RSVP HERE: Long Neck streams via Black Friday Blowout + MORE!

Photo Credit: Ali Nugent

Long Neck is the solo endeavor of New Jerseyan Lily Mastrodimos; the name comes from Mastrodimo’s love of dinosaurs, and the band’s records serve as methodical archives of her evolution as a person and musician.

Their sophomore LP World’s Strongest Dog, which was self-released in April 2020, catalogs Mastrodimos’ triumphs, hardships and growth during her late 20s. On it, Mastrodimos is joined by John Ambrosio of drums and percussion, Kevin Kim on guitar and Alex Mercuri on bass and was recorded and mixed by Tom Beaujour.

The record’s opening track “Campfire” is an anthem to building something new, and since August Mastrodimos has been doing just that by booking weekly virtual showcases called “Around the Campfire.” Today, there’s a special Black Friday edition with about 20 artists including Oceanator, Shady Bug, The Cosmonaut Cassettes, Garden and more. We chatted with Lily Mastrodimos about her love of bats, the New Jersey music scene and how science informs her songwriting.

AF: What realizations did you come to while meditating on your late 20s during the process of writing and recording World’s Strongest Dog?

LM: I had a professor who once who told me that I get caught up in the struggle and not the process. I think, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand what he meant. I used to be so debilitated by stress and anxiety and depression, but in the past few years I’ve been able to seek help and learn how to manage that struggle. You’ve got to manage the struggle however you can, hold yourself accountable, and be open to the things you learn on the way. 

AF: How has the New Jersey music scene changed over the years? 

LM: Jersey is such a small state, and I think the music scene actually benefits from that. Everyone knows each other and is so down to help each other out. Some really wonderful booking collectives have popped up (hi Beehive!), DIY venues and community centers have been established in towns that may not get a lot of musical foot traffic otherwise. Jersey has such a rich musical history, and it’s beautiful to see it continue and grow in the way that it has. 

AF: Are you still working in a scientific field and has the pandemic changed anything about the work you’re doing? 

LM: I still want to work in the scientific field. The pandemic has put my grad school plans on hold, and I miss being out in the field. I’ve been trying to spend as much time outside as I can. I go birdwatching on my off days, and I installed a bat house on my roof this summer.

AF: What is your favorite thing about bats? 

LM: Oh God, everything! Here’s a relevant fact for the day: Did you know vampire bats will socially distance when a member of a colony is sick? Let’s learn from bats! 

AF: Does your work in science ever cross over into your music? 

LM: Oh absolutely. It’s easier for me to dissect my own feelings when I can relate them to ecological processes or animal behavior.

AF: We’ve listed many of your Around The Campfire Twitch streams on here over the past few months. What inspired you to start curating your own Twitch showcases?

LM: Thank you! I started Around The Campfire because I missed booking shows, and I missed going to shows, and I missed that community. I thought I would only do it for August, but the list of bands I wanted to book was just too long and I enjoyed the shows too much. I decided to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. In October we moved all of our streams to our very own website because we learned Twitch is owned by Amazon. The switch has been so perfect, though. I can archive all of our shows and the streams run so much more smoothly. It’s been amazing.

AF: What have been some of your favorite moments from your Twitch streams?

LM: Oh my goodness, it’s so hard to choose! The Diners set is up there, Tyler’s performance was just so fun and wonderful. Anjimile and Billy Dean Thomas put on such incredible shows, and getting to see them play together was wild. I’ve loved all of these sets so much and I’m thrilled that these artists get to share their art with us every week.

AF: What plans do you have for the end of 2020 and beyond? 

LM: Long Neck will be releasing a music video soon, but that’s all I’ll say about that! Around The Campfire will continue for the foreseeable future – the December lineup will be announced soon and it’s a wild one. Once it’s safe for “irl” shows again, I’d like to turn Around The Campfire into a live, monthly show. All in all, we’re scheming!

RSVP HERE for Long Neck with Oceanator, Remember Sports, Sailor Boyfriend, Ben Eisenberger, Cinema Hearts, Maya ‘Moon’ Osborne, Shady Bug, The Cosmonaut Cassettes, Evan Diem, Garden Centre, Yvonne Chazal, Erica Freas, Suzie True, sodada, Soot Sprite, Adam Carpenter, Fresh, Me Rex, and Finish Flag on 11/27 at 7pm ET.

More great livestreams this week…

11/27 Girl Skin via The New Colossus Festival YouTube. 9pm ET, RSVP HERE

11/28 Making music Writing Lyrics with Paige of Irrevery via The Coop Workshop Square. 2pm ET RSVP HERE

11/28 Hinds via Moment House. 9pm ET, $12. RSVP HERE 

11/28 Dinosaur Jr. via Live & Alone from Look Park. 8pm ET, $15. RSVP HERE 

12/1 Weeping Icon via 8pm ET, $5 RSVP HERE 

12/1 Sylvan Esso via NoonChorus. 9pm ET, $15 RSVP HERE

12/1 Alice in Chains Tribute Concert with Metallica, Billy Corgan, Ann Wilson, Krist Novoselic & more via Twitch. 6pm ET RSVP HERE

RSVP HERE: Lubo Smilenov of Amalgamy Streams via Instagram + MORE

Welcome to our weekly show recommendation column RSVP HERE. Due to live show cancellations we will be covering virtual live music events and festivals.

If you’re thinking of learning a new exotic instrument and/or how to become an electronic music producer while in lockdown, look no further than Lubo Smilenov for inspiration. For his musical project Amalgamy he plays every beautiful instrument you’ve never heard of including Kora, Kaval, and Gadulka. He is a one-man band and electronic music producer who can play guitar, bass, keys, program drums and is an Ableton Push master. In 2018, Lubo teamed up with cellist Bryan Wilson on Amalgamy’s debut album Cynefin. The album is full of film score-esque textures, homages to various world musical traditions and electronic soundscape experiments. It’s the music you would imagine playing before an ancient battle.

The next chance you can see Lubo shredding his Ableton Push and playing anything from the Kora to Bulgarian bagpipes is Saturday, May 2nd at 8pm. We chatted with Lubo about how he approaches his sound, his practice routine and the $5 key to his live stream set up.

AF: The music you’re performing live these days is a departure from your first album with Amalgamy. How would you describe it and how are you are approaching it?

LS: My approach to music has been so impromptu lately. It can go in any direction at any moment. One second I’m pursuing music fit for film scores. The next I’m putting break core beats over auctioneer samples and archaic goatskin bagpipes. I’ve recently embraced an anything goes approach more than ever.

A lot of the electronic music I’ve been making lately has been done through my Ableton Push launchpad. I really enjoy having a hands on approach to electronic music. Everything is I do is triggered by my fingers the same way it would be with a piano or guitar. It feels just like a sound palette. I just dip a brush into one of every sixty-four buttons and trigger an intended statement of sound. However, the culmination of all these statements creates something that was previously unintended. Sometimes it’s the idea within an idea that we’re looking for.

AF: What is your set up for live streaming?

LS: I plug a dual 1/4” TS to 1/8”TRS cable into my interface’s main output. The 1/8” side goes into a Radioshack Stereo Jack Adapter, and that piece goes into my cell phone. That adapter is the $5 key to this setup. Thereafter, I mix the audio by recording videos on my phone while playing and listen back to how it sound after I’m done. I make adjustments and repeat the process.

AF: You have a large collection of world instruments. Where did you get them?

LS: I’ve been very fortunate to have earned the trust of a few prominent luthiers whom I admire very much. Most of my instruments come from the the village of Kameno, Bulgaria. We’re talking about bagpipes (Gaida), flutes (Kaval), and bowed lyres (Gadulka). My Kora is from The Gambia via Sona Jobarteh’s website. No matter how rare the instrument I’m looking for, I always find it with the help of other musicians. Musicians in NYC generally have each other’s back with these things. It’s amazing.

AF: What is your favorite instrument? Which do you practice the most?

LS: I can’t seem to stick to one thing and it’s so liberating. What I usually do is spend 15-20 minutes a day picking up different instruments around the house at random. If I do end up practicing something disciplinary like scales, I always reward myself with improv at the end. I’ll play at least one bowed instrument, one regular string instrument, and one wind, before moving onto music production.

AF: Where do you think music and technology are going in the next decade? Do you think an extended quarantine will have an effect on the future direction of live music, or music in general?

LS: There are talks of a budding music renaissance based on the current influx of purchases made on music retail sites. Most of these purchases have to do with electronic music via keyboards, synths, beatmakers, etc. It’s still too early to say anything in confidence given the morbid reality we are facing. However, I do think that the role of the bedroom producer will become more prominent in the coming year(s). It really is becoming more important for people to express themselves through creativity. Remote recording and file sharing will certainly increase without a doubt. Cloud servers that host plugins and resources are going to be utilized more than ever.

Extended quarantine will certainly have an effect on the future direction of live music. Music is made differently when musicians prepare for a live show together vs. when they are alone at home. Music made at home has less restrictions. There’s no one to push back at your crazy idea. Suddenly, you have to fill the role of the drummer, singer, bassist, producer, songwriter, video editor, and marketer all at once. Live streaming has never been more valuable as a tool for musicians. As far as performance goes, it’s all we have now.

RSVP HERE for Amalgamy’s set on Instagram Live Saturday 5/2 at 8pm.

More great live streams this week…

5/1-5/3 Love from Philly: Kurt Vile, G. Love, John Oates, Man Man + More via YouTube. 12pm est, all donations benefit Philadelphia’s Entertainment Community. RSVP HERE

5/1 Foxygen via Pickathorn Twitch. 4pm est, RSVP HERE

5/2 Live From Here: Chris Thile, Watkins Family Hour, Sylvan Esso via WNYC. 6pm est, RSVP HERE

5/2 Remote Utopias: Tame Impala, Weyes Blood and more via NTS App. 5am est, raising money for Gloval Foodbank Network RSVP HERE

5/2 Nap Eyes via Baby’s TV. 8pm est $5, RSVP HERE

5/3 Bang On A Can 6-hour livestream. 3pm est RSVP HERE

5/6 Breathwork with Kimi Class via Instagram. 7pm pst, RSVP HERE 

5/7 Alkaline Trio via Riot Fest Facebook. 7pm est, RSVP HERE

5/7 Tori Amos via Murmrr Theatre YouTube 2pm est, RSVP HERE


NEWS ROUNDUP: Webster Hall Reopening, R. Kelly Arrested, and MORE

Webster Hall is Reopening!

It’s always sad when an iconic New York venue closes, but Webster Hall’s story has a happy update. The 130-year-old venue was shuttered in August 2017 for renovations when longtime owners the Ballingers sold it to AEG. That means Bowery Presents will be handling bookings, and the show schedule looks pretty sick, starting with a christening from punk poet laureate Patti Smith on May 1. Broken Social Scene, MGMT, Sharon Van Etten, Big Thief and Built to Spill are some of the acts slated to play over the next six months or so, and that’s just the initial announcement. The New York Times got a sneak peek into the renovations, and it seems like the $10 million plus project focused mostly on accessibility, with a revamped entryway and the addition of an elevator, as well as updates to the bathroom and soundsystem. Much of the characteristic fixtures in the ballroom were left unscathed, though we’re guessing the floor will no longer feel like it’s about to cave in when the mosh pit gets too rowdy. The Marlin Room will become a lounge, and there’s no word yet on what’s going on with the basement stage. The venue will still have a capacity of about 1,400 – making it an essential part of downtown nightlife once again.

R. Kelly Arrested, Bond Set at $1M

Following increased scrutiny after Lifetime doc Surviving R. Kelly aired earlier this year, the R&B star was arrested in Chicago on Friday and charged with ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four separate victims, three of whom were minors when the abuse occurred. One of the most disturbing pieces of information to emerge in Saturday’s bond hearing was that Kelly met one of these victims at his 2008 trial for child pornography, of which he was acquitted; like the trial a decade ago, some of these charges stem from the discovery of a sex tape in which Kelly appears to perform sex acts with an underage girl. His bond was set at $1 million, and that may be the tip of the iceberg – Kelly is also under investigation by multiple federal agencies for sex trafficking, and it looks likely that there are more victims who have yet to come forward. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare.

That New New

Audiofemme favorites Sharkmuffin shared rollicking new single “Serpentina,” the first single from their Gamma Gardening EP, out April 5 via Exploding In Sound. We couldn’t be more excited – love you, Tarra & Nat!!!!

While this video for Kate Bush’s cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” isn’t exactly new, it hadn’t been released since its recording in 1991. The video comes with the announcement of a four-disc rarities and b-sides compilation called The Other Sides, which will be available March 22. In other Elton John news, his biopic, starring Taron Egerton, comes out May 22.

Tierra Whack is back with single “Only Child,” her first release since blowing up with Whack World.

Helado Negro is currently on tour with Beirut as he prepares for the March 8 release of This is How You Smile; he shared a video for single “Running” this week.

Ella Vos shared an intimate self-directed video for “Empty Hands,” which follows her through the last day of two years of treatment for lymphoma. The single appears on her latest EP, Watch & Wait.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe will release Gnomes & Badgers, their first album in five years, on March 8. The TG Herrington-directed clip opens a poignant dialogue about the family separation crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Marissa Nadler released two new songs – including a duet with John Cale – via new imprint KRO Records, who will release the single on heart-shaped vinyl this spring.

CHROMATICS are back with “Time Rider” and a slew of tour dates, but no official release date for an album, which they’ve been teasing for some time now.

Priests released a lyric video for “Good Time Charlie” from their upcoming album The Seduction of Kansas, out April 5 via Sister Polygon.

Empath have announced their debut LP Active Listening: Night on Earth (out April 2 via Get Better Records), and shared its first single, “Soft Shape.”

Alex Lahey will finally release a follow-up to 2017’s excellent I Love You Like a Brother. It’s called The Best of Luck Club and is slated for release via Dead Oceans on May 17; “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” is the first single.

TEEN are streaming Good Fruit ahead of its March 1 release over at NPR, and have shared a video for “Pretend.”

With her band Wax Idols on an indefinite hiatus, Hether Fortune has shifted to solo work with the release of single “Sister.”

Shady Bug shared “Whining” from their sophomore album Lemon Lime, out March 8.

Los Angeles noiseniks HEALTH have released their fourth collaborative single since September, this time featuring JPEGMAFIA.

We’re obsessed with “TGM” from 18-year-old newcomer Ebhoni, who reps her Toronto home and West Indian roots all at once.

Palehound kicked off their tour with Cherry Glazerr by releasing a new single called “Killer.”

Indie poppers Pure Bathing Culture  shared a lyric video for “Devotion,” the first single from their forthcoming LP Night Pass, out April 26.

If you’ve ever wondered what Mountain Man’s Molly Sarlé sounds like on her own, take a listen to her debut single, produced by Sam Evian. She’ll play some shows with Mountain Man cohort Amelia Meath when she joins Sylvan Esso for a few shows in their recently-announced WITH tour.

Nilüfer Yanya’s debut album Miss Universe drops March 22. Her latest single “Tears” follows alt-pop bops “In Your Head” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.”

Former Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren has had an illustrious career scoring film and television, so it’s no wonder the clip for his vibey rework of “2Priests” (from last year’s Adult Desire Expanded) is so gorgeous.

We have a feeling Aldous Harding’s low-key pilgrim dance from “The Barrel” video might catch on well before Designer arrives via 4AD April 26.

Legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr shared a video for latest single “Armatopia” to promote his upcoming North American tour in support of 2018’s Call The Comet.

End Notes

  • Breakdancing could become an Olympic event by 2024.
  • Moogfest has announced the “first wave” of its 2019 lineup, featuring Kimbra, Martin Gore, Matthew Dear, Lucrecia Dalt, GAS, Ela Minus and more.
  • Wilco have also announced the lineup for their bi-annual Solid Sound Festival, taking place June 28-30 in Massachusetts. There will be several sets from Jeff Tweedy solo and with the band, as well as appearances by Courtney Barnett, Cate Le Bon, Tortoise, Jonathan Richman and more.
  • Detroit musicians will be the first recipients of Tidal’s new $1 million endowment program.
  • The 1975 took home British Album of The Year at the BRIT Awards for A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, and called out music industry misogyny in their acceptance speech for Best British Band.
  • Stereolab have added a ton of reunion tour dates to their Primavera Sound and Desert Daze appearances, and announced reissues for seven of their records. The band has been on hiatus for a decade.
  • Tom Krell of How To Dress Well launched his label Helpful Music with an EP from Calgary’s Overland.
  • W Hotels have also recently launched a label, releasing two songs with Perfume Genius to benefit Immigration Equality. Watch a mini-doc about the collaboration here.
  • Lydia Loveless took to Instagram to detail sexual harassment she has suffered since signing to her label Bloodshot Records; her abuser doesn’t work at the label, but attended all social events having to do with it as the partner of one of the label’s founders, who has since left the imprint.
  • Someone decapitated Puff Daddy’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Times Square.
  • Michael Jackson’s estate is seeking to block the production of HBO’s Leaving Neverland with a $100 million lawsuit; the two-part doc follows the story of two men who say their were abused by the King of Pop as children and is set to air March 3rd & 4th. Watch the trailer here.
  • Stereogum published this handy rundown on the drama that’s dogged Royal Trux’s reunion tour, as well as the release of White Stuff, still scheduled to come out March 1.
  • My favorite Eric Andre gag is getting his own TV special. Thanks Adult Swim!

ALBUM REVIEW: Mountain Man – Magic Ship

For years they hid from us. Like the hermetic enigma their name conjures, Mountain Man headed for the hills after releasing their hypnotic 2010 debut, Made the Harbor. The siren-like harmonies of Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amilia Meath faded into the mist; Meath resurfaced four years later as one half of Sylvan Esso, bringing folksy sensibilities to Nick Sanborn’s infectious electronic production, and the duo’s runaway success made Mountain Man seem like more of a precursor than a project to which Meath would someday return.

And yet, that piercing acoustic music that hits the soul, cutting through the air with no other sound to travel by but the human voice and a casually strummed guitar – the kind of music that hits a mark that the 808s just will never dig into – began to garner a sort of cult following. Mountain Man’s magic was in its stunning simplicity, their songs the kind that easily soundtrack languid afternoons, campfire gatherings, wine makings, or family-style dinners with friends. These same words, moments, and experiences pepper the much-too-long-awaited stories of the group’s second album, Magic Ship, released on the last day of September this year.

The reunion is as welcome a surprise as the group’s origin – Mountain Man discovered each other by following the sounds of each other’s voices through dorm rooms in a small college in Vermont. The following that has knit itself around them has developed in a similarly organic fashion – a diehard collection of humans who tripped down some internet hole, or happened upon one of their few fireside acoustic performances. Ultimately, it was Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner that officially reawakened Mountain Man when they booked a set for the trio at the 2017 iteration of Eaux Claires arts festival. Just over a year later, Magic Ship set sail.

Their sophomore album, recorded in Meath’s home studio in North Carolina, is a retrospective of sorts, a glance into personal anecdotes, memories unfolded, mistakes made, humans loves, and humans lost. The mantra of the album is “Don’t waste time on guilt,” a saying waved across their new website and album poster. You can’t help but wonder what guilt they carry. Is it guilt toward each other, toward the way their own separate roads unfolded and pulled them apart, or some other guilt they are trying to leave behind?

Magic Ship offers a musical collage interwoven with these kinds of questions. The sounds are now of women not searching for their place in life, but instead teaching their stories shared and gained alone. This album speaks to the wisdom of life, and what we lose and what we gain by walking into the path of the unknown, seeking to know ourselves above all else.

Opening up with the familiarity of their unaccompanied vocals, “Window” seems to travel through time from another place. The lyrics are indeed a first glimpse into what the last eight years has inspired in the hearts of these artists: “I was lost, I was bored, by the thought of wanting more.”

While I understand the desire to bring in another element of sound in their use of the guitar on Magic Ship, it sometimes detracts from the depth and beauty of the purity in their vocals – arguably the definitive edge that has always set this group apart from the other folk musicians pulling from similar influences. Most of the fourteen tracks here are less than three minutes long, making each seem like some fleeting fable;  naked, unadorned vocals only add to this effect. Songs like “Baby Where You Are,” “Moon,” and “Slow Wake Up Monday Morning” feel more common and straightforward, but work to make the album more accessible; the guitar works well in early single “Rang Tang Ring Toon” in that the minimal picking takes a back seat to the trio’s vocals.

Overall, Magic Ship notably features more refined recording, for better or worse, There was something in the lo-fi echo of their first album (Made the Harbor was recorded in an abandoned warehouse with no budget, as opposed to a studio built by Meath’s post-Sylvan Esso success) that remains captivating in comparison to the no longer frayed edges of Magic Ship. But higher fidelity means the songs come through loud and clear this time – it’s almost enough to abandon the nostalgic, fuzzy feel of Harbor‘s aesthetic.

But after eight years of listening and relistening, the stack of memories riding on the lyrical melodies of Made The Harbor admittedly makes it hard to jump into a new compilation and say its impact will be the same as those of that first album. Cooking food with friends to “Honey Bee,” road trips with “Dog Song,” late evening porch nights with lovers as “Animal Tracks” played distantly – this is the emotional content that has yet to blossom in Magic Ship‘s nascent wake. Perhaps it will take another eight years to know its power of memory, time, and life faded into song; in the meantime I find myself meandering over certain memories, touching them with a hint of sadness and that longing ping that trembles beneath those moments we wish lasted longer. In the final phrase of this new piece of work, I find respite from the memories, longing, desires and dreams past with their last words: “It hurts, but that’s alright.”

The track, “Guilt,” might apply to anyone’s lingering sense of regret, but it also provides some absolution for the record’s three creators. “You can think about it, and be mean to your insides…” goes the almost nursery-rhyme-ish line, “Or it can just be something that happened that way, that makes you who you are today.” With this 55-second a cappella ditty, the three end their album by letting go of what might have transpired differently over the past eight years – perhaps musically, or perhaps in general, as life happens to us all whether we sing about it or not.

It’s a testament to both their brilliance and their humility that their fans are still by their side almost a decade later – happy, excited, and relieved to take in their voices once again. At a Magic Ship release show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, NY, a group of followers came together, legs pressed against one another to be as close as possible to their small, yet strong vocalities. As if no time had passed at all, their vocals immediately cut through the din of noise to strike chords in my memory that had nearly forgotten to catch their breath. Together in that room we reawakened our love for the secret music we had found so long ago.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Mitski “Nobody” & More

Mitski has been on a rocketing career path over the past few years, and is set to release her sophomore album Be The Cowboy on August 17th. We’ve only seen a few glimpses into this record so far – via videos for her singles “Geyser” and now, “Nobody” – but it seems as though Mitski’s been thinking deeply about the affect of critical acclaim on her work as an artist and her well-being as an individual.

While the video’s bright colors and cartoonish surrealism make for a playful characterization of Mitski’s introspective lyrics, the underlining theme here is being alone. “Nobody” dramatically outlines that sensation of reaching for something that you might never find outside of the confines of your desires, yet somehow still entertains with a singular sense of kitsch.

Though Paramour released their fifth studio album After Laughter in 2017, they’ve just released a video for “Caught In The Middle.” The visuals are an aesthetic counterpart to their new wave musical style, full of ’80s-inspired graphics and throwbacks to the days of lo-fi digital art.

Through her work as a filmmaker and performer, LaToya Jane aims to inspire youth to give up gang violence in favor of pursuing the arts. In 2014, LaToya won the award for Best Director at the Commffest Film Festival for Creature, a documentary about her time as a gang member in Toronto. She’s back with a poignant video for her single “Everything,” which mirrors her childhood growing up in Toronto’s infamous Jane and Finch neighborhood, from which she takes her stage name. The single comes from her debut EP GROWN, released last fall.

Sylvan Esso has just announced their summer tour. Alongside the announcement comes a candid video made up of moments from their previous tours, set to their single “Signal.”

Young sisters Chloe and Halle have shown their broad range of musical motion on stunning debut The Kids Are Alright. “Happy Without Me” – featuring another rising hip-hop star,  Joey Bada$$ – is a slow R&B tune which the two grade with their ethereal poetics.

PREMIERE: Lillian Frances, Timeism EP

Lillian Frances rolls with the punches. When she developed tendonitis, losing the ability to play guitar, she knew it was time for a shift musically. Her resulting sophomore EP Timeism is light-hearted romp on an electronic playground, made for early summer days by the pool.

Like many artists nowadays, Frances is in tune with her image, curating it from the ground up, musically and visually. Her collage artwork features the dishwater blonde amongst flying saucers or carefully placed atop a Polly Pocket toy. It’s this tongue-in-cheek attitude that translates easily to sound, displayed openly in tunes like “Netflix + Chill”.

We sat down with Frances to talk about her life in Davis, California, finding inspiration in Death Valley and how Spanish speaks poetry in a way English never could.

AF: I have to start out with a strange question: Is Lillian Frances your given name or your stage moniker? A google search brought up Lillian Frances Smith, a Wild West sharpshooter, so I was curious.

LF: I love that google tells you that. My middle name is actually Frances, and my real name is Lillian. So BAM! I’d say one in eight people tell me their grandma is named Lillian. Which is nice because I feel like I’ve already made a good first impression with them.

AF: Definitely a good first impression (#GrandmaStatusUnlocked). You grew up in Davis, California and you currently live there. Can you give us a little glimpse into life in Davis?

LF: You probably already know Davis because your cousin’s best friend studied agriculture there. But Davis is really a quaint town. Bike capital of the US. Surrounded by fields and farmland and we get the BEST tomatoes in the summertime. There’s not a huge music scene, but there are tons of students so the demand for music is always there—it’s just not really concentrated anywhere. We’re also right next to Sacramento, which has a much doper music scene.

AF: When did you first show an interest in making music?

LF: Apparently I was singing when I was two. And when I was a kid I would have my musician uncle notate music with me on the piano. I would love to find that sheet music now! So I’ve always sung, and picked up the guitar in high school. I started writing my own songs in college, and recording at my student-run recording studio.

In 2014 I saw Sylvan Esso perform at the Make Music Pasadena festival, and lost my gourd. I loved it. And standing in the crowd I was like… that looks like the most fun thing I could possibly do and that is what I am going to do. So after I graduated college I went to music production school at the Beat Lab Academy in LA, and I’ve been honing my craft ever since!

AF: Tell us about a song like “Bailamos con el humo.” Where does the song begin? Do you start with a beat, a melody, lyrics?

LF: Dang, where did that song start? I was just messing around making beats and playing with melodies. Collaging my sounds, you know. Basically anything I make that sounds good is an accident. I never go out to make a particular sound. I focus on experimentation, and eventually something sounds good or interesting, which to me are basically the same thing. So for “Bailamos con el humo,” when I ended pulling it all together it just hit. And I loved the melody.

Then I went to Death Valley with some friends for New Years. It was so beautiful. On New Year’s Day we all took acid and walked into the canyons surrounding the valley, and had a really fun and intimate experience with mother nature/each other. That sunset, as we walked out of the canyon, we watched the full moon sail out from behind the mountain, illuminating the world. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.

That night we danced around the campfire and smoked weed and just jammed out. I felt so full of life and love and new energy. When I came home, the lyrics immediately tumbled out, and matched that melody I had been working on. And I wanted to write it in Spanish because it felt more poetic to me. There’s a line in the song that goes “my name in cursive, escapes from your lips,” —which is how I imagine my name is spoken when someone really knows and cares for me. And for me, hearing Spanish feels like listening to cursive. So it just matched the vibe.

AF: You recently participated in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert competition. What was that process like?

LF: The process is me hitting up my homie and going “Let’s make a video” and him going “Down!” So we just set up shop in my bedroom and recorded a session of me performing “Phone Keys Wallet.” The sun was shining through my window at just the right angle, illuminating my sequin jacket and turning me into a human disco ball. It was better than we could have planned! It’s my second time participating in the contest. It’s been an great experience, and I’ve made a lot of connections in the local music scene through my submission and by watching others. I already have two shows set up with people I met from the contest.

AF: “Phone Keys Wallet” is about you getting tendonitis and losing the ability to play guitar. Did your music change drastically in terms of story/tone as you shifted into the electronic space?

LF: Yes, absolutely. I think my story changed because I was just at a different place in my life and was experiencing different things. But in terms of tone, oh yeah. I had this whole new palette of colors I had never had before. The vibe is super different, it’s so hard to compare!

Electronic music lets me tell the story I want to tell a little more precisely. You immerse the audience in truly any world you want to imagine. That allows me to be very specific with the vibe and energy I want to invite the listener into. With an acoustic guitar… it’s always gonna sound like an acoustic guitar. I mean, in its unprocessed state, of course.

AF: I love the collages on your Instagram. How does visual art impact your songwriting?

LF: I am always fishing through magazines, cutting out images, and scanning them into my computer. Then I edit them in photoshop. The way I approach visual art is similar to music production. Because I’m not necessarily a trained artist in any sense of the word, and I can’t draw or paint with precision, or just play any instrument I touch, I rely on collaging to create these visions and textures and concepts that I wouldn’t normally be able to articulate.

In Ableton (the music production software I use), I can paste together and manipulate all these sounds to get a really unique soundscape, and I’m not held back by my lack of, say, bass skills. It’s the same with collaging—I get to use pretty pictures other people have taken—and give them a new life.

AF: What artists do you have on rotation right now? Any up-and-comers we should be aware of?

LF: Currently jamming out to Kali Uchis. I literally have not stopped listening to Isolation since it was released a couple weeks ago. Been listening to a lot of Milo lately. I heard his song “Souvenir” and it felt like a little puzzle piece slipped into my body I hadn’t realized was missing. Billie Eilish. All day every day.

AF: Do you have any plans to tour in the immediate future?

LF: I’ve got a lot of upcoming shows in the Sacramento and Bay Area, and then mid June I jump off to Spain for the summer, so my live shows in the US will be on hold… but we’ll see what I get into overseas. I’ll be doing the summer festival scene next summer, though!

Lillian Frances’ new EP Timeism is out May 4th. 

A Female-Fronted Future: Thoughts on SXSW 2017

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Snail Mail at SXSW 2017. Photo by Lindsey Rhoades

I didn’t even have to break out my “The Future is Female” t-shirt to sound the alarm; at South by Southwest last week, the message was loud and clear. In a whirlwind five days, I saw dozens of acts – mostly emerging or signed to small labels – and only three of those bands did not have women on stage. I didn’t even have to try to make this happen. I made, as I always do, a must-see list, hoping to catch some new-to-me projects at showcases along the way, and in both cases, the most compelling artists at this year’s SXSW were women.

Now, it’s 2017 and women playing music shouldn’t inspire an epiphany. It’s a wonder then, that at this year’s Coachella, only 25 percent of the performers are women or prominently feature a female player. After facing criticism for gender-biased exclusion in years past, GoldenVoice (the company that books Coachella and its NYC sister fest, Panorama) killed two diversity birds with one stone by booking Beyoncé, the fest’s first black female headliner (and its first female headliner in ten years – Björk was last to hold that honor, in 2007). When Bey dropped off the bill shortly after announcing her pregnancy with twins, Lady Gaga was named as a replacement. This year’s Governors Ball doesn’t fare much better, with all-male groups, male DJs, and male rappers outnumbering women performers and groups that have, say, one woman in a band of five (like the Strumbellas or The Head and the Heart) by a shocking margin of ten to one. Lorde is closest to a headlining spot (followed by Beach House and Phantogram, both male-female duos) but she only gets second billing Friday night. Most of the women are relegated to earlier daytime slots, which begs the question – why can’t more of these slots be filled with ladies?

SXSW is pretty different than either of the above-mentioned fests. It’s really just a series of shows held in venues all over Austin, and SXSW-goers can certainly pick and choose what they want to see from a much wider array of artists. But music industry honchos – reps from labels, booking and PR agencies, and, of course, journalists – make up the bulk of the crowds. This year’s buzzy performances could populate the stages of tomorrow’s blockbuster festivals, even if they don’t yet have a big enough draw. That’s what’s exciting about the chaos. It provides a peek at who’s flying under the radar but poised to reach greater heights.

And this year, women ruled. Likely the biggest name of the bunch, the line to see Solange’s headlining slot at the dazzling YouTube house showcase wrapped around the block. Lizzo and Noname, two lady rappers with critically acclaimed albums out last year, routinely packed shows all week, and bring an energy to the stage that could easily translate to large festivals. Sylvan Esso, a male-female duo who toured festival circuits a few years ago on the strength of their 2014 debut, were on hand at SXSW to play new material to dense crowds as well. Any of these acts could’ve easily populated lineups this year.

Meanwhile, there are more than a few names that are likely to crop up when it comes time to book Coachella and Gov Ball for 2018. Hurray for the Riff Raff’s alt-country, pro-immigrant vibes won tons of hearts. Melina Duterte’s solo project, Jay Som, has evolved into an arresting full-band indie rock onslaught with the release of her excellent LP Everybody Works, which came out the week before SXSW. Her former tourmate Michelle Zauner, who founded Japanese Breakfast, played some gorgeously shoegazey sets (during the one I saw, she did an excellent cover of The Cranberries classic “Dreams”), and will get a big signal boost opening for a run of Slowdive’s upcoming North American performances. She’s not to be confused with The Japanese House, an electronic trio from England led by Amber Bain who may just be heirs to the xx throne. Similarly, Sneaks, Tei Shi, and Anna Meredith all brought unique blends of unclassifiable, off-kilter pop to SXSW’s many showcases.

There were a whole bevvy of astounding punk, grunge and garage acts, too. Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis brought her Sad13 solo project up to full-band speed with killer all-woman backup. Baltimore babies Snail Mail delivered vintage teen angst, former Swearin’ singer Allison Crutchfield and her new ensemble the Fizz, New Paltz newbies Diet Cig made a ruckus with little more than a drum kit and guitar, Cherry Glazerr veered into delirious heavy metal, and at the She Shreds showcase, Jillian Medford of Ian Sweet triumphantly announced she’d gotten her period before a raucous set – no one batted an eye. Meanwhile, Pill, Downtown Boys, and Priests, three of the most important acts currently touring, didn’t shy away from political messages and protests, either in their songs or in between them. It’s easy to imagine any one of these rockers tearing up an afternoon stage at Governors Ball, once bookers get the hint.

By contrast, of those three man-bands (which sounds as ridiculous as it should when someone refers to bands featuring women as “girl bands”) I saw, two of them bored me to tears: Floridian punks Merchandise haven’t managed to really grab my attention the way they did with thir 2012 EP Children of Desire, even though I still keep giving them a shot. And Spiral Stairs, the revived indie rock project of Pavement’s Scott Kannberg, felt like a slog rather than a celebration of their upcoming record Doris and the Daggers, their first in nine years. I would’ve rather seen a band that was actually called Doris and the Daggers, because they probably would’ve played with much more conviction. I won’t keep my fingers crossed that they’ll get a headlining slot on a big fest any time soon, but there are plenty of real, live, female-fronted bands that certainly deserve a shot, and if this year’s South by Southwest is any indication, their day could be coming soon.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Staff Picks – Gabby Salinardo: Top 10 Social Commentary Songs of 2016

Top 10 Social Commentary Songs of 2016

10. “Zombies” – Childish Gambino

Gambino’s newest album held plenty of surprises from the rapper sound-wise, and this was one of the tracks that stuck out to me the most. It describes those around him as zombies – soul-sucking entities that only seem to care about one thing: money. No doubt this song was a result of the people that attempted to surround him on his rise to fame.

9. “Radio” – Sylvan Esso

“Radio” is a catchy tune that was picked as the first single off the band’s much anticipated sophomore album, describing the process some girls go through in order to make their way in the industry (“now don’t you look good sucking American dick”). The lyrics also go on to say that even when you do make it, all that comes out of it are “highway blues and gasoline fumes” – a fantasized life that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

8. “I See Change” – Ny Oh

When I saw the Aussie native perform for the first time, she prefaced this song with the story of the first time she played it live – it was at the Grand Canyon for a crowd of strangers, and during her short performance she said some left and others gave her some choice comments. I found this a bit shocking as the lyrics reflect Ny Oh’s pain as she sees the beautiful world we call home become overrun with concrete, so to have people at a national park simply ignoring her message only seems a bit ironic, if not a perfect proof to her point.

7. “Fuck Donald Trump” – YG ft. G-Easy and Macklemore

I think the title speaks for itself.

6. “Drone Bomb Me” – ANOHNI

Anohni is better known by some as the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, but she did not hold back on her first solo album. The title of this song is pretty self-explanatory, a direct response to the incessant drone warfare and terrorism the world has been subject to these past few years. She commented that “it’s a love song from the perspective of a girl in Afghanistan, say a 9-year-old girl whose family’s been killed by a drone bomb. She is kind of looking up at the sky and she’s gotten herself to a place where she just wants to be killed by a drone bomb too.”

5. “Power Play” – HOLYCHILD

HOLYCHILD has been known for their brat pop infused with social commentary ever since they dropped their debut EP MINDSPEAK (an appropriate title to say the least). Before lead singer Liz Nistico had vocal surgery earlier this year, the duo released their latest EP America Oil Lamb, the name itself being a jab at what America has become. “Power Play” featuring RAC is a gritty synth filled track that delves into the world of wealth, mental health, self-worth, and the resulting fear of aging. Similar to an older track, “Nasty Girls”, Liz lists all the things she feels many people (including herself) get suckered into thinking are a necessary part of everyday life.

4. “iT” – Christine and the Queens

While it seems pretty clean cut that this song is about transsexualism, Héloïse (Christine) takes things a little deeper by saying, “I had symbolic desire with this song to take the place of a guy. Perhaps because I was not given what I wanted as a girl. But also by play. There is something of the infant omnipotence in this statement [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”][…]. The final sex change does not interest me.” Ultimately, this song discusses what it means to be a man and have power in society.

3. “#WHERESTHELOVE” – The Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas came back this year with a spinoff of their 2003 hit “Where is the Love?” and a powerful music video to go with it. The song features collaborations with other pop superstars ranging from the likes of Justin Timberlake to Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige, or as the song credits, “the world”. The band also took this single to a new level, with a website to go along with it ( including a #DONTFORGET portion with links to pages to donate to different causes.

2. “16 Shots” – Vic Mensa

This pro-black anthem details the death of Laquan McDonald, the title being a reference to how many times officers shot him. Vic Mensa has been an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and many of his songs off his new album touch on the subject in one way or another – he actually protested in Chicago alongside other advocates the day after McDonald’s shooting, and used a performance on REVOLT TV as a fundraiser for the Flint water crisis. As far as rappers go, I’ve found him to be one of the best at making a lasting impression, using news report commentary on many of his tracks to further instill the sense of injustice (see also “Go Tell ’Em”).

  1. “Don’t Touch My Hair” – Solange

I would honestly consider A Seat at the Table one of the best albums of the year. Solange put so much into this record and managed to create a beautiful visual story of black empowerment. “Don’t Touch My Hair” speaks out against the constant problem black women face – the “compliment” question of asking to touch a black woman’s hair is, in fact, a racial microagression. In a white-dominated, patriarchal society, the question itself denies black women consent and respect of their own bodies in such a way that puts them on display as abnormal. Solange uses this track perfectly to define the limits she will allow her identity and beliefs to be compromised in order to satisfy those around her.


TRACK REVIEW: Doe Paoro “The Wind”

Doe Paoro

Doe Paoro recently released a new single titled “The Wind” – and it is beautiful. The song was written during Hurricane Sandy – which for any New Yorker will invoke memories of fear, the dark, of rain coming down and uncertainty, but hopefully, if you were hiding out with someone you love, also a deep sense of intimacy. Shelter from the storm, if you will. “The Wind” was produced by Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) and features an enchanting beat created by the Chicago duo Supreme Cuts that rains down in deep, sharp beats as soaring interlaced vocals dance the song of calmness that only true intimacy can provide.

Listen to “The Wind” below.

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The Used & My Chemical Romance

1. Jenny Lewis – “Head Underwater”

One of the best tracks off of one of the year’s best albums, “Head Underwater” is a

doozy of a pop song. Lewis sings conspicuously dismal lyrics (“My own mortality, I

contemplated”) over a bubbly, dynamic beat (that she also produced herself), creating

interesting tension within a sublime melody. Who doesn’t love a song you can have a

good cry to while also dancing?


2. Sylvan Esso – “Hey Mami”

It’s tricky to deal with a subject like catcalling, especially through pop music, but Sylvan

Esso pull it off gorgeously. Amelia Meath’s vocals are luxe and silky as she sings

“Sooner or later the dudes at bodegas will hold their lips and own their shit” over Nick

Sanborn’s bass-heavy, booming beat. A very welcomed “hey mami” that I’ll gladly listen

to as I walk down the street.


3. Jessie Ware – “Keep On Lying”

Jessie Ware’s impressive sophomore album contained quite a few pop gems, but “Keep

On Lying” is a standout. The weirdly magnetic song features a dramatic and opulent

choir of voices paired with a rinky-dink keyboard sound that, together, conjure

minimalistic pop magic.



4. Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me”

Another powerfully catchy and sunny song that boasts quite a forlorn narrative. The

lyrics of this romantic plea are unassumingly genius in the way they roll off singer Molly

Rankin’s listless tongue (“You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony”),

but they also hit a nerve that feels incredibly generationally relevant (“You’ve student

loans to pay and will not risk the alimony”). The push and pull between hopeless

romantic and practical realist has never sounded so blissful.

chumped 2

5. Chumped –Hot 97 Summer Jam”

Chumped ooze nostalgia for ‘90s and early ‘00s punk pop without ever losing their

originality. “Hot 97 Summer Jam” is a fun and quick listen with endearing “ooh”s over

gritty guitars.

st vincent audiofemme

6. St. Vincent – “Psychopath”

Amongst a roster of outstanding and complex tracks, “Psychopath” is notable for its

slightly more pared down sound. It hooks you instantly, with its quick repetition evoking

an OCD tick that you can’t quite shake, but the spaced-out chorus balances that quality



7. TOPS – “Change of Heart”

TOPS’ music sounds like pure summer. “Change of Heart” dazzles with ‘80s influences,

but it’s also got a slight shoegaze-y sheen to it that allows the infectious ditty to stand

apart from the sea of dreamy indie-pop out there.


8. Sabina – “I won’t Let You Break Me”

Brazilian Girls’ chanteuse Sabina debuted her solo efforts this year to little fanfare, but

Toujours was a solid record with the catchy “Won’t Let You Break Me” tucked in near its

end. Pulling from French Yé-Yé and rock a la Velvet Underground, this song is proudly

alluring pop rock with worldly charm.


9. Banks – “Beggin’ For Thread”

Banks’ industrial R&B leans most heavily towards pop with “Beggin for Thread.” It’s

confidently aggressive and also playful in both its lyrics (“So I got itches that scratch /

And sometimes I don’t got a filter”) and its sound, making it a perfect dance number.


10. Mr. Twin Sister – “Out of the Dark”

After a little musical reincarnation, the new Mr. Twin Sister gifted us this funky electro-

pop banger that begs to be played on a dark, sweaty dance floor. Andrea Estelle adopts

a monotone, robotic voice but, thankfully, nothing can shake her seductive qualities.

BEST OF 2014 ALBUMS: Kelly’s Picks

lana-del-rey-14032160071. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
I’ve been on the Lana Del Rey bandwagon ever since I heard “Dark Paradise” (we’re all just pretending that her second album, Paradise, never happened, right?). Lana delivers all of the slow-burn goodness found in Born to Die and that fans expect from a follow up. She kicks things up a notch with tracks like “Money Power Glory” “Florida Kilos” and “Fucked My Way Up To the Top” but keeps her dreamy California cool reputation with songs like “West Coast,” “Cruel World” and “Shades of Cool.” It’s the perfect combination of what we loved about Lana, but matured and honed to perfection.



2. Tennis – Ritual in Repeat
In 2013, Tennis released an EP called Small Sounds, which was so good that I couldn’t wait until they released the next full album. In September, they finally obliged, and it was worth the wait. In the last few years, the band has taken themselves from a fun, 80’s girl vibe heard in Cape Dory and honed Alaina Moore’s voice to make an even bigger impression, first on Young and Old and now in Ritual in Repeat. They’ve only gotten better over time, and Ritual in Repeat is the most enjoyable album yet. The catchy and upbeat “Never Work for Free” and “Viv Without the N” pair perfectly with the hopeful “Bad Girls” and “Solar on the Rise” to form a complete, solid album.


3. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Bombay Bicycle Club has always been a fun rock band, but So Long, See You Tomorrow cemented them as seriously fun (and seriously good) alternative rockers. The standout track is “Home By Now,” which pairs Lucy Rose and lead singer Jack Steadman for a R&B duet, closely followed by “It’s Alright Now,” “Carry Me” “Whenever, Wherever,” and “Luna.” It’s difficult to even pick out a non-catchy track among the listing—a well-rounded, enjoyable collection.


4. Mothxr – Various singles
OK, so this isn’t actually an album. But in interviews, the band has said they don’t plan on releasing an album, but rather release singles whenever they feel like it and I’m obsessed with the four they’ve given us this year so they belong on this list. I fell in love with them during a CMJ 2014 performance and can’t stop talking about them now. Frontman Penn Badgley (yes from Gossip Girl) leads a funky, jazzy, sexy soulful band. During their live shows, Penn grooves along to the music, and it’s hard not to do the same when listening.




5. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
An embarrassing confession: I first heard of Lykke Li from the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. But thank goodness I did because even though that franchise was a disaster, I was introduced to such a great musician. It had been nearly four years since Lykke gave us Wounded Rhymes, and she didn’t disappoint with a follow up in I Never Learn. The album is definitely an extension of her signature haunting croon, and even feels a bit darker and more melancholy than her previous work. Even though it was released in May, I recently discovered it’s a great album to listen to on dreary winter commutes into the city.


6. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Are there more depressing song titles than “Your Love is Killing Me,” “I Love You But I’m Lost” or “Nothing Will Change”? I doubt it. But Sharon Van Etten makes the depression feel so good—probably because most of us can relate in some way to the mournfulness she projects. And her voice itself doesn’t hurt. A full, sometimes breathy voice gets into our heads and refuses to leave. Luckily, we don’t want it to.


7. Banoffee – EP
While not a full-length album, the EP itself has me excited enough for whenever they’ll make their debut. I sadly missed their CMJ performances in October, but I’ll catch them another year because I’m sure Aussie Martha Brown is going to be killing it for a while. The synthetic beats on the tracks combine with R&B melodies and her dreamy vocals to create a fun, funky jam.


8. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
I first saw Sylvan Esso when they opened for Volcano Choir in 2013. While they performed, I realized that they sounded good, but I was a bit thrown off that a group so focused on synth loops would be paired with Volcano Choir. Given more time to reflect, it makes sense to me now. Their debut album has been topping the charts for best of 2014 lists, and it’s clear to see why. Those synth loops are catchy, as are Amelia Meath’s sweet vocals.


9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
It’s not surprising the St. Vincent turned out a stellar album this year—Annie Clark has been making them for a while now. I admit to being a little wary of “Birth in Reverse” when it first premiered, but I’ve since come around, and enjoy it just as much as the rest of the album. It’s guitar heavy and sounds like futuristic robots should be performing it. I mean that in the best way.


10. The Antlers – Familiars
The Antlers came back this year bringing their signature moaning vocals and smooth, swelling beats. The Antlers has always been one of my favorite artists to belt out while driving at night, and I’ll probably test that out with this album next time I get the chance. Peter Silberman’s voice is a kind of lonely moaning that is best projected when you’re by yourself.

TRACK REVIEW: Sylvan Esso remixes PHOX



Funky electropop duo Sylvan Esso just did a lovely remix of PHOX’s song “Slow Motion” and it is so deliciously silky and smooth. Sylvan Esso hails from Durham, North Carolina and is made up of vocalist Amelia Meath and producer/genius beat maker Nick Sanborn; together, they make really irresistible and groovy tunes.

Partisan Records labelmates PHOX, meanwhile, are a six-piece self-described as “a bunch of friends from the Midwestern circus hamlet, Baraboo, WI, a place where kids often drink poisoned groundwater and become endowed mutants.” They also make mesmerizingly mellow tunes tied together by Monica Martin’s stunning, velvety voice that you can’t help but fall in love with immediately.

We were already obsessed with “Slow Motion” but Sylvan Esso took the soulful song and gave it even more soul. The remix opens with an intense synth and bass beat, then it gradually introduces Martin’s voice in a delicate but calculated manner, which reaches octaves far, far away. Sanborn replaces the acoustic guitar and a jubilant, contagious clapping  from the original with a springy synth, building it up over the course of the song and slowly adding in percussive, chopped snippets of Martin’s vocal to carry it through to the end. It’s a rather perfect pairing, given Meath’s similarly smokey vocals. This latest version of “Slow Motion” crackles and smolders with a completely different vibe from the folksy original; it’s hard to decide which is best.




Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut is a beautiful study in synergy. Combining the timeless, self-possessed sound of Amelia Meath’s velveteen vocals with cleverly nuanced, exultant electronic production from Nick Sanborn, the project has captivated an ever-growing fan base that includes the industry’s heaviest hitters (they’ve supported the likes of Justin Vernon and Merrill Garbus on national tours) all on the strength of just three Soundcloud offerings. The tracks on Sylvan Esso (streaming now on NPR) are as deceptively simple as those that precede its May 13th release on Partisan Records; all that’s at work here are Sanborn’s synths and beats and Meath’s melodic acrobatics, but the dynamics between these two elements elevate the abilities of the other at every turn.

If the formula seems done to death, it must be said that these two work so exquisitely together it feels entirely fresh. They both come from folksier backgrounds; Sanborn played with Megafaun while Meath was a founding member of Mountain Man. Much as she did during her time with that band, Meath elevates everyday experiences, thus revealing the poignance that can exist within the mundane. The narrative in “Uncatena,” for instance, centers on washing dishes and writing letters. Sanborn’s handling of Meath’s swooning, antiqued melodies comes off as preternatural; whether he lets them rest unadorned over subtle textures or manipulates her lines entirely to serve as a beat or movement in and of itself, it’s always expertly executed, respectful, and perfectly at home in its broader context.

Last January, we caught up with the pair as they kicked off a headlining tour at Baby’s All Right. Their easy give-and-take was apparent even in the way they riffed effortlessly on Star Trek, the inherent un-sexiness of playing baritone sax, or an upcoming tour stop in California in which each admitted they were looking forward to being served “overpriced juice” from a “surfer dude-babe” (Meath) or “vegan girl with an undercut” (Sanborn). “We can’t describe how grateful we feel to be headlining shows at all at this point. I mean we have like three songs on the internet. We’re just so grateful to people for being attentive,” gushes Sanborn.

There was plenty reason to take note of the band’s early online presence. “Hey Mami” introduced the group with a forward-thinking look at the realities of street harassment, though couched as it was in cheery playground handclaps it was just as easy to dance to as it was to provoke conversation about the dually damaging and uplifting nature of unwarranted comments from bystanders. “Cat-calling… happens, and it upsets me. You don’t know what to do,” Meath admits. “Sometimes, it happens and you’re like, ‘Fuck you, I feel really threatened and unsafe,’ and then someone will do it and you’re like, ‘Awww yeah! I’m gonna go home and think about you later.’ Or it’s an old guy who’s like ‘Bless you,’ and you’re like ‘YES!’”

The song was released on 12” as a means of placing the band’s music in a specific frame of reference from the get-go. Sanborn says, “We really wanted to contextualize it right away. We had this idea to do just an old school format – a 45RPM single with the full acapella instrumental. I’m a DJ, and all the old 12 inches I would buy [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”][were like that]. It invites remixes, it puts it in a context that we always wanted it to be in since we started working together.” Though it appeared as a b-side to “Hey Mami,” “Play It Right” was actually their first collaboration. “I did a remix for a song she wrote for Mountain Man and that became ‘Play It Right’ and we just kept sending each other stuff that we thought the other one would be into,” Sanborn explains. Meath adds, “We both have very, very distinct sounds which are actually kind of disparate. People keep calling us fucking ‘electro-folk.’”

Call it whatever you want, but it works so well it’s hard to imagine either of them involved in projects more well-suited to their strengths (not to mention playing up each other’s). “Each of us tends to have instincts to do what we’re gonna do, which is why we have individual voices. But we try to serve the song first,” says Sanborn. His DJ intuition serves Sylvan Esso especially well on pumping club anthem “H.S.T.K.” Meath’s vocals are spry and jazzy at the song’s outset, bouncing over springy beats before growing sultry and daring on the line Don’t you wanna get some? Sanborn loops that line and builds the mood into a frenzy in which tiny, thoughtful flourishes pop like flashbulbs. Tracks like this are especially vibrant when performed live, perfectly suited for the sensual, hip-hop inspired gyrations Meath executes with a dancer’s grace.

Sylvan Esso have kept up a pace that could be hard for other bands to maintain. “It’s just two of us. It’s not like we have some machine that’s just gonna keep going for us,” Sanborn says. “We can predict what will be fun for us and what will be not fun for us. Already we’ve said no to things that we thought were a bad idea.” Meath cites the importance of naps, perspective and nutrition when it comes to stamina and maintaining a good attitude, stating, “The minute I start getting to be a Grumpus Maximus, [I know] something’s going on. What’s going on? Maybe you just need to eat a bagel.” “Could I Be,” a standout track on the LP, perfectly elucidates the exhilaration and exhaustion of that hustle. And it’s incredibly effective as a motivational tool; the chugging synths and persistent beats mirror the locomotion of the “train” that Meath refers to even as Sanborn distorts her voice into a mechanical whistle. Like “The Little Engine That Could” the moral of the story is that any goal is well within reach given solid hard work.

But it’s a respect for what the other brings to the table that makes this collaboration a resounding success. “We’re a partnership, just a man and a woman in a band on completely even footing, and that’s how we treat everything,” Sanborn says. “Really early on we established this relationship of being hyper honest when we didn’t like something. One of the best aspects of this band has been being able to argue pretty vehemently and not have emotions be involved.” Meath adds, “I’ll have this hook, I’ll sing it to him, and he’ll be like ‘Okay, cool. I have this beat.'” Then, Sanborn continues, “We just keep working on it til it’s something that we both like.”

It’s an exchange best illustrated by the metaphors within “Coffee,” a breakout track for the band that, at its most simple, is about dancing with a partner. Though it had been released only days prior, the audience at the Baby’s show knew every single word from opening lines True, it’s a dance, we know the moves / The bow, the dip, the woo, to the infectious Get up / Get down of the chorus, and Meath’s imploring Do you love me? sung so confidently you get the sense she knows the answer is always going to be ‘yes.’ She wrote a treatment for the joyous video that would accompany the track. “I sat down and studied music videos for like a week,” she says, detailing a syllabus that included TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Jon Hopkins’ “Open Eye Signal,” and Sean Paul’s “Get Busy.” It splices slow-mo scenes from various dance parties – subuirban gymnasium hoe-downs, 50’s sock-hops, jaded hipster house parties, and finally, a futuristic flash mob styled by Sylvan Esso’s friends at Dear Hearts, a boutique in their hometown of Durham, North Carolina. Sanborn says the video reflects “our whole aesthetic, referencing pop but pulling the things out of it that we love.”

Pop sensibility drives every track on the record. It comes from the rustic traditions that inform Meath’s style of singing as much as how her vocal gets filtered through Sanborn’s modern approach. “With electronic music you kind of have to reinvent the wheel a little bit,” he says. “Every facet of it: hardware, software… every part of musicianship and instrumentation is changing constantly. It’s really immediate and not entirely predictable. Electronic music is moving out of rigidity.” Whether highlighting the sinister courtship rituals of the modern male on “Wolf” or listless teenage shenanigans on “Dreamy Bruises,” Meath’s imaginative lyrics and their easygoing delivery haunt those purlieus with a finesse and elegance that magnifies the contributions of both performers. “It’s mostly just being really good partners in crime,” Meath says. They’re hardly committing felonies, though; as a record, Sylvan Esso feels more like a gift.

Sylvan Esso play NYC in May 8th at The Westway, and as supporting act for tUnE-yArDs at Webster Hall June 22nd and 23rd.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

VIDEO REVIEW: Sylvan Esso “Play It Right”


play it right

Sylvan Esso certainly isn’t the first act to pepper electronica with folk undertones but their combination is particularly intriguing to say the least. It is pure and honest while still managing to uplift listeners and make them wanna move. The North Carolina duo released “Play It Right” via soundcloud last year and built a ton of buzz around it, but the song never got a proper video – until now. Ahead of the May 13th release of their debut LP on Partisan Records, the video highlights the simplicity of the song’s elements by echoing the track’s minimalistic vibe. Splashes of light wash over vocalist Amelia Meath, synth wizard Nick Sanborn, and two dancers, illuminating just enough to pierce the darkness of the set. Meath’s exuberant dance moves look hip-hop inspired, yet remain polished and graceful, like that of a ballet dancer; selected scenes employ slow motion to highlight both her elegance and the drama of the song, heightened as the track progresses and the dancers submerge themselves in the music. The visuals are captivating without being over-stimulating, a definite rarity when it comes to music videos. With a track this good, elaborate sets and costumes aren’t needed – Sylvan Esso basking in their own spotlights are engaging enough to grab our attention and keep it there.

TRACK REVIEW: Sylvan Esso “Coffee”

Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso

What’s better at warming brittle bones in the brutal cold than a piping hot cup of coffee?  The only thing I can even think of is the newest track from Brooklyn-based electro-pop outfit Sylvan Esso, and wouldn’t you know, it’s named after everyone’s favorite caffeinated beverage.  The song is less about daily roast and more about sensuous evocations of comfort and home.  Amelia Meath’s lush vocals deliver salient lines like “I know my words will dry upon the skin / Just like a name I remember hearing” before asking “Do you love me?”  Twinkling electronic flourishes and crystalline chimes adorn a thick blanket of bouncy bass, courtesy of Nick Sanborn.  Each element is carefully articulated as the track breathes and stretches around Meath’s eloquent longing.

Sanborn is best known for his work in Megafaun, Meath for her folksy Mountain Man project.  The duo released a 12″ for their equally infectious debut singles “Hey Mami” and “Play it Right” via Trekky in July.  “Coffee” will be released as a 12″ by Partisan Records on March 25th, with a b-side entitled “Dress”.

With playful shout-outs to Tommy James & the Shondells, textural percussion, and vivid imagery, this track is going to stick around like a crush on your favorite barista.