“Heartbeats Dancing,” the new video from Laura Palmer’s DEATH PARADE (produced by New Move Media alongside the release of their compilation album “Paradise Hotel”) is a lazy motorcycle ride through a strange cemetery, whose grass and trees hum with an ultraviolet glow. Laura Hopkins, leader and partial namesake, is the one doing the swerving astride a vintage Honda, singing about love’s quiet fading and the ever-present urge to try again. In true Lynchian fashion, “Heartbeats Dancing” is a song defined by what is now absent, and like the famously murdered Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks. Here, death seems less a finality and more a starting point, a patch of fertile soil from which something painfully and vibrantly beautiful might grow.
“Heartbeats Dancing” is the band’s contribution to New Move Media’s upcoming collaborative album, Paradise Hotel, which features a variety of Portland artists. Laura Palmer’s DEATH PARADE, with Laura Hopkins on guitar a vocals alongside the full band consisting of Eirinn Gragson on keys/vocals, Ben Johnson on drums, and Danny Metclaff on bass, will be playing alongside Aan and Michael Finn at Mississippi Studios on July 24th, as part of a two-night record release event. Check out the video below, and get tickets to the show here.
Laura Palmer's Death Parade - Heartbeats Dancing (Official Video) - YouTube
Basil Strawberry is the stage name of (and band name for) the multimedia dreamy electronic pop led by Basil Jane Stevens. Stevens grew up in Missoula, MT, but didn’t “glow up” until she moved to Portland, OR in 2013. There she realized a few things: her appreciation for electronic music and her identity as a trans woman. Both are evident in her music, which she describes as Blood Orange meets Beach House, but like… queer.
She leads the band on vocals and synth and has written the vast majority of music and lyrics on the premiering debut album, Woman. The instrumentation is filled out by Graye Guidotti (Choking Kind) on percussion/vocals, Eirinn Gragson (Laura Palmer’s Death Parade) on synth/vocals, and Eddie Charlton (Lubec) on guitar.
Woman is an 8-track concept album documenting the feelings and experiences of trans identity. Nowhere is this theme more apparent than on the closing track Cry Now, wherein Stevens confidently states, “I’m powerful now/As I am a woman/As naturally the strange boy would turn out be.”
Accompanied by shimmering synths, soaring harmonies, splashy and intricate guitar leads, and bumping synth bass, Stevens has captured fresh dream pop sound.
The record also features guest appearances from some ubiquitous and beloved characters of the Portland music community: Sarah McKenna (Dan Dan/Blackwater Holylight), as well as Betty Joy Downey and Chris Hoganson (Petit Poucet/The Fur Coats).
It’s hard to categorize the Greyhounds’ sound into a single genre, let alone compare theirs to the sound of another’s. An undertone of blues seems to be present in most of their tunes. Whereas funk, R & B, jazz, and rock take turns appearing throughout their songs, making it easy for music lovers of all kinds to tune in and rock on. Vocalist and guitarist, Andrew Trube, has a most unique voice with his soothing bellows and graceful switches to high falestos. Joined by Anthony Farrell on the keys, the two are able to use their rare instrumental combination to produce a sound that is familiar yet foreign all at the same time. Their music could compliment a road trip to the coast, BBQ in a backyard, or as assistance to get house chores done. Whatever the setting, the listener will be pleased and most likely find themselves swaying to the rhythm of Greyhounds’ dynamic vibrations.
Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8, this Tuesday, July 16th. [TIX] Starcrusher, a LA digital music artist, will open for Greyhounds.
Bud Wilson has been releasing wild technicolor indie rock under the monicar Aan for over 10 years now. In that time, he and a revolving cast of bandmates have released three full-length records, each a cathartic exploration of the darker side of Wilson’s psyche while he navigated personal hardships around love, self-acceptance and death. Each record feels like a more finely honed expression of his musical vision, culminating with Aan’s most recent offering, Losing My Shadow, out on Fresh Selects last month. The new record features washes of synth that soften the hard edges of the band’s usually erratic song structures. It’s dense, with subtle production flourishes, making it apparent that a lot of time and love went into turning each song into its own little universe.
Listen to Aan’s newest single, out now on Paradise Hotel, an album compilation produced by Jesse Bettis of New Move Media, released on Tender Loving Empire. Don’t miss Aan live at Mississippi Studios, July 24 for the first of two nights at New Move Media’s “hotel party” release show!
11: Has mining such personal territory for lyrical content ever complicated personal relationships with people who served as source material?
Bud Wilson: It hasn’t damaged any relationships that I’m aware of, but my mom just heard it, and she was like, “Well, now that you have all that stuff out of your system, maybe you can write some less complicated music.” The songs on Losing My Shadow are less about romantic relationships, they’re more about the relationship I have with myself. I’m shining a harsh light on a lot of the things that irritate or scare me about myself. It’s kind of an examination of my own mortality and realizing that we’re not here for very long. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the dumb shit you do that can be really fun, but can also end up screwing you over if you’re not monitoring it.
11: Like what?
BW: Drinking, doing drugs… just being really sad all the time. That stuff can be really destructive because you never cut yourself a break. I try to hold myself to a pretty high standard, but I don’t always impress myself. I use music as an examination of all the icky shit, all the black, goopy feelings. I’m trying to get all that out, and once I do, I’ll feel better… I think.
11: What kind of icky shit were you processing on this record?
BW: I was dealing with my Dad passing and a relationship that ended a couple years ago. Back then it was almost like looking at a tidal wave. I could see that my life was going to change, but I didn’t know how. I just knew it was going to get kinda dark for a little bit. I may always be processing some of that stuff. I may just be designed to be a little bummed out but also pretty stoked sometimes. It’s a rollercoaster.
11: Does writing about such personal stuff ever make you feel vulnerable?
BW: Not usually. Like, not here with you, but I had a weird interaction with a friend the other day where he was like, “Well, I definitely know what you’re dealing with now that I listened to your record.” I just thought, “I don’t even know what I’m dealing with. What am I dealing with?” Part of me wanted to ask him, but I was scared to know how he interpreted it. It’s a little weird having my mom hear it. It’s personal. It’s a very personal record. It’s some very serious shit that I said, and I don’t know if everyone likes stuff like that. But I don’t give a shit. I just want to make someone feel something, even if it makes them feel a little uncomfortable.
Photo by Michael Reiersgaard
11: Feeling uncomfortable is better than feeling nothing.
11: With a couple of records under your belt, was this one easier to bring to life? Or was there added pressure to top what you’d already done?
BW: Each record has had its own mission. The first one was full of pressure because it was a long time coming. It took almost three years to finish. I worked with Jeff Bond, who was a relatively new producer, and he wanted to come out with something strong, and so did I. So we took our time. That was the best I could personally do at the time as a musician.
When we made the next record, Dana [Valatka], Travis [Leipzig], and my friend Gabe [Nardin] all went into the studio and tracked that shit live. I liked that record, but there ended up being a lot of little things I wanted to change about it if we had more time. We intentionally gave ourselves these parameters to get it done as fast as we could. The producer we were working with was touring a lot so we’d have these little windows to work with. When Cameron Spies and I sat down to make this record, we decided,
“Let’s not worry about how long this takes. Let’s just make this really interesting to listen to.” The goal from the beginning was to make you want to listen to it again. There are all sorts of little toys in there, and we took a lot of time to craft the songs as best as we could. Cameron [Spies] and I would take pinball breaks for lunch and end up coming back a little saucy and listen to what we did and either be like, “Oh shit! That was sick!” Or be like, “Ew… that wasn’t it.”
11: What did you see in Cameron Spies as a producer that made you tap him for Losing My Shadow?
BW: He just has excellent pop sensibilities. Also, I don’t have any synths, and I knew I wanted to add a lot of synths to this record. He’s a great synth player and can just find really tasty tones that we would comb through together. On a lot of the record I don’t remember if he was playing synth or if I was because we would work through stuff so fluidly. He’s also good at getting good performances out without being pushy. It was a healthy relationship where he’d help me make sure I’m getting the best vocal take I could at that time, or he’d look at some lyrics and be like, “Hmm. What else you got?”
Photo by Michael Reiersgaard
11: With a studio project you have freedom to do things that require a different type of listening than you’d expect from people in a live setting. Have you had to rework any songs or drop them from the live set because they work better as a recording than as a live performance?
BW: It doesn’t really scare me to play anything live. We’ll go for it. We’re going to play all the songs on this record. The only reason we’d choose not to play a song live if it’s kind of boring to play. Actually, I feel like some of the more upbeat songs end up being the more boring ones to play. The slower, more intimate songs translate really well to a live setting.
11: How did you guys get hooked up with Fresh Selects? They’ve got a pretty large, diverse catalogue.
BW: It’s definitely diverse, especially now that they put us on there. I like the idea of being on a label that’s not just indie rock. It exposes us to a different audience. I first found out about them when Hosannas signed with them for a release last year. Party Damage put out our first two records, they’re defunct now, but when I sent them our record they were like, “I think I know someone who would really dig this.” They set up a meeting for us and we all sat down and I was like, “I have no clue how this is going to go.” Then at the end of the meeting, Kenny Fresh was like, “OK, let’s do it.” There’s even this new artist Trox on the label who’s going to remix a few pieces for us.
11: Does it worry you to relinquish control of something you made like that?
BW: I’m actually happy someone’s interested, and I think it will be interesting to hear it taken in a completely different direction.
11: Ten years is a long run for a project in Portland. What kind of lessons have you learned over the years?
BW: I don’t know what I’ve learned… I guess I’ve learned how the industry works to some degree. I’ve learned how to make music I want to make from a production standpoint. I’ve learned that it’s important to have really solid players in the band so I can just focus on what I’m doing and not have to worry about how other people perform. These guys honestly set a high bar and make me have to be better.
It doesn’t feel like what we do in Aan has changed a ton over the course of the last three records, but it took a long time to figure out how we were supposed to sound before that first record. I’m definitely starting to feel older now, though. Sometimes I’m like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” It’s been an interesting ride in this town for sure, to know a bunch of people in the community and to have traveled and toured and met bands from all over the rest of the country. I just love doing it.
Just like wandering around an old drive-thru movie theater, Ethereal Whispers In The Void rings out like a fuzzy wall of nostalgic waves. Moon Shy’s new album, released June 28, hums like a foggy memory and glows like bright neon. With elements of psych rock (reminiscent of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees), rhythms that float hauntingly like a ’50s school dance, and a touch of reverb vocals and pop to bop to, this dynamic album showcases the full range of this dreamy Portland band.
The album features Stephen Leisy of Genders (guitars, organ, voice, bass guitars, drums), Cameron Spies of Night Heron (organ, mixer, producer) as well as Kris Doty, Hugh Jepson, and Annie Miranda on vocals throughout.
[Weyes Blood plays August 17th, 2019 at the Wonder Ballroom: TIX]
Titanic Rising, the latest album from Natalie Mering, AKA Weyes Blood, can be defined by its lush, orchestral melodies counterbalanced with moments of spare, wrenching introspection. But, from a greater perspective, these touches are indicative of the encompassing ethos with which Mering makes her music. Her strength is in finding moments of delicacy within grand settings of reflective musing.
It’s not surprising that Mering’s production feels like sitting in a celestial cathedral. Coming from a conservative, Christian background, Mering spent many hours connected to beautiful, contrapuntal hymnals and traditional non-secular song structures. Her albums, decidedly secular, bathe listeners in gentle chording and reverential, soaring vocal lines full of existential lyricism; it is a match both in style and substance.
While Mering’s compositions range from the truly dramatic to the personally touching, she has trained her message on the greater state of things. Climate change takes a prominent place on Titanic Rising. She raises questions about how we relate to each other and the world, tacitly imploring fellow humans to reconsider the individualistic, ephemeral approach to existence that has resulted in truly negative impacts across the globe. Still, as serious as Mering is about her message, her skill as a composer means listeners can easily slip into comfortable (albeit emotionally intense) space, while waves of sound wash over.
ELEVEN talked with Mering about her origins, why she chooses to make music with such a powerful message, and how Titanic Rising mirrors the state of the world today.
Eleven: You’re supporting the Titanic Rising album, and I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the influences that you’ve discussed publicly. I know that this has kind of been tabbed as a climate change kind of activism-based album. What is one of the most impactful things that you’ve seen so far arise out of the work that you’ve done with the album?
Natalie Mering: I don’t think anybody knows what to do. If you’re not already an environmentalist involved in the activism, I don’t see any crossover from my generation. I find my generation is generally kind of drowning in their own confusion about what it is they could do. I think people have commented about it, maybe emotionally kind of helping them feel a little better about just using conceptual terms to express the kind of sorrow that this kind of existential stuff brings. I also don’t go online and kind of look at what my fans are doing. You know?
11: Sure, sure.
NM: So, I can’t say that anything has happened, but I do get to meet people. I’ve met people who run environmentalist organizations, personally, who have heard the record. So, in some way, that is the beginning of a connection, and like a seed for me to do stuff and kind of get more involved in the activism portion of it. I think my fans just think it’s beautiful music. I’m not trying to talk down on them. I don’t blame them. I don’t know how I would find out about what they were doing, you know?
11: Are you sort of rooted in activism music or socially conscious art?
NM: No. I’m peripheral to that. I have a conservative Republican family, so I am the only liberal. Well, I mean my brother is too, but no. I come from the other side of the tracks where I kind of am navigating that territory for the first time and exploring it. I did Occupy Wall Street. I’ve done some protests and things like that, but I’m always trying to navigate what we can do to change the people [who are] middle of the road and really change the hearts of the people like my family: more conservative people who are kind of being brainwashed. So, yeah, I don’t have a history with this at all, I’m way more interested in not trying to speak for a bunch of people.
11: What were your goals in making the album, artistically, creatively, and from an audience perspective?
NM: Yeah, I do think that I was trying to provide some kind of emotional nourishment and comfort amidst the existential crisis that we face. I spend so much of my time writing songs and singing and playing music, I would say it is a call to action in terms of making people aware of what’s going on.
But also, I think it was more to kind of soothe people’s fear and anxiety over the whole debacle. I just don’t want to overstep my boundaries in terms of what I do best, which is writing songs. The goal was more of an emotional goal.
11: Do you feel like in the current state of affairs that maybe art has a bigger role than it’s had in a long time, in terms of providing that peace of mind or that opportunity to really find something positive and not just be disenfranchised?
NM: Yeah. No, I think that right now we kind of need poetry and that kind of interpretive force more than ever. I really think that mythology and different things throughout our history can provide a psychological guide map on how we can experience being human without suffering tremendously. Ultimately, even if it is a form of escapism, music aspires to transcend the mundane, the everyday, and into something a little bit more meaningful and universal. I do think it becomes really important in times like these where people are trying to find truth and meaning in a constantly shifting world where there’s a lot of changes that we haven’t really caught up to yet. So yeah, I think that religions, in their own right, are kind of on their way out and we’ve created a religion even if it is kind of painted by capitalism of music and movies and TV and things to help us escape.
11: One of the things that I saw listening to this album is it kind of sounds like, in a way, it’s an existential breakup album, almost in terms of lyrical content and the way that the instrumentals unfold. There’s a lot of ethereal aspects, but then there’s a lot of really well grounded, dominant chording. Did you have an intended outcome as you were making this or was there something that clicked along the way?
Natalie: I think I wanted to try to make something that was very much specific to my generation and people around my age range, and also universally, people from all different ages. But I just think that we live in such an interesting time with such an interesting set of circumstances, it’d be a shame to make music that doesn’t try to incorporate all the new paradigm shifts; whether it be cell phone technology or the fact that we were basically raised on movies, and that they are a point of initiation into society as basically having our own bedrooms, hanging up posters on our wall and coming up with very naive imaginary ideas about what the world is like. I wanted that all to come out, that relationship with history and how there’s nothing really new under the sun even though it feels so specific and so different from millennials trying to weave it back into other time periods where similarly, the hubris of man was making a confused reality for a lot of people.
WEYES BLOOD — MOVIES (Official Video - in 4k) - YouTube
11: Do you see parallels between what’s happening right now and what was happening back in the ‘60s in terms of feeling like the country or the people are being pushed toward this more individualistic viewpoint? I’ve read some comparisons with you, a little bit to Joni Mitchell – I don’t know if you like that or not, but she’s in a similar vein. Are these things that you think about actively?
NM: Yeah, I do think about the parallels. I think that we’re still living in that; I mean the Boomers, they’re still alive. Like they’re old, but I think they still kind of are ruling the roost in terms of being the biggest generation and kind of the generation that rode maybe on the biggest wave of natural resources also. These days, I tend to focus more on the differences. I think we don’t really have, as musicians, the same kind of careers that people then had. I think we might be living in a time where the artist is somewhat disposable and the machinery itself is kind of the longstanding legendary thing. Well, I think back then it was more based on personalities and there was a little bit more of an innovation and kind of like chaos, wild west style to the music industry because everything was new.
We’ve really settled into our ways and you can kind of see it, like some of the biggest labels also tend to be the most conservative. Theywill only promote something that ticks off the five capitalistic check boxes that they assume will make them more money, which wasn’t the case in the ‘60s. I think in the ‘60s there were record executives who didn’t understand young people who are like, “Well, I guess if they like this then we should put it out.”
So, I think there’s been a lot of things that have shifted and changed that would make recreating something like the ‘60s impossible. But inevitably, I think we’re still trying to do what the Baby Boomers might’ve done unsuccessfully, which is really eradicate once and for all the part of America that is really vile and racist. Just, it’s kind of like nothing’s really changed. Well, nothing’s really changed in terms of that. I think a lot of things have changed in terms of our lifestyles. You know?
11: You mentioned some of the conservativism of record labels and you’ve said before that you believed in the ethos of Sub Pop. I’m wondering, as your musical career has kind of progressed and as you’ve grown as an artist, is that something that you feel like you have the luxury to be more attuned to? Or was this just kind of like a happenstance, like right place, right time, right fit kind of opportunity?
NM: I’ve always been a big fan of Sub Pop since I was like 14 and it was definitely a big dream of mine to be on their label, but I’ve never reached out to them. I kind of just had to do my own thing and put out three records before they reached out to me. Once they did, I felt extremely… full circle. Very, very excited. Humbled.
11: I’m curious about the musicality and the instrumentals on the album. They sound really lush and beautiful – they’re not ethereal without having a point. As you were making this album, did you feel like there were any kind of chances that you wanted to take, musically?
NM: Yeah, I think I wanted to make it kind of match my emotions towards reality, which is pretty grandiose and kind of larger than life. I wanted to use strings and other symphonic elements that I haven’t been able to use before, to make it feel like the soundtrack to the times or whatever. And I think, yeah, I definitely had ambitions for some of the more ambient sound effects to try to make it fit into the kind of “underwater, last night on the Titanic” feel.
There was another composer named Gavin Briars who actually wrote a piece called “The Sinking of the Titanic,” which was very inspirational. We would play it in the studio sometimes to – it’s like a two-and-a-half-hour ambient piece. In real time, to how long it took the Titanic to sink. There’s just something so, so moody about it. I still like using ingredients like that. Like, something that doesn’t have words and is a little bit more abstract to kind of paint the picture with the songs and the words.
11: Do you enjoy the challenge of having to add more layered instrumentation when you’re composing and putting your songs together? Is that something that you’ve looked forward to doing and growing?
NM: Yeah, always. But, you can go the wrong direction. Sometimes less is more. It’s really an outcome and you’re kind of constantly being like, “Well, does it need that?” Or, “Is it fine or should it…” There’s always this desire to add too much, so you’ve got to keep yourself in check.
11: Do you have an example in mind of when that happened on the album as you were working on it where you had something big and then you decided, “Ah, it just needs kind of like a lighter touch here”?
NM: Yeah, I’m trying to think of the song that needed the lightest touch. What did we end up muting the most of? I think in the song “Movies” there was so much sculpting going on because it is such a kind of amorphous, ambient song that we spent a lot of time muting certain things to make it minimal but effective. So, finding the things that were absolutely essential and kind of cutting out anything that made it too dense. That one was probably the most combed over, but we added more. There was more on that song and it didn’t make it to the record.
11: Are there any songs on the album that maybe while you were creating and laying out the album you liked but you didn’t really love, and then as you’ve gone back to it they’ve become your favorite?
NM: You know what? Not exactly. I cut like two songs off the album so those were the sleeper songs and they’re gonna maybe come out as bonus material. But I did feel maybe like “Mirror Forever” was the least fun to record, but one of the more fun ones to play live. That song has kind of a new life of its own now that I play it live. But recording, it was hard for me because it was an older song and about things I didn’t want to think about anymore. It’s hard to explain your emotions to your own songs, but I felt like that one has a new life of its own now that I’m playing it live.
11: As you are performing the new album live, do you feel like it’s something that needs to be performed in its entirety because it is a little bit of a concept album or when you’re performing, do you find that there are other songs from your catalog that fit in? What’s your process like for putting together your live performances?
NM: I like to mix them. I do a little bit from my last record. I don’t do anything before Front Row Seat To Earth because it’s just too throw back or something. But I occasionally play “Bad Magic” as an encore, an older song which still fits into the whole new thing. There’s not so many songs on Titanic Rising. All the songs are really long, so we just usually do that and usually some cover song. I really like doing a cover song, too.
11: What’s your favorite song to cover and what’s the one that you really want to cover but you haven’t quite figured out how to make it your own yet?
NM: Right now we’re doing “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. It’s been such an emotional song. It’s been great to cover. My ultimate cover dream would be ”A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum, but it’s actually incredibly difficult. It’s such a subtle, deep vocal performance, but someday I’d love to cover that one.
11: If there’s one thing that you would like to leave people with after they’ve gone through the new album, maybe from a musical perspective and then from a larger conversation perspective, what do you want people to walk away thinking about?
NM: Well, I would hope that the people could get swept up in the drama of the music and that the music could fulfill its purpose of recontextualizing emotions and our experiences of modern reality into something very universal and beautiful. Also, I think generally, I hope the album would provide some kind of semblance of hope that we can make art and we can have something to say about the existential landscape that we face. Then, hopefully, those things are going to motivate us to get out of bed and keep trying to change things, and not lose hope and become too wrapped up in the dystopian doomsday views, you know?
I do think that there are things that I am working on that are a little bit more directly linked to climate activism, but I can’t really talk solely about them yet. It’s like I’m just meeting with certain people and starting to get some collaborations with people that are more politically involved, because as a musician I kind of tour and operate on such an artistic musical level that I’m still learning about that side of things. But yeah, I look forward to that being more part of the future.
There is a ground swelling, even if it is an emotional one to kind of look in the mirror and be like, “Wow, we really have an inconceivable amount of existential work to do to keep from getting too depressed by the news that we read.” And that’s a great challenge, I think that a lot of people are kind of stepping up to the plate more than ever before and paying attention.
11: There was something that you had mentioned before, which is there is still sort of a generational divide and maybe the older generation aren’t the people that are going to be immediately activated, but some of the younger people and the younger generation, as they become a little bit more empowered. You know, the kind of art that they’re growing up with that is potentially going to push them in the direction to be a little bit more bought in, even if it’s not just immediately, “Okay, put down your headphones and go out and start a nonprofit.”
NM: Yeah, yeah. I think Greta Thunberg is the all-star of this movement. That’s why I said the people that are doing the most for this are teenagers in Europe, and it’s true. You know? I think that’s no surprise because I think that they kind of have this level of energy that a lot of millennials who are just kind of in the rat race, kind of scraping to survive, can’t really have. So, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that teenagers are on fire and doing stuff. I think it’s just a matter of hope and kind of healing, getting the older generation to step out of their rat race and their rat wheels. Because literally, I think a lot of people are functioning on that level right now. Just kind of scraping by.
Portland based Aan, made up of Bud Wilson and a rotating cast of musicians (currently Travis Liepzig, Andy Lawson, Dana Valatka and Eddie Bond), are on their third album in 10 years. Dada Distractions (2016) took note from psychedelic garage-rock with mild sludge and a mournful undertone. Their newest album, Losing My Shadow, (featuring Cameron Spies, Travis Leipzig, and Dana Valatka alongsize Wilson) appears to be a sunnier endeavor, one that could be interpreted as pop as it shuffles super clean falsetto hooks and immaculate vocal tones, crafting a sharp catchy abstraction. This time around, there’s an immediate gratification by placing that proximal cleanliness with psychedelic abstraction (think wah-wahs and echo-effects). Deftly detailed in production and mixing, Aan’s newest album presents itself as a piece of aural craft.
The titular title track “Losing My Shadow” denotes in-studio strengths with two distinct parts. The five-plus minute trip starts with an astral synth, disorienting between the right and left channels as Wilson joins in singing, “As time fell flat I crept in decay/I was lost in the haze/my days drifted away,” accompanied by a galloping snare drum and pulsing bass. Each instrument stays discernable and crystalline in the swirling, even around the three and a half minute mark, when the tempo drops, drums start to lag, and the bass frays. Here, the song sublimates into an outline of its initial sound.
“Falling” washes listeners away with Wilson’s ascending vocals, layered over themselves and fading out, fighting for attention. Barely discernible, the focus piques up to the chorus, where vocals break through to the hook in a moment of clarity: “I get the feeling that I am falling”. “Born A Sucker” stands out in energy (“I know you love me but you’re only going to hold me back”) powered by an unassuming guitar jerk that once moves forward into “I Don’t Want to Be Alone,” which is packed with vulnerable lull and lyrics (“It’s like out of thin air/ I’m erased and no one’s there”), both being bolstered higher in their respected sentiments.
Equalizing an album’s catchiness with depth is rare: “Mistakes” prescribes “Don’t ever lose your glow.” And that might just be a mantra.
Welsh songwriter Cate Le Bon breathes some much-needed ethereal eccentricity into this year’s pop offerings with her leisurely, wry take on folk and pop music. The accomplished songwriter has been something of a fixture in the indie and art pop scene, touring circuits since the late 2000s. Reward is Cate Le Bon’s new album on Brooklyn label Mexican Summer, and is strikingly original, possibly the most thoughtfully-composed pop albums of the year.
Stylistically, Cate Le Bon has all the trappings of a fiercely idiosyncratic craftsperson who is trying to make timeless music, rather than someone making music that sounds like the product of a scene. Her droll voice, which enunciates lyrics (in both English and Welsh) with such a plain and innocent matter-of-factness, always seems to stand perfectly alone, content to be unadorned and occupy a humble space. It is a distinct singing voice in the best way. One could say it evokes Robert Wyatt’s plaintive timbre, which sounds so strangely fragile the first few times you hear it, but becomes compelling with a combination of vulnerability and bravery.
Le Bon’s unique voice fits well with the intricate, leisurely arrangements that house it, favoring saxophones, unconventional percussion, and the piano to give a minimal, organic ambience. Le Bon’s calming voice often disguises hidden depths, such as the brooding and meditative song off Reward, “Here it Comes Again,” where the narrator urges us again and again to “set in a frame” a series of downcast, ghostly images that reflect their soul’s melancholy. “Half-draped eyes in a liquid night fall apart anew, too,” they remind us. Much of Le Bon’s music seems to comment on solitude and loneliness. And yet, it excels at keeping a light tone that doesn’t sound overly sad as it lays out gently philosophical images and ideas like “love neglected by reward” (“Miami” aims high for a song with so few actual words). There needs to be more pop like this in the world.
What is the most entrancing part about Sven Gamsky, who we know as Still Woozy? Maybe it’s that his music induces both melancholy and happiness, or how he crafts a charmingly imperfect blend of acoustic and electronic, or perhaps the fact that the music Gamsky produces reflects qualities a listener can relate to: like being a little quirky and hating mornings. The Bay Area native creates melodies that follow psychedelic and dreamy electronic beats and funky, retro bass lines.
Gamsky hit the sound waves of SoundCloud with fan favorite “Goodie Bag” in the wake of the bedroom pop phenomenon, alongside other DIY and lo-fi artists such as Clairo, Cuco, and Omar Apollo.
However, Still Woozy is not confined to the bedroom pop genre, and at times his music sounds more like lo-fi hip hop, while other times flaring into R&B and funk. Consistent with Gamsky’s genre-bending scale is the dreaminess factor; there is just something about his music that floats you up to cloud nine.
The multi-instrumentalist got his musical start in math rock band, Feed Me Jack. He left the band to make simpler, more intimate music of his own. His cheery-meets-melancholic instrumentation and tone is cozy, comforting, and relatable, insinuating that this is what making music is really about for Gamsky. Yet, through his music, he assures fans that things are going to be okay and prompts listeners to get on their feet and dance.
Gamsky surprised fans with a long awaited debut EP, titled Lately, early in May. The five track EP perfectly embodies the lively energy and genre elusiveness of Gamsky. Lately includes four new songs along with his much loved single “Habit.” “Ipanema” features Omar Apollo and Elujay, who will be the supporting act for Still Woozy’s upcoming tour.
Still Woozy kicks off his headlining three month U.S. tour in July, his first stop being at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.
There is nothing comparable to the vastness of Raw Honey. Released by Drugdealer—a band/music collective started by L.A.-native, Michael Collins—the album defies all archetype. Collins, enlisting the expertise of various reknowned musicians, filters through seemingly disparate musical influences easily—transitioning from eerie, ethereal folk to smooth, lounge-inspired jazz to blissful soundscapes in mere minutes. Raw Honey is a narrative, a subtle ode mirroring the musical influences of each Drugdealer member. Traces of The Pogues’ “Summer In Siam” are found in the melodic introductory track, “You’ve Got To Be Kidding;” while the fourth track, “Lost In My Dream,” has a similar piano interlude to the Beatles hit, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Each track represents a unique and independent style. “Wild Motion” blends traditional shoegaze with a Southwestern twang, while the sensual vocals on the second track, “Honey,” conjure memories of Nico’s earlier folk sound.
The result is an album that is notably complex, dimensional, and engaging. Each song is as impressive as its precedent—with the most notable being “Fools,” the fifth track. Unlike other tracks, which each emphasize an artist’s personal wheelhouse, “Fools” is a product of the collective as a whole. With a catchy, jazzy piano and 70’s-inspired vocals, the climax of Raw Honey is a summery tune that blends the individual artists’ influences with the talent of Drugdealer as a whole.
Fans of Steely Dan will find comfort in fifth track, “Fools,” a warm, groovy tune with crisp and funky guitar interludes, dance-y background piano, and folk-inspired vocals.
The final track, aptly named “Ending On A Hi Note,” is a minute and a half-long dreamy instrumental soundscape. A perfect conclusion to Raw Honey, the track provides the space to appreciate the complexity of the full album.