Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Listen: Son Step - "New Ears"

photo by Gab Bonghi

When I was introduced to Philly based experimental pop outfit Son Step, I was taken by the rush of sound Jon Coyle and Joel Sephy Gleiser could create. I had first seen them live as a duo in a period of transition but you absolutely couldn't tell. Armed with a series of synthesizers and their interwoven vocals, they filled the room but their sound was also distinct - kaleidoscopic layers and life-affirming lyricism, Son Step effortlessly craft fantastical reveries that transport and uplift. Now, two years after the release of their brilliant album Fossilillies, return once more with New Ears. Enlisting Ben Sloane in place of long time percussionist Matt Scarano and written by guitarist Chris Coyle, "New Ears" the eponymous track from their upcoming EP, is a gentle lilting lullaby that explores a softer, more mellifluous style of their vibrant, percussion laden dream pop. Articulated through Jon Coyle and Gleiser's vocals, Chris Coyle lyrics channels Son Step's characteristic exuberance towards a sense of familiarity and comfort that both acknowledges a sort of futility in trading in definites and relief in knowing that things change. "Step into my garden, it's bare but it has started, hey I'm growing now" Coyle and Gleiser assure and reassure. Maybe it's the strip backed arrangement, while still engaging in some intriguing textural layering that's soothing enough to quiet the most racing thoughts. 

Listen to "New Ears" from Son Step's forthcoming EP of the same name out October 8th.

 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Listen/Watch: Macie Stewart - "Finally"

photo by Ash Dye
 

When I was introduced to Chicago experimental rock duo Ohmme a couple years ago, I remember reading that singers/multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart were accomplished musicians in their own right who kind of found each other and birthed the band. While just hearing how their voices and their guitars seamlessly intertwine is certainly enough to back up that assertion, I was surprised to discover that unlike Cunningham, Stewart hadn't released a solo album. Fortunately that changes with "Finally", the first single from Stewart's debut Mouth Full of Glass. "Finally" is an introspective reverie, simultaneously sparse and lush featuring collaborator Lia Kohl on cello, as Stewart effortlessly balances violin, guitar, and vocals. Even as the track builds in intensity, there's a pervasive gentleness both lyrically and in Stewart's arrangement, as Stewart gently takes herself to task - "I'm wrong and I know it, but not willing to show it", Stewart sings and it's the lightness of the delivery that sets the stage - Stewart doesn't need to be brusque or forceful to get her point across, her tenderness is reassuring in an of itself. "Finally" is a song about coming to face to face with realizations but avoids the obvious drama that could wrought from it with something a little more unexpected. It's a meditation on the self - and the track expands into a wider lens, a clearer picture like a thought taking shape. It's a graceful blooming that evolves into increasingly sensuous sounds and which Kohl perfectly encapsulates in lyric video she crafted for the song. 

 

Macie Stewart's debut album Mouth Full of Glass is out September 24th on Orindal Records. You can pre-order the record on limited edition glass or black vinyl, cassette or digital here

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Listen: Nat Baldwin - "All We Want Is Everything"

photo by Elisabeth Fuschia
 

While most people are probably familiar with Portland, Maine based singer/songwriter Nat Baldwin as a member of Dirty Projectors, it actually wasn't until I had heard "Weights" and sought out his album People Changes that I realized that was the case. And in actually, it was Lands & Peoples and the fact that they had played a show with Baldwin that brought him to my attention. And through the years, Nat Baldwin has continued to deliver after that initial surprise. Though he's released more traditional singer/songwriter records, Baldwin is also a gifted improviser and last year he released a trilogy of records entitled Autonomia wherein he explores more experimental forms of music making. And as if that wasn't enough for Baldwin, this year he announced the release of another collection of songs in the form of the Common Currents EP. 

Nearly eight years after In The Hollows, Baldwin's last songwriting effort, "All We Want Is Everything", the album opener and opening track arrives with something to say as Baldwin transmutes his politics into song. Despite the solitude of recording solo bass in the empty Apohadion Theater in Portland, there is a warmth in Baldwin's delivery that manages to subsume the sparseness of its creation. As Baldwin sings of communal action transforming the present, his mellifluous vocals coax visions of bright futures and slain masters. It's equal parts abstract work-song and protest music: a call to action to both envision the future of your dreams and mold it into being. While not everyone has Baldwin's vocal prowess, it's easily a song you can hum or whistle as you go door to door informing neighbors of the latest propositions in your local elections and I can envision Baldwin doing just that. 


Nat Baldwin's tenth solo album Common Currents is out July 9th on Dear Life Records, you can pre-order the record now. 


Friday, May 28, 2021

Listen: Wednesday - "Handsome Man"

 

Last year Asheville rockers Wednesday had the exceptionally good fortune to release their brilliant album I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone right before the pandemic hit and everything closed down. While they weren't totally immune to the devastating effects of the pandemic on their album release cycle (in this case, they couldn't really tour behind it), it at the very least was an album that got to be released into the world when people had more time to sit and reflect. 

"Handsome Man", the first single from Wednesday's forthcoming album Twin Plagues, might not arrive as hot on the heels of their sophomore record as you'd expect - instead following a record Karly Hartzmann  and bandmate and longtime collaborator MJ Lenderman released earlier this year but it arrives like no time has been lost - echoing a similar sense of immediacy that made album standout "Fate Is..." an instant favorite. Hartzmann's anecdotal narrative style returns with a bit of a twist - Hartzmann's delivery revels a bit more in delayed gratification, allowing her lyrics to conjure up visuals before providing you with the easier associations. The pauses aren't long enough to draw too much attention to them but with enough space to function as a kind of word association. Hartzmann's deceptively descriptive - providing just the right amount of detail that you can effortlessly imagine the scenes she recalls but very much providing you with secondhand experience of the accounts. They're stories you're hearing while still remaining very much her own.  There's no why's or how's in Hartzmann's storytelling style but she's still beguilingly engaging. "Handsome Man" clocks in at just under two and a half minutes and there's certainly no time wasted as Hartzmann effortlessly conjures up a handful of various mental pictures and leaves you with the slightest hint of an existentialism: "Where do we go when the glow goes home" she ponders before immediately giving you something more tangible to latch on to and experience. 

While "Handsome Man" might be a considerably short song, Hartzmann has already proved that not only can she can create emotionally resonant pieces in the space of these songs but that's she's fully capable of writing longer songs which just as much impact. I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone was an incredibly strong effort and "Handsome Man" gives every indication that Hartzmann and Wednesday have plenty more where that came from and I couldn't be more excited. 

 

Twin Plagues, the third album from Wednesday is out August 13th on Orindal Records. The record is available limited edition Tiffany Blue, standard black vinyl, lime green cassette, and of course digitally. You can pre-order the record now.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Landlady - Landlady (2021)

 

When I was introduced to Brooklyn's Landlady during a Hometapes showcase at SXSW back in 2014, there was certainly a lot that would appeal to me - a stage full of members including two drummers, a style of music that deftly evades categorization but feels strikingly familiar but if I'm being completely honest the thing that sold me was the sincerity of frontman Adam Schatz. In a crowded bar in Austin, Texas during a festival where each band's goal is make the most of the brief amount of time allotted to make a lasting first impression on showgoers with tenuous attention spans, Schatz asked the crowd to engage. Not just with him but each other, with people who weren't in the room whether miles, ages, or lifetimes away in a sing-a-long on "Above My Ground". It was bold. It was unexpected. But most importantly, it was incredibly sincere. It was the kind of thing that made me immediately take notice and pursue every opportunity I could to see them again and again from small intimate sets in the back of Greenpoint's now defunct Manhattan Inn and Half Moon in Hudson, it was Schatz's initial openness that led me to discover through obsessive listens that Landlady were a damn good band. Over the years and through the albums, the lineup has changed but a few things have remained the same - the band is tight-knit and perform with an awing juxtaposition of playfulness and precision, Schatz's narrative subjects take the road less traveled but still achieve a beguiling universality, and Schatz is still disarmingly sincere. Even following their career for years, Schatz still manages to surprise with an ability root his songs in an inextinguishable honesty. "Why did my friend have to die?" Schatz asks on "Supernova", the first single for their fourth and self-titled album, and with such a succinct statement I knew the new record would be unlike any other. 

With lyrics that hit you like a mack truck, "Supernova" still plays into Schatz's sense of connection. Personal loss and failures coalesce with a collective understanding: "At least I know everyone's having a harder day today". It's a statement he first delivers fully and clearly with it's resurgence broken up - into four part vocals harmonies, adlibs "At least I know I'm not okay", Schatz sings, and instrumental flourishes, Schatz lands on a feeling of interconnectedness despite his individual sadness. The fact that it's followed by "Sunshine" is a masterful display of tracklisting. "Hold your breath, hold mine instead for now" Schatz opens and despite the fact that he's played it live several times, it takes on new life here. It's almost uncharacteristically sparse - featuring Schatz on keys for much of it. It's tender, as close as Landlady could arguably come to a ballad as Schatz makes a declaration of mutual support - take care of me and I'll take care of you. It's a love song but one with much broader applications than typical romance. Along with "The Meteor", "Take The Hint", and "Supernova", "Sunshine" follows themes of the heat burning up or burning out, "Sunshine" is the only one which doesn't treat it as an inevitability. "Careful with the sunshine, I won't let it burn you up" Schatz delivers less like a warning and more an expression of care and protection. 

Songs like "Sunshine" and "Nowhere To Hide", which have been played live by the band or Schatz at his solo sets for years find new life and meaning on an album that seems exceptionally timely. The core of Landlady's truths are about resilience and drawing comfort in little insular moments. Whether that be loudly singing along to "God Only Knows" on "Molly Pitcher", a game of Hearts on "Tooth and Nail", Landlady is about turning to each other in good times and bad and they tackle the subject with characteristic aplomb. Schatz doesn't claim to have all the answers as "Nowhere To Hide" attests but Landlady seems to posit that many of life's solutions lie in caring about others.

The most appealing thing about Landlady is that instead of songs on an album - it functions largely as a series of conversations both between narrative subjects and the songs themselves. There's references and callbacks - reoccurring themes and images but also solitary moments, self-contained episodes. Landlady coalesced into the version of the band they wanted to be on their second album Upright Behavior and yet each subsequent effort has expanded what the band is in a way that's been enjoyable to experience. A self-titled album tends to function as a reintroduction, signaling some sort of seismic shift in sound or mythology but Landlady doesn't need anything of the sort. There's no band that sounds like Landlady and each album has solidified that. There's a distinct sound that carries through without retracing its steps. Landlady is a band that makes music that's meant to entertain and challenge themselves and then invites listeners into that space and the result are songs and albums that are celebration of music and musicianship. Landlady arrives a little more than 4 years after the band's previous full length effort The World Is A Loud Place and wastes no time in drawing you into its embrace like an old friend. There's less guests and collaborators this time around but there's no shortage of dynamic musical ideas as Schatz has a wealth of new stories and witticisms to share. 


Landlady, the fourth album from Landlady is out now and available to purchase from the band's Bandcamp with $5 of all proceeds going to The Okra Project.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Listen - Holland Andrews - "Gloss"

 

My introduction to Holland Andrews happened in the form of experimental Portland duo AU's album 2012 Both Lights. Previously a duo, multi-instrumentalist Luke Wyland and percussionist Dana Valatka invited Andrews to essentially become a full-fledged member of the band and their presence was immediate felt - their powerhouse vocals a ballast for the propulsive cacophonous maelstrom of "Solid Gold". Previously issuing music under the moniker Like A Villain, their new EP Wordless, will however be their first under their own name. 

 

"Gloss", the first track from their upcoming EP, is an expansive synth-led reverie that dedicates much of its duration towards establishing a sense of meditative calm as its glittering arpeggios recall a glass harmonica and effortlessly pushing the track forward. And as easy as it would be for Andrews to turn "Gloss" into a time-suspending ambient drone, about halfway through, Andrews pursues another compositional lead - employing both dynamic and tempo changes to introduce vocals. What Andrews is singing is less important than the emotions the vocals invoke - words occasionally veering into view through its assemblage of layers as "Gloss" pulses with radiant calm and quiet comfort. 

 

Wordless, Holland Andrews new EP, will be out February 12th. You can pre-order the 4 track EP now.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Pitstop: Wednesday


My introduction to Asheville's Wednesday actually happened from an inside joke a friend of mine made on social media. I didn't get the joke but knew that a band was being mentioned and when I saw they were slated to play Hopscotch Music Festival, I made a mental note to try and see them. When a schedule conflict and my own unpreparedness made me miss their Hopscotch set I kept the name in my mind. Then as Wednesday set about to tour behind their recently released sophomore full length I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, I noticed they were touring alongside a bunch of new friends I had met at Hopscotch last year. That practically sealed the deal and I finally dove into their music.

The first thing I was struck by was the incredibly insistent nature of Wednesday's songs. The album's opening track "Fate Is..." begins like a thundercrack, a lion's roar. It's heavy, clamorous intro perfectly suited for singer/guitarist Karly Hartzman's seismic, emotive vocals which soon follow it. It's a track that begins at a gallop and doesn't ever really let up while still balancing its boisterous instrumentals with Hartzman's narrative persistence. It's the album's shortest track but also its most succinct. The polar opposite of a tracks like "Love Has No Pride (Condemned)" which takes its time with its build up; shifting gears a number of times between vignette like verses.





As the album progresses, its songs get longer, Hartzman's vocals more langorous but similarly capable of dispatching the emotive truth of a lived experience with an impressive brevity. Hartzman's hardly curt but has a knack for employing descriptive storytelling with an anecdotal ease. The quintet are properly dialed in, turning in properly cacophonus dips into darkly tinged shoegaze fuzz without obscuring Hartzman's narratives in the slightest. 


Wednesday's sophomore record I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone is out now on Orindal Records. You can stream/buy it here