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Lexie Roth-“Drive” (Video)

March 28, 2017 Leave a comment

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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.

If you like what you hear in this song, you can pre-order the EP from Lexie Roth’s bandcamp page. She’ll be hitting the road for a few dates in April. For more info you can check out her Facebook.

Nobody-Turn

March 22, 2017 Leave a comment

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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.

Conor Oberst-Salutations

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment


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.

Khodara-Billie EP

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment
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Photo by David Miller

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.

 

Tei Shi-Crawl Space

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Photo by: JJ Medina

Tei Shi has described her work as “mermaid music.” It’s as good a description as any, as her songs tend to include many different genres layered on top of one another. She also has a voice that draws you in, like the siren song of the sea.

Pop music is the easiest way to classify it, though I don’t know a lot of pop songs that end in a free form jazz breakdown or long sparse outro’s that drip with emotion. The Argentinian-born singer/producer doesn’t settle for the status quo at any point on Crawl Space. Instead, she fills it with sounds that exhibit her personal insecurities and desires. Her voice has a quality of soft sweetness that reminds me of Janet Jackson’s vocals on Janet Jackson’s Janet. album.

The 90’s influences don’t stop there. Early hip-hop beats lay the groundwork for “Baby,” before she adds her contemporary spin which turns it into a glittering dream of warmth and love. That somehow slides perfectly into the dark and funky “How Far.” The opening riff sounds like it was inspired by Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter,” which isn’t a bad way to start a song. There aren’t a lot of lyrics on this one, but these words repeated make the message pretty clear: “It pleases you to say you’re sorry when you’re not/It’s a dangerous slip of the tongue/If it pleases you to see me struggling/I will.”

“Say You Do” has a Carly Rae Jepsen vibe to it. Jepsen is also prone to 90’s pop sounds, so it makes sense that the most straightforward pop track on the album would sound like something Jepsen would make. Shi puts a bit of herself in there, but it should feel familiar to anyone who listens to mainstream radio.

For that you’ll have to move on to “Justify,” easily the best song on the album. It’s pure raw feeling from beginning to end. The production is a huge contrast from the track that precedes it, with a very futuristic feel to it. The soft, sweet vocals turn to a more sultry tone that leads to a final third of the song that is all bass and a yearning yowl.

There aren’t any bad songs here, and the short interludes provide a deeper look into the psyche of the singer. If you enjoy pop music with a twist, you would do well to check out Crawl Space when it is released on March 31st on Downtown Records. You can even pre-order it here. Tei Shi will be hitting the road with MØ starting next Monday for a sold out show at Metro in Chicago and continuing through the 23rd of March.

For more info on Tei Shi, check out her website.

Rafael Vigilantics-Ramblin Bones (Video)

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This song got under my skin in a different way than most. Initially I thought the song itself was just okay, but the video was really good. I watched it a couple more times for the visuals, and as I did, the voice of Rafael Vigilantics started digging into my brain. Part campfire ballad and part trippy head game, the song comes together like a hazy dream.

The song was co-written by Noah Harmon (Airborne Toxic Event), who’s been working on a lot of different projects lately. Other music by Vigilantics, which you can find on Bandcamp, ventures everywhere from folk to hip hop. He seems like a pretty interesting character, so I hope we get some more ahead of his new album Orleans. That record should be coming in the Spring.

He will also be on the road with Sadistik and Nacho Picasso starting in mid-April. Hitting Chicago on May 7th, so keep that in mind. Check out his Facebook page for any updates.

Sound & Shape-Peasants

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

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It’s been 3 years since Sound & Shape’s last release, Bad Actors. The Nashvillians return with Peasants on March 24th. The 5-song EP is another step up for the rock band who have been working their way toward mainstream popularity for almost a decade. Peasants is easily their most accessible work, with passages reminiscent of everything from Queens Of The Stone Age to Steely Dan.

The anthemic opener “Dandelion” sets the stage for a sadly-too-quick jaunt showcase of the band’s talents. Lead singer Ryan Caudle has a smoothness to his voice that betrays the amplitude to which they rock. Oftentimes there is a sweet melody that doesn’t seem to fit with some of the other music around it, but like Caudle’s vocals, they work in the context of the song.

“Patchwork Heroes” has a lot of the same vibe you find in some of Foo Fighters more popular work, so I guess that’s the band I would most compare them to, except you haven’t seen them everywhere commenting on every topic that happens anywhere in music, so you might find their faces a little less punchable. The drumming, by Grant Bramlett, throughout the record really does remind me of Taylor Hawkins, so I think that is a fair comparison.

The production quality on Peasants is a step up from Bad Actors, which adds to the radio-ready sound. The guitar runs that fill some of the quiet spaces are noticeable but don’t dominate the other instruments, which I appreciate. But when it’s time for the lead guitar to really step forward and become the focal point, they give it all the attention it needs to shine bright.

If you haven’t heard Sound & Shape at all, this is going to be a great spot to start. It’s always fun to hear a band’s best work and then go back and see how they got there. You can pre-order Peasants here.

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