If you’ve been following Sir Sly for a while, you may have been pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail last week from Hayden Copley describing the events leading to their latest single, “High” (it’s pretty funny, so I’ll include it at the bottom). I was excited to hear that the group is back and releasing new songs, and equally excited that the latest is really good.
You Haunt Me came out way back in 2014. Since then Sir Sly have been pretty quiet, releasing a remix EP and one other song over the last couple years. “High” was written before any of that, going all the way back to their earliest tastes of fame with appearances on “Conan” and song placements in video games and commercials. Living with the song for so long may have given it an added level of confidence.
It sounds a lot like other Sir Sly songs, but more grounded in truth. I sometimes get a feeling of detachment from their music, but not here. The percussion brings it to life and keeps your brain from giving anything else attention, so you’re fully engaged from beginning to end.
I’m really hoping this is the first in an avalanche of new music from Sir Sly. Ive been waiting for a while, and honestly kind of gave up hope that they’d even do anything else. Thankfully they’ve delivered something to get fans excited again.
“Hello, this is Hayden from Sir Sly and I am writing the press release for our new single “High”.
Initially, we had someone else write it and they did a nice job––in fact, my favorite quote said that our new song “turns a hotel-room panic attack into a creative breakthrough” (true!). Still, I wanted to give you a bit more background, in chronological order, formatted by bullet points
April 20, 2014: It’s a day off on tour with The 1975. We’re colonizing a beige, Spartan room at the Courtyard Marriott in Oakland. Landon, our front man, steps out for a smoke.
Shortly thereafter, he becomes one with the universe. Additionally, my man sprawls out on the bathroom tile, smiling, scared, and stoned, naming off a list of people to whom he must give this newly discovered, all-encompassing, cosmic love.
September 16, 2014: The trip subsides, we finish the tour, and release an album called You Haunt Me. It does pretty well. My Mom tells all her friends about the time we played Conan, and how she heard us on the radio.
Deep inside, I’m a little disappointed because I read somewhere on the internet that we were supposed to be the next Coldplay, yet I still drive a 2001 Nissan Pathfinder with a check engine light.
Over the next six months, we start, and later abandon, a sophomore album full of minimal electronic songs. The lyrics are mostly outward facing, obtuse, anxious. It was good, but Jamie xx we are not.
June 2015: Back at square one and thinking hard about words like “sonic” and “identity,” Jason makes a round, booming instrumental in his studio in Costa Mesa. I cobble together a sampled, sauntering drum beat on a bus in Italy. Landon comes up with this sticky melody that’s part talking, part singing, all feel. We get in a room and they meld together.
It ends up being a revisionist retelling of that April 2014 night with a wink and some rose-colored glasses, borne of a desire to have a song to dance to every show.
We feel like it’s good shit.
I play it for an anonymous Uber driver and he’s all in. My Dad hears it and says it is “poppier” than our old stuff. My brother loves it and posts it to his Instagram months before it’s released because he thinks it’s already out.
Now: “High” comes out. “It’s an upbeat anthem about ego death” lead singer Landon Jacobs told the biographer, while I was on the other line of the conference call. “It really opened up the honesty of the record.”
Fittingly, it’s the first song from a forthcoming album that is lived-in, loose, and against all odds, a celebration. Thanks for listening.”
Lexie Roth’s new EP comes out at the end of this week and, judging by the couple songs I’ve heard, she’s come a long way from the folk singer I saw at Subterranean a few years ago. The only real similarity is that she has Sons Of An Illustrious Father backing her up on Move Me, much like she did at that show. The music is much different, however, with synths and electronic drums joining her finger-plucked guitar and vocals.
“Drive” is the second song from the EP to get the video treatment, following “Hanging Around,” which came out a couple weeks ago. This one gets a little bit darker, as it shows Lexie escaping an abusive relationship. The way it’s filmed reminds me a bit of the scene in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (unfairly trashed by many) when Orlando Bloom’s character goes on a road trip to try to connect with his deceased father. Totally different concepts, but the feeling I got was the same.
What happens to art when we extricate it from the artist? Does it lose the hold it has on us, or does it grow stronger? Perhaps in manufactured pop or radio music, a song like “Sorry” wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t have the Bieber brand attached to it. On the flip side, I’ve often heard songs whose title eluded me, and whose performer went unnamed. These songs usually strike a different kind of chord, because they could be made by anybody. Or nobody.
If you’re familiar with the work of Willis Earl Beal at all, the name Nobody should be nothing new. The symbol of a face with +’s for eyes has long been associated with his music, and the Church Of Nobody was his touring band for a time. After slipping out of the scene just as quickly as he exploded onto it, he’s been releasing new music fairly anonymously for a couple years. Now he’s taking that anonymity further by putting out music under the Nobody moniker.
The first album under the new pseudonym is Turn, a beautifully hypnotic piece of self-reflection. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll notice that the album doesn’t stray too far from what you heard on Experiments In Time, or last year’s Noctunes. In this sound, he’s found a great way to hide beauty under the shroud of darkness for the listener to seek out and discover for themselves.
There’s an overwhelming sadness to Turn, from beginning to end Nobody is on a search for inner peace that is forever elusive. The quiet desperation of the track “Lonely” is driven home with these lines “Slow motion feels like death. You pass me by, can’t feel my breath. Window pane I’ve got nothing left. Press my face on the glass, cause you know I feel lonely.”
On “Feel,” which could be considered the first single from the album now that Beal posted a video for the song shot in his car while listening to it on his car stereo, one could infer that he’s singing about his musical career when he says “You don’t wanna lose what you never had. Now you’re a young man who says your woman just can’t understand the sacrifices you’ve made. And you feel like she’s drifting away into the land of another reality, and you feel like a liability.” Is Beal confessing that he can’t put anything before his art-even love? He laments a few times in a row “You must do this alone,” perhaps providing some insight into his loneliness.
Much of the album features rhythms one would most accurately call “tribal.” I find this to be a two-fold function: on the one hand it’s a simple way to keep a pulsing beat behind the music with minimal infringement on the other sounds. It also conveys a certain feeling of spirituality that complements the ethereal vocals. Other times the beat is more song-specific, like the galloping hooves of a stallion on “Cowboy.”
For anyone hoping to hear something reminiscent of “Wavering Lines,” the closest you’ll find here is the song “You.” The vocals show off Beal’s range, which remains impressive. The vibe isn’t as minimalistic as the rest of the album, with strings and some different drum sounds than other tracks. It’s arranged a bit like a house version of a Julee Cruse song from “Twin Peaks,” which blends well with the overall dark mystery of Turn.
On the final track, the vocals are shared by both male and female singers (Beal and Symona Meer). Their voices fill the space of “Time” equally in the most straightforward song on the record. The darkness remains lingering with the refrain “Time is a burden that I need not keep. Just like my soul is not worthy for you to weep.” However, some light is shed as we get to the end, whether it represents death or just the end of a long chapter, with singing birds taking over for the singers.
No official release date has been made available, though I am told it could be as early as the end of the month.
If you’d like to check out the interview I conducted with Beal a few weeks ago, click here.
The story that precedes Chris Milam’s new record, Kids These Days, is a sad one. It’s also a classic tale of someone who loses everything and then has to start over again, figuring out who they want to be from the bottom up. These 12 songs are a fresh start and a declaration of who Chris wanted to be from that day forward. It’s a musical journey that takes you through all kinds of emotions.
We start with a trilogy of songs dealing with the broken engagement that started Chris down this road. The opening trickle of guitar sounds like a nod to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna-Fall” before Milam’s smooth vocals come into the listener’s ear. Before long, there’s a full on band and string section filling up the space as the simmering rage boils to the surface. He sings “There’s a picture on your phone, of me at ten years old, and I don’t know where that kid has gone. Every day, every mile, every casual smile, every story retold, every joke getting old. While you won’t talk around it, I’m screaming it out babe, I’m dying.” The emotions finally come to a head and the band carries the load for a moment while Chris catches his breath. It ends on a whisper before the gospel-tinged “Half Life” picks up.
That song plays it pretty simple and straightforward, laying out the engagement itself and how quickly it turned around. “Autumn” is probably the most fully-realized song on the record emotionally. I recommend listening with headphones, because there is a lot of string work you might miss without them. There’s a moment a little more than halfway through the song where the cello melts into a guitar solo that is really quite extraordinary. He lets the instruments do a lot of the heavy lifting, and it works to his advantage as the arrangement is done well and really tugs at the heartstrings.
Once that section of the record is over, Chris frees himself up to try all kinds of stuff. He unleashes some big, fuzzy guitar work on the album’s lead single “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” and gets to show off some of that Memphis blues that’s swimming around in his veins.
He plays it smart and doesn’t let any of the songs overstay their welcome. And the style changes enough that you won’t lose interest with too many ballads in a row or too much guitar (is that a thing? too much guitar?). There’s a lot going on throughout most of the tunes, so a dedicated listener will be rewarded.
Standout’s for me are: “All Of Our Ghosts” for the string work, “New Drug” for rock and roll, and “Coldweather Girls” for storytelling. You’ll want to listen to everything, of course, and you can on April 7th when Kids These Days is released on Namesake Records.You can pre-order it now on iTunes and get the title track right away.
If you’re in Memphis you will have the chance to see Chris play around the record release date (March 26 at Ghost River Brewing and April 6 at Loflin Yard). If not, you’ll have to wait until later this spring/summer. For full details on touring and more music, check out his website.
I was over the moon earlier this years when it was announced that Conor Oberst would be joined by The Felice Brothers on a new record. The fact that the record would be seven new songs mixed in with full-band versions of the songs on Ruminations didn’t bother me at all. In fact, the idea that the earlier record was almost a demo tape for Salutations makes me like that collection of songs even more. The addition of The Felice Brothers, and Jim Keltner on drums, provided me with such confidence that they could’ve just remade all the old Bright Eyes songs and I’d be okay with it.
For the most part everything works on Salutations. Some of the new versions of Ruminations songs seem to be not all that different-some added harmonies or maybe a little guitar, but nothing huge. On others, they take a good song and make it a great one. The new takes on “A Little Uncanny” and “Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)” are fantastic and really make good use of the additional band members. Others, like “Gossamer Thin,” lose some of their raw intimacy.
The new songs are all pretty consistent with the old songs as far as themes and soundscapes. Nothing seems out of place. “Overdue” is a standout from the new stuff. Ian Felice gets to showcase his guitar work a little, and the harmonies really elevate the chorus and give it some emotional resonance.
The album closer, and title track, actually sounds more like a Bright Eyes song. Oberst’s voice is loud and clear in all it’s imperfect glory. The band is mostly subdued until a beautiful steel guitar solo from Ian, followed by Conor namechecking the previous album.
In total, Salutations fully lived up to my expectations. When I saw Oberst play with The Felice Brothers (and First Aid Kit) a few years ago, it was probably the best rock and roll show I’ve ever seen. The quality of music on this record well exceeds the output of most singers who have been in the game as long as Oberst. Hopefully this is the first of many collaborations between these artists.
Back in January I wrote about the lead single off Khodara’s latest EP, Billie. At the time I said that the slow, sultry beat would transport you to another time and place. That’s a theme that resonates throughout the record, with hypnotic sounds that draw you in to the inner workings of Khodara’s mind. It’s done rather simply, with a drum machine and some synths, but it’s very effective. The way her vocals melt into the music rewards those who listen closely, but also makes it a great chill record that you can just have on in the background.
Along with producer Billy Pavone, Khodara does a fine job of keeping the EP consistent across all four tracks. With some tweaking you could almost make it into one long song, which is a good thing in this case. It feels like all the songs were written at the same time, with the same things in mind. It begins and ends with a whisper, hints of simmering rage and lamentation over love fill in most of the space in between.
Billie is officially out this Friday, March 17th. You can hear three (“Billie,” “Anxious,” and “Lunatics”) of the four tracks right now on her Soundcloud page.
Last night producer/singer Tei Shi joined MØ for their first date in the US together. The crowd was sold out, and though many did not know who she was before her set began, they quickly warmed to Tei Shi and danced along with the music.
Tei Shi has a new record coming out called Crawl Space, which I reviewed last week. It’s really well done, and shows off a love of 90’s pop as well as more contemporary beats. The song “Justify” would be my recommendation if you want one song to start you off. She was able to pull off the howls from that song perfectly during the performance, which was really impressive to me.
It doesn’t hit the shelves until the end of the month, but you can check out a couple tracks now…