Brooklyn Grunge Upstarts Hello Mary Shine on Latest Single “Evicted”

Photo Credit: Nikki Burnett

As any houseplant enthusiast will tell you, growing things indoors can be tricky – it takes just the right amount of sunlight, moisture, and fertile soil to make that monstera deliciosa flourish, but the joy and wonder that comes from watching it grow is well worth the effort. On their latest single, “Evicted,” NYC-based grunge revivalists Hello Mary twist intoxicating vocal harmonies around the phrase “I’ve been evicted from the sun,” lamenting the pandemic lockdown (and later, with the line “Now everyone is taking sides/I can’t decide which one is right,” the political divide widened by a crisis that should have united us). But despite an apparent lack of Vitamin D, it’s clear that the trio – consisting of Helena Straight on guitar, Mikaela Oppenheimer on bass, and Stella Branstool on drums – have been growing by leaps and bounds as musicians. “Evicted” is the second single following the band’s DIY debut Ginger, released via Bandcamp in December 2019, and it showcases the group’s burgeoning potential as New York’s next huge rock band.

“The songs are getting better and us playing together is getting better,” says Branstool, who mentions more than once during a Zoom call with Audiofemme that the only thing she had to look forward to during the height of the pandemic was playing drums and writing songs with her bandmates. “Evicted” came out of those practice sessions, as did “Take Something,” released in May this year. Both were recorded with veteran producer Bryce Goggin (who has worked with Pavement, Luna, The Lemonheads, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Kim Deal side-project The Amps, and more), and Hello Mary spent last week in the studio recording twelve new tracks with him as well.

“You have to work with the right person and Bryce is the most perfect person that I could think of – we’re kind of obsessed with him,” says Straight, who characterizes “Evicted” as a pop-driven song more in the vein of Dinosaur Jr. “He definitely values the raw, real, live sound, so we’re on the same page.” For a band that’s arrived at a gritty ’90s alternative sound by way of playing sold-out shows across New York, retaining that raw energy is important. While Ginger accomplished this well enough, a professional studio setting with a seasoned engineer elevates their latest material significantly.

“I’m excited to be moving on to a process of recording that fits us better. The way that it’s gonna sound is just gonna be a lot more true to how we actually sound – both on our part, like how we’re playing our instruments and how we’re singing and how we’re writing songs, but also how we’re being recorded and how we’re being mixed,” says Branstool. “It’s raw, but then still produced enough where it’s fun to listen to in headphones, not painfully raw. We’re adding a shaker or a tambourine, or just other elements that kind of beef it up.”

What’s especially remarkable about Hello Mary’s latest songs is not only how tight they are, but that they’re coming from a band who hasn’t been together all that long – and whose members are all under 21. Straight and Oppenheimer are still in high school, while Branstool is about to enter her senior year of college. They met Goggin via Branstool’s mother, Christy Davis, who plays drums in the CFR with Luna guitarist Sean Eden. Straight’s father also played drums in bands throughout his college years and maintains the practice space where Hello Mary worked out these songs.

Age is relative, anyway – each member of Hello Mary brings lifelong musical experience to the table. “Mikaela and I met in middle school – we were in the same homeroom. I played guitar a little bit but I was mostly singing. Mikaela was playing bass in jazz band and we started writing music together,” recalls Straight. By ninth grade, they’d released a few songs on Soundcloud, all while delving into ’90s alt-rock history. Around this time, they were asked to play a show highlighting young women musicians, but didn’t have a drummer, so the program coordinator introduced them to Branstool, who mainly played in bands with guys.

“When I joined the band it very much felt like I was just the drummer. It didn’t feel like my band; I just felt like I was kind of subbing in to help them make music, and I actually was totally fine with that. At that point they were fifteen and I was eighteen and it felt like a much bigger difference than it does now,” remembers Branstool, who played piano and sang as a child before discovering her natural talent behind the kit in high school. “The more that we’ve played together and the more that we’ve grown closer as friends, becoming better musicians and writing songs better together and all that stuff, I just can’t picture my life without it at this point.”

Oppenheimer is still heavily involved in jazz band, and though Hello Mary’s unique vocal harmonizing or jangly guitar might stand out most on first listen, it’s her springy, thick bass tones that give the band its throwback sound. “I try not to think about theory or jazz stuff when I’m writing but I’m sure it inevitably does [affect] my technique,” she says. An archive of a livestreamed Baby TV set reveals just how essential her playing is to the band.

Still, as young musicians, they’re heading for some big changes. While they’re mostly keen to stay in the city, Oppenheimer and Straight will be applying to college this year, just as Branstool finishes up. “It feels like a crucial time right now, at least in my eyes, because it’s my last year of college. More importantly, they’re going into their last year of high school. With our band and the dynamic… I want to make sure that we have a solid thing going before it becomes challenged or compromised by outside factors,” she says. To that end, Hello Mary have scheduled four West Coast dates for September, as well as a smattering of NYC appearances, including a show tonight at The Broadway in Brooklyn. “We don’t see any other way – it’s necessary for us to practice and to play shows and to keep going.”

With respected musician mentors – including other young women who have been in Hello Mary’s position before, like Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean, once the “babies” of Brooklyn’s DIY scene – the band possesses both the drive and the talent to garner critical praise and fans well beyond the five boroughs. The days when women playing music – especially teenagers – might have been met with condescension or derision seem far away. “I don’t know how many naysayers we run into. Very few. Maybe none,” says Oppenheimer, when asked how the band combats negative stereotypes.

“Inevitably we’re all gonna get older, that’s what’s happening,” Branstool says, steadfast in her belief that soon enough, like Sunflower Bean, they’ll be mentoring the next crop of young rockers. “Yeah,” Straight laughs. “That’s not gonna happen for like ten years.” In the meantime, the rewards of watching Hello Mary come into their own will more than suffice – and “Evicted” feels like a new leaf on a carefully cultivated plant, just about to blossom.

Follow Hello Mary on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Nu Normol Embrace Lo-Fi Sass on no love songs EP

nu normal new ep

Listening to San Francisco band Nu Normol’s new EP, no love songs, is akin to having a cassette tape slipped through your mail slot. Peel away the Scotch tape and recycled wrapping paper and you’ll know: you’ve been visited by the spirit of DIY rock n’ roll, conveyed in a conveniently-sized rectangle complete with Wite-Out flowers and nail polish petals.

no love songs by NU NORMOL

Album opener “don’t cry to me” is the stubborn little sibling to the EP’s title, the “I’m serious this time!” foot-stomp after everyone else rolls their eyes. It was only after repeated listens that I realized what it reminded me of — the Donna’s self-titled debut from 1997, where chanting choruses, gleeful cursing, and crackly, distorted vocals were part of the record’s lo-fi charm. All of that gum-chewing, eye-rolling attitude is still there on no love songs, but with a welcome heap of poeticism and lyrical sophistication that comes from having narrowly escaped adolescence. There’s a price to pay/don’t forget, the band reminds the song’s self-indulgent subject, flicking their crocodile tears right back at them like little glittering beads with each chorus.

The EP vacillates interestingly between tones; “warrior for hire” sounds like a 70’s war protest song with its soldier’s march riff, while “manhole” is the sort of song you find yourself muttering as you do chores around the house. The band, which includes new drummer Shavi Blake (replacing EP drummer John Kolisnekow) and punk band veterans Lizzy P. and Alice Choe on lead guitar and bass, respectively — sings it with a hypnotic, detached quality, the almost sole lyric  not gonna give you my love anymore — repeating itself into oblivion, like when you say a word so many times it loses meaning.

“don’t wanna go home” is a standout, the bratty beginning jumping into a cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B,” thoroughly enjoyable in this new iteration of woman-fronted grungy rock. And in a surprising heel-turn to folk, “little black hole” closes the EP on a sweet note, albeit with some cutting lines (is my sensitivity threatening?). As the only song written by Alice Choe (all others were written by in collaboration with EP recorder and mixer Lizzy P.), it’s no surprise that it’s also the little black sheep, but Nu Normal’s willingness to jump from genre to genre shows a band looking to expand and experiment.

Follow Nu Normol on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Sleepover Balances Musical Influences on New Self-Titled EP

sleepover sf new ep

The self-titled debut EP from Bay Area band Sleepover starts with the kind of intro you would expect to hear on a Best of the ’50s compilation album. Take me with you, begs lead singer Pakayla Biehn on the cheekily-named “Lullabye,” the instrumentals slowly racking up in intensity before diving into a snarling pit of punky menace.

This is the general sentiment of the EP, which is a fun mix of ’90s grunge, ’70s rock songstress, and modern punk (with a little do-wop thrown in). The ’70s influence is felt most strongly on “No Place Like Home,” which makes a “California Dreamin’” reference within the first thirty seconds before slowly building to a killer chord progression that makes me feel like I should be at a tailgate party wearing corded bellbottoms, burning my nose in the sun.

EP closer “Let Me Go” sees me at an impasse — on one hand, it pours some ice water on unrelenting high intensity since the latter half of “Lullabye,” but on the other, the repetitive chorus is a little too much of a Jefferson Airplane throwback to end the EP as strongly as “Lullabye” opened it.

Would have died a hundred times/to trade her fate for mine, sings Biehn on “Let Me,” a evocative line with the kind of specificity I wish was embraced more throughout the song. Not that receptiveness is automatic anathema — it’s quite effective on “No Place,” especially in the second half, where Biehn’s vocal stylings are supported by yet another great riff, as well as the loopy, yellow-brick-road associations with the song title itself.

The dreamlike quality and soft/rough vocals of Biehn — who, incidentally, I think could make some serious magic with Thank You Come Again’s Izzie Clark — are quite effective and appealing overall, especially when she keeps her feet firmly on the ground, allowing her to go toe-to-toe with the EP’s crunchier moments. A great example of this is when she cries you can’t go back again on “No Place,” her voice ever so slightly distorted before the song moves to highlight the riff. Clearly, the band has good instincts when it comes to mixing together their variety of inspirations and influences — but I do think they are the most successful when one does not overpower the others.

The band — Biehn, Gabrielle Tigan on rhythm guitar, Lauren Diem on lead guitar, Cindy Yep on Bass, and Jack Douglas on drums — tagged themselves on Bandcamp as “dreamgrunge,” which might seem like a bit of an oxymoron. However, what is a dream other than distortion and discordance, two paramounts of grunge? Either way, Sleepover knows what they are about, even if there are a few kinks left to iron out.

Check out the band’s Instagram for updates.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The “Strange Motion” of Swallowed Sun

You know that feeling you get when you hear a band for the first time and think, “Hmm, they remind me of…someone?” Most of the time – for me, at least – I may never figure out who this brand new find reminds me of, but they have a hint of familiarity and, most likely, a nice little groove underneath that I like.

When listening to Atlanta alternative trio Swallowed Sun, however, there was something in the jazzy, rock-infused lines that reminded me of seeing Tedeschi Trucks Band just a few days ago. Sure, they don’t have a fourteen-person lineup featuring a horn section, but they’re cool, groovy, and just loose enough for you to sink right into the rhythm with them. They just released their self-titled debut this summer, and after talking with lead singer and rhythm guitarist Savannah Walker, I was even more convinced that this brand new band is going to be a major force in the scene very soon. Read on for all the deets!

AF: I love your sound. How did you get started?

SW: I met Aaron and Caleb Hambrick (drums and bass) around a year ago. As soon as I met them, I could tell how talented they were! We played our first show a week later and after that, it just clicked for us. I grew up listening to rock and alternative music while Aaron and Caleb draw most of their influence from jazz, fusion, funk, etc.., so we were starting from opposite ends of the spectrum, so to speak. It’s been a great combination of style for us, and collaborating has been pretty easy to this point. I really love what we’re doing right now!

AF: Were you musically inclined growing up, or was it more of a hobby? What made you decide “Oh, yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

SW: I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t love music. As a child, I was always singing (before I could even talk correctly), and I picked up the violin when I was six. Although I quit playing violin a few years later, it was a great starting point for me to develop my musicality and my passion for playing and learning. It wasn’t until I was around 14 or 15 that I started learning guitar. 

AF: Who do you consider your greatest influences? How have they influenced your style as a writer and performer?

SW: I know this sounds incredibly cliché, but growing up, Zeppelin was a huge inspiration. Houses of the Holy was the only full album I had on my first iPod, way back in ’06. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to appreciate all genres more. Aaron and Caleb have introduced me to some great music over the last year, and now I’m actually studying jazz guitar, of all things.  When it comes to making music, anything is fair game. We’ve really tried to avoid tying ourselves down to one sound. 

AF: Speaking of writing, you released your first full-length record, Swallowed Sun, in June. Can you tell us a bit about it? What inspired the record?

SW: We recently did the math and, speaking in terms of hours, our album was recorded in less than two full days. Of course, those hours were stretched out over a few months, so it seems like we spent way more time recording. The writing process was relatively easy; I wrote most of the chord progressions (Aaron helped) and lyrics, and the guys wrote their respective parts. Most of the first ideas we had were the ones we kept and it was a pretty natural process. We didn’t have finished ideas for a few of the songs going into the studio – everyone just played what they felt and the songs took shape on their own. 

AF: What was it like to record a full-length record after the release of your debut EP earlier this year? What kind of evolution have you seen in just a few short months?

SW: I can see so much progress in our music, even though we haven’t been writing and recording for that long.  When we started, it was a little rough, mostly due to a lack of experience and knowledge on my part.  The difference between the EP and the album is very noticeable; for one, we we were very lucky to have Brooks Mason (Eddie 9V) playing guitar on the later tracks, as his ideas really made the songs. I can say that personally, I’ve drastically improved since last year, both musically and creatively. This has been such a learning process for me.  It’s really great to see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time! 

AF: What’s it like to get started as a band in the Atlanta music scene?

SW: Atlanta is a great place to be if you’re starting out a band or an individual! There are a ton of musical opportunities here in the city, and getting gigs is way easier than in, say, LA or Nashville. It’s easy to get involved in the scene here and meet other musicians, although you have to know the right places to go. 

AF: What’s your favorite music venue in Atlanta?

SW: My favorite venue that we’ve played here has been the Masquerade. The staff are really helpful and loading in and out is a breeze. My favorite places to go, though, are some of the local jams that Aaron introduced me to. Gallery 992 and Elliot Street are two places you have to visit if you’re ever in ATL. The players there are incredibly talented and you never know who you might see!

AF: What’s next for Swallowed Sun?

SW: Right now, we’re working on writing and recording more music. We’re planning on playing Porch Fest here in Decatur in October and releasing a new single by November!

Follow Swallowed Sun on Facebook and stream their debut full-length record on Spotify now.

PLAYING DETROIT: Prude Boys Unpack Grief and Grievances on New Seven Inch

Hamtramck-based DIY band Prude Boys (Caroline Thornbury, Quentin Thornbury, and Connor Dodson) recently celebrated the release of their new 7-inch record, The Reunion/Daddy. The songs – put out on the band’s own label, Grumble Records – are a preview of a full-length record the band recorded last July. C. Thornbury’s rock solid vocals are the constant between two very different songs: a fuzzy, dream state rumination on loss and a folk-driven reflection on unconscious cycles of hurtful patterns. 

“The Reunion” feels nostalgic, heartbroken and triumphant all at once. Not shying away from the band’s comparison to new wave trailblazers The Pretenders, Thornbury dons a short blue wig and sings alone under a disco ball for the song’s music video. Her solitude in the video reinforces the song’s core ethos – grappling with the loss of a loved one while finding a way to stand on her own two feet. 


“It’s actually about my sister who passed away two years ago,” explains C. Thornbury. “I had this dream that I had to go to her high school reunion for her in her place, so the song sort of stemmed off of there and how, in the grieving process, all the real sadness and realization of loss happens later on when all those little things happen…like I would text her about this article I’m reading or send her a picture of this t-shirt I like.” The song acts as a refreshing catharsis for anyone experiencing loss, whether it’s a loved one who has passed away or one someone who’s just not in your life anymore. 

The band drops the guitar solos and drums for “Daddy,” a staggering song that C. Thornbury originally wrote on acoustic guitar. Her cyclical lyrics and guitar melody reflect the heart of the song, which talks about the Sisyphean task of loving someone that keeps hurting you. “It’s about the wrongs that your family does to you without their knowledge and how you sort of carry that with you,” C. Thornbury explains. “And how you keep trying and trying with people you love even though their behavior towards you isn’t improving and they have no idea what they’re actually doing to you.”

Overall, Prude Boys deliver brutal honesty wrapped in razor-sharp instrumentation and gorgeous melodies in this pair of songs. Look out for more Burger Record releases in the future and listen to The Reunion/Daddy below.

 

 

 

PLAYING SEATTLE: Three Eclectic Releases for the New Year

For me, the new year signals a time to refresh, and that also goes for my music collection. This is when I dig through Bandcamp, attend shows with bands I’ve never heard of on the bill, and get recommendations from friends in the know. Here are three off-the-beaten path local releases I’ve discovered in the new year.

photo by Seth Halleran

SmackTalk – Servin’ It Hot (out March 7)

Saxophone-fronted collective SmackTalk is the brainchild of Sidney Hauser, a brilliant Seattle-bred saxophonist and songwriter whose funky, angular, and soulful compositions have, in the case of Seattle jazz, exploded expectations about what sort of music is made in Seattle and who can make it. Through songcraft, musicianship, and bold authenticity, Servin’ it Hot makes me single-handedly optimistic for the future of Seattle’s music scene.

Hauser, a graduate of the University of Washington, brings together a band of talented Seattle twentysomethings on the EP, proving that jazz isn’t just for baby boomers. But also, SmackTalk is far from purist about jazz – while Hauser definitely draws on her background in jazz harmony and improvisation, her compositions bring in funk energy, the tender sensuality of neo-soul, the exploratory nature of creative music, and the addictive quality of earworm pop melodies and digital effects.

On “Beams,” the album’s only vocal track, singer Emma Horton’s smooth, dexterous voice pours forth like honey, accented by soaring moments from the saxophone section – Hauser, Natalie Barry on alto and tenor— playing in artfully-arranged harmony.

“Tidal,” the third song on the five-song album, starts by featuring these saxophonists with a sort of cheerful, churning pattern that steadily swirls, bringing the rest of the band into its grasp. Interesting synth and saxophone moments add energy and excitement to the piece, which feels like a climbing wave, eventually cresting in a funky solo section that spotlights the solidity of the rhythm section’s interlocking groove.

Each song on Servin’ It Hot works this way—starting in familiar space and then pushing past expectations, offering some really new and fresh sounds for the city. Only SmackTalk’s second release, Servin’ It Hot is unabashedly brave, capturing Hauser’s growth as an improviser, songwriter, and band leader, and underscoring the work SmackTalk are doing to find their own voice as a band.

Servin’ It Hot drops in early March. For more details visit SmackTalk on Bandcamp.

photo by Jason Trinkle

Annie Ford Band – At Night (out February 8)

Annie Ford is the sort of artist one can literally stumble upon while walking the streets of Pike Place Market, where she has been a busker for a decade. But she’s no forgettable distraction for a passerby. She sings as if she’s having a candid conversation, and she draws her listener into a secret with humor, pep, and charm.

That’s how it goes with her newest release At Night, which drips with flavors of country, klezmer, folk, and even a little bit of psychedelia. It proves that Ford, and her co-songwriter Matt Manges, have further-honed their talent for original folk songs unlike any others found in the Seattle-area.

On this new album, it’s clear Ford and the band are feeling in limbo. On “Ain’t No Place,” she’s a woman leaving Mississippi for the unknown; on “Demon Lover,” she forsakes a husband and three children for a new man; on “Restless Dreams” she walks a tightrope into a world suspended from time. With this in mind, the album mirrors Seattle’s present crisis of identity, a product of the ripple effects it has on the individual identities of the people who live here.

This sort of tension comes up lyrically, as well as musically. Additions like the other-worldly whine of Olie Eshlemen’s pedal steel and the bestial rumble of Ivan Molton’s baritone sax imply the sort of strange, liminal state that the Annie Ford Band contends with.

Overall, Ford and the band have more of a fierceness than ever before on At Night. A big part of that is Ford’s crisp, resolute, and honest vocals, hanging in the foreground without facade or effect. Ford isn’t playing tricks on her audience – she’s bracing them for transit.

At Night drops February 8th. For more details visit Annie Ford Band on Bandcamp.

photo by Kyle Todaro

Antonioni – The Odds Were All Beating Me (out now)

Antonioni may as well be a meteor out of nowhere. The Odds Were All Beating Me, released January 12th, is Antonioni’s first in two years, and only their second EP ever—but it’s a formidable ball of indie-rock fire. While they exhibit that grunge-punk quality that lives inside much of the music from this area, lead singer Sarah Pasillas – whose lilting, ethereal voice recalls Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, and Enya – brings a dreamier vibe to their music.

“Snow Globe” features this aspect of Pasillas’ voice prominently, making her the foreground to a thunderhead of odd sounds – coins falling to the floor, a person talking into a seashell, a Tibetan singing bowl. Her voice arises from the controlled mess.

The EP’s first track, “Creature Feature,” designates Antonioni as part of the same contemporary scene that’s birthed other currently-popular indie bands like Great Grandpa and Dude York: taking the mumble-singing, a raw guitar sound, and feeling of encompassing dreariness that Nirvana made big, and invigorating it. Antionioni make it a bit lighter by adding more upbeat pop diversions and effects. “Old News,” on the other hand, almost sounds like the Cranberries—Pasillas sings assertively, with turns and inflections like Dolores O’Riordan, while the repetitious guitar pattern has the same sort of jangling, broken-sounding chords that Cranberries’ lead guitarist Noal Hogan mastered.

The album is an interesting snapshot of Seattle, torn as it is between so many different moments in the scene’s musical history and looking for a place to rest. With Antonioni, the city may have found a band with which they can sit and stay awhile.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Preserving Seattle’s Music Scene in a Transforming City

The music scene in Seattle and the surrounding Pacific Northwest area birthed Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Heart, Steve Miller Band, Ernestine Anderson, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Death Cab for Cutie, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and so many more artists that have shaped popular music history. Still, if you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, ’90s-era grunge remains Seattle’s best-known musical export, and to be fair, Seattleites aren’t finished with the flannel-covered nostalgia. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Temple of the Dog seemed to emerge organically out of Seattle’s do-it-yourself culture of basement house shows and dim, hole-in-the-wall dives, and that’s the ethos that still drives the music scene here. No need for expensive instruments, crew cuts, or silk shirts; just come (as you are) and play something honest.

Artists Taylar Elizza Beth and Do Normaal performing at a D.I.Y. space in Seattle. (Photo by Victoria Holt)

Still, once grunge finally made the rest of the world understand how cool this rainy northwest corner could be, it brought one central tension to our doorstep that—with the added pressure of corporate giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks settling here—is just now starting to boil over. How do you keep the city’s authentic alternative, do-it-yourself heart alive when Seattle is being copied and commodified?

Kurt Cobain struggled with being mainstream, and Seattle is the same way. We thrive right on the line between alternative and commercial; the place where you can still make a living by creating weird, thought-provoking music without being a “sell-out.” But if the culture pushes you too far to either side, there’s a real crisis of identity. That’s where Seattle is today.

As Amazon and other tech companies have moved in and expanded, the cost of living has exploded. A cost of living index put out by the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness recorded that as of the third quarter of 2017, it costs 52.8 percent more to live in Seattle than the average of other 267 cities surveyed. And it’s all just happened in the last couple of years – Seattle didn’t even make the top ten most expensive cities until 2016; now it rests at number six.

The cost of living is so high that most people – including musicians – are being forced out of the city proper (as far south as Olympia, as far north as Everett) and homelessness is at an all-time high. My takeaway? A lot of people lack the income it takes to support local art, let alone be artists themselves. And it seems, by the looks of all the struggling artists and venues, that new transplants with disposable income aren’t as interested in engaging in the local music scene, despite the trending status of ’90s culture and the Seattle “vibe.” This is completely counter to the Seattle of old, in which people moved here to be closer to the culture they identified with.

Hence, feminist punk bands are buried by Britney Spears “throwback” nights, where a bro-y software engineer dressed like the Brawny guy can pump his fists and grind on a twenty-two-year-old marketing assistant from San Bernadino. What’s more, arts publications that once kept the scene somewhat healthy, like CityArts, are folding, and many of the long-treasured venues that offered steady gigs and chances to see live music are either being bulldozed for new high-rises (like The Showbox) or changing their brand to accommodate more of what sells (veteran nightclub Neumos’ newer downstairs venue, Barboza, now now books DJ nights like “Guilty Pleasures Dance Party.”)

Dancers at the weekly “Slay” POC and LGBTQ night at Chop Suey in Seattle. (Photo by Victoria Holt)

My best friend Julia is a park ranger near Bozeman, Montana, and she tells me that the National Park Service has a division called “Interpretation and Education,” the point of which is to educate people about the land, forests, and waters they’re visiting “so that they will understand why it’s valuable and worth preserving.” We could use a program like that for the arts scene in Seattle, if we’d like to maintain our culture. It’s not hopeless – some organizations continue to do their best to lifting u local artists, namely KEXP, The Stranger, and The Musician’s Association of Seattle. They remind us that the value of a place is intrinsically connected to the culture of its inhabitants, despite how many multi-million dollar corporations attempt to co-opt it.

The value of Seattle, for me, lies in fleeting moments – like watching three powerful women hip-hop artists, Taylor Elizza Beth, Guayaba, and DoNormaal, slay an enraptured crowd at Timbre Room; like discovering some truly transformative sets of improvisational music at the weekly Racer Sessions and through the local label Table & Chairs; like seeing Tacocat with dozens of like-minded, light-dappled souls mouthing along to their song “I Love Seattle.”

We do love Seattle, and taking pride in our music scene is vital to that love. So, with a mixture of think pieces, profiles, and show reviews that shine some light on different facets of Seattle’s music scene, I hope “Playing Seattle” can begin to knit old Seattle and new Seattle back together.

PLAYING DETROIT: AM People Release ‘Songs for The Mourning’

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Photo by Madeline Toro

Detroit-based three-piece AM People released their debut LP Songs for the Mourning on June 15th, and it’s the perfect soundtrack to accompany the woozy heat daze of summer. The record is a seamless collection of apathetic punk songs, running into each other like strangers at a crowded bar and eventually landing on an unmade bed, room spinning.  

The band — Kyle Akey (drums), Niobe Marasigan (bass), and Ryan Gumbleton (guitar) — describe themselves as “punk goths who go to the beach,” and Songs clearly reflects that. Marasigan and Akey’s vocals are delivered sans any trace of emotion, seemingly detached from the words they carry. However, genius lies in simplicity when it comes to the songs’ lyricism. Instead of clouding their music with hidden metaphors or pretentious vocabulary, AM People just say what they really mean. What a concept.  

The subject matter ranges from unrequited love to budding friendships. The band injects “Friend Request” with playful, melodic guitar as Gumbleton and Akey exchange vocals like a musical game of catch. As simple a concept as making a new friend is, it seems novel in a world full of heads-down-screen-stares and constant paranoia. “Friend Request” makes human interaction cool again and recalls the warm fuzzy feelings that come with making a new friend. “I have been learning more about you,” sings Gumbleton. “What I have learned so far is pretty cool.”

“Back and Forth” epitomizes the many stages of unrequited love – infatuation, rejection, spite, acceptance. It also suggests that maybe, sometimes, what we mistake for love is just another attempt at filling the void. The lyrics, “I was searching for a meaning / I was holding on to a feeling,” suggest that love can be used as a distraction or temporary band-aid for whatever is lacking in our lives. Then, when it doesn’t work out, it’s back to the numb merry-go-round of self-discovery that often plagues the mind. The band mirrors this cycle musically, with a recurring guitar riff and hypnotizing vocal melody.

By intertwining monotone, self-aware statements with sunshine-y guitar riffs and ironically cliche couplets, AM People accomplish the approachably cool sound of their matter-of-fact indie brethren like Parquet Courts or fellow Detroit troupe, Deadbeat Beat. And like any good record, Songs for the Mourning lulls the listener into a trance, pulling us farther away from reality and making our daydreams as clear as water.

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TRACK PREMIERE: Sad Baxter “Doubt”

When I was first introduced to the music of Sad Baxter, via 2016’s Weirdy, I realized they filled a void I didn’t even know existed: here was a band that was not afraid to go full grunge, and the payoff was great. Dirty guitars, heavy backbeats, and a Cobain-like growl mixed with a delightfully bizarre view of the world made the duo (Deezy on guitar and vocals, Alex on drums) instantly endearing.

Their newest song is “Doubt,” a split-single release on Cold Lunch Recordings with fellow Nashville band The By Gods. According to Deezy, the drums and guitar were tracked live in the same room to get a realistic sound. She also gave us the inside scoop on the track’s meaning:

“The song is about someone who catches your eye, but soon you realize they are nobody you would ever really consider spending more time with. But, for whatever reason, you find yourself still curious about them. You can’t quite figure them out, which is probably what keeps you around. It doesn’t feel healthy. You don’t even like them as a person. It’s not good, but you can’t help it.”

“Doubt” opens with the unsteady bend of a whammy bar, the wavering of the guitar reflecting Deezy’s misgivings as she gradually recognizes her mistake: “Your mouth on mine is something I should do without/And I don’t know who you are.” Just as the realization hits, the chorus brings an eruption of energy and emotion. It’s the song of the summer for those who pick the worst person to crush on, and you can hear it below.

The duo is also currently on tour- check out the full list of summer dates:

6/16 Bowling Green, KY – Tidball’s
6/17 Nashville, TN – Fond Object (4th Ave)
6/18 Chattanooga, TN – JJ’s 
6/19 Asheville, NC – Sly Grog
6/20 Atlanta, GA – Mammal Gallery
6/21 Chapel Hill, NC – The Cave
6/22 Richmond, VA – Canal Club
6/24 Philadelphia, PA – PHARMACY
6/25 Portland, ME – Oxbow Brewing
6/26 Boston, MA – Charlie’s Kitchen
6/27 NYC – Gold Sounds
6/28 Cleveland, OH – Maple Lanes
6/29 Columbus, OH – Rumba Cafe
6/30 Cincinnati, OH – The Comet
7/01 Louisville, KY – Third Street Dive
7/17 Bloomington, IN – Blockhouse
7/18 Chicago, IL – Mutiny
7/19 St Louis, MO – The Sinkhole
7/20 Kansas City, KS – Bubba Spins Flop House
7/21 Denver, CO – Lion’s Lair
7/24 Seattle, WA – The Funhouse
7/25 Portland, OR – Ash Street
7/26 Oakland, CA – Stork Club
7/27 San Francisco, CA – Hemlock Tavern
7/29 Los Angeles, CA – Silverlake Lounge
8/01 Memphis, TN – Hi-Tone
8/04 Nashville, TN – The East Room

TRACK REVIEW: Stonefield “Sister”

Life is tough, and sometimes you need a dense track to complement that type of outlook. If you’ve found yourself in need of this type of song lately, then search no further than Stonefield’s track “Sister.”

It’s the perfect descriptor for a quartet of Aussie sisters who have been playing together since the youngest was only seven, the eldest just fifteen. The Findlay siblings hail from Victoria, and though their latest LP As Above So Below was released in their home country last year, it was only made available in the U.S. earlier this month, along with two special edition singles for “Changes” featuring “Sister” as its b-side.

Elementally, the track is comprised of hard-hitting guitar chords and heavy, spine-tingling synths that do well to perpetuate a sobering, hardened perspective. It’s a grungy garage rock track that would go well with a dreary rainy day or a bleak political atmosphere. One of the most exciting elements of this family band is that they create music that can sound wildly different on a track-by-track basis, which is expertly showcased in As Above So Below. Like a heavier version of Haim, these sisters are poised to take over America, having recently completed their U.S. tour supporting fellow psych-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Check out “Sister” by Stonefield via Soundcloud below.

MORNING AFTER: Brinner And Beer With Lost Kingdoms

The family’s all capitalizing on Terry Edelman’s generosity, our breakfast tab running sky high. By “family” I mean half of Lost Kingdoms, John Barber and Dan Keller, scene queen Tarra Thiessen (my sun, my moon, my stars, our mutual friend, and AudioFemme’s Social Media Queen) and my broke-ass self. By “breakfast” I mean “bagels in the late afternoon.” We’re sheepishly grateful at the gesture, even though it’s standard Terry Edelman move—he’s perpetually warm, thoughtful, and strangely dad-like. Of all my subjects, I’ve been pretty well-acquainted with Terry, even before he starred in Sharkmuffin’s “Little Bird” video as Big Bird. Who else would fit the role? He’s both a comforting figurehead in this urban playground of ours, and approximately 8’2” (this might be fake news).

As a whole, I’m still getting to know Lost Kingdoms (which also includes Alex Major, en route with his girlfriend Gisela). So far, aside from being sidesplittingly funny, they put out searingly enjoyable and straightforward rock and roll that takes the occasional swerving detour. Terry uses his voice to solid effect, maintaining a strong yet high timber and then dipping back down into a range that’s surprisingly soulful. Simplified and summarized, my roommate heard me streaming Big Hits and thought it was a new Foo Fighters album.

But I think there’s more below the surface, so that’s why we’re having bagels and beer, on the generosity of one Terry Edelman.

The Scene: We’re taking up space at Bread Brothers Bagel Cafe after being evicted from Champ’s Diner. Though there’s a wide, thrilling variety of cream cheeses Terry and I stick with regular and veggie. Dan got chicken salad on an egg bagel, while John went really exotic: a pumpernickel everything with cranberry walnut chicken salad, lettuce, tomato, and onion. There’s even a pickle, the true marker of a fine dining establishment.

Tarra leaves to do her laundry, Alex and Gisela arrive, “Superstition” plays in the background, and we can launch into this conversation about…weirdly enough, music.

4:24 The brain is the only organ in the human body without pain receptors, according to Dan’s Snapple Real Fact. We’re actually having a hard time verifying this on Snapple’s website but we are learning that the two types of pain are “somatic” and “visceral.” “Emotional” isn’t mentioned, which means I’ve spent many nights weeping at Two Boots Williamsburg over aches that don’t exist.

It’s around here that John asks if I’m a comedian.

“Oh, no, I’m just socially awkward; this is how I survive,” I reply.

We tackle the usual Sunday afternoon subjects: autoerotic asphyxiation and Prospect Park’s Smorgasburg (Alex and Gisela were at the latter). Terry regales us with a tale of how he was scolded for stepping on someone’s shoe at Smorgasburg (“I was blocking her view of Ramen Burger”) and John remarks that Terry being tall did not help him. And then he asks me, “No seriously, are you a comedian? Because I heard you were a comedian.”

Terry quickly clarifies that he said I was funny; I clarify that I’m technically a journalist. “You’re a writer?” John confirms.

“Yeah, I’m writing…this column.” Just so it’s clear what my intentions are.

4:44 We’ve relocated to Tradesmen and are talking fashion. The boys are explaining how Dan has a shirt—an ironic shirt, if you will—from his Japanese friends that says, “I WANT BEER NOW.” But he doesn’t really want beer now. Or like, not with an all-caps intensity. It’s incidental that we’re currently drinking beer.

Briskness is overpowering the sunshine, so John’s wearing a borrowed sweater zipped up to the neck, looking like an author. Specifically the kind who lurks in Starbucks pretending to write the great American novel when really he’s just checking Facebook. Writers don’t really write anymore, anyway.

And I’m explaining how my show schedule gets busier when Summer Mary Grace emerges. That version of me is fully formed around June and blossoms when I begin wearing fishnets in April, without giving a shit that it’s 36 degrees out.

“I don’t really start dressing really slutty until July,” Terry says. “I want to let everyone else broach the whole wave.” That’s a personal choice, and I respect it.

4:54 “Terry, I hear you’re in a band,” John says, deciding to subtly pepper our discussions with music talk. Usually these columns get conversed, not conducted; I talk about horror movies for two hours and then we go home. But sure, hold onto your goddamn hats, because we’re going to do something insane and have an interview. Our first official topic: the meaning behind “End Scene,” one of the newish songs the band has been playing live.

“It’s about mutually assured destruction,” Terry explains casually. It’s that core-of-the-Cold-War mentality, how countries have the power to bomb each other to oblivion and yet nobody does it for fear of the repercussions.

Somehow this briefly segues into chit-chat about owning a television before John asks, “Isn’t ‘Darwin’ about evolution?”

“It’s about the implication of agnosticism,” Terry clarifies.

“What’s the implication?” I ask, in my one exhausting stab of being a journalist.

Terry holds atheistic beliefs himself, but it’s certainly not a fun belief. “If there’s no spiritual realm beyond what we see, that’s kind of frightening,” he admits.

5:02 I’m mainly sipping my beer now and watching this interview unfold, providing random commentary when necessary. Alex suggests “Ten Miles” for the next track summary.

“I know what that’s about,” John says. “It’s about separating from your ex-girlfriend.”

There’s a pregnant pause, and then peals of laughter.

John’s insistent, believing it sounds very break-up-y with lines like “‘I got so much to say, when you’re 10 miles away'”

Except, “That is… not actually the lyric,” Terry says. More laughter.

But no, “Ten Miles” isn’t specifically about a break-up, it’s one of those songs that capture a feeling rather than an actual experience. “I’m very interested in sound, so when I write the melodies I just start sounding things out and then a few phrases emerge from that, and I build the concept around that,” Terry explains.

“What about “Breathe?” Alex asks.

“Well ‘Breathe’ is definitely-”

“I mean by Pink Floyd.”

5:10 “Breathe” is actually more about living in the Donald Trump administration and oh, what a terrible living nightmare that’s been (Dan: “He put us all in an awkward position.” John: “He reminds us that the country isn’t just New York and LA.”) Terry feels more compelled to tackle more socio-economic issues in his art, which is the noble belief held by most of our socially conscious friends. I start monologuing about how I’m insecure for not contributing to the political conversation, that my strength has always been to make people laugh and make them feel less alone when the world is falling apart (which it is, at rapid speed).

“And I feel selfish having this column and directing everyone’s energy somewhere else,” I conclude.

John earnestly believes the distraction is a helpful thing, but Terry knows where I’m coming from: “You do start to appraise everything you do as, ‘What does this actually contribute to society?'”

It’s here that our friend Lisa Mayer walks out to the terrace, to hang and to audit this article. “We’re in the middle of the a very professional interview,” I joke. “I’m not conducting it, but that’s what’s happening.”

“Hi band,” Lisa deadpans, because Lisa deadpans everything – Lisa laughs in deadpan. She asks who’s conducting it. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing at that one.

Terry’s response is the most accurate: “It’s conducting itself.”

5:30 I think we’ve broken Terry.

“I feel like I’ve got two competing camps wanting me to either talk or not talk about music, and I don’t know what’s right,” he says.

“I don’t not want you to talk about music,” I say, in the middle of washing off Lisa’s lipstick. “You just talk about whatever feels right for you, that’s what this is about.”

“Yeah, what do you want to talk about, Terry?” John asks.

“Terry, can you write a song right now?” Alex asks.

But Gisela grounds us, asking, “What kind of emotion inspires your music?”

Terry ponders this. “Stress, desperation, impending doom, I don’t know.” He then goes on to explain that he digs sad music but can’t tolerate sad movies. “Depressing music to me is like, cathartic. You experience these thoughts, but then you feel better.” But an intense TV drama or a heavy-weighted movie will leave him devastated five hours later, and John relates to this: “Every time I think about [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”][Room] I feel depressed, because – I don’t want to ruin it – but when she gets out – “

“So she gets out,” Lisa says. “You just ruined the entire movie for us.”

“That was actually the subtitle on the movie poster,” Terry offers. Room: She Gets Out.”

The table provides a series of riffs before we stabilize and John can pinpoint why it bums him out: “She gets out and the trouble is not over. It’s more complicated and brutal.” And it’s a bizarre, serious moment, which passes mercifully quick.

5:41 Here’s the deal with Terry’s Ashlee Simpson t-shirt. He and Dan used to have a band called Doctor Baby, a project in a Faith No More, Mr. Bungle vein, simultaneously hard and silly. They complimented that lack of seriousness by picking up teeny-bopper t-shirts at the thrift store. Dan had an American Idol shirt, while Terry gravitated toward Ashlee, and cut off the sleeves all on his own.

“The moment was right,” he says. “I was channeling Ashlee and she gave me the strength and precision I needed to execute it.” I’m moved.

“So what’s ‘Seeker’ about?” Alex asks. (Spoiler: it’s not about finding the perfect t-shirt)

“It’s about letting go of what you think you’re supposed to be in life,” Terry explains, and laughter spills all over the table again. “I’m glad you found that funny.”

6:00 “THE INTERVIEW IS OVER.” Lisa declares, to thunderous applause. It takes a while for all of us to formally disperse, but she ends up walking me halfway back home, amused by how this went down. She likes the way that, even with the show-friends we think we’re well-acquainted with, you don’t really know them unless you sit down with them. Again, it’s the point, the thesis, of this column.

Truth is, everyone has an immediate Brooklyn music scene family: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a husband, a creepy uncle, a stepdad, a mistress, and so on. Most faces, however, are regulated to third cousin status. You greet them in passing between sets, you one-arm-hug and make chit-chat, but you don’t know their secrets, you won’t be invited to their weddings. The shared bloodline is that we love listening to music, but we don’t always take the time to listen to each other.

I don’t know what art will be immortalized within our Brooklyn family, immediate and extended, but I’m grateful to Lost Kingdoms for daring to listen to me (and vice versa, I guess). No doubt they’ll be playing hard on our urban playground, and finding humor in the face of impending doom.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ALBUM PREMIERE: I Am The Polish Army “My Old Man”

I Am The Polish Army is a Brooklyn-based three-piece led by Emma DeCorsey on vocals and guitar, joined by Eric Kuby on drums, and Turner Stough on the bass. The trio’s debut LP My Old Man comes out tomorrow, and is available to stream today via yours truly. Their sound directly references some of my favorite classic/alt-rock and grunge of yore – styles that are a dying breed in today’s era of high gloss electro and experimental pop, making for a totally refreshing yet ironically nostalgic experience (think if The Breeders and Hole were to join forces and make an album vis-a-vis modern production capabilities.) Emma’s sharp, drone-y vocals cut like a knife through loud, heavy-handed guitar melodies in opening track, “You Don’t Know”, captivating our attention for what they have in store for our ears. As the album unfurls, Charles Burst’s (Neko Case, Psychic Ills, Crystal Stilts) deft engineering behind each track becomes discernible (and is highly appreciated!!). In songs like “David Bowie” – an ode to/lament of erstwhile and dead musical icons – the mix is so perfectly balanced that I found myself easily lost in it, especially toward the end when Emma’s vocal harmonies come in.

Toward the middle of the album on tracks like “Throat” and “Dead Cat”, the band’s emotional energy and fervor reaches a new fever pitch, unexpectedly veering the sound towards a more metal vibe, with propulsive drums and brooding, screeching guitar lines, grafting Emma’s direct and confrontational vocals in seamlessly. “Set Up” surprised  me with another directional shift in genre, showcasing way more 70s style guitar melodies that harken back to Grateful Dead or The Who. Yet overall it still emphasizes angsty, derisive lyrics juxtaposed by lush, structured vocal harmonies. I was left feeling delightfully unsettled by this track (and have pretty much decided it’s my favorite on the album.)

“Woods” and “Gene” bring us full circle back to the band’s original musical conceit: solid, mid-tempo rock defined by blistering guitar solos and Emma’s insistent, unwavering voice and sassy lyrics. Title track “My Old Man” is way more stripped down in the opening measures, with a simple bass line and rhythm guitar. As the verse escalates into a more cacophonous chorus, it becomes clear that the story is about a Lower East Side sex predator, making the emotional intensity pack all the more punch, and compelling me to go back and listen more closely to each track to decipher the storytelling behind the album as a whole. This feat alone makes the project a success in my opinion.

I Am The Polish Army will be performing their album release show at the Gutter, tomorrow (3/31), joined by Tuff Sunshine and the Royal They, more info here. In the meantime dive into “My Old Man” below.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sad Baxter “Weirdy”

weirydy

It’s hard to be weird, but embracing your weirdness can be the key to happiness. Or at least, the key to a solid album. Sad Baxter, a duo from Nashville, knows this; their debut album Weirdy comes out on Friday via Cold Lunch Recordings and explores the strangeness of love, like, and existing.

The duo is from Nashville, TN and consists of best friends Deezy on guitar and vocals and Alex on drums (though Ellen Angelico played bass on the album). Their tough pop sound leans heavily on grunge, with a nod to Nirvana that shows itself in dissonant choruses and lyrics that radiate self awareness. “I hate you, but I want you,” Deezy sings on Weirdy‘s “The Drip,” a song that crunches along pleasingly despite the conflicting emotions it contains: “I don’t want you to be someone else/ But I can’t watch you go be with someone other than me.” On “So Why,” they tell us that “brainwaves change” and it’s ok “to want to feel all the chemicals making you insane.” Sometimes the melody can be the most expressive part of the their songs, the lyrics dissolving into wordless vocalizations as chords swell and crash.  This is especially true on “The Big One;” check out the video below, which shows the duo playing with dogs and cats, and performing in various locations (sometimes without realizing the guitar cable isn’t plugged in).

Pre-order Weirdy here.

TRACK REVIEW: Lié “Failed Visions”

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The world isn’t feeling too positive lately, so a grungy garage rock song feels like just the thing we need to get these emotions out. It’s the sort of track where you can choose to head bang and shout your heart out, or just sit and soak in it, letting it fill you up and expand inside. We have just the right song for these types of moods and circumstances: Lié’s “Failed Visions.”

This trio of Vancouver badasses are cooking up some deliciously grungy post-punk music. Their debut album, Consent, provided social commentary about rape culture as told from the perspective of these three rockin’ ladies. It’s pretty damn relevant to some recent events, and great to hear the voices of strong women speaking their truth and not backing down from some of the more infuriating parts of our system.

“Failed Visions” is a single from their upcoming sophomore album Truth or Consequences, out August 12. Check out their single and let these tunes fill you up rather than rage, disappointment, and the slew of other negative feelings many of us are holding onto lately.

ALBUM PREMIERE: The By Gods “Get On Feelings”

The By Gods - Get On Feelings artwork high-res

“Playing the best songs, a crowded room when we were young:” The By Gods are releasing their latest album, Get On Feelings, this Friday, and it’s going to take you back a couple of years (or decades).

The Nashville band specializes in straightforward, sincere rock music. Similar to Beach Slang, George Pauley’s lyrics revel in nostalgia, but the band’s heavy, garage-rock sound is always moving forward. Along with Tye Hammonds on drums and Natalie Pauley on bass, he’s created an album that is a catchy throwback to 90’s rock (and a bit of grunge) that sounds familiar, but not like an exact copy of their influences. 

Key tracks are “Miss It,” a song with heavy echoes of remorse George’s voice as he sings about younger, rebellious years: “We’ll start a band, we’ll grow our hair/ God I miss it.” “On The Radio” is incredibly fun with a chorus that will make you want to jump around. You’ll have the opportunity to do that in person on February 26, when The By God’s will be playing at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan. For now, you can check out our exclusive stream of Get On Feelings below, and pre-order the album here.

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Stove “Is Stupider”

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Self deprecation abounds on Stove’s Is Stupider. It opens with “Stupider,” followed by “Stupid,” and later on, “Stupidest” and “Dumboy.” The record art labels Side A as “Side Stupid,” and Side B as “Side Beer.”

But for Steve Hartlett, who wrote all the songs and played all of the instruments on Is Stupider, stupid doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of knowledge, but maybe isolation, and a lack of identity; Hartlett created Stove after the dissolution of his former group, Ovlov. Stove is a combination of the words Steve and Ovlov. The struggle to find himself is a theme that runs throughout the album. It starts with the 20 second opener “Stupid,” which explains “Don’t  know who I am/ So I act like who I’m with.” He then addresses himself (or possibly a cat with the same name) on “Wet Food,” asking “Steve, where’d you go?” And “Dusty Tree” made the perfect Thanksgiving soundtrack, as it explores alienation from one’s own family: “Don’t you feel a bit insane planting your family tree? All the way the water never finds the seeds to grow.”   

Stove is lyrically introspective. Musically, the project is rough around the edges in the best way possible, with elements of grunge and post-punk. The music mopes a bit on songs like “Wet Food” and “Lowt-Ide Fins,” but bursts with energy on “Aged Hype” and “Dusty Tree.” Hartlett’s voice is earnest, if a little sad at times, and has a Guided By Voices-like ability to completely own moods and feelings for a few minutes at a time. Check out “Wet Food” below and you’ll see, he’s the smartest kind of stupid there is.

 

VIDEO REVIEW: Dilly Dally “The Touch”

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If your band practice doesn’t include hazy shadows, falling feathers, slinking felines and unbridled pain, you’re doing it wrong. Or, you’re just not on the same level as Toronto’s Dilly Dally (which would be admittedly hard to achieve). Led by long-time friends Katie Monks (vocals/guitar) and Liz Ball (guitar), the band has been bursting through unsuspecting earbuds everywhere after releasing their debut album Sore in early October and making waves at New York’s CMJ music festival.

Now they’ve shared their music video for “The Touch,” a song that Monks revealed was written with a very specific, urgent purpose: “I wrote this song for a friend of mine who was having suicidal thoughts… the song attempts to reach him in his dark place, and then lure him away from there.” Monks makes his pain her own in the black-and-white video by yelling, practically swallowing the mic, and holding onto her guitar like a life preserver. In the background, there’s a calming influence via her bandmates, their heads down as they focus on their instruments as feathers float and swirl around them.

As the band plays the heavy, fast beat and snarling guitars, the video occasionally cuts to a figure dressed in black, brandishing a whip: some sort of dominatrix superhero. While Monks sings about healing someone with a “woman’s touch,” she knows that sometimes, a soft touch won’t cut it. Sometimes, it takes a figurative slap in the face.

INTERVIEW: Happy Fangs

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Anyone that’s been likened to Bikini Kills lights up our radar. The Bay Area-based scuzz rockers Happy Fangs consists of Rebecca Bortman, Michael Cobra (Mr.Cobra), and Jess Gowrie. A name of dichotomy, Happy Fangs recently released their debut LP, Capricorn to critical acclaim. It’s the sort of music that will have your body thrashing before your brain knows what’s going on, lighting the way with the bridges you burn. We spoke with Happy Fang about Tina Turner, lack of sleep, and penning songs inspired by Jeff Goldblum’s lazer bears.

Audiofemme: So how did you guys meet and form a band?

Happy Fangs (All): Rebecca & Mr. Cobra met while playing in San Francisco bands that had one thing in common—Room 13, a practice space in The Tenderloin in San Francisco. We started out as a two piece with a drum machine but soon realized we wanted a live drummer to help kick up the energy. We searched so far, we ended up all the way out in Sacramento where we found Jess Gowrie, the best drummer in the world.

AF: Where does the name Happy Fangs derive from?

HF: When you have a bandmate with the legal last name of Cobra, you’ve gotta have a ferocious band name. When you have a bandmate as giddy as Rebecca, sometimes the band names itself. Jess joined after the band was named but she is truly the perfect third fang.

AF: Where is your favorite hometown venue to perform in?

HF: We just played we just play Great American Music Hall as the hometown show on this tour. Imagine playing in a Great-Gatsby-style 1920s venue with all the grandeur, gold, and velvet that you’d expect! Mr. Cobra was warming up on guitar before our set only to look over to see a picture of Robert Plant warming up on his guitar in the same spot. It’s so awesome to play at a venue that’s had so many amazing musicians grace the stage!

AF: How does the city of San Francisco influence your sound?

HF: We are actually a duel city band. Jess lives in Sacramento. That being said I think the urban environments that all three of us choose to live in contributes greatly to the pace and drive of our music.

AF: You’re currently on tour – What do you miss most from home while traveling?

HF: Sleep! What is that again?

AF: Can we expect to catch you on the East Coast anytime soon?

HF: Plans are in the works!

AF: Who were your musical icons?

Rebecca: Tina Turner has influenced me before I only understood that singing was different than talking. Her moves & her glamour & that incredible stage presence!

Mr. Cobra: Mine are an amalgamation of King Buzzo, Pepper Keenan, and Ian MacKay.

Jess: I’ve been called many names: Phyllis Collins, Joanna Bonham, Donna Henley. Singing drummers aren’t easy to find!

AF: If you could have anyone join you on stage – who would it be?

HF: David Bowie, Beth Gibbons from Portishead, and Jesse Keeler of Death from Above 1979 could join us on stage anytime.

AF: You’ve been called the next coming of Bikini Kill, are you fans, and how does the comparison make you feel?

HF: We’ve started covering Rebel Girl at our live shows and I’m not going to lie to you: all the girls are upfront! Come see us live and see for yourself!

AF: How would you as a group describe your sound?

HF: Hard on the outside, soft in the center, BYOearplugs.

AF: The visuals of your performances have often been noticed – can you tell me a little bit about that?

HF: We take the duality of our name to heart. You will never find color on stage with us. Everything on stage is black-and-white. If you take a picture of us at one of our shows there is no mistaking that it’s Happy Fangs. You will always find us warpainted at the start of our set and most of it sweat off by the end.

AF: What was the inspiration behind the first album?

HF: We are all three continually inspired by each other. We are also all three Capricorn seagoats–stubborn and persistent. We were gung ho on finishing this album and releasing it to the world as soon as possible, and January 27 was that perfect time at right after the Capricorn cycle!

AF: I read that you create a new song based on the audience’s suggestions at each performance. What’s the wildest suggestion you’ve gotten?

HF: Jeff Goldblum’s lazer bears!

Thanks, Happy Fangs! Steam Capricorn below.

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WILLONA ON WAX: Seattle Grunge & African Psych

Willona On Wax Vol. 1

Each month in Willona on Wax, Willona Sloan reviews new vinyl, reissues, and vintage finds. For her first installment, she reviews a Soul Jazz comp of lesser-known Northwestern grunge bands, and an Analog Africa comp of psychedelic sounds from Benin and Togo.

NEW VINYL

No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (Volume One)
Compilation by Soul Jazz Records

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The thing is, I really wanted to like this record.  From the first song I heard — Thrillhammer’s “Alice’s Palace” — I knew that I would.

The majority of the bands on No Seattle never got record deals; they didn’t tour extensively outside of the North-West region and they didn’t achieve fame; therefore, their output was often raw and unpolished. The liner notes set the context for how tiny the rock scenes were in these small towns in Washington and Oregon, where the floor breaking from the walls at a house show could be a band’s biggest (or at least most memorable) gig — as it was for the band Pod.

It’s easy now to see how Nirvana evolved from this music scene.  The band’s Bleach-era songs fit neatly into this musical context, where bands were blending hard rock, metal and punk with throaty vocals that matched the ferocity of the music.

Often, comps lose steam and focus, but Volume One is solid all the way through.  Stand-outs include the delightful Starfish track “This Town;” a grungy, psychedelic tune by Yellow Snow called “Take Me For A Ride;” and Crunchbird’s erratic and emo “Woodstock Unvisited.”

Packaging: Double LP with a digital download code. The liner notes explain the idea behind the comp and give brief band bios.

Where to Get It: Purchase No Seattle from Soul Jazz Records here.

 

VINTAGE VINYL

African Scream Contest—Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s
Compilation by Analog Africa

African Scream contest

While record shopping in downtown Athens, GA, I saw this amazing album cover propped on display: an African singer, leaning cool, dark sunglasses, flared bottoms and a rock ‘n’ roll mic tilt that meant business.

This marvelously funky, groovy compilation reissues singles from popular 1960’s and 1970’s artists from Benin and Togo.  The compilation is the painstaking work of an enthusiastic German-based collector who selected the included tracks from the thousands of records he discovered during crate-digging expeditions in the two countries during the early 2000’s. In his notes, Samy Ben Redjeb explains that during the 1960’s and 1970’s the music of Benin and Togo was influenced primarily by Cuban and Brazilian rhythms; Congolese-style Highlife; French-African music, local traditional music, which included music used during Vodun (Voodoo) ceremonies; as well as American soul and funk.

Despite being a mishmash of influences, the compilation works well as a unit of highly danceable tunes. Standouts include “Oya Ka Jojo” by Les Volcans De la Capital; “Mi Kple Dogbekpo” by Lokonon André & Les Volcans; “Se Na Min” by El Rego et Ses Commandos and “Gbeti Madjro” by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou (video below).

Packaging: The inserts include interviews with the musicians, many of whose records have been long out of print.

Where to Get It: You can order the vinyl or CD or get digital downloads from Analog Africa here.

 

 

EP REVIEW: “Sleeper Remixes”

CarmenVillain_bySimonSkreddernesHonestly, I’m still at a loss as to why this 12″–an assembly of three remixed tracks off 2013’s full-length Sleeper–exists. Carmen Hillestad, alias Carmen Villain, who ended a successful modeling career three years ago to focus on playing and writing music, released Sleeper this past March, bringing with it a delicately crafted blend of ethereal psych-rock and lo-fi nineties grit. The vocals on that album–the best and most conspicuous aspect of Villain’s performance–seemed to by turns float over and grab at the melodies, always with a palpable undertone of something ominous in the background. The first single off that album, “Lifeissin,” struck that balance exquisitely, creating out of Villain’s voice a persona that was empathetic as well as occasionally becoming a bit obscured and even scary. Unadorned bored-but-beautiful vocals, which, at some points, channelled Nico of The Velvet Underground & Nico, made creepy lyrics (“Stories be told, this is a life, open the curtains/Do you believe I’m going to hell?”) creepier.

But the least satisfying aspects of Sleeper–the album’s floating directionlessness  that couldn’t, for all its distortion-licked guitar lines and catchy, cyclical vocal hooks, carry momentum through all twelve tracks–can only be magnified through remix. The original album needed more grabbing and less floating. On the most recent EP, Villain abandons all semblance of storytelling in the vocals in favor of creating an entirely atmospheric sound. Her voice has no life of its own on this recording, and merely operates in service to the instrumentals.

Which would be fine, if the original versions of the songs didn’t depend so heavily on the persona Villain created to fit them when she released her first album. The mysterious, mysteriously dark character that we first encountered moving through Sleeper  does not really make an appearance on this newly envisioned collection of tracks. However, since the songs were initially created with a heavier vocal presence, the listening experience feels lacking, as if there’s a giant hole in the sound.

“Most of my songs are about escaping something–escaping this weird vacuum, an unsatisfying world,” Villain has said. Indeed, the three extended tracks on this album– “Dreamo (Peaking Lights Remix),” “Obedience (Bjørn Torske Remix)” and  “How Much (A JD Optimo Mix)”–all have a hunted feel to them. This is mostly due to the percussion line, which carries strong weight on every track, leading the surrounding collection of instrumentals in gentle, almost playful, journeys up and down their registers. The color of the melody is always shifting slightly, never sitting still for longer than a few seconds. The attention paid to keeping the instrumentals alive and vibrant on this album adds nice dimension to each track, although (for me, at least) this is no substitution for the strong vocal presence we saw on the full-length release. That being lacking, the mystery on its way towards being developed in Sleeper now feels flattened, overly obscure and boring.

Imagine going to a play, and discovering that in this play there will be no actors and no story line, only an elaborate stage set and really, really good lighting. That’s kind of the experience of listening to Carmen Villain’s remixes. Somewhere in the reinterpretation, these songs have lost a lot of their pull since appearing as originals on Sleeper.

You can go here to purchase the Sleeper Remixes EP via Amazon, or here for the original Sleeper CD via Saki Store. Also, be sure to check out “Dreamo (Peaking Lights Remix)” via Soundcloud below!

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FLASHBACK FRIDAY: ’90s One Hit Genres

BigBeatEvery decade has its short-lived fads, and music genres can often be just that—trends that soon decline into little more than effigies of cheesy stereotypes. The 1990’s had no shortage of these one-hit-wonder genres, which reached massive heights only to be supplanted by other genres du jour before Y2K. So, for a true flashback, here’s a smattering of ’90s-defining genres and the songs that still bring pigtails, slap bracelets, and Doc Martens to mind.

Big Beat

When you imagine a typical ‘90s rave, you probably picture strobe lights flashing, skinny girls in baby blue crop tops dancing awkwardly, and some big beat playing in the background. Big beat had its start in the underground scene, emerging from the “acid house” movement of the late ‘80s; but the genre quickly came to dominate pretty much every dancefloor in the ‘90s. It had mass appeal, fusing the sample-heavy aspects of hip-hop with techno synthiness and pop conventionality. Eventually, the catchy and upbeat sounds of DJs like Fatboy Slim and Lionrock would become cheesy and tiresome, appearing in every movie with a club or action scene, and by the time the new millennium rolled around, the entire scene had pretty much died out. But I, for one, still walk into clubs hoping someone will play a little Basement Jaxx.

Third-wave Ska

The history of ska can be divided into three individual periods: the first wave, which encompasses the original scene that was born in Jamaica in the ‘50s and includes bands like The Skatalites, the second wave, or 2 Tone, which was popular in the UK in the ‘70s and incorporated elements of punk to create bands like The Specials, and the third wave, which became a staple sound of the ‘90s in the U.S. This ska revival would spawn bands like Dance Hall Crashers and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which had their 15 minutes of fame at the peak of ‘90s ska popularity (say, 1996 or so), while other ska-punk outfits, such as Sublime and No Doubt, would achieve a little more long-term gravitas.

Grunge

Yep, the quintessentially ‘90s genre that is renowned for its flannel-wearing, greasy-haired poster boy, Kurt Cobain, but Nirvana’s enduring mainstream success doesn’t detract from the simple fact that grunge and its surrounding culture is unequivocally tethered to this one decade. The angsty lovechild of punk and metal, grunge was actually born in the late ‘80s as a very localized scene in Seattle. Bands like Tad, Green River, and Soundgarden were staples of the underground movement until the early ‘90s, when the genre very quickly became a nationwide fad and subsequently lost its authenticity and alternative appeal. By the mid-‘90s, grunge had sunken into itself—in true rock ’n roll fashion, the genre lived fast and died young.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Hit So Hard (The Life and Near-Death Story of Patty Schemel)

I’ve been on a bit of a grunge binge lately. It could be that the onset of certain anniversaries, observed by nearly everyone who cared about music in the mid-nineties, turns collective thought to the anti-heroes of the genre who destroyed themselves in the process of creating it. But for all the stars that burn out, there are some who reticently fade away – at least, until now. One of those stars is Patty Schemel, drummer of Hole. I was lucky enough to meet Patty (along with bassist Melissa Auf der Mar and guitarist Eric Erlandson) at a book signing just a few weeks ago, and it was there I became aware of another Hole-related project – a documentary entitled Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.

Hit So Hard is certainly unique in its focus. Though a drummer’s playing is the heartbeat that propels any song, drummers are so often pushed to the back of the stage, hidden behind a shiny kit, while more prominent players soak up the spotlight. Renowned in Seattle circles for her powerful drumming long before becoming a part of Hole, Patty Schemel struggled with alcohol abuse while exploring her sexual identity, and with that came a deep pain that made her work as a musician that much more honest and immediate. With very few female role models in her situation (the handful of them, including Alice de Buhl of Fanny, Debbie Peterson of the Bangles, Gina Schock of the Go-Go’s, and Kate Schellenbach of Lucious Jackson, are interviewed in the film), Patty fearlessly blazed new trails with each twirl and flourish of the sticks. But as Hole began their meteoric rise to rock stardom, that very trail became a treacherous one, filled with tragic death and out-of-control addictions.

Schemel’s story packs a huge punch, but filmmakers David Ebersole and Todd Hughes don’t present it with a flow that’s concise enough, fidgeting around from subject to subject with jolting affect. Schemel’s extraordinary life is offered in dissected segments which fail to render her life cohesively. The sophomoric use of hot-pink title cards in punk-rock fonts are intensely grating and make the whole film feel like a series of movie trailers for a documentary that never happens.

That being said, the doc has two things going for it. First, the breadth of interviews with those who were closest to Schemel is commendable, including her bandmates from Hole (even Courtney Love appears in all her plasticized “glory”), friends from the Seattle music scene, and some very candid commentary from her family members. Secondly, parts of the documentary focused on the most nostalgic era of grunge are culled from personal footage that Schemel captured with a camcorder she was given while on tour. But the footage she captured is not just tour footage – there are hours of heart-rending home videos of Kurt and Courtney just after the birth of their daughter, Frances Bean, filmed when Patty lived with them in Seattle. We see the fragility of this family unit, knowing the future in a way the subjects could not when the footage was shot. It is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and serves as a reminder of how integral Schemel was to the drama that would later play out.

And while most can give at least a brief summary of the somber fate of Kurt Cobain, original Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, or many of the other heroin casualties of that era, Schemel’s story has been obscured for years. Hole’s popularity went through a resurgence after the release of 1998’s Celebrity Skin, and while Schemel was featured in promotional photos from the era, punishing producer Michael Beinhorn took the drum parts she had written and replaced her recordings with those of session drummer Deen Castronovo.  Understandably, this sent Schemel into a spiral of self-doubt resulting in her departure from the band, followed tragically by relapse, homelessness and prostitution. As someone who idolized this band, listened to that album on repeat, and never knew that Schemel had been replaced by a hired gun, this was the one thing that was extremely shocking to me – I’d always thought I was listening to Schemel on the record, not some beefed-up jock completely unconnected to the compositions or the group dynamic. I felt almost ashamed that I hadn’t even noticed the awkward doppelgangers standing in for Schemel in music videos, and was appalled that none  of her bandmates stepped into help her while she was living on the streets and Hole was living it up.

But Schemel’s story ends on a happier note; these days she passes on her drumming skills as a music teacher (several of her students are interviewed, which is kind of mind-blowing) and rehabilitating stray dogs. She’s survived the storm of making it big in a heroin-addled rock band and lived to tell the tale. Even if her story is presented in a somewhat sloppily cobbled package courtesy of the filmmakers, it is still a compelling piece of rock-n-roll history well worth telling.

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