Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Femi Taiwo -- "Space For My Guitar"

Sometimes, songs just need to speak for themselves. That's true of Femi Taiwo's "Space For My Guitar," a truly cosmic blend of blues and hip-hop that elegantly delineates the bridge between the generation of great bluesmen and great hypemen. Taiwo's guitar pyrotechnics slowly build to a dazzling crescendo that shows Taiwo says what he means -- there's no need for anything as long as he's got a place to lay his guitar.

Femi Taiwo is a Nigerian American artist currently based in Washington, DC. He fell in love with the traditional music in Nigerian religious and social gatherings growing up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, learning traditional dances. After learning piano at the age of eight, he would spend his formative years learning saxophone and being exposed to jazz and classical music. In college, he joined the Indiana University Soul Revue where he honed his skills even further, beginning to experiment more and more with hip-hop. As a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, keyboards, saxophones, Afro-Brazilian percussion), rapper, and singer, his projects feature heavy use of live instrumentation, much of which he performs himself.

It's hard to find Femi's music online, though this seems to be his CV, proving he's got a host of talents in addition to his electric guitar. You can track down "Space For My Guitar" here on whatever streaming service you desire. He also has a bunch of stuff on Soundcloud.

Loamlands -- Lez Dance

Sometimes, you're lucky enough to go to a concert that changes your life. You know that, or you wouldn't be reading this. You know how rare that can be, as well. There are shows where people play music. And then there are shows where people get on stage and share their humanity in a way that reminds you of how precious our time here is -- and they happen to be playing a guitar at the same time.

That's how I felt when I saw Loamlands a few weeks ago at Coney Island Baby, the opener on a bill of three queer punk artists -- Nana Grizol (whose album I reviewed when it came out) and Your Heart Breaks, whom you'll be hearing much more about soon.

I'm glad to have had the benefit of Loamlands -- nee Kym Register -- provide background for some of the songs on Lez Dance, though I don't think you need it. As you can tell from the pun, this is an album that delves deep into aspects of the queer experience that a certain country-turned-pop singer needs to calm down about before climbing onto the bandwagon. Which ancestors do we claim, and how can we draw strength from them? How can we undo the pain and alienation of growing up queer? How do we navigate the very real violence we face now? How can we find someone who is willing to see past our gender presentations to the soft and gooey souls beneath?

With little accompaniment but an electric guitar and, on some tracks, some choice vocal harmonies, Register tackles these questions with warmth and probity. This approach, in sharp contrast with their first album, gives us the feeling that Register is taking a stand. And, thanks to their open-hearted approach, Register's solitude invites us to join them -- musically, in the streets, and in a life well-lived.

Loamlands -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Hey! Listen: Bedroom Days -- "Crocodile Tears"

"I hope you come back,"  the narrator croons. We know where this story is going. Bedroom Days (Cody Christian and Matteo Russo) slowly, masterfully, crank up the heat on the music. "Crocodile Tears" sure sounds like a moment of triumph, the catharsis of someone unburdening themselves of their guilt. But even as the song swells around us, something is off.

"It's a song about a person that is desperate to get someone back," the band explains. "And it starts out more as a love song then by the end you realize the protagonist is more just selfish and doesn't really care about his former partner at all. Kind of a song about love addiction and codependency."

"Bedroom Days" is one of those songs that's like catnip today; a steel guitar to keep things grounded, a beautiful duet, and punk rock intensity. I love the way the song unfurls and plays with your heartstrings, much like a toxic ex who swears they've changed this time around. You want to believe them in their heroic vulnerability, even when they've proven themselves to be less than time and time again.

Bedroom Days -- Spotify, Soundcloud

Monday, June 17, 2019

Joel Schwelling -- The Getting Up

We can't always get what we want, and we often get what we don't. The New Hampshire-based Joel Schwelling is pretty clear on that in his sophomore album, The Getting Up. On "Don't Wanna," Schwelling paints a picture of his frustrations and needs by telling us how he plans to change directions. It may also be a nod to what Schwelling intends to do with this album: figure out what it takes to get up and push through.

That's what drew me to the album's title track. Schwelling dispenses his hard-earned wisdom with compassion and clarity. His brand of country has those punk influences that go a long way towards winning my favor. But it's Schwelling's songwriting that stands out here; there's no denying that every song on The Getting Up was carefully pored over to make sure each little piece works together to reach its exact target in your heart -- even the instrumentals. The vocals on the album may sound a little raw, but it's worth it to dig into these lyrics. Schwelling knows what he's doing, which means his next album is definitely going to be a heartbreaker (in the best ways) as he gets better and better at his craft.

Joel Schwelling -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Hey! Listen: Honeysuckle -- "To the Grave"

One of my commitments to myself this year is learning how to be more vulnerable -- especially around the people I care about the most. To me, Boston-based Honeysuckle's new single, "To the Grave," delves into that idea. How do you learn to trust the people around you -- and what's lost when you don't?

There is some truly masterful playing on here. Honeysuckle has been around for quite some time, and that chemistry shows throughout this song. While it does have a chorus, the song's structure feels organic, as if the trio are extemporaneously creating the song as they record. When they join each other in the chorus, though, the song becomes truly majestic.

Honeysuckle's third album, Firestarter, will be released this Friday, June 21st, on AntiFragile Records. 

Honeysuckle -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, June 14, 2019

Hey! Listen: Canyun -- "Leaving Hollowland"

It's tempting to feel like you need to prep for Doomsday. Canyun is way ahead of you, though. On "Leaving Hallowland," the Toronto-based cosmic country band paints a bleary picture of the future. If you don't listen too close, though, you've got yourself a road song that hits a triumphant note. But it's worth looking a bit closer.

Canyun's clearly influenced by Tom Petty -- you hear it in that forthright melody and singer Andrew Hastings' delivery. But there's something else. What impresses me about the band is that they don't come by their "cosmic country" credentials with the usual raft of trippy pedal steel and synths. Rather, they bring a touch of Neil Young's otherwordliness to an otherwise straight-ahead rocker. That je ne sais quois makes "Leaving Hollowland" a challenging -- and rewarding -- listen.

Canyun -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Reese McHenry -- No Dados

I think you're just going to have to listen to this album all the way through because I surely will not do it justice. I found out about Reese McHenry via a random Tweet from Lydia Loveless (ah, 2019.) The album's been out since April but I haven't seen much about it from my usual sources for music news. (However, the album garnered a strong review from Pitchfork -- not one of my usual sources by a long stretch.) So I'll start off by saying that was a gross oversight -- on my part and everyone else's.

No Dados is McHenry's first release in some time, having recovered from multiple strokes. You wouldn't know she's had any health concerns, though -- McHenry is ferocious throughout this album. It's almost as if you filtered Corin Tucker (from Sleater-Kinney) through the Ramones and any 50s girl group you care to name. This is especially true on "Detroit," which bolsters its teen-bop melody through distorted guitars and a jaunty drum beat -- pushed to maximum intensity by McHenry's gale-force vocals.

There are plenty of bands who cover this ground -- an early rock'n'roll sound with the added advantage of certain postwar technological advancements. But No Dados will make you feel like you're hearing it -- not just the style, but rock music in particular -- for the very first time. This is already one of my favorite albums this year.

Reese McHenry -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp