan, it’s quite shambolic, a super loose idea where we had a few record companies like Sony and Domino who mentioned doing it years ago, and we sort of just never got our shit together and sorted it out. And then for some reason a year ago a guy from Domino bumped into Gruff [Rhys: lead vocals, guitar] and said “oh, we never did get that reissue….”

AF: I’ve read about it and I love that you all just say “oh we just forgot….”

HB: (laughs) Yeah, basically we were all just like (looks quizzical) “oh yeah….” But it just seemed right at the time. The idea of [reissuing] Mwng came out and Domino really jumped on it and was really amazing, and they made a really nice pressing. And Kliph Spurlock, who used to be the drummer for Flaming Lips is a massive fan-

AF: I would assume that the Flaming Lips may have been a fan of yours…

HB: Yeah, Kliph is, he’s a superfan. I first saw him in a gig in Lawrence, Kansas and I didn’t know who he was and he knew all the songs, all air drumming. So he then compiled a lot of outtakes and ATPs of Mwng so [the reissue] has about six sides. So that was worth pushing…worth doing something around it.

AF: I know one of the defining features of Mwng is that it’s sung entirely in Welsh. Looking back do you feel like that’s made a mark on contemporary Welsh music? Is it a thriving tradition or kind of an oddity?

HB: No, no, Wales has got a thriving musical scene, the Welsh language has its own radio station, and a lot of quite amazing bands really…a lot of young bands that really hold their own against anybody. And it’s healthy, you know, it’s not contrived I don’t think in any way, even though it’s a language that you might not associate with pop music, but it doesn’t matter really. In the end in a way, ironically, when we finally played America it was only when we came back and toured Mwng that’s when audiences in America thought ‘oh, these aren’t Britpop then’ because we’d been slightly lumped in by association.

AF: Which is so funny to me because I could not think of a further diversion from Britpop…

HB: It’s probably just because Creation [Records] and Oasis were out then and we came out then…I could see why people would sometimes think it…but not when they heard us (laughs). Once we started playing they were like “Oh, no, right.”

AF: What are you listening to now? Are there any new bands that you’re excited about or do you just go to the classics?

HB: Yeah, I like some new ones. Have you heard of Ultimate Painting?

AF: Yeah! They’re fantastic!

HB: Yeah, they’re amazing. I love them. And um, Van Etten.

AF: Sharon Van Etten? She’s great.

HB: I’m kind of into Soundscapes as well, though they don’t really figure much in the Billboard 100, but yeah, it’s kind of weird…and documentaries as well…that’s what I listen to and watch really.

AF: This is actually paraphrasing something Gruff said from about 2009, but it was regarding the fact that you guys have always been a very album-centric band, and that was a time period when people really constructed albums from start to finish as a whole composition. And now we really are in this era of individual downloads. How do you feel as a band kind of in those two spaces? Do you feel like there’s even a chance for bands to have longevity anymore based on that?

HB: Well, no not really. I suppose to be cynical it’s a completely different business model now. Cuz in a way that’s how everything effects everything in the end, unfortunately. You know peoples’ habits change, technology has in a way pushed that into the way people have changed. There’s a small little niche for vinyl…it’ll never die out, because I think bands love to do albums in the end. If you’re a band you might not want to just stop at one song, even though the record company does…

AF: I know bands will continue to make albums, I just wonder if there are any bands that we listen to now that we’ll still be excited about in 15 years…that I question a lot. I hope, but I don’t know.

HB: Yeah, I know what you mean, because there might not be enough…

AF: Attention span.

HB: Yeah, it’s kinda crazy. I mean there’s so much new stuff and then you get indie music, which is almost quite generic indie music, and then you get other indie music which is really out-there indie music and you can always see subtle differences and I think that’s because there’s just more of it. And I suppose peoples’ tastes become more sophisticated. We keep getting more sophisticated with our tastes.

AF: Some of us do….

HB: Well, yeah, but when you think about it it’s inevitable. Pop will eat itself.

AF: Not to age you guys with this statement, but as a pre-internet band-

HB: Oh, yes. We’re proud of that.

AF: I’m sure, I mean I would be if I had a band. Pre-internet. But, how do you feel about streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music? It’s complicated…

HB: Well, yeah, it is. It’s a minefield really isn’t it? Some bands like U2 totally missed the point spectacularly and put out everything on iTunes and get a separate contracted deal with Ttunes for a zillion pounds but make it look like “hey, we’re giving it away!” and it’s a lot of massive bands that do that, so it must be quite difficult for bands who are starting out now if the precedent is: ‘give it away and something might happen’ it’s a very upside down business plan. You can embrace it as a way of getting something out there. When we were around starting, you’d have to have a press officer, you’d have to have an agency, all these kinds of things which were all parasitic of the record company, but they needed them to be there and the whole apparatus would work and you’d get onto morning shows and TV shows. But now that’s all out the window. I think that people were just too slow to realize it…if you stand still in this game you die.

AF: Yeah and once your standing you’re not even there for that long.

HB: Yeah. That’s hard.

AF: I’ve read interviewers ask you guys about how having kids has affected your careers, but I’m curious to know how you guys have affected your kids with music. What kind of stuff are they listening to?

HB: Well now they’re just about getting to that age where they can really see what we did. Before they were a bit too young. They didn’t get it. So now they kind of, my kids are beginning to see that.

AF: Are they like ‘dad’s cool’ or are they kind of embarrassed?

HB: Yeaaaah, my kid’s eight-they’re all under 10 so still young, but you know, they don’t have any qualms saying ‘my dad’s a rock star’ to the milkman or something like that (laughs) that’s what they see, you know. But it’s funny you know, you try and downplay it but it’s sweet.

AF: I guess my last question would be, what’s next for you guys? A new album?

HB: Yeah, it’s just super loose. We don’t know. We’re taking it a week at a time. Well, not really, we’re doing almost like a festival tour up until the end of the season really. And then after that we’ll do something next year like the festivals and some of the things we didn’t get a chance to do, and that’s about as far as we’ve really stuck our necks out. But it’s good; it’s a nice feeling.

AF: But that’s nice, not being stressed out.

HB: Like I said, you know, people don’t really listen to albums anyway, so wha’ts the point of writing one? (Laughs)

AF: I do!!!





LIVE REVIEW: Dan Deacon @ The Glass House, Pomona, CA

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Dan Deacon – Photo by Callie Ryan

About an hour from Los Angeles is Pomona, well known for car dealerships and a strip of perfectly creepy looking antique shops with pastel pink and green exteriors, but there was something very magical in the air the night Dan Deacon stopped by for a one-off show in the middle of his stint supporting Arcade Fire’s massive arena tour. He had specifically taken the night off for a visit to The Glass House, a much celebrated all-ages venue located on a street that seems like something out of a ghost town, with the only exception being the pumped up high school cool cats congregating outside, resting on telephone poles, and performing tricks on their skateboards. However unassuming, by the night’s end my friends and I had decided the show was one of the best we had experienced in a very long time, or possibly in forever.

The show itself seemed to have around seventy people there, which in the large space of the venue created a dynamic for a comfortable, positive, and ridiculously friendly vibe. It seemed as though both the audience and Deacon were happy to be playing in a more intimate setting where, as he put it, “there were no chairs or bleachers.” After all, Deacon is known to put on shows that include interactive icebreaker type games involving his audience.

Opening up for Deacon were local indie rockers Jetpacks and Laserguns. Their stage set up included homemade, giant triangular neon signs and monitors with vertical lines which reacted to different sonic elements in the songs. The band played a plethora of new age electronic equipment, in addition to good ol’ guitar, drums, and bass. Though their sound is decidedly modern, their affinity for eighties sounds cropped up with a buoyant energy through the set – high frequency swirling noises, bass lines that fit perfectly in the groove of the drums, and squealing , buzzing synths that took on the tone of the laser beams referenced in the band’s moniker. Too often, a heavy reliance on these elements can make a band’s output seem distanced or sterile, but Jetpacks and Laserguns’ infectious enthusiasm and handmade crafting of visual elements make it clear that so much human love and energy have been put into this specific creative project.

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Jetpacks and Laserguns – Photo by Callie Ryan

Minutes after Jetpacks and Laserguns exited the stage, Dan Deacon began setting up his table of neon-tape-covered equipment in the middle of the floor – yes, the middle of the floor, not the stage! It was clear from the beginning of Deacon’s set that he is not only a musician, but also something of a comedian, a sort of goofily unhinged summer camp counselor bursting with ideas for wacky, feel-good social experiments in which everyone is encouraged to participate. He began the show with a rant about the future, aliens, and dualism, and after a mind-blowing first song, he ordered the audience to gather on either side of the room, wait until the drum and bass drop, and then race back to the middle in order to high- five as many people as possible. Quirky activities like these have long been built into Deacon’s sets as a means of disrupting typically passive audiences, and its nearly impossible not to smile and play along.

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Dan Deacon – Photo by Callie Ryan

My vantage point directly in front of Dan Deacon provided optimal grooving-out space (I put in a good hour of intense dancing, or rather primal jumping movements) and also allowed me to see how intricate Deacon’s actions are when layering his complex digital soundscapes. He covers all of his gear in striped neon pink, green, yellow, and blue tape, creating a space where even electronic music geeks such as myself would not be distracted by the kind of equipment he was using. Every time he turned a knob, or pressed a new button on his “table of mysteries,” sounds would blast out of the speakers that had so much texture and were so tangible, it felt as though I could touch them and put them in my pocket to take home.

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Dan Deacon – Photo by Callie Ryan

Most of the set relied on on songs from America, released in 2012 on Domino Records.  However, Deacon performed so much noise improvisation throughout his set, that each song he played felt stimulating, new, and incredibly special. For instance, during his last song, in order to create a specific distorted and crunchy noise, he scraped the top of his microphone on the giant speakers behind him; it is creative flourishes such as these that make Deacon’s music so unique, moving, and memorable. Part of what his work hinges on is his incredible abilities as a curator of interesting sounds. But Deacon doesn’t rest on those laurels – instead, he spends the entirety of his shows creating a community, no small task in just a few short hours. But by the end of the night all seventy of the newly sweaty and blissed out audience members felt a little more familiar with one another as a result of Deacon’s ability to do so. It’s no wonder that Arcade Fire have enlisted him to help inspire party-like atmospheres in clubs ten times the size of The Glass House, and he’s certainly risen to that challenge. You can check out his website for upcoming dates.


ALBUM REVIEW: Wild Beasts “Present Tense”

Wild Beasts Klaus Thymann

Wild Beasts Klaus Thymann

In 2002, guitarist Hayden Thorpe and guitarist Ben Little met in the charming town of Kendal in the Lake District of England. After eventually outgrowing their small town, they exchanged the rolling hills of the Lake District for the industrial streets of Leeds, where their careers began to kick off after picking up percussionist Chris Talbot and bassist Tom Fleming along the way. Christening themselves Wild Beasts, the band has since moved to London, and have put out four records with Domino Records: Limbo, Panto (2008), Two Dancers (2009), Smother (2011), and now, the aptly Present Tense (2014).

Present Tense marks some serious artistic progression for Wild Beasts. While its eleven tracks won’t reach out and grab the casual listener, serious fans will love the album, which demands an attentive listen lest the details that make the album great be lost. The poetic lyrics that blur the line between sarcasm and genuine romance and the stylized and theatrical vocal interplay craftily incorporated into the album could easily be missed while listening on the subway going home from work, distracted by busking acrobats swinging from the handrails. There’s so much here that should be absorbed carefully and slowly, much of which is owed to the fact that the band composed digitally, painstakingly programming and piecing each element together.

The record doesn’t stray too far from the pop tenets that marked their previous albums; rather, it strikes a balance between the obvious and the subtle. While some tracks might swing in either direction (the melodic pop contours of “Sweet Spot” and the slow-moving “New Life” best represent the record’s polarities), the rest fall somewhere in the middle, providing the goods to satisfy one’s aesthetic and philosophical palate. There’s a considerable amount of vocal interplay; Fleming, Thorpe and Talbot, all with their trademark stylistic vocals, both compliment and contrast each other, something that the band uses to their advantage. During the darker, more guttural “Nature Boy,” Fleming’s baritone intensifies the atmosphere and adds to the masculinity of the track. “Palace,” however, the most romantic track on the album, sounds sweet and fanciful coming from Thorpe’s higher register. While most tracks highlight one vocalist over the others, most of them include at least some interaction, filling each track at some point with rich texture and harmonic complexity.

As the title of the record would imply, the most refined intricacy on Present Tense is the sense of nowness and balance that builds subtle suspense throughout the album. While all of the songs have a slow to moderate tempo, there is rarely a shortage of excitement. Wild Beasts artfully create grandiose expectancy without the least bit of flash, a feat that is best exemplified on “Pregnant Pause.” The song begins with a tentative keyboard section while the vocals whisper over the skeleton melody. The guitar peeks its head in, softly picking away at a fuller melody, indicating that the slow build is reaching its climax.  Sometimes it seems like a lost cause, Thorpe coos, breathe a second, feel that pregnant…pause. The music doesn’t explode, yet we know that we’ve arrived.  This compositional mastery of tension is also evident on “Mecca.” Again, Wild Beasts utilizes a stripped down introductory section, this time with no instrument to mark the tempo, and when the main melody arrives, we cherish it all the more.

Like the previous work of Wild Beasts, Present Tense is a dense album, with endless intricacies accentuated by the personal, yet mystic lyrics. The concept of balance is an overwhelming motif throughout the album, one that manifests itself both thematically and musically.  The band strives to strike a balance between sarcasm and sincerity, between accessibility and mysticism, literal and figurative, soprano and bass, and the list goes on. This point is perhaps most poignantly articulated in the lyrics for “Sweet Spot”: There is a guardless state, where the real and the dream may consummate. Maybe this guardless state is what the gang had been searching for during the making of Present Tense; now, it seems, they’ve come very close to finding it.

Check out the video for “Mecca” and Wild Beasts’ US tour dates below.


Thu July 10 – New York, NY @ Hudson River Parks’ River Rocks (Pier 84)
Fri July 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer w/ Mutual Benefit
Sat July 12 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club w/ Mutual Benefit
Mon July 14 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair  w/ Mutual Benefit
Tues July 15 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre  w/ Mutual Benefit
Wed July 16 – Toronto, ON @ The Mod Club
Fri July 18 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Sat July 19 – Chicago, IL @ Pitchfork Music Festival

ALBUM REVIEW: Archie Bronson Outfit “Wild Crush”

Archie Bronson Outfit

Hailing from the charming city of Bath in southwestern England comes Archie Bronson Outfit, who make the kind of blistering rock n’ roll more commonly associated with acts on our side of the pond. Since their debut in 2004 with Fur, Archie Bronson Outfit have released Derdang Derdang (2006), Coconut (2010), and most recently, Wild Crush, all on Domino Records. Consisting of Sam Windett, Mark “Arp” Cleveland, and Kristian “Kapital K” Robinson (who replaced founding member Dorian Hobday) the band has made a name for themselves by creating retro tunes with tight composition, guitar heavy melodies, and quirky instrumental combinations.

Longtime fans of Archie Bronson will note the striking presence of longtime collaborator Duke Garwood, who is featured on the baritone sax for many of the tracks on Wild Crush and provides rich new textures that were absent on previous albums. The tracks here are diverse – so much so that initially, it sounds as though they could’ve come from nine different bands. But upon further investigation, certain underlying compositional characteristics can be extracted from the LP as a whole.

For instance, the trio definitely have an ear for what instruments sound cool together. The combination of cello, keyboard and saxophone on “Lori From The Outer Reaches” is nothing short of beauty. “Love To Pin You Down” melds together a chordant keyboard, melodic saxophone and droning guitar. On lead single “Two Doves on a Lake,” the saxophone plays a rambling discordant melody over a heavily distorted whammy guitar while the bass cuts through to create a powerful and energetic instrumental.

Perhaps the most interesting pairing on Wild Crush is that of Windett’s voice with other instruments as a means for harmonization. The band loves to use vocals as instruments for harmonization any chance that they get. On “We Are Floating,” the vocals and the bass come together at the end of the second verse to initiate the guitar solo and again to finish the song. On a sugar-sweet “Country Miles,” an organ harmonizes at different intervals with the vocals throughout the song. The vocals even harmonize with a flute on “Two Doves On A Lake.” Throughout the record, Windett’s vocals remain diverse, from the restrained spaciness of “Lori From The Outer Reaches” to the aggressive, theatrical “Hunch Your Body, Love Somebody” and the shaky, almost-nervous intonations of “Love to Pin You Down,” a rare track in which the singer’s accent adds a dandy British flair.

The element gluing Wild Crush together most effectively remains the band’s penchant for rollicking solos. Each song diverges slightly from its structure to include a prolonged instrumental section, and oftentimes, that’s where the caterwauling, unhinged sax comes in. All of the songs are driven by distinct and heavy guitar riffs, too, reminding us all that first and foremost, Archie Bronson is a rock Outfit.

And if you need further reminders of that reality, look no further than the myriad nods the band gives to their rock and folk predecessors on Wild Crush. Sometimes it is subtle – the vocals in “Two Doves On A Lake” for instance, would be right at home on metal bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and one can’t help but sense a connection to modern-day acts like Queens of The Stone Age. Other times, the parallels are more blatant. The harmonious vocals on “Glory, Sweat and Flow” call to mind The Byrds, while the chorus is strikingly similar to The Velvet Undergrounds’ “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” And whether accidental or lifted as a means of homage, the lyric melody follows Silver Apples’ “I Have Known Love” almost to the note.

Their musical influences may be a little too evident at times, but somehow, Wild Crush doesn’t quite come off as a wholly derivative album.  On the contrary, the band seems to have mastered an understanding of their genre and have developed a self awareness of where they fit inside it.  By embracing the sounds of their predecessors they are ironically carving out a space for themselves through the subtle implementation of a number of distinct and overlaying musical characteristics. Through the development of these signature characteristics, they position themselves more as authorities than copy cats.

Like archaeologists unearthing artifacts and reappropriating them for a new era, Archie Bronson Outfit has found the innovation in the retread, cohesive themes in the random, and complexity in the simplistic.

They’ll be playing a handful of dates, including some festivals, throughout Europe this summer. No word on when they’ll make it to the states for some live appearances. Wild Crush is out now, and you can watch a video for “We Are Floating” below.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Cass McCombs “Big Wheel

Cass_courtesyCassMcCombsBack in October, enigmatic folk artist Cass McCombs released his seventh full-length, Big Wheel and Others, a double album that led us through hypnotic rhythm cycles and tangential, but beautiful, guitar passages, intimate if shadowed vocal lines, and lyrics that fit together like a Rubik’s cube—the meaning behind them was always there, but eluded direct visibility even when the text was at its most confessional. A meandering intricacy has always graced McCombs’ work.

Cass McCombs seems to belong to another era, one without modern video or recording technology, so it’s a little disorienting to realize that his songs have music videos. But so they do: the video for the (almost) title track of the new album, “Big Wheel,” premiered from Domino Records today courtesy of McCombs’ friend and collaborator Albert Herter, who shot the footage in New York, California, and China. “Big Wheel” opens with a foreboding, cyclical guitar line that speeds up at the pace of a rumbling freight train. In the video, these first bars are accompanied by a procession of slogans: large, all-capitol letter words like “JUSTICE,” “MASTER,” and “EVERYTHING” appear on the screen, over backdrops of a closeup of a chicken’s face, a lit-up building facade at night, or a basement door that’s opened when the song’s drums kick in. What follows is a busy psychedelic collage, montages intersperse with home video clips, with all the bleak grandness and obscurity of the song itself.

Images of cities, surreally collaged-together kaleidoscope imagery, and clips of talk show hosts with black ovals pasted over their faces aren’t what immediately comes to mind when you listen to Cass McCombs, whose music more closely embodies a grainy picture of solitary travels through America’s West. The cuts in this video are diverse—a grainily filmed dog coming towards the camera, a surreal, abstract, colorful backdrop with the word “WOMAN” written over it—and a lack of linear development makes the video seem a little unpredictable, even threatening.

The range of the collage is wide, and their apparently random sequence heightens the violence and surreality of the images, but this video is held together by a strange and distinct perspective. Many of the actions are filmed from the point of view of the viewer; in one recurring clip, a hand that appears to belong to the person holding the camera reaches out to open a door. The doctored visuals, the words that flash onto our field of vision as we watch the imagery unfold, puts us in the mindset of a personality that remains constant throughout the video. The only sense the chronology makes, by the end of the three and a half minute “Big Wheel,” is that established by the perspective from which these images are filmed. True to McCombs’ aesthetic, we’re not given an image of this video’s protagonist, but we’re given a detailed tour of all the scenery inside his head.

Watch the video for “Big Wheel” below, and learn more about Cass McCombs’ latest album, Big Wheel and Others, by going here!