Thursday, May 25, 2017

Morning Music

It's rainy and gross here in New York, but these songs lift my mood. Jared Rabin kicks us off with the strident anthem "Something Left to Say." Matthew O'Neill's "Alzheimer Blues" takes my deepest fear and grief and turns it into a groovy neo-soul banger. Night Talks' serene "In Dreams" compliments the weather over here quite nicely. Wholewheat's  detuned guitars, catchy rhythm, and fuzzy vocals are a powerpop treat in "Camouflage the Mirage," an excellent song that grapples with depression and the struggle to form bonds with others. "Kinda" picks up the tempo a little, with Brett's silky pop vocals overlaying crunchy guitars to deliver 3 minutes of disaffection. Starch Monkey lives more in the present with "Only You," a Southern rock-inflected love song with a kick. Nolander makes a repeat appearance with "Someday Morning," a carefully crafted acoustic song with distinctive percussion. Cattle & Cane are yet another entrant in the Civil Wars-inspired folk duet, but their distinctive harmonies in "Paper Man" promise great things to come from them. Elea Cavet is a bit of a departure from our usual fare here on the blog, delivering a multi-textured meditation on "Lust" that I hope will captivate you like it did me. Taking us home is Jason Hawk Harris, with the gorgeous "The Smoke and the Stars."

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

tricot -- 3

I don't have too many opportunities to use Japanese stateside, so I hope you won't mind my getting a little pedantic. While the band is referred to as tricot in its US marketing materials (so I used it in the title for SEO purposes), their actual name, トリコ, is pronounced "toriko." Tricot is, apparently, a type of French wool and "toriko" could mean either "captive" or "rice powder" or maybe nothing at all -- maybe the band just liked the song (it's hard to say given how they chose to write it out.) With all of that out of the way, this is a great album no matter what language you speak.

While a comparison to Shonen Knife feels obvious, it's apt in its own right. In addition to their forebears' obsession with naming their songs after food, トリコ is subversive in their directness. While they might not have needed to hide their instruments from their parents like the members of Shonen Knife, it's still not exactly kosher for a bunch of women to have their very own band without any male instrumentalists. These themes are particularly strong in "Wabi-Sabi," a Japanese aesthetic in which the absence of a certain object completes the room (though it should not be surprising that in this case, they're not singing about an object.) "Yosoiki" ("good manners") similarly doesn't shy away from calling out male obtuseness -- a pissed off breakup song is simply not something you hear very often over there. But トリコ isn't all angst -- "Namu" ("amen") is delightfully bizarre.

トリコ's truly astonishing mid-song tempo changes conveys the band's mastery in any language. While the '90s singer-songwriter, punk, and J-Rock influences are clear, the band's exploratory approach feels more like jazz than anything else. They're a delight and I really hope they come over to the US soon. I'd listen to hours of "Namu" for the opportunity.

トリコ -- Official (it's mostly in Japanese), Facebook, Purchase from Top Shelf Records

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lynn Drury -- Rise of the Fall

Lynn Drury's become a master of the world-weary ballad. That doesn't mean Drury's stuck in a rut; it's just that on her eighth (!) album, Rise of the Fall, she plays to her strengths. Drury's got a refreshing earthiness to her voice that give her songs warmth while her backing band of New Orleans all-stars adds a shot of slinky Tabasco sauce to the otherwise Schlitz-fueled twang. (I couldn't think of a better food combo but if you have a more appetizing idea, feel free to comment below.)

Each song feels like a nugget of hard-earned wisdom, though it's never preachy. "Lifetime of Living" is a reminder that the good times aren't supposed to last, but are a welcome respite from painful lessons. "Tuesday Lover" kisses off a lover who doesn't appreciate Drury's (inestimable) value. "Taking All the Good People" stands out to me as one of the most steadfast political songs of the year -- its measured approach has a slow-burning effect that an angrier or more histrionic song simply would not. Rise of the Fall further cements Drury's place in the firmament of New Orleans songwriters -- no frills but with an attention to artistry and craft.

Lynn Drury -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on CDBaby

Morning Music!

Here's a nice playlist for your morning routine/commute. We start with Lee N. Sage's "Thrown," a bracing acoustic track. That's followed up by some blistering shoegaze punk from American High. Mt. Joy brings us back to Earth with a rootsier song that would fit nicely with American High's theme -- a response to that good old-fashioned American ennui. Rosie Carney's "Your Moon" is an empowering song for those of us who have struggled to define ourselves in spite of society's attempts to shape us (so...everyone reading this, probably.) Lee Smythe's "I Need You" would've been the perfect springtime tune for this past weekend in New York -- but since it's rainy right now, I'll shelve these sweet love song to remind me that better weather is around the corner. Maybe. Geron Hoy brings us back to those rainy days with a beautiful song reminiscing about those times when you feel awkward and hopeless out of place. On the other hand, Mat Hunsley delivers an ode to his good friends in a rich baritone. Jordan McKampa's blues shuffle is a badass and updated protest song. Loreve's "The Universe" hurtles us forward a couple of decades with a fugue-like synth track that sucked me in. Switch Ghost's "Look Into My Eyes" is an earth, sprawling rocker. "Sadie" is a bedroom folk stunner from Georgia's ethansroom. Nolander's tender vocals bring "Lindsey Ann" to life. No Small Children is a badass band of teachers with a breezy, power pop feel on "Radio." Australia's Angharad Drake has a voice that's sweet enough indeed to draw water from a stone in "Honey in a Rock." For fans of the Ballroom Thieves, Talking Underwater deliver impassioned acoustic music that swells into a gorgeous crescendo. Lastly, smoky lounge singer Sarah Lassez plays us out on "Mermaid Seranade."

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Monday, May 22, 2017

VIDEO: James Wilson and Sam Gleaves -- "Apartment #9"

A hole in the time-space continuum allowed queer country luminaries James Wilson (of the Paisley Fields) and Sam Gleaves to get some back-porch-and-strumming time. The pair sing a bottom-of-the-glass rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Apartment #9" (and now that same-sex marriage is legal, the lyrics are accurate!) Enjoy!

Sam is about to release a scorcher of an album and the Paisley Fields are touring in support of their latest album, Oh These Urban Fences.

Sam Gleaves -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

The Paisley Fields -- Official, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon

Friday, May 19, 2017

INTERVIEW: Matthew Ryan

Last week, Matthew Ryan released his remarkable new album, Hustle Up Starlings. Matt wrote some thoughtful answers to my questions, below.

1. What made you say to yourself: wait -- I've got at least one more album in me?

That thought, "I got at least one more album in me," has visited me every time I've come to the close of the work on the behalf of an album. It gets quiet when the story for an album is coming to a close. The weeks and months afterward tend to have a kind of surreal quality about them. Each album occupies at least two years of your life, from the writing process to the demos, recording then release. My previous album Boxers occupied a 3-year space. I'm hoping the same for "Starlings," even more would be beautiful. Because the longer you're in that process of walking beside what you've created, the more it feels like the songs are finding their footing in the lives of other people, the more rewarding it feels, the more relaxed it gets.

I guess in short, particularly lately, the albums feel like I've said all I can or want to say at that point. It seems unimaginable that more is possible. Then I go live some more, and travel and meet new people. With albums and the work you do on their behalf, there are miles of defeats and beauties, successes and failures and new friendships. Missing home. Missing my family. Missing my friends back home. Sunset on different landscapes. The stories strangers tell. The look in people's eyes. The rituals, the long stories I keep close. The way a city or road or neighborhood looks when you're passing through, it all feeds the next songs.

2. Did you approach the recording process differently than usual? Why did you choose to have a live band on this record?

The last two albums have been essentially the same approach. I've found that my favorite sensation in music is the music of collaboration. It took me a long time to figure that out. I write and demo the songs alone and then share them with the gang that's been cast for the upcoming event. That's how both Boxers and Hustle Up Starlings emerged. There's a lot of information in "liberated" demos. I always try to express some tonal and noise information without getting precious in my demos, and then I let the gang widen the cinema. I love the imagination and talent of my friends. If you've welcomed the right souls into the room all you gotta do it start their engines and watch them go. It's inspiring. The songs always get better. The goal is always a form of deliverance.

With "Starlings" there was a focused fire in the air from "go." Brian (Fallon) had spent weeks with the demos and was essentially playing the role of a soulful architect. He was calling 3 or 4 times a day pushing me and asking questions. I had asked him to produce, and I meant it. I wanted him to challenge me. Something happens when you've been at this a long time, everyone thinks they know what you sound like, but not "what you could sound like." Lucky for me, as is is way, he took the job seriously. We share a lot of the same rock n roll DNA, as do all the guys that were in the room recording "Starlings". It's always a relief when from the very beginning there's a shared dialect and understanding about what's important about music. This album is the sum of all of its parts: the songs, the producer and orchestrator and guitar player (Brian Fallon), the engineer (Doug Lancio), the bass player and my best friend (Brian Bequette), the amazing drummer and percussionist (Brad Pemberton), and the beautiful work on cello and violin by David Henry.

3. Why did you choose to have a live band on this record?

We recorded both Boxers and Hustle Up Starlings live because it's what the budget allowed. In both cases, we booked 7 days but were finished in 5. I love recording live because it insists on lightning. When lightning hits there is no debate or reconsideration of what just happened. It's like falling in love, you know it when it happens. All you gotta do is lean in and remain humble. The more humble we are, the more generous lightning is. U2 often refer to it as "God walking into the room." And what it means is the song expresses itself to you, it reveals itself. Maybe through some magic, or some unguarded participation in what's possible between hearts when they're creating together. Don't get me wrong, it's work to get there, until all of the sudden it isn't. It's lightning and everything feels brighter. And now, as grateful as I am, I'm discovering and feeling that it's in our commitment to this mysterious part of recording live that I believe songs offer an immediacy, an irresistible thing that rarely could have been designed. It's like the mistakes and the rawer energies commiserate to always feel like it just happened, no matter how old the recording is. It's rock n roll. And beyond the machines, we use to capture it, what always made it worth its while were the hearts involved. I mean listen to "Like a Rolling Stone" or "What A Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong's version), they last forever because they're completely committed performances in the now that they were in. There's no sense of labor, just a nuclear now of language, voice, and sound. I would love to offer something so luminous. But as a lover of music, all I really care about is that they exist.
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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cayetana -- New Kind of Normal

When Cayetana's first album, Nervous Like Me, came out, it was the calling card of a bold, scrappy band. But three years bring a lot of change and upheaval. Like the rest of us, Cayetana did not leave their early 20s unscathed. New Kind of Normal is darker and richer -- a more complex music for a more mature band. It's also an extremely tough listen, as it chronicles the ups and downs (mostly) of struggling with depression.

It viscerally hurts me to listen to lyrics like the chorus of "Grumpy's,"

is that your friend or your drinking buddy?
your first call, or the understudy?
was i your friend or your drinking buddy?
your first call, or the understudy?
you’ve some real good friends on the weekends
i’ve got some real good friends on the weekends
and then they’re gone

I'm glad I can now look back, albeit uncomfortably, on the days when I felt so isolated that I felt insecure in my friendships, convinced that everyone was just a good-time charlie and didn't actually care about me. On the other hand, there are shining points on the album that hint at the narrator's eventual climb to stability:

it’s not the fall that radicalized me
it’s what happened when i hit the ground

but this is the new me
and i won’t apologize
yeah, this is the new me
and i hope that you realize
that i was born strong, like the ones that made me
and i was made tough, like the one that raised me 

If Cayetana has grown in terms of their lyrics, they also have in their musicality. Songs shift tempo abruptly and Allegra Anka's rolling, lyrical bass has promoted her to my pantheon of favorite bassists. Steel your heart and then get ready to bust it open for one of the finest albums this year.

Cayetana -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp