Sabrina Ellis Explores Empathy, Mexican Heritage, and Queer Identity on New Sweet Spirit LP ‘Trinidad’

Sweet Spirit’s music sounds like something you’d see high school kids slow-dancing to in an ’80s movie, but if you listen closely, their lyrics contain far more depth than any rom-com. The Austin-based sextet’s latest LP, Trinidad, out last Friday via Merge Records, covers everything from rejection of social norms to “the loneliness of strangers who pass like ships in the night, unaware of their synchronicity,” as vocalist Sabrina Ellis puts it.

The album spotlights Ellis’s Mexican heritage, both in its title — which is the name of their great grandmother — and in its single “Llorando,” the Spanish word for “crying.” The percussion in “Llorando” was even produced with bottles of Topo Chico, a mineral water brand sourced from Monterrey, Mexico. The song’s chorus was originally sung in Spanish just because it sounded better that way, but as Ellis witnessed increasing injustices toward Mexican immigrants by ICE, this choice of language became an act of rebellion and inclusivity.

“Grief has had its way with me/Grief has locked me up and thrown away the key,” Ellis sings in the synthy single, which was inspired by the grief people expressed in group therapy sessions Ellis used to go to — but was really about grief Ellis was afraid to feel.

Grief is “easier to experience when packaged in a song,” Ellis explains — but there’s another benefit to processing it this way. “If I process an emotion, an experience, into a song, then someone hears it, keeps company with it and identifies with it, feels catharsis through it, that’s empathy. Once a song is made, it belongs to anyone who hears it. The emotional reverberation of a song is an empathy which defies time and space.”

Trinidad — which Ellis says was heavily influenced by Prince, particularly in its use of a Linn Drum Machine — also includes “No Dancing,” a sad but catchy track lamenting how “no one here believes in magic;” “Fingerprints,” an anthem for being in love with someone who’s taken; and “Behold,” which sounds like a number from a rock musical.

While rock sensibilities figure heavily into Sweet Spirit’s previous albums, 2015’s Cokomo and 2017’s St. Mojo, the band aimed to create something softer with Trinidad. “We hoped to make a dance album that would sneak in through people’s ears and end up in their body,” says Ellis. “We love our electric guitars, but being loud and brazen in the tradition of classic rock, during the era of MAGA, just felt gauche. This is Sweet Spirit, without the man-spreading. A little more low-key.”

Ellis came out as non-binary in a series of Instagram posts lasts year, a decision they made to expand people’s awareness of the range of identities that exist within humanity. “To normalize gender, to reduce the importance of assigned sex and of binary gender roles, we need to train our modern society to no longer assume peoples’ genders,” they explain. “This will make the world a safer place.”

They’re currently at work on a solo project, Velvet Nudes, which sits somewhere between folk and R&B and explores gender identity as well as mental health. “Much of the material is personal dedications of love and fascination to my muse, who was also my first big queer heartbreak,” they say. “These songs are so personal to me, it feels somehow invasive, or an imposition, to take them to my band and to share in the most intimate expressions of my experience.”

In Velvet Nudes’ music, which Ellis has performed live and in live-streamed Instagram shows, the vocals are accompanied by acoustic guitar and cello from Graham Low, Ellis’s bandmate in A Giant Dog. Their goal is to eventually compile the songs into a solo album. “The unmade Velvet Nudes album holds my experience in the most intimate way possible,” they say, “and is my true coming-out album.”

Follow Sweet Spirit on Facebook for ongoing updates.

ALBUM REVIEW: Destroyer “Poison Season”


“You could follow a rose wherever it grows/You could fall in love in Times Square,” Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer sings on the track “Times Square.” His latest album, Poison Season, constantly references itself, both musically and lyrically, but matter where one track takes you, another always leads you back to perhaps the most well-known area of New York City, Times Square; The record has three songs that include it in their title. Most New Yorkers may associate the area with crowded trains and annoying tourists more than love, but Bejar somehow makes it seem romantic and sentimental.

Called “Rock’s Exiled King” by The Fader, this is the tenth studio album by Bejar, who also plays in The New Pornographers, but strays far from the indie rock genre in his solo project.  Though Poison Season may seem like a harsh name for an album, it’s not reflected in the music. Songs are filled with sweeping (but never too sappy) strings and loose jazz saxophone. The whole album has a late-night/early dawn feel to it, recalling the 4AM epiphanies you get when you’re still clinging to your last bit of consciousness. This is especially true on the track “Dream Lover,” where he borrows the line “Here comes the sun.” But this isn’t the hopeful, cheery sun from the Beatles’ song- this sun is an interruption, signaling the end the night with a does of reality: “Oh shit, here comes the sun/Lovers on the run,” Bejar laments after an evening where “Haunted starlight gets in your eyes.” Euphoric, chaotic saxophone and a driving beat make it one of the album’s best tracks.

On “Bangkok,” the saxophones are joined by piano, giving the song the feeling of an after-hours jazz lounge. And on “Hell,” the bouncy beat begs you to snap along even as Bejar insists “It’s hell down here, it’s hell”(He also slips in a somewhat political line with “Every murderer voted out of office is sold down the river,” though he follows it up with something purely romantic).

Bejar’s voice has a whispery, spoken-word feel to it, and even during quieter moments, it’s easy to want to give his words your full attention. There are some serious moments on the album, but Bejar’s sense of humor manages to shine through. He uses the line “Bring out your dead,” which could possibly (I’d like to think this, anyway) be a nod to the Monty Python comedy The Holy Grail. And while the music video for “Girl In A Sling” is a beautiful, simple film where Bejar develops old photo negatives in what appears to be a childhood house, the video for “Times Square” is a light-hearted stop motion animation. Mossy creatures get high off of pipes and joints, a tree stump hunts for mushrooms, and a cartoon brain crawls along the forest floor.

This is definitely not the Times Square that exists at West 42nd Street and 7th Avenue, but it’s the Times Square that should.

Poison Season is out on August 28 via Merge Records. Check out the track “Dream Lover” below.


VIDEO REVIEW: Caribou “Our Love”

Caribou Dan Snaith


It’s been a few years since we’ve last heard new music from Caribou, the Ontario-based neo-psychedelic brainchild of Dan Snaith. So the release of his new album Our Love on October 7th from Merge Records is an unexpected, but nonetheless fantastic, 41 minutes of twirling synth melodies and the crooning of Snaith’s smooth falsetto. In addition to the new album, Caribou dropped a music video for the title track. Unlike the song, which is a dizzying minimal techno composition, the video for “One Love” is much more somber. Shot in Ireland, the narrative follows an elderly woman as she creeps around her giant and empty estate, interspersed with nostalgic glimpses of a relationship she had as a young girl.

The video’s director, Ryan Staake, who also directed alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” said, “I wanted to create a slow, brooding film that contrasted the seeming limitless of youth with the reality of death in later years.” It’s an odd approach to the song, but it’s surprisingly effective with Caribou repeating “our love” throughout the super romantic long-panning shots. Check out “Our Love” and tour dates below.

Caribou Worldwide Dates:
Oct 08 London, UK — KOKO* SOLD OUT
Oct 09 Brussels, BE — Botanique* SOLD OUT
Oct 10 Cologne, DE — Ewerk*
Oct 11 Hamburg, DE — Grosse Freiheit*
Oct 12 Amsterdam, NL — Melkweg Old Room*
Oct 13 Helsinki, FI — The Circus
Oct 14 Berlin, DE — Berghain* SOLD OUT
Oct 15 Leipzig, DE —Conne Island*
Oct 16 Prague, CZ — Meet Factory*
Oct 17 Budapest, HU — A38*
Oct 18 Vienna, AT — Electronic Beats @ TMuseumsquartier* SOLD OUT
Oct 19 Munich, DE — Muffathalle*
Oct 20 Zurich, CH — Komplex 457*
Oct 21 Lyon, FR — Transbordeur*
Oct 22 Lille, FR — Aeronef*
Oct 23 Liverpool, UK — Liverpool Music Week at Camp & Furnace*
Oct 24 Bristol, UK — Simple Things Festival at Motion * SOLD OUT
Oct 31 Manchester, UK — The Warehouse Project* SOLD OUT
Nov 01 Paris, FR — Pitchfork Festival Paris* SOLD OUT
Nov 05 Dublin, IE — Vicar Street* SOLD OUT
Nov 06 Barcelona, ES — Razzmatazz*
Nov 07 Turin, IT — Alfa MiTo Club To Club*
Nov 08 Reykjavik, IS — Iceland Airwaves*
Nov 10 Montreal, QC — Metropolis (was Le National)* UPGRADED
Nov 11 Boston, MA — Paradise*
Nov 12 New York, NY — Webster Hall* SOLD OUT
Nov 13 Philadelphia, PA — Union Transfer*
Nov 14 New York, NY — Webster Hall* EXTRA DATE ADDED
Nov 15 Washington, DC — Black Cat*
Nov 16 Carrboro, NC — Cat’s Cradle*
Nov 17 Atlanta, GA — Terminal West*
Nov 18 Orlando, FL — The Social*
Nov 19 Miami, FL — Grand Central*
Nov 20 Tallahassee, FL — Club Downunder*
Nov 21 New Orleans, LA — One Eyed Jacks*
Nov 22 Houston, TX — Fitzgerald’s*
Nov 23 Austin, TX — The Mohawk*
Nov 24 Toronto, ON — Danforth Music Fall* SOLD OUT
Jan 31 Brisbane, AUS – Laneway Festival
Feb 01 Sydney, AUS – Laneway Festival
Feb 06 Adelaide, AUS – Laneway Festival
Feb 07 Melbourne, AUS – Laneway Festival
Feb 08 Fremantle, AUS – Laneway Festival
Feb 27 Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre EXTRA DATE ADDED
Feb 28 Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre SOLD OUT
Mar 01 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
Mar 03 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
Mar 04 Seattle, WA – The Showbox
Mar 05 Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
Mar 10 Brussels, BE – AB
Mar 11 Paris, FR – Olympia
Mar 12 Berlin, DE — Columbiahalle
Mar 14 London, UK — Brixton Academy

*support from Jessy Lanza

TRACK REVIEW: Spider Bags “Back With You Again in the World”


spider bags

This night might be filled with sorrow

Your heart might still feel so blue 

But I’ll be back with you again in the world tomorrow

I’ll be back with you again in the world  

It’s hard to put the music of Chapel Hill-based Spider Bags into words. At their core, they could probably be described as a garage band with country, bluegrass, folk, blues, rock’n’roll and punk influences. Their unique blend of genres combined with songwriter Dan McGee’s ability to write punchy, energetic songs sets them apart from most other bands. With a lineup rounded out by Gregg Levy (bass/guitar), Steve Oliva (bass/guitar) and Rock Forbes (drums/percussion), the band has put out three full length albums since they got started back in 2006: Spider Bags (2007), Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World (2009) and Shake My Head (2012). “Back With You Again in the World” is the first single off of their upcoming album, Frozen Letter, out on August 5th via Merge Records.

While “Back With You Again in the World” is just over two and a half minutes, as usual, the band manages to pack in a ton of musical elements in a short period of time. After a brief introduction of amplified distortion, the track kicks off with an antsy guitar section. While two guitars battle each other the drums propel forward, building up to a country-esque solo as impressive as it is fleeting. Finally, Dan McGee’s vocals enter on the first verse. They waste no time barreling through three verses of the song, and just when you think the racket is about to die down, a saxophone solo comes out of nowhere. As if the energy the song wasn’t yet frenzied enough, there is a brief ritardando in the instrumental section only to serve as a bouncing board into and even faster-paced finale. Spider Bangs graces us with one last celebratory verse, and then it’s over.

“Back With You Again in the World” is the type of song that probably should be played at a hootenanny, or at least a raucous barn party. From the euphorically romantic lyrics (You know I’ll always be honest in everything that I do / I’ll always be honest with you, it’s true, I will always be honest with you) to the repetitive vocal phrasing on each verse, it basically forces anyone who listens to sing along. While it is the music that will make you want to get up and dance, it is the lyrics that will melt your heart, warm your soul, and loosen up your vocal chords.

Spider Bags is able to create musically complex songs that feel like they were spontaneously and casually strung together, and “Back With You Again in the World” is no exception to this. This general atmosphere probably speaks more to the band’s chemistry, a chemistry that allows the band members to listen to each others’ sections, to improve each other musically, and to make some extremely fun music.  On “Back With You Again in the World,” Spider Bags have mastered the art of building complexity through a cacophony that could seem to some haphazardly loose, and given us a lot to look forward to when Frozen Letter drops on August 5.