Meet Sound Wizard Bella Blasko

Bella Blasko started her music industry career as a studio intern, but a decade later, she has paved her way as an internationally traveling audio engineer, producer, and mixer, working with some of the biggest names in music. Her approach of intuition and flexibility has led her into rooms recording not one but two records recognized at the 2021 Grammy Awards: Bonny Light Horseman’s self-titled release, nominated for best Folk Album; and Folklore, Taylor Swift’s collaboration with Aaron Dessner of The National, which took home the award for Album of The Year.

Blasko’s accomplishments are particularly noteworthy considering that women only make up 5% to 7% of producers and audio engineers, as reported by the Audio Engineering Society. Throughout the setbacks of 2020, Blasko has remained an in-demand studio wizard nestled in the Catskill mountain region of The Hudson Valley. I Zoomed with Blasko to discuss her humble beginnings, learn some tips, and walk her fantasy-like journey navigating and succeeding in the competitive, male-dominated world of audio engineering.

AF: How did your musical path lead you to the world of audio engineering? 

BB: I grew up in New Hope, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. I started playing piano when I was really young, around six or seven, and then studied classical piano all the way through college. I didn’t really expect to do that, but at some point, I realized it was the thing that I loved the most. I transferred to Bennington College in Vermont my sophomore year, and was interested in taking recording classes with Julie Last. When I met Julie, she was super inspiring to me and made me realize it was what I wanted to do. At the time I didn’t realize having a female role model in that position was so rare. I was so lucky to study with someone I really connected and related to. She made me feel like audio engineering was something I could do, and envision a place for myself in that world.

AF: How would you describe your first professional studio experience? 

BB: My first studio internship was at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck. It’s an awesome studio and it was a really great place to learn and get hands-on work. It can be difficult and competitive getting an actual job out of an internship because there aren’t many positions at a studio, and most artists bring in their own engineers for sessions. The timing worked out for me because an assistant engineer was leaving as I was arriving, so I worked really hard to learn everything so I could take over their position. I also worked at another studio outside of Woodstock called Dreamland. It was a pretty quick transition for me to go from intern to engineer. Being an assistant is all about making things happen the way the artist wants it to happen. You have to learn to be flexible in your approach, while knowing the gear and console inside out. I guess I just learned everything hands-on by paying close attention. 

When I was first an intern, I remember going into the studio, seeing a giant patch bay and thinking, how am I going to learn that? What even is that? Early on, I’d stay in the studio after the session and look at how everything was patched and how different engineers or producers would have things routed, then try to study and internalize it. A lot of assistants might just set something up for someone without thinking about why they’re doing it that way, or what’s good about it. It’s so important to pay attention to details like microphone placement, because a slight angle can make a huge difference. Paying close attention over time gave me a set of tools. Once I started running my own sessions, then I could try to figure out from that toolbox, what’s my own style? What do I like? Which sounds do I prefer?

AF: What’s your preferred digital audio workstation? 

BB: I primarily work in Pro Tools. That’s the standard in most professional recording studios these days. It’s what I’m really comfortable in and that’s also a helpful part of becoming an engineer, getting really fast and proficient in your program. I also do a bit of Ableton, which I’ve just gotten into more in the past few years when I was helping build some Ableton rigs for live shows. 

AF: Can you talk a bit about your work with live shows?

BB: I was helping Aaron Dessner from The National a lot with his band with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, called Big Red Machine. I designed an Ableton set for them which was interesting because a lot of their work is improvisational, over different sets of ideas and loops. It was pretty fun to work on because I got to design it to be a tool that could help them be creative. The session I built has different tracks on different faders, so Aaron can launch loops at different times and effect them with delays and reverb and filters on pads. It was fun to figure out a way an artist can be engaged with their playback instead of just playing to a pre-recorded track. Once you know a lot of the concepts, you can move back and forth between different audio programs. Ableton makes you think in a less linear way in terms of song structure, which I liked learning because it made me change the way I was thinking. The program led me to not just think in a timeline from left to right, but to think of how you could match different beats and elements that you wouldn’t have thought to put together from different sections, because you’re not looking at it in a horizontal, chronological way.

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AF: What do you consider the most basic foundation of audio engineering?

BB: The first thing that comes to mind, that sounds kind of broad, but I think is really important, is the general concept of signal flow. You might learn how compression works, or EQ, these different main elements that we incorporate into manipulating and recording sounds. Signal flow is one of the most important because that’s where it can be easy to get lost when you’re starting off. I think that’s something that people think they can kind of skip figuring out in a really concrete way, because so many things are digital these days, and it makes it seem easy. But when you really have a good grasp on that, then I think you can make almost any setup work, understand how to work in any studio, and be able to move around to any home setup. 

AF: Can you talk about your work as a traveling audio engineer?

BB: One thing I love is being able to record anywhere in any setup and not be fussy about it. Before COVID I was on tour for the past few years with The National. We travel with a mobile recording rig in a couple Pelican cases. Just the idea that you can record anything you want, anywhere you want, and with pretty minimal gear, I think that’s really incredible. We’ve ended up recording things that ended up being parts and songs on great records, just backstage at a show, or in a hotel, or any different, weird situation, like the back of a bus or in someone’s office.

AF: What else can you tell me about working with The National?

BB: I love working with those guys so much. I first met them when I was at the Clubhouse probably about ten years ago now. They came in to record their album Trouble Will Find Me and I was the assistant engineer on the record. And they were there for a pretty long time, a couple months I think, and we got to know each other really well. They had some ties to the Hudson Valley, and I continued working on several other projects with Aaron at Dreamland after that. He built a studio in the Hudson Valley, where I work a lot these days. It’s where the Taylor Swift Record was made. I’m the National’s band coordinator and also the touring recording engineer. I don’t do front of house, I do remote studio work because all of the guys have a lot of side projects they work on while they’re on the road. We also record a lot of the live shows, and we’ll set up a studio backstage at a venue or in a hotel room. On tour days where there’s no show, I’ll research ahead of time so we can go into a studio nearby. It’s been wild to end up in studios all over the world on a random day off. I wasn’t super familiar with the band’s music before we started working together, but now they’ve become such a huge part of my working life, and my musical family. I feel like I know their catalogue like the back of my hand now. 

AF: Can you talk about your contribution as an engineer on Folklore? It just won Album of The Year at the 2021 Grammys!

BB: The track that I worked on, “Cardigan,” I actually started recording that song idea with Aaron when we were on tour with the National. We were recording backstage in Germany somewhere when he started it, and it grew from that. He’s one of the hardest working people I know. He’s constantly making new music. It’s been really cool to be a part of these different projects that come up working with him. 

AF: Can you discuss your work with Bonny Light Horseman? 

BB: The relationship with their label 37d03d came through The National, and it enabled me to be involved in a bunch of cool artist residencies. At this amazing 37d03d festival in Berlin, I ended up setting up a makeshift recording rig in a random room where people could just come in to record with me and work on different projects. Out of that experience, the Bonny Light Horseman record started to be made. I’m super excited about it being nominated for Best Folk Album this year at The Grammys. I also contributed some vocals to a song on the record. It’s just super fun to go anywhere, and be in a room recording and find collaborators. And because you can run into different people in different places, suddenly you get new ears on stuff you’ve been working on. Whenever people come and play on things like that it can lead to parts on a track you might not have anticipated before.

AF: Do you feel that being a classically trained pianist supports your role in engineering?

BB: I think my classical background definitely contributes to why I get satisfaction out of being able to make something perfect in the studio. Instead of doing live sound, and problem solving on the fly, I love having the time to try out different microphones and find the perfect one for any given part or voice. I enjoy going down that rabbit hole. I think that’s what drew me in – it probably has to do with being a classical musician, and practicing for hours, really obsessing over one little passage in a piece, or getting the fingering right on just a few measures. That’s contributed to my attention to detail, and feeling at home more in the studio side of things over the live performance world, you know? Being a musician is a big part of what I do, because it informs how I approach things in the studio. It definitely helps to have a stronger grasp on everything that’s going on. 

I’m still writing music, and I have an album that I’ve been working on for a while that I’m hoping to release soon. My passion for music never changes, even though sometimes it kind of shifts towards focusing on helping to create and realize other peoples’ visions. I’d say a big part of my approach is just trying to be flexible and musical. Flexibility and vibe is really important to make people feel comfortable. I think sometimes, if you’re in a studio and get too caught up in the technical details, people just aren’t going to deliver in the same way. I think recording should be really fun. I know some engineers try to have a more neutral presence around artists they work with, but I can’t help but be myself in the studio. Anyone I’m working with ends up feeling like such a close collaborator to me. It’s really important to me to create a nurturing and safe environment. 

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AF: How do you feel the direction is evolving for women in the audio engineering and music tech world?

BB: Being a woman has been a pretty important part of my journey in a lot of ways. When I was first starting to work in studios, I felt like I was really lucky to have Julie Last as a mentor for getting into this industry. But that was rare, and as time passed I didn’t see many other women in studios at all. It made me wonder if there really was a place for me in this world. Early on, I definitely had moments of questioning that. But then seeing that there wasn’t much representation made me realize that that’s why I needed to do it. And that’s why I wanted to work harder to be more successful and be able to create spaces for people who don’t like the typical, kind of more male-dominated studio space that people often think of. I think we need more alternatives to that. I’d love to try to help create those different types of environments where people can have a really safe-feeling space, and just be less intimidated and feel more empowered. I think it’s really exciting to see more and more women getting into music, and I think with the younger generation, it’s becoming more accessible in terms of technology. I see younger women who are not intimidated to walk up to a patch bay and be like, I’m gonna figure this out. Definitely, in touring, I have seen a lot more women working in live sound than I had seen in the studio world, and that’s also really encouraging.

I don’t shy away from talking about the divide because it was one motivating factor for me. And I think it’s not just female artists who want those safer spaces and different types of recording experiences. I think there are many artists who need and want that in studio environments, so it’s definitely one of my personal goals to help create those spaces. If I can be inspiring to anybody else, like Julie was to me – someone who might think, “I don’t know if that’s really a world I could exist in” – just to be able to be an example of a woman doing this job in such a marginalized world, makes me feel happy and proud. I’d love to inspire anyone else to feel they can achieve that feeling.

How Molly Tuttle Made Her Quarantine Comfort Songs Personal on New Cover Album

Photo Credit: Zach Pigg

Even after its release, a song is never finished. It morphs over time as each listener overlays their own interpretation based on the circumstances around them. It takes on new meanings throughout different points in history. Nashville-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Molly Tuttle decided to embrace this fact by reimagining music by a wide variety of artists on her cover album, …but i’d rather be with you.

Tuttle grew inspired to create a cover album when listening to music helped her navigate anxiety around the Coronavirus pandemic. “Once we were social distancing and staying home, I kept going back to these songs that meant a lot to me,” she recalls. “It was just a way to keep inspired during quarantine. It was a struggle for me at first because I love playing shows with people, but this was a great outlet to play music remotely.”

Her producer, Tony Berg, suggested she record covers and send them to him, then he sent them to guest contributors to add their own music. She selected several songs she’d already covered during live shows, plus additional ones that had special meanings for her.

The Grateful Dead’s “Standing on the Moon,” which she sings soulfully against mellow acoustic guitar, reminds her of her childhood in Palo Alto, CA. FKA Twigs’ “Mirrored Heart” expresses the sense of disconnection she felt from a partner during a rough breakup, and “How Can I Tell You?” by Cat Stevens comforted her during college when she found out her family dog died. In the latter, she sings “Wherever I am, girl, I’m always walking with you, but I look and you’re not there” against emotive cello, evoking the heartbreak of losing a loved one. “Maybe he wrote it about a romantic love, but for me, it was this pure love you can’t really put into words about someone, whether they’re an animal or a person,” she says.

Her triumphant, mystical rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” is a highlight of the album, with guitar that gives it a psychedelic rock vibe It also took on a new meaning in this recording; regardless of the band’s original intentions, her goal was to celebrate femininity and inclusiveness. “It just reminded me of being at a pride parade or somewhere that was really celebrating all different types of people,” she says. “Songs like that had a really personal meaning to me that maybe felt separate from what the original version was saying or just kind of felt like my own interpretation of the song.”

But perhaps the song she most made her own is “Fake Empire” by The National. In the cover, warped, discordant synths cut into a steady, repetitive guitar track, mimicking the picture the song paints of people “half-awake in a fake empire,” going about their daily business while chaos ensues around them. This image spoke to Tuttle while she was working on the album, as #BlackLivesMatter protests were breaking out.

“People who have the privilege to ignore things going on in our country like police brutality and mass incarceration, people who have been able to ignore it because it doesn’t directly affect their lives, are starting to wake up to it,” she says. In the video for the cover, she used footage from ’50s and ’60s political protests, performing in front of a green screen. “I used other dreamy footage of stars to kind of give it this dream-like quality to go with the lyrics,” she explains.

The album also includes a country version of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA”; a charming, poppy rendition of Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost,” where Tuttle’s angelic voice captures the wistfulness of new love; and a soft, acoustic version of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Zero.” She recorded and engineered her parts herself at home, which forced her to improve her production skills.

“I was used to having engineers do a lot of everything, and making all those calls on my own and doing tempos and arrangement, that was really kind of draining to do it that way,” she says. “But at the same time, in my room, I could do everything I wanted. I could turn out the lights and light some candles and feel free to sing how I felt like singing, without a bunch of people in the control room, listening and analyzing different takes. It was actually very freeing to record myself.”

Tuttle grew up learning to play bluegrass from her music teacher father, then began songwriting as a teenager and went to college for music before launching her career. She’s gained particular recognition for her flatpicking guitar technique, becoming the first woman ever to win two consecutive “Guitar Player of the Year” International Bluegrass Music Awards.

…but i’d rather be with you is her fourth solo album, and she’s currently working on another, this time full of her own original songs. “I’m trying to write songs from a really personal place for this next album and just speak to experiences I had that feel unique to me,” she says. “I’m always trying to dig deeper with my writing.”

Follow Molly Tuttle on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Gyda Valtysdottir Taps Impressive Array of Experimental Icelandic Composers For ‘Epicycle II’

A dichotomy is often drawn between classical music that one might learn in school and popular music people listen to today for their enjoyment and entertainment. But Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist Gyda Valtysdottir seamlessly bridges the two, with compositions that surprise the listener by drawing from classical conventions while also experimenting with fresh new sounds.

Her latest album, Epicycle II, is no exception. The collection of eight songs, recorded in collaboration with eight composers — Ólöf Arnalds, Daníel Bjarnason, Úlfur Hansson, Jónsi, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Kjartan Sveinsson, Skúli Sverrisson, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir — creates an atmosphere that is at once ancient and modern, familiar and novel, comforting and unnerving.

The album is a sequel to her first solo album, 2016’s Epicycle, which featured works from composers like Schubert, Schumann, and Messiaen as well as contemporary ones she admired; she selected Harry Partch for his “absolute unique musical world which you cannot categorize,” George Crumb for his “sensitive and highly organic soundscapes,” and “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus” by Oliver Messiaen, because it provided her with profound musical experiences while she was in school.

But the second Epicycle album focuses solely on contemporary composers, many of whom were favorites of Valtysdottir’s and all of whom she worked with directly. “I wanted it to be more collaborative, hence the aliveness of the composers,” she says. “Also, although I do not look at the previous record as a classical one, it has its feet in that realm. I wanted this one to be even more undefined. I also wanted to let go of control; each musician had full freedom of what they wanted to create and how much of a collaboration it would be.”

Though Valtysdottir was open to working with composers from all over the world, she ended up finding many in Iceland she wanting to work with, and so the album’s composers are exclusively from Iceland, making it “a map of the world that influenced and shaped me,” she says.

Perhaps Iceland’s mystical terrain lends itself to otherworldly-sounding music; from Bjork to Sigur Ros, the country’s most well-known artists all seem to have an ethereal, magical quality to them, and Valtysdottir also belongs on this list. Many of her songs sound almost like they were recorded in nature, but on another planet. In “Morphogenesis” (Hansson), string instruments call and answer to each other like birds. “Unfold” (Sverrisson) sounds like it belongs in a film soundtrack, accompanying a scene of majestic mountains. “Mikros” (Thorvaldsdóttir) has a suspenseful quality to it, better suited to a chase scene.

But the highlights are the tracks where she sings; the verses of “Evol Lamina” (Jónsi), “Safe to Love” (Arnalds), and “Liquidity” (Sveinsson) sound more like incantations, with her hauntingly echoey, operatic voice delivering powerful lines like “I feel the force in you of nature” and “until you feel that liquidity there is infinite space to be found.”

This theme of exploring the ways our lives revolve around one another fits with the album title. “Epicycle,” a term used to describe the planetary orbits by ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, refers to a specific shape: a circle moving around the circumference of a larger one. When Valtysdottir learned the word, she’d already drawn the first album’s cover artwork using a kid’s toy she got on the streets of Istanbul, and she realized what the toy had produced was epicycles.

While much of the album is abstract, it cumulatively tells a story about “the interconnection between us all, how we are shaped from our connection to others, and how we find our own authenticity by embracing others,” Valtysdottir explains. “Also, [it’s about] the unique space between each one of us. I become someone slightly different with each [collaborator]; they pull different aspects out of me. I love that — it makes me feel more free and universal.”

Each composer underwent a slightly different process with Valtysdottir: Thorvaldsdóttir wrote the piece herself, Sveinsson sat down with Valtysdottir to compose, Jónsi began by recording cello and vocal improvisations, and Hansson wrote the beginning of the piece, then they improvised the rest. She and Kjartan had a band recording with them in the studio, and Úlfur played analog synthesizers. Bjarnason’s piece was already released, and Valtysdottir fell in love with it when she heard it.

Valtysdottir has also been on the other end of this type of collaboration and appeared on many other artists’ albums. Visual artist Ragnar Kjartansson even formed a “twin project” band consisting of Valtysdottir, her twin sister Kristín Anna and Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the twin brothers in The National. They’ve created a video installation featured in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they also have an album on the way.

Other projects Valtysdottir’s fans can look forward to are a duo with American folk singer-songwriter Josephine Foster, several old and new songs of hers recorded with Lithuanian band Merope, and ambient pieces she composed during lockdown.

“I’d like to bundle [them] up into an album, but it’s more challenging in the bright summer nights here in Iceland,” she says. “I’ll wait for the dark days to finish it.”

Follow Gyda Valtysdottir on Facebook for ongoing updates.

How Support From Her Sister (and Aaron Dessner) Brought Eve Owen’s Debut LP to Life

Don’t Let The Ink Dry, the lush, haunting debut album from British singer-songwriter Eve Owen, is a testament to how far young women can go when they feel supported. Struggling with loss and alienation at school, Owen spent her summer holidays in Hudson, New York with The National’s Aaron Dessner, recording some forty tracks over the last three years in his Long Pond Studio. Twelve of them would end up on Ink; Dessner’s purposeful electronic flourishes expand Owen’s deeply thoughtful lyrics and emotive vocal delivery that can’t help but remind one of Sharon Van Etten’s earliest albums.

“Aaron was so kind in letting me be myself.  I know that sounds really simple but for me that was a really big deal,” Owen says of their work together. “In other situations I have felt like I have to project this person who isn’t necessarily me, and I think why I was so comfortable in that space was I knew I could tremble and choke and shiver and I could show all my nerves but I wasn’t embarrassed by it.”

But before Owen met Dessner, her biggest champion was, without a doubt, her older sister Hannah. The two grew up singing Taylor Swift songs at the family piano, though as they entered their teen years their interests began to diverge. Eve began expressing herself via original compositions, while Hannah gravitated toward musical theater and eventually went to film school, where she’ll complete her studies next year. In the lead up to the release of Don’t Let The Ink Dry, the two collaborated on a series of four music videos that inadvertently documented Eve’s growing confidence and artistic growth. “I think that was due to our relationship, and due to my happiness just with the album in itself,” Eve says. “I’ve definitely grown to be proud of [the songs], which is a really nice feeling.”

“I think if I’m being honest, there was no plan before we started,” Hannah admits. “We were very aware that we wanted to explore different tones and styles and personalities and characters within all four of the videos, cause the songs are all so different. I recently watched back all four of them, and I actually think they really speak to the journey that Eve’s been on.”

That journey is one of a sensitive, soft-spoken young woman who once struggled to fit in finding her voice. In the first video, a somber, stuttering, black and white stop-motion clip for “She Says,” Eve twirls around an empty room with little company save for a posable artist’s mannequin, her eyes wide and a little sad-looking. The soaring piano ballad, written when Eve was just fourteen, sees her inhabiting a character feeling loss and abandonment from a family member. “It’s not actually about my family,” Eve says. “I was just interested in the idea of how abandonment from anyone is such a strong, overwhelming feeling. For the video, we wanted to show that it was about the hunger for connection and being so desperate for relationships, you find it in ways that aren’t obvious or normal, like creating your own connections with inanimate objects. I think the stop motion really works in that favor, because I get this feeling watching it where everything’s a bit off, like you’re trying really hard to connect and do what everyone else is doing but it’s this awkwardness that doesn’t quite feel natural.”

Hannah painstakingly shot each frame as a photo on iPhone before editing them together. “There were these snapshot moments – Eve was having to hold [poses] for a long time while I was doing my thing. When we played it back it was almost surreal actually, cause you’re not witnessing that in real time, we speed it all up. It was an interesting way to work for the first video because it forced us both to just slow down and think about the song and what the first video was going to be.”

The other shoots were more free-flowing, with no set schedule. Eve says her sister’s direction put her at ease in a way she couldn’t have been with another director, and by extension, it’s easy to live vicariously through the intimacy of their relationship. It’s a rare treat to see so much of a nascent artist’s personality so viscerally and immediately, and Hannah’s videos offer just that. The next one they shot, for the aching, lilting “So Still For You,” follows Eve across a desolate beach just as the sun dips below the horizon; before a backdrop of purple clouds, Eve slams herself into the sand, a literal interpretation of being stuck in a suffocating relationship.

“As Eve’s older sister, we knew this was gonna be a really special time of Eve releasing these songs. We’ve watched her grow up with these songs for such a long time – finally, people are gonna hear them,” Hannah says. “I wanted to get that rough part of her, the willingness to throw her face in a pile of mud and be free with it, because there’s something quite definite about handing songs over into the world – [it becomes] somebody else’s and they’ll do what they want to do with it.”

Shot in the beginning of January, Eve said it was freezing. “I didn’t even have boots or anything, I was just in trainers in the mud,” she recalls. “I made a mess of everything!” As much as it’s a portrait of Eve, Hannah’s behind-the scenes presence is strongly felt, too. “It was 25 minutes of just like pure sister relationship, because I’d be shouting at her, like, ‘Smack your face in the mud a bit harder!'” Hannah says with a laugh. “Eve would be like, ‘I don’t wanna do that, I wanna do this!’ and she’d run away from me. It was just a total push and pull of both of our personalities but it kind of came across in these kind of wild, very natural and raw moments.”

Hannah appears on camera in the video for “Blue Moon,” alongside Eve in snippets of home movies from their childhood. These are interspersed with shots of Eve setting up for gigs, tuning her guitars, goofing off, recording in Hudson – a documentary, essentially, of Eve’s whole life. “By that point, there was a little bit of curiosity in the air of people online wondering about Eve’s journey, the album coming out with Aaron, who she is…” Hannah says. Eve had contributed lead vocals to “Where is Her Head,” from The National’s 2019 LP I Am Easy To Find, but had otherwise remained mysterious until the rollout for Ink began.

Comparing the old footage to current-day “miming and mucking around,” Hannah was surprised to see how little had changed in Eve’s mannerisms over the years. “Seeing how prevalent it is from when she’s like four years old, when she’s feeling like a camera’s on her, she acts in a certain way that’s been the same. We got to a point in the edit where I was really just being led by her, who she is and who she has become and letting those different moments of Eve and where she sat in different points in her life, kind of talk to each other.”

“When I was watching the first cut I got this overwhelming sense of me now sort of singing this song to my younger self,” says Eve. “The chorus goes, ‘I’ll never let you break/I’ll clean up your mistakes.’ I love that idea of looking back at your past selves and going, don’t give up just yet, it does get better and you do get happier.” It wasn’t her original motivation for writing it; the soulful number is more about accepting love as a beautiful feeling, even when it’s unrequited. “I watched it and was like, that is so new to me, but it feels so right.”

It’s almost as if these three videos act as the ingredients in a recipe for artistic birth: “She Says,” seeks inspiration; “So Still For You,” is a hefty shake of raw emotion; “Blue Moon” the dash of support needed to turn that spark to fire. The fourth and final video Hannah and Eve made together, for “Mother,” is the culmination of all of that. Eve rummages through stories she wrote and art she made as a child, sometimes finding interesting through lines (the final track on Ink, called “Lone Swan” has an eerily similar title to a tale Eve penned in year seven, “The Lonely Duck”). She displays it all in a makeshift gallery, overwhelmed at some points by its volume. One gets the sense she must have felt the same way sorting through all the tracks she’d recorded with Dessner, assembling the worthiest for her debut.

“‘Mother’ was the video that had the most friction between the two of us in terms of where we wanted to go, cause it was the first song where I had quite a strong idea of what the song was about and what it meant to me, and that wasn’t at all how Eve had set out wanting that song to feel for other people,” Hannah says. “It was just kind of a weird moment where the song became the third person in our relationship. We had a lot of sit-down conversations about the video, and I think, in a really lovely way Eve had become more confident and comfortable with the idea of visually portraying what a song means as we made [the other] videos. We were having like, proper, kind of intense discussions about ideas and what it meant to [both of] us, and we kind of mashed that together.”

But, Eve says, much like her recording process with Dessner, she always felt listened to and appreciated working with Hannah. “I never felt like I had to shout or do something that wasn’t in my character to get a point across,” she says. “The whole collaborating thing is very new; I feel lucky that Aaron and Hannah are very kind toward the process, but still straightforward.”

Don’t Let The Ink Dry came out on May 8th via Dessner’s 37d03d label, which has mostly released side projects from established indie artists, like Big Red Machine, Dessner’s collab with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, or Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s joint effort with Aaron’s brother and National cohort Bryce. It’s a startling debut by any metric, each song offering a distinct and salient experience: the ghostly atmospherics of “Tudor;” the urgent, Radiohead-esque “After The Love;” the salient imagery and fluttering drum fills of “Bluebird;” and the gut-punch of “29 Daisy Sweetheart,” as heartbreaking a tale of loss as any written since Sleater-Kinney’s “The Size Of Our Love.”

Eve says that at first, she didn’t realize she was making an album with Dessner at all. “I was so into this idea of just having a fun time and creating for the sake of it,” she explains. “I never recorded with the idea that it would be on an album and people might hear it one day. It felt so personal that I was going, let’s just record this so we don’t forget it. Aaron saw things in songs that I would completely dismiss. That was a really important lesson to learn, that what I find interesting and good about a song isn’t the same as everyone else.”

Hannah says it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, but that Dessner’s production choices often made her jaw drop after having lived with the acoustic versions for so long. “Those songs not only tie to my life but also my experience of watching Eve and what she was doing and how she was feeling and what place she was in. All of those moments are equally really powerful for me,” she says. “There was a natural ebb and flow growing up – one of us will take quite a big step forward, and it will kind of naturally happen where the other person will [follow]. In the last couple of years, we’ve come together to this point where we’re both going through really exciting times, doing things that I think would have scared us a couple of years ago.”

“What I instinctively feel is that our sisterhood is so like, solid,” Eve adds. “All these things that we’re trying out are just sort of, in a lovely way, phases, or explorations. It feels to me that we’re very intrigued by what we can do next, but we’ve always got that surety of our sisterhood that will carry us.”

Follow Eve Owen on Facebook for ongoing updates.


Nipsey Hussle Laid to Rest in LA

This Thursday, funeral services and city-wide celebrations were held across Los Angeles to honor slain rapper Ermias Joseph “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom. Shot fatally outside Marathon Clothing, a store he co-owned near the intersection of Slauson and Crenshaw in South LA, on March 31 by a man policed have identified as Eric Holder, the Grammy-nominated rapper and activist made a name for himself by putting out a series of mixtapes from the mid 2000s onward, finally releasing his acclaimed debut LP Victory Lap just last year on his own label. Admired for his integrity, Nipsey remained staunchly independent and had previously invested in STEM programs for inner-city kids.

Nipsey’s emotional farewell was held at Staples Center and attended by more than 20,000 people, including fans, loved ones, and a few famous faces, too. Tributes poured in from Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Barack Obama, Snoop Dogg, and longtime girlfriend, actress Lauren London, with performances from Jhené Aiko, Stevie Wonder, and others. While his funeral procession, for the most part, brought many LA residents together, violence erupted on Thursday afternoon when a drive-by shooting at 103 and Main resulted in another senseless death. Tragically, this would’ve been the last thing Nipsey wanted; he was set to meet with LAPD officials to find ways to end gang violence in his community, despite his former affiliation with a sub-group of the Crips. His death is still under investigation but appears to stem from a personal conflict and is not believed to be gang-related. He was 33.

That New New

I never need to watch another music video (or eat another potato) again thanks to this starchy bit of Tierra Whack genius.

Kaytranada teamed up with VanJess for “Dysfunctional,” a teaser single for the as yet unannounced follow-up to 2016’s 99.9%.

Hand Habits’ placeholder LP came out in March and remains one of the best of the year thus far; check out this video for “wildfire,” which was inspired by the recent California wildfires and makes a poignant statement about our 24-hour news cycle.

Ahead of their May tour with Refused and the Hives, Bleached have returned with a stripped down song called “Shitty Ballet,” their first single since 2017 EP Can You Deal?

Emily Reo’s Only You Can See It is out today, and she’s shared the video for its lead single “Strawberry” to celebrate.

Mega Bog has released the first single from their forthcoming concept album Dolphine (out June 28 via Paradise of Bachelors).

SASAMI put together a video starring her grandma for the single “Morning Comes,” from her excellent self-titled debut, out now.

Blonde Redhead frontwoman Kazu Makino is going solo with her forthcoming album Adult Baby (and she’s launching a record label of the same name). Details are scant for now, but there’s a video for the vibey first single, “Salty,” which features Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mauro Refosco (of Atoms For Peace), and Ian Chang (Son Lux).

Aldous Harding is back with another song from her forthcoming LP Designer, out April 26 via 4AD.

Atlanta’s Mattiel has announced the release of their sophomore album Satis Factory via ATO Records (out June 14) with a fun video for lead single “Keep the Change.”

Brooklyn band Crumb prep their debut full-length Jinx for release in June with a video for its lead single, “Nina.”

Jackie Mendoza continues her streak of beguiling biligual electronica with “Mucho Más,” from forthcoming LuvHz (out April 26 on Luminelle Recordings).

Clinic are set to release their first album in seven years, Wheeltappers And Shunters, on May 10 via Domino Recordings. After previously sharing a video for its first single “Rubber Bullets,” the art-rock weirdos return with “Laughing Cavalier.”

Longtime Animal Collective videographer Danny Perez has directed a truly bizarre Dating Game-meets-Beetlejuice video for the title track to Panda Bear’s recently released Buoys.

Recent Partisan Records signees Pottery have shared another single, called “The Craft,” from their No. 1 EP, which comes out May 10.

Feminist art-punk quartet French Vanilla have a new LP coming out on June 7 called How Am I Not Myself? and have shared its lead single “All the Time.”

Amsterdam’s Pip Blom drums up some anticipation for Boat (out May 31 via PIAS/Heavenly) with a video for latest single “Ruby.”

Courtney Barnett shared Tell Me How You Really Feel outtake “Everybody Here Hates You” ahead of its official Record Store Day single release for Rough Trade (the exclusive 7″ will also feature B-side “Small Talk”).

Watch Fanclub’s Leslie Crunkilton play a crushed out ghost in the video for their latest song, “Uppercut.”

If you’re missing SXSW, The Pinheads have your cure – their video for “Feel It Now” compiles footage from this year’s festivities, including the band’s set at Burgerama 8. The Aussie’s sophomore record Is This Real comes out May 24.

West Virginian indie rockers Ona release Full Moon, Heavy Light on May 10 and have shared its mellow second single “Young Forever.”

Jesca Hoop has signed to Memphis Industries for the release of her next LP STONECHILD, which arrives July 5. It’s first single, Shoulder Charge, features Lucius.

Swedish supergroup Amason announced the August release of their first record since 2015’s Sky City with a new single, “You Don’t Have to Call Me.”

The National shared a cinematic video for “Light Years,” from I Am Easy to Find, out May 17.

End Notes

  • Now in its 12th year, Record Store Day promises another Saturday afternoon of rare releases, in-store performances, and general celebration of all things vinyl for dedicated crate-diggers and more casual music fans alike.
  • Radiohead has issued a statement on the now-concluded investigation of the 2o12 death of their drum technician during a stage collapse in Toronto.
  • A new clip for Perfect, the Eddie Alcazar film being released by Brainfeeder’s recently-established movie production house, features snippets of its soundtrack by Flying Lotus (who says his next LP is ready).
  • Vampire Weekend will celebrate the release of their next album Father of the Bride with three New York shows in Buffalo, Kingston, and a day-long affair at Webster Hall that includes a bagel breakfast, pizza lunch, and three separate sets (including one that will consist of the new LP in its entirety).
  • Coachella is upon us! In addition to the premiere of Childish Gambino and Rihanna’s Guava Island film, the festival will feature Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, Anderson .Paak, Maggie Rogers, Kacey Musgraves, Christine and the Queens, the first US appearances by Black Pink and Rosalía, and more. But the legendary fest hasn’t been without conflict; Solange dropped out this week, citing production issues, and a worker was killed in a fall setting up for the fest last weekend. In happier news, a new doc about Beyoncé’s epic headline performance last year is set to hit Netflix April 17; watch the trailer below.

NEWS ROUNDUP: International Women’s Day, Leaving Neverland, and MORE

Maggie Rogers, Mavis Staples, Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile meet at Newport Music Fest. Photo by Danny Clinch. The artists shared this photo along with messages of empowerment for International Women’s Day via Twitter.

It’s International Women’s Day!

Though some form of International Women’s Day has been around since 1909, the holiday celebrating women around the world has really gained traction over the last decade. This year’s theme was #BalanceForBetter, seeking to promote a more gender balanced world. Here’s how our favorite ladies in the music world celebrated.

  • Cardi B made a playlist on Apple Music for the occasion, featuring visionary women (including Grace Jones, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Solange).
  • Sharon Van Etten and Courtney Barnett both appeared as a guest curators for Amazon’s music streaming platform.
  • Ariana Grande tweeted a short video by director Hanna Lux Davis, reminding everyone a few tweets later “it ain’t feminism if it ain’t intersectional.”

  • Rihanna looked powerful in a black blazer.

  • Miley Cyrus shouted out some of her favorite bad ass bitches:

  • … while Lady Gaga paid tribute to her mama.

  • Maggie Rogers and Mavis Staples both reminisced via this photo with Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile.

  • Dua Lipa had some tea for those who fall short of protecting human rights.

  • And Micropixie released a video for Como Mínimo (#YesIsTheMinimum), from her upcoming LP Dark Sight of the Moon, out April 9.

The Fallout of Leaving Neverland

The explosive HBO Documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse, Leaving Neverland, aired last weekend, and unsurprisingly, folks are divided on its message. Though the allegations are nothing new (Jackson settled a child abuse case out of court in 1994, and was acquitted in a similar case with a different victim in 2005) the harrowing testimonies of two men who say they were abused by Jackson when they were 7 and 10 are hard to dismiss. Radio stations have pulled Jackson’s enduring pop hits,  The Simpsons producers have pulled iconic episode “Stark Raving Dad” from the syndication due to Jackson’s guest voice over, and a Chicago run of biographical jukebox musical “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was cancelled, though its team said this occurred due to scheduling difficulties and that they’ve set their sights on Broadway in 2020. Jackson’s daughter, Paris, seemed unfazed in a series of tweets in which she told folks to “chillax” – implying that even if Jackson’s legacy took a huge hit, his $500 million estate would ultimately be unaffected by the doc (though they’d previously filed a lawsuit to block it from airing). Meanwhile, debate continues to rage regarding blame placed on the victims’ parents, the degree to which Joe Jackson’s horrific behavior absolves his son’s various issues (including the alleged child abuse) and, of course, the idea that Jackson himself is an innocent victim of a slanderous campaign. One thing is certain: Jackson’s story is ultimately one of the saddest in pop music history, taking into account his tarnished childhood, various tabloid scandals, untimely death due to physician-sanctioned drug abuse – and it’s only compounded by the suffering of his alleged victims.

That New New

Solange has blessed the world with the (semi) surprise release of When I Get Home, her follow-up to 2016’s show-stopping A Seat at the Table.

Cementing their legacy as Jersey’s favorite pop punks, The Bouncing Souls released the second single from their forthcoming 30th anniversary EP Crucial Moments, out March 15. Their massive tour kicks off the next day at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.

Vampire Weekend have shared two new tracks from their upcoming Father of the Bride LP, out in May

Mac DeMarco announced his next record Here Comes the Cowboy with a single called “Nobody,” giving Mitski fans a little déjà vu; both artists (and their shared PR team) say it’s just a coincidence.

Bedouine is back with a one-off single that reflects on the aftermath of her gorgeous 2017 self-titled debut.

SOAK has released another lovely singled from April 26 release Grim Town., announcing some US tour dates (including two at SXSW) to go with it.

Alan Vega’s final recordings have been released to benefit the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which provides teaching materials to educators seeking to engage students by teaching pop music history. The Suicide co-founder passed away in 2016.

Everyone loves a corgi – and that includes illuminati hotties, who are very honest about the fact that sometimes doggos are are the only thing keeping us in a mediocre relationship. They’ll be in Austin next week for SXSW.

Stef Chura has announced her sophomore record Midnight with its lead single “Method Man.”

Blushh shared a one-off single to get folks pumped for their upcoming SXSW dates as well.

Toronto punks Greys have announced third LP Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, out May 10, sharing its first single “These Things Happen.”

Rick from Pile remains the biggest babe in all of DIY indie rock; this week the band released their latest single and announced forthcoming LP Green and Gray, out May 3.

In other DIY news, Patio ready themselves for the April 5 release of Essentials with their latest track, “New Reality.”

NOTS have seemingly recovered from their recent lineup changes and shared the first single from their upcoming LP 3, out May 10. Two of its members are also releasing an LP this year as Hash Redactor.

The National have announced a new collaborative project with director Mike Mills entitled I Am Easy To Find. It’s essentially an hour-long companion album to a 24-minute short film of the same name starring Alicia Vikander. The first track on the album, “You Had Your Soul With You,” has some guest stars as well – Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, The Brooklyn Youth Choir, and longtime David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey lend vocals. The band have announced a bunch of tour dates with Courtney Barnett and Alvvays supporting.

Local Natives released two videos this week, one of which stars Kate Mara. Both will appear on the April 26 release of Violet Street, a follow-up to 2016’s Sunlit Youth; they’ve previously announced a slew of tour dates.

Sky Blue, a posthumous collection of unreleased material from celebrated singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, arrived March 7 to commemorate what would’ve been his 75th birthday.

Kishi Bashi returns with new LP Omoiyari on May 31, and has released the album’s first single, “Summer of ’42”.

Charly Bliss have shared a video for “Chatroom,” the second single from their upcoming record Young Enough, out May 10.

CupcakKe keeps it topical with a new single entitled “Bird Box,” referencing the recent Netflix horror movie and the Jussie Smollett controversy alike.

Having penned Grammy-nominated hits for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monae, Tayla Parx is poised to break out on her own with a highly anticipated solo debut on Atlantic Records, We Need to Talk, out April 5. Her latest video for “I Want You” follows earlier singles “Slow Dancing” and “Me vs. Us.”

Christian Fennesz, who records electronic music under his last name, returns to basics with a new 12-minute track called “In My Room,” from forthcoming 4-song LP Agora, out March 29.

Ahead of the April 12 release of No Geography, The Chemical Brothers share a video for “We’ve Got To Try.”

Festival faves Marshmello and CHVRCHES have collaborated on a sugary new single titled “Here With Me.”

Dido’s first record since 2013, Still on My Mind, is out today; her first tour in fifteen years hits the US in June.

End Notes

  • The Prodigy singer Keith Flint was found dead of apparent suicide at the age of 49.
  • I would unironically love to attend one of these West Coast Man Man shows featuring “Friday” singer Rebecca Black.
  • Gayle King interviewed R. Kelly for CBS regarding the sexual abuse allegations against him, prompting an explosive on-camera outburst from the singer that has been widely discussed. We’re so tired.
  • Swedish black metal band Watain have been banned from performing in Singapore due to their “history of denigrating religions and promoting violence.”
  • NYC concert-goers spontaneously burst into song on the ACE platform following a sold-out Robyn show at MSG.
  • Speaking of Robyn, she’s been announced as one of the headliners for Pitchfork Music Festival, which takes place in Chicago from July 19-21. HAIM and the Isley Brothers top Friday and Saturday’s bills respectively, with Stereolab, Mavis Staples, Belle & Sebastian, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Tirzah, Kurt Vile, Low, Julia Holter, Rico Nasty, Neneh Cherry, Snail Mail, Khruangbin, Soccer Mommy, Amber Mark, CHAI, and more set to play as well.
  • While we’re on the subject of festivals, Variety has leaked a potential lineup for Woodstock 50 and it’s not exactly overflowing with “heritage” acts; Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and Black Keys look like likely headliners.
  • Elton John tweeted an definite release date in October 2019 for his upcoming memoir.
  • Massive Attack have rescheduled some of the North American Mezzanine reunion tour dates due to illness.
  • You can buy the hospital gown that Kurt Cobain wore during a legendary 1992 Reading Festival Nirvana performance for a mere $50,000.
  • L7’s Donita Sparks emerged as a hero when, in true punk fashion, Marky Ramone and Johnny Rotten nearly came to blows at a panel discussion on upcoming John Varvatos and Iggy Pop-produced Epix docu-series Punk.
  • Morrissey is taking his upcoming covers record California Sun to Broadway.
  • Taylor Swift stalker Roger Alvarado was arrested for breaking into the pop star’s home again, fresh off of a stint in jail for the same charge (bringing his Swift-related arrest total to three).
  • Arcade Fire will reportedly cover “Baby Mine” in Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo remake, and it’s a real family affair.
  • Mark your sundials – Red Hot Chili Peppers will stream a live concert from the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt on March 15.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Brooklyn Music, Coachella & More

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Vagabon headlines one of Silent Barn’s final shows tomorrow night. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

Brooklyn Music, Coachella & More

By Jasmine Williams

Brooklyn Music News

This week is big for Brooklyn announcements! Silent Barn announced their final lineup of shows. The bittersweet list starts with Partner, Katie Ellen, and Early Risers tonite. Vagabon, L’Rain, and Zenizen play Saturday. Northside has released their first round of artists for the 10th anniversary edition of the local festival. Liz Phair, Deerhoof, and La Luz will all play this June.

A couple of months later, The National are putting on a weekend showcase. Future Islands, Cat Power, Phoebe Bridgers, Cigarettes After Sex, and more will perform in Queens for the band’s There’s No Leaving New York festival on September 29th and 30th.

Coachella vs. Soul’D Out

In case you forgot – Coachella starts this weekend. One festival is daring to go up against the mega-fest. Portland’s Soul’D Out Music Festival is suing Coachella organizer, Golden Voice, for creating an unfair monopoly due to their artist restrictions. The flower-crowned festival’s radius clauses mean that Coachella-billed musicians cannot play other events within a certain distance. Artists like SZA and Daniel Caesar were forced to decline performance at Soul’D Out due to the rule.

That New New

Badass-babes unite! are Janelle Monáe & Grimes are back with another collaboration – “PYNK” is a color-worshipping, bubble-gum pop ode to sexuality and body empowerment. Check it out in our Video of The Week column.

How we’ve missed Florence and the Machine! Yesterday, powerhouse Florence Welch gave us the gift of new music with her band’s first release since 2016. “Sky Full of Song” showcases everything fans have come to expect from the singer, and we couldn’t ask for anything better.

The ladies of rap are in command this month! Last week, Cardi B dropped Invasion of Privacy and this week hip-hop co-queen Nicki Minaj dropped not one but three new tracks, causing the Twitter-sphere to declare April 12th “Nicki Day.” Her reign continues today with her feature in Young Thug’s clip, “Anybody.”

New York favorites Gang Gang Dance released “Lotus,” the debut single off of their upcoming album. The release date for Kazuashita has just been announced as June 22nd.

Indie band Cherry Glazerr hit us with a new one this week! Watch and listen to “Juicy Socks” now and catch the band on tour with this month and in June.

Brooklyn Vegan announced other lady-fronted bands hitting the road soon, including Superorganism, Big Thief, Jay Som, Soccer Mommy, and Men I Trust. Mommy and Som have both been added as openers for Paramore this summer. Men I Trust will open for Belle and Sebastian.

Other news:

  • Late rock-soul legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe is finally getting inducted into Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  • This week, Mariah Carey fans learned about her struggle living with bipolar disorder. Her full interview with PEOPLE is up today.
  • Kali Uchis’ much awaited  LP Isolation debuted last week and yesterday, Pitchfork released an interview featuring the “After The Storm” singer’s song-by-song explanation of the album. Uchis stopped by NPR’s World Cafe for a guest DJ session featuring her current influences.
  • In an effort to clear up the murky relationship between tech streaming companies and artists, a new bill is on the table that will establish a public database of music compositions, their songwriters, and who owns the rights to them.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Allegations Against PWR BTTM, ACLU’s Rockstar & More

  • PWR BTTM Cancel Release Show Following Allegations

    Over the past few days, allegations of predatory behavior and sexual abuse were made against Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM, and an anti-semitic photo of Hopkins from 2011 has again resurfaced. While the former was previously addressed by the band, many fans were taken by complete surprise regarding the allegations of violated consent, despite the fact that some of their peers state they were warned about this behavior months ago. The Brooklyn band T-Rextasy is one of them, and has cancelled their July tour with PWR BTTM. Tonight’s Rough Trade release show for Pageant has also been cancelled.

    While the band has not outright confirmed or denied these allegations, they’ve released a statement that includes the offer for victims to send an email to an account that will allegedly only be accessible by an as-yet unidentified mediator. This has sparked further criticism as well as a discussion about accountability; Jes Skolnik does an amazing job of breaking it down via Medium.

  • Meet The ACLU Employee Who Is Also A Rockstar

    Pinky Weitzman is the deputy director of the ACLU, in charge of helping the organization adapt to the modern age. She’s been described as one of its “greatest digital minds.” She’s also a touring member of the Magnetic Fields, and performs with other big-name musicians and in musicals. Instead of taking a break from the ACLU to go on a Magnetic Fields tour, after the election, she decided to take on both roles simultaneously. Read the NBC feature on Weitzman here.

  • Pink Floyd’s Animals Inspires Protest Art

    A Chicago architect wants to relieve the city- at least for a day- of seeing the Trump Tower logo. Jeffrey Roberts is still seeking the city’s approval for his “Flying Pigs on Parade,” which entails tethering several huge, gold, inflatable pigs to a barge to block the letters of Trump’s name. The project was inspired by Pink Floyd’s use of a pig balloon for their 1997 album Animals, and Roger Waters has given Roberts his approval and permission. 

PLAYING DETROIT: Protomartyr “The Agent Intellect”


Rolling Stone gave Protomartyr‘s third album The Agent Intellect four out of five stars. Pitchfork gave it a 8.2 rating, and Consequence of Sound thought it worthy of an A-. And somehow, I feel like I just walked into a movie theater during the credits and everyone is clapping. I feel like I missed something. I’ll admit, it took an annoying amount of Facebook shares and reposted reviews to spark my interest in Protomartyr, who on paper seemed like they would fit my taste profile. The term “post punk indie” was tossed around and some comparisons to Ian Curtis of Joy Division, too. At first glance, it seemed moody enough for me to say yes to, but at second and third glance I’m left shrugging my shoulders.

An ambitious four piece, The Agent Intellect is Protomartyr’s third album in three years. An impressive feat, yes. However, after an appropriately chosen three listens, I spent half the time waiting for something to happen and the other half wondering if Rolling Stone and I were listening to the same album. To be fair, I like the album. It’s fine. But that’s exactly what’s wrong with it. What sounds like a collection of early 2000’s indie B-Sides reflective of, say, Louis XIV (remember them? Yeah, no one else does, either). Intellect rides a steady trajectory, rarely seizing the moment and instead primes for the aforementioned moment without resolve, release or that thing. Perhaps it’s the lack of explosive, emotive moments that makes this album unique. Maybe we’re saturated in riding the roller coaster to the point where albums like Intellect seem refreshing. The songs run together like a high school watercolor but maintain a respectable cohesion. The drums on “Cowards Starve” sound like the drums in “Boyce or Boice” and “Why Does it Shake?” The vocals are somehow consistently flashy in their flatness. After riding the stagnant wave, a track like “Clandestine Times” wakes you up not by being particularly loud or outrageous but for being the song. Yes, it sounds like something ripped right off of The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, but it’s unexpected in context and is the bloodiest, messiest on the album, making it for me the most sincere moment on The Agent Intellect. It is after this track that the album adopts a slightly more unmerciful tone and at some point sounds as if Protomartyr are actually feeling something instead of just making sounds about feeling something.

The truth is, when it comes to music I much rather feel passionate about hating or loving something than be unmoved. I wanted to inhale Agent Intellect and wanted to crave more of it. But really it comes down to being challenged and surprised. If I were at a house party, I could hear this fading into the background over beer bottles and conversation; a non-intrusive soundtrack to a night you probably won’t remember, because the party was only okay.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bryce Dessner & Jonny Greenwood


Most people know Bryce Dessner and Jonny Greenwood as members of The National and Radiohead, respectively (they both play lead guitar). But outside of their work with two of the most respected rock bands currently around, both Dessner and Greenwood have a background in classical music—Dessner received his music masters at Yale, and Greenwood gave up his music degree at Oxford Brookes University when Radiohead was signed. Both musicians are currently working as composers in residence, Dessner with Dutch orchestra Muziekgebouw Eindhoven and Greenwood with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Those similarities seem like enough justification to pair the two on this nine track release by Deutsche Grammophon—three of the tracks are Dessner’s compositions from over the past few years, while the other six are Greenwood’s original score for 2007’s There Will Be Blood—but Copenhagen Philharmonic conductor André de Ridder brought the two composers together for stylistic and thematic reasons, which are easy to pick up on after a few listens through the album. The two composers share a penchant for high contrast—dark, deep tones and textures are often juxtaposed with softer, prettier ones—and a knack for depicting a sort of vast musical landscape.


Greenwood’s score, though, has been available for quite some time to the public and is probably familiar territory to fans of his growing soundtrack repertoire (he’s composed the score for four other movies in addition to Blood). The six tracks included on this release, “Open Space” in particular, exhibit an influence from scoring masters like John Williams with the use recurring musical motifs. Greenwood’s work expertly renders original interpretations of emotions that could easily come off as trite; “Henry Plainview,” for example, is a lush piece that explores a kind of sadness and despair, and shows how ugly emotions can be portrayed gorgeously. “Oil” also reveals great sensibility and a certain beauty, with a theme that brings to mind a long journey coming to its end, or the relief that comes with reaching one’s destination.

Dessner’s compositions, on the other hand, are fully fleshed out pieces that range from 13 to 17 minutes long. All three tracks build up slowly but with great intent, saturating moments of stillness with an uneasy tension. “St. Carolyn by the Sea” starts off rather sparse, but Dessner injects the song’s tranquility with moments of acute emotion—trembling violins, thundering horns—that give it an overall feeling of anxiety. The use of electric guitar is particularly noticeable in this track, which features Bryce’s twin brother and fellow National cohort, Aaron Dessner. Later on in “Raphael,” backdrop of low grumbles and droney sounds give a sense that something lurks in the distance, but the menacing beginning gives way to a beautiful and sparkling build up of instruments and emotions. Its ending feels like the calm after a storm.

The album is an overall testimony to contemporary classical music being alive and well. Deutsche Grammophon is a label with an impressive reputation in the classical world, and the association with their business alone signals Dessner and Greenwood’s abilities, but the two composers’ extraordinary abilities speak for themselves. Catch a live performance of these tracks, conducted by André de Ridder, this Friday at Le Poisson Rouge. 

AudioFemme’s Best of 2013

Best of 2013 Graphic

From elaborate roll-outs to surprise releases, 2013 was a banner year for comebacks, break-outs, break-ups, and overnight sensations.  The fact that the most oblique content could cause rampant controversy to reverberate through the blogosphere turned every song into a story and made every story seem epic.  At the heart of it all are the sounds that defined this particular calendar year, from electronic pop to punk rock  to hip-hop to hardcore and everything in between.

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After much debate, we’re proud of our little list and believe it represents releases that are among the best and most important of the year.  Here are our top 50 LPs in two parts: 50-26 // 25-1

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And check out our Top Albums of 2013 Playlist on Spotify.

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In a given year, thousands of records are released, many of them having upwards of ten tracks apiece.  So it’s actually physically impossible to hear them all, and can be downright daunting to wrangle them into some kind of intelligible countdown.  But we certainly have done our best, here cataloging the tunes we just couldn’t stop playing, and stuck fast in our heads when we finally managed to turn them off.

Here’s our Top Tracks of 2013 Playlist on Spotify.


Staff Lists:

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Lindsey Rhoades” author=”RiotGrrl’s Influence in 2013″ image=””]
Not only are we as a culture stepping up to finally examine sexism and exploitation and appropriation within the industry, there are more acts than ever completely unafraid to do their own thing – be it overtly political (see: Priests) or revolutionary in its emotional candidness (looking at you, Waxahatchee).

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Carena Liptak” author=”Best Album Art” image=””]
Let’s all just agree to agree that hip hop as a genre won the album cover contest this year, okay?

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Rebecca Kunin” author=”2013’s Best Soundtracks” image=””]
Music has the ability to make or break a cinematic moment.  Would Jaws be as scary if it weren’t for the theme song? Or would we cry as hard when Leo Dicaprio sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean if Celine Dion didn’t belt “My Heart Will Go On” every five minutes? Probably not.


[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Lindsey Rhoades” author=”2013: The Year in Music Controversies” image=””]In the age of the ubiquitous think-piece, here’s another, and this time, it’s about think-pieces.  In 2013 what think-pieces mean is that no one is about to get away with anything.[/fusion_testimonial]

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Kelly Tunney” author=”Top 10 Unexplainable Kanye Moments” image=””]
Mr. West has built up quite a reputation for himself. His musical talent has remained impressive throughout his 6-album career (Yeezus easily made several of this year’s “best of” lists, including our own) but Kanye’s persona has been the subject of parody and scandal for a long time now. This year, though, held several moments of Kanye-crazy that stood out among the plethora of examples from his memorable past.

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Carena Liptak” author=”Notes From The Road” image=””]
At the beginning of 2013, adventure felt overdue — something about going to new places, with no routine or expectations, opens you up to hear music you’d never think to listen to otherwise.

[/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”][fusion_testimonial company=”Raquel Dalarossa” author=”Top 7 to Anticipate in 2014″ image=””]
Between the exciting festival rumors and anticipated album releases, 2014 is already shaping up to be a pretty amazing year (at least musically speaking).

YEAR END LIST: Top 10 Album Covers


Let’s all just agree to agree that hip hop as a genre won the album cover contest this year, okay? Much of the new heavy metal out this year bore covers that ran the gambit between overstatedly woodsy to just plain inexplicable, and pop albums favored stark, angular glamor shots and occasionally left us confused as to why these artists are so mad at us. Release for release, hip hop had some stellar, memorable artwork, much of it instantly iconic portrait art, like Drake’s diptych of his child self mirrored with a matching image of himself as an adult. However, one exclusion from our favorite cover art of 2013 is a hip hop album worth mentioning: Kanye West’s Yeezus.

I know, I know: Yeezus saves. Equally loved and detested, West’s new album will, I predict, come to be one of the lasting albums from 2013, and he’s had his share of notable, exquisite, and ridiculous moments. But Yeezus’ album cover art isn’t any of the above. First of all, the red tape slapped onto the homemade CD is at best a humble-brag for the contents’ breadth and slick production–the record itself is far more magnum opus than it is demo tape, and both West and Yeezus know it. Secondly, it’s neither iconic nor indicative of the year West has had–the image is tepid, and in 2013, the rapper was anything but. Number 10 in our Year End Album Cover countdown employs the same understated formality of Yeezus’ image, but goes for an effect more subtly surreal.

10. Kid Cudi – Indicud


The contrast of the stately frame makes the fire in this image come alive, as if it’s three-dimensional. Dangerous, uncontainable things come inside unassuming packages, and this image is so memorable because it’s unpredictable, framing a scene that doesn’t naturally observe boundaries.

Listen to “Unfuckwittable” off of Indicud here via Grooveshark:


9. Warm Soda – Someone For You


Flat, room-temperature yellow backs this ambivalently nostalgic cover, bringing listless summer days to mind. In fact, the image captures the album’s blistering-but-catchy, vaguely seventies-era sound perfectly.

Listen to “Someone for you” off of Warm Soda here via Grooveshark:


8. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars


High-definition billowing smoke, a black and grey scale, and the austere white script across the dark grey cloud make this album cover memorably melancholy and archaic. This image looms, foreboding, channeling the loneliness and stark beauty of this band’s self-titled album.

Listen to “From This Valley” off of The Civil Wars here via Soundcloud:


7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me


This odd, and vaguely threatening, photograph evokes a chilly quirkiness that The National’s Trouble Will Find Me delivers.  The sterility of the floor–bathroom tiles, maybe–lends a particular spookiness to this shot.

Listen to “I Should Live In Salt”, off of Trouble Will Find Me here via Grooveshark:


6. Bill Callahan – Dream River


The broad brushstrokes of the album’s title look almost like vandalism, as if they’d been painted over an otherwise stylistically intact impressionistic scene. Vast and epic, the foggy image draws my attention to that peeking square of sky above the mountains, and the music on this record is equally complex and easily obscured.

Listen to “The Sing” off of Dream River here via Grooveshark:


5. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf


The yearbook aesthetic is brought off with hilarious attention to detail, but what really makes this cover so bizarre are the faces Tyler, the Creator makes here. Simultaneously nostalgic for and mocking innocence, this rapper nails high school’s un-selfaware awkwardness (no surprise, since the rapper was only twenty-one when this picture was taken).

Listen to “Awkward” off of Wolf here via Grooveshark:


4. A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP


Sweet baby Jesus, this album cover is terrifying. Strongly evocative of a screenshot from The Ring, A$AP Rocky huddles with his head down, cloaked in an American flag, as the (presumably) VHS film recording him stutters between frames.

Listen to “Purple Swag” off of Long.Live.A$AP here via Grooveshark:


3. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories


Adapting the cursive script made iconic by Michael Jackson’s Thriller to a shiny, austere image of their own, Daft Punk set the standards high for their 2013 release. The album delivered on a grand, complicated scale, setting the band’s course for dance music that was at once nostalgic and intensely intellectualized.

Listen to “The Game Of Love” off of Random Access Memories here via Grooveshark:


2. Death Grips – Government Plates


There’s nothing frill about this stark, badass album, and nothing frilly about the stark, badass album art, either. As nihilistic as the music within, this image zooms in on the message.

Listen to “Birds” off of Government Plates here via Soundcloud:


1. Deafheaven – Sunbather


Like shoegaze metal itself, this cover–an utterly pink black metal album–seems like an illogical combination of things (see the album’s gorgeous Abstract Expressionist-inspired Vinyl design up top as our featured image), but makes glorious sense taken altogether. The image represents a view of the sun from behind your eyelids, a harsh and not wholly possible ascent towards the sublime that perfectly mirrors the journey the group takes over the course of the album.

Listen to “Dream House” off of Sunbather here via Bandcamp:


LIVE REVIEW: The National @ Barclays

The NationalFive years ago I was depressed. I was going through my first real breakup, I was drinking too much (the kind of drinking where you justify having vodka with breakfast) and I was taking a lot of two-hour long walks. It was during those walks along Lake Superior that I first fell in love with The National. Matt Berninger’s forlorn voice was the perfect companion for my sorry state; he didn’t judge me as I drank by myself watching ‘How I met Your Mother’, he sat right along side me, laughing with that gravely voice of his.

When I imagined seeing The National live, I pictured sitting next to Berninger at Club Saratoga (a strip club/music venue in Duluth) while he serenaded me sweetly across glasses of whiskey & rye. Instead I entered the belly of Barclays center, clutching my Stella as I looked around the auditorium thinking, “Is this really where I want to see The National?” The arena seemed imposing and the stage looked liked a child’s dollhouse in comparison; the amount of sound & stage presence needed to fill such a venue was not something that I would normally attribute to The National.

Opening act, Youth Lagoon, seemed determined to prepare the audience for the night’s melancholy orgy. Standing in a straight line across the stage, the bands music as well as its style was strangely uniform. It took me a good four songs to figure out who was the lead singer, and by that point my beer glass was empty so I quickly vacated to the booze line. Overall, the Boise, Idaho band, fronted by singer Trevor Powers, gives off the feeling of listening to music under water: pleasant, calming, easy to ignore.

The National, from the moment they stepped on stage, gave off the confidence of a band well seasoned. “This is where it all started. We’re so happy to be back at Barclays, “ Berninger quipped with an uncomfortable laugh. “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, from their most recent album Trouble Will Find Me, lead off the night, but the third song “Mistaken for Strangers” was what got audience attention. The most interesting part of the night was watching the band’s nervous, excited energy shift throughout their set as they reacted to the crowd. The audience was practically a member of the band: encouraging, singing backup, quick to clap at the slightest inference of a beat.

“We know this song better than any of our other songs right now. We’re well rehearsed,” Berninger joked of the song “Sorrow” from 2010’s High Violet, which the band recently performed at MoMa Ps1. Created by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, the installation was titled “A lot of Sorrow”; the band performed the song for six hours, a total of 105 times. The joke was lost on me at the time, but after the show I was able to watch the exhausting repetition. Similar to their Barclay show, fans drove the music, raising their voices in unison to the memorized words.

St. Vincent’s Annie Clarke joined them on stage for their performance of ‘This is the Last Time’; her voice was airy and barely floated in the background. It would have been an interesting song to do a different take on, but as it was, it felt like Clarke wasn’t even there. Another aspect that didn’t quite hit was the inclusion of stock video in the background; it wasn’t until I saw video of smoke billowing up behind a tree line that I once again became aware of my lack of beer.

While I would still have preferred to sit close up at a bar or a tavern, breathing in the moody gloom, I was duly impressed with the energy The National conveyed on stage; the space they were able to easily fill. After a three-song encore, the band played an unamplified performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” from 2011’s High Violet; the performance was sparse, raw. As my date for the night noted, “I think that was the most honest moment of this whole show”.