Friday, February 24, 2017

Jamila Woods -- HEAVN

I'm a little embarrassed that it's taken me so long to write a review of my favorite album of 2016. But HEAVN is such an overwhelming experience that it takes a while to process. In a word, it's gorgeous.

I mean this in every aspect of the album: the cover art, the lyrics, the music, the production. I listened to it the first time on my crappy iPhone speakers and was overwhelmed. (While I imagine it's best enjoyed on vinyl with a serious stereo setup, I highly recommend experiencing this album -- yes, all the way through -- with headphones.) 

So what's an album like this doing on an Americana blog? (And I'll be reposting this one to No Depression.) What's more American than racism? Than protest? Than isolation for not fitting an extremely narrow definition of "normal"? Than solidarity with other marginalized people? Than struggling with depression and body image because advertising -- our society's moral messaging -- tells us we're wrong so we can buy things to make us right? And what's more American than music by black people? 

To be sure, there are certain songs on this album that I cannot relate to on fundamental levels. And my struggle to respond to and acknowledge that helps explain my delay in writing about HVN. Woods treats all of her songs with such warmth that you can't help being pulled into them, immersed in the majesty of these songs and set on fire by the love and passion that spills through every single person's performance on this album. This is an album that will make you feel heard, hurt, curious, and proud, no matter who you are. 

In a word, it's gorgeous.

Jamila Woods -- Official, Stream on Soundcloud [The playlist seems to have been taken down, but maybe it'll come back]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

PREMIER: McDougall -- "Stop This Train"

McDougall is a powerhouse but I love him with a band. "Stop This Train," a plaintive song that most would treat as the "quiet" interlude in an album, retains a quiet dignity as it gathers momentum amidst gang vocals, an inexorable drum beat, and subdued guitars.

McDougall's teasing this new album out in dribs and drabs, which is only making me more and more stoked for it.

McDougall -- Official, Facebook

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

PREMIER: Paula Boggs Band -- "Edith's Coming Home"

Some people are just blessed with gorgeous voices. I'm a little jealous of Paula Boggs. Her latest video comes from her new EP, Live From Empty Sea: Songs of Protest and Hope. Boggs writes that this song is a form of protest and hope beyond the political arena. It is a memorial to "Edith," a black lawyer and judge who married interracially in the '40s which was, of course, illegal in many states. The song protests against the fact that this remarkable woman spent her last years in the throes of Alzheimer's.


Boggs is quite impressive herself. An Army vet and accomplished lawyer who served on the Iran Contra task force as well as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (as well as the boards of KEXP, the Peabody Conservatory, and Avid), Boggs' musical abilities match her legal acumen. Seems to me like we'll need a little of both over the next few years.

Paula Boggs Band -- Official, Purchase from Paula Boggs Band, Spotify

Friday, February 17, 2017

VIDEO: "Play God" -- Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco's got a new record coming out, and boy do we need it. Here's the video for her latest single, "Play God," a damning indictment of patriarchal control over reproductive justice. It's exactly what you'd expect from DiFranco: pointed lyrics and musical wizardry. It's a good banger (so to speak?) to blast on your way to your next protest.

Ani DiFranco -- Official, Facebook

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Anna Wallis -- Every Tear is a Drop of Fear

I was blasting this the other night. My roommate walked in and said, "Oh! This is so pleasant! I like the harmonies!" I couldn't help grinning.

"Right? But this is a song where she's contemplating jumping out of the emergency window of the bus if it careens over the bridge it's crossing."


So that's Every Tear is a Drop of Fear in a nutshell. Wallis constructs beautiful three-part harmonies but, like a sick Anderson Sisters, the lyrics aren't as sweet as the singing suggests.

It's definitely worth reading through the lyrics, which Wallis has helpfully posted on Bandcamp. On their own, each song is a poem of crushing isolation and struggling with depression. That makes the songs even more remarkable -- with no rhyme structure evident in the words, we go from what seem like diary entries to tightly written pieces reminiscent of early jazz or country girl groups. I feel this tension serves to remind us all of the absurdity of walking around feeling the way we do, but acting as if everything's fine, even whimsical.

Anna Wallis -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ali Burress -- Dwell

Ali Burress sounds so self-assured on her new EP, Dwell, that it's hard to believe she's 19. The five songs in this EP are swooning odes to creativity. They are unhurried and feel as if Burress is in complete control of the song without ever feeling inorganic. Dwell was written in the wake of a horrific (but fortunately not fatal) car accident suffered by Burress's father. It was this accident that caused Burress to pursue music full-time and, she writes, these songs offer her refuge.

The gauzy production helps Burress's songs feel inviting. Even as she grapples with change and determining the kind of person she wants to grow into, Dwell is a comforting album. Burress has  nothing left to lose and everything to gain -- as such, these songs are imbued with urgency while simultaneously soothing both the listener and the artist.

Ali Burress -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fred Thomas -- Changer

If anyone can capture the messiness and frustration and chaos and yearning and anxiety and elation and disappointment and detached amusement of one's twenties, it's Fred Thomas. Changer came at me in very much the same way that first sentence probably did to you. It's earnest and straightforward -- there's no conceit here. Thomas just puts you right in the thick of it.

Changer is fairly controlled chaos, though. As Thomas runs the gamut of emotions, he abruptly breaks off into two well-crafted instrumental pieces before sliding into complete depression, as if there's nothing more to say. The album ends with one of my favorite songs, "Mallwalkers," an affectionate and incredulous reflection on high school. It's refreshing to get a straight-up rock album these days, and Thomas adds new energy and depth to a topic that one might think might not have new ground to cover.

Fred Thomas -- Official, Facebook, Purchase Changer