MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Natalia King, Bitch, and Songs of Yoko Ono

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

“Well, they call me a hard-headed woman/I tell ‘em ‘I work at it every day’” is the proud, take-no-prisoners opening line from the title track of Natalia King’s latest album, Woman Mind of My Own (DixieFrog Records). It’s an album reverberating with the unvarnished power of the blues — despite most of it being recorded in Paris, where the Brooklyn-born King is now based.

At its heart, the blues is an expression of profound human emotions, and King’s album resonates with deep feeling. “AKA Chosen” is a stirring song of self-empowerment. “Once was part/but now I’m whole,” King sings, as the simple guitar opening gives way to a stomping beat and lively backing chorus. “Forget Yourself” seduces with an insinuating tenor sax solo. “So Far Away” is a compelling portrait of estrangement in a relationship. “Play On” cleverly uses gambling metaphors in its dissection of the game of love, as a moaning slide guitar hints of the danger that may lie ahead. Along with her own songs, there’s also an interesting selection of covers; a reflective rendition of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” and a wonderfully intimate version of George Michael’s “One More Try.”

State of the world got you down? A little Bitchcraft (Kill Rock Stars) will lift those spirits. “You’re the man, you’re the man, you’re the man,” Bitch sings in the song of that name, ending the litany with the telling reminder, “Well, I’m the woman.” Yes, she certainly is. The artist, formerly one half of queercore duo Bitch and Animal, has created an album that delights and dazzles, from the bright pop of “You’re the Man” (with its rallying cry “In the underground, the most amazing sound/We sing through everything that tries to cut us down”) to the stark, brittle sounds that percolate in “Easy Target,” to the soothing harmonies of “Polar Bear,” which imagines the natural beauty of a world without humanity.

She’s as much a visual artist as a musician. Check out the eye-popping video for “Hello Meadow!” – the explosive color and rapid-fire editing match its pointed lyrics attacking the corporate greed that’s destroying the natural beauty of our delicate planet. The more somber “Nothing in My Pockets” dissects the nature of heartbreak with the liberal use of black light and streaks of day-glo paint. Aurally and visually, Bitchcraft casts an enticing spell.

This month marked Yoko Ono’s 89th birthday, on February 18, and in celebration of that event comes a new tribute to her work, Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono (Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records/Chimera Music). The various artists compilation was conceived and curated by Ben Gibbard, lead singer/guitarist of Death Cab for Cutie, in hopes of generating new appreciation for her work.

Ono was originally a visual artist, and, more enigmatically a “conceptual artist,” as demonstrated by such “instructional poems” as this — “Painting To Be Constructed In Your Head: Observe three paintings carefully. Mix them well in your head” (from her book Grapefruit). Not coming from a traditional rock or conventional pop music background gives Ono’s music its unique quality; she’s made up her own rules about how she wants to make music. Hence the nursery rhyme in the middle of “Dogtown,” a song that benefits greatly from Sudan Archives’ cool delivery.

There’s also an undercurrent of sadness in much of her work. It’s understandable in a track like the haunting ballad “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” (a beautiful performance by Japanese Breakfast), which was written in the wake of the murder of her husband, John Lennon. But it’s also there in “Run, Run, Run,” which predated that tragic event, in which a “run to the light” becomes a “run for your life;” Amber Coffman’s rendition has a decided Americana vibe. Other contributors include U.S. Girls, Thao Nguyen, Sharon Van Etten, and The Flaming Lips, making for an imaginative collection honoring an equally creative artist.  

Carlyn Bezic of Ice Cream Launches Solo Project As Jane Inc.

Photo Credit: Andrew McGill

Carlyn Bezic had a demo on her computer labeled Gem simply because she wrote the chord changes on a GEM keyboard. It had a disco vibe and Bezic, best known as one half of Canadian duo Ice Cream, is a fan of the genre anyhow, so she had a “vague idea” of what the song could be. Meanwhile, there was a lyric stuck in her head – “It’s coming on, baby, like sunlight through a gem.”

It all clicked. Bezic liked the image of light refracting through a gem. It reminded her of the how the self might translate through a camera. It was the camera, specifically, that she was thinking of when she sang “my friend, the lens” over a languid disco groove in “Gem,” the lead track off Number One, Bezic’s debut solo album, released March 19 via Telephone Explosion under the name Jane Inc. The camera, she says, can be “exciting and empowering.”

“Or,” she adds over a recent phone call from her home in Toronto, “it can be really scary and limiting and confusing and create this removal from what is real.” 

With “Gem,” she considered both sensations happening at the same time. Similarly, the thought of contradiction is in the music, where Bezic channels the vibe of “late night” disco, “when you’re at the after-hours and it’s not necessarily a good late night feeling,” she explains. But, at the same time, she says, “you also feel a sort of freedom.” 

Bezic uses tracks on Number One, like “Gem” and “Obliterated,” to dig into themes surrounding online life; she admits to be online a lot, although she isn’t necessarily posting. “I’m experimenting with trying to be on the internet more, which I think is not a good idea – but, anyway, I’m trying it,” Bezic says, describing her online habits as passive. “I’m just consuming, consuming, consuming. Consuming information. Consuming images.”

She continues, “I found that I can be completely overwhelmed by it and also feel like I’m losing some sort of sense of self just by this overload of information and overload of connection.” That leads to part of the freedom found in “Gem.” The song focuses on the person with the audience, as opposed to the audience, Bezic explains. 

Elsewhere on the album, Bezic considers the environment and climate change. “Dirt and Earth” is a reflection on a complicated mix of emotions, including anger and a desire to place the blame for climate change on a single person. “In reality, there’s many people and many events that have led us to this,” Bezic points out. At the same time, she’s wrestling with the notion of being complicit in the degradation of the planet, simply by living life. “I am creating garbage. I’m driving cars,” she says. “You’re a musician, you fly in planes.”

Meanwhile, “Bloom Becomes Me” is also about the environment, but the song’s muse is pottery that Bezic spotted in Mexico. She describes the pots as taking on the figure of a creature that was half-animal, half-human, and they were filled with flowers. “You have flowers and animals and humans all melding together,” she says. “There was something really moving about it to me, this attempt at having everything live inside you at once as it’s all dying.” 

Number One had been in the making for quite some time. Bezic tends to write on Ableton and had produced and mixed a set of songs on her own based around some samples, but didn’t feel they could work for Ice Cream. Despite that, she wanted to continue developing them; in the process, she built an album that was fairly complete. It was also one that she thought might be difficult for a label to handle on account of all the samples that would have needed to be cleared. “For practical reasons, I wanted to bring in a drummer to re-record the percussion,” she says. “Also, just for artistic reasons, it seems more exciting to have a bit more energy and reactivity in the drums.” 

About a year-and-a-half ago, Bezic went into the studio with Evan Cartwright (U.S. Girls), who played drums on the album. “Everything felt like entirely new songs,” she says. That led to mixing with Steve Chahley (Badge Epoque, U.S. Girls) and some additional work to add cohesiveness to the project. The mixing sessions were completed last year, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I had started playing in the U.S. Girls live band,” says Bezic, “so I was preparing for what I thought would be a couple years of pretty extensive touring and the album was coming along, but it didn’t feel pressing for that reason.” With the onset of the pandemic, she saw an opportunity to finish mixing; not only had live gigs been put on hold, but social distancing guidelines meant that Bezic wouldn’t be able to write or practice in person with Ice Cream bandmate Amanda Crist. 

As Jane Inc., Bezic has been able to explore multiple themes while making music that draws from an eclectic mix of styles, from vibey disco, to the bouncy ’80s-style synth-pop on “Steel,” to the electronic ambience of “Mine/His.” Number One is s a stellar debut and Bezic is excited about the release – though she’s already thinking about what she’ll be making next. “I’m always writing songs,” she says.

Follow Jane Inc. on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Even With the Clubs Closed, 2020 Has Been a Stellar Year for Disco

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to as much disco as I have in 2020. That’s saying a lot for someone whose regular listening habits include a decent dose of the dance floor singles of the 1970s and the many grooves that have spun off from it in the decades that follow. 

This year was different, for reasons that really don’t need to be rehashed; in the nine months that have passed since the clubs closed, though, disco has motivated me on the treadmill and while I’ve hustled at my desk. It’s lured me down internet rabbit holes that have nothing to do with pandemics or U.S. elections. While there were plenty of nights where I was fueled by the catalogs of the Bee-Gees and Giorgio Moroder, most of what’s been on my stuck-at-home playlist is new. That’s the other thing about 2020; it’s been a really good year for disco, even if there’s nowhere to play it in public. 

Kylie Minogue was the most upfront with her intentions. The Australian pop star titled her fifteenth studio album Disco. Much of the album was recorded at home during the lockdown. Knowing that makes the album a joyous gift to everyone who misses the days of balancing cocktails while squeezing through packed dance floors to club-hug your friends. We might wish that we could do this with “Magic” or “Say Something” playing in the background, but, for the time being, the album will play in full as we connect through text messages and video calls. 

Róisín Murphy dropped her latest album, Róisín Machine, in October. At nearly an hour in length, it’s a dive into the sounds that have influenced the beloved singer throughout her life and career, even giving new perspective to pre-pandemic singles like “Incapable” and “Narcissus.” With a visual language that recalls punk and post-punk, Murphy gives a nod to the genre-blurring club culture of the early ’80s. 

Jessie Ware drew from the late ’70s and early ’80s, often recalling the late, great Teena Marie on her fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure? Released in June, Ware gave fans a summer of jams so sticky that songs like “Step Into My Life,” “Ooh La La” and “Save a Kiss” could easily remain in your head the morning after you heard them, as if you had heard them while out on the town.

And then there’s Dua Lipa, whose hit album, Future Nostalgia was followed this summer by Club Future Nostalgia. Helmed by The Blessed Madonna and featuring contribution from Dimitri from Paris, Jacques Lu Cont and others, the remix album allowed fans to bring the discotheque into their homes. 

In a year of virtual crate digging through sources like Bandcamp, Beatport and Traxsource, I’ve been filling carts and making wish lists with releases from labels like Midnight Riot, based in London, and Glitterbeat, from Hamburg. The latter released Migrant Birds, an homage to Middle Eastern disco from TootArd that’s become one of my favorite albums of the year. Partyfine, founded by French DJ/producer Yuksek, is another one of my go-to labels in 2020. Yuksek’s own full-length, Nosso Ritmo, is packed with goodies, particularly “G.F.Y.,” which features Queen Rose on vocals and sums up the encounters with creepy, overeager club guys that I definitely haven’t missed this year. Partyfine also released “Gang,” from French musician Anoraak with Sarah Maison on vocals, a cut with such a fierce, early ’80s vibe that it became a personal obsession. I’ve also been collecting tunes from producers/remixers like Hotmood and Monsieur Van Pratt, both from Mexico, and Ladies on Mars, from Argentina, who all have a great sense for balancing classic and modern dance music. 

I’m using disco here in the broadest sense of the word. Khruangbin usually gets the psychedelic tag, but “Time (You and I),” from their album Mordechai, is disco. U.S. Girls is known more for indie pop, but “Overtime,” from her 2020 album Heavy Light, is a stomper in the vein of northern soul that became 100% disco when Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost! remixed it. Then there’s The Diabolical Liberties, who released their debut full-length High Protection & the Sportswear Mystics this year. The album is filled with funky, dubby punk, not unlike what bands like Gang of Four and The Clash did 40 years ago. Ultraflex, an Icelandic/Norwegian duo who released their debut album, Visions of Ultraflex, this year, look more towards the synth-heavy dance music of the ’80s, but that’s totally disco too. 

Sometime during the summer, thanks to a compilation from Berlin label Toy Tonics, I was turned on to Phenomenal Handclap Band. They’ve been around in various forms for years – I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard them until now – but they also dropped the album PHB in May. This was exactly the music that I had been craving, from the psychedelic funk of “Skyline” and “The Healer” to the new wave-ish “Do What You Like” and Italo-leaning “Riot” to the gospel-tinged “Judge Not.” It’s disco at its most eclectic. PHB became part of this year’s listening habits and I was excited to hear them guest on Love and Dancing, the debut from U.K. DJ crew Horse Meat Disco

All this, though, is just scratching the surface. There is so much in this year’s treasure trove of music, from Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears channeling Sylvester on “Meltdown” to The Shapeshifters teaming up with actor Billy Porter for “Finally Ready” to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s cover of early ’00s Eurodisco hit “Crying at the Discotheque.”  

Not all of this music came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were released before mid-March. Others may have been in-the-works, or fully recorded, before lockdown. However, their release in 2020 has made the year at home a little more bearable. 

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Slim Twig

slim

We’ve all been a bit dizzied by Toronto song man Slim Twig lately. He’s been on a roll reissuing his pop-opera opus A Hound at the Hem, touring the mid and North Easts of the country, and never letting the creative juices run dry. We had a chance to catch up with Slim (or Max Turnbull if you prefer his mortal name)  to see what’s up next, and why being weird is always better.

AudioFemme: So you just finished up a tour; how did it go? Any funny stories?

Slim Twig: It went well. I’m still very much in the throes of building an audience, so there remains a certain amount of crowd fluctuation between shows. The important thing is that the band sounds great, and we’re able to win the attention of anyone who has shown up. Funny tour stories normally involve some element of band stupidity or (modest) debauchery, so I think those are best saved for personal conversation. I have a band like any other, we like to get in trouble from time to time. Mostly we’re alright.

AF: I didn’t recognize anything from A Hound at the Hem when you played at Cake Shop the other week…was the set you played the beginnings of a new record?

ST: It’s funny you say that. The songs off Hound are so densely arranged, it’s heavy slogging trying to arrange for rock n’ roll quartet. I was very pleased that we were able to perform two songs off that record in our set off this last tour… It felt like an achievement of some kind. They are of course re-arranged somewhat to suit what we travel as so if you had your ears perked up for those lovely string quartet moments off the record, you may have missed those tunes completely! It’s something of a point of pride to give an audience that’s come and paid to hear my tunes something that they wouldn’t have encountered on the record… What’s the point otherwise? I think I’m somewhat in the minority in this practice nowadays, many bands seem content to play faithful versions accompanied by backing tracks. To answer your question a little more directly, yes many of the songs you would have heard are off the forthcoming album which is just finished. Very excited to be playing this new stuff.

AF: Hound has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately because of the DFA reissue. It really is a fantastic record!  For a lot of us it’s a new discovery, but you recorded it a few years ago…what’s it like promoting something that you wrapped up a while back?  Do you see it in a different light now?

ST: It’s been an odd journey, but I’ve been very pleased with the reception of this older record. I’m prideful of the fact that the album is not easily pigeonholed, and I keep this in mind whenever my mind strays to why its path has been an unanticipated one. It has been an odd feeling of deja vu trying to engender excitement for something that is a clear product of my younger mind, especially for someone whose musical vision is constantly in motion as mine seems to be. In some ways this album marks a new beginning in my music making, so it’s logical that it’s the introduction for most people to my music.

AF: What has your relationship with DFA been like?  They seem to really believe in your work. After I bought the pink version of the Hound LP online Kris sent me a thank you email and put me on the list for your Palisades show. He said buying your album showed ‘discerning tastes.’ It sounds like you really won them over!

ST: In one of my first meetings with DFA, Jonathan Galkin (who runs the label along with Kris) told me to ‘keep the music as weird as possible.’ This was the best encouragement for someone like me, as I took it to mean ‘continue deeper into your own vision’… I don’t think many musicians are working under such a cushy pretext anymore. I suppose they knew what they were getting into being that I was drawn into the fold via a Black Dice connection. In any case, I’m blessed and right where I need to be.

AF: At your set at Cake Shop you introduced a song by saying: ‘This song is about not fetishizing the past.’  What do you mean by that?

ST: Especially in the rock idiom, there seems to be an assumption that all the best music has been and gone. I have a giant classic rock fixation, so I too am guilty of this train of thought every so often. I do feel though that it is this way of thinking itself, that prevents a context for new sounds to break through and seem as vital as the old sounds. Some of my music is concerned with this battle between mining the past for inspiration (the only concrete source of inspiration in a literal sense), and the desire to transcend those elements… I think contemporary rock culture could do with a good dose of killing one’s idols. The trouble is once having killed one’s idols, there’s a tendency to also do away with melody, structure, clever lyrics and a more ambitious approach to production. I have a fondness for all those elements that many punkier folk will simply do away with in an effort to not repeat the classics.

AF: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?

ST: I can admire anyone who has their own vision, not to say that they can’t betray influences – but any distinct voice that rises through the murk is appreciated. U.S. Girls, Danava, Zacht Automaat, Jack Name, Jennifer Herrema, Ghost Box artists & Eric Copeland are some good examples of modern stuff I can go deep with.

AF: Can you speak about your artistic relationship with your wife Meghan Remy?  You seem to have a very crucial role in each other’s work.

ST: Basically we just have totally opposite creative sensibilities. Meghan is driven by a very deep emotional place in her music, where my process is a lot more cerebral (if you couldn’t tell by my longwinded answers). Not to say that those tracks don’t intersect, but often times we serve to widen each other’s vision. Obviously, there’s a great personal rapport that makes this process highly enjoyable and repeatable. It’s a good situation.

AF: Where are some places you’d really like to tour that you haven’t had a chance to visit yet?

ST: Italy. Italy. Italy. Have done much of Europe a handful of times, but never Italy. Japan too, though I hate to fly so it’s a bit of a tall order.

AF: From what I’ve read your whole family is creative. Did making art ever seem like an option for you, or was it simply a necessity?

ST: It’s just part of the culture of how I came up. It was never enforced of course, but it’s very natural to always have a project on the go. Any way of life that doesn’t accommodate constant creativity would seem awfully dull in my view.

AF: What’s up next for Slim Twig?

ST: Dragging an appropriation of rock ‘n’ roll kicking and screaming into a place free of cliche, sexism and trod on association. Wish me luck!

AF: GOOD LUCK!!! We’d expect nothing less from you. Keep that fire burning.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][facebook]

[retweet][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

LIVE REVIEW: Slim Twig + U.S. Girls @ Cake Shop

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo by Meg Remy
Photo by Meg Remy

All I want is a hot toddy, but the more patient half of me says now’s not the time to order one. Despite my polite efforts and hacking cough, something of greater urgency than a breathing statistic of flu season needs tending to.

The bartender zips along the length of the counter clamping a cordless phone between her ear and shoulder. Her bar back frantically cleans tumblers and disappears periodically. Meanwhile Max Turnbull and his wife Meghan Remy (aka Slim Twig and his wife U.S. Girls) are schlepping amplifiers through the front door of Cake Shop 20 minutes after opener Ryan Sambol-who is sitting right next to me-is supposed to start.

It’s been a rough night for everyone.

Things settle down. The bar is calm. I have booze; the warm, honey and lemon accessorized kind that allows you to be a lush and say “this is good for me!” at the same time.

I am now wedged between a Tinder date and a semi-bilingual French-lesson date (how you say, Tinder?) taking notes in my journal, which I’m sure doesn’t look odd at all. I might as well be chiseling a stone tablet and wearing badger fur.

Collecting cash and stamping hands for the evening is Cake Shop co-owner Andy Bodor, perched on a stool by the venue door. Ryan Sambol emerges from downstairs, despondently shaking his head:

“You know what man, I don’t even wanna play tonight.”

Bodor looks shattered.

“What do you mean???”

“Y’know, it’s just, I come all the way from Texas and I just don’t think….”

I realize that though the dust from earlier has settled, a whole new sandstorm is about to kick up; and then Sambol cracks a smile.

“I’m just kidding!!!” Bodor sighs: “Jesus man, you really got me there.”

Two warm alcohols deep I make my way to the show space. I’m met by a hush crowd politely watching the tricky Texan. It’s not easy to captivate audiences these days, and it’s even harder to do so with such modest and arcane things like a guitar and microphone, but Sambol seems to have this covered. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a good lookin’ boy from the Lone Star State with a voice like Nashville Skyline era Dylan.

­­

His stage presence reminds me of a less-tortured Jeff Buckley…a more lighthearted, plucky Buckley, if you will.  Buckleyness aside, Sambol’s ability to work a room makes sense: he’s been in the biz for over a decade. He helped form The Strange Boys as an eighth grader and subsequently toured with everyone from Julian Casablancas to Spoon. After Strange Boys dissolved in 2012, Sambol and co. reemerged as Living Grateful releasing two LPs in 2014.  I’ve yet to find anything about a forthcoming solo record from Sambol, but if one ever surfaces it will probably sound like his live set: sweet, melty and melancholy.

Sambol played a mix of originals as well as a few covers, announcing them with familial ease: “You can thank Sly Stone for that one.” And I guess we can thank Mr. Sambol for coming all the way from Texas and playing after all.

During the set, I couldn’t help but notice Meg Remy and Max Turnbull at the end of the bar. It made me wonder if it’s difficult to tour with your spouse. Do you bicker over who’s headlining? Take turns on merch table duty? Get jealous when your better half’s record sells more copies than yours? I guess it depends, but judging by the highly collaborative artistic relationship Remy and Turnbull have had, they seem pretty supportive. They lugged the gear together, and played integral roles in each other’s performances for the night.

U.S. Girls was up next. For those unfamiliar with Remy’s music, it is paradoxical in many ways. She goes by a plural, so you’d expect a full band, or at the very least a duo. You wouldn’t guess it was just her by listening to GEM, her FATCAT release from 2012, which is full-bodied, textural and pleasantly schizophrenic.

The self-sufficient musical project is far more achievable these days given the ease of home recording and distribution, but it does make for an interesting dilemma; how does one perform live?  According to Meg Remy: with a Moog and a microphone

It doesn’t sound great on paper, but it’s difficult to describe someone like Remy, who might be made of charisma. A bit dazed while performing, she is focused and calculated. Her body language and voice seem siphoned straight from the 1960s, and I wonder if she really is in trance-watching a mirage of Nancy Sinatra at the back of the room and mirroring her every shimmy.

An equally enigmatic musician, Max Turnbull recorded his sinister pop-opera A Hound at the Hem all the way back in 2010 as a contract fulfillment to Paper Bag records. Unfortunately Paper Bag deemed it too weird, causing Turnbull to shelve the LP and record Sof’ Sike instead.  Hound did have a limited co-release via Pleasance Records and Remy/Turnbull’s own imprint Calico Corp, but it was reissued last year thanks to New York’s own DFA records. DFA saw the album’s brilliance and pressed 600 copies-100 of them on Pepto Bismol pink vinyl.

Hound is a complex and beautiful record. It’s been called chamber pop, psych rock and garnered many other comparisons.  As an impulse evaluation I’d say there are heavy notes of Nick Cave and Van Dyke Parks throughout.

If you didn’t know the chronology of Hound’s lifespan, you might be surprised to see Slim Twig live.  On the album’s sleeve is a clean-shaven kid with a pompadour. Behind the microphone at Cake Shop was a mustached matchstick with long tangled hair. Ever evolving, Turnbull’s look wasn’t the only thing drastically different from his Hound days.  His set didn’t include any songs from the album, which I must admit bummed me out a little.

That’s not to say the music wasn’t exciting and well played, but it was much more straight-forward seventies rock n’ roll- a far cry from the bizzarro orchestra of Hound.  That being said, I can sympathize with a musician not wanting to play songs written five years ago.

Slim Twig’s set was both humble and satirically contradictory. “This song’s about not fetishizing the past” was an intro that struck me as aggressively ironic, since fetishizing the past is what millennials, including myself-are best at.

Though the set was more melodic than I’d expected, there was no shortage of precision and energy.  And fortunately, any deficit of strangeness was made up for by the little eccentricities that can only be experienced at a live show.  While introducing one song Turnbull curtly quipped: “This song is about Jesus Christ.”  To my left a middle-aged Hasidic man clapped and cheered in his seat, occasionally using his cocktail straw as a conductor’s wand; other times bringing it to his lips to take a long drag.

I guess the night was a success after all.

 [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

VIDEO REVIEW: Slim Twig’s “Hover on a Sliver”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Meg Remy
photo by Meg Remy

Canadian shape-shifter Max Turnbull, the man behind the moniker Slim Twig, could never resign to making just a music video.

Given his pedigreed rearing in all camps of the art world-musical, celluloid, and illustrative-it’s no surprise that his most recent one is more of a scored short film than a formulaic MTV standard. In fact, the opening credits prove this as they read: “Repulsion Revisited-A video set to the music of Slim Twig’s ‘Hover on a Sliver’ from the album A Hound at the Hem.”

The text tells us a lot actually, namely that Turnbull is one lucky fella surrounded by a trio of talented women known as 3 Blondes and a Camera.  As it turns out, these aren’t just any ol’ blondes. Shooter/editor Meg Remy of U.S. Girls is Slim’s wife, director/producer Jennifer Hazel is his mom, and the star of the screen is none other than sister Lulu Hazel Turnbull, who has performed in a handful of U.S. Girls videos as well. All and all it seems like a pretty loving collaboration.

The short itself is less warm and fuzzy than the relationship between its makers would suggest. At first glance we see a projected eyeball squirming on the silk of a nightgown. It glares relentlessly and swooshes to the crescendo of robotic bleating. This opening scene connotes more of the climactic build one finds in horror films, which makes all the more sense when we finally catch sight of Lulu, who is all Hitchock heroine in a frosty coif and peach negligee.

Lulu sketches furiously atop a wall projection, smearing charcoal with the agitation of a stain-scrubbing housewife. These moments of creation are the only in which she seems impassioned and present; she traverses the rest of her life with a far off gaze and tepid neuroticism. It’s the kind of mental diversity one might need while listening to Slim Twig, whose sound ranges from schizophrenic noise to masterly crafted pop.

Enjoy the sweet and sinister video for “Hover on a Sliver” below:

 

A Hound at the Hem is out now on DFA Records.  Be sure to snatch one of the limited pressings on pink vinyl while they last!

 

SLIM TWIG TOUR DATES:

Thu. Jan. 15 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle w/ US GIRLS

Fri. Jan. 16  – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog (east location) w/ US GIRLS

Sat. Jan. 17 – Brooklyn, NY @ Palisades w/ US GIRLS, Bottoms

Sun. Jan. 18 – New York, NY @ Cake Shop w/ US GIRLS

Mon. Jan. 19 – Boston, MA @ Middle East Upstairs w/ US GIRLS

Wed. Jan. 21 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz w/ US GIRLS

Fri. Jan. 23 – Toronto, ON @ Silver Dolla

 [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ARTIST PROFILE: Emily Pelstring

meg

If the videos of Emily Pelstring were suits they’d be cut from outlandish cloth, but they would fit perfectly.  Between her recent work with Meghan Remy, a.k.a U.S. Girls, and Canadian song-man Slim Twig, Pelstring has perfected the ability to depict artists as exaggerated forms of themselves, perhaps in part due to her fascination with the “politics of representation”.  A self-professed postmodernist, Pelstring seems to be at ease with conveying various incarnations of identity, depending upon the quirks of the individual artist. There are instances when this portrayal appears so accurate, that it could even surprise the artists themselves, almost as if Pelstring extracted their very essence out of them.

While working with U.S. Girls on her music video for “Jack”, Remy certainly had her fair share of input. However it was Pelstring who hit the nail on the head when deciding to shoot with a VHS camera.  The fuzzed-out image quality is a soft contrast to the sparkling glit throughout the video, on dresses, skin, and all over the ground. It’s never perfectly clear where Remy is, as the frame of the camera doesn’t pull too far away from her, but the lighting suggests she’s is on a stage, performing to an empty room, signaling the last days of the glam-diva, perhaps.

In the video for “28 Days,” another nostalgia-inducing jam by U.S. Girls, Pelstring directly and boldly underscores the 1960s entertainment ethos .  The song itself is catchy pop throwback to girl groups like The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes, and its lyrical subject matter is no less female.  “28 Days” refers to that monthly burden all of us ladies share: yes, yea-ol’ menstrual cycle.  The video features a gaggle of beehive-crowned, rather sullen looking chicks dancing through a barren town as Remy shimmies and sings in front of them.

Though both U.S. Girls videos are humorous, they don’t hold a candle to Pelstring’s work for Slim Twig’s “All This Wanting.”  I’d say the headiest contributor to this video’s hilarity is contrast.  First there is the discrepancy between Slim Twig’s appearance and his voice.  Here’s this scrawny dude (Slim Twig is not just a clever name) with a white-guy fro and a moustache.  I expected him to sound a bit shrill.  Yet, he’s got this barrel-chested voice more akin to Nick Cave’s.  The music is not Cave-esque in any way, however.  The thumping piano and catchiness are more likened to up-tempo Harry Nilsson and Mungo Jerry.

The second and most prominent form of contrast in the video is the real star of the screen: the sock puppets.  They start off doing everyday sock puppet things, singing in unison, bobbing their heads, etc.  By song’s end, one has caught fire, another is hitting the bottle, while a pair are getting hot and heavy on the dining room table.  It’s an adorable and accessible display of dark humor that exemplifies Pelstring’s talent as well as her wit.  She certainly has a wealth of both those things.

Audiofemme recently got to have a little chat with the lady behind the camera, about music, media, and life in the creative lane. Here’s what she had to say:

AF: Your videos seem to be heavily influenced by the 60s and 70s, particularly those you created for both Slim Twig and U.S. Girls. Is there any particular reason for this?  Does that era of time hold any special significance for you? 

 EP: I do draw influence from different time periods, but the range is broader than the 60’s and 70’s. Part of the reason is that I am just curious about the history of moving image formats and I like researching what the limitations and possibilities were perceived to be at the time that specific developments happened. The Slim Twig and U.S. Girls video for Jack are each inspired by specific television programs from the mid-1980s. In the case of those two videos, I had acquired a studio television camera that was made in 1983—and it still worked!  So that was really exciting.  I had learned about analog video in workshop-type situations before, but these projects gave me a chance to develop a style with it.

There is certainly a 1960s reference in the choreography and fashion in 28 Days, motivated by the Supremes sample that is used in the song. Meg and I have a shared obsession with ‘60s girl groups.  One of the references she gave me was for the Exciters’ promotional film for “He’s Got the Power” (1963).  I also looked at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” (1966) for choreography.  But I staged the video with contemporary environments and shot on hi-def video instead of film, because it’s a little more interesting to me when the references to media from different time periods are combined fluidly.

A more extreme example of that kind of conflation of historical media would be the video for Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s Hoshi Neko.  For that, we wanted to combine early video game aesthetics with the visual textures of the silent film era.  We wanted to imagine what a 1920s video game might look like, and throw the chronology of aesthetic/technological developments completely out the window.

 AF: We’re all very aware of the low-fi direction music video media have taken in the last couple of years.  What do you attribute this to? Do you think it is a contrary reaction to high-tech innovations, CGI, etc?

 EP:To me, “low-fi” means distorted, visibly processed imagery.  Though I don’t really consider a lot of my own work low-fi, I can certainly think of compelling reasons for artists to be using low-fi aesthetics. When I do something that I would consider low-fi, (because it embraces technical malfunction, or includes disruptive glitches), it is certainly done in dialogue with mainstream aesthetic standards, like everything. There are these cultural narratives of technological progress, authorial mastery, and structural coherency that I do think can be questioned.  In my own work, it is part of a feminist agenda—a criticism of some of the values of the industry.

If you are just talking about the trend of shooting with vintage cameras in order to achieve a retro look, to me this is just a stylistic choice, like a fashion or design trend, and cultural nostalgia is everywhere in fashion, design, and music. Is not at all surprising that the visual trends in independent or underground music are things that would be easily accomplished with low budgets, because economic factors make it practical for independent music video makers to embrace lower production values. What is fun to see is that, now that we have developed the 2000s-early-video-revival in the world of commercially unsuccessful artists, mainstream artists are finding a way to spend millions of dollars approximating it!  The whole thing is like a conversation, or a snake eating its own tail or something, and it’s been going on forever.

 AF: When you’ve worked with artists in the past, do you find that they tend to seek you out, or do you have specific musicians in mind for your concepts?

 EP: I usually just work with friends, or people within my social circle that I want to collaborate with.  Sometimes it’s an excuse to get to know somebody better who I think is interesting.  I have done a few commissions for Pop Montreal where I had to select a musician to work with out of a few options, and they were people I didn’t know, but that’s rare.

 AF: How much of a collaborative effort are your music videos with the artists/bands?

 EP: Sometimes it is actually 50/50 collaboration, like with Ruby Kato Attwood of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, but even when I’m not co-directing, there is always a lot of planning and conversation leading up to the making of the video.  This usually involves sending video references, storyboards, treatments, location images, etc, and this is when most of the ideas get worked out.  I like this process because I feel like my relationship with the musician gets stronger on a personal level.  The whole reason I do these collaborative projects is that I want to get closer to people through art-making, because I find it a fulfilling way to communicate ideas.

 AF: Given the nostalgic quality of your work, how do you maintain relevance?  How are these references relatable to the young viewer?

 EP: I think nostalgia itself is totally relevant to the young viewer. One would be hard-pressed to find an example of contemporary media that is not in some way nostalgic, or that does not owe something huge to the past.  Nostalgia has this connotation of longing and desire for a time we think that we can’t access. That feeling motivates me and I think brings a sort of pain/pleasure to some viewers.

 AF: What is the most difficult part of your process?

 EP: With each project I am attempting something new on a technical or organizational level.  The difficulties involve coordinating casts and crews, managing schedules and budgets, testing equipment and workflows, and trouble-shooting in advance of a production.  A lot of this work is physically demanding (hauling heavy gear, pulling long days).  But, I am usually very prepared for a shoot, and that enables me to foster a harmonious working environment where people are happy to be there, expressing themselves, being fed, and having fun. For 28 Days,we actually shot the whole thing, all 7 locations, in 3.5 hours.  That was no miracle: everything was meticulously coordinated.  I could never do any of this without Lesley Marshall, my absolute, go-to, all-time best Production Manager/Assistant Director/Right Hand.  You should see the two of us change a lens together!  We can do it in like 5 seconds flat.  Usually my crew is small- sometimes just me and Lesley, and that leads to situations where Lesley is like, holding Meg’s cigarette in one hand, a 500-Watt light in the other, and operating the smoke machine with a remote between her knees.

 AF: Where do you fall in the debate between digital and analog processes?

 I use digital, analog, and hybrid tools, simultaneously and interchangeably. Most recently, I made something where I used my vintage camera to make video feedback with a CRT monitor, which was then processed by an analog colorizer and a new digital video mixer before being edited in an animation program and then converted into animated gifs for a web-based artwork.  Since this kind of hybrid process is so typical in my work, I don’t usually bother engaging in a debate about it.

 AF: Who do you consider your biggest influence within the realm of film/cinematography?

EP: I always cite Maya Deren as the reason I ever wanted to start making films, and Kenneth Anger as my biggest filmic influence.  But, in terms of cinematography, I have been looking to my friend and collaborator Jessica Mensch, who is primarily a painter, and relatively new to video.  Her camera work is so subjective and exploratory that you can feel her decision-making process as she searches for compositions and moves through scenes (see The Fuzz).  This interests me because it is different from my approach, and I think I can learn from it.

I have been thinking about a few coming-of-age narratives a lot lately: Chantal Akerman’s J’ai Faim, J’ai Froid(1984)and Jane Campion’s A Girl’s Own Story­ (1984)which has a haunting musical ending I also recently watched an Australian psychological thriller by Peter Weir called Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).  I liked that because half of the movie is a bunch of boarding school girls roaming around this awesome geological formation and becoming enraptured by the mysterious forces of nature.

 AF: Which of your projects is the most personal to you?

 EP: The projects that are the most significant to me are the ones where I feel like I am truly meeting another mind through the process.  In terms of the music videos, Jack and 28 Days feel like proficient expressions of issues and ideas that Meg and I both care deeply about. But the work I do with Jessica as Inflatable Deities is personally important because she is one of my best friends, and when working with her I feel more encouraged to explore uncharted territory.

 AF: Do you find yourself more at ease shooting within the confines of a set, or out in the open/ on location?

 EP: Both present their own special challenges. In-studio, I tend to take a lot of time figuring out the set and lighting. Outdoors, you are pressed for time if you want specific lighting, and you have to worry about factors like the weather, or the rights of other human beings to be in the public spaces that you want to shoot in. I do enjoy outdoor location shooting, but in Montreal, it is just too shitty outside for 11 months of the year.

 AF: Out of your contemporaries, who would you most like to work with on a collaborative project?

 EP: I would love to finish something with Brandon Blommaert. He is a friend and a very talented and skilled animator.  We have done some really cool experiments.

 AF: Have you ever felt comfortable in front of the camera, or solely behind it?

 EP: I have a lot of dance training and am always into doing anything crazy with my body, for stage or camera. I do performance art and perform in videos pretty frequently.

 AF: This one is born of the season: What is your favorite Christmas Special?

 EP: I’m going to leave you with a couple of my favorite music videos instead, consider it a Christmas present if you haven’t seen them already…

So epic, I can’t:

Another power balled from the same year.  Jessica turned me onto this one, it takes an amazing turn around the 2-minute mark:

Any video from the “Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip” era is fantastic, but this one especially makes good use of giant props, and they just look like they are having SUCH a good time.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][facebook]
[retweet][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

SHOW REVIEW: Eric Copeland and U.S. Girls

As a founding member of Black Dice, Eric Copeland has been melting my face for years.  I’d seen them live a handful of times in the early- and mid-aughts and had fond memories of sweaty thrashing and abused cilia.  I was overjoyed when they were announced as openers for Animal Collective’s Celebrate Brooklyn show last summer and pleased that they were just as great as ever, even though the venue was not the sort I was used to seeing them play.  Even though I enjoyed Eric Copeland’s solo material I’d never gotten a chance to see what it is exactly that he does by himself in front of a crowd.  At Death by Audio on Sunday, I found out.

I was in a somewhat poisonous mood despite being very excited about the show.  August was not a kind month to me, and it was beginning to wear me down; my hope was that the show would lift my spirits.  I was jazzed up for opener U.S. Girls, whose moniker is misleading in that is is actually just one girl.  That girl, Meghan Remy, layers her sultry but detached vocals over fuzzy electronic beats and looks damn chic doing it.  She’s released a handful of records, done a split with Dirty Beaches, and has an album, entitled Gem, coming out on Fat Cat in September.  She was also selling some pretty rad little collages at the merch table.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Meghan Remy of U.S. Girls

Musically, the production values remain lo-fi enough to add a little grit to a glamorous ethos that clearly informs her work.  There weren’t tons of people filling the DIY space for her set, but those who were seemed to be under a kind of spell; heads bobbed but eyes were glued to the stage.  She closed with her lead-off single from Gem, “Jack”, a cover of a somewhat obscure glam-rock jam from 2004 by a band called Danava.  Remy also performed an awesomely perverted version of Monica and Brandy’s 1998 smash hit “The Boy Is Mine”.  While you would think R&B doesn’t have much to do with the swirling, dubby haze Remy creates, it’s actually a pretty appropriate reference point; though her distorted, witchy vocals and hazy compositions are far from slickly produced pop top forty, the diva swag is the same, and the jagged spines of these songs are sheathed in beats just as infectious.

Eric Copeland was certainly more unassuming than the audaciously blonde Remy in her leopard-print wedges, dressed as he was in a dark cap and ragged shorts.  Every so often, Copeland would croon into a microphone, his voice a distorted moan, and during those moments he’d direct his gaze briefly and furtively into the bizarro dance party he’d given rise to.  But mostly he kept his head down, sometimes whipping it back and forth during particularly turbulent rhythms.  Much like Copeland’s work with Black Dice, his solo work is layered with mashed loops and whacked-out samples, and it has followed a similar trajectory.  Copeland started producing his solo records right around the time that Black Dice moved away from the harsh feedback and persistent drone of their early material, replacing it with something no less experimental but certainly a bit more synth-oriented.  With the release of this year’s Limbo, Copeland’s created something that embraces that more playful ethos.  The beats are almost bouncy, layered in psychedelic repetitions and oozing pitch-shifted samples.  It’s still a challenging listen at times, due to its more disconnected moments.  But in a live setting, you could actually pull out some weird dance moves and shake to it.  I don’t think I’ll be walking into a dance club anytime soon to hear a DJ spinning “Fiesta Muerta”, but attending this show was a reminder that there are all types of grooves, and sometimes the kookiest ones are the most rewarding.

[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]