Tuesday, January 31, 2017

VIDEO: Flobots -- "Pray"

Flobots, a hip-hop group from Denver, have released a stunning protest song and accompanying video. Why does this stand out to me more than the many protest songs that are flooding my inbox and are sure to do so for the next 4+ years? Flobots does not shy away from complexity. The video juxtaposes images of white nostalgia for the "good old days" with oppression of black people. The lyrics call in people who espouse racism, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. This is a song and video that acknowledges that we need to come together -- for the first time in this country's history -- to resist the fear and hatred that tear our communities apart, both from within and without. Watch the video. Seriously. If it doesn't give you chills then I don't know what will. I'm not a hip-hop fan but I am eagerly awaiting the release of NOENEMIES in the spring.



The song uses a traditional form of Southern singing, called Sacred Harp, and samples an Alan Lomax recording of the song "Antioch." It's powerful stuff and I urge you to sit with it.

Flobots -- Official, Facebook, Spotify

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mouths of Babes -- Brighter in the Dark

This album deserves a full review but I think it's worth sharing my initial reaction:


So that's Brighter in the Dark in a nutshell but here's some more context. Mouths of Babes is a queer folk supergroup (super-duo?) comprised of Ingrid Elizabeth of Coyote Grace and Ty Greenstein of Girlyman (still kicking myself for not seeing them in Philly right before they "went on hiatus".) The pair met when they toured together under their former projects. As the songs on the album tell it, their courtship sounds like a fairytale, and this album features the songs produced since their marriage.


Mouths of Babes could never have predicted, of course, how necessary this album is in a post-Tr*mp world. As I listened to the album, I appreciated the songs about love and courtship, the way sometime things just fall into place, opening oneself up to vulnerability, how great it is to be in love...you know, all that good stuff. I appreciated finding some jewels of joy in the mire of anxiety and anger and helplessness I've been feeling lately. I wondered, though, how I was going to write about something so simple and happy. It wasn't until rather late in the album -- at "Any Other Day" that things snapped into place for me. It's a song that is quiet and powerful, a song that sears through any critiques anyone might have of Black Lives Matter, a jolt of action for anyone who thinks it's not their place to get involved, or that attending the Women's March is enough activism for four years.

The immediate follow-up by "Red Balloon" (at least in my version of the album) is what got me. The song describes feeling awkward and out of place growing up queer and knowing that you're somehow, painfully different than all the other girls. It also addresses that sense of tiny jealousy and admiration I've felt myself when you're with a partner who never had much of a struggle coming to terms with their identity. It's a hopeful song, though, reminding us that the pain is worth it when you find someone to call home.

The album title is fitting for us. We need music that documents queer love, that shows people struggling against social expectations, that reminds us that we all have the resilience we need to make it through, and that it's important to draw that resilience from others.



Mouths of Babes -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Mouths of Babes

Friday, January 27, 2017

Kim Nall and the Fringe -- Lay Your Vision Down

I was immediately struck by Texas singer Kim Nall's silver tongue and barbed pen. Nall borrows the title of her band's debut album from an Allen Ginsburg poem, but Lay Your Vision Down is as earthy as they come. Nall describes herself as having a "dark turn of mind," and while these songs have a brooding edge to them, they're not murder-serious the way gothic Americana tends to be. In fact, Nall's fluidity with words and the Fringe's loose energy make Lay Your Vision Down as enjoyable as it is thought-provoking.


For me the emotional peak of this album is the juxtaposition of "Cat & Bird," a slinky song that is truly seductive with a clever guitar solo by Matt Shasteen. Nall croons to her listener, inviting us to abandon our security to join her:

Leave behind your bed of feathers
Leave behind your house of leaves
Leave behind your mother’s singing
Come and sit and sing with me


The song is immediately followed by "Juliet," a fragile song bemoaning the loss of...I don't want to say innocence, but perhaps the optimism one feels about love before they're actually in the position ot have one's heart broken or break one's heart:

I used to be Juliet
Mine were perfect hands for holding and I had no word for regret
Every day I’d write a song for a lover I’d not met
Oh, I used to be Juliet


This is a difficult strand of Americana to do well, but Nall and the Fringe do it all right. I urge you to give it a listen.


Kim Nall and the Fringe -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MUSIC VIDEO: The Jerry Cans -- "Arnalukaq"

The Jerry Cans, hailing from Nunavut (the Canadian Arctic, that is), seamlessly blend country music and Inuit traditions. This can be seen in the gorgeous new video, "Arnalukaq." The song highlights the serious and oft-ignored issue that indigenous women in Canada (and elsewhere) are the most likely to be murdered or disappear and whose whereabouts are the least likely to be investigated by law enforcement. The video features the Qulliq, a stone lamp that is traditionally maintained by women. The song is dedicated to women who have survived or are experiencing intimate partner violence. "Arnalukaq" means "girl" and the word "piujupaalujutit" means "you are beautiful."

This is a video worth watching all the way through.


The Jerry Cans -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rayna Gellert -- Workin's Too Hard

Rayna Gellert's Workin's Too Hard is a little long to be an EP and shorter than an album, but it says a lot more than most. Gellert is perhaps best known for her work in the roots band Uncle Earl. I don't know too much about this corner of Americana, though, and the seven songs on Workin's Too Hard is enough keep Gellert on my radar.


The album was recorded in a single room with, according to the photo on the inside jacket, with the musicians just inches from each other. This intimacy can be felt throughout the songs. While most of them are slow-paced, the uptempo "I'm Bound for the Promised Land" allows the band to let loose a bunch of energy. However, it's in the first six tracks that they truly spread out and shine. From the get-go with "Workin's Too Hard," Gellert's all-too-human narrators fill us with empathy and warmth, even as we immerse ourselves in their pain. These songs feel timeless but are truly distinctive. It's a beautiful compilation and I'm excited to go deeper into Gellert's catalog.

Speaking of the jacket, if you're into this kind of thing, the design on the physical album is beautiful. From the understated style of the jacket to the dirty fingerprints on the CD itself, the same amount of care and craftsmanship that went into the music can be found in the album. The whole project is intimate, earthy, and human -- things we all need in the coming years.


Rayna Gellert -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Amazon, Purchase from iTunes

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Music for The Times by Shane Sweeney and Micah Schnabel

I had the good fortune to see Micah Schnabel live the night after the election. Both he and Shane have produced new music for us just in time for Inauguration Day. Micah's been playing these songs during his last couple of tours and will eventually put them all together in an album.

Hopefully you marched or otherwise got involved this past weekend. These next three songs will be a part of my soundtrack for the next four years.





Below, I've repeated my suggestions as to how you can be further involved in the coming years.
---

If you are white, mad about Trump, and not doing SOMETHING this weekend, then we have nothing further to say to each other. If you do not plan to attend the march or any other action, donate your money, donate your time, call your senators, join the Injustice Boycott. GET INVOLVED. And make an action plan with your partner, friend, colleague for the next 4+ years to check in regularly about what you're doing to resist white supremacy during AND AFTER Trump's presidency. If you don't, you are failing all of your QTPOC and disabled family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and community.

I believe it was Beverly Daniel Tatum who describes racism as an airport walkway: if you just stand there and let it move you forward, you're still a part of the problem. Trump is the physical embodiment of our allowing the walkway to move us forward. It's time to stop now.

Check out this website for ideas. I also encourage you to share your plans below to inspire others.
www.whiteaccomplices.org

If you are white, I urge you to join Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Here's what I'm doing:

- Donating to New York's Anti-Violence Project, which provides support services for LGBTQ (and straight) survivors of sexual, partner, and hate violence.

- Making a small monthly donation to Southerns on New Ground. SONG is a POC-led queer rights group that organizes exclusively in the South. To donate to other black-led organizations, consider this list.

- Going to the Women's March but advocating for the people the March has not fully supported in its statements: Queer/Trans/People of Color, disabled people, and sex workers.

- Calling my senators to oppose Trumps appointments. This site makes it really easy to do.

- Divesting from Chase for its support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and other oppressive projects. I will do this on the same day as the Injustice Boycott.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration 2017

If you are white, mad about Trump, and not doing SOMETHING this weekend, then we have nothing further to say to each other. If you do not plan to attend the march or any other action, donate your money, donate your time, call your senators, join the Injustice Boycott. GET INVOLVED. And make an action plan with your partner, friend, colleague for the next 4+ years to check in regularly about what you're doing to resist white supremacy during AND AFTER Trump's presidency. If you don't, you are failing all of your QTPOC and disabled family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and community.

I believe it was Beverly Daniel Tatum who describes racism as an airport walkway: if you just stand there and let it move you forward, you're still a part of the problem. Trump is the physical embodiment of our allowing the walkway to move us forward. It's time to stop now.

Check out this website for ideas. I also encourage you to share your plans below to inspire others.
www.whiteaccomplices.org

If you are white, I urge you to join Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Here's what I'm doing:

- Donating to New York's Anti-Violence Project, which provides support services for LGBTQ (and straight) survivors of sexual, partner, and hate violence.

- Making a small monthly donation to Southerns on New Ground. SONG is a POC-led queer rights group that organizes exclusively in the South. To donate to other black-led organizations, consider this list.

- Going to the Women's March but advocating for the people the March has not fully supported in its statements: Queer/Trans/People of Color, disabled people, and sex workers.

- Calling my senators to oppose Trumps appointments. This site makes it really easy to do.

- Divesting from Chase for its support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and other oppressive projects. I will do this on the same day as the Injustice Boycott.

And then listen to Shane Sweeney's new song.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

McDougall -- "Battle Creek March"

Wishing you had some more pounding banjo in your life? Fear not -- McDougall's got you covered. The banjo punk troubadour is re-recording a number of his old songs with a full band. Eventually he will release the collection of singles as a full album. You can listen to "Battle Creek March" below -- a grim song for grim times.



McDougall -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Perry Brown -- Become My Blood

I'm really sad that Become My Blood didn't come out a few weeks earlier. If it had, it absolutely would have been on my top 10 of 2016. Be that as it may, I imagine it'll stick with me throughout 2017. Brown's made a name for himself in these parts for his powerful music with his main gig, Fire Mountain. Now, Brown's demonstrating his songwriting chops with slower, more contemplative songs in his first solo album, Become My Blood. It's a rock album about one of the least rock'n'roll things there are: settling down and raising a family.


Each song on the album is a masterpiece by itself. Brown brings a beautiful intensity to his songs by creating beautiful, distinctive melodies that are couched in Americana but sound like something you haven't quite heard before. Each song is distinctive and will cling to your memory long after your first, tenth, or (in my case by now) twentieth spin -- and I only got the album about a week ago. Brown continues in the path beaten by Joey Kneiser and Glossary: it's rock'n'roll that is beautiful, wise, and comforting. Become My Blood also marks the return of one of my favorite labels, This is American Music, from a short hiatus -- and what a comeback it is. I can't wait for the next projects Brown and TIAM put out. This made the new year a happy one indeed.


Perry Brown -- Fire Mountain's Official Site, Fire Mountain's Facebook, Fire Mountain's Bandcamp, Purchase Become My Blood on Bandcamp,

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mavis Staples -- "MLK Song"

I don't have too many words to reflect on King Day today. Certainly there are many more eloquent pieces out there. Mavis Staples, though, has lived the Civil Rights Movement. And so the best words today are those that come from our elders and those who are inextricably bound in the Work.



Staples will be releasing yet another album -- I believe her third in five years -- in February. Keep an eye out here for it.

Mavis Staples -- Facebook, Preorder on iTunes, Pre-order from Anti- Records

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jackie Venson -- Live at Strange Brew

Not too long ago I told you about how much I enjoyed Jackie Venson's debut album, The Light in Me. But as much as I enjoyed it, Venson is a blues guitarist and, as such, I knew that I was missing a part of the experience by listening to studio recordings of the songs. Now, I don't need to wonder.


Live at Strange Brew not only showcases Venson's songwriting -- which tends to be more nuanced than the typical blues song -- or her vocal talent, but her showmanship and guitar chops. Folks, she SHREDS. But Venson, unlike the typical guitar hero, uses her solos in service to the songs, not as an opportunity to vomit technical skills everywhere. We can see this in her effortless shifts between blues, rock, and reggae throughout her songs. She clearly lives to be on stage, and if you can't hear it in her fancy fretwork, it comes through in her relaxed banter with the crowd. It's always thrilling to see (or in this case, here) someone in their element. Live at Strange Brew is one of those rare live albums that captures the spontaneity of great musicians at their best.


Jackie Venson -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on Amazon

Thursday, January 12, 2017

VIDEO: Melaena Cadiz -- "At the Symphony"

I thought I'd take a look back through some of the music videos I've received in the past year. I already told you about how great Melaena Cadiz's Sunfair was. But in case you needed a reminder, watch this video from my favorite song on the album. We could all use something a little spacey and uplifting right now.



Melaena Cadiz -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Shadow of Comfort -- Not From Here

I have a soft spot for Albaquerque. It's not the prettiest city, but Sadie's does have the best salsa this side of the Rio Grande and, of course, it's hard to top watching the sun play off of Mount Sandia throughout the day. So that's what piqued my interest in Shadow of Comfort -- I just don't really get that much music coming from New Mexico even though this is, like, a country music blog.




Shadow of Comfort's brash rock'n'roll is laced with those southwestern leanings but has the forthrightness and passion of heartland rock. Basically, any fans of classic rock will love this short little EP. The band's energy is contagious and can't help but put a smile on my face.

Shadow of Comfort -- Facebook, Soundcloud, Spotify

Monday, January 9, 2017

G.L.O.S.S. -- Trans Day of Revenge

I slept on this band and I'm sorry I did. Girls Living Outside of Society's Shit is/was remarkable for sticking to their guns. GLOSS was unapologetically trans*, feminist, and intersectional -- shattering preconceptions of who makes hardcore punk and who listens to it. As a result, the music itself isn't my jam, though lead singer Sadie Switchblade's side project Dyke Drama produced one of my favorite albums.

So why am I featuring an album that I could only get through once? Because it's important.


The intolerable treatment trans* people have received in this society is only going to get worse under Trump. Two trans* women that we know of have been killed in the first nine days of the year. Two deaths in just over a week are the reason why Trans* Day of Remembrance exists. This is an international day to honor our fallen trans* and gender-noncomforming siblings, a solemn day that G.L.O.S.S. has nodded to in the EP's title. The killers, until very recently, often go free because police investigations, when they even happen, are not helpful:

WHEN PEACE IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR DEATH
IT'S OUR TURN TO GIVE VIOLENCE A CHANCE!

KILLER COPS AREN'T CROOKED
SOLDIERS FOR BASTARDS, THEY DO AS THEY'RE TOLD
THE COURTS AREN'T CORRUPT
MALICIOUS, VIOLENT, THEY MAINTAIN CONTROL

FUCK THE PEACE KEEPING FUCK THE CALM
THE INVESTIGATION IS A FUCKING CON.
THE TRUTH IS KNOWN BENEATH THE GUN
BLACK LIVES DON'T MATTER IN THE EYES OF THE LAW 


And there is even less reason to have faith in government institutions after the 20th. But Trans Day of Revenge also empowers its trans* and queer listeners:

WE LIVE/EVEN AS WE WONDER WHY
WE LIVE/WITH TRAUMA LOCKED INSIDE
WE FIGHT/AGAINST THE URGE TO DIE
PARCHED FOR LOVE AND CAST ASIDE

CHILDHOOD SHAME/INTERNAL BLAME
THIS MESS BORE A COMPLEX PAIN
WE LIVE AND DIE/AGAINST THE GRAIN
FOR OURSELVES WE LIVE 


For the several times I've been harassed since the election, I've become acutely aware of how misplaced my sense of safety is as I go about my life -- a low-grade dread that stalks people who are not white, male, or masculine-presenting far more often than it does myself. I've given in to moments of despair, but attitudes like GLOSS' -- that it's not enough to simply hold your head high but stay true to yourself and fight back as well -- will give me and others a lifeline (literally) to make it through.

G.L.O.S.S. has put thier money where their mouths are. They famously turned down a generous deal from Epitaph Records because they felt it would interfere with their values. Shortly thereafter, they felt that the pressures of mainstream media attention made the band a stressful rather than healing experience. As a result, the band is calling it a day -- with each other. But keep your eyes and ears out for their future projects.



G.L.O.S.S. -- Bandcamp

Friday, January 6, 2017

Slingshot Dakota -- Break

Slingshot Dakota rounds out the lineup of that fateful Shondes concert, certainly one of the best I saw this past year. When the duo took the stage, I had concerns: the drummer had an elaborate kit and the singer was armed with a synthesizer. To be honest, I am dubious of music that doesn't include at least a guitar (see the blog's tagline.) It did not take me long to be blow away. Tom Patterson, it turns out, is a force of nature who uses his entire body while playing the dreams, using each symbol and tom to draw musicality out of the beat even as he's careening through top speeds. Carly Comando wields the synth like a guitar, exuding tones that sound like distorted strings while maintaining the modular tones of a piano.


Break represents the duo's struggles and triumphs from their recent shift to pursuing music full-time. They write in the liner notes, "Sometimes we try so hard to keep it together that we don't realize what we gain from having it all fall apart. Breaking allows the bad to escape so all of the good things can seep into the cracks." I recently had a year where I learned this the hard way (though there's no easy way to learn it.) At times euphoric like "You," with its unusual, brain-candy hook; at times triumphant like "Doreen," and despairing as in "Too Much", Break is the soundtrack to anyone's toughest year. But it can also help us remember the strength needed to get through it. Either way, Break is what you'll need for the upcoming year.



Slingshot Dakota -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

SONG PREMIER: Laura Oden -- "Try Not to Cry"

Alaska-based Laura Oden has previewed her upcoming album with "Try Not to Cry." Oden's remarkable vocal performance makes this song, an attempt to grapple with a crushing loss, an arresting experience. Oden brushes against the confines of folk music and weaves jazz-like intervals into her delivery. This meditation is sure to stay with you after the last note fades and it has me excited for the full album.



Laura Oden -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Permanent Wave

I am not sure if there is anything queerer than fighting my [roomate's] cat* to type an article about an LGBTQ punk band, but here we are. In fact, "here we are" seems to be what 2016 was about. Let's start 2017 fresh in two ways: with some queer punk music that reminds us that no, we don't have to settle for "here," and with a more concerted attempt at daily updates.

I had the excellent fortune of seeing Permanent Wave open for the Shondes at one of the few DIY spaces left in New York City, Shea Stadium BK. I was high on that heady mix of idol worship, adrenaline, affirmation of teenage insecurities, and happiness that comes from all great rock shows. Permanent Wave only has a few recorded songs, but that doesn't matter -- you gotta see this band live. Between Chicago Figueroa's impassioned vocals, drummer Tre D'Ambrocia's ridiculous wrist speed, and bassist Jessica Lynn Jurgens' raising the cool quotient of bass players everywhere (I've had my eye on her Fender Jaguar for a loooooong time, so it's possible that maybe there's a little idol worship in the mix there), Permanent Wave's chemistry is intoxicating.



The band's subtle mixture of punk, surf music, and disco is a similarly winning combination -- it's essentially minimalist dance music that is also beautifully raw. Permanent Wave is definitely a band to watch for 2017 and I hope there's an album I can throw my money at soon.



Permanent Wave -- Facebook, ReverbNation

*I don't think cats really belong to people. Over the last few months it has become clear that I belong to this cat.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 10 of 2016

2016 was a year to make you believe in astrology. I don't know very many people for him 2016 was an excellent year. As I've hinted at throughout the year, I've been through my own share of upheaval. Here's the music that helped me hold it together.

For this list, I only cite what I've actually written about (or in the case of one album, will write about next week.) But if I was doing an overall list, Sturgill Simpson's A Sailors Guide to Earth would certainly be on here. I chose not to write about it because the guy certainly doesn't need publicity from me. But while the album deserves its nomination, I still believe Bey's Lemonade should win -- as a package, it is a tour de force of human creativity and expression and it has some truly important things to say. It's not just pop music. While I did not connect to it as much personal, Solange's A Seat at the Table is also a work of beauty that is worth your time, particularly if you don't find yourself listening to R&B too often.

These albums were not the ones I necessarily listened to the most this year. They're the ones that I still remember months after listening to them. The ones where artists took a brave step in a new direction. The ones that I think about the subway even when I'm listening to other music. Interestingly, this is the first time that women represent the vast majority of artists on the list. You might not see these folks elsewhere, but that's why this blog exists.

Here's to courage, fortitude, and solidarity in 2017 and the bold voices that will lead us.

10. Freakwater -- Scheherezade -- I had not been familiar with this band before, but they blew me away with their expansive, experimental southern Gothic flair. The intimacy in the collaboration can only come from folks who have spent twenty years playing together, which is exactly what Freakwater's been doing. It's an amazing listen.

9. Two Cow Garage -- Brand New Flag -- You might not be surprised that this is here but, with all due respect to the band, I am. It took me a while to get into the album itself even though, as always, Micah and Shane have an uncanny knack of hitting me in all of the feels. Compared to their previous work, Brand New Flag's lyrics and guitar hooks are much bolder than I was expecting. But that worked in the band's favor. Not a day has passed when an errant lyric or bar of music from this album hasn't crossed my mind. There was lots of great political music this year, but Brand New Flag is the one I can truly wave as my own.

8. Lydia Loveless -- Real -- I wrote in my original review of this album that I find that Loveless' music can be a bit inaccessible. To be honest, I think Loveless and her band are best live -- the careening energy just translates better. But Real is the best studio effort the band is put forth to date, daring listeners to follow them down paths that are usually avoided by folks who play guitar music. Real shows us a band firing at all cylinders and pushing relentlessly pushing themselves to use music to cross the bridge between their interior selves and ours.

7. M. Lockwood Porter -- How to Dream Again -- I've waxed poetic about this before. Porter's How to Dream was impressive for its restraint. The album could have easily been strident, it could have easily been a stream of oft-repeated platitudes about the system, how racism is bad, we need to stick together, etc. It's not like these things aren't true, but sometimes it's hard to care when stated too bluntly. Instead, Porter connects the personal to political in ways that should make white people, cis people, men, etc. (and particularly songwriters in all of those groups) take notes.

6. Robert Ellis -- Robert Ellis -- This was the year where alt-country decided to get weird. Sturgill, Austin Lucas, Lydia Loveless...it was a treat to see Americana incorporate more of what America actually sounds like (hint: not just white music.) Robert Ellis is a somewhat melodramatic (in the best way) recounting of a failed "serious" relationship and the directionlessness of one's 20s. If that's a time you're living through or, for some reason, want to relive, Ellis makes my struggles seem beautiful after all.

5.  Ana Egge and the Sentimentals -- Say That Now -- This album grew on me over time. Like Brand New Flag, it's an album that just seems to follow me around. Egge's got a gentle forcefulness to her songs that stay with you long after the last note fades. This album followed me through depression, romance, heartbreak, more depression. It's what I needed for all of those emotions, though, and for that I greatly appreciate it.

4. Kate Tempest -- Let Them Eat Chaos -- I wrote about this one not too long ago. A truly stunning piece of art that needs to be listened to from start to finish.

3. Becky Warren -- War Surplus -- Warren's a stunning songwriter -- smarts to boot and a real empathy for her characters. Soldiers are often ignored and, when written about in music, tend to be portrayed as victims at best, unrepentant messes at worst. Warren's portrayals are nuanced and sympathetic. Certainly one of the better anti-war albums out there.

2. Anna Tivel -- Heroes Waking Up -- This is just a stunning, strange, album that really will stay with you for a long time. I knew from the moment I listened to this all the way through back in the spring that it would make its way here. Tivel has a knack for storytelling, and these characters' desperation is plenty dramatic.

1. Jamila Woods -- HEAVN -- The review for this one is forthcoming, so I won't say too much about it. But just go listen to it. I have yet to hear a more compassionate and authentic recounting of depression, trauma, dissatisfaction with body image, and resistance to lopsided relationships. And the music itself is truly beautiful.