Monday, November 28, 2016

Xenia Rubinos -- Black Terry Cat

Emma Goldman, one of my many favorite revolutionary queer Jewesses, famously wrote "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution." Goldman was referring to overly serious men who felt their sense of humor -- and therefore humanity -- needed to be drained for the cause. Goldman knew that solidarity is built just as much on ideology as it is on human bonds and connection. I think she would have been a huge fan of Xenia Rubinos.

Black Terry Cat is one of a wave of R&B and hip hop albums by women of color that blends the personal and political. Though Solange's Don't Touch My Hair is arguably the crest of that wave, Black Terry Cat anticipated that album by a few months. Rubinos, a Puerto Rican-American from the real Williamsburg, is the full package -- crunchy guitar riffs ground excellently-produced tracks, lyrics tight enough to compress coal into diamond, and stunning vocal performances that sleekly transition from crooning to spitting rap lyrics. I'm posting the video for "Mexican Chef" here so you can see the lyrics and music juxtaposed:

I think Americana music often gets a free pass from entering the political sphere. Obviously, there's an amazing political tradition reflected in its many subgenres. But the fact is that it's possible to have an entire critically-acclaimed career and never write a song about the government. Sure, there are songs about poverty and addiction, but they rarely point to the causes. That's because being straight, white, able-bodied, Christian, and cis-gendered is often viewed as the "default" and not worthy of discussion. But for anyone who falls outside that category, the personal is always political. As a queer Jewish masculine-presenting woman, I am acutely aware of the ways in which government policy intertwines with social norms to constantly remind me that I am, to some extent, on the outside. That's the extent to which my experiences are similar to Rubinos and her contemporaries, of course -- and I'm not claiming that we're in the same boat at all. My point is that it would be great to go through my daily life without these constant reminders that a significant portion of the world doesn't want me around, but it's an intrinsic part of my existence. Any form of self-expression (like this blog) necessarily includes that lens. If that's something that you, as the reader or listener, can't stomach, then you're ignoring a very important aspect of somebody else's existence.

Solange, Rubinos, Jamila Woods (whose album I'll write about soon, but I want to get it into your ears ASAP because it's gorgeous) and many others are drawing those connections explicitly, and that's where I feel their music resonates with me. These are pointed barbs at "mainstream" (ie white) conventions, made all the more compelling by coating their messages -- both explicitly critical, like "Mexican Chef" and implicitly like "Don't Wanna Be" -- in humanity and emotion. That's where the seeds of change begin to grow.

Xenia Rubinos -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Friday, November 18, 2016

CONCERT: Lydia Loveless -- Bowery Ballroom 11/16/16

I was trying to convince some friends of mine who are decidedly not country fans to come with me to this show. I struggled for words to describe Loveless' sound. Country but...not anymore? but it has a steel guitar?

I don't think it would have persuaded them to come, but "shoegaze country" seems to fit. Loveless and her band create an immersive wall of sound that only makes Loveless' soaring vocals all the more remarkable. Sturgill might have coined the term psych country, but Loveless was doing it long before him and, like many sisters before her, isn't getting the credit she deserves.

If you haven't been listening to Loveless, you should. Women in alt-country are starting to make a big comeback, and if that trend indeed rings true then Loveless is going to be our outlaw icon. Real is still one of my favorite albums of the year, and seeing the band invest in the music live -- everyone brings a beautiful, physical quality to their performance -- drives home the intensity and true uniqueness of Loveless' sound.

I was leery of making this a "women in rock" post, but unfortunately for me and for Loveless, the audience made it that way. It seems like Loveless had a lot of friends in the audience, but even so she graciously endured more audience requests and shout-outs than opener Aaron Lee Tasjan (also fantastic), who made a name here before shipping down to Nashville. One gentleman in the front continuously called out requests, including songs by other artists. Loveless dryly brushed him off, but when she came out for her encore -- a sublime, heartfelt cover of Justin Bieber's "Sorry" (unlike Justin, she actually meant it) -- she improvised lyrics that completely wrecked that dude. In what universe is it okay to boss someone around while they're doing their job? And why does anyone think it's okay to do that while they're doing their job AND pouring their soul into it?

It's all just a reminder that when we take the stage, when we totally destroy, we're still not seen in the same way as our male (or male-presenting) counterparts. It was a small moment of blowing off steam, and maybe it was a little mean but I don't care -- in that moment, all of the love in my heart went out to her. Lydia Loveless is my new rock'n'roll hero.

Lydia Loveless --  Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bill Mallonee -- Lands & Peoples

A few months ago, I read an impassioned plea on No Depression reminding us to buy Bill Mallonee's music. I joked that in the five months between reading this review of Lands & Peoples and my getting around to writing it, Mallonee would probably release another five albums. I was only off by one. But I chose to go with Lands & Peoples since it feels especially topical now. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up with Mallonee and write a timely review of his most recent album, The Rags of Absence.

Mallonee is an unsung national treasure. The almost compulsive rate at which he records and releases songs is a testament to this blog's tagline -- music like your life depends on it. And there's never a dud.

At this point in his career, Mallonee has certain stylistic preferences -- almost a signature -- of certain chord progressions, cadences, melodies. That doesn't mean Mallonee is bored or boring. It means that his poetic lyrics get to take the spotlight. Mallonee has a knack for tying beauty and folk rock. These lyrics could stand alone on paper, but it's Mallonee's salt-of-the-earth voice and forthright delivery that make the words accessible. In Lands & Peoples, Mallonee's customary carefully observed moments of decay and desperation are turned outward into the characters of his songs. But we're also lifted up by Mallonee's trademark twist of taking those tiny moments and finding beauty in them. (And, of course, his amazing baseball metaphors -- "Swing It, Joe" comes to mind.)

Mallonee had to hock some of his equipment to make this album. It's worth the sacrifice. And it's certainly worth the smaller sacrifice on your end of a few bucks so he doesn't have to sell more of his tools to support his living.

Bill Mallonee -- Official, Bandcamp

Monday, November 14, 2016

Becky Warren -- War Surplus

One of my immediate reactions when I heard news of the election was that Trump is going to send my students (those who have enlisted and who are yet to) off to war and get them killed. Becky Warren's War Surplus came to mind. When they do make it home (and God willing, they will), War Surplus doesn't paint a rosy picture.

First of all -- holy cow. Where has Becky Warren been? This is some of the best songwriting I've heard all year. Listening to "Dive Bar Sweetheart" sent off an internal stream of laudatory swearing -- her wit is just so effortless and her delivery so cool. It's that wordplay that could turn a cynical remark in anybody's hands into an emotionally devastating moment in Warren's. The album is inspired by Warren's own experience with her veteran husband, but at the end of the day, the war seems almost a secondary backdrop to the everyday traumas that civilians face. Country songs are populated by self-destructive people from all kinds of experiences. At the end of the day, the album suggests (at least to me) that while war itself may be unimaginable, the lingering pain is universal -- and that should give all of us empathy for each other.

Becky Warren -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Friday, November 11, 2016

Music is Medicine

On Monday, I had assumed that Hillary Clinton would be president, it would be business as usual, I'd write a Veteran's Day post of Becky Warren's gorgeous new album War Surplus.

It's not business as usual, clearly. But for Veteran's Day, check out Leslie Tom's new single, "Didn't Think Twice." Proceeds from the song will go to the Travis Manion Foundation for veterans.

As for politics, if you're not burned out, here's some food for thought. If you are, too bad but scroll down to the music. When Bush was re-elected in 2008, I was 16 years old. I was kind of figuring out that I was maybe definitely queer. When Bush won Ohio by raising the specter of same-sex marriage, I felt isolated and scared. I don't know if I would have come out in high school at all, but I definitely did not because of the perception that the majority of the country hated me. That changed, obviously. But when I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning because I would not accept the results until I saw his victory speech, I wondered if perhaps my feeling safe was unfounded. Maybe it has nothing to do with being older and seeing that I've been accepted. If my trans* kinfolk are not safe, I am not safe.

I am very glad I got to see Micah Schnabel the night after the election. Then I went home and passed out because I'd only had 50 minutes of sleep.

Beyond LGBT issues, I teach a number of undocumented students. Things were not great for them under Obama. Things will definitely not be good for them under Trump.

Only one student that I know of is enlisted in the military. The ones who dropped out or I've lost track of may have enlisted. I am scared for their safety.

I have a number of Muslim students. Will they be safe?

I've seen anti-Semitic graffiti in the heart of New York City for the first time in my life. Am I safe? Is it OK because I "pass"?

I'm not worried about legislation, necessarily, though that's a concern. I'm worried about vigilante civilians who are emboldened by a Trump presidency. My dad, a dyed-in-the-wool Reagan Republican chose not to vote for Trump because, after speaking to a woman in line at the poll, he realized that he did not want to be aligned with other Trump supporters.

So now what? Regardless of how you feel about Trump as a president, if you think minority groups are not going to be targeted by the white supremacists Trump encouraged during his campaign "just to get elected" then you are truly oblivious. Here's a Google doc I started to help people start to think about these concerns and to get involved. Please read, share, and contribute.

As for music, here are some thoughts. First of all, increase your boundaries beyond country and punk. Both are rooted in white supremacy. I'm not sure when I'll write this article because I need more historical context, but country music was created as a response to white farmers urbanizing and self-segregating from the other cultures they encountered. What we think of as classic country was fueled by white people who could not accept rock'n'roll because of its obvious ties to "black music." Punk has a more directly white supremacist background though it has obviously repudiated that many times over.

For this blog, that means my making an active effort to listen to hip-hop and R&B. The fact of the matter is that there is going to be a lot of artistic reaction in the next four years, and the most significant voices will come from communities of color. That doesn't mean working-class white men have nothing to say. In fact, they should have a lot to say to reject conservative values. Two Cow Garage already does a great job of that.

I had already planned to do this less explicitly (I'm still working through a lot of the music I listened to before making this decision) but I feel it's important to be intentional now.

Below are links to the last five years' worth of reviews of artists who are POC, queer, and/or directly political in their songwriting.

Gary Clark, Jr
The Kominas
Lucille Bogan
Ani DiFranco -- Which Side Are You On?
Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires -- There Is a Bomb in Gilead
Matt Woods -- The Matt Woods Manifesto
Roxie Watson -- Of Milestones and Moon Pies
High Dive
The Alabama Shakes -- Boys and Girls
Brandi Carlile
Sarah Walk
Herman Put Down the Gun
The Sometimes Boys
Sonia Tetlow -- Own Way Home
The Paisley Fields -- Dixie Queen
Mo Kenney --Mo Kenney
William Pilgrim and the All Grows Up -- The Great Recession
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- My Dearest, Darkest Neighbor
Two Cow Garage -- Death of the Self-Preservation Society
Mount Moriah -- Miracle Temple
Shareef Ali
Against Me!
Roxie Watson -- Songs From Hell Hollow
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- Small Town Heroes
NC Music Love Army
Karen and the Sorrows -- The Names of Things
LA Salami
Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires -- Dereconstructed
The Devil's Cut
Arsene de Lay
Sonia Tetlow -- A Place for Everyone
Jackie Venson
Mo Kenney -- In My Dreams
Quinn Tsan
Small Talk
Joan Smith
Gregory McKillop
Pops Staples
DK and the Joy Machine
Karen and the Sorrows
Speaker of the Dead
Shane Sweeney -- Complex Ecosystems
Samantha Crain
Grace Petrie
The Paisley Fields -- Oh, These Urban Fences
Sam Gleaves
Two Nice Girls
They Haymarket Squares
Melaena Cadiz -- Sunfair
Kelcy Mae -- Half-Light
Dyke Drama
Alyssa Kai
Girls on Grass
Kaia Kater
Ryan Cassata
Mount Moriah -- How to Dance
Amythyst Kiah
M. Lockwood Porter -- How to Dream Again
The Shondes
Two Cow Garage -- Brand New Flag

Monday, November 7, 2016

FuzzQueen -- Xenia 1

You may know FuzzQueen best as its former incarnation -- Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray. The quartet has pared down to a trio, moved to DC, and reformed as a psych rock band. Normally I shy away from bands with that label, but I trust Chris, Erin, and Ben to guide me through the soundscapes they've created. And, anyway, if you've been following the band, you'd know that this is a very logical progression -- the sound is not too different, there's just less twang. (What's highly questionable, though, is their regrettable move to DC. I have a feeling if they'd come up here to NYC the four of us would kill at bar trivia. And a fun trivia fact: Chris's impressive beard is the only one I've touched and felt okay about.)

As for Xenia, it's warm and hopeful. Erin Frisby's voice soars amid a sometimes turbulent sea of Chris Stelloh's wall of sound and Ben Tufts's powerful drums. Shimmering overtones remind us of the California sun the band left behind, while the strident reminders to connect with strangers seems to be a response to the carefully neutral atmosphere in DC. This is an album that's easy to lose yourself in, no psychedelic assistance required.

FuzzQueen -- Official, Facebook, Stream, Bandcamp

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kent Eugene Goolsby -- Temper of the Times

It's been a hot minute since we've heard from Kent Goolsby, though I suspect settling into married life can occupy a person. That doesn't mean Goolsby has been swept away by young love -- thematically, at least. Temper of the Times is a brooding album that's a sharp departure from his last few releases. Goolsby's moody pronouncements about faith, the fleeting-ness of life, and love are supported by some damn fine backing players, including Joey Kneiser on drums (does the guy ever sleep?) Temper of the Times reminds me of Luke Winslow King's warm, wise-beyond-his-years rasp, and the fancy fretwork brings the blues player to mind as well.

In short, Temper of the Times is a grownup album for grownup people. That doesn't mean there's no levity -- "Some Crosses" is a bemused reflection on musician life. As Goolsby considers all he's accomplished and all that is yet to come, he invites us to reflect upon ourselves, too.

Kent Eugene Goolsby -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Band Cramps Vol 1

It may be after Halloween and there are few things scarier than systemic oppression, and that exists all year round. In an effort to combat sexism and to encourage more women to express themselves through music, a number of New York- and New Jersey-based feminist bands (including Adobe & Teardrops alumnae The Rizzos) have released a compilation album to benefit Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Willie Mae is pretty much what it sounds like and has spread throughout the country, teaching women of all ages and genders how to rock out (and, more recently, emcee and DJ out.)

This is a punk compilation of 17 bands, so there's plenty of variety here. And, of course, amazing band names. (My new favorites include Ellen and the Degenerates, TinVulva, Tonya Harding, Damsel Trash, and the compilation's initiators, Basic Bitches.) If more of these nasty women (I'm so, so, so, sorry but I had to) had been around -- and if I had known about Willie Mae -- in my younger days, I probably would've started writing songs way sooner. Help create a haven for our youth and chip in your $10 today.

If you live in the area, there'll be an album launch party and benefit next Wednesday in Greenpoint (details here!)

Band Cramps Vol 1 -- Facebook, Purchase

Info on Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls