INTERVIEW: Bonnie Bloomgarden of Death Valley Girls Discusses the Band’s Dark Side

Around this time of year, it’s natural – or should I say supernatural? – to think about the mysteries of the unseen. Ghosts, spirits, forces – things we can feel but don’t know how to explain. While some of us like to dabble in the supernatural world for a few days out of the year, the members of LA-based band Death Valley Girls (Bonnie Bloomgarden, Larry Schemel, Nicole Smith, and Laurie Kelsey), live in a spiritual realm year-round. The band has made a lifestyle out of seeking answers to the world’s mysteries and translating their experiences into hard-hitting, ghoulish rock ‘n’ roll music.

The band’s latest album Darkness Rains is a lurid body of work that reflects the group’s exchanges with the spiritual world, accompanied by their qualms with the material world. While past records like Glow in The Dark ride the band’s recurring theme of celestial encounters, Darkness Rains is clouded with an overarching sense of gloom that’s not present in past works. While lead singer Bloomgarden says the ominous theme wasn’t intentional – the record was named after the studio dog – she blames the album’s solemnity on her surroundings. “I think we can safely state that it’s been a really dark, hard few years,” says Bloomgarden. “That’s just what’s happening. I didn’t want it to be somber, I wanted to make people happy.”

We talked to Bloomgarden about channeling spirits while writing Darkness Rains, performing at haunted hotels, and Iggy Pop’s undeniable reign as the coolest person ever.

AF: I love the new record. One of the songs that sticks out to me is “Street Justice.” I feel like that phrase brings a lot of things to mind. Where was your mindset when you wrote the song?

BB: We’re individually very political, but that’s our personal life. For the band, we’re entertainers. Our job is to make people happier and bring people together to see rock ‘n’ roll and enjoy something outside of their life that might be bothering them. I think it’s cool when bands are super political, but that’s just not something we wanted to be because we wanted to bring people together. But I feel like, with that song, we just couldn’t help it. We have ways that we feel and there are so many things going on that are unjust. None of the words were intentional – we write the words for all the songs the morning we record – it just popped out from outer space or wherever they come from. But then afterwards were like, “Woah, that actually has a lot of meaning. Cool. That’s way better than if it didn’t mean anything.” Things need to change for sure. Especially the way people treat other people sexually, and that’s kind of what it’s about.

AF: For sure. That’s crazy that you write all the songs the morning you record!

BB: Yeah, I’m a bad attention span person, so it’s really hard to just sit down and write, because doing almost everything else is just way more fun. So then right before we go in, I’m like “Oh shit, I didn’t write the words.” Everyone knows I’m lying when I’m like “I have the words, don’t worry.” Then I’m like, I really gotta do this and it’s just like channeling. All of them will just flop out from somewhere. They go through my head and then on paper. They all just come out exactly as they are, it’s really weird. I don’t know how or why that happens. We’ve been trying to look more into “automatic writing” – when your hand just writes stuff and you’re channeling.

AF: That’s intense. Some of the lyrics are pretty dark. What prompted that?

BB: We like dark stuff but a lot of it is interest in death and what happens after you die and not wanting to wait until we die to find out. And also, not wanting people to be sad when people die because in 2017 everyone was dying and we were just like, oh my god. Doesn’t everyone know that everyone’s going to die and all we can do is change the way we look at it? Why don’t we try and change that? And what if what it looks like is that we’re happy we got to even be together at all? It’s dark stuff but you can still smile. And it can make you be inspired to fix stuff. It doesn’t have to make you just hide.

AF: For sure. I read in another article that the band has had a lot of supernatural experiences… are those still happening?

BB: Oh yeah, every day I learn more and more and I’m like, woah, there’s so many mysteries in the universe. We want to know more and there’s so much more. I think everyone thinks about it in different ways, but we’re more excited about it so we talk about it more. Everyone has weird beliefs, our band is just kind of our life. It’s the way we live our whole life, most jobs you get to walk away from it at night, but this is our job all the time. Just thinking about stuff. The more we think about supernatural stuff, the more we think in general, the more we ask each other, the more we wanna figure stuff out and the more excited we get and want to write new songs.

AF: Has anything supernatural happened on this tour?

BB: Well, we did play at this super haunted hotel that one of us got possessed at three years ago. The tale behind that is very long and complicated, but we played there and it’s definitely haunted. There’s a feeling you can get in your lymph nodes when you walk into a super haunted place. It feels icky and the ceiling seems to feel like it’s way closer. These are just things we’ve learned and noted throughout the years. We stayed there and it was just interesting to be able to have those feelings in our lymph nodes, sort of like a nauseous feeling. Every place you go isn’t completely haunted with negative energy and not everywhere you go is even haunted. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts but I know they’re there when I feel them. We did find out the person that got possessed used an Ouija board last time we were there and you’re not supposed to use that. Ever. I feel really bad, I’ve been blaming this hotel for years when really it was our fault.

AF: Because of the Ouija board?

BB: Yeah, I don’t think you should use them anywhere. You can make your own, but they’re just like portals… I mean, of course it’s all conjecture, but I believe because it’s a thing you purchase and it’s so impersonal, you shouldn’t buy those because it’s an easy way for different ghosts that you aren’t asking to talk to come through and that’s when dangerous things happen. If you make your own, you have more control. I cannot recommend lowly enough the Ouija board. It ruins people’s lives.

AF: What made you want to go back to that hotel even though you had a creepy experience there?

BB: This is gonna sound crazy, but we feel like we’re paranormal investigators. We want to know more. And we put ourselves in situations that we know aren’t necessarily gonna feel that good, but who wouldn’t want to know more? We were between two places in Arizona – Tucson and Bisbee – and we chose the place that had a higher potential of haunted-ness. That’s just something that’s important to us. I don’t know why, it just seems like, why wouldn’t you want to experience more? But I got really scared. I was the last one to go to bed and the beds were like a foot above the ground and I was like ‘no ghosts allowed on the bed, no ghosts allowed on the bed, no ghosts allowed in the mirror.’ I don’t know, I guess we like to be scared. We just wanna find out the mysteries that surround us. I think that seems normal.

AF: I think it is, I think a lot of people are afraid of what they don’t know.

BB: But they love some things that they don’t know. Like, they love God or their special friend in the sky. Why is that any less weird than some of the cool things that are on earth and in the sky. I’m not poo-pooing anyone. I believe that if they believe it and enough people believe it, then it’s real. There is god and all the things that everyone believes. The power of person to create what person believes is really just as powerful as an actual spirit. We can manifest things that don’t exist by the power of our mind. It’s really weird. If you believe something’s going to happen then it has a much better chance of happening than if you don’t believe it at all.

AF: Speaking of that, I was dying when I saw your music video with Iggy Pop just chilling eating a cheeseburger. How?

BB: I can’t believe it. When I hear people talking about it, I’m like, that can’t possibly be real. He’s exactly who I wanted him to be. Just the coolest person in the world. Obviously. It’s not like I was surprised but it’s always nice to find out that the coolest person in the world IS actually the coolest person in the world.

AF: How did that all come together?

BB: He played us on his radio station like two years ago on my birthday and I woke up and saw my phone and it said “Iggy Pop says our band is a gift to the world.” And I was like – is this a birthday prank? Did somebody Photoshop this and put it on Twitter? Then I just jumped around for 20 minutes and was screaming. That he knew of our band and he said the name of our band – all of this alone would’ve been enough for me to be happy for the rest of my life. But then we found out he played us, and our friend Kansas Bowling who directs most of our videos was like “Tonight I had this dream that Iggy was doing the Andy Warhol video of Andy Warhol eating a burger. We should just do this for your music video.” And she just made it happen. We never let our minds believe that it could possibly be real, but then we started seeing emails that were like, saying it was going to happen. Then we decided we had to go. And we went and we met him. It lasted so long, the feeling of how cool he is. It’s like a drug or something. It made us better people, just to be in his presence. If you were to ask us who’s one person in the world you’d like to meet, we would’ve said him but we’d be like “but we never will.” Even still, if someone was like “What if you could meet one person in the world?” We’d be like, “Iggy Again.”

Catch Death Valley Girls on tour now through the end of Scorpio season:

10.30.18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
11.01.18 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
11.02.18 – Cleveland, OH @ The Winchester
11.03.18 – Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx
11.04.18 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
11.05.18 – Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
11.07.18 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
11.08.18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
11.09.18 – Boise, ID @ The Olympic
11.11.18 – Chico, CA @ Duffy’s
11.13.18 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
11.14.18 – Vancouver, BC @ Fox Cabaret
11.15.18 – Bellingham, WA @ The Shakedown
11.16.18 – Seattle, WA @ Freakout
11.17.18 – Eugene, OR @ Old Nicks
11.20.18 – San Francisco, CA Rickshaw Stop

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

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Sic Tic photo by Janeth Ann Gonda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AF: How did Sic Tic form?

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

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

AF: How did you two meet?

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

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

FR: Pretty sure Shorty sealed the deal.

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

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

AF: Have you ever written a song about animals?

JN: Just human animals!

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

FR: Shorty is a little biscuit colored pit bull.

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

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Jenna & Shorty – photo by Jenna Nelson

AF: What’s Shorty’s backstory?

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

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Frank & Shorty – photo by Frank Rathbone

AF: Did you have pets growing up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FR: Blueberries.

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

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

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

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Sic Tic photo by Secret Loft

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

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

AF: Do you have a favorite song about animals?

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

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ONLY NOISE: One More Cup of Coffee

I’ve stopped counting the number of times “coffee” is mentioned in Patti Smith’s M Train. The short answer is: a lot; coffee is the lifeblood coursing through the entire book. Coffee is the daily elixir of Smith’s life, and she finds great poetry in every sip – from hand-selected, highland grown beans in Veracruz, to the charred offerings of Styrofoam deli cups – she wants “to write an aria to coffee.” Yet, quite surprisingly, the poet and songwriter never did. Smith’s connotations with coffee result from her caffeine-fueled memoirs and New York coffee shop patronage, and she is therefore one of the artists I most strongly associate with those bitter brown beans. I imagine that her version of heaven is an eternal corner table in her favorite café, where the brown bread and olive oil never run out and the coffee flows black and hot.

Considering today is National Coffee Day, I can’t help but think about the decades, even centuries long relationship between music and coffee. Who are the musicians who’ve paid homage to the drink named Joe? And which artists, like Smith, evoke coffee shop romanticism without needing to sing of a single sip?

Since Smith never wrote her aria di caffè, I can only speculate what coffee represents to her. In M Train it signifies ritual; each day of import is commenced with a description of her coffee and breakfast regimen, but not in an Instagram diary manner. Smith isn’t keeping a food journal for fitness purposes. Rather, it seems that every sip of coffee transports her back in time, where she can commune with her beloved Beat poets, and sit in Mohammed Mrabet’s fictional The Beach Café for a little while. Surely it must also evoke her greatest influence, Bob Dylan, and his early days at the Gaslight Café.

Coffee pairs with Bob Dylan just as well as cigarettes (a classic duo we’ll get to in a moment.) From his Greenwich Village coffee shop days and his caffeinated delivery on songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Talkin’ New York,” to his 1975 ballad “One More Cup of Coffee,” Dylan and java go hand-in-hand. In fact, because of his proximity to the Beats, Dylan was one of the musicians who pioneered the image of a rock n’ roll poet holed up in a café, dousing themselves with free refills and stamping out smokes while scribbling lyrics. Smith merely conjured her idols, and eventually became one herself.

Like Patti Smith, Tom Waits never wrote a song with the word “coffee” in the title – but can you think of a musician more at home on the pleather booth seats of a 24-hour diner? Waits is seemingly made of coffee grounds, burger grease, and cigarette tar. The same year that Dylan released “One More Cup of Coffee,” Waits recorded his iconic live album Nighthawks at the Diner, a jazz-beat-opera to the greasy spoon lifestyle. The most caffeinated track on Nighthawks has to be “Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson),” which relays the deadbeat clientele and menu options of a roadside-dining joint. “…There’s a rendezvous/of strangers around the coffee urn tonight/all the gypsy hacks, the insomniacs…/eggs and sausage and a side of toast/coffee and a roll, has browns over easy…/it’s a graveyard charade, a late shift masquerade.”

If Bob Dylan and Patti Smith claimed cafés for the poets, Waits reclaimed them for their rightful patrons: nightshift gas station attendants, prostitutes, and aimless drunks. When bars are only open until 4am (2am if you are on the West Coast like Waits), where is one to go in the wee and in between hours? The diner of course, where coffee flows cheaply and liberally. That is the beauty of coffee shops and canteens: they offer refuge for those who don’t have an office or a studio, and can’t afford to wash themselves in fine wine or dine out on the regular. In the coffee shop, you can purchase a single item (a cup of coffee) and sit for hours on end working, reading, or simply sipping. And not too long ago, you could also smoke.

It’s no coincidence that Waits sings of “cold caffeine in a nicotine cloud” in “Eggs And Sausage.” The narcotic pair has been canonized in literature, music, and film for years. Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 flick Coffee and Cigarettes plumbs the eternal relationship between the two vices, and whom does he turn to for much of his cast? Musicians, naturally. Coffee and Cigarettes is comprised of eleven short scenes revolving around the titular pleasures. Three of these scenes involve famous musicians, the most memorable being Somewhere In California, featuring Iggy Pop and, you guessed it, Tom Waits.

The rock icons meet in a corner booth, sipping black coffee and making awkward conversation. Though Pop and Waits both quit smoking long ago, a mysterious pack of Marlboros sits on the table. The marriage of coffee and cigarettes (and coffee and rock n’ roll and cigarettes) is so undeniable, that the smokes have just magically appeared. After realizing that since they’ve already quit, they can now partake every once in a while, Waits and Pop light up and bask in nicotine. “Hey, cigarettes and coffee man…that’s a combination,” says Iggy. Waits nods in agreement. “You know, we’re really like the coffee-and-cigarettes generation, when you think about it,” he says. “Well I mean, in the ‘40s it was the pie-and-coffee generation…”

When Otis Redding recorded “Cigarettes and Coffee” for The Soul Album in 1966, the substances seemed to represent domestic bliss as well as stimulating conversation. “It’s early in the morning/About a quarter till three,” sings Redding, “I’m sittin’ here talkin’ with my baby/Over cigarettes and coffee, now.” Perhaps Redding’s positioning of coffee in rock n’ roll is the most honest – suggesting that its warmth and ceremonial nature recalls home.

Other than booze and blood, coffee has to be the most romantic liquid in the Western Song Book. Cowboys and rappers like it black (unless you’re the Beastie Boys, and must have your “sugar with coffee and cream.”) Blur has it with TV, Squeeze drinks it in bed, and Kate Bush wants it homeground. And in the 1970s, Patti Smith ventured to all the way to Mexico is search of the ideal brew. “It was February 14,” she recalls in M Train, “and I was about to give my heart to a perfect cup of coffee.”

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Highlights from FYF 2017

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Missy Elliott tweeted this selfie with Bkörk after their FYF headlining sets, calling the Icelandic singer “legendary.”

City festivals are always a little tougher on the spirit (and the feet) than their grassy, lets-camp-by-the-lake cousins. FYF may not have Coachella’s lush grass or Bonnaroo’s rowdy camping, but the lineup is always strong, and this year was no exception. Event organizers added a third day this year, a fact I was reminded of often (by people who do not consider three days a cake walk). There were a few disappointments (I could write a dissertation on the length of time Missy Elliot was actually on stage during her set), but the standouts for this fest were mainly classic acts, with a few surprises from up-and-coming stars.

Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals sweat out the small stuff. 

On the way out of the festival, before we hit a street that looked Lyft-capable, our group unanimously agreed that Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals killed it. Some might even say they were better than fireworks. The set was tight and intense, mirroring the ferocity of Paak’s drumming. Paak once described the dynamics of a great performance saying “people are going to a show and they want you to give them life, and in return they’re gonna have a moment.” They may not be a classic yet, but it was honor seeing them well on their way.

Björk danced with the birds.

The last time I saw Björk, she was performing during the heat of the day at Bonnaroo and I was not digging it; I left the show to find greener grasses. This year, however, my cynicism was short-lived. Backed by an orchestra and dressed in colorful layers of fabric that mimicked the feathers of a male bird, Björk impressed at every turn, her performance visceral and commanding.

A final bow from A Tribe Called Quest.

“This is our final performance here in L.A. as Tribe, obviously because Phife Dawg, our anchor, has been called to another mission,” Q-Tip announced Saturday to the crowd. The remaining members of Tribe (Q-Tip, Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad) are in mourning, but their performance was not a dirge – it was a tribute. It was a greatest hits kind of night, with the band rocketing through “Can I Kick It?” “Buggin’ Out” and “Check the Rime” before ending on “We The People.”

Iggy Pop left his shirt at home. 

Iggy Pop doesn’t give a shit if you think he looks old. I heard quite a few rumblings about Iggy’s lack of shirt throughout the performance, but honestly, who cares? Iggy Pop obliterated his set. He cocked his hips, he licked his lips, he sidled up to the front of the stage and screamed into the roaring crowd. “Lust For Life” was an obvious highlight. I enjoyed seeing kids hopping up and down on their parents shoulders. A pregnant woman sipping an iced coffee weaved through the crowd, a sideways smile on her face as the music blared. Iggy paused for a moment, a rock legend showin’ his stuff.

Soul searching with Solange

Solange brought the pageantry, the style, and the soul to FYF. “I want y’all to sing it away,” she commanded the crowd, in that fluttery, soft voice of hers. Along with her 8-piece band and dancers, Solange dressed all in red. Choreographed micro-movements throughout the show acted as punctuation marks: a hand flick, a hurried body stopping suddenly, an arched head, gazing up at the sky. A Seat At The Table is an important album for Solange, it marks her maturity as an artist, as 2012’s True marked her maturity as a woman. By the end of the show, Solange brought a fleet of musicians onstage; the set glowed red as the final notes of “Losing You” played. A collective sigh of appreciation fell around me.

Nine Inch Nails confronts the world.

I’ve always been a little intimidated by Nine Inch Nails. When I saw they would be closing out FYF, I wasn’t sure what kind of feeling that would leave me with. After a weekend on the concrete, sipping beer, chilling out to Erykah Badu and Angel Olsen, would I want to check out feeling angry and morose? Trent Reznor said the band had been “hiding out and watching the world go crazy” since they last performed live three years ago. In a world gone mad, it did feel good hearing Trent Reznor scream. The crowd screamed back in unison and a feeling of unity washed over me. The performance was short, intense, ultimately cathartic for all involved.

Our Lyft driver played trance music on ride back to Venice. It was a nice, sleepy way to get home. My mind was full of dancing birds and the lyrics to “Get Ur Freak On.” Unlike Coachella or Bonnaroo, I didn’t leave feeling burnt out; I left FYF Fest feeling refreshed, feeling ready to fight another day.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Changes at MTV, Rodents + Rush & More

  • MTV Ends Its “Era” Of Longform Journalism 

    The site has laid off a sizable portion of their editorial staff in a (possibly misguided?) effort to give millennials what they really want, a.k.a. “short-form video content.” An in-depth article by Spin breaks down this shift, and reveals MTV News’ troubling loyalty to artists over its writers. Inside sources state that lukewarm reviews of Chance the Rapper and Kings Of Leon were removed from the cite after complaints from the artists’ management. Read the whole thing here

  • Meet The Capybara Babies Named After Rush

    Naming animals after rockstars is the best trend to come out of 2017. The latest species to get the eponymous treatment is the freakishly adorable capybara, the world’s largest rodent from South America. The triplets of two well-known capybaras named Bonnie and Clyde, who gained fame after running away from their Toronto zoo for 36 days, were recently named after Rush’s Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. Look below for what you really came here for: videos of the huge rodents doing cute stuff. 

  • Listen To She Keeps Bees’ Healthcare Protest 

    It’s a somber but fiery track, delivered by She Keeps Bees at a very appropriate time as Republican leaders decide to hold off on voting on the health care bill until after the July 4th holiday. Rather than go the subtle route, “Our Bodies” ends with a very literal, unmistakable message: “Our bodies are our own… don’t control me, we demand autonomy.” Listen below.

 

NEWS ROUNDUP: Bandcamp Donates to ACLU, Shea Stadium & More

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Courtesy of bandcamp.com

  • Today, 100% of Bandcamp Proceeds Go To ACLU

    While many artists are already pledging that the profits from their album purchase will be donated to a charity, Bandcamp has one-upped them all (not that philanthropy is a contest, because as long as people are contributing, everybody wins). Today, any proceeds the website makes will go to the ACLU. So get online, buy some great music, and support one of the most important organizations ever!

  • Musical Responses To The #MuslimBan

    Last Friday Trump signed an executive order forcing airports to detain and deport immigrants and refugees entering from seven Muslim-majority countries, regardless of their immigration status. Protestors, lawyers and the taxi drivers weren’t having it. Neither were many musicians, who responded in various ways. Grimes and Sia announced they would match donations made to the Council on American-Islam Relations and the ACLU. Ethically questionable ride-share app Uber turned off surge pricing during a JFK taxi strike protesting the ban, which many interpreted as a way to profit from the taxi drivers’ act of solidarity. In response, “Uber Everywhere” artist Madeintyo said he would be switching to Lyft.

    As for actual music, Spotify compiled a playlist of 20 songs from artists who were once refugees, including Queen, Regina Spektor, M.I.A and the Fugees. We also recommend NPR’s Music In Exile series, which tells the stories of musicians who are refugees.

https://open.spotify.com/user/spotify/playlist/7v1BarmZ8HAbm5qxidROPB

  • Shea Stadium Begins To Relocate Shows

    With several events abruptly canceled thanks to police and fire departments raids, the DIY venue in industrial Bushwick is closing, hopefully temporarily. The venue’s Facebook page states: “In the face of recent challenges we’ll be dark for the next two weeks as we restructure and plan for the future.” Scheduled shows are being postponed and/or relocated to nearby venues, such as The Gateway, Silent Barn and Trans-Pecos. 2016 took a lot of important venues away; hopefully Shea Stadium won’t be 2017’s first casualty.

  • Other Highlights

    Bey is having twins, RIP Geoff Nicholls of Black Sabbath, Iggy Pop contributes spoken word to the new PINS EP, Listen to Future Islands’ new song “Ran” and Blondie’s new song “Fun,” Beach House are releasing a b-sides compilation and touring, and whether you hate or love football, check out this alternate Super Bowl performance featuring the feline version of Lady Gaga.

ONLY NOISE: Music For Airports

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When Brian Eno first got the idea to make Ambient 1/Music For Airports, he was indeed within such a place: the Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany, to be exact. His goal was to make music to “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular” according to the record’s liner notes. This music would be “as ignorable as it is interesting,” ultimately neutralizing the chaotic and tense microcosm that is an airline terminal, or as I like to call it, hell on earth.

The record itself is many things: soothing, transcendent, gorgeous, subtle…adjectives which today, almost 40 years after the release of Music For Airports, are light-years from capturing the foul, soul-sucking, hyper-capitalistic essence of even the “nicest” plane parking lots.

Eno, completely aware of the hectic, complex world of the airport, wanted to make music that addressed the specific needs of such a space, and he didn’t mince words when explaining those needs. In an interview from a few decades ago, he describes his inspiration in greater depth.

“It came from a specific experience. I was in a beautiful airport…Cologne Airport, which is a very beautiful building. Early one Sunday morning, the light was beautiful; everything was beautiful, except they were playing awful music. And I thought, ‘there’s something completely wrong that people don’t think about the music that goes into situations like this.’ You know, they spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the architecture, on everything, except the music. The music comes down to someone bringing in a tape of their favorite songs this week and sticking them in and the whole airport is filled with this sound. So, I thought it’d be interesting to actually start writing music for public spaces like that.”

While I personally feel that Eno achieved the perfect score to flight on Music For Airports, I can’t say that such an approach has been applied to actual airports. While we may no longer endure the cheesy corporate muzak or “elevator music” of the 80s and 90s (now reserved exclusively for healthcare company hold music), the sonic output of terminals remains troubling in a whole new way. Take for instance my experience at Chicago O’Hare International Airport a few weeks ago, whereupon sitting on the toilet in the Gate B bathroom I heard not Enya or Brian Eno, but “Stars of Track and Field” by Belle and Sebastian.

Come again?

This set off another memory. I was on a Delta flight to Brazil, and, being bored with the pre-takeoff formalities, decided to scroll through the in-flight music they offered. To my surprise, they not only had The Queen is Dead by The Smiths, but also Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop’s latest record, as well as other albums by what marketing experts would deem “indies.”

Though I shouldn’t have been, I must admit I was surprised. Air travel is the last bastion (aside from perhaps hotel services and high-end dining) of the old-fashioned, uniformed business structure; the security, composure of the flight attendants, the caste system set in place by the boarding/seating matrix…the whole ambiance makes it a bit strange that they would supply passengers with Iggy Pop singing about Gardenia’s “hourglass ass.” Even though I found it both convenient and pleasurable that such tunes were available, I was also disturbed by it. Isn’t it slightly insulting to stick me in seat 23 B back by the shitter, make me pay for stale pretzels, and then pretend that you, Delta Airlines, knows about Iggy Pop?

But contrary to Eno’s airport in the ‘70s, it must be said that airlines today overthink about what is playing aboard. It isn’t breaking news that airports, which are basically glorified, overpriced shopping malls, picked up on the same marketing strategies that make us feel cool when we buy a certain brand of soap over another. The reason Delta Airlines has the new Iggy Pop record is the same reason American Airlines replaced schmaltzy muzak with “indie rock” to score-boarding and landing periods.

It’s the exact principle laid out in Commodify Your Dissent, a collection of essays from The Baffler addressing how the initial emblems of counterculture rebellion (i.e. rock music, leather jackets, tofu) have now become the tools of advertisers, CEOs, and the like. In a brilliant essay by Dave Mulcahey entitled “Leadership and You,” the author quotes Andrew Susman’s book Advertising Age:

“The inter-relationship of advertising and programming increase because customer tastes and preferences are known in advance. Programming and advertising become interchangeable, as consumers are living inside a perpetual marketing event.”

Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Perhaps Mr. Eno could resurface to make us a new beautiful record entitled: Music For Living Inside A Perpetual Marketing Event. If he’s too busy, here are a couple suggestions. When you consider what might be appropriate music for airports or airplanes, you must consider a few factors.

  1. Flying sucks.

Traversing the cattle parade of the airport, from checking in, to schlepping through TSA, to finally sitting in your tiny, miserable seat: all of it is an absolute nightmare. No one has described this form of middle-class torture better than professional rant machine Henry Rollins. In “Airport Hell,” a cut off his 1998 “spoken word” record Think Tank, Rollins goes into gruesomely accurate detail about the avoidable blunders people make while traveling.

“I think it’s the mentality of lines,” barks Rollins. “Standing in lines, peoples’ IQs plummet…No one can figure out how to sit down in 13A. They walk in the aisle, they’re holding their little boarding stub like it’s delicate information and they look hopelessly lost. They look at it, and look up. Look at it, and look up.”

This is of the milder portions of the diatribe, but I’d say it’s worth the 15 minutes of listening to “Airport Hell” in full. While it may only infuriate you further, it will at least bolster your sense of humor and self-importance as you sprint through JFK with one shoe on and the other in your hand, dodging small children and tourists with their cargo ships of luggage on lopsided carts.

2. Increased fear of dying.

I have been flying since before I can remember, and from age 0 to 24, have had no such fear of it. I was so unafraid, that other passengers’ fear was comical to me. At 14 I was at peace with my own mortality and powerlessness. If the plane would tremble, I would liken it to a roller coaster. If it would drop slightly, I would rest assured that my death would matter not in the grand scheme of things, and even if it did, I still couldn’t stop it. Ahhh, the sweet smell of young, nihilistic liberation!

Enter my 25th year, during which I, through no rational explanation, cultivated an intense, out-of-the-blue, bowel-shuddering fear of flying. I know not its point of origin nor its psychological ramifications. I only know it exists. I know this by the sweat on my palms when the plane takes off, by my nervous glances when flight attendants start to hand out anything for free, especially booze. It is a condition I have tried to treat with music (and wine), though my approach has been flawed. I initially thought that dosing myself with “up” songs (and wine) would do the trick. My column from a couple of weeks ago, “Shiny Happy Pop Songs Holding Hands” was written at Chicago O’Hare as an attempt (along with wine) to battle my own aviophobia. It did not work. Perhaps the jubilant tone was my misstep. As I look back to the vintage interview with Eno, I absorb his unique angle on the mood of ideal airport music:

“I was thinking about flying at the time because I thought that everything that was connected with flying was kind of a lie. When you went into an airport or an airplane they always played this very happy music, which sort of is saying, ‘you’re not going to die! There’s not going to be an accident! Don’t worry!’ and I thought that was really the wrong way ‘round. I thought that it would be much better to have music that said, ‘well, if you die, it doesn’t really matter.’ So I wanted to create a different feeling, that you were sort of suspended in the universe and your life or death wasn’t so important.”

Losing Altitude: Songs to Die To. Considering we can’t have free booze or even decent food (let alone free decent food) perhaps the good people of these airlines would allow some sort of in-flight access to any and all of the music you damn pleased. In the case of a loss of cabin pressure: Nils Frahm. Unexpected rough air: Kate Bush. Bird-in-propeller: Richard Hell. At the very least, airports could give spinning Music For Airports a go, because I’d sure as shit rather face my imminent mortality to that than the goddamn Lumineers. After all, Brian Eno made it just for us.

 

 

NEWS ROUNDUP: Solange, Iggy Pop & Recommended Events

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  • Listen To Solange’s A Seat At The Table

    On Tuesday, Solange announced she would release a new album at the end of the week. A Seat At The Table is here, and features guests like Kelela, Q-Tip, Kelly Rowland, Lil Wayne, Dev Hynes, Moses Sumney, The-Dream, BJ the Chicago Kid and Sean Nicholas Savage. Listen to “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which features Sampha, below and stream the whole thing here.

 

  • Watch The Trailer for an Upcoming Iggy Pop Documentary

    The Jim Jarmusch documentary, Gimme Danger, will be widely available in theaters on November 4th(if you’re in NYC or Detroit, you can catch it as early as October 28th). As the trailer shows, the movie will have plenty clips of Iggy Pop’s iconic performances with The Stooges and commentary from the singer himself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fgiW_S2Hgk

  • Read A Brief History Of Presidential Campaign Songs

    From NPR: “The political endorsement song is a strange beast… part commercial jingle, part aspirational anthem and, with nearly no exceptions, a soon-forgotten novelty.” This is also a friendly reminder that you should register to vote ASAP. Read the article here.

  • Recommended Events:

Jenny Hval @ (le) Poisson Rogue – Tonight!

Yonatan Gat @ The Bell House – Tonight!

Charly Bliss @ Brooklyn Night Bazaar- Saturday

Sam Evian @ Rough Trade – Saturday

Paear @ Silent Barn – Saturday

Kishi Bashi @ Webster Hall- Sunday

NEWS ROUNDUP: George Martin, Tiny Desk, & Iggy Pop

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  • George Martin Dies

    Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: George Martin, famed Beatles producer, has died at age 90. Martin spent seven years working with the Fab Four, helping them arrange and shape their sound. His closeness with the band earned him the nickname “the fifth Beatle,” though he also worked with other artists such as Peter Sellers, Shirley Bassey, America, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Celine Dion. Many of the Beatles songs wouldn’t be the same without him- For example, check out “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a track on which Martin humored the band’s request for backward tape loops:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etN0h_e5rvI

  • Watch Mothers “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” Video

    Feeling sad yet? Just wait until you learn the story behind the Mothers track “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t.” Singer  Kristine Leschper wrote the song about her missing cat. Footage of her cat is briefly featured in the video, and she describes it as “the only remaining video I have of my best friend, who was so often the only thing keeping me rooted in reality, feeding me optimism, helping me survive.” If you’ve ever had a lost cat, you’ll understand.

  • NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest Winner Announced

    This year’s winner of the Tiny Desk Contest is Gaelynn Lea, from Duluth, Minnesota. Lea sings and plays the fiddle, though her brittle bone disease requires her to play a very small violin which she holds upright, like a double bass. Her song, “Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun,” has a haunting, heartbreaking melody that remains in your head long after the song ends, yet still manages to convey a sense of hope. Check out her winning performance:

  • Stream Post Pop Depression, The New Iggy Pop + Josh Homme Collaboration

    Iggy Pop has described the album as a sort of sequel to Lust For Life, on which he collaborated with David Bowie. He recorded Post Pop Depression the Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, in some secluded desert location, as is Homme’s style (that information alone means it’s going to be pretty awesome).  You can stream the nine tracks on NPR, here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DngIWkQVPgU

 

PLAYING DETROIT: WAT’ER YOU THINKING?! A Playlist for Flint

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If you’ve seen the cover of this month’s TIME Magazine or have recently tuned into any national media outlet, you know that Detroit’s sister city, Flint, is in crisis. Due to corrupt government, dangerous mismanagement, and incompetence, thousands of Flint residences have been poisoned by lead through the water system.

Long story short, Flint was getting its water from Detroit until 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder, due to economic disparity, decided that Flint would begin receiving water from the Flint river, despite the water’s highly corrosive makeup and the cities aging, weathered pipeline. The water itself is not poisoned with lead, but is so corrosive that it is stripping the lead pipes. Last fall, auto manufacturers refused the usage of Flint water as it was corroding the auto parts, yet it continued to pump into every household, poisoning an entire city. Despite the President issuing a state of emergency and the allocation of 80 million dollars in FEMA relief funds to assist Flint in its recovery, the damage is irreversible.

I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with music? Well, nothing, really. Other than the fact that I feel that I bear the shared responsibility of social consciousness as an artist and fellow human taking up space on this floating ball in space. I couldn’t help but search for some convoluted way to draw attention to this issue, while also finding personal solace through the only outlet that I knew. I’ve curated a playlist of “water songs” by Michigan artists with the hope of a healthy resolve for the millions of people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, which now include the thousands of children and families of Flint, Michigan. Let these tracks wash over you and extinguish any unwanted fires.

  1. BLKSHK: “Arm Floaties (Night Swim)”
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    Eddie Logix and Blair French are BLKSHRK. Released last year, Jellyfish on Cassette is an ocean of temperamental pulsations. The project fuses programmed sampled, live takes and improvisation all of which swell. “Arm Floaties (Night Swim)” gives gives the aural allusion of treading deep water.

  2. 800beloved: “Tidal (Alternate Version)”
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    This alternate take of “Tidal” from 800beloved‘s dreamy sophomore record, Everything Purple, is a trembling and sedated beachside lullaby. Lynch’s breathy vocals paired with the distant and upbeat pop distortions forms the sensation of having a sun stained memory you wish you could return to.

  3. Jamaican Queens: “Water”
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    A standout track off of their 2013 album Wormfood, “Water” is drowsy and pleasantly complacent, much like falling asleep in a filled-to-the-rim bathtub. It’s a smug track about the things we normally don’t have the guts to confess about the disinterest in meaningful love and sex. It’s the type of song that demands hydration; a sonic hangover.

  4. JRJR: “Dark Water”
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    Before they dropped the Nascar kitsch, JRJR released Patterns. “Dark Water” is reminiscent of The Shins with hints of Jon Brion, making it both sugary and brooding. The Beach Boys-esque harmonizing and piano crescendo mask the heaviness of the repeated imagery of drowning which makes this bubbly pop track ironic and bittersweet.

  5. Gosh Pith: “Waves”
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    One of my favorite Detroit duos, Gosh Pith, channel a sleepy Animal Collective/Vampire Weekend vibe with a track off their 2015 EP, Window. “Waves” challenges the listener to let go, internalizing the symbolic properties of water via a gentle, lapping synth pop track.

  6. The Gories: “Goin’ To The River”
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    The Gories formed back in 1986 and were fearless in welding 60’s garage rock with hyper rhythm blues. “Goin’ To The River” from I Know You Fine, but How You Doin’ released in 1990, is defiant and demands rowdiness. This track by The Gories is a perfect example of their lasting and often overlooked influence.

  7. Iggy Pop: “Endless Sea”
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    What I consider to be the most under appreciated album in Iggy Pop’s catalogue and one of the most important contributions to post-punk, New Values is full of songs as jutting as this one. “Endless Sea” is particularly provocative. The synth breakdown along with seductive, temperate vocals are the perfect pairing for giving the drugged sensation of literal endlessness.

  8. The Dead Weather: “Will There Be Enough Water”[/fusion_builder_column][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”]

    The Dead Weather may be my favorite collaboration from the diverse repertoire of Detroit’s golden child, Jack White. White along with Alison Mosshart (of The Kills) make for a sexually hypnotic rock experience. “Will There Be Enough Water” is a smokey, blues infused anti-apology that is as thirsty as it is satiated.

  9. Fred Thomas: “Waterfall”
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    The folkiest track on the playlist, “Waterfall” off of Fred Thomas’ Kuma is moody and textured like a messier, sleep deprived Elvis Perkins. The song begs “Come on everyone/it’s time to go see the waterfall” an uplifting chorus partnered with moaning string arrangements keeps “Waterfall” in the heartache category.

  10. Valley Hush: “Black Sea”
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    This track off of Don’t Wait by experimental pop duo Valley Hush could easily be a secret video game level trudging through sparkling, underwater sludge where Lana Del Rey meets St. Vincent. It’s more sensational than literal, but the ominous gurgling noise is animatedly visual.

If you would like to learn how you can help the residents of Flint, Michigan, click here

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NEWS ROUNDUP: PJ Harvey, Basement Queens, & Heathcliff Berru

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  • Sadie Dupuis & Lizzo Debut New Song

    Sadie Dupuis (of Speedy Ortiz) and Lizzo released “Basement Queens,” on Wednesday, a song with a meta topic: women taking charge in the studio. The songwriting/recording process for the track was filmed by Google Docs, who sponsored the collaboration (in the video, you can see the two working on lyrics using the computer program). Next up: A Waxahatchee collaboration sponsored by MailChimp.

 

  • PJ Harvey Announces New Album

    The singer, songwriter, saxophonist and guitarist released video previews, and a full track, of  The Hope Six Demolition Project. Set for release on April 15th, the album was recorded in a special studio that let members of the public observe the recording process. The album trailer below hints at a record full of political commentary, and “The Wheel” is a grim look at the consequences of war. 

 

  • Josh Homme & Iggy Pop Also Announce New Album

    The frontmen for The Queens of The Stone Age and The Stooges announced that they secretly recorded an album together, and will be touring to promote it. Post Pop Depression comes out March 18th and also features Dean Fertita of the Dead Weather and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys. Homme, who records drums with the Eagles of Death Metal and occasionally plays live with the band, said working on the album helped him process the ordeal his bandmates went through when their concert was a target of terrorist attacks in France. Check out Homme and Iggy’s performance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last night:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DngIWkQVPgU

 

  • The Music Industry (Still) Has A Problem With Women

    Twitter exploded on Monday after Amber Coffman, of the Dirty Projectors, shared her story of being groped by Life or Death PR & Management’s former CEO, Heathcliff Berru. After other women in the music industry spoke up about Berru’s pattern of harassing women, many artists who had ties with his firm quickly severed them, including Wavves, D’Angelo, Speedy Ortiz, and DIIV.

    Berru released a statement blaming his behavior on alcohol on drugs, but as this piece points out, substance abuse does not suddenly make someone a sexual predator. As bad as his refusal to accept full responsibility is, what’s just as troubling is that many people in the industry seemed to know about his reputation, yet did not speak up and continued to hire him. The lack of consequences people like him face enforces a dangerous norm in the industry:

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  • Everyone Is Dying

    Glenn Fry of The Eagles passed away this week. He was 67. As all of our favorite rock’n’roll icons start to age, this is going to happen more and more frequently, making the next decade or so a very depressing one. Happy Friday!

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LIVE REVIEW: Yonatan Gat, PC Worship @ Mercury Lounge

gal lazer

For all of the venues we’ve lost in the past couple of years: Death By Audio, Glasslands and 285 Kent to name just a few, I sometimes find myself creeping back into Manhattan in search of a cozy room. The Mercury Lounge is one of those spots that, despite its address in the oft-maligned Lower East Side, has yet to fail me as a concert hall. Where else can you see acts as disparate as Nathaniel Rateliff and Ty Segall? Where else is there an intimately sized space with a soundman who actually knows what the hell he’s doing? Where else would Yonatan Gat be able to order half the crowd to mount the stage while the rest of us encircle him and his band on the floor?

I went into Friday night not quite knowing what to expect, an outlook I’ve always believed yields the best results. I had never seen Monotonix in their heyday, but of course was well aware of the legacy…and the riotous, hedonistic, often-flammable sets they played. Would the night end in sirens? Fisticuffs? Human sacrifice? None such luck for the sadists, but I can say us music lovers were well pleased as Yonatan Gat and Co. delivered the best live performance I’ve seen this year.

Warming the crowd for Gat was local band PC Worship, who I’ve been hearing good things about for a while now. Their set was somber and hard-hitting, with more complexity than you see from most openers. Right off the bat I catch sight of drummer Shannon Sigley, who I can’t help but liken to a young Sandy West. Aside from being ace behind the kit, Sigley is no doubt the charismatic core of the band-with a kind of sex appeal that isn’t tawdry, just plain badass. What can I say? I love a lady drummer!

Vocalist Justin Frye manages to be the technical bandleader while giving his fellow musicians enough breathing room, which makes all the more sense when you learn that many PC Worship members were once New School jazz majors. The length and the freedom of their songs speak to that fact-at one point I split for the restroom mid-track, only to return to the same song, still droning.

PC Worship is a difficult band to genre-baste. Their music is far too texturally interesting to sum-up in one word. There’s punk, jazz, shoegaze, grunge, kraut rock, space rock, jam band…space jam? Whatever you want to call them, you have to hand it to a band who’s bassist doubles as a squealing sax man, and who’s rhythm guitarist can opt for the conga while sat on a cinderblock.

I wasn’t entirely paying attention to the set up between PC Worship and Yonatan Gat, and I have my companion to thank for noticing in time that Gat’s gear was being assembled on the ground. Audience members formed a circle around the instruments and a sharp green light beamed from its nucleus. By the time Yonatan Gat, drummer Gal Lazer, and bassist Sergio Sayeg took to the…floor, there was a tangible buzz in the air.

Something I think of far too little as a music journalist is the crowd – and what an integral part of a show they are! The séance-like encircling of Gat’s band provided a panoramic view of the fans and a chance to stare into the eyes of your peers while sharing the excitement of this one moment in time.

And what excitement! We got 45 minutes of near-unpunctuated noise. Yet another genre-swapping band, the trio volleyed between psych-rock, garage, punk, surf, jazz, and just general sonic mayhem. Both Gat and Sayeg were wizzes on their respective strings, but the drummers stole my heart that evening: Gal Lazer was off the chain.

An immensely skilled percussionist, Lazer looks like Iggy Pop and drums with the thrashing insanity of Keith Moon-a sort of precise madness that you don’t see too often. His style was sexy, staccato, punk-jazz genius. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…or his unzipped fly, the latter of which may have distracted me from the fact that his brilliant playing was emanating from a toy drum kit. He played so fast that I originally thought he was working a double bass pedal, but I don’t think those have saturated the Fischer Price My-First-Drum-Kit market quite yet.

The colorful workman’s lamps set up by each band member suddenly flicked off, leaving us all in darkness for a moment. As cheers swelled the band remained fixed. Eventually the lights slapped on again to the sound of Gat saying “thank you, very clever.” As it turns out, encores are just as exciting when the band never leaves the room in the first place.

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