Friday, January 30, 2015

Kings -- Bones

The tail end of 2014 was a cold-hearted bitch and I'm glad to see the last of her. But I got to end it on a high note. Karen and the Sorrows hosted a brilliant queer country holiday party and I got to learn about two new bands that I am now obsessed with. (PS -- If queer country parties sound fun to you, watch this space for an exciting announcement!)


One of those bands was Kings. The lineup seems to be undergoing a bit of a shuffle, but its two core members are Emily Bielagus and Steph Bishop. (One of them is a teacher -- we are obviously a very cool crowd.) Watching the two of them play is like a lesson in synchronicity. Their harmonies are beautiful and it's clear -- both in their live show and on this EP -- that they can't get enough of making music with each other. The joy doesn't come from their own satisfaction with their music. The act of sharing their connection with the rest of us mortals only draws us in further to their already intoxicating melodies and lyrics. You can enjoy Bones by dropping $5 on Bandcamp and it'll be a much better investment than your morning Starbucks.



Kings -- Official, Bandcamp

Thursday, January 29, 2015

VIDEO: Emma Hill -- Lioness

Emma Hill made some serious waves with her recent album, Denali. Check out the beautifully animated video for the single "Lioness" below. I haven't had a chance to review it but the whole album is pretty amazing. You can listen to it on Bandcamp.


Get More:


Emma Hill -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes, CDBaby

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bill Mallonee -- Winnowing

Bill Mallonee is absurdly prolific and has produced what I think is one of the finest albums I've ever listened to -- Vigilantes of Love's Audible Sigh. Mallonee is absurdly prolific. Winnowing is his 50th album but who's counting at this point, right? I don't think I'll ever get a chance to listen to all of his work. And he's already gearing up to release a new album in May.


Winnowing gives us a much more subdued Bill than Amber Waves, which was two years and it's looking like eight releases ago (how, Bill? How?) His voice is a lot higher and thinner -- delicate, almost. But the lyrics themselves don't hold back. They're a mighty force of desperation, Biblical struggles of faith, and self-love.


In his liner notes, Mallonee writes that this is an "autumn album," meant to highlight melancholy, and fear. But I think the fall also brings hope for the upcoming year. At least, that that's what this album gives me when it's all said and done.

Bill Mallonee -- Official, Bandcamp

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gayle Skidmore -- 2 singles and an EP

I don't know who this lady is, but damn is she cool. As you can see from the album art, Gayle Skidmore is a talented visual artist. As you can hear in "Rag Doll" and "Barrel, Trigger, Gun," she's a brilliant songwriter. Apparently she also crafts origami set pieces. I'm a little spooked by the unending fathoms of her creativity. But if someone's gotta be a vessel for the muse, Skidmore uses her inspiration well.


Of her two most recent singles, "Rag Doll" is my favorite. The poignant imagery is matched only by Skidmore's delicate performance:

I am a rag doll sewn by a blind man
To keep him company and make him happy
But he sewed me full of flaws
And now I'm breaking you just because





If you want to hear more from her, you're in luck. Skidmore's running an Indiegogo campaign to fund her next project.

Gayle Skidmore -- Official, Bandcamp

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Music From Micah Schnabel and Two Cow Garage!

In case you haven't heard, Micah and Shane are getting ready to release solo albums in addition to a new Two Cow Garage album. All of these sounds will be released via the Internetz, so watch this space as well as their Facebook page and new Bandcamp page. Each song is for sale for a dollar. I guess you don't have to buy it but since you'll want to listen to them more than five times consecutively like me, you kind of do.

First up for discussion are Micah's new singles. As Wolf pointed out at Ninebullets, these have a much heavier sound than Two Cow songs. What's interesting to me is that Micah's vocals are distinct on all three new tracks. Also, his two solo songs read like prose that were fitted to music, whereas "Let the Boys Be Girls" is lyrically tight and punchy as any Two Cow song.




Once again, Micah proves his uncanny telepathic link to my own brain. It feels like Micah's Realizations About Life happen at roughly the same time I'm having them. On the other hand, "Bang! Bang! Bang!" address political issues that are near and dear to my heart -- the fallacies of illegal immigration and, of course, the normative ideas imposed on us by, as Micah so endearingly puts it, "old, rich, white men."




Wolf and I have had a running conversation about the importance of including the voices and experiences of non-straight-cis-white-men (they don't all have to be rich) in our music coverage and, more importantly, this "scene." As a queer lady under the age of 30, I often feel like the odd one out at Two Cow shows. This is going to sound a little weird but I teared up when I heard the line about "let the boys be girls" in the song of that title -- Two Cow Garage always articulates my feelings better than I can, but it felt so good for them to acknowledge this aspect of my life as well.


Also, one of the tags on the song is "if you label me you negate me" and another is "whatever" which is pretty badass.

So like I said, I guess you could wait for the album to drop to buy these songs. But wouldn't you rather listen to them as much as you want instead?

Two Cow Garage -- Bandcamp, Facebook

Micah Schnabel -- Bandcamp

Friday, January 23, 2015

Quinn Tsan -- Good Winter

It might be a cliche, but the distinctive throaty timbre of Quinn Tsan's voice will make anyone stop in their tracks. Tsan sounds almost operatically trained, though according to her bio she spent most of her early life studying dance. She decided to switch to music, got a gig singing backup for Joe Pug, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Each song on the album is a meditative microcosm. Each has a distinctive sound, though they fit together as a whole. Its muted tones are ideal for a winter's afternoon (preferably Sunday.) "Oh! The Places We'll See!" is my favorite on the album -- it's musically and lyrically inventive and displays the astonishing breadth of Tsan's imagination. If you're finding yourself discombobulated with the start of 2015, Good Winter will help you slow things down for a little while.



Quinn Tsan -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, January 22, 2015

High Dive -- EP

It's basically not possible for me to lavish more praise onto the Bloomington, Indiana-based pop punk band. A side project of Defiance, Ohio, High Dive has consistently produced the kind of earnest, queer-positive punk rock that keeps me sane and gives me courage.

So far, the band's sound hasn't particularly changed from one album to the next, but I won't complain about that. The lyrics themselves are the main attraction here, and these meditations about entering into one's late 20s are as poignant as they are wry. The band has also added Ginger Alford to the mix, making room for some feminine energy in what's already a high and lonesome sound.

Like the band's other albums, you can pay your own price. But keep these guys touring -- they've got a lot of important things to say.



High Dive -- Official, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

LOVESUCKER -- LOVESUCKER

You've heard a lot of bands like Lovesucker, but you haven't heard them do music in quite this way. Lovesucker's self-titled EP is a forcefield of sleazy blues, southern rock, funk, and soul...all at the same time.

It's a short album but it packs a wallop. Lovesucker's got a distinctive take on delta boogie that's sure to make you return to it again and again. Zolton Von Bury's furious guitars will drag you down to hell while Crystal Crosby's soaring vocals will send you to the light. At the end of it, bleary-eyed, you'll wonder what exactly happened to you.



Lovesucker -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sleater-Kinney -- No Cities to Love

Rewind to October 2004. I'm a freshman in high school and I go the annual "Do you want to be in a band? Here are other people who want to be in a band meeting." This one guy -- an upperclassman who I had seen wearing women's jeans and a bow in his hair on my first day of school -- approached me to play in his band. I told him I was pretty bad at guitar. He said that was fine. They played riot grrl.

"What?"

"You know. Riot grrl. Feminist punk rock. You won't need to know how to play guitar."

"Uh...okay."

I'm pretty sure Gershon picked me out of the crowd because he thought I was gay and he thought I thought he was gay. At the time he was wrong on both counts.

We covered Sleater-Kinney's "Words and Guitar." I fell in love at first listen. I was definitely not skilled enough to play any of Sleater-Kinney's songs, so I took over Carrie's vocal parts. It wasn't just empowering to listen to women playing aggressive rock'n'roll -- it was, after all, 2004, so even though it was a thin playing field for women in rock, it at least existed -- but, more importantly, the fact that these women weren't singing a love song or an endictment of the Patriarchy (at least not in that moment) -- it was about how rock'n'roll made them feel, the same feeling it gave (gives) me. It was pretty profound. It's impossible to deny Sleater-Kinney's role in my personal bildungsroman.

I'm pretty sure every female-identified music journalist who writes about this album will start their review in a similar vein. Sleater-Kinney isn't just a lady rock band, or even an excellent rock band. They truly are a cultural force. It's so good to have them back. The "hiatus" or whatever you want to call it was probably healthy for the band. Whatever choice they make after they finish this tour will probably also be the right decision for them.



No Cities to Love is a complete 180 from their last album, The Woods. Where The Woods was earthy and organic, full of exuberant, lengthy guitar solos, No Cities pulls back. The music is tightly wound, anxious, and angular to the point of approaching math rock. That's to be expected, I guess -- the trio can't not be influenced by the electronica trends that have filtered into indie music in the last ten years. It might be fair to say that The Woods was the last great indie rock album of the decade. It was released just as Williamsburg reached its apex, when more kids were reaching for synthesizers and drum machines than guitars. "Bury Our Friends" seems to be a direct response to The Woods' "Entertain" -- the tastemakers still think it's 1984 without any of the bite, and now we're stuck "exhuming our idols" while our friends move on. It's the natural conclusion of a creative field that's more reliant on reviving the past instead of pushing for originality.



No Cities is anxious an anxious meditation about society and the self. There's a certain warmth and playfulness to Sleater-Kinney's previous work that's lacking here -- except for "Hello Darling," a playful 60s pop-like number that offers at least some explanation for the band's hiatus:

It seems to me the only thing
That comes from fame is mediocrity
How could you steal the things I love
Then keep it from me, just out of touch?

...

Sometimes the heat of the crowd
Feels a little too close
Sometimes the shout of the room
Makes me feel so alone

This represents, to me, another change in Sleater-Kinney's direction. While the band has always expressed its disapproval of modern society, or performed songs about depression and self-doubt, those emotions were never directed at the self. (I could be wrong...I only have Dig Me Out, The Woods, and Call the Doctor.) Sleater-Kinney's boldness is what makes me love them -- while I listen to plenty of people who talk about how shitty they think they are, it's disconcerting coming from this group of people, though certainly no less powerful or affirming.

This is already one of the best albums of the year, no doubt about it. Would I give it to a first-time listener of Sleater-Kinney? I'm not sure -- there are a lot of things I loved about the band that aren't here. But it's also okay that they're not here. There's plenty of admirable qualities in this album that would make any appreciator of music drawn to the band.

Sleater-Kinney -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Sub Pop Records


Friday, January 16, 2015

VIDEO: The Creak -- Silky Works the Night Shift

Hipster bluegrass band The Creak have put out a delightfully quirky music video for their latest masterpiece, "Silky Works the Night Shift." It goes without saying that they're great storytellers. Somebody in the band has recently discovered iMovie, it seems, and they're having a ball with it.


The Creak -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, January 15, 2015

VIDEO: Interview with Mike Ness of Social Distortion

I saw Social Distortion in Philly a few years ago. It was the first and only time I saw Lucero live (sorry...I just wasn't that impressed but maybe it had more to do with getting groped by a sad sack "punk" in the audience) and missed seeing Frank Turner by about five minutes. I've got a soft spot for them, including Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, in spite of what other people might think.

Red Kap clothing company (which "manufactures comfortable, durable apparel for more than 16 million hardworking professionals" in the automotive industry) made a short little video about Mike Ness which, curiously, doesn't really show what he's wearing at all. But it does show how much of a badass he is, so it's worth the three minutes.


Social Distortion -- Official, Facebook
Red Kap -- Official

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cotton -- The White Eagle AND The Whiskey Charmers

You'll probably remember Cotton from a couple months ago. His country-punk tickled my ears and heart strings. The White Eagle, by contrast, rips them out.

Cotton's new album is much more stripped down -- the man, his guitar, and some keyboards. While most of the songs have a decidedly country bent, the minimalism in the production gives the album a contemporary feel. The songs aren't exactly as much fun as last time, either. Witness "Crack Whore":

I take the bus
To get to where I go
When I get to where I go
I still don't know

Why I got out of bed
In the first place
Only to find myself
Standing here, in last place

Now I can carry on
Just like a crack whore
Whose in need of a fix
and has a back door

Down on my knees
I swallow 'til I'm sore
Just to get to that place
Where I don't have to feel anymore

and down on my knees
I swallow 'til I'm sore
Just to get to that place
Where I don't have to feel anymore

and down on my knees
I swallow 'til I'm sore
Just to get to that place
Where I don't have to feel anymore


Cotton's apathetic monotone only drives the point home -- especially once the repetition starts. But then there are songs like "Green" and "A Bad Case of Gas," about the magic of weed and flatulence. In short, Cotton's clearly a prolific songwriter with a lot on his mind. 


Cotton -- Facebook, Bandcamp

And we've got one more Kickstarter campaign for you -- Detroit-based the Whiskey Charmers need just a liiiiiitle bit of a push to fund their debut album. I've enjoyed what I've heard so far and strongly endorse the album.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

INTERVIEW: The Howl

Sam Porter, lead singer of up and coming punk band The Howl was kind enough to talk more about his writing process and share some useful life advice. I'm most intrigued by The Howl's strong Gaslight Anthem influence, but they're clearly going in their own, heavier direction.
It sounds like you guys are gearing up for a big 2015. What should we be looking forward to?

We are! Our main goal is to finish up the record we've been working on and release it. After that we just want to tour on it in as many cities and countries as we can. We're pulling for a couple of festivals this year, so that should be something to look forward to as well. 

What are your most significant inspirations for songwriting? What is your process as a band?



Lately I've drawn a lot of inspiration from my more distant past, and how those memories pertain to me now. Like comparing and contrasting them in a more objective way and writing about that process of growth. 

Usually I'll write a out a basic draft of a song and take it to the rest of the band and we'll toss around ideas for it and re-work it. Then months of spit shine and elbow grease until it's hammered into place.

I get a lot of submissions from folks who record in their bedrooms. How did you guys decide to take the plunge and go full-time?
Well, we did that too when we were starting out with an 8 track in johns basement. After that we had a friend who offered to record us in his basement studio. When we started working on the full length we knew we needed to make the jump to a nicer studio to get what we wanted out of the recordings. It's a process to get to that point, everything takes time. I think it's important to note that we all still have jobs or school when we're not on tour. We're real people, for now.
What is your biggest lesson from 2014?​
Take care of your tour vehicle and take care of each other.

Your band vehicle is really your bread and butter and it's important to both keep it clean  and livable as well as oiled up and running! We've been through 3 vehicles in our time as a touring band for one reason or another. It's an expensive lesson to learn!

We've met so many amazing people and bands on tour. You have to remember that even though you just drove 15 hours and you're hungover, hungry and tired and smell like shit, the sound guy or the local band you're playing with is experiencing you for what is probably the first time. Be kind and courteous, make a friend AND a memory that's positive for both parties. Inside of your band, you need to take care of each other physically and emotionally. We've seen and heard of so many bands falling apart just because of high tension and low patience. Be excellent to each other.
 The Howl -- Facebook, Bandcamp  (You can name your price for "Sputter" there)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sarah Marie Young -- Little Candy Heart

It's interesting (to me, at least) to see how the music featured here has changed over the years. Americana is indeed a big tent. I'm finding myself moving more towards the jazzier, abstract side of things. With that being said, though, instrumental music doesn't necessarily give me feelings the way the lyrical stuff does. For me, jazz is more about creating a nice atmosphere than an emotional release.


That's where I'm at with Sarah Marie Young's second album. There's no question that her singing will stop you in your tracks -- she's got the awards to prove it. Young relies more heavily on R&B influences than she did on her previous album, making me feel both classy and sexy when I have it on. Her songwriting is much more focused, as well. Young is releasing the album with a Dutch label called Snip Records, which releases digital music in high-res formats. I'm no audiophile, but it's worth the extra few euros to capture the depth of Young's voice.

I'm having a hard time finding songs to embed here, but you can get a preview in the YouTube video below and stream the album on Sarah's site.


Sarah Maire Young -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Snip Records, Purchase from iTunes

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Librarians -- The Librarians AND Perry Brown

When I was in college I went down to one of the basement concerts because I'd heard a lot of buzz about a band called Vampire Weekend. Jesus Christ, they were terrible. I stayed for three songs and from what I could hear, it was the same three chords over and over and over and over again to the backdrop of atonal caterwauling. A month later they were on the cover of Rolling Stone.


Needless to say, the Librarians are like Vampire Weekend except they don't suck. They shoot for a similar surf-rock-with-a-twist vibe but never overstay their welcome. Their washed out chords and wry lyrics (a byproduct of being British, I suppose) take you to dreamy summer days by the beach that are more likely to be found in California than in Cambridgeshire. At the end of the day, this is a fun album and you can pay what you want for it on Bandcamp.



The Librarians -- Facebook, Bandcamp

ALSO, as musicians are gearing up for 2015, they need money to fund their projects! Perry Brown, the lead singer of Fire Mountain, needs your help to push the release of his first solo album, Become My Blood.

Fire Mountain garnered critical praise for their lush, emotional ballads. On this album, Brown seems to be pulling back from the orchestral arrangements and sticking to his guitar and some good old folk-style songs.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

40 Watt Dreams -- After the Show AND Kory Quinn

I'm a little confused about this project's origins, but as near as I can make it out, Katie West of the folk rock duo Truckstop Honeymoon released her first solo album, 40 Watt Dream under the name Katie Euliss. The album was such a hit that West formed a band, the 40 Watt Dreams, to perform the songs live. Then they made After the Show, an album of new material. It's not surprising -- there's some serious chemistry here.


 Truckstop Honeymoon juuuust missed the cut-off of my reviewing them here. Katie and her husband, Mike, constantly tour with their kids. They make fun, sunny folk music that you should definitely check out, but Katie's solo material has a bite that caught my ear. Having cut her musical teeth in New Orleans and leaving as a result of Katrina, the songs on 40 Watt Dreams give a smoky punk finish to her silky country rock songs. The fuzzed guitars, wistful vocals, and meaty hooks call to mind the best of '90s alt-rock with the lyrical irony of the aughts. It's already one of my favorites of 2015.

ALSO -- keep scrolling for a crowdfunding alert from Kory Quinn


NB: To purchase the album, go to the band's site and click on "Listen and Buy" -- scroll down and you'll see a Paypal link.

40 Watt Dreams -- Official, Soundcloud, Facebook

---

Last but not least, Kory Quinn, a masterful adept at making quality old-timey music is stretching his legs and shooting to make a country western album. If the single is any indicator, he's totally going to crush it. But he needs some of our spare change to make it happen.



Kory Quinn -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Zigadoo Moneyclips -- Her|Story

Do you enjoy having fun? Cool -- you'll like Zigadoo Moneyclips.


This band is a refreshing change from bar room troubadours. They also fit the motto of this blog: music like your life depends on it. To make a long story short, the band's founding members, Zak Baker and his wife, Leigh, met through their musical projects. As often happens, though, life came up and the couple were ready to relegate music to a nice hobby. However, they soon realized that what they needed to do was create music. (You can read the full tale here -- as far as press releases go it's beautifully written.) That deep-seated need gushes through their music, whether it's the tortured, existentialist ballad of "Animals" or the reggae/ska/bluegrass (yes -- it works) "Sweet," or the exuberant kickoff to the album, "Telephile."

There's no easy way to classify Zigadoo Moneyclips -- they inhabit their own space between rock, pop, soul, hip hop, country, and jazz. It's not schizophrenia -- there's a sense of purpose behind each musical decision and it coalesces into a unified, determined voice. I feel an overwhelming sense of love and joy while listening to this album, but not because it's simply a collection of upbeat songs. The palpable dedication and exuberance from each member of the band shines through. This might not be the kind of thing you normally listen to, but trust me -- you have to listen to it at least once.



Zigadoo Moneyclips -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

John Mellencamp -- Plain Spoken

John Mellencamp is probably the person you should blame for this blog. My car rides were awash with folk singers like Peter, Paul, and Mary, James Dean, Raffi, and early rock'n'roll like the Beatles and the Beach Boys (also weird instrumental stuff like Kenny G and Tubular Bells?????) In other words, it was never that finely curated. I'll never forget the moment I heard "Jack and Diane" on the radio. And here we are today.


I can't tell you what it was about that sun-drenched, distorted G chord that tugged at my heart. It took me at least two decades to realize that it isn't even a happy song. Mellencamp himself as come along way from his spitfire, shit-talking ("Crumblin' Down") swaggering Midwest response (as the record companies would have had it) to Bruce Springsteen. Following in the line of his previous few albums, Mellencamp has taken up the mantle from Johnny Cash and brings us cautionary tales of humility and an old man's regrets.

Love, Death, Life and Freedom and No Better Than This both introduced me to T Bone Burnett and left me feeling cold. While Burnett has worked with a number of artists that I love, and he's picked some amazing songs for Nashville, I just can't really stand his aesthetic. Because of there's one thing I loved about Mellencamp's early work, it was his perpetual sneer combined with a fundamental warmth and joy. Burnett stripped that out of Mellencamp's work.

Plain Spoken is a refreshing change. When I heard the first, mellow note from the bass and the friendly pitter-patter of the percussion kit I was relieved that Mellencamp had ditched Burnett and brought in a band. But the whole thing was still off -- Mellencamp's singing somber ballads with an old-school plinky guitar and the fucking drums just won't stop, making it into some kind of '80s pop cha-cha. And then it turns out Burnett was at the helm anyway.

Whatever the two men get out of working with each other, Burnett just doesn't really get Mellencamp's voice. Each song on Plain Spoken is a gem polished too smooth by the production values. Yes, the sound on the last two albums was probably too spare, but that doesn't mean you should turn a 180. Too many cooks turned this album from something awe-inspiring to something that's just better-than-good. Still, check it out.



John Mellencamp -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Site, Amazon, iTunes

EDIT 4/4/17 -- Did you know that John Mellencamp is also a visual artist? Check it out his gorgeous work on Artsy

Monday, January 5, 2015

Chastity Brown -- Back-Road Highways

Starting 2015 on a gentler note, I found Chastity Brown on the same NPR listicle as Cayetana. Brown's earthy blues vocals immediately grabbed my attention -- the rest of it came later.


Brown isn't shy about blending influences and genres. "Solely"'s classic R&B vocals are nicely couched in acoustic and slide guitars. "Could've Been a Sunday," on the flip side, is a spunky entry into the blues canon. Brown's emphasis on travel (both physical and metaphysical) throughout the album give us a sense of the life of a professional musician without the bitching -- there's loneliness but also gratification. It's easy to hear the gratification in Brown and her band's performances. There's also more than enough grace to give us the courage to continue on our own journeys, making it a fitting album to begin 2015 with.

You can stream the album from Chastity Brown's Bandcamp page and purchase it for the curiously specific price of $14.19 from Creative and Dreams Music Network


Chastity Brown -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Purchase here