SEPT 8 - 10, 2022
Four albums into her career, Courtney Barnett remains one of the most distinctive and compelling voices in indie rock. Her sprawling-but-intense live shows oscillate between intimate folk-balladry to glorious, feed-back heavy jams. Armed with a back-catalogue of gems as well as some of her best and most musically adventurous new work to date, Barnett will bring her thunderous rhythm section back to North America for the first time in almost three years.
Barnett’s enigmatic and introverted character is made all the more compelling by the honesty and brutal self-reflection laid bare in her writing. With countless awards in her home of Australia as well as Grammy and BRIT nominations, fawning press and an adoring audience, Barnett’s rise to global prominence feels both unprecedented and important. Music fans have rarely witnessed the breathless acclaim and superlatives that comprised reviews of Barnett’s debut album “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Think” – Rolling Stone praised her as “one of the sharpest, most original songwriters around—at any level, in any genre”. 2017 saw the release of the wonderful album “Lotta Sea Lice”, an introspective but beautiful album of duets with Kurt Vile while we awaited the release of 2018’s fierce sophomore solo album “Tell Me How You Really Feel”.
Perfume Genius is the moniker of artist Mike Hadreas. Hadreas grew up in Seattle, WA and started his music career in 2008. He released his debut album Learning in 2010 via long-time label home Matador, and it instantly caught the attention of critics. "The songs on Hadreas' full-length debut are eviscerating and naked," said Pitchfork, "with heartbreaking sentiments and bruised characterizations delivered in a voice that ranges from an ethereal croon to a slightly cracked warble." These descriptors became the hallmarks of Perfume Genius -- Hadreas' unique ability to convey emotional vulnerability not only lyrically, but with his impressively nuanced vocals.
His following album, Put Your Back N 2 It was released in 2012 and continued to build both his audience and critical acclaim. 2014's Too Bright exhibited a massive leap forward in both production and confidence. Co-produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead, the album featured the stand-out single, "Queen." The track quickly became a queer anthem and a powerful statement of being. Hadreas performed the song on Late Night with David Letterman.
In 2017, Perfume Genius released the GRAMMY-nominated No Shape, an album that would crystalize his fanbase world-wide and bring mainstream awareness to his art. The record was produced by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes). "If you listen to the four Perfume Genius albums in chronological order, you can hear Hadreas healing himself in real time, moving toward an emancipation that seems, suddenly, to have come to pass," said The New Yorker. "The center of his music has always been a defiant delicacy -- a ragged, affirmative understanding of despair. 'No Shape' finds him unexpectedly victorious, his body exalted." Over the course of the campaign he appeared on multiple late-night television shows and graced the cover of The Fader.
Perfume Genius' music has played a central role in a number of films and television including The Goldfinch, The Society, 13 Reasons Why, Booksmart and Eighth Grade. He has collaborated with artists including Christine And The Queens, Sharon Van Etten, Weyes Blood, Cate Le Bon, Anna Calvi, King Princess and more. Hadreas has also collaborated with brands like Prada and W Hotels on special projects. His albums have been nominated for a GRAMMY Award and a GLAAD Media Award and have topped numerous decade-end lists including Billboard's, Pitchfork's, Crack's, Paste's and more.
With a career spanning nearly four decades, Kim Gordon is one of the most prolific and visionary artists working today. A co-founder of the legendary Sonic Youth, Gordon has performed all over the world, collaborating with many of music’s most exciting figures including Tony Conrad, Ikue Mori, Julie Cafritz and Stephen Malkmus. Most recently, Gordon has been hitting the road with Body/Head, her spellbinding partnership with artist and musician Bill Nace. Despite the exhaustive nature of her résumé, the most reliable aspect of Gordon’s music may be its resistance to formula. Songs discover themselves as they unspool, each one performing a test of the medium’s possibilities and limits. Her command is astonishing, but Gordon’s artistic curiosity remains the guiding force behind her music.
Gordon continues this pursuit on No Home Record, her first-ever solo release, produced by Justin Raisen (Angel Olsen, Yves Tumor, John Cale, Charli XCX, etc.) and recorded at Sphere Ranch in Los Angeles. Borrowing its name from a Chantal Akerman film, No Home Record is, in many ways, a return as much as it is a departure. When Gordon first began playing music in the early 1980s, she used a guitar, a drum machine, and some lyrics sniped from magazine advertisement copy. No Home Recordcontains echoes of that setup, in both form and concept. On “Cookie Butter” (produced by Shawn Everett), Gordon’s vocals jut out insistently over a tinny raindrop beat: “You fucked / You think / I want / You fell.” The song continues, hectic and driving, until finding resolution in the lines “Industrial metal supplies / Cookie butter,” perfectly illustrating Gordon’s singular lyric capacity to meld cultural critique, divulgence and humor.
This captivating ability is further exemplified by “Don’t Play it Back” (produced by Jake Meginsky) where Gordon’s wiry vocals slice the track’s circling electric floor: “You don’t own me / Golden Vanity / You can pee in the ocean / It’s Free.” This nod—with a wink—towards culture’s increasingly fraught (and increasingly commodified) relationship with identity and the self is one of No Home Record’s central themes. “Shopping off a cliff / You’re a breath on my eye / To lose a compass of teeth / Hash away at twitter,” Gordon recites, phosphorescent and dirge-like, on the album’s stunning closer “Get Yr Life Back Yoga,” “Everyday, everyday, everyday / I feel bad for you / I feel bad for me.”
It makes sense that this “American idea” (as Gordon says on the agitated rock track “Air BnB”) of purchasing utopia permeates the record, as no place is this phenomenon more apparent than Los Angeles, where Gordon was born and recently returned to after several lifetimes on the east coast. It was a move precipitated by a number of seismic shifts in her personal life and undoubtedly plays a role in No Home Record’s fascination with transience. The album opens with the restless “Sketch Artist,” where Gordon sings about “dreaming in a tent” as the music shutters and skips like scenery through a car window. “Even Earthquake,” perhaps the record’s most straightforward track embodies this mood; Gordon’s voice wavering like watercolor: “If I could cry and shake for you / I’d lay awake for you / I got sand in my heart for you,” guitar strokes blending into one another as they bleed out across an unstable page. Front to back, No Home Record is an expert operation in the uncanny. You don’t simply listen to Gordon’s music; you experience it.
Now comes Charley's tenth album in his six-year career. In the Crockett tradition, it is as ambitious and ground-breaking as each piece of recorded music he's put out so far. And it's not just an album. It's a double LP of Charley Crockett originals, each song going the distance to further define this singer-songwriter-performer-artist who came out of the proverbial nowhere.
Sad, uplifting, hard, and sweet, complex, and delicate all at once, his songs are like life its ownself, just like the songs' creator: like nothing you've heard or seen before, a genuine Texas original.
Seun Kuti’s mission is as vast as the continent from which it sprang: “Inspire Africa to be what it is supposed to be.”
The youngest son of visionary Fela Kuti, Seun has continued the family tradition of fusing music and politics into something transcendent. Like his parents and grandparents, Seun is an activist on the frontlines - a revolutionary in every sense of the word. He has responded to our global moment of crisis in a burst of creativity.
With his weekly radio show, his mythical gigs at The Shrine in Lagos, and a righteous social media presence, Seun is a towering figure in Nigeria. In “When We Move,” his recent collaboration with Common and Black Thought (from The Roots), he continues to ask the difficult questions:
“Would they feel the pain like we do?
Would they hear a cry like we do?”
“I have to give all the flowers to Black Thought,” Seun says from his home in Lagos. “He has has been a big brother to me for a long time. He called me up, asked ‘You want to do this with Common?’ He sent me the tune. I did my vocals, added the hook, added the horns. Black Thought did a little verse, then we shot the video here at The Shrine.”
Common, Black Thought, and Seun, though from different parts of the world, confront universal issues, citing inspirations from Fela to Mandela. “Everything is a struggle, school, housing, we are all children of sacrifice,” says Seun. “Women and kids, destitute and displaced, we must ask these questions. How else will they be heard?”
Seun channels this pain into a joyous cry for justice, giving voice to the voiceless. Like his father, Seun doesn’t just stand against corruption - he dances against it, sings against it, pressing onward with his family’s sacred musical mission: resisting oppression, uniting the people with rhythm.
To grasp the depth of this dynasty one must look beyond Fela, to Seun’s grandfather, a composer of hymns in traditional Nigerian form. Seun’s grandmother was the first Secretary General of the International League of Women. When speaking of her Seun invokes Oya, the Storm Goddess of Wind and Lighning. His respect for feminine power is woven into his lyrics.
And now the torch of justice has been passed to Seun, Pro-Tem Chairman of Movement of the People, the political party launched by his father which Seun is resurrecting.
Seun creates music to heal the violence that he sees between people and nature. "I see us as gardeners of the earth. Nature needed a conscious species to appreciate the beauty and preserve it, yet we are here doing the opposite.”
Seun’s lyrics are set to rhythms born in Africa, which then circled the globe, returning to Nigeria where Fela reinvented them as Afrobeat. “I was raised in Afrobeat,” says Seun, who joined his father’s band at 9 and began fronting it at 14. “This has been my life, as far back as I can remember. My mom was always in the band singing and dancing, so my fate was sealed.”
This was a towering challenge for a 14 year old boy. “It’s difficult to believe in the magical because the real is so toxic,” says Kuti. His response to the real can be heard in his single, “Love and Revolution,” appearing on his next album. The title could function as a mission statement for Seun himself. “Love Is Revolution” he posted to Instagram last year.
Seun’s upcoming EP, coming out in late spring, features Black Thought from The Roots on all three songs. Guests artists on the EP include Akala, the Jamaican Scottish UK rapper/ producer, and Vector, the biggest hip hop artist in Lagos. The EP is produced by DJ Molotov who produced an earlier version of “Black Times,” Seun’s 2018 song that looked to the future:
“Let the black light shine on your path”
Like a heartbeat, rhythm has passed through this family, its power as strong as ever. “Music is what allows humanity to rediscover itself,” says Kuti.
Seun is returning to the road this spring and summer, touring Europe and the United States, with dates soon to be announced. He also makes his film debut in the upcoming “No Man’s Land,” featuring his song “Love and Revolution.”
“It’s a film about young people resisting the government's attempt to steal their land,” he says. “Whoa bro, this is a big movie.”
Dawn Richard treats Louisiana Creole culture, New Orleans bounce, and Southern Swag as elemental, allowing Dawn to weave in and out of house, footwork, R&B, and more. As she says, “I am the genre.”
As a founding member of Danity Kane, and later with Diddy’s Dirty Money, Dawn was able to explore the ins and outs of commercial pop music. As a solo artist, she opted to self-release her music. Over the span of five critically acclaimed full-length albums, Dawn has made the message clear that she will not bow down or bend to industry norms. All the while, she’s built her resume with enough extracurriculars to make your head spin: Cheerleader for the New Orleans Hornets? Check. Animator for Adult Swim? Check. Owner-operator of a vegan pop-up food truck? Check. Martial arts expert? Check!
“You never see women appreciated as producers and artists alike—especially Black women in the electronic space. The time is now for us to start recognizing their talent, not only in electronic music but in all genres. I wanna be the reason why a young Black girl from the South can be whoever she wants to be musically, visually, and artistically.”
Upon arrival during the fraught summer of 2020, Flower of Devotion felt like Dehd’s necessary prescription for us all. That was, of course, a moment of unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty, when just contemplating the future could seem overly optimistic. But Dehd captured and shared the precarious balance between real life and real hope, a feat mirrored by instant pop melodies and infectious punk energy. The Chicago trio had the audacity to look ahead when many of us didn’t, to imagine improvement through mere existence. It was an album we needed. We need its follow-up, the triumphant Blue Skies, even more.
Dehd’s fourth album (and first for Fat Possum) is also the band’s second consecutive breakthrough, loaded with the most compelling, compulsive, and expansive songs of their career. Blue Skies offers another jolt of timely hope, only with twice the power. These 13 hits feel like flashlights in the dark, acknowledging how difficult everything from love and sex to living and dying can be while supplying the inspiration of their own experiences. “There’s a hole in my window/I was wondering how the rain was getting in,” Emily Kempf sings during the magnetic “Window,” acknowledging the problem before jubilantly exclaiming she’s moving toward something new. “Blue skies!”
The rapturous reception of Flower of Devotion gave Dehd access to more resources — budgets, studios, producers. Rather than seek something new, however, they invested in themselves, their process, and their deep belief in what they have always done. They booked the same studio where they had recorded Flower of Devotion but tripled their stay, giving themselves time to play with arrangements and delight in a wonderland of drum machines and synthesizers.
Through Dehd’s career, Jason Balla has been building his chops as a producer, so this was a chance to indulge and explore. Eric McGrady, meanwhile, considered how much more he could deliver as a drummer, adding layers to the thump of his past. And Emily, who admits that the process of making records has always been emotionally draining, focused on harnessing her indomitable energy, funneling her power into these songs without being overpowered by them. Dehd gave themselves runway to make mistakes and the space to make a statement. Blue Skies is their poignant, redemptive, and deeply fun testament to trusting and pushing yourself.
These 33 minutes run like a series of interconnected singles, each song so hooky and strong that you’ll be hard-pressed to name a favorite. The triumphant “Bad Love” is a surge of self-liberation, Emily leading the charge through an anthem about admitting your faults, seeking forgiveness, and finding a way forward. “I got a heart full/I got a heart full of redemption,” she offers at the start, a moment that suggests Springsteen writing with The Go-Go’s. A Tom Verlaine quiver to his voice, Jason takes a nighttime walk in the city as anxiety closes in during the irrepressible “Stars,” calming himself with a concrete reminder he’s still here. And there’s Eric’s splendid “Hold,” a chiming wonder with elastic bass lines and cascading piano parts that interlock beneath his hypnotic voice. He affirms the impact of simple acts of love.
But even when they sound ebullient, Dehd has never shied from troubles, the balance that has made them so magnetic. Above wafting synths and marching drum machines, “Memories” feels first like an electro dirge, memorializing lost friends. Such moments — and there are several clouds amid these Blue Skies — are pointed signals of our collective woe. Dehd presses ahead, though, into a future that offers something else if not always something better. What hope, after all, is more dependable? They end “Memories” in a refrain of pure persistence: “I’m doing all I can.” Blue Skies gets real. Blue Skies never wallows.
Toward the end of 2021, Dehd shared stages with Julien Baker, their first substantive chance to take Flower of Devotion on the road. Every night after their set, fans would tell the band how those songs had helped during the toughest times of the last two years. Those listeners had recognized what makes Emily, Jason, and Eric so compelling — they put their individual experiences on the page, then project them together with heart and empathy into instant hooks. Those post-show admissions could be a lot to process for the band, but they provided galvanizing confirmations that they’d made the right decision with Blue Skies. They would keep pulling light out of the dark with songs that feel so fucking good to hear right now.
The writing is sharper and smarter on Blue Skies. The harmonies and rhythms are more sophisticated and considered. The moods are deeper, the swings between them more inspiring. But this is still Dehd, just more wild and wonderful than ever before. “This is all we get,” Emily shouts with relish on the record’s last lines, during a song about the ways geologic deep time should free us all to live more. “Best to take the risk.” Heard, loud and clear.
Makaya McCraven is a beat scientist. The bleeding edge drummer, producer, and sonic collagist is one of Chicago’s savviest cultural players and a multi-talented force whose inventive process & intuitive, cinematic style defy categorization.
French-born but raised in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts by expatriate musician parents, McCraven studied Jazz at the University of Massachusetts Amherst under the mentorship of jazz luminaries Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, and Yusef Lateef, and eventually went on to develop his chops in Chicago’s burgeoning scene.
His breakthrough album In the Moment was released with International Anthem Recording Co. (IARC) in 2015 and received widespread acclaim, proving to be a dramatic statement by McCraven that quickly launched him into the vanguard of not only Internationally-known jazz artists, but also a niche genre of next-wave composer-producers blurring the boundaries of jazz & electronic music.
His recent releases, the DJ-style mixtape Highly Rare (IARC, 2017) as well as an internationally recorded Where We Come From (CHICAGOxLONDON Mixtape) (IARC, 2018) have been well received globally, leading to increased bookings in some of the world’s best clubs, theaters, and festivals alongside the likes of Corey Wilkes, Bobby (Baabe) Irving (Miles Davis), Ari Brown, and Bernie Worrell.
McCraven is currently on tour and most recently released Universal Beings, a 2xLP album featuring an A-list of “new” jazz players from New York, Chicago, London & Los Angeles.
It was recently announced that Isaac Wood, co-founder and frontman of Black Country, New Road, had left the band. Forthcoming tour dates were also cancelled. However, the band is continuing as a six-piece to perform. “It’s going to be an entirely new set of music,” says Lewis Evans. “Nothing played from albums one or two.”
It marks the end of another chapter of the group as they reconfigure and move forward without Wood, leaving the work they completed as a seven-piece on those two recordings. “It just didn’t seem right to play these tracks,” says Charlie Wayne. “They are songs that are written by seven people and they’re meant to be performed by seven people. If we’re not playing as seven people then we’re not going to be performing them. We’re still making music that sounds like Black Country, New Road that is as strong as anything that we’ve played previously, it’s just different. We wouldn’t be playing these shows over summer if we didn’t have any confidence in the music. The stuff we’re playing is wicked.”
The band will move forward without a core singer or front person. “We’re trying to switch up the vocal roles as much as possible,” says Evans. “We’re trying to mix up who sings and on what songs. So we’re just going to see what happens.”
“It’s obviously a shame that we can’t tour the second album when we didn’t even really even get to tour the first album,” says Wayne. “But what is important is that we’ve created two pieces of work that we’ve put out into the world that we’re incredibly proud of. I think that in and of itself is something that we feel very lucky to have done, and we feel incredibly grateful for the audience that we have accumulated because of that. We don’t take that for granted but enjoy those two albums for what they are and don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Over the course of its two-decade existence, Lightning Bolt has revolutionized underground rock in immeasurable ways. The duo broke the barrier between stage and audience by setting themselves up on the floor in the midst of the crowd. Their momentous live performances and the mania they inspired paved the way for similar tactics used by Dan Deacon and literally hundreds of others. Similarly, the band's recordings have always been chaotic, roaring, blown out documents that sound like they could destroy even the toughest set of speakers. Fantasy Empire, Lightning Bolt's sixth album and first in five years, is a fresh take from a band intent on pushing themselves musically and sonically while maintaining the aesthetic that has defined not only them, but an entire generation of noisemakers. It marks many firsts, most notably their first recordings made using hi-fi recording equipment at the famed Machines With Magnets, and their first album for Thrill Jockey. More than any previous album, Fantasy Empire sounds like drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson are playing just a few feet away, using the clarity afforded by the studio to amplify the intensity they project. Every frantic drum hit, every fuzzed-out riff, sounds more present and tangible than ever before.
Fantasy Empire is ferocious, consuming, and is a more accurate translation of their live experience. It also shows Lightning Bolt embracing new ways to make their music even stranger. More than any previous record, Chippendale and Gibson make use of live loops and complete separation of the instruments during recording to maximize the sonic pandemonium and power. Gibson worked with Machines very carefully to get a clear yet still distorted and intense bass sound, allowing listeners to truly absorb the detail and dynamic range he displays, from the heaviest thud to the subtle melodic embellishments. Some of these songs have been in the band's live repertoire since as early as 2010, and have been refined in front of audiences for maximum impact. This is heavy, turbulent music, but it is executed with the precision of musicians that have spent years learning how to create impactful noise through the use of dynamics, melody, and rhythm.
Fantasy Empire has been in gestation for four years, with some songs having been recorded on lo-fi equipment before ultimately being scrapped. Since Early Delights was released, the band has collaborated with the Flaming Lips multiple times, and continued to tour relentlessly. 2013 saw the release of All My Relations by Black Pus, Chippendale's solo outlet, which was followed by a split LP with Oozing Wound. Chippendale, an accomplished comic artist and illustrator, created the Fantasy Empire's subtly ominous album art, and will release an upcoming book of his comics through respected imprint Drawn and Quarterly. Brian Gibson has been developing the new video game Thumper, with his own company, Drool, which will be released next year. And, of course, Lightning Bolt will be touring the US in 2015.
Brooklyn-based synth auteurs Nation of Language first arrived in 2020 as one of the most heralded new acts of recent memory, having only released a handful of singles but already earning high-praise from the likes of NME, FADER, Stereogum, Pitchfork, etc.. Inspired by the early new-wave and punk movements, the band quickly earned a reputation for delivering frenzied nights of unconventional bliss to rapt audiences, and established themselves as bright young stars emerging from a crowded NYC landscape prior to their release of one of the most critically acclaimed debut albaums of the year - Introduction, Presence. The band’s ability to blend the upbeat with a healthy dose of sardonic melancholy made it a staple on year-end ‘Best of’ lists, led PASTE magazine to dub the album ‘The most exciting synth-pop debut in years’ , and landed the band major radio play from The BBC, KCRW, KEXP, SiriusXM and countless others.
Their 2021 follow up, A Way Forward has seen the band pushing even further into analog electronic landscapes while channeling a ferocious energy on singles like ‘Across that Fine Line’ & ’This Fractured Mind’. With NME now dubbing the album ‘A true modern-day classic’ and Rough Trade tabbing it as one of its Top Albums of the year, the band has gone on to headline a string of packed shows both domestically and Internationally in ’22.
Yaya Bey is one of R&B’s most exciting storytellers. Using a combination of ancestral forces and her own self-actualization, the singer/songwriter seamlessly navigates life’s hardships and joyful moments through music. Bey’s new album, ‘Remember Your North Star’ (out June 17), captures this emotional rollercoaster with a fusion of soul, jazz, reggae, afrobeat and hip-hop that feeds the soul. The artist’s knack for storytelling is best displayed in the album’s lead single, “keisha”. It’s an anthemic embodiment of fed-up women everywhere who have given their all in a relationship, yet their physical body nor spiritual mind could never be enough.
Bey’s ability to tap into the emotionally kaleidoscopic nature of women, specifically Black women, is the essence of the entire album. With themes of misogynoir, unpacking generational trauma, carefree romance, parental relationships, women empowerment and self-love, ‘Remember Your North Star’ proves that the road to healing isn’t a linear one – there are many lessons to gather along the journey.
“I saw a tweet that said, ‘Black women have never seen healthy love or have been loved in a healthy way.’ That’s a deep wound for us. Then I started to think about our responses to that as Black women,” Bey says of ‘Remember Your North Star’s title inspiration, an entirely self-written project featuring key production from Bey herself, with assists from Phony Ppl’s Aja Grant and DJ Nativesun. “So this album is kind of my thesis. Even though we need to be all these different types of women, ultimately we do want love: love of self and love from our community. The album is a reminder of that goal.”
The artist’s raw, unfiltered approach threads ‘Remember Your North Star’. “big daddy ya” finds the artist tapping into her inner rapper, channeling the too-cool and confident factor that artists like Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls are well-known for. “reprise” captures women’s exhaustion everywhere, with its lyrical tug-of-war of bettering oneself while trying to cut yourself off from toxic relationships. There’s also “alright” (co-produced by Aja Grant), a soothing, jazz-inspired ditty that showcases Bey’s love for the genre’s icons like Billie Holiday, while the carefree “pour up” highlights the artist’s friendship with DJ Nativesun (the song’s producer) and will immediately rush hips to the dancefloor.
There is no fakeness when it comes to Bey’s music, and her authenticity can be partly attributed to her upbringing in Jamaica, Queens. Early childhood memories included watching her father (pioneering ‘90s rapper Grand Daddy I.U) record in his studio – which also doubled as Bey’s bedroom – and listening to records by soul legends Donny Hathaway and Ohio Players around the house. Beginning at age nine, the artist’s father would leave space for her to write hooks to his beats, using her favorite artists like Mary J. Blige and JAY-Z as inspirations.
Bey quickly grew out of New York City and moved to D.C. at age 18. Calling it her second home, the city further ignited the artist’s creativity as she worked at museums and libraries, as well as tapping into poetry and attending protests. Her first release ‘The Many Alter - Egos of Trill’eta Brown’ in 2016 that incorporated a digital collage and a book, was praised by FADER, Essence, and many more. Bey followed up with fellow critically acclaimed projects like 2020’s ‘Madison Tapes’ album and 2021’s ‘The Things I Can’t Take With Me’ EP – the first release on Big Dada’s relaunch as a label run by Black, POC and minority ethnic people for Black, POC and minority ethnic artists – that received support from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NPR, Harper’s Bazaar, FADER, HotNewHipHop, Dazed, Clash, FACT, Crack Magazine, The Line of Best Fit and Mixmag.
In 2021, Bey was also profiled by Rolling Stone for their print magazine, contributed to the publication’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, and curated a playlist for Document Journal. The artist’s “september 13th (DJ Nativesun Remix)” and “made this on the spot” singles received strong radio support from BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC 1 Xtra’s Jamz Supernova. Last May, Bey was interviewed on BBC 1Xtra and performed three tracks for Jamz Supernova’s “Festival Jamz” including The Things I Can’t Take With Me’s “fxck it then” and “september 13th” that December.
Bey is also a critically acclaimed multidisciplinary artist and art curator, creating the artwork for her music through collages of intimate photos and self-portraits. In 2019, her work was featured in the District of Columbia Arts Center’s “Reparations Realized” exhibit and Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA)’s “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” exhibit. She also completed multiple fine art residencies with MoCADA, curating programs that reflect the same theme that drives her music: the Black woman’s experience.
‘Remember Your North Star’ continues Bey’s personal and artistic evolution as she strives to be a soundboard for Black women everywhere. “I feel empowered in music because I can transform anything that happens to me into something that is valuable. Music helps me to see the value in what’s going on in my life,” she explains. “There’s a spirit in music. It’s a culture and I’m in that community, contributing my story which keeps us connected.”
Tomberlin is Sarah Beth Tomberlin, a pastor’s kid born in Florida, raised in rural Illinois. She wrote the majority of her debut, At Weddings (2018), while living at home. For a while after leaving home and church, she lived in Louisville, Kentucky. She worked a day job and kept writing songs. She posted some of these songs to Bandcamp, which led to her signing a record deal with Saddle Creek. It all happened fast: Less than a year after her first live show, she performed on Jimmy Kimmel and she ended up moving to L.A. which is where she wrote Projections (2020), her EP followup to At Weddings.
During the pandemic, Sarah Beth was all over the place, physically and mentally. Louisville. Los Angeles. Back home in Illinois for a bit. Brooklyn, where she’s now settled, she says. Brooklyn is also where her new album i don’t know who needs to hear this… was recorded, at Figure 8 studios over the course of two weeks, with producer and engineer Phil Weinrobe (who played a variety of instruments on the collection), and later mastered by Josh Bonati, also in Brooklyn.
“The theme of the record,” she explains, “is to examine, hold space, make an altar for the feelings.” Hold space: Tomberlin’s songs do it literally, making it heard space. Her full-length debut, At Weddings, was widely praised for the sparsity and delicacy of its instrumentation, especially in contrast with the emotional heft of her lyrics.
Here, the space feels larger and holier, built to echo. Pedal steel. Old acoustic guitars, freshly plucked. A drifting synthesizer. Chill, brushy percussion. Ambient, expansive clarinet and saxophone. Aleatory piano trills, a lot of piddling with the occasional splash. The looseness and wideness of the arrangements conveys a tender regard for their parts, as though each arpeggio, loop, scratch is a found shell or feather in the hand. Then there is the instrument of her voice, which has the endearing quality of being perfectly tuned but reluctantly played. “I’m not a singer,” she sings on “idkwntht.” “I’m just someone who’s guilty.”
Hand Habits is the songwriting outlet of guitarist Meg Duffy. Fun House is Duffy’s most ambitious Hand Habits album to date. Produced by Sasami Ashworth (SASAMI) and engineered by Kyle Thomas (King Tuff), the record was not intended as a reaction to the pandemic, but it was very much the result of taking a difficult, if much-needed, moment of pause. While Fun House shares some of the same hallmarks as previous Hand Habits releases —a kind of outré queer sensibility, a gentle sense of vulnerability — the record is a marked sonic departure from the often muted tones of 2019’s Placeholder and 2017’s Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void). The eleven tracks on Fun House sparkle, moving in unexpected directions and represent the turning of a corner, a means of processing grief, trauma, and recovery while coming to a deeper understanding of one’s own history and what it means to step into your own power.
In addition to their Hand Habits project, Meg has toured as a guitarist with Sylvan Esso, and has recorded on an extensive list of albums including features on War on Drugs, Weyes Blood, William Tyler, Fruit Bats, and many more. In 2020, Meg joined Perfume Genius as a touring guitarist and has already found the release of a collaborative instrumental album, yes/and (Driftless) with Joel Ford.
Wand formed in late 2013 in Los Angeles, CA and got right to work playing, writing, and conceptualizing a contrarian path forward–the only viable trail to follow for a rock band that formed in the twenty-teens (and audaciously named itself Wand). The original configuration of the band was Cory Hanson (guitar, vocals), Lee Landey (bass), Evan Burrows (drums) and Daniel Martens (guitar). This was the group that recorded the neuroplastic, dusk-colored Ganglion Reef. Upon hearing it, the suits at GOD? Records demanded the opportunity to release it, and the rest became irrevocable historical fact in 2014. That debut release launched a year of furious activity and near-constant touring, and included the recording and release of both their second and third albums: the strobing sledgehammer Golem (on In the Red), and the psilocybe flicker show 1000 Days (on Drag City). During this time, Daniel left to focus on raising his son, and the remaining three members of Wand regrouped as a trio, with an auxiliary fourth piece for tours.
Following a dizzying 100+ dates played in North America and Europe in support of 1000 Days, Wand took a six-month deep breath at the beginning of 2016. Cory put together a string laden solo album, The Unknown Capitalist From Limbo (released later that year), and Evan focused on writing and touring with his band Behavior. Meanwhile, Wand’s barely-perceptible pause had a deeper agenda—Evan, Lee and Cory had sensed the need for a new alignment, a fabulous new mutation of the body Wand. Sofia Arreguin and Robbie Cody were recruited to play keyboards and guitar respectively, with the intention of reimagining the band’s approach to writing and performance. A period of intense woodshedding ensued, both in the practice space and on stages around the world, out of which the records Plum and “Perfume” emerged.
The writing process that evolved during the tumultuous seasons of Plum and “Perfume” incorporated a new emphasis on econo-jamming and democratic decision-making; another new method of invention, another new mode of digestion. Plum dropped in the fall of 2017, “Perfume” in the spring of 2018. With the success of this music, the band forged on with confidence, stockpiling dozens of pieces and working them together as a unit. They made the most of their 2018, taking in deep bubbles of time to tinker and experiment with their sound, using several different spaces as well as their own home studio, and patiently uncovering the exciting alchemical balance that would bring all this work together as a whole. By the turn of autumn, Wand had arrived at the width and breadth, the breathless wit of their new album—Laughing Matter.
Cory and Evan opted to write all of the lyrics on Laughing Matter collaboratively. The lyrical and musical shades vary between Wand’s darkest nights, and most pastoral days. There’s a matured, diverse emotional scope on Laughing Matter that has not been so naked on any Wand record before it. This is a record that takes every turn, feels every thought, eagerly attempts to break every convention, and joyously recombines the familiar territory. This is a record with love as a center. With friendship—especially its most difficult, dysfunctional forms—as foundation. And with music—the dedicated jamming of five autodidact musicians—as its guiding principle.
Wary + Strange
Amythyst Kiah’s Rounder Records debut, Wary + Strange, marks the glorious combination of two vastly different worlds: the iconoclastic alt-rock that first sparked her musical passion and the roots/old-time music scene where she’s found breakout success in recent years, including recognition from Rolling Stone as “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets.” With an unforgettable voice that’s both unfettered and exquisitely controlled, the Tennessee-bred singer/songwriter expands on the uncompromising artistry she most recently revealed as part of Our Native Daughters—an all-women-of-color supergroup whose Kiah-penned standout “Black Myself” earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best American Roots Song and won Song of the Year at the 2019 Folk Alliance International Awards. When met with the transcendent quality of her newly elevated sound, what emerges is an extraordinary vessel for Kiah’s songwriting: a raw yet nuanced examination of grief, alienation, and the hard-won triumph of total self-acceptance.
Produced by Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Amos Lee, Andrew Bird) and recorded at the legendary Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, Wary + Strange arrives as a deeply immersive body of work, endlessly redefining the limits of roots music in its inventive rhythms and textures. Despite its mesmerizing effect, the album’s sonic grandeur never eclipses the impact of Kiah’s storytelling, an element influenced by losing her mother to suicide when she was 17 and also by a longtime struggle to find her own sense of belonging. “A lot of these songs come from a moment in my 20s when I was grappling with trauma while also trying to navigate the experience of being a Black and LGBT woman in a white suburban area in a Bible Belt town,” says Kiah, who grew up in Chattanooga and later moved to Johnson City. “I’ve had moments of feeling othered in certain aspects of my life, and it took me a long time to figure out who I wanted to be and how to move through this world.”
Though much of Wary + Strange centers on an unfiltered expression of heartache, its songs represent years of tireless effort and exploration. A testament to the steadfast conviction behind her musicianship, Kiah recorded the album twice before linking up with Berg—then scrapped virtually everything and started over from scratch. “My favorite records are the ones that pull you into another world and completely absorb you, but I didn’t quite know how to get there on my own,” she explains. After an introductory session with Berg in early 2020, Kiah found herself floored by his transformation of “Fracture Me,” a bluesy portrait of longing for obliteration. “I knew I needed to work with Tony when he came in with a bass harmonica to use instead of a bass [guitar] and then got out the Mellotron and added a flute line at the chorus of this country blues song,” Kiah recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to see what else he pulls out of his bag of tricks.’ I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a moment of thinking, ‘Am I really going to record everything all over again?’, but I just kept coming back to, ‘What do these songs really need?’ My goal is to keep growing as an artist, which means trusting the process and doing whatever it takes to make a great record.”
Made with musicians like Wendy Melvoin (Prince & The Revolution, Madonna, Neil Finn), guitarist Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, Dawes, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman), bassist Gabe Noel (Kamasi Washington, Father John Misty), and pedal steel guitarist Rich Hinman (k.d. lang, Tanya Tucker), Wary + Strange finds Kiah fully up to the task of treading unfamiliar ground. On the album’s reimagining of “Black Myself,” for instance, she departs from the brightly defiant version that opens Songs of Our Native Daughters (a 2019 release co-produced by bandmate Rhiannon Giddens), amplifying the track’s kinetic tension and, in turn, wholly augmenting the power of its message. “‘Black Myself’ is the first song I’ve written that was confrontational,” says Kiah. “I’d always made it a point to sing songs that anybody could relate to, but this was something that had been welling up inside me for a long time, and working with three other Black women in Our Native Daughters put me in the position where I finally had the courage to put those words out. The reception of the song so far has given me hope that there are people out there who are ready to confront the shared trauma of racism, to look within ourselves and see how we might be perpetuating racist beliefs, and to do what is needed to create equality for all people.”
In her graceful interlacing of political commentary and personal revelation, Kiah infuses “Black Myself” with a potent vulnerability that builds and deepens all throughout Wary + Strange. To that end, the sublimely devastating “Wild Turkey” recounts the aftermath of her mother’s drowning in the Tennessee River as well as Kiah’s journey from angry denial to heavy-hearted acceptance. “For a long time, I didn’t understand that when people commit suicide, it’s because they believe the world will be better off without them,” she says. “I thought [my mom] did it because she didn’t really love or care about me and my dad, and I interpreted that as being abandoned. Writing this song was a way to make amends with what happened and to recognize that numbing myself wouldn’t work for me in the long run.” In a shining example of the album’s ingenious production, the track’s unearthly tones and dreamy background vocals conjure the unsettling effect of being submerged underwater. “I remember hearing that for the first time and crying,” Kiah points out. “It’s that sort of attention to detail that made this record one of the greatest joys of my life.”
Elsewhere on Wary + Strange, Kiah intimately documents a tumultuous period in her late 20s when she took up drinking in order to ease the social anxiety that had plagued her since childhood. “I’d gotten to the point where I really wanted to start dating and having meaningful relationships with people, so I started drinking to feel less nervous in social settings —but that ended up escalating over time,” she says. Featuring a brilliantly untethered guitar performance from Blake Mills, “Hangover Blues” perfectly captures the angst of being stuck in a bad habit, its swampy rhythms echoing the sticky unease of morning-after regret. Meanwhile, “Firewater” finds Kiah looking back on the same point in time with a more clear-eyed perspective, channeling a newfound self-possession in her soulful vocal delivery and luminous guitar work.“‘Firewater’ is about the end of the party phase, when partying was no longer fun,” she says. “It’s me reconciling with the fact that I need to find other ways to cope, which is something I started figuring out once I got into therapy.”
In bringing Wary + Strange to life, Kiah revisited another form of therapy: the powerfully cathartic records she turned to for solace as a child and teenager. “The way I listened to music when I was younger was very much based on trying to find some kind of healing,” she says. “The way that someone like Tori Amos took these incredibly personal things and expressed them with piano and vocals was spellbinding to me, and it was my dream to create something that evocative.” At age 13, Kiah started writing songs on a Fender acoustic guitar from her parents; she later broadened her musical vocabulary by studying in the Bluegrass, Old-Time, Country Music program at East Tennessee State University. Not long after self-releasing her 2013 debut, Dig, she began garnering acclaim from leading outlets like NPR and The New York Times, who remarked that Kiah’s “razor-sharp guitar picking alone guarantees her a place among blues masters, but it’s her deep-hued voice that can change on a dime from brushed steel to melted toffee that commands attention.”
With the arrival of Wary + Strange, Kiah aims to offer listeners the same sense of purposeful escape that music has long provided her, all while building an undeniable sense of communion with her audience. “For anyone who’s struggled with grief or trauma, or felt left out and weird and like they didn’t belong, I hope this album lets them know that they’re not alone in that feeling,” says Kiah. “I hope they understand the experiences I’m trying to relay to them, and I hope they come away from these songs knowing that they can heal from whatever it is that they’re going through.”
If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Neon Cross, the newest release from singer,
songwriter and guitarist Jaime Wyatt, it’s that life, in all its inherent messiness, goes on.
And through it all—good times and bad, triumph and trouble, dreaming and
desperation—Wyatt continues, to borrow the title of one of her new songs, just L I V I N.
To be sure, there’s a whole lot of livin’ in the 11 tracks on Neon Cross, from the
whisky-soaked honky tonks outlined in the heated and hungry title track, where Wyatt,
with “pitiful perfume, dark glasses, gold liquor and alligator shoes,” plies her trade from
the stage, to the mountains of pain, regret and loss baked into the slow-burning soul
groove of “By Your Side,” which the artist says she wrote “after my dad died and my best
friend overdosed, and I wasn’t able to show up for either of them because I was loaded,”
to the stark solitude of “Sweet Mess,” where Wyatt, in the throes of a crumbling
relationship, opines that “just like all the rest, I’ll be forgotten.”
“I tried not to have any filter with these songs,” Wyatt says about her open-book
approach to writing. “Because I'll be honest—it feels like I'm gonna die if I don't tell
people how I feel and who I am.” She pauses and lets out a slight laugh. “It sounds so
dramatic, but that's the truth.”
If Wyatt sounds defiant, well, there’s a reason for that. Her life story is specked with
difficult—and unusual—twists and turns. She’s an immensely talented and insightful
singer-songwriter who signed to her first record label as a teenager, achieving early
success before losing that deal and being put through the music-industry wringer; a
country music devotee who ever since has been honing her craft in bars and clubs, late
night after late night and long year after long year; and a hard-luck, hard-living artist
whose outlaw tales are more than mere lyrical fodder for a woe-is-me honky-tonk
tune—before she was even 21, Wyatt battled a nasty drug addiction and served close to a
year in L.A. county jail for robbing her heroin dealer, experiences that were chronicled
on her much-lauded 2017 effort, Felony Blues.
“It's been just this gnarly, gnarly process, but one that is so human,” Wyatt says. “So
there’s been a lot of turmoil and drama. But this record is a lot about rebirth, too.”
When it came to capturing that rebirth, Wyatt had some assistance from key
collaborators—in particular, Shooter Jennings, who produced Neon Cross. The two have
history together—Jennings has taken Wyatt on tour, and she used some of his backing
band on Felony Blues. But none of that mattered to Wyatt when it came to putting her
songs in Jennings’ capable hands.
“Shooter’s my friend and, yeah, he's Shooter Jennings,” she acknowledges. “But when it
comes to the studio I don't care who you are—I'm really, really decisive about what I
want, so I’ve got to be able to work with you. And what really sold me on Shooter is that
he understands grooves—he gets how to instruct a band to build a groove that is so
powerful underneath a song. And it’s crazy because that's what Waylon [Jennings,
Shooter’s father] did. He always had these rad country songs with these super-weird,
like, funky rock ‘n’ roll grooves under them. He would take things to interesting and
unexpected places. Shooter has that same instinct.”
As does Wyatt. Together, she and Jennings boldly color outside the country lines on
Neon Cross, taking a wide-lens sonic and stylistic approach to the songs. Sure, there’s
plenty of swaggering, tough-as-nails rock (“Goodbye Queen,” the aforementioned “Make
Something Outta Me”) and classic-minded honky tonk (“L I V I N,” the
pedal-steel-doused Wyatt/Jennings duet “Hurts So Bad”) to be found on the album, but
the 11 tracks are also studded with all manner of sonic ear candy, from moaning, misty
guitars (“Mercy”) and stately pianos (“Sweet Mess”), to spacey effects (“Make Something
Outta Me”) sawing fiddles (“Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain”) and even a Buddy
Holly-style rhythm pulse on the title track.
“I have a pretty strong vision,” Wyatt says, “but Shooter would suggest some crazy rock
reference on a song that I thought was clear-cut Buck Owens and somehow it would just
be right. It was this real organic process of working together.”
At the end of the day, that sonic backdrop (and it’s worth noting here that much of the
excellent six-string work on Neon Cross comes courtesy of the late, great Neal Casal, in
one of his final studio performances before his passing in August) is all in service to
Wyatt’s incisive lyrics and expressive vocals, which can be achingly sensitive and sincere
one minute, and unflinchingly cocksure and dispassionate the next.
Either way, they’re never anything but wholly captivating, and maybe nowhere more so
than on another duet on the record, “Just a Woman,” which sees Wyatt paired up with
an outlaw forebear, Jessi Colter, for a trad-country feminist anthem on which she
declares “There’s not a man in this world I would rather be.”
As for the origins of that one, Wyatt explains, “I was just living my life and having a hard
time with the fact that I can't really fully ‘bro down’ with a guy who does what I do,
because, you know, his wife is gonna look at me and think it's inappropriate.
“Also,” she continues, “I'm leading a band full of young men, and I’ve been doing it for
20 years now, and I have to find a particular type of young man that's going to listen to
me and trust me and want to work for a woman. And that's fine. It’s a deeply ingrained
thing and it's kind of odd that I do what I do. So I wanted to write a song that addressed
all that without being too...”—Wyatt pauses, searching for the right word—“lame.” And,
she says, “Who better to do it with than the queen of outlaw country?” Who better,
And yet, as might be expected from someone with such a turbulent backstory, even the
challenges faced by Wyatt as a woman working in country music come with an extra
wrinkle: Following her most recent bid at getting clean (which, as of this moment, has
been successful), Wyatt confronted some hard truths about her life and past romantic
relationships, which resulted in her coming out as a gay woman to family and friends.
For Wyatt, a self-described introvert, this is very much a personal issue. “I'm not, like,
on the internet with flying rainbows,” she quips. But at the same time, she says, “I’m
also basically coming out to the world with this record.” This is particularly evident on
“Rattlesnake Girl,” where Wyatt sings, “I see my sweet friends out on the weekends, they
all look happy and gay / They keep their secrets all covered in sequins, people have too
much to say.” And for anyone who might have a problem with that? Well, there’s also a
line in the song about what Wyatt might do with her boot heel...
Addressing the lyrics of the song, Wyatt says, “My experience with recovery made me
realize I lost years of my life being in the closet and living a lie and trying to be someone
else. I just can't do it anymore. And yeah, I'm scared there are people that like country
music that aren't gonna like that I'm gay. But like I said earlier, ultimately I'm going to
die if I can’t be who I am.”
And besides, Wyatt, who was born in Los Angeles, grew up “in the middle of the woods”
in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Nashville, has never been overly
concerned with fitting in anyway. “I mean, honestly, I don't feel like I fit in anywhere,”
she says. “But that’s fine—I wouldn't want to get too comfortable. Because as an artist,
being unique is my greatest asset. So if I were to fall into a scene, I probably wouldn’t
push myself to really make something that is captivating.”
With Neon Cross, Wyatt has indeed made something captivating—and also incredibly
unique. Which isn’t as easy as it might seem. “It’s like John Lennon said—there’s
nothing you can sing that can't be sung,” Wyatt surmises. “But hopefully you can at least
put a new spin on it.”
At the end of the day, she continues, “that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m just a songwriter,
and I spend a good portion of my life in barrooms performing and worshipping country
music and rock ‘n’ roll and telling my story. And I do it because I believe in the power of
music, and I believe that music has saved my life in so many ways,” Wyatt says. “And
that belief is a powerful thing.”
Jake Lenderman lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He plays guitar in the indie band Wednesday, sometimes fishes on the Pigeon River, and creates his own music as MJ Lenderman. His latest solo release with Dear Life Records is titled Boat Songs. Lenderman describes the album as his most “polished” sound to date, built around songs that “chase fulfillment and happiness”—whether that means buying a boat, drinking too much, or watching seeds fall from the bird feeder.
Boat Songs is the followup to Lenderman’s 2021 label debut, Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, and subsequent release, Knockin’, with Dear Life Records, both of which were critically acclaimed for their off-the-cuff alternative country sound. But with Boat Songs, Lenderman emerges confident as ever, an innovative yet unassuming artist, straightforward and true.
Recorded at Asheville’s Drop of Sun with Alex Farrar and Colin Miller, Boat Songs is the first album Lenderman made in a professional studio. WWE matches and basketball games were silently projected on the studio walls during recording sessions. And you can hear their power in these ten unapologetically lo-fi tracks, each brimming with pent-up energy and the element of surprise.
A clavichord honks throughout ‘You Have Bought Yourself A Boat’ with the playfulness of a live Dylan/Band set. ‘SUV’ screams with My Bloody Valentine distortion. When Xandy Chelmis beautifully bends his steel guitar on ‘TLC Cage Match’ you can’t help but think of Gram Parsons. And ‘Tastes Just Like It Costs’ howls with the intensity of Crazy Horse era Neil Young. Boat Songs is fearless and it’s exciting. It challenges the perception of what modern day country music is supposed to be and where it can go.
But no matter where Boat Songs goes sonically, the album is deeply rooted in Lenderman’s natural gifts as a storyteller. Someone once asked Hank Williams what made country music successful and he said, “One word: sincerity.” Filled with everyday observations ripped straight from his journal, Lenderman’s lyrics are sincere in their absurdities, with the vulnerability and honesty of Jason Molina and Daniel Johnston. There are moments of humor (‘Jackass is funny like the Earth is round’), admission (‘I know why we get so fucked up’), and recognition of beauty others might not stop to see (‘Your laundry looks so pretty…relaxing in the wind’). Read alone on the page, ‘Hangover Game,’ ‘You Have Bought Yourself A Boat,’ and ‘Dan Marino,’ stand out as perfect little poems, unpretentious and real. Simply said, these songs are unforgettable.
Or you could also say it like this: listening to Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman is like joining your best friends out on the porch. The neighbors might be yelling and the bugs might be biting. But y’all are shooting the shit and letting loose, telling the same old stories again and again. But it don’t matter how many times you’ve heard them, because they’re from the heart—and in the end they always make you feel alive again.
-Ashleigh Bryant Phillips
When an artist consistently creates at the forward edge, there are no guardrails. Quelle Chris has been comfortable at the boundaries, leading Hip-Hop since he started. A student of Detroit’s music scene, he cut his teeth with the group Crown Nation and came up with Danny Brown, producing many of his mostbeloved tracks including the frenetic “Monopoly.”
Quelle has been on an artistic dream-run with the critically and fan-lauded albums “Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often,” and “Everything’s Fine”with Jean Grae. He then went on to make “Guns,” before then landing the uppercut with “Innocent Country 2,” produced by Chris Keys. Quelle Chris continues collaborating with the industry’s most creative artists. From billy woods to Earl Sweatshirt, Roc Marciano to Mach-Hommy, from The Alchemist to Mndsgn, to comedians like James Acaster, Nick Offerman & Hannibal Buress, Quelle’s vision extends beyond genre or format. He continued broadening his creative, Questlove-style ambitions, beyond his own rap albums when he and Chris Keys composed the score for the Oscar-winning film “Judas and The Black Messiah” with director Shaka King.
Known as one of the most dynamic live performers, Quelle Chris gives heartfelt, soul-filled, passionate stage shows. He spent the time we don’t speak of crafting a new, reflective album that hits close to home for many artists and creatives. The new album,“DEATHFAME,” is a sonic treatment produced by Quelle himself, along with Chris Keys and Knxwledge. The record carries on like an incredible lost tape found at some Baltimore flea market. It explores, unflinchingly, every moment of the trials the early 2020s has brought to all of us. Guests Navy Blue and Pink Siifu lend brilliance to the dynamic and unexpected new album out May 13, 2022 on Mello Music Group.
Friendship’s Merge debut, Love the Stranger, moves like a country record skipping in just the right spot, leaving its fellow travelers longing for a place they’ve only visited in their dreams. Guitarist Peter Gill, drummer Michael Cormier-O’Leary, bassist Jon Samuels, and hawkeyed balladeer Dan Wriggins map out the group’s particular, breathtaking landscape and invite the listener to share in its glory.
Love the Stranger’s invitation is all the more wondrous because its characters have clearly been hurt before. “I need solitude and I also need you,” Wriggins reckons in “Ugly Little Victory.” Wide awake, vulnerable, and gimmickless, Friendship won’t hesitate to confide in us, or even ask for help when the moment calls, like on the lyrical centerpiece of “Alive Twice”:
Under your eyeball spell, I was losing myself/ Not in the good way you used to talk about/ I remember a day, Cedar Park Cafe/ I was in a bad place and you set me straight/ With your on-the-nose advice
Between instrumental pit stops at “Kum & Go” and “Quickchek,” local references in Love the Stranger create a catalog of human perception, presented as roadside attractions. From grape jelly residue (“Ramekin”) to the site of a demolished cathedral (“St. Bonaventure”) to King of the Hill quotations (“Smooth Pursuit”), the record’s images craft a symbolic language of high and low Americana, both evocative and consistently accessible. Spending time with Love the Stranger creates a community—one in which the window between the listener and the music-maker shatters in full, until all that remains are the fragments you decide to pick up together.
Like its sprawling lyrical references, Love the Stranger’s production is both familiar and capacious enough for pedal steel, synth strings, airy folk guitar field recordings, and MIDI pad exploration to work in vital harmony. Influenced by Friendship’s punk and indie peers as much as road-star forebears like Lucinda Williams and Lambchop, Wriggins says of the recording sessions: “We all got to stretch out, chase our personal musical fixations, and build on each others’ work. Bradford Krieger, our engineer at Big Nice Studio, has a mind-blowing creative energy and hundreds (thousands?) of instruments.” He recalls further: “I wanted the album to sound like Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band in the ’70s. Pete wanted it to sound like a semi full of spent fuel rods, barreling towards a runaway truck ramp. Jon kept reminding us that the studio is an instrument, and Michael wanted it to sound like the breakdown two-and-a-half minutes into Shuggie Otis’ ‘Strawberry Letter 23.’”
Some breakdowns, however, are irreparable. Wriggins, a manual laborer and poet, calls “Hank” “a song about when you go to fix something that’s broken and realize the tools you’re supposed to fix it with are also broken.” Form follows function on the mesmerizing outro of the single, which buzzes with the sound of a shoddy Craigslist guitar from Woonsocket, RI (incidentally, the home of the Museum of Work & Culture) getting chainsawed in two.
Friendship is probably already your favorite band’s favorite band, a long-revered IYKYK of DIY with a devoted cult following from Wawa to In-N-Out. With Love the Stranger, the Friendship universe only continues to expand and grow more open-hearted, more inviting, with every passing note. It’s a record that locates the listener exactly where the listener is, and wherever that may be, makes a friend out of them, too. All said and done, the age-old maxim of “Mr. Chill” holds true: “You be real with me and I’ll be real with you.”
Born and raised in small Texas towns, the members of Good Looks met and began playing together in Austin.
Songwriter Tyler Jordan grew up in a South Texas coastal town dominated by the petrochemical industry, his childhood steeped in the tension between nature and industry, exploitation abundantly present and the wealth gap on full display. His father’s church, described by Tyler as “cult-like in its intensity,” was homebase and where he learned to sing.
Tyler eventually met lead guitarist Jake Ames in the late-night song-swap circles of the Kerrville Folk Festival campground (where they would also meet Buck Meek and Adrianne Lenker pre-Big Thief). They shared their mutual love of the Texas hill country canon (Blaze Foley, Townes Van Zandt, and Willie Nelson), a love of cheap diner food, thrift store baseball caps, and a healthy dose of harmless shit-talking.
They began playing in bands together, backing up other songwriters and taking turns in the spotlight. They sought out producer Dan Duszynski (Loma, Cross Record, Jess Williamson) to engineer their debut album. What would form was Good Looks, a blue-collar political indie-rock band with healthy doses of Replacements swagger and shimmering, desert rock riffs not unlike The War On Drugs.
Blissfulness is at the core of Wiseacre, the strikingly purifying sophomore record from Eric Slick. Wiseacre is a location, literally. It’s the place he married the light in his life, Natalie Prass, and titling the record after it is an attempt at bottling the euphoria of his wedding day. The record isn’t just about the joy that comes from a loving existence blossoming out of a new relationship, it’s also about the hard work that it takes to get to that place.
“I’ve always been known as somebody who is on the sidelines,” says Slick, seeking to step out of the shadow of his previous roles. The majority of his time has been behind a drum set, spending the last decade rounding out the industrious outfit Dr. Dog, and as of late, touring as a newlywed alongside his wife. Ironically, the two met on Valentine's Day at a Dr. Dog show before Slick had even joined the band.
Slick’s previous solo work - his debut Palisades, the orchestral Bullfighter, and Out of Habit, a John Fahey inspired EP pedaled as dollar bin ephemera - established the framework for the most significant project of his career thus far.
While with Palisades and Bullfighter Slick mined his subconscious for the moodier and more abstract side of the coin, Wiseacre is a technicolored exaltation. It reads like a novel, sequencing in chronological order the ups and downs of self-acceptance before fully committing to someone else. “Before you get married, you’re going through all the motions in your head,” tells Slick, “Am I worthy of marriage? Do I have the personality for this?” Across 10 songs, Slick artfully sheds these insecurities resulting from fractured relationships (“Over It”), childhood trauma (“Children”), and his parents' own hiccups (“Kind Of Person”). It’s an album about overcoming apprehensions so that he can find solace, not only for himself, but for the person he is now devoted to.
By asking the question, “Why did I think loving you was above me?” on “Haunted”, Slick acknowledges that you don’t have to have a dark cloud hanging over your head to make meaningful art. “You can’t keep up chaos for your whole life, it just doesn’t work. I’ve seen it my whole life with bands that we’ve toured with where it becomes this unsustainable, untenable thing. So yeah, fuck that.” This album comes as a welcomed rejection of the cliche that an artist needs to be a mess in order for their music to hold substance.
After a year of false starts the LP was primarily recorded in a week alongside burgeoning producer Jeremy Ferguson at Nashville’s Battle Tapes Recording. From a rare and custom built Spectrasonics mixing board to just about every guitar pedal imaginable, Ferguson had the tools to inspire moments like the off-kilter guitar solo in “Closer to Heaven”, applying a pedal that starved its own power supply, intermittently shorting it out. “I think it’s just a matter of time before everybody starts recording with him,” predicted Slick, “He’s a genius.”
In addition to efforts made by one of his oldest friends and an indispensable guide for the record, Andy Molholt of Speedy Ortiz & Laser Background, vocal contributions were made by Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips , the prolific Butch Walker, and a central force in Wiseacre’s DNA, the radiant Natalie Prass offering a shimmering duet on the record’s apex single “Closer to Heaven.” The story behind “Closer to Heaven” stems from a recurring dream of being trapped in a three-story house with the bottom floor representing hell, and the subsequent levels symbolizing purgatory and heaven. Each floor was dotted with the characters from his past, sorted into their respective levels dependent upon their influence on his life. Prass’s voice is like an extended hand, pulling him upward past the destructive faces and into the plane of proverbial Eden.
After a heady first half, the record begins to wind down a bit, blossoming into something prettier. If the start of Wiseacre is peeling away at life’s chaos, the latter half is welcoming the moments of cohesion amongst the chaos, namely, his own wedding. Singing “Tears streaming in the sun, and you are the one,” Slick reflects on when he was left uncontrollably crying as the woman he was about to marry walked down the aisle towards him on the touching track “Someday.” The song continues to ruminate on the couple’s destiny - growing old together, finding joy in each other, and eventually fizzing out with a mind at peace. And as much as that song is about his wife, the most affecting line is a love letter and a gift to everyone important in his life, assuring them “I’ll be in the air with you.”
The bardo, put simply, is a state between death and rebirth. It’s an intermediary existence, more about the journey of life than the finality of death. It allows us a state of continuum, death becoming more than simple flesh and bone left to wither away, as we leave this life on earth and journey forth through the states of the bardo on our way to rebirth in the next. In life we are immediate, every action a propellent force. The things we create, our art and lasting legacies, pieces of us that we leave behind as living documents. It’s these charters that we can attempt to extrapolate from. They help us build out worlds through the clues left by the lives of people that have left indelible marks on us.
We can picture the artist at home, hibernating away in comfort from the harshness of winter or walking familiar paths to keep synapses firing. The life of the auteur builds and grows, flowers budding on branches we never saw in life that have only grown in their absence. It’s hard to put a final nail in the coffin, to sign off and walk away and announce that everything under this banner is done and committed to dust. But it’s in our limited understanding of death that we misinterpret the end. The end is a storm. Waves crashing upon us, a sudden shift from one plane to the next.
But storms bring change, and it’s in the space left in its wake that we expand. Change isn't something to be feared, even when it feels like the end. Themselves is perhaps the end of al Riggs, insofar that this is the culmination of 10 years spent writing, recording and touring. Over 11 tracks the lives of six artists become lenses through which we view snapshots of domesticity and a vulnerable sense of comfort with being in flux. Riggs takes us on a wave through their densely layered opus, a project that took life over multiple attempts to arrive at the end of the line. Themselves is also an act of rebirth.
The state between death and rebirth is the reimagination of the self. It’s a space of focus and introspection. The hope is that our journey continues forward, that while our living documents sit on display for adjudication and dissection, the spirit pushes itself ever further, not content to idle on the accomplishments of the living world. Maybe oblivion is not the end, but a transfer station to the next journey. When one life ends, is the next not just a reinvention of the self? We will all be reborn in some way or another, in this world or the next. It’s in us to embrace the entirety of finality, as we enfold ourselves into what comes after the end.
“Death never gets me It's the rebuilding that's tough All the new configurations New limbs grow out of the rough” - The Bardo 1987
Reese McHenry came up swinging in Northern Minnesota and she didn’t sit still for very long. A true troubadour, her powerful voice has driven her from the fresh greens of Eau Claire to the dusty motels of Albuquerque and everywhere in between. Since settling in North Carolina, this prolific songwriter and jagged performer has lent her fire and talent to a number of recording projects and now turns her attention to her own damn show.
Her songs defy genre and, though one could still categorize then as straight-shooting “rock,” the real thread connecting these songs is a wry brand of humor mixed with an ability to catch a hook at just the right moment. McHenry’s true signature, of course, is her emotive blues voice that can change at any moment from soft sweetness to a torrential downpour.
The Raleigh, NC based four-piece Truth Club make a place for themselves in the extremes, and their 2019 debut album Not An Exit proves it. Pivoting between vocal-focused minimalism and a more traditional, energetic full-band sound, the group's distinctiveness is in their exploration of dynamics and movement. Travis Harrington's voice expressively parallels the motion of the instruments, sometimes pronounced and soaring, other times hovering in a dark murmur. His lyrics seem similarly drawn to the tension of opposition, battling between optimism and despair, nostalgia and reality. The image-based confessionalism hangs over the warbling guitars, at times creating an intensity that is unsettling and slightly dissonant, but becomes sweetened in moments of accompaniment by Yvonne Chazal.
Although Truth Club’s form never deviates far from indie-rock conventions, the group avoids formulaic instrumentation and predictability. Drummer Elise Jaffe crafts nimble rhythms with bassist Kameron Vann, their harmony a deft foundation for the wavering synths and frenetic guitars that spiral and collide with one another. Together, Travis, Elise, Kameron, and Yvonne continue to sharpen this dynamic. In May 2022 they began work on what will be their second album, poised for release sometime in the near future.
Noah Deemer is a musician and artist living in NYC. His debut album, the art-pop / post-punk odyssey, The Sleepwalker, is out now. The Sleepwalker was written in New York and recorded at night in a moonshine cabin in North Carolina with a wide range of instruments – 70s synthesizers, saxophone, heavy metal guitar, violin, analog drum machines, etc.
The album is a personal chronicle of heartbreak and coming of age, set in the shadow of widespread social and environmental crisis. Through it all runs a deep yearning and a spirit of defiance. Opener “Modern Ruins,” for example, veers mid-song from sludged-out chaos into bright, lush synthesizers and back again. The midnight drifter in “Underwater Green / Coming Down,” rasps into feedback and saxophone. “Glorify me, cover me in diamonds,” Deemer sings in a hoarse baritone, “I can ride on the edge of a thrill, my fantasies would take more than a lifetime to fill.”
While writing The Sleepwalker, Deemer started doing hypnosis on the Upper East Side. Some images in the lyrics came from these trance states, and the hallucinatory, dreamlike experience of being hypnotized crept into the very structure of the songs. The end result is singular and powerful – an extraterrestrial journey through the modern world. Something like a punk record trapped inside a dream pop record – raw emotions, city swagger, ecstatic hooks, luscious drugged out crooners, and vampire poetics shapeshifting around in the subconscious. In its enigmatic, fragmented beauty, The Sleepwalker reaches for a spiritual truth about life out of time.
Hailing from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, HNDCLW is the brainchild of frontman Tyler Byers. Byers formerly led Greensboro based band, Mutant League, before forming HNDCLW in 2012. With its current lineup of Tyler Byers (guitar/vocals), Matt Wentz (guitar), Marshall Holian (drums), and Taylor Casey (bass), HNDCLW's sound oscillates from 50's prom ballads to speed metal. Angular and unabating, the music projects a sense of urgency and bouncy aggression. Their sound has been described as heavy, cartoon intro music.
HNDCLW released their first EP, Fleshy Depths, in 2014. The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings, a compilation of music recorded between 2009 and 2015, followed in 2016. In 2020 they released two additional self-produced EPs, KneeBone and Oolong CatNap (with singer/songwriter Tehra Burton). HNDCLW is currently working on an untitled project set to release in 2022 (recorded by Kris Hilbert of Legitimate Business and mastered by Paul Blackwell of Shilpa Ray).