Palehound’s new album, “Black Friday,” is a stunner. Ellen Kempner sings these songs with openness and vulnerability, songs about love and being loved, but also about tougher and meaner emotions: uneasiness, shame, anger, rage. Where “A Place I’ll Always Go” felt like intimate letters or a collection of short stories, “Black Friday” feels like a bigger production, a brave swing for the fences. Kempner sings about what it takes to love people, about losing friends, about trying to pull the people you love out of sadness. Every song on the album is fascinating and affecting, and the music, like the lyrics, feels like it’s more explorative, more outdoors than indoors.
Two songs I want to highlight: “Aaron” and “In Town.” The first is one of the most moving love songs I’ve heard in the last couple years. “Your mother wanted to name you Aaron/but her body built you/as a different man/And my friend, if you want me to I’ll call you Aaron/I can/I can/I can/I can/I can, Aaron/I can.” Kempner has said that the song is addressed to her partner, who’s transitioning. She sings those lines, and the whole song, with such focused tenderness. A beautiful song.
“In Town” is also full of love, but turns on thoughts of loss. “At the thought of losing you/my muscles hum familiar tunes/and curl me into a naked ball/wet on the shower floor.” And later, “If there’s anything I learned/when I was back in town/it’s that nothing worth loving/ ever sticks around/But you.” The music of “In Town” shadows the lyrics, with mournful piano and a unsettled guitar riff. The song ends with Kempner singing wordlessly over both the riff and a group of violins ruminating together.
You can listen to “Superbike,” the lead single from “Anak Ko,” via the lyric video below. “Superbike” has the same kind of protean and melodic qualities as a lot of Duterte’s songs, twisting in interesting and surprising ways throughout the course of the song. “I’m not the kind of fool/who needs to read the room,” she sings at the start of the song, sounding confident, but then undercuts that pose a little, with a pleading request, “Somebody tell me,” which she repeats throughout “Superbike.” A fantastic song that also features the band’s prettiest outro yet.
Here’s the tracklisting for “Anak Ko:”
1) If You Want It
3) Peace Out
5) Nighttime Drive
7) Anak Ko
9) Get Well
Ellen Arkbro is back with a new record, “CHORDS.” Her “For Organ and Brass” was one of my favorite records of 2017, a record of beautiful, circulating drones. Judging by the excerpts posted from “CHORDS,” the new record has a tighter focus, with a slightly more koanic quality. You can hear it in “CHORDS for Guitar,” where she offers a series of discrete, strummed chords that ring out and dissipate, encouraging the listener to consider each one, the initial bloom of the sound as the chord is struck and the manner in which the sound decays. “CHORDS for Organ” continues her fascinating experiments with that instrument, and you can listen to an excerpt from that track too. “CHORDS” is out on June 7. Looking forward to hearing the whole thing.
A new single by Black Belt Eagle Scout is reason to celebrate. “Loss & Relax” and “Half Colored Hair” continue the vibe from “Mother of My Children,” thoughtful, full of invention, colored both by joy and a sense of mourning. If I remember correctly, Katherine Paul played “Loss & Relax” during the band’s stop in Tacoma, and she really ripped into it, with the whole band jamming out on the ending of the song. Paul writes fascinating and beautiful guitar lines for her songs, and you can hear in “Loss & Relax” how easily she moves from a meditative/contemplative mode into explosive, ecstatic emotion. She has a great note up on the band’s bandcamp page about what inspired “Loss & Relax” and what she was thinking about when the song came into being, and you should real all of it, but here’s an excerpt:
“As I was writing the guitar line, I kept seeing the water of the Salish Sea and the local ferries drifting people in and out of place. Ferries are such a beautiful part of my childhood and served as a major form of transportation. Thinking about my home and how canoes have turned into ferries is a sad but also beautiful thought. Nowadays with Canoe Journeys, canoes are alongside ferries, roaming our waters to lands, sharing customs and culture. That is what I think about now, when I listen to the fully recorded version of the song. I see a strong and fierce community of my people, continuing to thrive in whatever comes our way. That is how I feel about myself, a survivor and thriver of this land, a water protector, a womxn, the future.”
“Half Colored Hair” is another gorgeous love song from Paul (like “Soft Stud”), a sketch of sweet intimacy, caring touches, moments of realization. She sings, towards the end of the song, “I never knew I’d like/half colored hair so much/But I knew/I’d like you/So I didn’t care/’Cause I care for you.”
Kara-Lis Coverdale’s beautiful “Grafts” starts with sounds that are like soft things falling a long way. Phased organ exhalations. Instruments suspiring in cushy environs, reacting to each other, provoking further action. But that’s not the whole story. It’s a protean piece, all 20+ minutes keep moving, dancing off-balance—later in the piece, notes from a piano flutter in a stiff wind. Still later: prepared pitter patter and steam releases. Coverdale shares sound space with folks like Ellen Arkbro and Nils Frahm, composers who like to experiment with soundcraft and form. “Grafts” is incredible, can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Wolf Parade played in Tacoma at the end of February, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I hadn’t seen them live since 2005, when my brother and I saw them in Philly at the Khyber, right after Dante DeCaro had joined the band (who played as Johnny and the Moon to open the show, followed by Think About Life) and they’d been on tour for “Apologies to the Queen Mary” for a little while already. That was an incredible show, one of my favorites ever, probably. They played so well and intensely that night, not only the songs from the album, but also stuff that never got the studio treatment, like the incredible “Things I Don’t Know.”
So 14 years later, everyone’s older, and Dante’s left the band. I’d gathered from recent social media updates that the band had been holed up recently recording the follow-up to “Cry, Cry, Cry,” so I was curious to hear what they’d play. The place was packed and the crowd greeted the band’s arrival on stage with a lot of supportive yelling and hospitable whistling/clapping. I can’t remember everything they played, but I think they started with Lazarus Online (or something from the last album) and then proceeded to rip through a bunch of older songs interspersed with brand new songs (all of which sounded awesome, especially the one that’s been tagged “Seattle”). It was crazy to see them play with the same kind of energy I’d witnessed the first time I saw them live, at a weird Believer magazine music showcase in New York (Dan played some theremin at that show, if I remember right), like no time had passed at all.
Hearing them play stuff like “Grounds for Divorce,” “I’ll Believe in Anything,” and “Dinner Bells” made me remember what it was like in 2004, when I first heard of the band through places like Said the Gramophone, Goldkicks/Goldkixx, and ordered the first two EPs from Cheap Thrills in Montreal. I remembered how mysterious the band seemed then, how they sounded so new and wild.
It was an amazing show, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. They’re still a thrilling band.
Rock music can often be a delivery mechanism for sentiment, emotion, rhetoric. In “Something to You,” it’s a back-and-forth request, a confused plea: “Scoop me up in your arms/No/spit me out in the yard.” Later: “I just want to be something to you.” Overwhelming emotion, a need for someone else so powerful that you can’t quite articulate it, but you have a kind of shapeless urge or idea. Nanami Ozone deliver this with wave after wave of distorted guitars crashing, until the song diminishes to a spindly little riff halfway through, as though pausing to contemplate, and then builds a bit before the end before it cuts out, as though it had already revealed too much.
“NO” is a fun listen, a light shoegaze album, a little more transparent, a little more upbeat.
Waxahatchee played in Tacoma at Alma Mater/Fawcett Hall the other night, with Bonny Doon opening and later serving as her backing band. It was a wonderful show, and both acts brought a lot of energy and charisma to Tacoma’s newest (maybe best) concert venue.
Bonny Doon have a pretty laidback and pleasant vibe. Their music felt very affirming and sort of emotionally straightforward. Bonny Doon is also one of the only bands I’ve ever heard who could reasonably claim to be working in the same vein as my beloved Kingsbury Manx—turning out low-key beautiful songs that end up sticking with you longer than you’d think at first blush. Their set was fun and lively, and then they basically did a wardrobe change and came out to be Waxahatchee’s backing band.
This was the third time I’ve seen Waxahatchee (each time has been in a different state, weirdly). Katie Crutchfield’s set this time was a little more subdued than I’ve seen in the past and she seemed to lean a little more into the country and folky side of her songs this time around—the stuff from Out in the Storm was quieter and stretched out. She played at least one new song (that sounded fantastic), and played a couple tunes from the Great Thunder EP, which I hadn’t listened to at all. Some of those songs were familiar from their original release, but the way she played them live was so stunning—“Take So Much,” in particular, was incredible. The song seems (to me) like it’s about serving as a kind of unconditional support for a loved one who’s experiencing frustration and disappointment, and the way Crutchfield sings those lines, “Take it out on me, baby,” is gorgeous and haunting.
Press play and feel that warm bristling sensation flood your brain and body. Music that’s both familiar and foreign. Fleeting feelings and memories flash in your mind, half-appearing and not, quantum-level shithousery. A new type of feathered guitar, that evolved, bird-from-dinosaur style, from the old guitars. Echoes and allusions, you think Real Estate, Beach House. A sighing sort of supplication. Old houses’ window seats blasted with sun. A whole album of bright melodies and sweet and easy tunes.
Unbeatable. “Hug of Thunder” was one of my favorites of 2017, and this EP is a worthy follow-up to that album. It starts, like a lot of their records, with a mostly instrumental track as an intro, then launches into “Remember Me Young,” another instrumental song driven by tremolo-picked guitars, slabs of piano, synthesized bass, and ooh-and-ah vocals. The other three songs on the EP, “Boyfriends,” “1972,” and “All I Want” could sit comfortably on any of their albums, though I will say I keep coming back to “1972,” which has the same kind of right-here energy as something like “Shampoo Suicide” or “All to All.” This is an awesome EP and it’s always good to have more music from this band.
Caustic and imperious guitars, jumpy post-punk rhythms, lyrics delivered blankly in short declaratives. NOV3L have released their very good debut EP, “NOVEL,” on Flemish Eye, and it’s full of twitchy, high-energy songs. More than stuff like Gang of Four or the much beloved (by me at least) Women, NOV3L seem to be drawing some inspiration from the harsher aspects of bands like Orange Juice, or maybe Josef K (NOV3L show that same kind of stumbling momentum of songs like Josef K’s “Sorry for Laughing”). “To Whom It May Concern” is a staggeringly good song, and the rest of the EP shows the same kind of willingness to inhabit, modify, and bewilder familiar post-punk forms.
“On Reflection” is a collaborative album by Gold Panda and Jas Shaw (of Simian Mobile Disco) that came out in late 2018, which is maybe why there hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion about it. It’s a beautiful, laidback album, with lots of moments that feel characteristic of each contributor. The sound world in “On Reflection” summons up a similar vibe as the more stretched-out and wilder parts of the original “TRON” soundtrack, but without sounding at all like a retread (there’s also an aspect of a few of the synth tones that reminds me slightly of James Murphy’s “Remixes Made with Tennis Data”). “On Reflection” is a little stained glass window.