HOW DID I MISS THIS: Birdlips

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.

-Dylan Singleton

ALBUM REVIEW: Ty Segall - Manipulator

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.

-Katie Cheyne

See Ty Segall at 9:30 Club on Monday, September 15!

AS HEARD ON TV: Emmys Edition

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.  

-Emily Hirsch

MUSIC MONDAY: Keegan’s Picks

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)

-Keegan Hudson

CRATE DIGGIN’: Joe Jackson - Look Sharp!

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.

-Janice Freeman

NEW TRACKS: Generationals, “Black Lemon”

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!

-Emily Hirsch

See Generationals at U Street Music Hall on Saturday, October 11! 

ART BLANCHE: An Introduction

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.

-Dylan Singleton

*The credit for this deliciously punny title goes entirely to my friend Marc. He’s a cool kid.

NOSTALGIA, MY MUSE: Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest 

Halfway through their show, I had the most electrifying sensation; it was the closest feeling I’ve had to an out-of-body experience in the entirety of my life. Deerhunter is like no other, and their ability to move their listeners beyond expectation continues to leave me breathless.

Last fall, they made a stop at 9:30 on their Monomania tour. As one of their tracks from the album, “The Missing,” came to a close, the crowd grew still. The Club was completely dark, and as the dim blue lights began to illuminate the stage, Bradford Cox began to sing “Helicopter.” In that moment, something about the way the breeze was moving and the fog laid on the stage, as soon as the chorus began, I effortlessly stuck my arms into the air and felt this ecstasy come over me in a way that has yet to be mimicked.

While every Deerhunter album has taken on a life of it’s own, giving off a different vibe as the band continues to grow, their 2010 release, Halcyon Digest, came out at a time when I needed it the most and has stuck with me ever since. The instrumentation inspires the album to be experimental while also serving as an immaculate pairing with Cox’s spiritual and gratifying lyrics.

“Earthquake” is the album opener where the dreamy and atmospheric instrumentals serve as the focal point. If you have the opportunity to listen to this track through headphones off in a secluded place, you will undoubtedly be immersed in Deerhunter’s world. Bradford Cox says so much while saying so little. He takes us back to a time, or even into a dream, where things may have been simpler and didn’t make much sense, but it didn’t matter because you were living. “Do you recall, waking up on a dirty couch, in the gray fog…Columns shake your feet, beneath your feet.” This nostalgic and helpless longing reoccurs in the seven and a half minute closer, “He Would Have Laughed,” which is also a dedication to the beloved musician, Jay Reatard, whose life was taken too soon.

“Sailing” and “Coronado” are two of the most underrated tracks on the album. “Sailing” is the most laid back. It is like a painting of a sailboat that is in the middle of the ocean with no land around for miles. It inspires us all to take time for ourselves to figure out our own meaning, “I didn’t mind, no. Nowhere to be, nothing to see, except me. Only fear can make you feel lonely out here. You learn to accept, whatever you can get.”

Halcyon Digest is a near-perfect album where every track is essential, not one is more pivotal than another. The world deserves this album; it is utterly compelling and refined.

-Katie Cheyne

WE LOVE OUR PARTNERS: Victoria Gastro Pub
Need a place to grub and imbibe (if you’re of age) before your next Merriweather show? Look no further than Columbia’s own Victoria Gastro Pub!
Located thirteen minutes from Merriweather on Snowden River Parkway, Victoria Gastro Pub offers innovative twists on classic pub fare in a warm, inviting atmosphere. Its dinner menu features, for example, duck fat fries with roasted aioli and truffle sea salt, which serve as the perfect precursor to Victoria’s own Allagash-White-beer-battered fish and chips. Wash it all down with your pick from this fresh, intoxicating draft list. 
Be sure to follow Victoria Gastro Pub on Facebook and Twitter by Monday, when they’ll be announcing a giveaway for a pair of Route 29 lawn tickets! Doesn’t brunch at Victoria’s, followed by a day at Merriweather with Trampled by Turtles, Trombone Shorty, Iron & Wine, and more sounds just perfect?
-Madelyn Dutt

WE LOVE OUR PARTNERS: Victoria Gastro Pub

Need a place to grub and imbibe (if you’re of age) before your next Merriweather show? Look no further than Columbia’s own Victoria Gastro Pub!

Located thirteen minutes from Merriweather on Snowden River Parkway, Victoria Gastro Pub offers innovative twists on classic pub fare in a warm, inviting atmosphere. Its dinner menu features, for example, duck fat fries with roasted aioli and truffle sea salt, which serve as the perfect precursor to Victoria’s own Allagash-White-beer-battered fish and chips. Wash it all down with your pick from this fresh, intoxicating draft list

Be sure to follow Victoria Gastro Pub on Facebook and Twitter by Monday, when they’ll be announcing a giveaway for a pair of Route 29 lawn tickets! Doesn’t brunch at Victoria’s, followed by a day at Merriweather with Trampled by Turtles, Trombone Shorty, Iron & Wine, and more sounds just perfect?

-Madelyn Dutt