Monday, July 22, 2024

Morphine - Live at The Westbeth Theater 1997

During the first weeks of 1993, Pixies frontman Black Francis unceremoniously ended his band via fax, leaving the mantle of Massachusetts’s most beloved college band temporarily vacant. The Kim Deal-led Breeders were logical successors, but the scene had a fairly stacked roster with Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads, and Dinosaur Jr. all releasing new material that year. Meanwhile, a steely-eyed, magnetic prophet emerged from Cambridge with a homemade two-string bass and one of the area’s most singular bands behind him.
That year, Boston-based band Morphine perfected a precise formula of jazz-informed cool and bluesy punk to briefly inspire an international fervor. The band mournfully concluded with 2000’s “The Night” a year after frontman Mark Sandman’s sudden passing mid-performance, but their nocturnal sound arguably solidified with 1993’s “Cure For Pain.” For the local crowd, “Pain” was more than a hometown hit; it embodied a Boston nightlife that critics and outsiders didn’t believe existed. It was as unbridled as a collision of bodies at The Model around last call, as introspective as a long walk home across the Mass Ave. Bridge after midnight, yet “Pain” was completely untethered from any other sound in the scene at the time.
“That was the best batch of songs Mark Sandman wrote for a record,” producer Paul Q. Kolderie says. “He was just really on fire right around then; every song that came out was another winner.” “'Cure For Pain' just loudly announces that it is a classic,” author and Hallelujah the Hills frontman Ryan H. Walsh adds. “It doesn’t lean into any of the things about the ‘90s that stand out and say, ‘oh, this is from the ‘90s.’ The production and the very structure of the band itself kind of flew in the face of what was popular and cool or trendy.” As far as its creators are concerned, the era surrounding Pain was one of triumph, loss, fatigue, and a continued effort to be effortlessly in the moment.
Colley, Sandman, and drummer Jerome Deupree began playing as Morphine in 1989, but the group’s unorthodox sound had roots long before they got together. “We were all really old friends,” Kolderie says. “By the time we got to “Cure For Pain,” we had already made one record together and I had made numerous records with all the people involved.” Morphine’s tangled web of scene friendships began in the early ‘80s with The Sex-Execs, a cheeky new wave act featuring Deupree on drums and Kolderie on bass. Colley was playing saxophone in the more subtly-named Three Colors, which Kolderie produced an album for before they split in 1988. Out of all of their priors though, Sandman’s Treat Her Right had the most promise, simultaneously foreshadowing Morphine’s sound to come.
“Mark had nine lives, so when he first got to Boston, it took him a while to find his footing,” Kolderie says. “When he fell in with the Treat Her Right people, that voice was there all of a sudden.” With a driving blues sound highlighted by Sandman’s “low guitar” bass style and lyrics pulled from his vagabonding across North and South America, Treat Her Right released three albums and scored a deal with RCA Records before disbanding on the heels of Morphine’s debut, “Good” in 1992. “Back then, we were all just striving,” Kolderie adds. “We were all just trying to come up. We made a previous record that was good, literally called “Good,” but I think we were determined to beat it.”
Production on “Cure for Pain” was spread over a brief two weeks at Kolderie’s revered Fort Apache Studio in Cambridge, but days into recording, Morphine’s lineup experienced a shake-up. According to Kolderie, Deupree quit because of tension with Sandman coupled with some health issues keeping him from extensive touring. Deupree says he saw the recording as a “favor” to record a demo tape of the songs they’d been working on. Recording was happening at such an expedited clip, Deupree’s replacement, ex-Treat Her Right drummer Billy Conway, would only have to play on three songs for the record. Whether it was their focus or confidence as a trio, “Pain” had already began generating hype before basic tracks were even finished. Kolderie’s girlfriend, then a publicist for Warner Music subsidiary Rykodisc, took a cassette of unfinished mixes to the label after overhearing Paul working on the record. Rykodisc signed Morphine on the strength of the cassette, going as far as to reissue “Good” ahead of “Pain.” “We went to another studio called Q Division,” Kolderie adds. “I put on the tape, started playing ‘Buena’, and people were running into the control room like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ You notice when these things happen.”
Morphine’s slow rise was both word-of-mouth and a product of the band’s constant tinkering sonically. Sandman’s storytelling had become more direct in the year since “Good,” revealing vivid accounts of adultery (“Thursday”), strung-out vices (“Cure For Pain”), and self-doubt (“I’m Free Now”). Colley had mastered a kind of sax showmanship that anchored a song’s melody while flashily playing two saxophones at once live. In the shift from Deupree to Conway, Morphine had been blessed with two drummers that had years of experience playing off of Sandman and Colley. “I’m very proud to be a part of it,” Deupree says. “If people know me as a drummer outside of Boston, it’s because of 'Cure for Pain.'” As much as the album stands as a group effort, some of its most resonant moments come from the insular recordings from Hi-n-Dry, Sandman’s Cambridge loft/studio.
With a seemingly endless array of anonymous lineups and musicians coming by to pitch in, Sandman’s private output was a precursor to the eclectic lo-fi producers of the Bandcamp age, hitting record as soon as inspiration struck. The record’s atmospheric album closer, “Miles Davis’ Funeral,” simply came about when Sandman and percussionist Ken Winokur were rolling tape on the day of the jazz icon’s burial. More fully-formed loft experiments like the crystalline, mandolin-plucked centerpiece “In Spite of Me” ultimately inspired Kolderie’s self-described “let’s fucking do this” attitude in the studio. “We were just trying wild things,” Kolderie adds. “There was one mix of ‘A Head With Wings’ where I had the sax track routed to a wah-wah pedal underneath the console and I was literally playing the wah-wah pedal live while we were mixing the song. I don’t think I did that with anyone else.”
“Cure For Pain” was released on September 14, 1993, kicking off an expansive tour across the globe. The album received an early cosign in the form of multiple songs being featured in director David O. Russell controversial 1994 hit “Spanking the Monkey.” Fittingly though, Morphine picked up the most steam from late-night television appearances, entertaining Conan O’Brien, Jools Holland, and, most notably, Beavis & Butthead. “It seemed to snowball and it was worldwide,” Colley says. “We were working a lot, so we never got a chance to just stop and take inventory. We were on the road, like, nine months of the year traveling around the world, going from one place to the next, and just repeating it.”
Despite their globetrotting successes, Morphine kept a fairly low profile once they eventually returned to Boston, earning a restrained sort of respect from locals that seemed to suit the reserved band. “That’s why I loved to come back to Boston: it didn’t change,” Colley adds. You saw your friends, they were like, ‘where have you been for the last couple weeks?’, ‘oh, well, we were on tour,’ ‘oh, welcome back.’ Nothing changes, nobody looks at you differently, and you could slip right back into playing little bars with your friends.” “There’s nothing that I loathe more than rock stars who are big time people when they’re talking to me. To find he was the antithesis of that was such an awesome addition to his talent,” Walsh says about his brief encounter with Sandman in the ‘90s. “He was easy to talk to, but clearly, he also cultivated a mysterious aura around him. That shit wasn’t accidental.”
Even before Mark Sandman’s fatal heart attack while headlining the Nel Nome Del Rock Festival in 1999, Morphine’s future, to some, was in question. Pain’s follow-up, 1995’s “Yes,” doubled down on its predecessor’s winning formula of romping live hits and Sandman’s nocturnal observations, but 1997’s “Like Swimming” brought additional pressures to the band. Morphine had signed to nascent major label Dreamworks Records, which seemed to bolster the anticipation surrounding “Swimming” while baiting critics that had doubts about the group. “They desperately need to alter their sound, and if they have to break up to do it, I don't think anyone's gonna care,” Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber wrote in a scathing, since-deleted review. “In fact, after four identical records, it's about time, 'cause Morphine is, like, drowning.” “I think they (the band) found the sound and, if there were problems with any of the later records, it was just because there was this profound conflict between sticking to the sound they had or trying to go somewhere else,” Kolderie believes.
In the decades following the band’s tragic dissolution, the surviving members of Morphine have managed to find a happy medium between “sticking to the sound” and expanding somewhere else, thanks in part to New Orleans-based blues musician Jeremy Lyons, who says he initially listened to “Pain” upon meeting Colley and Deupree to a point of exhaustion. “I think I actually remember getting to a point where I couldn’t listen to it for a while because it was very sad, some of the songs, whereas I think the follow-up is a bit more rock and I felt some of the tunes had a bit more of a party feel.” After casually jamming for years, Colley floated the idea of performing a “members of Morphine” set at Nel Nome Del Rock in 2009, just one day shy of a decade since Sandman’s passing at the same festival. The passionate tribute performance led to a residency at Atwood’s Tavern back in Cambridge and marked interest across the States for reunion shows. “I really had to relearn how to sing in order to do the Sandman stuff,” Lyons says. “His range is naturally lower than mine, but he also had a beautiful way of singing very gently and quietly.”
The topic of a “Pain” anniversary was brought up and tabled over the years as Vapors of Morphine became a project with as much longevity as the original Morphine. This past February, a 25th anniversary performance of “Pain” front-to-back at the Lizard Lounge was met with a sold-out crowd and a second set to keep up with demand. “For us, it’s been great to reach out and to have that next generation come up to us and say, ‘my dad played Morphine in the car when I was going to preschool’ or ‘my mother used to put headphones on her belly when she was pregnant with me and played you… now here I am with a full beard, let me buy you a drink,’” Colley says with a laugh.
The record’s endurance goes far beyond nostalgia though; as much as it was a part-realized, part-idealized vision of Boston’s nightlife, the record has since become an underrated document to its younger fans of adulthood, warts and all, while trying to grasp at fleeting youth. “To me, it was like a glimpse into adult life,” Walsh says. “It was a very unique kind of adult life and not an entirely happy one, obviously. It wasn’t pop fluff, it was short stories about the difficulties of being an adult.” Regardless of the album’s contained, but enduring legacy, Colley, Deupree, and Lyons will carry on, playing the songs they’ve been growing and tinkering with for over 25 years. As far as new fans coming aboard, Colley is confident that he’ll keep getting requests to play “Buena” as long as they’re playing shows. “I think if you’re interested in music, you’re going to find your way to Morphine eventually,” he says with a calming degree of certainty.  From:

The Heavy Heavy - All My Dreams

One of the hardest parts in this job is nailing a comparison. Artists groan when their work is pitched against someone else’s, no matter if it’s right on the money; journalists, meanwhile, quake at the idea of making one in fear it’ll blow up in their face and feature as the key storyline in the artist’s next press campaign… been there! Best, then, to push the artist to do it themselves, and not let them weasel out of it with a “we like a bit of everything” before they curate an ill-fitting ‘influences’ playlist for Spotify. The Heavy Heavy, thankfully, have no qualms over comparing their sound and their work to their heroes. Their answers? The Rolling Stones and The Mamas & The Papas. “The Stones are the bottom of everything we do,” Will Turner, one half of the Brighton duo, keenly tells NME of the key influences behind ‘Life and Life Only’, the band’s debut EP that’ll be released on vinyl this week (July 22).
“One of the main goals for us is to make people feel good,” adds vocalist and songwriter Georgie Fuller. “And there’s so much music out there that’s sad, but The Rolling Stones have this magical quality to make you feel good and feel like life’s a party. And The Mamas & The Papas had the glistening West Coast sound that we love, too.” It’s this attitude that makes ‘Life and Life Only’ such a refreshing listen. This is folk-rock that unashamedly harks back to what Turner calls his favourite period of music: lush ‘60s pop through to the early ‘70s, and the birth of the digital era. In the wrong hands, this refined mindset would sound crusty, snobby and tiresome, but here that approach generates songs that are familiar, accessible and rather quite exciting.
“We’re not trying to create a pastiche or make another sound that’s identical to something that exists, but to carry on what we believe is the greatest era of music,” Fuller says. Michael Kiwanuka, Leon Bridges and Paolo Nutini are such acts who, like them, aren’t repeating history, but instead taking their inspiration from it, and they sound like some of the “coolest records ever” Turner is more blatant: “There was a similar set of ingredients in that 10-year period that I think was the best sound ever, whether that was Joe Cocker, The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. We want to try and exact those ingredients and put them in every song that we do. Aim for Aretha Franklin, going for Bob Dylan… we want to go that high. I don’t think there’s any reason to settle for anything less than the ‘best ever’.”
‘Go Down River’, the first song the pair worked on together, is a rich soul ballad that acts as the midway point of The Band, Otis Redding and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. ‘All My Dreams’, a funk-rock groover, has hints of Steppenwolf and Janis Joplin, and the harmonies on ‘Man Of The Hills’ appear plucked directly from The Mamas & The Papas’ ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’. It’s a sound Turner has been chasing for over a decade. His previous band fizzled out, but a chance appearance from Fuller on one of their tracks opened their mind to a new way of working. “Something about the way my voice hit the mic and the way he produces the sound, we had a moment where we were like, ‘Woah!’” Fuller says.
In little over two-and-a-half years, the pair have released their debut EP, expanded to a five-piece band and signed to ATO Records, home to Nilüfer Yanya, Alabama Shakes and Black Pumas. Things appear to be accelerating: not only did they recently appear on CBS’ Saturday Morning TV show for a live performance of their Americana-tinged single ‘Miles & Miles’, but they also just completed a support slot on labelmates Black Pumas’ European tour. It was, incredibly, the band’s first-ever full tour and saw them playing to growing venues across the continent. They’re grateful that the psych-soul band’s fans got down early for their set and made up for lost time by snapping up their merch. “They’d buy it, put the t-shirt on and then stick out their bellies, and we’d sign the tops for these slightly rotund German men,” Turner laughs.
Aside from the merch takings, valuable lessons were learned. They were in awe of Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton’s magnetic stage presence, and geeked out with guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada on sound technique: it’s the kind of advice they’ll use when stitching together their debut album later this year, for which they have 40 to 50 demos. Most of all, it set a new benchmark, and another chance to follow in the footsteps of those they consider the best. “Watching them up close and realising how they got to this level was a huge eye-opener,” Fuller says. “It made us think, ‘Fuck, if we work hard like they do, this might be possible for us.’”  From:

Throwing Muses - Sunray Venus

The debut album by Throwing Muses was released in 1986, at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. Back then I had a friend who listened almost exclusively to artists on the British independent label 4AD, and I wanted to have musical tastes as esoteric as his. He told me that Throwing Muses—who lived in Boston, like we did—was the label’s first American signing, and I bought their record without having heard a note of it, only moments after a clerk in the Harvard Square branch of Newbury Comics slipped it into the “new releases” bin. I reasoned that since the record had come from England, and Boston was the easternmost major port in the United States, I was probably the first person in America to buy it, and for a long time I went around saying this. At that time my friends and I played a lot of I-heard-them-before-you-did—I saw R.E.M. in a tiny club with only fifteen other people before they were famous—and naturally there was a little of this involved, but my proprietary feelings toward Throwing Muses were more personal. I had finally found the music that was meant for me. Back in my dorm room I studied the inner sleeve of the record trying to make sense of the lyrics. Sometimes an obvious meaning broke through. “Home is a rage, feels like a cage”: I understood that. But even when coherence was just out of reach, the music completed the logic of the songs. I heard the anguish and frustration in Kristin Hersh’s thin, quavering voice. The instruments churned and chugged, or mapped out herky-jerky rhythms, and frequently broke into a wild, cathartic hillbilly dance.

He won’t ride in cars anymore
It reminds him of blowjobs
That he’s a queer
And his eyes and his hair
Stuck to the roof over the wheel
Like a pigeon on a tire goes around
And circles over circles.

I had never before heard a song with the words queer and blowjob in it. But I had just come out of the closet, and this song, “Vicky’s Box,” somehow made me feel acknowledged. The wheel and the pigeon were mysterious, but they felt true. It was as though the band had detected the dark, metallic sadness that I was so urgently trying to believe wasn’t there. “Kristin puts a lot of pictures in front of you, and you draw your own conclusions about how they all fit together,” David Narcizo, the drummer for Throwing Muses, tells me during a recent Skype conversation. “You also don’t have to if you don’t want to. I used to liken it to early R.E.M. and Cocteau Twins. I didn’t know what they were saying, but there are moments in those songs when I would think, I totally feel that. You get a sense of something genuine, but you don’t have to define it.”
Hersh formed Throwing Muses in the early 1980s with her stepsister, Tanya Donelly, while they were teenagers growing up on Aquidneck Island on the Rhode Island coast. Both played guitar and sang; in the DNA of Hersh’s early songs you can detect traces of such inventive and intuitive punk bands as the Raincoats and X. The sisters recruited Narcizo, a childhood friend, to play drums, and Leslie Langston, a local musician, to play bass. Hersh was the primary songwriter; Donelly contributed one or two songs per album.

An impressionistic timeline:

1987: Throwing Muses play a surprise Saturday afternoon show at the Rat, a grubby basement club, and I watch while standing on a chair at the side of the room. The ceiling is so low that I can touch it. The band performs a few new songs, and this is when I first hear Hersh’s “Cry Baby Cry,” a clarion call against despair that still has the power to remind me of why it’s good to be alive. The room swells with sound, and for a moment I have the exhilarating sense that I’m actually inside the music. “The whole point of doing a show is to turn a room into a church,” Hersh says twenty-six years later when I interview her by telephone, and I remember how that concert gave me a feeling of transcendence that I had never felt inside a real church.

1988: At Newbury Comics (I lived at Newbury Comics), a bossy friend whose every word I hang upon sees me pick up House Tornado, the band’s new, second album, and says, “You’re not going to buy that, are you?” I sheepishly let it fall back. I’ve started frequenting Boston’s dance clubs, and my friends and I are fans of arch and polished British bands like Pet Shop Boys and New Order. It takes me a while to learn that I don’t have to take sides.

1991: I read a glowing review of a new Throwing Muses album, The Real Ramona, and regret that I ever turned my back on them. I buy all the albums that came out while I wasn’t listening.

1992: Donelly begins writing more songs and leaves to form Belly, her own band, which includes two brothers with handsome surfer looks. I so eagerly await the appearance of their first album that on the night before its release I have a dream that one of the brothers asks me to be his date to the launch party. Meanwhile, Throwing Muses regroups as a three-piece, with new bassist Bernard Georges.

1994: Hersh’s first solo album, Hips and Makers, appears. Her songs have by now taken on a yearning sweetness. Nonetheless, when I play the single “Your Ghost,” for my guitar teacher, because I want him to teach me the fingering, he has difficulty figuring out the time signature. “Who’s that singing with her?” he asks me. “Michael Stipe,” I reply. “Oh,” he says, “well, no wonder.”

1996: I pretend I am sick, employing some dramatic fake coughing, so that I can leave work early and buy a Throwing Muses album called Limbo on the day of its release at an HMV in midtown New York that is now a Build-A-Bear Workshop. (And maybe, since it’s barely lunchtime, I am once again the first person in America to buy it.) Not long after, the band leaves behind the world of corporate rock. Living in different parts of the country, they tour and record together less frequently—their next album doesn’t appear until 2003.

2011: Hersh, an early adopter of the pay-what-you-wish model, posts solo demos for a new Throwing Muses project on the CASH Music Web site. I am immediately convinced that they are among the best songs she’s written.

Purgatory/Paradise—the band’s first album in ten years—comes with a downloadable commentary track during which Hersh and Narcizo chat about the music while it plays in the background. There’s a heartbreaking song called “Dripping Trees.” “You a clean spark or a twisted parody? Well, look at me,” Hersh sings. “These wicked memories—it all comes down, eventually.” The melody sounds like something tumbling earthward, in slow, sad, stately spirals, and yet still landing perfectly on its feet. “This is such an ‘us’ song,” she says on the commentary, and laughs. “It’s so us because you can’t tell if it’s saying something good or something bad … Anthemic and pathetic at the same time.”


Uni and The Urchins - What's The Problem

Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Jack James Busa and David Strange form the core of Uni and the Urchins, a band that is beginning to rise out of a sea of possibilities to stake their claim as the newest concert stage superheroes. Having what it takes — vision, charisma and musical chops — the combo has taken an eclectic set of influences and poured it all into their first disc: “Simulator,” now out on Chimera Records. Chatting with them in their Downtown rehearsal/recording space yielded answers to some questions and raised a bunch more. For the record, Muhl — songwriter, film director, musician, model — explained the group’s origin.
“I went on Craigslist to find a mechanic to help me build a time machine and met David,” she recounts. “Turns out he didn’t really know how to fold time-space with a microwave and a Dell computer, but he was pretty good at guitar. Then Jack crash landed in my backyard like a flaming isopod and we kept him in the basement with canned food and a CRT (cathode ray tube) TV until he suddenly started singing.” Though their beginnings were humble, Muhl has some, well, let’s call them out-of-this-world ambitions for the project.  “I’m hoping that we will get hired to be the elevator band for Bilderberg meetings. Maybe we’ll even get to play children’s birthday parties on Mars for the Illuminati. I’m currently speaking to the Chinese government about funding our performance of Moonlight Sonata on the moon,” she states.
Check out the videos for all of the tracks for a taste of Uni beyond the music, all of which were directed by Muhl. The stage show, recently experienced at the House of Yes in Brooklyn, includes surreal imagery and occasionally additional performers such as human blockhead Anna Monoxide. “I’d love to make the live show as spectacular as possible,” says Busa, the lead singer. “We’re so inspired by iconic tours that act more as theatre than a rock show, a la Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour, Madonna’s ‘Blonde Ambition,’ or pretty much anything Grace Jones has done. The live show should feel like a physical manifestation of the music and videos.” Some dissension crept in from Muhl, who responded, “Oh no. We’re very against theatrics. Only gritty realism for us. Only when you bore the audience can you get them to think deep thoughts.”
Thinking it best to let them work that out among themselves, we moved on to the topic of their accompanying visuals, which also includes their stunning outfits. Muhl explained the present state of their artistic evolution, saying, “We’re media polygamists, currently working our way up to crayons and macaroni art paired with interpretive dance” and Busa further noted that “the visuals are an extension of the music but also we’re very inspired by fashion and cinema and performance art so of course that bleeds into every thing we do.” Strange adds that, “I think we come from a very experimental place. We’ve never really let genres dictate where we go. It’s all about what serves the song.”
Their songs can be haphazardly described as a blend of glitter, punk, prog-rock, psychedelia, grunge and a few other things into what they call “neuro-divergent pop.” “I just call it art-rock,” says Strange. “We’re taking pieces of music from the history of popular music over the last 75 years and introducing them into new forms rather than reinventing the wheel.” Busa feels that he’s “generally pretty flattered by what people perceive our influences to be. Our fans are so smart and love all the nerdy references that we like.”
Watching all the videos one gets the idea that Muhl generates more ideas that she can use, which she confirms while giving us some valuable insight into her working process: “It’s true that I have too many ideas to sudoku, let alone Jack always wanting to be crucified and have alien backup dancers and David’s suggestions to have more necks on his guitars. So usually we just take a Kubrick film, play it backwards, project it onto a mural of Marc Bolan, film that with VHS, rub glitter all over the magnetic tape and overlay it onto a Cronenberg student film.”
One of the themes that crawls out of these productions is the concept of beauty, on which Busa muses, “I’m always attracted to anything that makes you do a double take, so to speak. Anything that makes you second guess what you’re looking at. We’re not trying to redefine anything but rather to look at the normal world abnormally.” “It’s weird,” adds Muhl. “I thought the praying mantis arms would get us another Maybelline deal for sure.” What do they want people to take away from their encounter with Uni? “Hopefully, not a rash,” says the ever optimistic Muhl. “I want people to be challenged and realize that there’s more out there beyond their four walls,” says Strange. “After an experience with Uni and the urchins, I highly suggest reaching out to a psychologist,” Busa replies.  From:

Rasputina - Transylvanian Concubine

Rasputina is one of the most unusual and perplexing musical outfits of the past several years, successfully merging various elements of rock, pop, and classical music into their own unique sound. The band consists of Melora Creager, Julia Kent, and Agnieszka Rybska, three cellists who perform wearing turn of the century underwear. Your first reaction might be that this is a gimmick, but upon closer observation it becomes obvious that Rasputina is a band with an incredible amount of substance and style. Instead of writing songs that are easily understood and obvious, Melora Creager (the songwriter) chooses obtuse, off-the-wall ideas for her tunes. Songs like "My Little Shirtwaist," "Nozzle," "Transylvanian Concubine," "Howard Hughes," and "Rusty the Skatemaker" can't be easily categorized or understood. Lyrically Melora challenges herself and the listener constantly, with remarkable results. This telephone interview took place on February 28, 1997. Melora, now 30 years old, was born in Kansas City and now lives in New York. She has one brother and one sister. Her father was an administrator and a physicist at a university, and her mom was a graphic designer. Both parents were very supportive of the arts.

Do you do the graphics on your web site?

Yeah. That's one of the major fun parts of doing this for me, you know, to get to do the cover art and things like that.

What inspires you to write songs, Melora?

I would say mostly reading because anything that gets my imagination going then I really wanna, you know, with the song lyrics express something in a pretty small space... and I like to read a lot of history. I don't read a lot of fiction I think because that's somebody else's imagination and I prefer to, you know, get going on something else.

What other interests or hobbies do you have outside of music?

I was a jewelry designer for a long time while doing this for a living. I am driven to make things all the time, whether it's something having to do with my hands. Playing the cello is very hand-oriented, you know, also... which is kind of tactile.

How long have you been playing the cello?

Since I was 9. I think Julia was 6 when she started. Agnieszka was 9 also.

Do you consider yourself basically happy or unhappy?

Maybe I'm manic depressive because I'm a big mood swing person. Really high or really low. An extremist.

Have you always been like that?

Yeah. Melodramatic or something.

What's the difference between right and wrong?

I think everyone always knows inside the difference between right and wrong but it's hard to act on it. If you don't have that feeling inside, then you're a psychopath.

Do you think all people are created equal?

No. I think that between genetics, astrology, eugenics... between all the crazy components of people, there's a lot of combinations.

You are the first musician to answer "no" to that question.

Really? That's really surprising. Maybe people think that's the nice thing to say or good thing to say that they are.

Do you think people are inherently good or evil?

I think people are inherently lazy, which is harder to overcome. You know, to act out your ideas and to work hard on things... I think that's really hard. Probably most people want to do that and don't necessarily do it.

You've put a lot of energy and thought into Rasputina.

Yeah. We have a really strong general work ethic because it takes a lot of work just to be sounding good on the cello, you know. It's not an easy instrument. We enjoy it to torture ourselves and overwork.

Do you think success generally affects people in a positive or a negative way?

I think it's a pretty negative thing. I think trying to recapture success, when somebody is trying to write another hit song, I think that's pretty destructive and hard to avoid because it means repeating. Like, "How did I do so well before? I'd better do that same thing again." Bands as well become that way.

Do you think that harms people's creativity?

Yeah, yeah... I think it's a lot of pressure. Probably most performers have an intense need to be liked in a simple way and that can lead you to make not so good work, maybe. I deal with all that stuff too.

You ladies are getting a lot of attention...

Yeah, and even at this level it's a funny feeling because we've done this for awhile. As it becomes more public and we really have to think about "Why do we do this?" and "Let's not stress the underwear aspect."

Because you start thinking of yourselves as a marketable entity?

Yeah. I like to make an image or make characters out of us to some degree and to work with those kind of ideas but we're very earnest, with good intentions of expressing ourselves artistically and yet we're goofy so... What to make light of and what not is sometimes hard to decide. The biggest surprise to me is that it seems like the main thing about us to other people is that we're unusual, or they haven't heard it before. And it seems like there sure should be a lot more unusual things... It seems too easy to be unusual, you know.

I certainly agree with that. The critics are behind you, but I can't help but think that your music is way over the heads of most music buyers.

I tend to think that general audience people... that there's a few people of every different type that would really understand it and like it, you know, that it's not one type of person, it's just a small segment of each type. I think that's a hard thing to market. How do you reach this weird cross section of people? I think audiences are way more open to it than radio programmers and more of the business people. I think they prevent an open audience from hearing a lot of different things that they would be open to.

How do classical musicians react to the band?

People who are specifically cellists of all different ages will make a point to see us. They love it, because they know exactly what we're doing; playing the cello. But I think the classical music world is a pretty tight and closed thing. I've never been involved in it. I don't even know if they know of us, because for us to perform and put out records in a rock world... I don't know that anyone crosses over at all.

I guess they may feel alienated because the music fits in a different category.

I know at one point when I was needing another cellist, I wanted to put up a notice at Julliard. You know, I'm sure they had some kind of job center there. However, the receptionist really poo-pooed it, like "I'm sure no one here would be interested in what you're talking about." Those kind of door closings, you know. I walk away.

What do you think about most of the time?

I think I'm pretty fantasy oriented. I think people that visualize goals, you know, I think that's really good. I make up a lot of fantasies... success stories about myself. I think that then you can make those things true. A lot of soap operas for fun.

Do you write outside of music and lyrics?

I have a few things to say in each show, so that's something that I write every day. That's kind of like joke writing, you know, a very short thing with a beginning, middle, and end. It's kind of abstract. That's very rigorous because I have to do that every day when we're touring.

So you have different stuff to say each night?

Yes. I think I tend to write down a lot of combinations of words and then make something out of that later. Like a lot of the spoken stuff on the record is from abstract lists that then becomes its own thing. It's really hard in making a record to make a spoken thing that somebody can hear more than once. It's hard to make something you can stand to hear more than once, spoken I think...

Well, you did it.

You didn't hear the out takes!

Do you think things in the world are generally getting better or worse?

Well... musically it seems like all kinds of middle-of-the-road publications or voices or whatever are talking about there needs to be something new in music, and I think that's good when that's commonly agreed... because then maybe something new and exciting will happen. I'm probably not that connected with current events and those kinds of things.

Do you watch the news?

I like to when I can, but it goes in cycles. Sometimes I know what's going on, sometimes I don't.

Sometimes I think you can get really caught up in all of it.

Yeah, and also the news is just like rock radio. It's just what they're giving you and it's not necessarily the best or most important information.

Do you think that children should be punished when they are bad?

Yes, I do.

And how do you think they should be punished?

Well, you know spanking is something I can really get behind. The kids in my family were actually given one hard wallop on the butt once in a while. I don't think that's so bad. People make such a big deal out of it. I think it's good to be strict with children when they're small, and be very free with them later when they're able to make their own decisions.

That sounds very reasonable.

That's how my parents were, and we all turn back into our moms and dads.

Do you feel similar to your mom and dad?

Yeah, I think that's kind of inevitable. Most people probably try to avoid it but it comes out in weird ways.

Did you play with toys when you were small?

Yes. I know that I spent whole summers without ever going outside. There were my physical, imaginary games with my sister... that kind of stuff. Forcing her to assume some kind of character. I think we did a lot of Victorian maid kind of stuff actually. That probably came from books.

Did you play with dolls?

Yes, I did Barbie and all that kind of stuff and had an obsession with teenagers. That probably comes from television.

I remember when I was small I thought teenagers were really important.

Like a celebrity or something. I think that comes from t.v.

It probably does.

Now that I'm older than teenagers, I still idolize them. Probably more of a love/hate relationship now probably.

Which do you think is more important: past, present, or future?

You know, I really think that they're so equal because when people say how important and good it is to live in the now, I really believe that,even if I don't do it enough myself. The past is such a huge, exciting thing... all the things that humans have done and made. The future is all those great things come together and we don't even know what it is. They're three wonderful things.

Where would you like to be in the future?

Ummm... some sort of rural, after-the-bomb thing sounds romantic. When there's just a few people left and there's the crumbled shells of some great, old buildings out in the middle of nowhere. Something I think about all the time... you were asking what I think about... is I really like to picture myself with some historical figure that I might be into at the time now. To watch t.v. with Mary, Queen of Scots of something... that kind of thing.

Have you ever done seances?

My friends and I do Ouija board a lot. We would get some fantastic stories, and we had a mystery that we verified with names and phone numbers on Long Island... but it's only really good when this one guy, Jerry, is playing, so I have my suspicions. He either has magic powers, or he's a cheater. I don't know which it is.

Do you believe in telepathy?

Yeah, I think people have some abilities there that we probably don't know about. Intuition can happen. But it might just all be that you're imagining a logical outcome.


7Horse - Meth Lab Zoso Sticker

LA’s 7Horse are a duo. Some call them the Two-Man Rolling Stones. It fits. They have a new album. It’s called Livin’ In a Bitch of a World. Like their previous two albums, it’s filled with fuzzy, blues-y, raw n’ ripping odes to the cheapside of life, story songs about hard luck gamblers, street-fighters and steely-eyed tough guys. Also like all of their previous albums, every word is true, more or less. Take the first single, Two Stroke Machine, for example.
“Yeah, that song is about me and my dad, an incident that happened when I was about 2 years old,” nods 7Horse’s drummer-slash-frontman Phil Leavitt. “My dad was a loose cannon back then, kind of a Charles Bukowski type figure, and there was a beef in the house between him and my grandparents, and he pulled a gun on them. My mom was there too. My dad plays a cameo in the video for the song. He loves it. My parents are long divorced but my mother, she had a visceral negative reaction to the song. She really didn’t like it.”
“And she’s generally a very big fan of this band,” laughs guitarist Joei Calio. “It was an interesting situation to say the least,” says Leavitt. “ I have never played a song for my mother and had her go, “Oh I hate that”. I think because it brought her back to that day.” “When he brought that to me, I thought it was one of the best opening lines I’d ever heard,” adds Calio. “So clean and pure.”
Leavitt’s background looms large in 7Horse’s sound and vision. He grew up in Las Vegas, during its heyday of excess and depravity in the 1970’s. It’s there in the lyrics and the atmosphere and in their live show. I witness them bashing out their smoky barroom rock’n’roll to a sparse but enthusiastic crowd one lonesome Sunday night in Boston and the room was thoroughly transformed into a seedy lounge full of creeps and dames and murder kings through Leavitt’s witty banter and the band’s full-bore dedication to authentically hard-edged rock’n’roll.
“This show we do, it’s like a combination of a rock show mixed with like a Las Vegas lounge act,” explains Leavitt. “I grew up with that classic show business world. You know like when you’d stay up late to watch Johnny Carson and see guy like Don Rickles? That was my actual childhood. I grew up in Vegas in the 70’s, the old school Vegas. People wore suits and I was running around casinos when I was in single digits. I had a job at the casino when I was 13. I grew up in that environment, and it makes it’s way into the lyrics. We’re coming from a dirty rock’n’roll angle, we want to perpetuate that atmosphere.”  From:

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway - She'll Change

Cindy Howes: Molly Tuttle, welcome to Basic Folk again. It’s so great to have you back on the podcast.

Molly Tuttle: Thank you so much for having me back. It’s great to be here with you guys.

CH: So, when approaching the writing on City of Gold, you asked yourself, “How do I tell my story through bluegrass?” Which I can relate to, as somebody who’s sort of tried to distance themselves from folk music for a really long time. And now I am fully leaning into it. So, I take it as you asking that question of yourself, like “How can I fit my Molly Tuttle-ness into a world that can be rigid, patriarchal, and maybe different from what you stand for.” So how true is that? And how have these songs helped you take control of the bluegrass narrative and tradition?

MT: I think that’s something I’ve always kind of struggled with. I remember when I first started writing songs, I just thought, “I don’t know how to write a bluegrass song.” I can write a song, but they never ended up sounding like bluegrass to me and I just didn’t feel like my story fit into the bluegrass narrative of the songs that I grew up singing.
I always loved songwriters like Hazel Dickens, who wrote bluegrass songs from a woman’s perspective, wrote songs about the struggles that she had as a woman in the music industry and as a working woman, and songs about workers’ rights and things she believed in. I grew up with two really strong role models, Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick, out in the Bay Area. I remember early on I would go out to Kathy Kallick’s house and she would make me tea and listen to my songs. She always told me that when she was first getting started writing bluegrass songs, she kind of felt the same way as me. Like, maybe her story didn’t belong in the genre. But she met Bill Monroe, and he encouraged her, “Don’t try to write a song that sounds like a song I would have written, write a song from your own perspective.”
So she wrote a song called “Broken Tie” about her parents getting a divorce. She said every time she was at a festival with Bill Monroe, he specifically requested that song. That was an inspiring story to me. But when I started writing songs for Crooked Tree, it was suddenly like a floodgate opened. I think I just found my people to write with, found my groove, and ended up with a collection of songs that kind of told my story, told about things I believed in, and told my family history and personal experiences. And then other songs that were just, you know, from a woman’s perspective, or from a perspective that I resonate with. For City of Gold, it was fun to kind of continue that and also expand it to be songs that I felt like were inspired by my band members, or inspired by experiences we’d had on the road. This felt more like a collective vision in a way.

Lizzie No: Okay, let’s talk about Crooked Tree. The title track from your last record was partly inspired by your experience living with alopecia. You’ve said that as a kid you would wear hats and then wigs, and then you learned to talk about your wig. Eventually, you started to get more comfortable going without. Now that you’re touring with Golden Highway a ton, you sometimes take your wig off when you play that song, which is such a powerful moment of joy, courage, and vulnerability. As a performer, I can relate to those moments where you bring a little bit extra of yourself and you share a part of yourself that you might normally keep private. How do you get to that right mood? How do you gauge if the crowd is like the right crowd to share about your alopecia experience?

MT: It’s also based on how I’m feeling. I took off my wig a few times last year. But I didn’t do it as much as maybe I wanted to, or maybe I should have, just because I wasn’t always sure what to say. I’ve had so many experiences of trying to explain alopecia to people and they still think I’m sick or still feel bad for me. And it’s so hard sometimes to put it in words that aren’t going to bring the mood down at the show, you know, I want people to be having a good time. I want it to be this fun, inspiring moment, not a moment where people can go, “I feel so bad for you.” Recently, I performed and told my whole story for a keynote speech at this alopecia conference out in Denver, Colorado. I think that was such an important step for me. Just getting to share my story and reflect on the pain of growing up having this really visible difference, but also like, the joy and why it’s so important to me to share that with others and share the message that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be a “Crooked Tree.” This last weekend, we played in Michigan, and I did take off my wig and I felt like I finally nailed what I said and the perfect mood. Everyone was cheering and it was just a moment of celebration. I think I’m gonna just continue doing that more and more, but I find that it’s so helpful for me to check in with the alopecia community and feel that support from other people who know exactly how I feel. That makes me feel confident to share my message with the world and maybe sometimes be like, “I don’t care how it’s received, maybe I’m not sure how it’s gonna be received, but I’m going to do it anyway.” That just comes with time. And I guess I’ve had to grow kind of a thick skin. It used to be a lot harder for me.

CH: The new album, City of Gold, the songs were mostly written by you and your partner Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. What is the writing process like with you and Ketch? Like, how do you bring out the best in each other’s writing?

MT: We’re both quite different writers. He’s very fast paced. He throws out ideas and lines. While I’ll think it over. I’m kind of more internal. I think about the lines. We balance each other out in a way where I might think a lot about what exactly we are saying, and then he’s good. If I get stuck on something, he can kind of keep it moving. But our writing process is always different. It’s nice, because we’re together a lot. So we can write in a lot of different circumstances. Some of the songs we wrote in the car, like on a road trip, just throwing lines back and forth. Maybe he’d be driving, I’d be writing the lines on my phone. Maybe we’re talking about something at home or listening to music and sitting down with instruments, kind of more the conventional way of writing. I find it so hard to fit writing into my life, especially when I’m on tour and I’m on the go so much. It’s so nice that we got into a groove with it, where we were just doing it all the time, and it felt more naturally intertwined into my day-to-day life.

LN: The bluegrass community was a huge source of inspiration for you. Of this record, you said, “One of the things I love most about this music is how so much of the audience plays music as well.” And that you hope that people will sing along and maybe play those songs with their friends, almost like we’re all a part of one great big family. Now, how do you walk the line of making a sophisticated, bitchin’ bluegrass record, while keeping it simple enough for others who might not be musical geniuses to play along?

MT: The beauty of bluegrass music is that most of the songs have like three or four chords. You can play them really simple, you can just strum along and play as slow as you want. Beginner bluegrass musicians might go to a jam of people at the same level as them and play these songs in a lot simpler of a way. Then, as you get better and better you can play it faster, you can play more complicated solos, you can really play with the dynamics. There are infinite ways to make the songs more and more complex and sophisticated as you progress in your musical abilities. On City of Gold, I did kind of stray away from that “three chords and the truth” format a little more than I did on my last record. It was fun, because we were working on these arrangements as a band, which was a lot different process than I’ve ever done before in the studio. I’ve always gone in with my songs and gathered musicians that I don’t normally play with on the road – studio musicians. I have a lot of my bluegrass heroes on the record, and you’re kind of learning the songs and playing them by a chart, but for this album, we really took the time to develop more complicated arrangements and add in new sections that stray away from the key. These songs are a little less accessible to the standard bluegrass jam. But I think there’s still a few that people could learn to play at any level.


Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Body & Dis Fig - Coils of Kaa

US duo The Body, who have long operated in the post-apocalyptic remains of metal and noise, team up here with Dis Fig, AKA Berlin-based DJ, producer and vocalist Felicia Chen, known for her brilliantly unsettling 2019 album Purge and a subsequent full-length collab with the Bug. Here, there are times when the dub-wise feel is rather like Kevin Martin’s insectile alias at his most jaded and speaker-destroying, but even he might hold back from the hellish moods on show here. If current news events and the general state of the world are making chirpy pop or earnest heartbroken balladry seem trite, this explosively heavy album might resonate better.
Fans of the Body will be familiar with Chip King hollering in startled adrenal shock – still one of contemporary music’s best sounds – while the guitars, bass and drum programming again get pushed through the red and into the black, shaking with distortion. But Chen deepens the duo’s emotion and expands their tone. Her vocals are sometimes choral, chafing against the tracks in a beauty v beast dynamic, but she also frequently disrupts that, letting accusation seep in to crack her voice with anger.
The Body’s programmer Lee Buford has always flirted with techno, minimal wave and industrial, but Chen’s grounding in club culture seems to enhance all that, as when an analogue signal searches the wreckage of Dissent, Shame, or when Coils of Kaa settles into an almighty groove as Chen chants and taunts. Whether it’s a sludge-metal lope or a near-techno pulse, this truly awesome album’s sense of rhythm is perhaps its note of hope, suggesting a centre that just might hold even as things fall apart.  From:

The Youngbloods - Sham

My first-ever concert at the Fillmore East in New York City was on November 23, 1968. The headliner was Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat was the middle act and the Youngbloods opened the show. I was so excited, 16 years old and everything about the concert experience was shiny and new. Everything was great. I hadn't gotten to the point where something “sucked.” No. It was all exciting and fresh. I liked Iron Butterfly and already bought the mega-hit album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. According to Atlantic Records executives I spoke with at one time, it was the first RIAA Gold-certified rock album. That album was given Gold record status in 1968, and eventually went double-platinum. Anyway, having taken LSD for the first time in April 1968, I will surmise that I was high on acid at this concert. What an occasion!
The opening band was the Youngbloods and I was blown away. They were riding high off their super-hippie anthem “Get Together,” which had been an FM staple for the past year. They played a song called “Darkness, Darkness” that wasn't released yet and I remember that it was haunting and beautiful. That's about all I remember except that I also loved Canned Heat and Iron Butterfly. The night was memorable because it was my introduction to the whole new world of live shows. Over the next 12 months I was able to see dozens of the world's most famous artists like the Stones. Hendrix, Blind Faith, Free, Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Terry Reid, Ten Years After, the Jeff Beck Group, Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Mountain, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Chicago (when they were still called the Chicago Transit Authority/CTA), Pacific Gas & Electric, Lee Michaels, Janis Joplin, the Nice, Family, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Joe Cocker, NRBQ, Jethro Tull, Blues Image, Man, and the Who. The point of listing all these artists and shows is because I feel it's important to give atmospheric context to this review.
My memory was that the three bands at my first Fillmore East concert, the Youngbloods, Canned Heat, and Butterfly, were important to me at the time. My memory of this moment is such that I wanted to go back to a time. I bought the Youngbloods album Elephant Mountain when it was first released in 1969, and when I saw that it had just been re-released in an audiophile 180-gram vinyl version, I had to find out where this album stood in my emotional memory bank. I went into my record collection and found my original 1968 copy of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and my original 1968 copy of Canned Heat’s Boogie with Canned Heat. Back in those days, if you didn't have the latest release of a band you had just seen, you bought it the next day. What did not survive my many moves between girlfriends and band relocation was Elephant Mountain. The original Elephant Mountain album came out a good six months after I saw that first show, and I couldn't wait for the re-release copy to arrive from Acoustic Sounds. I hadn't thought about the Youngbloods for many years. I could have downloaded or streamed the album but I wanted to create the entire experience again (if that was possible).
The new vinyl package came with a great six-page insert with photos and lots of historical information. First off, I learned that Charlie Daniels – yes, that Charlie Daniels – was the producer known as Charles E. Daniels at that time. Then I learned the album's seemingly free-form style was due to the band's insistence (and subsequent acquiescence by their record label RCA) that music should be a wondrous spontaneous creation full of experimental instruments and sounds never (or rarely) heard before. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was used as the example to the record label that the band should be left to record whatever they felt was right. I read all of this before I played the album. Elephant Mountain refers to the geographical area where the band was situated – Marin County. This is important to know as the band was surrounded by the newly-explosive effect of the Grateful Dead, the Airplane and all the San Francisco jam bands of the era. In the liner notes, the one band member quoted the most extensively, known as Banana (how ’60s) said that this kind of meandering jam style had no effect on the band. In fact, he went on to say that the band was part of and an extension of bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield, and the folk-rock scene.
OK, I finally put the album on and the opening track “Darkness, Darkness” immediately took me back to 1968 and 1969. On the plus side, lead vocalist Jesse Colin Young has a voice that sounds of the times – in the best sense. Like listening to Bob Lind’s voice on the song “Elusive Butterfly” or Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).” Trust me, if you lived through those times the vocal vibes from these voices have a lot of meaning. Jesse’s vocals, at certain times, actually recall Janis Joplin’s at her most sincere and non-histrionic. After that opener, the band plays it all soft, however, and the recording, while very clean, lies fairly flat. For a band that says they were not part of that San Francisco jam scene, there seems to be plenty of that on this album. The liner notes tell a story that the band wrote the songs prior to recording, but as the album progresses what they may call rehearsed songs sound to me like they don't know when to stop. It is very strange that an album can contain some tightly-written material and then veer off where jamming fills a lot of space. It makes for nice background music, but I'm trying to remember if I used to play the entire album or just a track or two.
To put this in perspective, I played all the Buffalo Springfield albums in their entirety over and over, as I did with the Dead, Airplane, Love, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, the Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, The Doors, etc. Bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Turtles, and The Mamas & the Papas had many huge radio hits, so the albums they released were not that important to me, but all those bands had a very tight focus The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain, however, came at a time where you were supposed to sit around stoned out of your mind and you were supposed to groove on it. Apparently I did but got bored with it. Now, listening to it is an interesting exercise in memory retention and musical context.
The legendary Kevin Gray did the pure analog LP transfer and the sonics, given the times, are what you would expect, meaning the more you like the songs the more you will like this album. The vinyl transfer is dead quiet, but then again, so is the music, so there are not a lot of dynamics going on. My consumption of LSD, beginning in 1968 and peaking into 1970, however, made many marginal things extremely acceptable. It is in this contact that I will say that the next time I want to hear “Darkness, Darkness,” I probably will stream that song, as there is little in the musical noodling here on the rest of the album to hold my interest. Some musicians may really like the quasi-jazz leanings, as it seems that the band is trying to make a point. I'm not enough of a musician, however, to care about this as a “cool” factor. Our editor, Frank Doris, though, tells me he thinks “Ride the Wind,” which he first heard about 15 years ago, is one of the most marvelous songs he’s ever listened to. Yes, listening to the entire Youngbloods Elephant Mountain was a fun snapshot in time and fairly enjoyable, but only proves the old cliché: You can't go home again.  From:

Valravn - Kelling

Before I tell you about the superlative new CD by Valravn, I have to tell you what I like, and dislike, about ice storms. I'm wary of their destructive power. Trees come down, and electrical power can be disrupted. On the other hand, ice storms have a cruel beauty. The morning after a proper ice storm, the earth is crusted, and the tree branches make a strange clacking sound in the wind. The trees themselves look alien: you can see the branches, bark, and leaves through the layers of ice. And yes, this has everything to do with Koder på snor.
Valravn hail from Denmark and the Faroe Islands. The band's first, self-titled album featured electronica versions of traditional Nordic (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Sweden) folksongs, enhanced by acoustic instruments. While interesting, and certainly danceable, Valravn had not yet fully settled into their own identity. But how the band has matured on Koder på snor. One would have to go back to Sorten Muld's landmark Mark II (1997) for the precedent of electronic treatments of Danish folk song. Further, the listener can easily be forgiven for noting parallels between lead Faroese singer Anna Katrin Egilstraoð's singing and the occasional Bjork-like whisper-to-a-scream vocalisms. Everything about Koder på snor (or "codes on a string," a tribute to the theoretical physics of string theory) is so fresh and inspired that Valravn may have released one of the more significant albums to successfully combine traditional folk elements with electronic ambiance.
String theory has evolved into an explanation that tries to show that the forces and materials of the universe are all interconnected, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that this idea is also rooted in many religions and 'alternative' lifestyles which stress the relationships between people, the earth, and all living things. Further, if you're brewing up a musical sound that is rooted in the organic and the electronic, then not treating the two soundworlds as disparate forces can result in a seamless mix. Valravn take this approach and their songs go widescreen; cinematic; elegiac; and yes, funky. The electronics envelop traditional acoustic instruments such as the hammered dulcimer, the hurdy gurdy, flutes, viola, mandola, but the beauty of the structure is still visible, like an ice-encased tree.
The band has chosen to focus on their own compositions on Koder på snor, and Valravn give themselves the time to explore their fusion. The title track goes over the seven-minute mark; beginning gently with hammered dulcimer, Anna Katrin Egilstroð's voice enters like a singsong wave. In between verses, she explores the joy of making sound, using onomatopoeia: "tip tap," "bum plum," "wish wush," "pling plang." The result is mesmerizing. Around three minutes in, we get the thudding bass of electronica, and Valravn ramp the tune up before returning to the comparative innocence of the dulcimer. This is dance music, but weightless; you forget your body, and just follow the stream.
The traditional Faroese tune "Kelling" starts with "Hag lies on the doorstep, dead/Cannot eat nor butter nor bread" and quickly turns into a storming dance tune, with viola gliding over relentless percussion, both electronic and live. Giddy and infectious, the vocals drop out, returning over a skittering beat, stuttering and with the call "Statt upp og dansa! (Stand up and dance)," Valravn hit their crescendo. That hag might be dead, but this tune is totally alive! There's a very traditional feel to the band's own "Seersken," recalling Hedningarna in their glorious frenzied electronic experiments; it is difficult to resist the interplay of the flute, groaning beat, and tribal percussion that animates this composition. And finally, the Valravn again throw caution to the wind on their epic "Farin uttan at verða vekk," complete with a choir that sails over deep cello sounds, dulcimer, and sparkling electronic landscape.  From:  

Joe Jackson - Another World

Joe Jackson's detour into the '40s sounds of Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway on 1981's Jumpin' Jive should have made clear that he was more than just another of the new wave's "angry young men." If not, then Night and Day was here to help. Jackson's fifth album set the scene in June 1982 with a stylish art deco cover and a Cole Porter-inspired title. He was making grown-up music now, mixing sophisticated pop, a dash of salsa, chamber music, Eastern modes and splashes of jazz. Still, Jackson shied away from the idea that any of it was meant to be backward-looking.
"I'm not a nostalgist," Jackson told The New York Times back then. "Since I wasn't born until 1954, how could I be nostalgic for a time I never lived in? The music I make is for the moment – for 1982." He'd adopted New York City as a home base when not on tour, and Night and Day pulsed with its energy and rhythms, its passions and its sins. The LP lacked the nervy musical attitude of 1979's Top 20 U.S. hit Look Sharp!, but that didn't mean it was without edges. There was just more to Jackson's musical vision.
"Rock 'n' roll is too narrow and limiting. That's why I've been trying to make connections with earlier traditions," Jackson told the Times. "There's so much about rock 'n' roll tradition that I hate. The idea of 'hope I die before I get old,' for instance. For me, whatever golden age there was in rock is definitely long gone. People have weird ideas about the history of rock. They think it came suddenly out of nowhere, and they're absolutely wrong. That's what Jumpin' Jive was about. Louis Jordan's jump-blues was a huge influence on Chuck Berry and Bill Haley."
At first, it seemed as if Jackson had lost his audience with this latest musical turn. He impishly released the complex and moving "Real Men" – a song that takes a cutting look at gender roles – as the LP's first single, then watched it fail to break the Top 90 in his native U.K. "Real Men" didn't even chart in the U.S. But then came "Steppin' Out," with its twinkling piano flourishes, stirring mechanical rhythms and soul-lifting lyrics. The single promptly went to No. 6, helping Night and Day become Jackson's only Top 5 smash in both the U.S. and U.K.
The momentum carried Jackson's impossibly sad ballad "Breaking Us in Two" into the Billboard Top 20, while "Steppin' Out" garnered Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance. Jackson suddenly found himself on a much bigger stage, figuratively and literally. "The pinnacle of it was Madison Square Garden in 1984," Jackson told the Times Colonist in 2016, "which pulled about 8,000 people." But this iconoclast's iconoclast wasn't celebrating the achievement. "A lot of people were congratulating me, saying, 'You've made it,'" Jackson added, "and I was thinking: 'Get me out of here.' I hated it."
He proceeded to dive deeper still into this LP's jazzier elements on the subsequent Body and Soul, bringing in bright brass and even deeper subject matter, and then placing it all behind a smoky album cover that deftly played off 1957's Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2. In keeping, his commercial momentum began to dissipate. Still, in Jackson's mind, all of this made thematic sense.
"I think that the thread going through it is just me," he told Alan Sculley in 2001. "It's my personality and my voice and putting different elements together. I think you just see different sides of it on different albums." Unfortunately, there were still those who pined for the lean post-punk joys of Look Sharp! and 1979's I'm the Man. Those days, however, were long past – and, for Jackson, happily so. "Believe it or not, I'm still getting reviews where people call me the angry young man of British new wave," he told the Times in 1982. "People latch on to one image so they don't have to think, and that kind of laziness has come to characterize the whole music scene these days."  From:

Ethel Cain - God's Country (feat. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal)

A few weeks ago, Hayden Anhedönia fainted mid-show. The 25-year-old songwriter and musician, who in the past year and a half has found sudden fame under the stage name Ethel Cain, was performing at the Sydney Opera House. Halfway through the fan-favourite A House in Nebraska, she realised something was wrong. “Every time I belted, I felt a little bit dizzier,” she recalls. “Right as I was going into the second chorus, I was like: ‘Here we go.’” And then: lights out.
The Pittsburgh-based Anhedönia stresses that the incident was “nothing serious … I’m used to being alone in a quiet, isolated environment – I’m kind of a low-energy, low-vibration, low-stamina person to begin with – so let’s just say I’m very out of shape,” she says. But the incident sent a ripple through her huge fanbase, who had begun tweeting and posting footage shortly after it happened. “I kind of just sat in a room for six years making music, and then suddenly I was on the road all the time,” she says. “Usually I’m able to, like, grip the mic stand and kind of push through, but Sydney night two, it was like, ‘Nope, you flew too close to the sun with that one.’”
Passing out at the Opera House was a capstone on 12 months that have served as a kind of crash course in alternative pop stardom for Anhedönia – even if she never really wanted to be a pop star to begin with. Raised in a Southern Baptist family in small-town Florida, she was homeschooled and raised listening to Christian music. As a teenager, she discovered pop, and became enamoured of the music of Florence + the Machine; she became active on Twitter and Tumblr, and started making friends online. She moved out of home at 18 and, at 20, came out as a trans woman. Shortly after, she began releasing music as Ethel Cain, a character inspired by southern gothic, horror films, and the religious trauma of Anhedönia’s own upbringing.
After building up a small, dedicated fanbase with a series of EPs released in 2019 and 2021, Anhedönia truly broke through into the alternative mainstream with 76-minute epic Preacher’s Daughter. Released last May, it tells the story of the Ethel Cain character, a gnarly tale of abuse and cannibalism that, somehow, became one of the year’s biggest pop breakouts, and a mainstay in critics’ end of year lists. Touching on hazy ambient music, gothic country and doom metal, many of its songs stretch out to the 10-minute mark, with no choruses or discernible hooks. Its calling-card single, American Teenager, is a heartland rock anthem that feels indebted to Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen, but most other songs, like the pulverising Gibson Girl or the glacially paced Thoroughfare, seem to exist at the intersection of Lana Del Rey, the ambient folk artist Grouper, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their most grinding.
And yet, the album struck a chord, winning Anhedönia a colossal, adoring fanbase, despite the relative density of the actual music. At the time of the album’s release, Anhedönia told the New York Times that she was happy to “play Miss Alt-Pop Star and … parade myself around” if it meant that she would be able to build a sustainable career. A year later, she seems less sure. Zooming from her bedroom in Pittsburgh, perched on a desk chair in a forest green hoodie, in front of a window that’s been blacked-out with a blanket, she says that she “would really love to have a much smaller fanbase, and kind of go back to where I was aiming for ahead of time” instead of the intense scrutiny – positive and negative – she faces now.
Part of Anhedönia’s popularity – she has nearly 300,000 Instagram followers, and was the face of recent Givenchy, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs campaigns – can be attributed to the fact that she is extremely internet literate, and became known online for a sharp Twitter feed on which she participated in jokes and memes about her public image. It soon began to feel as if she was “a dancing monkey in a circus. It’s very like, ‘Oh, she’s so funny on Twitter, she’s so relatable’ and then it becomes this big weird joke cycle,” she says. Although she stresses that she loves the support and adoration of her fans, she says it can become demoralising to not have her art met on the level she’d like it to be: “Don’t get me wrong, laughter and memes and jokes are always really fun. But when you want to post something to be consumed seriously, people are still joking – and then you get like, thousands of comments that are like, ‘silly goose’. All of a sudden, you start to feel like you can’t turn off the memeable internet personality thing.”
Live, Anhedönia is a captivating, remarkable performer: during a show at the London club Omeara last year, you could hear a pin drop as she shepherded an audience of thrilled young fans through her largely hushed setlist. But at concerts, Anhedönia will sometimes be trying to perform her quietest, most intimate songs, only to have people yell jokes at her, breaking the spell. “I had a show recently where I was singing the really quiet intro to Sun Bleached Flies,” she recalls. “I went to hold a fan’s hand and they began sort of screaming, ‘I didn’t even know who you were two weeks ago, I found you through a meme on TikTok.’ It’s almost like heckling. I don’t think any of them are mean spirited, but it’s a little jarring.”
Earlier this month, she deleted her Twitter, leaving fans aghast. “I always kind of conflated openness with honesty and I thought that if I was completely transparent and bared every aspect of my soul that people would think I was relatable and kinda cool,” she says. “Then I was like, I don’t want to know you. I don’t want to be friends with you. I don’t want to have all of my personal business and every innermost thought just out there on the internet for the world to see.”
Another part of the reason Anhedönia pulled back from social media was the way that her fans began to demand access not just to her, but to her friends and family. “I really had no idea the full nature of my success until I had those closest to me kind of half-joking, half actually kind of complaining, being like: ‘People are DMing me and asking me questions about you and trying to become my friend only to find out months later that they’re really just trying to get to you through me,’” she says. “I always thought that success would exist in a vacuum for me but it did start to affect my family. And my closest friends and even just acquaintances of mine. I’m not Britney Spears, but it was noticeable for them and it created a really weird dynamic between us for a while.”
Part of the problem, Anhedönia thinks, is the fact that she is often classed as a pop artist, and therefore becomes part of the stan economy, wherein teens treat female artists “like fantasy football teams”, arguing “about streams and stats and followers and almost using them as like Pokémon to fight each other.”
Right now, aside from an impending tour, Anhedönia is living the quiet life in Pittsburgh – “I just sit in my cave all day and write or embroider, watch a movie, play a game. My friends and I will go to the woods or a river, anywhere there’s not a lot of people” – and working on the follow-up to Preacher’s Daughter. “I’m trying to push my own envelope a bit. I’m trying to be super intentional about it and careful and dedicated and meticulous. Some of the songs I’m proudest of are on this project.”
Still, she is conscious of where her music goes, and says “no to most opportunities … I’ve been asked to share some stages with some artists, I’ve been asked to sing on some songs with some big artists, and I just had to say no, because I don’t want to be up there with them, I really don’t,” she says. “ I really do want to reiterate how grateful I am for everyone who’s ever said a nice word about my music. But I really think there can be too much of a good thing – there’s just some levels of success that I really don’t want for myself.”  From:

Imperial Jade - The Call

If you’re a fan of classic rock from the 60s and 70s I think Imperial Jade needs no further introduction. Meanwhile, due to a relatively short career of the band, here follows a short intro to this ambitious Spanish band. Imperial Jade is a bluesy classic hard rock quintet formed in Barcelona in 2012. In November 2015 their first record Please Welcome Imperial Jade saw the daylight, being a bombastic entrance to the scene of hard rock. The new 2019 album On The Rise shows the band honing their sound in an almost cinematic quality adding further contrasts to their aforementioned style. On The Rise consists of 10 ordinary and 2 bonus tracks, all recorded by using modern technologies and tools while keeping the rehersal effects and this bluesy feeling like in the good old days. It feels organic yet defined and charming at the same time. It is somehow based on the melodies that are easy to be understood and assimilated, sober instrumental parts and good commanding vocals.
This bluesy and soulful feeling is best exemplified on the songs like a guitar driven “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and due to the accessible melodies of “Dance”. The opening track “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is high energy and soul packed track while the band successfully blends elements of a solid Country Rock on the song titled “Sad For No Reason”. “Glory Train” and “Heat Wave” both continues this characteristic upbeat, feel good tempo and vibe. “The Call’ is yet another completely different track which starts very psychedelic, but further on develops. In other words, it is a varied release but still within classic and heavy blues rock waters. On The Rise is a very successfully evolved and non derivative record that will please all fans of the band and the genre in general. Esp. recommended for those into Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Airbourne, Alice Cooper etc.  From:

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Lone Justice - Live at The Palace, Los Angeles, CA 1984 / Live at The Ritz 1985 / Live on German TV 1987

 Lone Justice - Live at The Palace, Los Angeles, CA 1984

Lone Justice - Live at The Ritz 1985 - Part 1

Lone Justice - Live at The Ritz 1985 - Part 2

Lone Justice - Live on German TV 1987

Back in 1985 ‘The Elite’ to me was anyone with access to MTV or a video cassette recorder, or both. Exploring new music was not easy, you could read about new bands in the weekly inkies, but getting to hear them was another matter. So thank heavens for Whistle Test. By ’85 it had dropped the ‘Old Grey’ and my memories are of Hepworth and Ellen and that young buck Andy Kershaw. REM were getting some airplay and they had impressed me so much that my attention was pricked by any mention of Athens, Georgia or ‘the Paisley Underground’. And a mid-evening Whistle Test appearance of a band in plaid pretty assured their guitar and my heartstrings were beating a similar rhythm. And so I marvelled at the Long Ryders and was bowled over by Rain Parade. Soon I was searching for the records by the likes of Beat Farmers, Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, and Let’s Active.
And so it was one evening I first saw Lone Justice. Big things, it seems, were anticipated for this band. They had been signed to Geffen, had Jimmy Iovine produce their debut album and had been raved about by Linda Ronstadt. Not only that but, we were told, lead singer Maria McKee was the half-sister of Brian MacLean from Love! To be honest, at the time, I had no idea what that meant, but it was said in such a way that this seemed like a CV-deal-clincher. They performed, the ‘big two’ – ‘Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling)’ and ‘Ways To Be Wicked’ songs from their upcoming debut release. The latter had been written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell. They were a couple of tunes that showed that in McKee the band were fronted by someone with a perfectly suited country rock voice; all power and inflection. And she looked the part too, tossed strawberry blond curls, floaty dresses, motorcycle boots and a worn telecaster. What was there not to love? I did, and as I always did in those days, I rushed to HMV in my lunch hour the next day and bought the album.
And here is the thing – at the time it did not feel great. The rock songs were mixed with some rushed country – ‘East of Eden’, ‘After the Flood’, ‘Working Late’. The singing was great, the playing was great but it felt odd. Maybe this was because, at the time, I had no idea I was into Americana. I knew I liked some things (see list of bands above) but I had little notion of the boundaries or possibilities of the genre. To be frank, I didn’t know it was a genre. Neither, it seems did many others. The common agreement is that the band were over-hyped and could not possibly live up to expectations. I saw them play a mid-afternoon slot at Wembley Stadium on U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ tour where a weak sound system and lights lost in the afternoon sun did them no favours. The band fractured with McKee and guitarist Ryan Hedgecock recruiting two new members and recording a new album – ‘Shelter’. This time Iovine was joined in production duties by another big name in Steve Van Zandt who also wrote some of the material. It was more mainstream than the debut but again bombed. This time I saw them at the Leeds Warehouse where they put on a fabulous energy packed show. The band broke soon after, the final track of ‘Shelter’, the McKee written ‘Dixie Storms’ was an indicator of the more epic solo material she would produce next and she is perhaps best known for her UK Number one hit ‘Show Me Heaven’.
So why, after a tale of woe are they my choice for the A-Z? Looking back now it seems that Lone Justice were a band (no pun) out of time. We were not ready for them; the geography of Americana was too new – just like fusion food, we provincials were a little too used to our tastes. What was perceived as a weakness then – that they satisfied neither rock nor country audiences is no longer a millstone. Indeed, it has become the USP of Blackberry Smoke whose ‘Too Country for Rock, Too Rock for Country’ T-shirts are a defiant shout against pigeonholing – you will see them at Luke Combs concerts as easily as at Monster Trucks (and this year at the Download festival).
Lone Justice deserve a reappraisal, had they been around now I have little doubt that a night headlining the Roundhouse would come as no surprise to anyone.  From: