Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PRIDE 2016: The Indigo Girls at Ramsey Playfield, Central Park

I'm not going to bury the lead here: this concert changed the way I think about the Indigo Girls.

I've been a casual fan of the duo for a long time. I've listened to Rites of Passage for obvious reasons, but I don't know much of their deeper cuts (after last night, though, I plan to make up for that oversight). My friends teased me about reaching "peak gay," but the truth is that Sleater-Kinney and Sonia Tetlow were more instrumental to my coming out. I like the Indigo Girls because of their incredible skill. And, of course, when you realize you're on the Indigo Girls' press list, you'd be crazy to pass up any opportunity to see them. (I did, however, reach peak gay when the actress who played Max from The L World happened to sit down next to us and then later asked us for directions to the subway. I guess she's one of those people who never leaves Brooklyn.)

Before I get to the show itself, the IGs are pushing their latest album, One Lost Day. This album is fantastic and I would've been perfectly happy if they had simply played the whole thing through. It hits on the Indigo Girls' strongest themes: healing, forgiveness, and, in "The Rise of the Black Messiah," viscerally powerful social critique. The songs tend to be more reflective, as opposed to focusing on the emotions of that particular moment. I find summer to be the best time to step back and take stock, and I foresee that this will be an important album for me in the coming months.

Lucy Wainwright Roche, who has an impressive music pedigree herself, kicked off the show. She's a funny and engaging performer with a lot of chutzpah -- I've found that outdoor concerts are not the best in terms of encouraging audience focus, and to command that attention as a singer-songwriter is impressive. Her music is certainly worth a listen.

The Indigo Girls themselves, of course, did not have to do much work. Most of the audience knew most of the words -- we probably could've done a two-hour karaoke set. So here's what got me about the show. In the past, I've tended to prefer Amy's songs. I identify with her personally for a number of reasons, and, as this blog shows, my musical taste leans toward the more...aggressive. On the recordings, Amy's songs come through like a suckerpunch. On the other hand, I felt that Emily's songs show in a live setting, which is not what I would expect for quiet songs. I suspect it has to do with Emily's gentle but firm stage presence, which isn't possible to convey through a recording studio mic.

As the Indigo Girls glided through their storied discography, I was struck by the humanity of their songs. Like any music, there's plenty of love and heartbreak and loneliness, but the Indigo Girls have always managed to inject some gentle perspective into what is otherwise an intense soup of emotions: this, too, shall pass. And when it does, you'll live to tell the tale.

Here are the remaining tour dates, in case you're need of some comforting catharsis:

THU Jun 30 Petoskey, MI - Bay View Music Festival
FRI Jul 1 Chicago, IL - Ravinia (with Shawn Mullins and Mary Chapin Carpenter)
SAT Jul 2  Iowa City, IA - The Englert Theatre
SUN Jul 3 Milwaukee, WI - Summerfest
SAT Jul 9 Hot Springs, NC - Wild Goose Festival
SAT Jul 16 Gainesville, GA - Atlanta Botanical Garden at Gainesville
MON Jul 18 Annapolis, MD - Rams Head on Stage
TUE Jul 19  Annapolis, MD - Rams Head on Stage
THU Jul 21  Trumansburg, NY - Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival
FRI Jul 22 Kent, OH -  The Kent Stage
SAT Jul 23 Madison, WI - Barrymore Theatre
MON Jul 25 Apple Valley, MN - Weenier Auditorium at Minneapolis Zoo
TUE Jul 26 Des Moines, IA - Hoyt Sherman Place
WED Jul 27 Kansas City, MO - Crossroads
FRI Jul 29 Boulder, CO - Chautauqua Auditorium
SAT Jul 30           Breckenridge, CO - Indigo Girls w/ the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra, Riverwalk Center
SUN Aug 7 Ninilchick, AK - Salmonfest, Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds
TUE Aug 9  Saratoga, CA - Mountain Winery
THU Aug 11 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theater
FRI Aug 12 San Diego, CA - Humphreys Concerts by the Bay
SAT Aug 13 Tucson, AZ - Rialto Theater

The Indigo Girls -- Official, Facebook, Purchase 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ryan Cassata -- SHINE

Ryan Cassata is fitting for the entry before NYC Pride. Cassata is a New York-based trans* singer-songwriter, who also describes himself as an "actor, Youtuber, and activist." If you're not sure how being a Youtuber counts as a job, this album may not be your favorite. But I guarantee you'll enjoy it anyway.

SHINE jumps around stylistically, seemingly meant to be listened to on shuffle or made into a series of music videos. From the thumping rock anthems "We're the Cool Kids" and "Sunrise Highway" to the thoughtful hip-hop inspired "Check Engine" and "Shine On," Cassata has a sense of confidence and control that few people master. Given the nature of this blog, I'm more partial to songs like "Bedroom Eyes" and "Hot Springs, Arkansas." Throughout, Cassata's warmth and humanity is the unifying factor in these songs. One gets the sense that no matter all of the many things that get thrown his way, Cassata's courage is indomitable. That's a good reminder for all of us.

Ryan Cassata -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Sharp Things -- EverybodyEverybody

For its sheer force of personality, EverybodyEverybody, by New York's pop institution the Sharp Things, is a winner. The album is delightfully weird, creating full symphonies out of life's mundane moments (see "Family Day at the Lake" and "Sport's Drinking Again.") Frontman Perry Serpa's falsetto and pop affectations call to mind Brian Wilson, but that's not all the two share. The Sharp Things are ambitious, pushing the boundaries of pop music in a way that'll immerse you in waves of sound.

EverybodyEverybody is a deep dive, but it's also a refreshing one.

The Sharp Things -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Westies -- Six on the Out

Although it's a show about a blind lawyer who becomes a vigilante thanks to his super-heightened senses, I'd say the least believable aspect of Daredevil is the show's ability to make Hell's Kitchen time warp back to an ambiguous moment in 1997, when the neighborhood was grungy -- sure -- but relatively clean. (I guess not even the best set dressers can completely mask early-aughts gentrification's sledgehammer, but props to the folks on Daredevil and Gotham.) The Westies' odes to the Hell's Kitchen of yesteryear create an atmosphere that recreate what's been lost.

I have a hard time imagining these songs in a live setting. They're so carefully composed that they demand to be savored slowly and with repetition. However, in lesser hands they'd fall apart; the band's intensity and single-minded focus on the song's story guide our ears and hearts. Michael McDermott slings these songs as if Springsteen had spent an extra frustrated ten years spinning his wheels in Jersey. They elevate the little people, sure, but we feel the full weight of the boulders McDermott's characters have to push uphill. McDermott is convincing because he's been there himself. Unlike the Westies' first release, though, we get to hear McDermott's softer side with "Everything Is All I Want For You." Six on the Out cements the Westies' status as a perceptive group of artists with important stories to tell for all seasons.

The Westies -- OfficialFacebook, Purchase from the WestiesiTunesAmazon

Thursday, June 16, 2016

PRIDE 2016: Ana Egge and the Sentimentals -- Say That Now

Last summer, Ana Egge released Bright Shadows, a thoughtful album that displayed her forceful personality through gentle songs. She must have turned right around and hopped on a plane to Denmark, where she recorded Say That Now with Danish indie band the Sentimentals. And as much as Bright Shadows helped me to appreciate the softer side of life, I was gratified by the brash, distorted guitars in the lead-off track, "Take Off My Dress."

This album feels looser, and more like a country album. Songs like "Promises to Break" tap into every good singer-songwriter's amused despair at their own dysfunction. On the other hand, "He's a Killer Now" is a now gruesomely prescient song about a mother's reaction to her son's massacre-suicide.

If I had written this review last Friday as I had intended, I would have mentioned that this song is a searing commentary on American culture: the experience of knowing that your son engaged in such a heinous act, and trying to reconcile the grief for one's son with the disgust for what he did, is common enough now that songs portraying this story no longer need to focus on one specific event. After the events in Orlando, this song is vital: reminding us that there are human beings who need compassion and empathy -- before they can get to the point where they'll commit acts of mass violence -- and that those people leave behind families with extremely difficult emotions to process.

Say That Now is peppered with humor as well as pathos. Overall, it's a fun album but, as we can see, it has a lot to say.

Ana Egge -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on iTunes

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

VIDEO: "Lover, Be Mine" -- Reina del Cid

Between the end of the school year and recent current events, I'm fairly exhausted. To the extent that it's my place to comment on Orlando, I maintain that queer visibility in all aspects of American life -- including country music -- will save us all.

On the lighter side, Reina del Cid -- who produced one of my favorite albums of 2015 -- has released a new single for the summer. Taking a different tack from The Cooling's gothic midwest pop, "Lover, Be Mine" is an impromptu, reggae-inspired jam. del Cid played the song at a show without rehearsing the band first. Once they jumped in, they knew they had to record the final product. So here's to remembering that there's lightness and joy in the world.

Reina del Cid -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bandcamp, Purchase from Big Cartel

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PRIDE 2016: Sonia Leigh and Daphne Willis -- "Spider in the Roses"

Frequent tour mates Sonia Leigh and Daphne Willis teamed up to create a driving rock'n'roll track. While there are many songs warning us of dangerous women, this one stands out for its powerful vocal performances. "Spider in the Roses" is one to crank up to 11 in the car.

If you like what you hear, you can catch Daphne Willis at LA Pride and Nashville Pride this year.

LA Pride -- THIS Friday, June 10 at 9 PM (more details here)
Nashville Pride -- Saturday June 25 (more info here)

Sonia Leigh -- Official, Facebook
Daphne Willis -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tangerine -- Sugar Teeth

Though Sugar Teeth was released in February, Tangerine's bright guitars and airy vocals are ideal for blasting during a languorous summer twilight. The trio is comprised of sisters Marika and Miro Justad and Toby Kuhn. The three had a band in high school, split up after graduation, but reunited when they found they missed that special spark of playing together. That sense of happiness and trust comes through in these four songs: the off-kilter stop-start of "Sunset" and the burbling bass lines throughout the songs come from a special type of trust.

While "Sunset" starts the EP starts off with a punch, relaxing down into the imminently danceable "Wild at Heart" and concluding with the dreamy, Twin Peaks-ian "Sugar Teeth." Tangerine brings a synth-pop kick (with none of the synths, thankfully) to garage pop, giving a contemporary spin to nostalgic music. Sugar Teeth feels like a great showcase of things to come.

Tangerine -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, June 6, 2016

BOOK CLUB: 33 1/3: Dig Me Out by Joanna Babovic

It's a curious hobby, this blog of mine. I'm shouting into the ether, waxing pedantic about bar bands. So when I was approached about writing a review of the 33 1/3 series' book covering Dig Me Out, I could hardly refuse. I mean, now I get to wax pedantic about someone else waxing pedantic about loud music. So let's begin.

First of all, even though I've spent hours of my life writing about music, I don't particularly like to read music writing. Also 33 1/3 doesn't generally cover albums that I'm cool enough to listen to or know much about. What I was expecting of Dig Me Out, though, was a compelling argument for including the album itself as part of the rock'n'roll canon, an in-depth interpretation of its cultural relevance and insight into the album's content.

Unfortunately, I think Babovic tried to do too many things at once here. In terms of the album's production or Sleater-Kinney's backstory, there was very little information here that I didn't glean from my Wikipedia research as a high school student, completely electrified by the notion that girls start, sing, and play all the instruments in their very own rock band. Other than providing anecdotes about (male) musicians excitedly posing with the guitar from the album's cover (which belonged to the album's producer), she doesn't make much of a case for why Dig Me Out in particular should be considered Sleater-Kinney's enduring contribution to rock'n'roll. (For my money, Combat Rock would be the album to write about since it cemented the band's reputation as fearless artists to be reckoned with, critical of the Bush administration when few dared to do so.)

This is not entirely Babovic's fault, though. Based on the quotes she pulled from her own interviews with the band, it didn't seem like they gave her much to work with. And that's consistent with what Babovic focused on the most in her book: Sleater-Kinney's relationship with the media. Babovic illustrates Sleater-Kinney's struggle to control their image -- both in terms of the doubters in Olympia who accused them of selling out, and the mainstream media and sound engineers who insisted on questioning their authority as musicians, and attempting to sexualize the band, who, of course, had no interest in complying with such a narrative. Apparently the band has carried those lessons with them to the present day.

I thought this portion of the book was particularly fascinating: we know that mass media is all about creating and maintaining a certain image. We know that bands break up over the ability to have "artistic control" -- i.e., which version of the band gets exposed to the world. Anyone who cares about Sleater-Kinney, anyone who reads this blog, instinctively rejects artists who are too manicured, even though rock'n'roll is all about pretending not to be manicured. I'd love to know how many times I've used the words "authentic," "genuine," or "sincere" on this blog -- but I'd venture it's in the upper hundreds. Sleater-Kinney has that rare quality in spades, of course, but it was interesting to me to see this rarely-documented aspect of the creation of rock'n'roll.

Even then, however, Babovic's analysis mostly relied on critiquing the media's portrayal of the band as they promoted Dig Me Out. She also quoted from a zine Corin produced as a reaction to overly smug sound engineers during their tour. (And while those guys were absolutely sexist, has anyone ever met a tech who isn't smug?) We don't get much from the band themselves or the people who surrounded them. So it's hard to get a sense of what Sleater-Kinney was doing -- instead we just get everyone else's perspective.

Another interesting part of the book was Babovic's discussion of the riot grrl scene Sleater-Kinney emerged from. As a millennial, I was fascinated by the creativity and resourcefulness that young people used to be in touch with each other, and build something together, without the use of the Internet. For me, I've discovered all of my favorite bands on Pandora and by reading blogs. Promoting a band without being able to provide samples of the music seems impossible. However, for folks who were there, I don't think it added much to Girls to the Front's analysis (another book I don't particularly like because I find it to be too impressionistic) of the scene.

Overall, Babovic tried to go in too many directions for such a short book. This is the kind of book you'd give out in a 100-level history class: an overview of many important topics, a gateway to avenues of further study, but it doesn't offer much that's definitive in and of itself. It's probably best for the completist who needs to own everything Sleater-Kinney-related, or for someone who's brand new to the band. But I don't think there'll be much new information for anyone who's spent enough time following the band. There's no arguing, though, that Sleater-Kinney is a once-in-a-generation type of band whose legacy will continue to endure. I plan to give my copy of this book to one of my 10th graders who, like me, found the band not through zines, but through web sites like this one.

Buy Dig Me Out on Amazon.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tiger Army -- V ...-

Nick 13's 2011 solo release, Nick 13, still pops up in my mind palace and remains one of my favorite albums that I've reviewed over the past five years. A gentle, haunting mix of 60s pop and rockabilly, Nick 13 brings the same sensibility to his full band, Tiger Army.

The band's legacy precedes its reputation, in a sense. Contemporaries of other punkabilly bands like Social Distortion, Tiger Army has been dormant for a number of years. V...- brings the band roaring back to life. "Firefall" is a blistering opener, reminding us that Tiger Army is more than ready to make itself heard, combining ferocious guitars with Nick 13's trademark ghostly prognostications. The strongest tracks on V...-, though, are the ones that play to what makes the band stand out: "World Without the Moon" and "Dark and Lonely Night" play up Nick 13's fascination with old pop groups, calling to mind a strange combination of the Platters, Hank Williams, and the Ramones. Maybe they're all playing together in Heaven (or wherever musicians go) but on Earth, we're lucky enough to have Tiger Army.

Tiger Army -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, iTunes

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Anna Tivel -- Heroes Waking Up

I'm just going to put it on the table: Heroes Waking Up is one of the finest albums I've reviewed on this blog. (For reference, this is post number 817.) While I enjoyed Tivel's debut album, I have to say it did not stick much. Heroes, on the other hand, brings us a songwriter who's not only sharpened her skills, but is burning with stories to tell.

There is not a single song on here that is easily forgettable, much less filler. All of these stories are detailed epics, showing their characters awaken unto themselves. In some cases, like "Black Balloon," the hero in the story is quite literal -- a man (if I'm understanding it correctly) who uses his newfound powers to save his town before fading into anonymity. "Look Away" details one friend comforting another: the act of confession and solace are certainly acts of bravery unto their own, however small. "Lillian & Martha" details the final moments of a long-term, same-sex relationship: a relationship that withstood the homophobia of the late 20th century and ends only months after being recognized by the law.

Heroes Waking Up is an intense experience, one that reminds us of the courage and bravery we all possess, through acts great and small.

Anna Tivel -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp