Category Archives: FEATURES

Lydia Ainsworth: The Sweet Hereafter

Lydia Ainsworth explores the subconscious on Darling Of The Afterglow

The songs Lydia Ainsworth composes to support her poignant explorations of love gone wrong are delicately balanced between the warm, romantic sounds of classical music and the jarring, icy tones of modern electronica. On Darling Of The Afterglow, the Toronto resident’s second LP, she floats down into subterranean currents of the subconscious to investigate the border between dreams and nightmares.

“This album is a scrapbook of my experiences over the past few years,” she says. “The music can be forlorn and despondent and, perhaps, hinting at mortality. I’m always exploring loneliness, isolation and the desire to communicate more honestly. I try to convey our internal dialogue and the way we censor ourselves in order to be understood. While I was writing the songs, I was inspired by the story of a woman who had a stroke. She lost the ability to perceive three dimensions. She saw in two dimensions, and although she could function in the world, every moment was a new moment. She couldn’t retain the memories of anything she did. That sparked the idea of selective memory. Are we selective in what we remember? What are we choosing to ‘not see’ in our day-to-day lives?”

That theme is frequently revisited on Darling Of The Afterglow. Glistening keyboards and moaning electric bass support Ainsworth’s breathless voice on “Open Doors,” an ode to a man who closes his eyes to the love that’s been standing in front of him. On “Afterglow,” her impressive multitracked vocals wander through outer space, searching for a release that may be more spiritual than physical. The effect is otherworldly.

“I studied film scoring at NYU with Joan La Barbara, who uses extended vocal techniques—trills, whispers, cries and exhaled notes,” she says. “On this album, I used my voice to create vocal samples to add texture to the tracks. The human voice is a magical thing. I’m always blown away by the power you can get when you have voices blending together.”

Ainsworth thought she was going to be an orchestral composer or a writer of film scores. Despite her impressive vocal abilities, she was always a shy performer, even though she loved choral music and dreamed of being a singer and a songwriter.

“I got a six-CD stereo and listened to music all hours of the day and night, which my mother didn’t like,” she says. “In high school, I played cello, sitting in the back of the orchestra, observing the other players and becoming obsessed with the idea of writing for an orchestra. While working on a score for an experimental film in college, the director encouraged me to add vocals to one of the tracks. After the film was done, he asked me to perform at the wrap party. I only had that one song, so I quickly wrote a few more and put together a band. We played them, and by the end of the night, I realized how much I loved writing songs and playing for a live audience. I’ve never stopped.”

—j. poet

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Imelda May: Life And How To Live It

Following a divorce and the resulting depression, Imelda May hit the reset button with Life, Love, Flesh, Blood

Imelda May swears she never intended for this to happen. But the imposing Celtic rockabilly throne she’s effortlessly occupied since her hiccupy No Turning Back debut in 2003 now sits dusty and vacant. Incidents beyond her control forced her to abdicate three years ago and segue into the muted, Laurel Canyon-lissome beauty of her new T Bone Burnett-produced metamorphosis, Life, Love, Flesh, Blood.

“I just wanted to start from scratch, with absolutely everything, because everything I thought I knew about myself, I didn’t,” declares the diva, who was lovingly proclaimed by Bono “The other queen of Ireland” when she made a surprise appearance at U2’s 2015 homecoming concert in Dublin.

Gone are the ’50s-retro fashions and signature cinnamon-bun hairdo, replaced by eyebrow-length bangs and a casual look reminiscent of early Françoise Hardy. And May is no longer steamrolling through rockabilly stompers like a young Wanda Jackson—she delivers a Patsy Cline-classy performance on carefully considered ballads like “Human,” “Call Me,” “Black Tears” (featuring ethereal filigrees from her longtime chum Jeff Beck), “Sixth Sense” and a gospel-fervent “When It’s My Time” (with Jools Holland on subtly skeletal piano). Only on slinky R&B hip-shaker “Bad Habit”—about trying to avoid superfluous expenses and stick to a tight budget—does the singer even approach her old groove, albeit in a decidedly more subdued, reserved manner. Burnett maintains a haunted, catacomb-echoed mix throughout. When they first started work on the record, May says, “He told me, ‘I know who you are. I’ve watched you. And you weren’t ready for me before, but now you are.’ And I completely agreed.”

What force majeure changes shook May’s world so thoroughly? For one, the gradual dissolution of her marriage to guitarist Darrel Higham, from whom she officially split in July 2015. The paperwork on the couple’s divorce is nearly final. As she tells it, the breakup had been coming for a while. The pair wrote, toured and recorded together, and they were always of one mind when focusing on her Sun Session-y sound. “We had such a common interest in work, and we loved to chat about it,” she says. “But when work stopped, and you go home, and then there’s nothing left to talk about? That can be quite difficult. So I think we just grew apart, and it wasn’t easy to admit that.”

May and her ex have a daughter, Violet, now four, and she figured heavily into the separation. “Just having her makes you see that she deserves more, she deserves a lot of joy and happiness, and both of us decided that to be apart would be better for her,” she says, candidly.

May is nothing if not candid. Admittedly, she went through a dark, depressing period just trying to figure things out on her own. Monthly finances became a concern (hence “Bad Habit,” wherein she waives purchasing a pair of pricey Louboutin heels for paying the mortgage), as did finding her truer, more mature inner voice. Was she still rockabilly’s reigning highness? She didn’t know.

“So you put your daughter to bed, make sure she’s happy, and that’s when it was so hard—at night,” she says. “Because then you bawl your eyes out and try to focus yourself on writing an album.”

In the past three years, May elaborates, she endured heartache from Higham, got over it, began dating again, fell in love with a new beau, felt guilty for experiencing lust and passion again, and was jilted a second time, leading to more acute heartbreak. As a songwriter exploring new sonic territory, she had a lot to consider; “Black Tears” was the first mascara-streaked track she composed, and the waiting-for-that-phone-to-ring “Call Me” concluded the painful process. The songs weren’t her usual jubilant stock in trade, but her manager was floored by their brutal honesty. When she suggested—almost jokingly—that Burnett should produce them, her rep made it happen.

“So I’ve had massive changes,” she says and insists that her divorce has been so amicable that she even sang all the backing vocals on Higham’s upcoming solo album. “I wanted to change my hair, too, so—like a lot of people do—you just go to your hairdresser and say, ‘Cut it all off!’ Certainly a lot of women can relate to that, you know? I just wanted to get back to feeling like myself again, because I didn’t know who I was for a while.”

—Tom Lanham

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Crystal Fairy: Delicate Soundz

Crystal Fairy is much more than the sum of its parts

It began, as these things often do, with Jello Biafra. In 2014, S.F. punk’s eminence grise invited Mexican garage-punk band Le Butcherettes to open for the Guantanamo School Of Medicine at the Roxy in West Hollywood. Melvins’ King Buzzo, a friend of Biafra, came out to show support and catch the set. And when Le Butcherettes, fronted by Teri Gender Bender, hit the stage, Buzzo was blown away.

“She’s a massively dynamic performer,” says Buzzo, “super-talented. A force of nature.”

So impressed was Buzzo by Le Butcherettes’ performance that he asked the band to open for Melvins on a series of tour dates—a significant move for a guy who’s ordinarily reluctant to slot opening acts.

“My agent told me, ‘This is really rare.’ I actually cried a little bit,” laughs Teri G-B. “I was like, ‘Of course let’s go on tour with the Melvins!’ And they were such sweet gentlemen.”

That tour was followed by another set of opening dates, for which Le Butcherettes and Melvins worked up a collaborative live cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” “At that point I knew we needed to do something together,” says Buzzo, “but I didn’t know what.”

Backstage at those same shows was Butcherettes producer (and G-B’s El Paso neighbor) Omar Rodríguez-López, he of At The Drive-In and the Mars Volta—not to play but to photograph and document the tour. He and Melvins hit it off, and the final piece of the puzzle that would become Crystal Fairy snapped into place.

Written and recorded at white-hot speed in studios in L.A. (Melvins’ home base) and El Paso (Butcherettes’), Crystal Fairy is a record that comes out punching and never lets up. Melvins’ Dale Crover and Buzzo, joined by Rodríguez-López and G-B, run through 11 songs in a thunderous 41 minutes—some crisp and pounding (“Chiseler”), some stately and heavy (“Moth Tongue”), some giddy and angular (“Vampire X-Mas”), some joyously, liberatingly bizarre (the irresistible title cut). Considering how quickly it came together, Crystal Fairy sounds remarkably cohesive—the work of a band whose energies were pointed in a single direction from the start.

“From inception to recording, it took two weeks,” says Buzzo. “If that. We’re all used to working very fast. I’m a very big believer in vision-execute. You get the right people around you, and it works—you have to try really, really hard to blow it. And we’ve all worked on our craft for a really long time. People who’ve worked on their craft for this long, it’s really down to luck. Hard work and pure luck.”

The L.A. sessions came first. “Buzz said, ‘OK, let’s put it all on the table,’” says G-B. “We recorded the rehearsals, even the ideas for songs as they came. And I had my notebook with me, and I was writing lyrics and melodies for the ideas they came up with.”

“In those kinds of situations,” says Buzzo, “I’m a firm believer in letting people off the leash: ‘Just do what you do.’ The first day, when we recorded ‘Bent Teeth,’ I just knew it was good.”

For G-B, something clicked just past the halfway point: “It started becoming a reality when we were about six songs deep. And then Buzz and Dale came out to El Paso where Omar and I live, and it was this exchange of cultural identities, and on that basis, too, it was really exciting. El Paso’s a little more spread out, and there’s less to do at night if you’re a party person, which thankfully none of us are, so we got to spend a lot of quality time, in the real sense of the word—we’d all watch movies at night, then get up, go into the studio, work out a part, then, ‘OK, let’s go to IHOP.’ Honestly, talking about this, I can’t believe it’s real. You get a sense of the energy in the room, and you think, ‘OK, there’s something here. These people, they’re my tribe.’”

“We didn’t even know it was going to be an album,” says Buzzo. “And then we had one.”

—Eric Waggoner

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Chicano Batman: Paradise Now

The political is personal and poetic for Chicano Batman

As far as psychedelic alt-Latino bands with major dollops of soul go, Los Angeles’ Chicano Batman is the sleekest—not solely for its sound or for its sophisticated socio-political rhetoric, but also for its bespoke, sartorial dress sense. Nearly 10 years since its start, the raging, dynamic quartet—driven by Bardo Martinez’s lead vocals, poetic texts and organ/guitar mix—focuses more than ever on its ministerial lyrical edge on the new Freedom Is Free (ATO).

“To be honest with you, the band came together on the idea of creating a unique brand of music,” says bassist/singer Eduardo Arenas. “We all went to college. Some of us have master’s degrees, and some of us have had careers before jumping on the Chicano Batman bullet train. Our band name is a social-political one. As persons in the band, we have synonymous ideologies about our vision of this country and our capitalistic/militaristic (dis)position in this world.” Chicano Batman lyrics haven’t always reflected that socio-serious voice, as a lot of its songs over a handful of albums and EPs speak about love, which often is a stronger political tool than anything else.

“But we’re in 2017 now,” says Arenas. “Police killings of unarmed citizens are at an all-time high. An ignorant narcissist who lost the majority vote has become the new president of this country.”

Martinez goes on to mention how “Arrow To The Sun” (“Flecha Al Sol”) is a verbatim rendition of a children’s book with the same title that surrealistically imagines a young boy in search of his father who happens to be the sun. “My lyrical approach was in first person, i.e. becoming the protagonist of the story, and since the book provides simplistic yet extremely rich imagery, writing the lyrics was easy,” says Martinez.

Yet, Arenas sounds proudest of Martinez when he goes for the throat on dismantling the establishment of the right and the left to come up with something that lacerates between the eyes. “Bardo contributed most of the compositions, and you can just hear how his lyricism evolved throughout the years to wind up here,” says Arenas. “The messages are coming through much clearer now. This will be important as we enter into a new era with a new president. Shit, I don’t even want to say his name. There’s only so much we can take. Our new album opens up that conversation as we become more explicit about our ideologies. If not now, then when?”

—A.D. Amorosi

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

All Them Witches: Gray Sabbath

All Them Witches don’t necessarily exhibit their influences on Sleeping Through The War—or any album for that matter

All Them Witches’ press clippings will reveal consistent comparisons to some of the ’70s biggest names as they pertain to ATW’s rumblingly powerful stoner vibe. Frontman Charles Michael Parks takes exception to one reference in particular.

“Black Sabbath is the most misleading, because none of us listens to Black Sabbath,” says Parks. “We must be in the same mindset at some points. I’ve never listened to Blue Cheer, but we all like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, real early Fleetwood Mac and Roy Buchanan. And I would count international folk music as one of my main influences.”

Oddly enough, Parks and drummer Robby Staebler enjoy ambient new age and jazz, while keyboardist Allan Van Cleave grew up exclusively with classical music and didn’t listen to rock until he was 18. That all could figure into ATW’s fourth and most ambitious album, Sleeping Through The War, featuring the band’s epic volume and density interlaced with melodic nuance. Although elements of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem to be woven into ATW’s new approach, those are two more bands they haven’t really explored.

“I don’t listen to a lot of music before or during writing,” says Parks. “I have a bad habit of unconsciously reusing ideas without remembering where they came from. Then it’s, ‘Aw, shit, that’s just like that Cream song.’ I like to think everything we come up with is just four idiots in a room making noise.”

One reason for the distinct differences between Sleeping Through The War and ATW’s previous catalog is the Nashville-based quartet’s deliberation in creating it. The grueling touring cycle for 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker included two European circuits, and the band’s new material was largely conceived during the brief hiatus.

“Usually we go into the studio with maybe half the songs done,” says Parks. “This time, we had four days to write. New West has an artist house/venue in Athens, Ga., so we got to stay there, we wrote it, went back to Europe, then we came back and had five days to record. It was good going into the studio knowing where you were going.”

The new album’s sonic shift could also be partially attributed to renowned producer Dave Cobb, who served as ATW’s first actual producer. The process could’ve been traumatic, but Cobb was a perfect fit. “He’s a normal, easy-to-get-along-with guy, and he just knows where things should go,” says Parks. “He works the same way we do, by experimentation, so it was super easy. He likes to make art.”

Sleeping Through The War’s evolution is significant in light of the band’s short history. Then-recent transplant Staebler met guitarist Ben McLeod at a Nashville bar in 2012, then Parks, Staebler’s retail workmate, offered to play bass although he was primarily a guitarist. Van Cleave laid down keys on the first album, returned to tour and joined by default. The foursome’s chemistry is so strong they no longer practice or even hang together; they reassemble to write, record and tour.

Parks concedes the stoner-rock label was once applicable to All Them Witches but attributes their fluidity to his songwriting style. “I have material for two or three songs in my head, but I like to shove them all into one song,” he says. “So it’s an unusable length for radio. Being scatterbrained is how I like to write, and I haven’t found a way to get un-scatterbrained. I like who and where I am, so I don’t need to change yet.”

—Brian Baker

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Ibibio Sound Machine: The Sound Of African Sunshine

Ibibio Sound Machine makes West African music with a London bent

When singer Eno Williams began collaborating with sax player Max Grunhard, they weren’t thinking about putting a band together. “Max was interested in using the Ibibio language in a musical project, so we started writing stuff in my bedroom,” says Williams. “He knew the other band members from playing around London. We all started exchanging ideas and didn’t even think about performing until we’d made our first album. One of our first gigs was at the Trans Musicales festival in Rennes, which was equally scary and exciting.”

Williams was born in London but grew up in Nigeria, steeped in the culture of the Ibibio people. She didn’t return to England until she was 19. “In Nigeria, I had a musical group with my six sisters,” says Williams. “We used to play in church, but that faded away. It wasn’t until I came back to London and met Max that I started taking music seriously.”

On its eponymous debut, Ibibio Sound Machine pioneered a blend of electronic beats and West African rhythms. “Our first album was a more retro-influenced, West African-sounding record, with a few electro experiments,” she says. “For the second record, we went further in that direction, while still keeping loads of live elements.”

Uyai (Merge), the band’s new album, is a polyrhythmic barrage that combines drum loops, the live percussion of Anselmo Netto and drummer Jose Joyette and the soul-stirring vocals Williams delivers in Ibibio. The music is a perfect marriage of modern urban grit and traditional African sunshine.

“There aren’t many cities in the world where people from such disparate backgrounds could come together,” she says. “We have members from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Australia, Brazil and England. The city lends its character to the music as well. The dark, imposing vibe of London couldn’t be more different from somewhere like Lagos, the Nigerian city I grew up in.”

—j. poet

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Vagabon: Weird Science

Vagabon masters the art of self-discovery on debut LP Infinite Worlds

Lætitia Tamko didn’t come to New York to pursue her creative ambitions, as so many others do. She spent her teenage years a short train ride away from Brooklyn but wasn’t aware of its fertile music community.

The songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and driving force behind Vagabon spent her childhood in Cameroon and moved to New York with her family when she was 14. She learned to play guitar in high school but put it to the side to study engineering at the City College of New York. By 2013, she was juggling math and physics courses, science labs, circuits—and it felt heavy.

“Engineering is a really demanding subject,” says Tamko. “I was focusing a lot of my energy on it. I had no creative outlet, and I started really wanting one. I had a lot going on personally and decided I should just write songs; why not, you know? I felt like I had a lot of things to say.”

Vagabon’s Persian Gardens project collected contemplative acoustic musings with touches of banjo and violin; its six songs are the first Tamko ever wrote, and she kept everything quick and unfussy, trying not to overthink. The EP, posted to Bandcamp in 2014, caught the ear of players in the scene surrounding Bushwick’s Silent Barn, and it was Tamko’s entrée into another world.

She started getting invited to play shows, collaborate in studio sessions and go on tour. Now, Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds is out on Father/Daughter Records, and it’s a breathtaking progression; dynamic electric guitar and drums mix with Tamko’s emotive vocals, which can be as playful as they are gripping. The album is a meditation on place, companionship and self-discovery. But she doesn’t take the community that amplified it for granted; “I wish I’d known about things like Girls Rock Camp when I was in New York at 14,” she says.

From within, the scene seems all-encompassing—especially when the media and industry narrative points so heavily to Brooklyn. However, the world is a big place, and Tamko says it’s important to never lose sight of that.

“A lot of weird kids who are outsiders, who are not interested in what their peers are interested in, would find so much comfort in knowing there is this community of people who are also weird, who are also cast to the side, who are kind of crushing it,” she says. “It could save them.”

—John Vettese

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

My Impression Now

MAGNET asked Guided By Voices obsessives to pick their three favorite Robert Pollard records

Fred Armisen, actor/comedian/musician
Robert Pollard, Lord Of The Birdcage
Guided By Voices, August By Cake
Guided By Voices, The Bears For Lunch

Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Mars Volta
Guided By Voices, I Am A Scientist
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Human Amusements At Hourly Rates

Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Brewery
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Same Place The Fly Got Smashed
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars

Jay Carney, former White House press secretary
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Fast Japanese Spin Cycle
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes

Patrick Carney, Black Keys
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig!
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes

Michael Cerveris, actor/musician
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Robert Pollard, Not In My Airforce
Robert Pollard And Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department

Paddy Considine, actor/director/writer/musician
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye
Boston Spaceships, Zero To 99
ESP Ohio, Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean

Britt Daniel, Spoon
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars
Robert Pollard, Waved Out
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills

John Davis, Lees Of Memory
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Lifeguards, Mist King Urth

Reuben Frank, MAGNET writer
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye
Guided By Voices, Universal Truths & Cycles
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand

Eleanor Friedberger, Fiery Furnaces
Guided By Voices, Vampire On Titus
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes

The Gotobeds
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Crying Your Knife Away
Guided By Voices, “Dayton, Ohio 19-Something And 5”

Albert Hammond Jr., Strokes
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars

Matt Hickey, MAGNET contributing editor
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars
Keene Brothers, Blues And Boogie Shoes

Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars
Guided By Voices, Earthquake Glue

Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs broadcaster
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig!
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye
Keene Brothers, Blues And Boogie Shoes

Tommy Keene
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig!
Guided By Voices, Do The Collapse
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye

Sean Lennon
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig!
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye

Scott McCaughey, Minus 5
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Boston Spaceships, Zero To 99
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills

Colin Meloy, Decemberists
Guided By Voices, Vampire On Titus
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Under The Bushes Under The Stars

Eric T. Miller, MAGNET editor-in-chief
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Same Place The Fly Got Smashed

Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Devil Between My Toes

Jason Narducy, Split Single
Robert Pollard And Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye
Robert Pollard, Is Off To Business

John Paul Pitts, Surfer Blood
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills
Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest

Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, King Shit And The Golden Boys
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand

Zach Rogue, Rogue Wave
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Robert Pollard, Not In My Airforce
Robert Pollard And Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department

Hobart Rowland, MAGNET writer
Keene Brothers, Blues And Boogie Shoes
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand

Phil Sheridan, MAGNET The Back Page columnist
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Do The Collapse

Steven Soderbergh, director/writer
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig!
Guided By Voices, Suitcase 2
Guided By Voices, Class Clown Spots A UFO

Patrick Stickles, Titus Andronicus
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Guided By Voices, Vampire On Titus

Matt Sweeney, Chavez
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Get Out Of My Stations / Fast Japanese Spin Cycle / The Grand Hour
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand

Jonathan Valania, MAGNET writer
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices, Sunfish Holy Breakfast
Robert Pollard, Not In My Airforce

Michael Van Pelt, Blitzen Trapper
Lifeguards, Mist King Urth
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills
Robert Pollard And Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department

Mike Watt
Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma & Antler The Completed Soundtrack For The Tropic Of Nipples
Guided By Voices, Forever Since Breakfast
Guided By Voices, I Am A Scientist

Jon Wurster, Superchunk
Robert Pollard, From A Compound Eye
Keene Brothers, Blues And Boogie Shoes
Robert Pollard And Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Jens Lekman: Postcards From The Edge

How, with Life Will See You Now, Jens Lekman got his groove back

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman understands this all too clearly.

As the Gothenburg native was putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to his last record, 2014’s breakup-themed I Know What Love Isn’t a couple of years ago—a beta version of what would become his new Life Will See You Now—he proudly played those early tracks to his label and close friends whom he always relied on to sagely assess his work. Everyone agreed that it was his fourth-best album. “Which isn’t really a great compliment when it actually was my fourth album,” he sighs, despondently. “So I was sort of in a crisis, and it triggered a reaction in me where I just didn’t feel like writing anymore.”

What did the 36-year-old Lekman turn to instead? Believe it or not, push-ups: real, honest-to-goodness daily exercise, revolving around actual push-ups. “Every day, I was waking up and doing a hundred, and I was doing them for a while,” he says. “And it was sort of like a way of having some sort of routine, just forcing myself to keep going in the end of my post-breakup phase. So I realized that I had to do something quite drastic, and that’s when I came up with my idea for Postcards. And at the end of that phase? I had a bunch of songs.”

The labor that Lekman set for himself with Postcards was Herculean. For free, he would write, record, then post a brand-new tune every week for an entire year, 52 in all, two of which made it onto Life, as well—the whimsical, handclap-rhythmic reflection “Postcard #17” and “Postcard #29,” a symphonic, horn-punched Europop anthem now redubbed “How We Met, The Long Version.” Composing on such a tight schedule was every bit as demanding as all those push-ups, he adds. “In the beginning, it was like, ‘Oh, crap! What did I get myself into?’” he says. “Because I’ve always had this thing where I want control. I want to polish everything. So in the beginning, it freaked me out that in one week, I had to release a new song, just as it was. But eventually, I just started letting go.”

Lekman started multitasking, writing new material while riding his bike or taking the city tramline across town. Lyrically, he would center on whatever he’d been thinking about that particular day, or what was in the news that week, even average conversations he’d had with chums the night before.

“I had a sort of South Park approach to it,” he says. “Like the way they make South Park, where they write the episode that week, just to capture something that’s current. And it was great, because there were a few things that happened in 2015 where I thought, ‘I can write about this right now.’ And if I’d had to wait half a year to release it on record, maybe people would have forgotten about it or it just wouldn’t be very interesting anymore.”

In 2000, the warm, neighborly voiced vocalist had caught the music bug playing bass in a local cover band, and he was soon writing originals and home-tracking them on CD-R, under the moniker of Rocky Dennis, which he’d borrowed from Eric Stoltz’s real-life character in the movie Mask. By 2003, he’d signed to Swedish imprint Service Records for his Maple Leaves EP, and a year later he was snapped up on these shores by Secretly Canadian for his full-length debut, When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog. But even after his arduous Postcards trek, he still wasn’t quite ready to start work on Life yet.

Life itself had other plans for his talent at the close of 2015. An art center in far-off Cincinnati contacted him with a proposal; they were suitably awed by the Postcards project and wondered if he would like take up a residency there for another potential experiment. It just so happened that he had another artistic idea he’d been toying with in Sweden, which he happily brought to Ohio: Ghostwriting, wherein he took fan-submitted personal stories and transformed them into tunes. “It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life,” says Lekman.

First, he advertised for autobiographical submissions from fans. Then he interviewed each selected entrant for 30 minutes to ascertain every last detail. Then he settled into the alchemy of turning this base metal into respectful, relatable gold. “I think it’s easier for people to share their most intimate secrets with a complete stranger rather than with friends, so a lot of people had these amazing stories that they’d been keeping inside of them, and it was quite mind-blowing­—that feeling of holding this very important story from someone else’s life and knowing that you’re responsible for it, and how it comes out in song,” he says. “It was even harder, eventually performing it live, knowing they were in the room, listening.”

With a total of 68 new numbers to his credit in a single year, Lekman’s creative tap was virtually overflowing. With producer Ewan Pearson, he began shaping a Mach Two take on Life, starting with tropical-exotic bass workout “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” which closes the door on his old relationship with gentle, scent-wafted finality: “And it smells so good, that sandalwood/The lavender, lemon, ginger … She’s gone forever.”

“That song is almost like a bookend to the last record,” he says. “And I like having little bridges between the records, almost like a recap when you’re watching a show on TV, like, ‘Here’s what happened on the last season!’ That song works like that.”

Elsewhere, Lekman’s wry lyrical thoughts unspool in a flickering, James Thurber-ish flow. On the ’70s-soulful “Evening Prayer,” he introduces a lovesick student who can’t discern a classmate’s true feelings for him with, “At art school there is a 3-D printer/And he prints out a model of the tumor that was surgically removed from his back this winter/In its rugged gray plastic it looks lunar/He puts the tumor in his breast pocket as we head out.”

“To Know Your Mission” follows a young Mormon missionary through a Gothenburg morning in 1997 as he suddenly has spiritual doubts while listening to Puff Daddy and Chumbawamba on the radio. Over jazzy keyboard lilt “Hotwire The Ferris Wheel,” he encapsulates that childhood whiff of the foreign and exotic when “There’s a carnival in town/Walking your dog past the old fairground/From inside we hear screaming and laughter/From roller coasters and merry-go-rounds.”
Lekman wanted to tie everything together with the Life Will See You Now cover, a Lynda Barry-style painting of a green-haired girl with a nose ring, done by a graphic-novelist friend. Who is she? He laughs, “Why, she is you, waiting for your life to start!” he says. “My interpretation is that she’s sitting in a waiting room, waiting for life to see her, like the title suggests. But other people have said that she’s dressed up almost like, ‘Life will see me now,’ like she’s prepared for it, and she’s toughened up.”

Either way, the decidedly angry-looking character—like Lekman himself—is certainly reacting to something.

—Tom Lanham

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Dude York: All The Young Dudes

Seattle’s Dude York reimagines power pop circa now with sophomore release Sincerely

Fade in:
Ping’s Dumpling House, a garlic-centric, family owned eatery in the heart of Seattle’s International District

Dialogue:
Peter Richards (guitar/vocals): Let’s start in the middle—we’re going to tell our story like a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Andrew Hall (drums/attitude): So, it’s going to be long, and we’re going to feel very tired at the end of it.
Richards: I was thinking that we’ll just be casual about the use of offensive language.
Claire England (bass/patience): Maybe it’s more about that particular time period, 2013 or so.
Hall: We played our music in every room that would answer our emails. You play a lot of shows where three of your friends reluctantly show up, some other indifferent dudes get frustrated that you’re not playing louder/harder/faster. We played a lot of shows like that. Maybe 80. They were all super weird. We’d play 17 songs in 40 minutes and …
Richards: Then Claire’s fabulous previous project broke up. And we were thinking, best-case scenario, can we pay her to join us.
England: Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head. It was a great era: a good time to shave your own head.

This is what an interview with Seattle’s Dude York feels like: a movie dominated by banter, a breathless rush through periods of real interpersonal history (Richards and Hall have played together since their college days in Walla Walla; England joined later) leavened by a healthy dose of self-lacerating humor and a dazzling array of pop-culture references.

That’s not a bad way to describe the band’s recorded output, especially on its new sophomore full-length, Sincerely (Hardly Art). Think of Dude York as the Thermals to Chastity Belt’s Sleater-Kinney or Tacocat’s Dandy Warhols—all part of the same Seattle pop/punk scene, but representing wildly different points of view, with Dude York’s trio format perfectly lending itself to sugar-shock power-pop confections such as the album’s epic opening blast “Black Jack,” (“Baby you were born different/And meant to be that way”), the melodic roar of “The Way I Feel” (“OK, I’ll keep this short/I’m not up here for sport”), the “Raspberry Beret”-meets-new wave-“Blinded By The Light”-ness of “Something In The Way” and however you’d care to characterize “Time’s Not On My Side,” a Dylanesque slice of American Pie that eccentrically wanders the west in search of its broken heart to the tune of the only audible acoustic guitar on the record.

Sleater-Kinney producer John Goodmanson helps the band achieve just the right balance of bitter and sweet, sugaring its salty tales of mental instability and manic self-belief with just the right amount of Cheap Trick. It’s a big-sounding record about life’s small irritants: anthems as happy to focus on breakups as hookups.

As the trio good-naturedly argues its way through lunch by debating the merits of Oasis (“I love boy fights, and you can dance to every song,” says Hall), the bottom third of the Will Smith catalog (“Wild Wild West’s steampunk qualities are highly overlooked,” says Richards) or ironically reminiscing about Adult Friend Finder, “the primary dating website of the early 2000s,” it’s clear that they all agree a step forward has been achieved with the new LP. “It’s a more cohesive statement in terms of our intention,” says Hall. “Luxurious without actually being a luxury object. There’s a higher thread count.”

Fade to:

—Corey duBrowa

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

  • FaceBook