FAQ: Hey Asher, is there a theme to any given edition of <5K? Asher: Well, friend, there are a few subthemes within each issue that sort of flit around each other like different birds in the same cage. For instance, today’s issue features 2 British bands, 3 post-hardcore artists (generally speaking), 2 bands that I listened to while eating Fun Dip™… you can cut the cake up many different ways. Does it matter? I think it doesn’t really matter. Thanks for asking, of course! I’m always happy to answer questions. See below for contact info. I love you.
THE OLD STORY OF THE NAMESAKE//JUST WHAT’S GOING ON HERE
There’s an xkcd comic that exposes the secret coalition to make certain YouTube videos go viral: they have to get exactly “300+” likes from the committee, and are then certified to spread like the plague onto innocent newsfeeds worldwide.
In that vein, I present you with <5K: exposition on bands that have less than 5,000 likes online. Perhaps one of them will be the next to pass that mysterious threshold into the world of fame and fortune… after all, once you get 5,000 likes, you sell out every show and your records go gold. That’s how it works, right?
If you’re in a band, your friend is in a band, or you just know a band with less than 5,000 likes that deserves to be heard, send a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I like it, I’ll put them in an upcoming edition of <5K! No inquiries about Tomato Dodgers, please.
Phantom Lanterns (430 likes) occupy an interesting crossover of musical space. The Annapolis, MD trio plays math-tinged emo, but with deliberate nods towards chaos. The instrumentation on “The Dreamer,” the opening track on their release Growing Apart, ranges from tight, noodley riffing to lurching rhythms that seem close to the edge of coherence and back within the span of one bridge. It’s got serious momentum, and combined with the urgency of the vocals, adds up to a swift headbanger that will get you nostalgic for your nights spent feeling misunderstood.
Jarbird (645 likes) is a British band that might strike the familiar chords of rich, electro-tinged r&b and vaulting vocals with U.S. audiences. They’re thinking along similar lines as Adult Jazz and Chet Faker, crafting lovely, heavenly vocal pop with crystal-clear melodies built around piano and drums. The harmonies are out of this world; despite only having two songs on their soundcloud, they’ve hooked many fans already, clamoring for a full-length. It’s easy, strong listening, and it works for many moods. Grab a quiet seat and have a listen.
Recommended tracks: “More Bad Celebrity Poetry,” “Such Is The House”
I’m not sure where to begin with Crows-An-Wra (1,139 likes). The UK band’s showstopping sophomore LP, Kalopsia, sounds like At The Drive-In consulted with David Lynch about making a hair-raising horror-punk masterpiece. It’s constantly turning tight corners, tension mounting every moment between the double-guitar assault and masterful interplay between vocals and drums. It’s flourishes like “Heavy Heads,” a haunting ballad sung by fantastic guest vocalist Elizabeth Birchley, which keep Kalopsia from being pigeonholed or easily defined. It’s meticulous and explosive prog-post-hardcore-punk-power. Listen to it.
Recommended tracks: “Vibrant Colours,” “Dismay! The Seconds Slow,” “Heavy Heads”
Au Revoir (2,460 likes) are a Jersey band that has hollowed out their own Venn diagram of post-rock and distorted indie-weight, creating bleak, monumental landscapes with cinematic guitars and unstoppable drums. They wreak a particular kind of havoc upon a listener’s open mind, filling it with visions and shadows, eternally solid. It’s neither heavy nor abstract enough to be called drone, nor direct enough to be truly called indie. It’s somewhere in the murky depths that Moving Mountains might occupy in an apocalyptic world, with nothing but the howling wind to provide anything close to vocals. Their latest release, Black Hills, deserves your full attention, but tread with caution.
Recommended tracks: All of it. (There are only 3.)
The B-Side Shuffle (2,705 likes) are a full-fledged funk machine from right in the nation’s capitol. They make highly groovy dance-rock, and with a large, rotating lineup, they work as a pooled effort to throw a whole bunch of good sounds together and come up with driven, instinctually toe-tapping music meant for having a good time. They keep the rhythm section impeccably tight, and then layer it with delicious guitar, horns, and numerous singers. It’s immediately physically moving, and is shown by their latest EP, Farmalade, they have plenty of diverse ideas to keep the party going all night long.
Continuing on last week’s use of the word “iconic,” I thought this week I would look at two of the most well-known and influential album covers of all time.
The Clash - London Calling
There is not a single photo that better embodies the rock ‘n’ roll spirit than Pennie Smith’s shot of Paul Simonon about to smash his bass. I will argue that for forever and a day. The funny thing is that in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, this photo is far from being technically perfect. In fact, Penny Smith herself even admitted that she had originally rejected the photo for being too out of focus. But what’s more punk rock than being imperfect, anyways?
Fortunately, graphic designer Ray Lowry, who was traveling with The Clash at the time, was working with the band on designing a cover for their new album London Calling. When he saw Pennie Smith’s photo, Lowry pushed to have it on the cover, regardless of its imperfections. Looking back on the decision much later, he admitted to having no recollection that the photo was blurry at all, claiming that he was too blind and drunk at the time to even notice it.
While at first Lowry had other ideas for the cover, the image of Paul Simonon provided him with more than just a captivating photo to use. Juxtaposed with the distinctive pink and green lettering that Lowry added along the sides and bottom of the cover, the photo of Simonon for London Calling became a direct parody of Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album where Elvis is pictured singing and playing his acoustic guitar.
In retrospect, the referential cover seems even more perfect — The Clash were helping usher in a new era of rock ‘n’ roll: punk rock. Punk built on the conventions of the past with a very in-your-face, gritty attitude. Where Elvis danced, The Clash smashed.
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
While London Calling may be the most well known rock ’n’ roll photo of all time, the cover of Unknown Pleasures certainly ranks atop the world of rock ’n’ roll graphic design. From shoes to tattoos, Unknown Pleasures has been the inspiration behind what seems like a million different designs everywhere you look. At one point in time, Disney even (very briefly) put out an Unknown Pleasures-inspired Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
In a weird way, the cover to Unknown Pleasures is both simple and complex. The striking image features a series of only 60 white lines (if my counting skills are on par) on a black background. That’s it. But the mountains and valleys that those lines twist and turn into, and the way and pattern in which they do, creates this extremely captivating, albeit fairly simple and contained, design.
So where does this iconic image actually come from? Science, of course.
Unknown Pleasures was Joy Division’s debut album and according to their designer Peter Saville, the band came to him with an idea of exactly what they wanted on the cover. They brought a clipped-out page from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy with this image on it. It was a reading of the radio signals emitted from the first ever-studied pulsar (pulsating star) CP 1919. With the pulses repeating every one and a third (ish) seconds, the diagram was a stacked-together series of 60 of those readings.
Once the image was under his supervision, Saville inverted the colors from that were in the book, and the image became the white-on-black that we’re so familiar with, and left the cover at that.
It’s simple, it’s stunning, and it’s from space — what more could you ask for?
NOSTALGIA, MY MUSE: Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister
2013 was a beautiful year for music with releases from Arcade Fire, Darkside, and My Bloody Valentine. While albums like these were on every list of the year, my heart was instantaneously won over by the small five-piece band formed out of England and Wales: Joanna Gruesome.
While their debut album, Weird Sister, was released almost a year ago, the band is currently on their first North American tour (with Perfect Pussy) and will be in DC tonight. It seemed only appropriate to dedicate this week’s column to the album that spoke to me in too many ways.
While many people have been dismissive, claiming they are just another twee-pop band rising out of the UK, there’s an added grittiness. Joanna Gruesome’s tracks initially have gentle vocals and soothing melodies, allowing us to feel comfortable for a few seconds. It is quickly countered with fuzzy guitar riffs and front-woman Alanna McArdle surfacing her raw emotions by screaming the lyrics with every bit of edginess and energy that she has. This cacophony is what the band is all about it. It’s evident in almost every song, perhaps most obvious in “Secret Surprise,” which is the midpoint of the album and the song that made me fall in love with them. They are the only band I know of that makes cracking a skull and pulling out someone’s teeth sound sweet. I have anxiety for whoever wronged Joanna Gruesome.
Following this remarkably disturbing song is perhaps the best track on the album, “Do You Really Want To Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me?” The twinkling guitar melody that opens the track will absorb you right from the beginning. As Alanna sings the words of the title, it causes a pang in your heart that almost resembles inspiration. This all happens right before the band explodes with noisy guitar and drum scuzziness for the last forty seconds of the track.
Once you think you have the band figured out, they conclude with “Satan,” which is so contradicting from the other songs that it’s almost haunting, but in a beautiful, thought-provoking way. I was blessed to have come across Weird Sister when it first came out. It made me nostalgic for a time that was simplistic and compelling and insightful; I don’t know if there was even a time like this that existed, but Joanna Gruesome made me daydream about it and yearn to experience it.
BBC Radio 6 recently saw electronic wizard Flying Lotus give show host Gilles Peterson a preview of his upcoming fifth album, You’re Dead!, due out October 7th. During the interview, Flying Lotus discusses his new work on the album, including collaborations with Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. The track he previewed, “Moment of Hesitation,” features jazz legend Herbie Hancock on keys. “Herbie was like my grandpa,” FlyLo chuckles, “and he was really into the music.” You’re Dead! is, at its core, a jazz album, translated through FlyLo’s signature electronic manipulations.
The all-too-brief snippet of “Moment of Hesitation” features twinkly keyboard work, swirling around what sounds like a beat made of drum brushes. It’s smooth as the night sky, and instantly makes you crave to hear more of it.
Listen to the interview and the clip of the song here.
Flying Lotus brings his cosmic electro-magic to the Lincoln Theatre on 10/13! Get tickets here.
“Candler Road” could be a Because The Internet b-side, except it’s too disillusioned to do anything except stand alone. Glover’s dark seriousness is miles away from the lighthearted bravado of ROYALTY, feeling like bottled up fury in the face of injustice. The first minute is pure word mastery, bordering on a rant of his own skill despite the hardships piled up by the people around him. After the beat shifts, we hear his playful side come out, mimicking a choral hook, before diving right back into the heaviness of the second verse. His voice is taut and anxious, strong as ever, not messing around. The beat gets more intense, too, dropping into space-age waves of synth. Even the light falsetto hook he jokes with sounds great. The song has two distinct halves: the first feels more Drake or Big Sean, with more typical beat work; the second is more classic Gambino. Both are fiery. This is Glover in top form, and if it’s any indication, his next release will be the most intense he’s ever produced.
JOE’S JAZZY JAUNTS: The Bad Plus - Inevitable Western
My favorite trio of musical mad scientists is back with their second album of the year in Inevitable Western. I already raved about their interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and now they’ve put together a set of nine originals. These range from subverted pop to well-plotted prog to classical-influenced grandiosity, with many more descriptors along the way.
Pianist Ethan Iverson delivers a deliberate melody on the opener “I Hear You.” The phrasing reminds me a bit of the group’s cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” off of Prog. The song works effectively with repetition to tease the listener while offering pieces of new information. It also plays with rhythm, hinting at a conventional feel and then doing something to upend it.
The second track has a great title in “Gold Prisms Incorporated,” and backs it up with a sleek groove. The initial progression is catchy, although a little nondescript. This is offset when Iverson begins to insert fragments of dissonance into the repetitive chords. Then later when he jumps on a contrasting folksy figure and spins it into a manic climax.
“You Will Lose All Fear,” the fourth track, seems to want to traumatize the listener to the point that they can’t be unsettled any longer. It begins with giant piano chords that stomp along accompanied by bombastic drums. Drummer Dave King leaves no snare fill un-pummeled. Iverson mixes in rapid cascades of notes and uses the entire range of his instrument, sending things full tempest. About halfway through, the song calms down, everyone having weathered the storm. From there, it builds back up subtly and continues with a restrained confidence.
Two tracks later, “Epistolary Echoes” storms out of the gate with a string of complexly coordinated figures. These are interspersed with a few laid-back sections of hand clapping. This transitions into a fast-paced duel between Iverson and King, where Iverson gets the last word with a heavy slam on the low end of the piano. The conflict settled, the song moves into a relentlessly cutesy melody, doubled on a mallet instrument.
“Adopted Highway” is the epic here, lasting almost ten minutes. It’s more concerned with texture than theme, containing many rumblings and swells. I commented on “Mr. Now” in a previous column - it’s fun for the technical displays and King gets time to shine. Bassist Reid Anderson has his moment on the title track, which comes last, giving an introductory solo. The song is a thoughtful slower tempo number, with some Thelonious Monk in the harmony.
The album is a very solid entry in the band’s catalog, and is all the more impressive coming off the heels of the Stravinsky recording. It is interesting that they did not do more with the electronic experimentation that they dabbled in on 2012’s Made Possible, but it doesn’t matter much. They’ve done a fine job refining their chaotic instincts and marrying them with a stylistic diversity.
After last year’s Dreaming of Stucco, New York’s Dean Essner/Otis Infrastructure has taken a step and a half in a new direction with Minimalism, his product of summer ’14. While the album retains the half-submerged, extended vocabulary of Dreaming of Stucco, the ideas are more spread, creating a more diverse and honed sound. Essner’s keyboard magic has also progressed, comprising a much stronger element of the album. Most importantly, he’s loosened his grip on the reins of tight control, allowing chaos and free time to seep into a greater portion of the songs here. It gives the listener the impression that what we hear is only most of each piece, as though the rest of it is hidden underwater, like icebergs floating by, with Essner comfortably seated atop one, playing guitar and singing at us as we drift. It’s an entrancing album that deserves a listen with full attention.
The title track of Minimalism opens with a looping drumbeat that begins simply, but then dissolves into echoes as synth chords hold it all together. Essner’s voice comes in, at once fragile and determined, in a bleak poem about cutting down. “I am a greenhouse gas,” he shrugs. The synths build until they carry the vocals underneath, at once cutting into the next track.
“Raft” sounds like ticking machinery, drums speeding up over the heartbeat bassline, hypnotic. Contemplative synths balance out the frenetic hi-hat, reminiscent of the textured landscapes of Pink Floyd circa “Time.” A swarm of guitar lines appear next, building over the previous layer, creating a musical carousel with each part operating separately, but combining to fascinating effect. Lyrically, “Raft” captures a spirit of sudden awareness and isolation in the summertime. After the lyrical section, the waves of instruments build and break down, naturally but noticeably. It’s deliberate construction and deconstruction of walls of sound. I can’t think of anything that sounds quite like it. The song ends with the ever-present bassline, unchanging.
The opening synth that announces “Almonds” fades into a moody, swirling guitar progression, in a three-fourths time letter from inside a hidden crawlspace. “Don’t use me for my warmth,” Essner warns the listener, “it isn’t free.” It’s musically full, but balanced well, never overpowering. “Almonds” combines big ideas with specifically personal touches, and with the vaulting choral harmonies, adds up to a definite album highlight.
The acoustic “Rain” starts with a beautiful overlay of guitars and ringing keys, and could easily stand alone as an instrumental passage. Once the drums and vocals come in, it grows into a spacey request for safety and temperature. It feels as wide open as the countryside Essner inhabits, removed from the compression of the city and music made in it. The light droplets of keyboard are rain, and the howling wind sounds behind it makes it a perfectly chilling ballad, just major-keyed enough to prevent it from sinking under the waterline of sadness. It fades out perfectly, like a summer storm.
The suspended chords to “Down” are classic Otis. It’s smooth and easy to listen to, blooming into big harmonies over repeating synth plucks, with some of the best lyrics on the record. It’s a relatively short and simple song, but one of the strongest, evoking Alex G in its direct transparency.
“Peanuts” starts off strong and stays that way. The drums are a driving force behind a palpably faster and more compressed sort of song. It’s both wordy and self-aware, lyrics tinged with tongue-in-cheek snide regarding the ridiculous nature of language. It takes a darker shift with a shrill, Jonny Greenwood-esque guitar line, driving it into an anxious third gear. Essner raves into the mic in the frantic climax, possibly the strongest moment on the album, and then cuts off as startlingly as it began.
The album closes with “Standby,” a daydream of bittersweet melodies and aching synth waves that cut right to the listener’s heart. The waves of noise wash over like water, with the steady drums moving hypnotically, creating a trance effect that never stops being pristine, like walking across an endless field of ice. The song eventually dissolves into a wall of sound, barely organized, reflecting the album opener, and closes with simple keys playing out the melody. Then it’s over, and you’re left in the loudest silence you may have ever experienced.
I’ve had my eye on Infectious Records for quite some time. The independent UK record label is home to many personal favorites like RY X, Local Natives, alt-J, and The Temper Trap. In honor of the label’s fifth anniversary since its re-launch, the group decided to share unreleased music from a variety of Infectious artists for Record Store Day this past spring, aptly naming the album ‘5’.
After looking at the track list, I knew I had to get my hands on it. For starters, dispersed throughout the record are short stories written and performed by Gus Unger-Hamilton from alt-J. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of covers. ‘5’ doesn’t disappoint. Favorites include Local Natives covering King Krule and The Temper Trap covering David Bowie. If that wasn’t enough, there’s still more - acoustic versions of songs by Vance Joy, RY X, Drenge, The Acid, and These New Puritans complete the album, making it a truly unique (and epic) piece of work.
Check out the full track list below:
Gus, Alt-J - “Pt. I” Drenge - “The Worst” Superfood - “Fight For Your Right (Beastie Boys Cover)” Local Natives - “Out Getting Ribs (King Krule Cover)” The Acid - “Onyx” Vance Joy - “Snaggletooth” Gus, Alt-J - “Pt. II” The Temper Trap - “5 Years (David Bowie Cover)” Cloud Control - “Praise You (Fat Boy Slim Cover)” RY X - “Vampires” These New Puritans - “Filed of Reeds Outro (Live From Mexico)” Gus, Alt-J - “Pt. III”
GEMS are one of my favorite new bands right now. They’ve really embraced using the Internet and social media in a way that’s both exciting and fun, all while putting out consistently great music. The one big problem, as is true with just about every new band, is that they just don’t have enough music out to make me happy. I’m impatient and would like for them to drop some new tunes already, dammit.
So, when I first heard the song “Under Crooked Trees” by Birdlips — best described as a delightful, summery little ditty — and decided to investigate more about the artist, I was pleasantly surprised, albeit utterly shocked, to find out that a couple years ago the members of GEMS were Birdlips.
That’s right, before GEMS were GEMS they went by the name Birdlips. Funny enough, they have since called this “perhaps one of the worst band names ever.”
Now, please don’t let that deter you because Birdlips’ album One Tongue is fantastic. Honestly, it’s a shame I’ve only just discovered it because, for me, it is the perfect soundtrack for a sunny summer day. Birdlips play a much happier and folky counterpart to GEMS’ dark, broodier sound, as the songs on One Tongue feature everything from ukeleles to clarinets. After listening to the (rather short) album all the way through, it is quite apparent that Birdlips would feel just as at home amidst all the psychedelic folk bands of the 70s and 80s as they do today.
All-in-all, it’s quite apparent that Lindsay Pitts and Clifford Usher know how to write great songs, no matter the style. Even though they’ve moved beyond Birdlips to newer things, they’ve left us with a delightful little album in the process.
With his silver lipstick, face art, and third eye tattooed on his hand, Ty Segall is making a statement with his newest release, Manipulator.
In short, Ty Segall is nothing less than a musical genius. He has released the most albums in the shortest amount of time of any artist that I’ve ever heard. Whether it’s his solo work, collaborations, the Ty Segall Band, or one of his numerous side projects (including the unparalleled Fuzz), Ty refuses to slow down. In regards to his solo work, since his debut in 2008, he has released seven albums, blessing us with at least one album a year. Last year, it was the emotional recovery, Sleeper, which was provoked by the death of his father. This year, he has transformed into a psychedelic king, showering us with seventeen tracks of bliss in his double album. Double the riffs, double the love, double the Ty.
A few weeks ago, Ty Segall took the stage on Conan and performed “Feel,” the fifth track off of Manipulator. It is the epitome of the album. About two minutes into the song, the real fuzz kicks in. With a guitar solo lasting almost a minute, Ty incorporates all of the grunge, lo-fi, and bursts of energy that we have come to expect from him. This is followed by a thirty-second simplistic drum solo that leads to the screaming of “feel” repeatedly as his voice slowly gets higher and higher, making it seem as though everything is about to combust entirely.
Not only are the guitar riffs in the album technically appealing, but the vocal harmonies are completely breath-taking. (If you ever get the chance to take your attention off the shredding, this becomes very apparent.) “Tall Man, Skinny Lady” and “The Hand” are two songs in particular that show off Ty’s impeccable range as well as his effortless musicality. “Connection Man” and the single “Susie Thumb” are two other standouts where he proves his ability to give me chills with just three chords.
Manipulator could quite possibly be the rock album of the year; every single track has the potential to be a guitar-based anthem. Ty has put my faith back in the direction of music, if only more albums like this existed. Thankfully, he is hitting the road this fall and making a stop at 9:30, where we will have the opportunity to give him the praise he deserves. This is easily Ty Segall’s best release to date.
I love the Emmys because, lately, I’ve watched almost all of the shows that are nominated for awards. I was stressed about who would win Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series, but ultimately wasn’t disappointed no matter what the outcome given that I know firsthand how amazing Lizzy Kaplan, Kerry Washington, Claire Danes, and Robin Wright are. One problem I have noticed, though, is that while there are awards for original songs, compositions, and main title music, there is no such recognition for existing songs brilliantly placed at the perfect moment of an episode. So, I’m going to pretend and make up my own category of nominees.
“Pulaski At Night,” Andrew Bird on Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is a Netflix show that everyone needs to appreciate, as it is much more than a clever prison drama. There are so many strong, diverse women with interesting backstories. Also, the writing is just the right balance of funny and poignant. Andrew Bird’s “Pulaski At Night” was in the Season 2 premiere, providing the soundtrack for Piper being hauled off to a new correctional facility without any idea why she’s going there. Bird sings, “Come back to Chicago / City of, city of lights” just as the bus enters the Windy City.
“The Only Living Boy in New York,” Simon and Garfunkel in The Normal Heart
The Normal Heart isn’t a TV show per se. However, the Television Academy considers it Emmy-worthy in that the film first aired on HBO. If you want to be really sad and get an accurate glimpse of what it was like during the 1980s AIDS crisis in New York, watch this movie. Don’t want to cry? Too bad, watch it anyways. Matt Bomer stars….need I say more? At the end of this heart wrenching story, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” comes on. Reasons why this is so appropriate: the song plays as one of the only surviving male characters tries to continue living his life and Simon and Garfunkel make everything better.
“Try a Little Tenderness,” Otis Redding on Scandal
This show is absolutely implausible and I don’t care. I’ve come to accept that with the Shonda Rhimes projects. The leading lady, Kerry Washington, is a goddess with a skill for emphatic speeches, so I’ll stand by Scandal as long as it lasts. Scandal doesn’t have as much music as other shows I tend to follow, but when there are songs featured, they are jazzy and placed with purpose. The classic “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding is a soulful track that juxtaposes many of the characters being pretty terrible to each other.
What I’ve assembled here are some of my favorite pop-oriented songs from the past year and a half or so. Get ready for some sugary melodies, infectious riffs, and a jangle you won’t be able to get out of your system for the rest of the week.
Some highlights are the Tony Molina track, “Can’t Believe,” coming in a minuscule minute and two seconds; the emo-punk-indiepop inspired “For You” by Gold-Bears; and the raw “A Doctor” from DC’s own Doozies. Also look out for ‘Leonie’ by Frankie Cosmos – the New Yorker has a knack for writing simple, but extremely emotive songs in the vein of Beat Happening.
Hope you enjoy this autumnal mix!
Tracklist: "Seconds" – Literature (2013) "Can’t Believe" – Tony Molina (2014) "For You" – Gold-Bears (2014) "Christmas Card" – Joyce Manor (2014) "Kelly" – Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2014) "Leonie" – Frankie Cosmos (2014) "Here We Go" – The Spook School (2013) "A Doctor" – Doozies (2014) "Our Song" – Radiator Hospital (2013) "Parts of Speech" – Swearin’ (2013)
For me, new wave music was the soundtrack to my childhood. My house was always filled with the sounds of Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and Blondie. Their records still fill my vinyl collection, but one album has always topped the rest. Look Sharp!, Joe Jackson’s incredible debut record, is a new wave, post-punk gem that continues to be one of my favorite albums ever made.
These 11 songs are sharp and biting, but still retain an incredibly fun feel. Jackson’s voice is one of the most distinctive in music and lends a uniqueness, almost a personal trademark, to each track. Each song is wonderful and unique but which one is my absolute favorite? The amazing, incredible, forever-on-every-playlist “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. Seriously, I could wax poetic about this song for hours. The catchy tune, sardonic lyrics, and Jackson’s smooth voice all work perfectly together and create what is one of my all-time favorite tracks.
Other highlights on the record are the raucous “Throw It Away,” the ska-inspired, “Fools In Love,” and of course the title track, “Look Sharp!”. Each one is so distinctive that every song on the album feels new and surprising. So if you’re a new wave newbie, discover Joe Jackson’s debut record and get ready to fall in love.
The Generationals’ new track, “Black Lemon,” is just what we need to hang on to these last moments of summer. As with everything that Generationals produces, “Black Lemon” is sweet, easy-going, and upbeat. I’ve been following this duo for a while now (my first ever Half Past blog post was about Generationals and how much they rock) and with each album, Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer polish their retro pop foundation even more. Get psyched because album number four, Alix, comes out 9/16!
Greetings! Welcome to my new column, Art Blanche!*
We’re always told “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but that doesn’t stop us from doing it anyways. Plus, shouldn’t that be the reason the cover is there – to help us figure out if we want to read this book? Ideally, the cover’s been chosen to actually introduce us to the book in a way that grabs just the right audience. That’s where I’m at on this whole thing, at least.
So, what does that have to do with this column? Well, I’ve always had a great fascination with album art, and in my mind, album covers function just like book covers – there’s some inherent, representational meaning behind the artwork. And so, it’s my hope to make this a weekly exploration and celebration of all the wonderful, intriguing, wacky, and downright awesome album art out there. That way I can share some cool art all while getting a little more in depth than just saying “hey, this is pretty, check it out.”
The goal is to make it as fun as it is interesting, and as interesting as it is fun, so bare with me as I get the ball rolling these first couple weeks.
Disclaimer: I have nowhere near anything resembling formal training in art. In fact, I almost failed art class in seventh grade – it was a mandatory class that you basically passed just for showing up and kinda-sorta trying. That said, I have a great appreciation for art and I know how to use Google and stuff, so I think I can do this some justice.
Week One: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
From fantastic reviews to the fascinating “stick it to the man” story behind its release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a pretty iconic album for Wilco. Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with the story of how the album was released you should really read about it.
But the album’s cover is what I’m most interested in today and visually, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is just as iconic as the rest of it.
Wilco are a Chicago band, as they’ll often have you know, and while recording YHF, they wanted to proudly display their heritage on the album’s cover. In the end, they settled on a simple, but captivating picture of the Marina City towers – two twin honeycomb shaped buildings in downtown Chicago.
But before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Marina City was not the most high profile of buildings in Chicago and wasn’t an obvious choice for the album’s cover. Instead, according to graphic designer Lawrence Azerrad in his interview with the AV Club, the choice to use these towers actually organically evolved out of the long process of designing the perfect cover. For context, Azerrad said designing the cover for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot involved picking through thousands of pictures of Chicago and creating over 300 drafts of the cover before the final one was chosen. (You can catch some of the draft covers in the video here.) As time progressed, Azzerad said it became apparent to him and the band that that a more minimalist cover was going to be the most effective.
Visually, a simpler album cover needed a subject that was interesting enough to stand on its own and still be able to hold the audience’s attention. Sam Jones’ photo of Marina City provided Wilco with exactly what they needed – an abstractly interesting image that played on the towers’ unique architecture. Out of context, the photo is captivating enough to hold its own. In context, anyone who has seen Marina City can recognize it instantly.
So the photo became the cover, and Marina City became the Wilco Towers.
*The credit for this deliciously punny title goes entirely to my friend Marc. He’s a cool kid.
Get excited: Karen O made a solo record! It’s her first, not including the leaked demo KO at Home, which was meant to be a private gift to TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. (Some jackass found it in a suitcase accidentally left behind in Sitek’s old Williamsburg apartment and opted to put it up on the Innernette.) At any rate, Crush Songs will be released on September 9th via Julian Casablancas’ label, Cult Records. To accompany the first single “Rapt,” she has put out a music video, directed by her husband, Barnaby Clay, who also shot the lovely and wacky video for “Zero” (off the band’s 2009 It’s Blitz).
O—beautiful, always—remains submerged in aquamarine water for the duration of the short song. Mostly, she barely moves – as if a pale and red-lipped cadaver. She spins for a moment, and there is a mesmerizing close up of her shimmering dress. Yet, the most haunting shot is of her bare legs and feet—dangling in the water, illuminated by a bright light in the distance.
Apparently, she penned “Rapt” back in 2006 (the entire album was literally recorded in her bedroom between 2006 and 2007)—as her romantic relationship with Spike Jonez deteriorated. At the same time, her six-year partnership (now 14-year!) with Nick Zinner was in danger of crumbling to bits. O described the record as such: “When I was 27, I crushed a lot. I wasn’t sure I’d ever fall in love again. They [the songs] are the soundtrack to what was an ever continuing love crusade.” And now, years later, we get to listen. Sometimes, it seems only a real rocker – one who screams and spits and stomps – can really make you ache. They manage to catch you off guard with their unexpected plaintiveness and candor (think “Maps,” “Warrior,” “Little Shadow” – but, in this case, subdued, lo fi, almost primitive). Stand out lyrics include, “Love is soft / Love’s a fucking little bitch.”
One more time: GET EXCITED. Karen O is letting us into her world; perhaps more than ever before.
Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis delivers a gorgeous mix of endearingly shambling tunes on his new album, Tied to a Star, due out August 26. It builds on the sound heard on his previous release, 2011’s Several Shades of Why, employing folk elements and a strong sense of melancholy. Trademark Mascis elements are still present, namely his unassuming vocals and creative guitar playing.
Opener “Me Again” begins with a plaintive acoustic riff, admittedly pretty far from the heavy distortion of a song like “The Wagon.” Then that familiar voice comes in, soft and cracked and easy to trust. At one point it leaps up into a falsetto, and you think Justin Vernon might have been an unbilled guest. It’s a lovely little moment.
“Every Morning” picks the tempo up to a more rockin’ level, setting the pace with some vigorous strumming. The distortion makes an appearance here in a couple of well-paced solos that opt for clarity over shredding. Two tracks later, the album gets an actual guest in Cat Power’s Chan Marshall. She sounds great, even if she’s basically only around to double Mascis.
“Drifter” offers an instrumental focus, with pounding guitar and percussion. Shaker and what may be tabla, as well as the melodic line, give it a vaguely Eastern feel. It is followed by “Trailing Off,” which culminates in a heavy jam, despite what its title may indicate.
There are a number of sounds at play here, reminiscent of some artists that may or may not be influences. The vocals have a bit of Bon Iver, as mentioned previously. The guitar has shades of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and even Kurt Vile, who Mascis has mentioned before. The guy whose name is on the record is pretty original, of course, but he’s added some colors to his palette.
JOE’S JAZZY JAUNTS: Farmers by Nature - Love and Ghosts
Free improvisation in jazz music can be an off-putting and seemingly impenetrable concept to outside observers. The lack of a clear formal structure and tonal center can read as self-indulgent. But, in a way, that’s the beauty of it. It provides a venue for the performer to dive into an idea with a long leash and willingness to act on impulse.
A prime example of this is the new album Love and Ghosts by piano trio Farmers by Nature. The group - consisting of pianist Craig Taborn, bassist William Parker, and drummer Gerald Cleaver - stretches out over a two-hour run time. They let pieces develop organically, not rushing into any climaxes. The fairly specific titles suggest that there was some concept in mind for each track, meaning that the improvisation was not completely without restriction.
A clear indication of the sonic palette is given right from the outset, on the title track. Taborn strikes a dissonant chord, which then branches out in a bluesy figure. Cleaver asserts himself with a contrasting series of clacks and rustles. Parker first plucks out an insistent riff, then transitions to playing with a bow for an eerie effect.
There’s no tune here, no hook to get stuck in your head. Instead there is a mood and a collection of personalities. The players use all the available resources within the framework of a piano trio to share their impressions of an idea, in this case “Love and Ghosts,” and push each other into a deeper exploration of it. They bring a wealth of varied experiences that result in unique contributions.
Taborn was the player that I was most familiar with before listening. In listening to his own trio’s 2013 album Chants, I formed a conception of him as someone who liked to methodically construct something and then undercut it. Love and Ghosts made clear to me that he possesses incredible technical dexterity as well. These traits are evident on the 18-minute “Comté,” in which a riff is repeated ad nauseum while Cleaver explores the far reaches of his drum set. Around the five minute mark, Taborn introduces a freewheeling and dissonant solo while maintaining the riff. He lets forth with incredible flurries of notes with his right hand while his left somehow remains its independence. The display reflects a notion he puts forth here, asking “How free can you be, and still hold to the structure?”
Parker is the free jazz veteran here, having played the music since the ‘70s. He worked early on with pianist Cecil Taylor, whose influence can be felt on Taborn here. He has also spent time with reed-shredding saxophonists like David S. Ware and Peter Brotzmann. From reading interviews, it seems that he is very interested in all the sonic capabilities of his instrument. An obvious example of this would be the haunting bowing used throughout “Les Flaneurs.”
These talents combine to form a complex and diverse work. At different times it can be beautiful, vulgar, groovy, or ethereal. Think of it like punk rock - a group of people committed to an idea and navigating it with exciting spontaneity.
JJ do their own thing. Always have, always will. (I assume.)
Confusingly enough, V is only the third official album for the swedish duo, but like its predecessors, it continues to bring their signature sound: hip-hop-inspired ethereal music.
For those of you unfamiliar with JJ, on the surface, their fragile sound might seem like a weird thing to mix with rap music, but the duo have been doing this, and doing it well, for five years now. Their past recordings have included covers, references, and adaptations of everything hip-hop from Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” to Diddy’s “Dirty Money.”
From Drake quotes to a song called “All White Everything,” the hip-hop influence on V is quite apparent. Part of JJ’s magic is their ability to seamlessly adapt their influences directly into their own music. On V, we hear this constantly throughout the record. In “Dean & Me,” singer Elin Kastlander’s tender voice recites, “it’s my party and I’ll get high if I want to” in a way that both openly references Drake (and even his inspiration, Leslie Gore) and yet truly feels like an organic piece to the song. On top of that, “Dean & Me” is as beautifully haunting as a song can come.
For the rest of you, V continues exactly where JJ left off: creating beautiful, fun, and unique music. It’s a welcome addition to the duo’s catalog and goes to show that sometimes sticking to the same formula is just as smart as deviating from it.
All in all, with V, JJ show absolutely no signs of quitting on their old ways — and why should they? They’ve practically perfected their unique blend of sound and story, and in such a fascinating way, to boot.
AS HEARD ON TV: Alabama Shakes, “You Ain’t Alone” on Parenthood
If you’re ready for lots of feelings about a fictional family, then Parenthood is the show for you. It gets to the core of relationships among parents and kids, husbands and wives, cousins, and everyone else in between. Parenthood also tackles some tough themes like Asperger syndrome, interracial marriage, and cancer. When you add Lauren Graham in a lead role and the fact that the music director for the show has better taste in indie/alternative artists than many so-called music connoisseurs (including me), Parenthood is a totally acceptable way to spend an evening simultaneously cheering and bawling your eyes out.
First thing’s first, I’m the realest Alabama Shakes needs to go back on tour ASAP. Brittany Howard has such a unique voice with an energy that is pretty impossible to escape. Not to mention, she knows damn well how to rock a polka dot dress. Alabama Shakes’ “You Ain’t Alone,” one of the standout tracks from the debut Boy & Girls, was featured in the fourth season of Parenthood. The focus of the show is all about togetherness - that episode was actually called “Together” - so “You Ain’t Alone” makes perfect sense. It is more subdued than the hit “Hold On,” but not any less impactful. Brittany Howard has this talent of getting straight to the soul and I couldn’t be more grateful.
The final months of anguish have come to an end. NPR Music is streaming Cymbals Eat Guitars’ new album, Lose, two weeks before its official release date, allowing us to indulge in their beautifully grim world.
The moment before you’re about to listen to an album you’ve been waiting years to hear is always restless. With Lose, there is a bit familiarity, opening with their first single “Jackson” and transitioning into “Warning,” which was released a few days prior to the NPR First Listen. It is the perfect way to open the album; the cooing vocals and atmospheric guitars make it feel as though we are entering into their world, and as soon as the harmony begins, we know we have arrived. From there, Cymbals Eat Guitars take us through a whirlwind of emotions, extracting moments from their lives that have been lingering for quite some time, but have never been allowed to surface.
One of the unexpected qualities of this new album that varies from the prior two is the instrumentation. As “Warning” comes to an abrupt close, a harmonica comes optimistically crashing in, sweeping us off into a state of surprise and ecstasy in the brilliant third track “XR.” (It also shows a resemblance to Titus Andronicus’ self-titled track from their album, The Airing of Grievances.) As frontman Joseph D’Agostino screams, “The songs we never wrote that flowed above and below me,” he moves you beyond words as you realize his pain after the loss of his best friend and abusive upbringings.
In Why There Are Mountains and Lenses Alien, the band avoided writing about anything too serious. But Lose is different. It shows signs of maturity. Their recklessness and the moments where it felt like they were spiraling out of control are not as prevalent in this album; the songs never fully reach the point of explosion that so many tracks on their previous albums had (ex. “Rifle Eyesight” and “…And The Hazy Sea.”) It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a change in pace. There are even a few slower songs, one in particular being, “Child Bride,” where the violins and a piano will steal your heart away.
The three years it took for Cymbals Eat Guitars to craft this album was well worth the wait. Lose is forty-three minutes of sheer bliss. It is inspiring and undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year.
A few tracks in particular to check out: “Warning,” “XR,” “Chambers,” and “2 Hip Soul.”
There’s an xkcd comic that exposes the secret coalition to make certain YouTube videos go viral: they have to get exactly “300+” likes from the committee, and are then certified to spread like the plague onto innocent newsfeeds worldwide.
In that vein, I present you with <5K: an exposition on bands that have less than 5,000 likes online. Perhaps one of them will be the next to pass that mysterious threshold into the world of fame and fortune. After all, once you get 5,000 likes, you sell out every show and your records go gold. That’s how it works, right?
*Submissions* If you’re in a band, your friend is in a band, or you just know a band with less than 5,000 likes that deserves to be heard, send a link to email@example.com. If I like it, I’ll put them in an upcoming edition of <5K!
Night Kitchen (111 likes) are a band at work. Their latest 7”, “Thai Iced Tea”/”Chief,” is 6 minutes of moxious, caffeinated indie rock. The titular A-side finds the band shaping a super-percussive sound like a clay vessel on a pottery wheel, crafted out of drum-led rhythms and bending to unexpected chords for a solid 2 minutes of instrumental cookery, before singer and guitarist Jordan Levine adds in smooth lines about coming home. Levine’s vocals are almost a garnish atop the carefully-mixed cocktail of guitar, bass, drums, and synths, standing out in context but not dominating the balance. In this regard, Night Kitchen might draw sonic comparisons to My Morning Jacket. Like the delicious drink of its namesake, Thai Iced Tea is refreshing, lively, and makes me want to move. Listen to Night Kitchen and hope they come out with a full-length soon.
Baklavaa (611 likes) are a Baltimore band cooking up something strange and good. Their album Spiral Cramp from 2013 is a far-out spiked concoction of noise, post-punk, sludge, and dance-punk, with tens of other microgenres peeking through the haze of distortion and chameleonic sonic manipulation. They never wear out an idea, choosing instead to cycle rapidly through multiple structures within each song like bullets in a chamber. Tracks like “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” and the intro to opener “Holy Blood” reveal a drone influence on Baklavaa, though truly, the closest comparison I can draw is to Mr. Bungle. If that means something to you, I’ve said enough; if not, you should probably listen to Mr. Bungle. Then go listen to Baklavaa.
Beach Slang (1,975 likes) exploded onto the East Coast punk scene this spring with their breakneck-paced EP, Who Would Ever Want Something So Broken? The 4 concise songs combine the driven energy of classic distorted chords with astute lyricism about being young, fucked up, and trying to make sense of love. It blurs the line between not giving a damn and thinking all too much, right on the corner of punk and poetry. It’s an astoundingly strong first offering, both musically and in concept. Beach Slang recently announced their upcoming record Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street, out on the Tiny Engines label September 30th. Big things are in store for this band, and people with their ears to the ground have already begun to take notice.
Recommended tracks: “Filthy Luck,” “Get Lost”
VLMA (2,095 likes) is a rock band, also from Baltimore, based around songwriting and multi-instrumentalist duo Alex Velle and Travis Kuncl. Their recent record Slime is a scathing 4-song breath of fire. It’s straightforward, opening with dark riffs and unabashed, mosh-ready choruses. It’s high energy and direct, like staring into the sun. Velle’s guitar work is nuanced enough to place a step above most standard punk guitarists, and Kuncl’s angry vocals, capable of switching between strongly melodic and harshly screamed, are what seal the deal. 4 songs about cyberbullying, boredom, and acceptance of disappointment add up to a promising step forward.
Recommended tracks: “Phil Wood,” “Slime”
The Motel Beds (2,383 likes) tried to think up the dirtiest, nastiest thing possible for their name. The Dayton, OH band is constantly evolving musically, never settling with one sound. They’ve been playing together for a while now, and they’ve covered a wide range of musical ground, from folk-punk to lo-fi; their most recent LP, Dumb Gold, is their best yet. Dumb Gold is heavy with the hooks. It’s catchy, carefully crafted power pop, with tons of nuances and interesting influences. They’re just loads of fun and catchy as all hell. From the infectious rocker opener “Smoke Your Homework” to the cutting ballad closer “Motion Sickness,” it’s a sublimely balanced record. Throw in the lovely guitar work, top-notch drumming, and boom – it’s a fuzzy mid-fi classic.
Recommended tracks: “Smoke Your Homework,” “Better,” “Motion Sickness”
I know that when people see the words “music” and “August,” they usually jump straight to celebrating the “songs of the summer” — big jams that get you moving and are perfect for those sunny days we all know and love — but I was a little sleepy when I first started putting this mix together, so I went in a bit of a different direction. I went a little more somber with my song choices. Sorry.
But I beg of you, please still give this a listen. I find there’s nothing quite like being overcome by the beauty of a (relatively) sad song. And anyways, I’m a little biased but I promise you this mix is pretty fantastic — even if won’t quite have you dancing in your chair.
*Honorable mention to the song “Betelgeuse” by Joywave. It’d be on the list but isn’t on Spotify.