When Billy Kim left the East Coast to return to his home base in California, he was leaving more than his beloved Italian deli. For some time while writing his debut EP, Imago, and touring with Tycho, his studio was a little table at his now-wife’s apartment. He would miss the waterfront view of New York City and the places where he was healing from the early death of his father.
There was no manual to grieving, just the catharsis of writing his first song for the EP, “Let Go.” The multi-instrumentalist, who adopted the stage name Karaboudjan (a nostalgic nod to The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin), began writing “Let Go” almost a decade ago; the journey of the song’s completion mirrored Kim’s own mourning.
“All I had was the verse for the melody, back years ago. I had this tiny glimpse of some sad lyrics. I didn’t know how to finish it. I needed time,” he tells Audiofemme. Finally finishing the chorus right before recording Imago brought his feelings into perspective, when he had the revelation of completing it in an uplifting way. “It does have a happy and light vibe. I wanted to contrast with the darker lyrics. End with a positive vibe, rather than just sad sad sad,” he explains. It’s the second single he’s released from Imago, following “Seems Like;” the EP will arrive later this year.
The video for “Let Go,” directed by Justin Gaar, emphasizes just how bittersweet grieving for someone who is absent can be, updated to reflect the current reality of the COVID pandemic. Two characters, played by Adam Lee and Nick Ley, twirl around a neon-lit parking garage roller skates – another nod to nostaligia – as the video flashes between memory, fantasy, and the lonely drudge of present day. The carefree magic and love in the choreographed movements is juxtaposed with the weight of loss and sadness in remembering, the instrumentals always dream-like, verses flowing together in an electronic ripple.
The video completed the project as a whole for Kim, who admittedly loves focusing on the instrumentals more than the visuals. “It’s been really fun to work with people who take their own interpretation toward it. I’ve always only written the instrumentals first. For me, it’s a blank space to figure out what mood the song will be,” he reveals. For “Let Go,” the synths and melody embody such strong emotions, that Gaar had no doubts about the vision. “His passion for his vision combined with our top-notch production crew from Half/Half really made for a smooth day of filming,” says Kim.
Last year, the US declared a travel ban on Kim’s birthday while he was overseas. After scrambling to fly back, he had finally buckled down for the long year ahead. The East Coast was where Billy Kim ate his first Grandma slice. Where he met his wife. Where he finally finished recording Imago. And where he finally finished writing “Let Go” in a place of healing and gratitude. “It just clicked. It had to be a big ‘thank you,’ to life and people that we’ve lost.”
In a year that’s been like no other for the music industry, it feels a bit weird to make a best of 2020 list – there have been no tours, venues and clubs across the globe are in danger of closing their doors for good, release schedules were shuffled beyond recognition, and musicians have had to find other ways to make ends meet while those in the U.S. await the next round of paltry stimulus checks. With a situation so dire, the metrics have changed – should we ascribe arbitrary value to the skill of producers, songwriters, performers, and the execution of their finished projects, or simply celebrate records that made us feel like the whole world wasn’t crumbling?
Definitively ranking releases has never been the Audiofemme model for looking back on the year in music. Instead, our writers each share a short list of what moved them most, in the hopes that our readers will find something that moves them, too. Whether you spent the lockdown voraciously listening to more new music this year than ever before, or fell back on comforting favorites, or didn’t have the headspace to absorb the wealth of music inspired by the pandemic, the variety here emphasizes how truly essential music can be to our well-being. If you’re in the position to do so, support your favorite artists and venues by buying merch, and check out the National Independent Venue Association to stay updated on what’s happening with the Save Our Stages act. Here’s to a brighter 2021.
Marianne White (Executive Director)
Top 10 Albums: 1) Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders 2) the Microphones – Microphones in 2020 3) Soccer Mommy – Color Theory 4) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News 5) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher 6) Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know 7) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia 8) Adrianne Lenker – songs/instrumentals 9) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 10) Lomelda – Hannah
Top 5 Singles: 1) Kinlaw – “Permissions” 2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am” 3) Little Dragon & Moses Sumney – “The Other Lover” 4) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!” 5) Megan Thee Stallion – “Shots Fired”
Top 10 Albums: 1) Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations 2) Dehd – Flower of Devotion 3) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise) 4) Public Practice – Gentle Grip 5) Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity 6) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters 7) Benny Yurco – You Are My Dreams 8) Eve Owen – Don’t Let the Ink Dry 9) Porridge Radio – Every Bad 10) Jess Cornelius – Distance
Top 10 Singles: 1) Little Hag – “Tetris” 2) Elizabeth Moen – “Creature of Habit” 3) Yo La Tengo – “Bleeding” 4) Caribou – “Home” 5) Jess Williamson – “Pictures of Flowers” 6) Adrianne Lenker – “anything” 7) Nicolás Jaar – “Mud” 8) Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain” 9) New Fries – “Ploce” 10) El Perro Del Mar – “The Bells”
Top 5 Albums: 1) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 2) Lasse Passage – Sunwards 3) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News 4) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene 5) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Top 3 Singles: 1) Megan Thee Stallion – “B.I.T.C.H.” 2) Perfume Genius – “On the Floor” 3) SG Lewis & Robyn – “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)
Top 5 Albums: 1) Jarvis Cocker – Beyond the Pale 2) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine 3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4 4) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – Crossover 5) Various Artists – Deadly Hearts: Walking Together
Top 3 Singles: 1) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Mob March” 2) Laura Veirs – “Freedom Feeling” 3) Miley Cyrus – “Never Be Me”
Top 5 Albums: 1) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene 2) Rina Sawayama –SAWAYAMA 3) Allie X – Cape Cod 4) LEXXE – Meet Me in the Shadows 5) Gustavo Santaolalla, Mac Quayle – The Last of Us Part II (Original Soundtrack)
Top 3 Singles: 1) CL – “+5 STAR+” 2) Yves Tumor & Kelsey Lu – “let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out” 3) Stephan Moccio – “Freddie’s Theme”
Top 10 Albums: 1) Dust Bowl Faeries – Plague Garden 2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky 3) Oceanator – Things I Never Said 4) Loma – Don’t Shy Away 5) Maggie Herron – Your Refrain 6) Pretenders – Hate for Sale 7) The Bird and the Bee – Put up the Lights 8) Partner – Never Give Up 9) Bully – Sugaregg 10) Olivia Awbrey – Dishonorable Harvest
Top 5 Albums: 1) Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network – Ballet of Apes 2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky 3) Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell of Joy 4) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed 5) Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode To Escapism
Top 3 Singles: 1) Miss Eaves – “Belly Bounce” 2) Purple Witch of Culver – “Trig” 3) Shilpa Ray – “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues”
Ember Knight is a cult figure for all ages. The LA-based filmmaker, comedian and musician stretches their boundaries to create a playful and sometimes terrifying world where they can express all sides of themselves. Their sophomore album CHERYL, a ballet rock opera album, was self-released on November 10. The record is organized into movements, book- ended by odes to lasagna meals, that tells the story of a mental asylum patient who can’t remember their favorite color. The symphony is a soundtrack written for a film that doesn’t exist, was recorded entirely by Ember Knight in the Echo Park United Methodist Church, and is dedicated to your mom.
Earlier this year, Ember Knight also released a couple episodes of The Ember Knight show, a video series written by Knight and directed by Bobby McCoy that simplifies concepts like listening and telling the truth – the basics we’re taught in preschool that somehow become more complex and harder to execute as adults. Knight reminds me of a gender fluid Mr. Rogers that’s trapped in Hollywood, helping us all reflect on our bad, ego-driven behavior. Now that CHERYL has arrived, we can expect more episodes of The Ember Knight show, which will be especially helpful as we begin to integrate back into society post-pandemic at some point in the future.
Ember Knight will be celebrating the release of CHERYL with a livestream on 11/14 at 9pm ET via their youtube, and the redacted emotions Twitch. We chatted with Ember about their relationship to color, performance, and what it was like writing and recording a whole ballet themselves.
AF: Can you explain the story arc of your new album CHERYL?
EK: Yes. It’s very simple: Cheryl goes to an asylum because she can’t remember her favorite color – is it red, yellow, or blue? The doctor says, “Oh shit this is very serious – you have to stay here until you remember. And you can only eat lasagna.”
While in her hospital room, she meets the color yellow. Yellow is playful and mischievous, but also sad and tragic. When they try to play, it falls apart in front of her. Next she meets the color red. Red is innocent and enticing at first, then she becomes sexy and voluptuous, dancing with Cheryl. But just as Cheryl thinks they are about to kiss, red turns into a terrifying sexual monster of old age, and Cheryl runs away. Act break, lunch time (lasagna).
After lunch, Cheryl meets the color blue. Blue is a funny little man, who teaches her to fly and tapdance! She decides that blue is her favorite color. But as he is leaving, she realizes that he’s just a crazy beggar.
Confused and unable to answer the question, Cheryl ties her bedsheets together and escapes out the window into a Dark Night of the Soul. Now the story begins to be not simple. Anger, jealousy, everything she represses comes out in the darkness of the hospital garden. This part is all emotional logic. Something spiritual happens. When we go all the way dark, we hit the bottom, ricochet back up, and break through into the light. Cheryl cannot escape herself, and she realizes that this is okay. A favorite color is not actually necessary – all these things live within. She is caught and returned to her room, for a big operation where they cut her open and find all the colors inside.
After the operation, Cheryl goes to dinner (lasagna) and sees all of the colors sitting there, waiting for her. They eat together as a family, and the doctor lets her go. The end.
AF: How was the experience of recording the entire album yourself?
EK: Nightmare! I am a golden god, I did it, I hated it. Never Again!
AF: What was the most surprising thing you learned or discovered about yourself while writing and recording?
EK: That I cannot do ballet! I tried to “learn ballet real quick’” in order to dance the whole record in a video series. I remember thinking; okay, I have four months to be doing pirouettes en pointe, can’t be that hard! And then, you know, four months later I cannot do ONE pirouette, in my bareass feet.
And yet, it’s that exact insane “let’s go!” kinda vibe that allowed me to wanna make this record in the first place. Because I also decided to engineer it, play a grand piano, and do full string arrangements – all for the first time. How hard could it be? Well, the answer is, it was hard. It took two years and absolutely kicked my ass! But I was able to pull through on the music. The ballet got abandoned.
AF: Would you rather eat lasagna or casserole?
EK: I actually do really love lasagna. My mom used to make it, it’s one of her best dishes. But honey, lasagna for breakfast, lunch AND dinner? Too heavy, man.
AF: What is your relationship to the primary colors and the outfits that each color is represented by?
EK: Each color is a direct reference to an outfit I’ve worn exhaustively. Yellow is the Little Lion (a child’s lion costume I wore for two years in comedy), red is my sex work persona (previously just myself in a red dress, but I exploited and sold this part of myself when I danced/did escort work, and it got torn down to scrappy red lingerie), and blue is King of LA (a boy’s blue tuxedo I still wear, and have worn in The Ember Knight Show). For me, yellow represented sexless trouble, red feminine, and blue masculine. But the real moral of the record is that these are actually all facets of One Real Human – not different personas to chose between.
AF: Did you ever figure out what your favorite color is?
EK: No, the answer to the riddle is that it’s a trick question – all the colors are necessary.
AF: When you’re able to perform in front of a live audience again, what kind of venue and band would you like to perform these songs in and with?
EK: So ideally this is actually a big theatrical ballet, like the nutcracker. I’d love to arrange it for dance, or even a school production. In this fantasy I am not even directing the music; rather, someone who actually reads music is conducting and dealing with all that. I’d like to translate the lyrics into Italian and have a trained opera singer do all the main vocals, while the story is fully danced as a ballet in front of big colorful sets (probably made of cardboard).
AF: Has your approach to performing changed since you’ve had so much time to reflect this year?
EK: I think this year has made me realize that much of what I do is selfish. I want attention, I want a career, I want I want, blah blah. What does that have to do with you? Why the hell should you care?
My best answer in the past has been “I’m providing something new.” As though advancing the field, music or comedy or film, is reason enough to do it. But that’s not good enough for me anymore. I don’t need to provide something new. I want to provide something old. I want my work to be a service that provides energy, validation, and community – the age-old stuff we really need out of a performer.
After being on stage since I was three years old, it’s been really good to chill for a while. Going back into it, I’m dropping the bullshit. I’m going in to do a job, and do it well. Not beg for love.
AF: I love the Ember Knight show!! What was the process of making those episodes like and will there be more coming soon?
EK: I love The Ember Knight Show too. It’s so fun to make, a real perfect collab between me, Bobby McCoy (the director), and Mikey Santos (our DP). I think it’s the best show ever. I’m writing three more episodes for this season, and we’ll make them as soon as we have the resources! I think I’m gonna launch a Patreon for this exact thing.
AF: What is your livestream set-up like?
EK: I have acquired what can only be described as an unethical amount of fake snow. Dude, there is so much fake snow. It’s gonna be a real “mall Santa” vibe – there are hanging clouds, Christmas lights, and as mentioned, like, bounds and pounds of fake snow. So please tune in – I don’t even know if my string section can play in all of this fake snow, it’s truly irresponsible! Somebody stop me!
AF: What are your plans for the rest of 2020 + beyond?
EK: The Ember Knight Show is now my main focus. Finishing the webseries, and then banging on TV executives’ doors in the dead of night and forcing them to watch it. Something like that.
The drive to The Greek Theatre from the Westside gives you just enough time to gauge how late you might be, staring out into the fast lines of traffic. When I finally got to the parking lot, I was greeted by a few Hare Krishna devotees gathering money to help feed the homeless in Venice. I felt a little bad taking their peace sticker for cash, but they were insistent. The Greek Theatre is a classic Los Angeles venue that up until last weekend I’d somehow missed entirely. Along with the traffic and our Hare Krishna friends, its location up in the hills feels like a scene right out of Mad Men.
Todd Terje and The Olsens were already on stage when I arrived. The crowd floated into the venue, $8 glasses of wine in hand, bodies moving fluidly to their seats. There may not be a bad seat in the house, with all angles catching a good portion of the stage. The last time I saw Todd Terje, he was raging on stage at Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas, and I don’t mean raging in the good way (festival techs had left his laptop to fry in the sun, causing his 45 minute set to shrink to 18 minutes). I had been looking forward to seeing him again, under better circumstances. Strips of thin vertical lights were set up around the band, flashing rainbows at the audience. The crowd was dressed for dancing, and the energy was high.
We were not disappointed this time around. The band was tight, the music winding up and setting loose some modern disco. An older man up front sporting a beard and a Wilco shirt perfectly encapsulated the feeling of being there: dancing with wild abandon, arms akimbo, smile flashing toward the setting sun. It was an energetic set, the kind of warmup needed before our more ambient main act.
The show is slow ache, a measured, ever-building march toward a crescendo. If the crowd had been of one mind in the previous set, we truly came together during Tycho. There’s a feeling of unity, a kind of quasi-spiritual nature to the music. Our group had a great spot to the left of the stage, but chose to climb higher mid-set in order to fully appreciate the visuals. At the top of the seating area, we observed the band, the crowd, and the rising moon. The venue was modeled after a Greek temple, a modern place of worship among the rolling hills.
Driving home, there was a feeling of relaxation. Los Angeles moves slowly at that time of night, cars all headed in opposite directions. The show offered a great feeling of release, a glass of wine at the end of a long week. When you live in a city, sometimes you’re overcome with the angry drivers, the metal structures surrounding you at every turn. Tycho makes music that reminds you to look toward the hills, to climb up, and gaze out at the nature poking up past the concrete.
Tycho is touring NOW. See tour dates and buy tickets HERE. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Tucked between the bustle of E 6th and some seemingly deserted train tracks was the South by Southwest nexus of Fader Fort and a converted warehouse identified only by its address at 1100 E. 5th, which would host an array of bands under the daring header “Mess With Texas”. I was especially grateful for the stellar lineup sponsored by a slew of vendors, since I’d somehow tragically forgotten to RSVP for Fader Fort. The Mess With Texas showcases were set to span three days and featured impressive rosters in both their day parties and their nighttime extravaganzas, with the venue shutting down midday. There was an outdoor space buffeting the huge warehouse floor which was equipped with massive, pounding amps. I don’t know if it’s just the necessity of drowning out all the bands other than the one you’re actually seeing, but I want to take a moment to note how extremely loud every single showcase I saw was. I mean, I could feel my hair follicles vibrating at some of these shows.
I felt guilty for missing Tycho’s set the night before so I planted myself beneath the awning of the outdoor stage, determined not to miss these boys this time. I was slightly disappointed, however, that due to the stage configuration the songs would not be accompanied by Scott Hansen’s gorgeous projections, which I’d been looking forward to seeing firsthand. Even without the visuals, Tycho bathed the crowd in a lush soundscape. Just as we settled into the dense, intoxicating layers, the speakers blew and silence fell. Apparently this had happened to Tycho earlier in the week, which only proves my assertion that no eardrum in Austin was safe from the incredible volume SXSW venues unleashed. It didn’t take long for the band to get it together and the encouraging crowd didn’t seem to mind the temporary snafu, falling right back into the sway. Despite the blazing sun beating on our shoulders, watching Tycho felt like being cleansed. Atmospheric, breezy guitar tones moved across my skin, anchored in Zac Brown’s elastic bass chords and the sensual beats provided by drummer Rory O’Connor. I let my vision blur out of focus, tilted my head back to the sky, and let the serene sounds saturate my senses.
Once Tycho’s set ended, I moved inside to escape the sun and (more importantly) to catch a few songs from indie darlings Girls. The incredible stage set-up included four band members as well as a coterie of boisterous back-up singers who did double-duty hyping up the audience. Flowers adorned the mic stands, reminiscent of so many altars and therefore drawing parallels between the players on stage and religious deities. I’d never seen Girls play live, and quite honestly never understood all the hype behind what I considered to be pretty run-of-the-mill garage rock. I know everyone is constantly losing their shit over the latest Girls releases, but for some reason none of the material ever really resonated with me. I can’t say that a venue this cavernous and filled with questionably shirtless bros was the ideal introduction, but in terms of their playing I can at least begin to see what all the fuss is about. There’s a compelling, vulnerable nature to the way Christopher Owens sings; this is true even at moments where the guitars burst explosively and the theatrics reach their greatest heights. “Vomit”, the band’s signature single, was a perfect example of this phenomenon, as it erupted with particular ferocity and brought the adoring crowd to its knees.
At some point (the point at which I tried to buy an overpriced Heinekin) I realized I’d left my ID in the pocket of last night’s outfit. Worried I would be denied entrance to any other showcases I tried to attend, I actually braved the crazy traffic to drive across town and retrieve it, hoping I’d make it back to the warehouse in time to see Cults. I arrived about halfway through their set but was absolutely tickled with what I saw. I’ve followed Cults since they began anonymously posting demos on bandcamp in the spring of 2010, but had somehow missed every single performance the Brooklyn-based band had played. The set lived up to all my expectations. It was sweltering inside the warehouse, the midday heat having turned it into an oven. So it was hard to imagine how Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, both sporting hairdos that would made Cousin It look positively bald, held up under such intense temperatures. But they seemed unfazed, running through favorites such as “Oh My God” “You Know What I Mean” and “Go Outside” with smiling faces and cutesy bopping. Madeline’s vocals sounded sublime and the band perfectly replicated the 60’s girl group vibe that made their 2011 self-titled debut such a standout.
There was plenty on the menu in terms of shows that evening; Of Montreal and Deerhoof made one of a handful of what were probably noteworthy and fun appearances. I would have loved to see Das Racist, Dirty Beaches, or Zola Jesus, for a second (or third) time, and I was dying to catch Cleveland noise pop outfit Cloud Nothings. While all provided great options for ways to spend my second night in Austin, I could think of nothing but this: at the Belmont that evening, Jesus and Mary Chain were slated to perform around midnight. In my obsession with getting into this packed, badge/wristband/ticket only show, I committed one of the cardinal sins of SXSW. No band, no matter how rare or epic the appearance, no matter how important to you in terms of influence or admiration, should cause you to wait around in a huge line with no hope of entry into the venue, thus forgoing the chance to see any one of a number of other of bands; even if your secondary choices don’t compare to the actual experience of seeing the prolific band in question, almost anything is better than standing around waiting for nothing to happen and missing out on a host of other opportunities. I did put in a brief appearance at 512 for Young Magic’s rooftop set, which was thrillingly luxurious. A sumptuous rendition of “Night In The Ocean” featured reverb drenched male and female vocals twining around its incantatory chorus. But I couldn’t get my mind off the possibility of seeing Jesus & Mary Chain.
After a few frantic texts, the idea of watching the show from the parking garage across the street was bandied about and that’s eventually where we found ourselves. In all honesty, I was content with the set-up, as we had a perfect view of the stage and again, thanks to the punishing volume at which all venues set their amps, could hear Titus Andronicus’s set perfectly. If I didn’t hold that band in such disdain I would have been nearly ecstatic, but I do totally think they’re overblown and pretentious and I was tired and still a little bummed, knowing that this was all a fool’s paradise.
Jesus & Mary Chain ripped through their first few numbers in a sonic blast that would have reached us even if our little perch had been blocks away rather than across the street. Unfortunately, we saw all of about three songs before a group of crusty idiots totally blew our cover and got us promptly kicked out by a surly security guard.
Defeated and dejected, we trudged back to the Mess With Texas warehouse, where turntable.fm was hosting a slew of DJs in an elaborate promotion for the site, which allows users to DJ for their friends and random strangers alike in private chatrooms loosely based around a genre or theme. When turntable.fm first launched I spent an amusing evening in one of these chat rooms with my roommates and some of their coworkers, as well as some friends of ours back in Ohio. It seemed a novel way to share new tunes with old buddies, though my interest in doing so had since tapered off. I wasn’t a high school sophomore anymore, you know? I spend enough time in front of a computer as it is without haunting chat rooms, waiting for my chance to blow minds with some new Clams Casino track. I decided to start a blog instead.
I’m not sure if many of the other attendees had had similar experiences with turntable.fm but if they had not, they were certainly introduced to its interface that evening. Diplo stood center stage but was flanked by dancers shuffling around in over-sized Japanime-style animal heads meant to mimic the avatars available to users on turntable.fm. There was also a table full of paper avatar masks right at the door, presumably for guests to wear as a means of creeping each other the fuck out. Huge screens showed a cute little animated version of Diplo spinning. It was kitschy and sort of fun, but also kind of over-the-top. At SXSW you’re constantly being marketed to, and sometimes its nice to have things like the music to focus on to forget that. Turntable.fm was not going to let you be distracted by a silly-old real-life DJ like Diplo. Actually, I’m pretty sure the man has some kind of investment in the whole project, but still.
Diplo spun classics like MIA and Ginuwine and spent a lot of time getting an already rowdy crowd pumped up into a delirious craze. I saw some truly raunchy dance moves and if I’d been a little drunker probably would have joined in, but I was still feeling like an idiot over the whole Jesus & Mary Chain debacle. I vowed that Friday would be a day of redemption; I’d see so many bands my eyeballs would fall out of my skull. I’d shake my tail feather furiously to Star Slinger and Neon Indian’s Hype Hotel DJ sets. I’d reserve my energy tonight and tomorrow collapse from exhaustion if that was what it came down to. Who was I kidding? I’m getting older and was already a bit exhausted; I could feel a sore throat coming on. No matter! I shouted bravely to myself. These shows will go on, and I’m gonna try to see damn near all of them.
I was super excited to go see Beacon last Saturday night.My exposure to them thus far had been pretty limited to their brief stintat Cameo Gallery for the Brooklyn Electronic Music Fest, at which they onlyplayed a handful of songs. But they were shockingly good songs. Especially considering what one immediately notices about this duo. They look like a couple of sartorially unassuming white kids from your hometown somewhere in the Midwest. Until they start playing music that is. Then they’re magically transformed into bass-blasting R&B/electronic superstars. It was a bit surreal to hear such a cavernous, all consuming sound coming out of the two of them, actually, and it made my attitude toward them swing dramatically from skeptical to deferential in a matter of seconds.
So there I was, waiting outside Music Hall to meet the person from whom I was scalping a craigslist ticket to this sold out show (Tycho, the headliner, is pretty damn incredible as well, which I’ll get to). Suddenly the building started shaking a little bit, and my chest cavity began to vibrate oh so subtly. From a distance I heard opening chords of “See Through You”. And I knew immediately, that this band is as good as I remembered them to be that night three months ago.
I finally got into the show not shortly thereafter, and settled in toward the front to be enveloped by loud bass, hot beats spun by Jacob Gossett, and Tom Mullarney’s smooth reverbed-out voice singing the songs I’ve come to know pretty well at this point, from their EP No Body. After a few tracks, the crowd was glued. Whoever hadn’t heard of them before, or had any doubts about their talent, was elevated to instant fandom, I’m sure of it. And it was then, when these guys knew they had everyone wrapped around their little fingers, that they upped the ante and performed this Ginuwine cover.
And I thought that would be the pinnacle of my experience of this show… Alas, I had no idea what Tycho had in store for us.
Tycho’s set was amazing for three reasons.
First,and for those of you who aren’t familiar with Tycho, this is a band that putsmore effort into cultivating a spectacular audio-visual experience for theiraudience than anyone I’ve ever seen live. While the music itself is primarily ablend of ambient sounding electronic and live drum/bass/lead guitar, the videowork that Scott Hanson (Tycho’s founder) produces and curates to accompanythe music is really quite thoughtful, and heightens every song’s sonicimpact with total deliberation; each clip of video is stunningly executed, andseems to be timed to accentuate certain beats, tones, and shifts in musicalphrase to an ideal degree.
Second,there isn’t so much going on, even despite the crazy visuals, that you can’tfocus on any one musician in particular and feel captivated by their technicalabilities. For Example, the bass player was so good, and stalwart (many ofthese tracks were over five minutes long), that it was easy to get lost in hisplaying and forget everything else that was happening. The band’s first encoreperformance had Scott playing solo, and apologizing to the audience for the noticeable absence of bandmates, with the candid admittance that he “justneeded to give them a rest”.
Third,these songs are pretty mellow, generally, but they never ever bore. There was adude standing about six feet in front of me who was breakdance-fighting/shadowboxing/going into epileptic shock for the entire set. I swear to god, he neverstopped moving for the full hour and a half they played. There were also anynumber of fist-pumpers and of course the occasional girl who would burst intotears at the beginning of a certain song…
Anyway,please enjoy a video from the show, and hopefully get a sense for what I’mtalking about here. Do trust though, that this little clip in no way does Tycho justice.
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.