It’s been a couple years since I was singing the praises of Slothrust’s debut, Of Course You Do. That grungy instant classic ended up in my top 10 of 2014, and the band’s latest release is looking to repeat or better that offering. Everyone Else improves in almost every conceivable way over Of Course You Do.
Leah Wellbaum’s guitar sounds better, the lyrics are better, the overall sound of the album is more cohesive and accessible to virgin ears-literally every facet of Everyone Else seems to be prepared in order to launch the band into the mainstream. That’s a shame and a blessing for music fans. Most of what gets written and talked about amongst blogs, major publications, newspapers (eek!) sounds the same to me. Hopefully I’m not alone, because if you’re down for something new Slothrust is going to be right up your alley.
I was introduced to the band through a random email from Bada Bing Records. I’d never received anything from them before, but I’ve never been more thankful for a correspondence that may have been sent to me by mistake. I instantly loved the record and caught the band live at Township, which was awesome (especially considering their next show in Chicago, Nov 19th is at the much larger Bottom Lounge). It’s been a long wait for something new from the band, as Wellbaum kept busy with other artistic endeavours, and October 27th Everyone Else will be available for all to hear.
A couple singles have already been released to get you excited. None of them are my favorite from the record, but of the ones out there for you to hear now, I have to say “Like A Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone” is the one you need to check out.
After an instrumental opening that sounds like a sunny California day as viewed by the goth kids from South Park, “Child” throws you right into the dark world that Wellbaum’s lyrics inhabit. There’s a jaunty guitar riff and bouncy bass line that makes the song sound a bit more cheery than it actually is. And the solo that she slaughters halfway through the song absolutely destroys any assumptions you might have about where the song is going to go.
There are a lot of lyrics on the album about water-sea creatures, drowning in it, birth…It’s a fixation that comes in and out, holding the record together like a strong foundation. “I think my face looks like glass, but my body feels plastic-melt me into a bottle. I wish that I was a baby, sucking on myself. Looking down at the water, I thought that maybe I could be the lake’s daughter. Because I’d flood like an infant inside of it. Weightless to the lake-it’s got nothing to take from me.”
“Rotten Pumpkin” gets a little closer to the sound on their first record, just a bit more polished. It’s loud and fast without taking away from the feeling of pain and despair. “Horseshoe Crab,” a single from the album like the other two songs mentioned so far, is a slower song that allows Wellbaum to stretch her vocal range. At over 5 minutes, it goes on a bit longer than other tracks, but remains one of the better ones. The guitar work here, that swirls around Wellbaum’s voice through the bridge to great effect, is not something all bands can pull off well, but Slothrust nail the balance between too much and just enough added production.
My favorite song comes all the way at the end with “Pigpen.” It’s far too short for my liking, but it’s too good to not mention. It sounds like a front porch version of a RHCP song, with it’s nimbly plucked strings that feel a bit pushed back so they don’t stand out too much. Wellbaum sings “You’ve got an open mouth, and I have got an open wound. Wanna suck the poison out. Will you suck the poison out? And I would spread my wings, if they weren’t so goddam heavy. Yeah I would spread my wings, if they weren’t coated in honey.”
The song ends the album on a disturbingly upbeat tick. Everyone Else contains a lot of darkness, but there’s a steady optimism that things must improve-maybe not now, but someday.
You can pre-order the album on vinyl (or CD?) if you’d like right here. That link will also allow you to see tour dates, which started today and will be making their way across some of the south, the eastern seaboard, and the midwest through November 19th.
I’m currently on a bus from Seville to Granada, Spain. So I feel more compelled than usual to mention the upcoming Flamenco Festival event taking place at Instituto Cervantes October 21-22.
Las Guitarras de España founder/guitarist Carlo Basile will be joined for performances of The Andalusian Trail Part 1: Jaipur to Granada on Friday the 21st, and The Andalusian Trail Part 2: Baghdad to Cordoba – Ziryab’s Journey on Saturday the 22nd. He will be joined by vocalist/oud player Ronnie Malley and Indian veena artist Saraswathi Ranganathan. Tickets for both events are available here.
Here’s a little taste of some of Las Guitarras de España:
Unrelated: Every time I think of Flamenco, I’m reminded of a conversation I had in Minneapolis with a guy I don’t know at 1:30 in the morning while we waited for Prince to take the stage at First Ave on the release of 3121. He told me that many times Prince would just show up at this Spanish restaurant in Minneapolis where they had Flamenco music, eat, and then play guitar for a couple hours while the restaurant was serving customers. So any random night at this Spanish restaurant, you could have been treated to Flamenco guitar by one of the greatest musicians of all-time. That seemed totally insane to me then, and it still seems pretty crazy now.
Sometimes bands don’t make it. Even the really good ones have a hard time breaking through and getting heard. So it always warms my musical heart when someone who didn’t make it decides to give it another go. From the ashes of The Great American Novel came the band Lame (based for a short time in LA), now (in NYC) known as The Romantic Comedy-featuring Layne Montgomery and Aidan Shepard. Live, they’re joined by former TGAN member Pete Kilpin on guitar and Max Miller on bass.
As a debut EP, Let’s Be Sad Together gives a good sense of the music The Romantic Comedy is interested in making going forward. Montgomery continues his search for human connection in the great millennial disconnect that comes along with having everything at your fingertips 24/7. The record (produced by former Passion Pit member Ayad Al Adhamy) is much more polished than I expected, sounding almost like the Fountains Of Wayne albums of the mid-90’s (with a little more synth).
The opening guitar on the second track, “The Thirst,” are some real arena-filling, next-level stuff. It could’ve been created by Rick Nielsen and Dave Keuning in some sort of Nightmare On Elm Street-type shared dream they’re so good. The guitar falls away rather quickly and then comes back in the chorus, boosting the resonance of the heartache of rejection felt throughout the song. The solo, played by producer Ayad, in the last third of the song proves that riff isn’t a fluke-these guys know how to shred with the best of them.
“It’s Alright To Feel” is probably my favorite of the four songs on the EP. The music is anthemic and easy to sing along with, and the lyrics find a great mix of wisdom and biting wit: “You’re still so young, your future’s free. You will be loved, but not by me. Don’t get mad, you need to learn. Don’t get sad, you will get burned.” The final stanza of “It’s alright to love and be loved” acts as a reminder that following your heart might end in pain, but it’s worth it.
Let’s Be Sad Together comes out tomorrow on iTunes at the cheap price of $3.96. You can pre-order it today or get it later at this link.
A special shout-out to Layne for including a reference to That Thing You Do! on the EP. Hopefully when they put out a full-length they’ll have a track called “You’re My Biggest Fan.”
A while back Kari had the opportunity to set up a feature with Stitched Sound about our friend, singer/songwriter Benny Bassett. His album These Dreams, which also features a cover artwork by Kari, came out earlier this year. You can check it out on Spotify right now.
Band Name:Benny Bassett
Acoustic Rock, Singer-Songwriter
How and when did the band form/ when did the artist get their start?
I became a solo artist in April of last year after serving as a co-frontman and lead guitarist for Chicago band Vintage Blue. My former band Vintage Blue had the good fortune to play some great shows, with a ton of great musicians, from Fitz & the Tantrums, to Sister Hazel and Lifehouse. With the band I was able to build a ton of goodwill with regard to not only my performance, but my personality and my care for the art form of songwriting. I have used the foundation of the band to immediately expand my touring and fan reach, from the Midwest, to both coasts and even Canada. I started the solo project by doing a home show tour, playing in living rooms, backyards and house parties. Those opportunities gave me some time to build my chops as an entertainer and player, but also to grow as a touring musician.
Has your local music scene influenced you in any way?
The Chicago music scene is unique in many ways. It doesn’t get the notoriety of New York or Los Angeles, and many of the talented writers are fighting the harsh winters to flock to Nashville in hopes of becoming the next Chris Stapleton or Taylor Swift. But Chicago has some seriously dedicated and talented writers and performers. When I first decided to pursue a solo career I spent time going out to solo shows of other Chicago musicians, like my friend Edmer Abante, Jay Langston, Jess Godwin, Sam Wahl, Micheal McDermott, and many others. I wanted to see how they handled the stage, the pace and their performances. I learned a lot from watching them perform.
As a band/artist, what is the biggest challenge you have faced?
The biggest challenge for all of us that create, is to find a platform to connect with people. For musicians, stages are our primary source of exposure, but beyond that, it is incumbent on us to find unique ways to promote our brands, our music and our personalities. In 2016, there are so many ways to do this, but the space is crowded. Musicians at my level constantly struggle with finding a “right place” to exist. We hire publicists, marketing folks, managers, promoters, etc, but there is never a guarantee. I have found that nothing replaces playing. The stage will always be the best place for you to make your name.
Are there particular artists that have influenced the music you make?
I think that everyone starts with a base of influence that you have no control over … the artists your parents, siblings and friends listen to, all become part of your story. Those bands for me were, Billy Joel, The Police, Average White Band, Steely Dan and the Beatles. Then, as you get a little older and start developing your own musical tastes, you wander through phases, in sync with your own life. In my teens I listened to Nirvana, The Doors, Mystic Roots, Aerosmith, Mudhoney, Pixies, and Metallica. Then, as my music tastes refined and I started playing instruments and writing, I listened to more of the kind of music I was writing, The Eagles, The Band, Dave Matthews, as well as more R&B and Rap, like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, TLC, SWV, Joe Public, and Arrested Development.
Today, as I have ventured more into the Singer-Songwriter realm, I have really focused on learning from those that have gone before me. Matt Nathanson, Tony Lucca, Erick Baker, Shawn Mullins, Will Hoge, Stephen Kellogg, and many others who have carved their own career out of sincere, deep and meaningful lyrics and stories. Those are the kinds of things that I strive to write and sing about, so they are my new torches on this journey.
What are your plans for 2016?
2016 is a HUGE year for me in my still fresh solo career. Last year I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants. My band had unexpectedly split up after having the most exposure we had ever had … debuting on commercial radio and playing alongside international superstars on the Rock Boat. I took the momentum and just started playing everywhere and anywhere. In 2016 I will finally be releasing my debut solo EP, titled These Dreams. I could not be more excited. There will be much touring for sure and I will also be participating in as many industry conferences and events as I can to introduce my new project to the world. I have already showcased at the Folk Alliance Conference in Kansas City, and look forward to performing at RedGorilla Fest in Austin, Texas and participating in NACA regional meetings later in the year. I will also be creating two new music videos and look forward to finding new artists and cool new venues around the world!
About 5 minutes into the AJJ show last night, after “The Michael Jordan Of Drunk Driving” and halfway through “Gift Of The Magi 2: Return Of The Magi,” a fight broke out right in front of the stage. Sean Bonnette stopped the band and asked those involved what the deal was. As usual with fights at shows it was over something dumb and the band told them they’d have to go to the back of the venue if they wanted to watch the rest of the show. It was the first of many times AJJ would call for some kind of order while the audience jumped and screamed and moshed their way into one another. It wasn’t a mad kind of scolding, but I kept waiting to hear “We aren’t upset we’re just disappointed.”
As with all AJJ shows I’ve been to (4), there are those that want to get rowdy up closer to the stage and those, like me, that hang toward the back. I still got run into a few times during “American Tune,” but for the most part people were respectful.
While their can be some tension in the air with all the bodies knocking around, I still prefer a crowd like these to a show where the disconnect between players and spectators makes it hard to watch. People weren’t playing on their phones or talking loudly to each other-everyone was paying attention and enjoying the music.
AJJ just put out The Bible 2, which is a very good album. It’s in my top 25 of the year so far and should have no problem maintaining their slot. The songs take on even more urgency live, where the band plays everything a little faster. “The Brain Is A Human Body” felt much more alive than it does on the record.
This was an early show, which was kind of weird. AJJ went on at 7 and played for an hour and a half. By the end the room was so hot I was running for the exit just to cool off a bit. All that sweaty skin rubbing together up front must have been scorching when the final note was played. With the night over by 9, it was a tough choice between going out for drinks or just going home to bed. AJJ shows are exhausting.
Last fall I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with A Giant Dog at a festival in Austin. They had just signed their deal with Merge Records and finished recording their album, Pile. I found them to be quite pleasant and laid back-not at all like their stage presence, which gets your head banging and heart racing as well as any rock band in the business. They were a great choice to open for Titus Andronicus, one of the greatest live bands of the 21st century.
You can listen to our interview from last October below, and check out the pics from their set last night: