At this stage of the year it begins to feel like December is leaking away through our fingers like so much common hourglass sand. 2021 is quickly and quietly escaping to a close, culminating with the imminent conclusion of yet another holiday season. Perhaps this is a gradual sign of my age, but it feels like this holiday process rolls in faster and faster the longer I’ve been around. Hanukkah, Christmas, pick the time… these celebrations come and go with the presence of a lightning bolt nowadays. At least from where I sit 31 years into my own story.
As you might imagine that perspective brings on the occasional cloud of melancholy about aging, even amidst the bright lights and bulbs currently illuminating the streets and shop windows with their luminescent casts. There’s a battle in me waged internally between having appreciation for the happiness of those shimmering moments that count, and a little wistful sigh at watching them smokily float away with both feet on the accelerator. Uncaring of my wish that they might stick around just a bit longer and delay their inevitable conclusion.
I feel both the sun and shade of those moods within the effervescent vocals of soprano Audrey DuBois Harris on her recent single “Christmas Without You”. The track is a sweetly jazz-smoked ode that is at once as heavy as it is uplifting. That’s all due to the intricately gorgeous timbre of DuBois Harris, who carries emotional layers like the fine gossamer silk of spider’s webs. As beautiful as they are strong. Once dubbed by soul legend Aretha Franklin as her “favorite soprano”, DuBois Harris draws the listener into the stirring heartbreak of existing without the one she loves, while also making “Christmas Without You” into a gorgeously capturing torch song about being with those who matter the most.
Because when it comes to this time of year, the real priorities lie within our connections to others. There are certainly plenty of presents, parties and pretty light strands to be had, but the true gifts dwell within our shared community. That type of gathering becomes a vision that’s more difficult to see during these pandemic times, which makes “Christmas Without You” a rather perfect ode to so many lives right now. But the single also serves as a reminder that even while COVID is ongoing, its still important to check in with loved ones. Make that phone/Zoom call, reach out and don’t leave regrets hanging.
If they matter the effort is forever worth the time.
Last month, we took an unflinching look at the state of our Earth through the lens of humanity with Andrew Thomases and his single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”. The track is an alt-rocker’s plea to his fellow man to think about the consequences of negative actions against the environment. That’s because we may end up taking a lot for granted that won’t ever come back if we stay on this current path. I think in many ways, we’re already taking a lot for granted that’s already vanished into the stratosphere. It’s a difficult realization to live with, but an important one noted on the song.
This time around Thomases gives us the gear-shifting grit of “Outrun Evolution”, a tempo-bending single showcasing some nasty guitar lines and mankind’s equally nasty poker hand of self-inflicted circumstance. It’s a branch not far removed from “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, except it looks at humanity’s progress as a Pearl Jam rocker’s edge Icarus fable; destined to burn up in the sun astride trademark wings of white-hot six-stringed wax.
There is certainly a case to be made that our society is doing too much too fast to remain sustainable for the long haul. That progress without care can lead to cataclysm; fable’s long cursive strokes turned into reality’s nightmare. As I said before that’s a level of emotion difficult to confront head-on most of the time, but Thomases is among those creators who force our eyes (and ears) to dwell on the sights we need to behold. They’re often horrific, but they must be viewed. To paraphrase rapper Mac Miller, sometimes we only grow from anguish.
From my own perspective, both of Thomases’ tracks gave me pause thinking about the world at large. There’s a part of my soul buried in my spirit that can’t take the subject because it seems so negatively daunting; that we only stand up to lose a little more ground with the passing of each day. But another portion of me applauds Thomases for speaking out; the great rockers, folkers and raconteurs never backed down from a cause no matter the circumstances.
So take a moment with “Outrun Evolution” and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, and never give in to those odds.
Listening to Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak tear it up as new duo/band Silk Sonic has reminded me how much more fun we need to be having in music again. Yes we live in hard times and the world isn’t easy, but we also need to have even just moments where we can stop to joke or smile or laugh. Or in the case of .Paak and Mars, sing our hearts out with deliriously retro-hugging joy using their bubbling new LP An Evening With Silk Sonic.
As any music fan will tell you, that often off-kilter crooning can be a very therapeutic, cathartic experience. And this funky, soulful, R&B cruise of a record is gonna give you that good feeling allllll Evening longggg.
The artistic influences on Silk Sonic are plenty and often-referenced, so I’ll skip further detail and say this instead. Bruno and Andy do this shit so well together on An Evening with Silk Sonic it’s like they’ve been at it 20 years. The chemistry and friendship is real through lounge groove (“Leave The Door Open”), beachside Carribbean flow (“Skate”), forbidden-hour get-downs (“After Last Night”), and pure fur-lined swagger (“Fly As Me”).
I’m sure the haters will try to spin Evening as being old school 70’s parody; trying too hard to blend into your grandparent’s furniture like a dated Saturday Night Live sketch. But Mars and .Paak are no lightweights in this field. They didn’t just find period piece equipment, slap on chest hairs and gold chains and wing together an album. Both men are exceptional lyricists and musicians that have assembled a tight band of talents led by bassist Thundercat, jack of all trades D’Mile, and legendary funk master Bootsy Collins.
My only complaint of the whole piece is the best one possible: at 8 songs and an intro An Evening with Silk Sonic is just too damn short. But the resulting music might arguably be the most crisp 30 minutes of an album you’ll hear in all of 2021. There are no bulky moments here, just every second finding a different way to Silk Sonic slap all over this project.
By now, if you only know the group’s wildly popular debut single “Leave The Door Open”, you’re only scratching the surface of this melodic feast.
I’m really digging the non-stop electric sizzling tempo of Ricky Mendoza’s new music video for his song “MOVE”. The track (off Mendoza’s album THE NEW HURT) was already an absolute burner to begin with, buoyed as much by the arrangement as Mendoza’s rattlesnake rasping vocals taking assertive center stage. The Mexican-American folk-punker brings out the best of both genres on the single by carrying a Clash-like energy, as well as a folk singer-songwriter’s lyrical sensibilities.
What I mean by that is emblematically displayed in Mendoza’s new video, which finds the artist playing both the pro- and antagonist of the story. In this battle of good and evil, Mendoza stays on the run and just ahead of the representation of his fears and anxieties. As an introvert since childhood, the analogy is a familiar one to me; an ever-constant battle of action versus brain chemistry locked in perpetual duel.
But as this production also shows, you can only flee from those emotions for so long before there must be confrontation. And in true punk fashion, Mendoza decides to square off and run down his foe like a knight mid-joust. At first glance that may perhaps seem like the most linear, straightforward route of response, but in our many potential life situations and dilemmas often the best way out is to wind up going straight through.
And initially, that concept can seem like a scary one. Perhaps even the most feared of all. But Ricky Mendoza’s “MOVE” shows us (as both viewers and listeners) that with a little courage, a dash of grit and a hint of vinegar, we can emerge on the other side better than from where we started.
It’s hard, but the relief at the end is worth the risk of the trek.
For more on Ricky, check him out on Facebook and Instagram, or find out more at his website rickymendoza.org.
Cover songs can be a tricky art, especially when it comes to making them into great cover songs. For example, Hendrix did it with Dylan’s “Watchtower”, Jeff Buckley spiritually redefined Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, while Johnny Cash took Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and made the track’s original pain sink even deeper into the flesh. Often it seems like the best way to make someone else’s song your own comes down to finding a whole new way to interpret how it makes you feel, and how that in turn influences the listener.
Lincoln, Nebraska-born singer-songwriter Karen Choi is one of the most current artists I’ve heard truly accomplish this creativity. She recently took on a new spin of the song “Boys Don’t Cry” by English rock group The Cure, and in my mind has delivered a beautifully definitive version. While the original certainly has its merits as a classic Brit-rock bop, Choi and her band strip it down and rebuild “Boys” as a Nashville pedal steel-shimmered, slow-danced ode to the Midwest red rust in the vein of Kacey Musgraves or Emmylou Harris.
In fact, I think this allows Choi’s take on “Boys” to have more of an emotional veneer than the original allows for. While Cure frontman Robert Smith sings it with tears neatly tucked behind his sleeve inside an 80’s rock melody, Choi slows down the tempo to show all her feelings front and center. If this homage to “Boys” is a breakup, all the dirty laundry is coming out and, if I know a good country/folk song, those metaphorical clothes are going right out on the front lawn.
It’s a straight-up take on the track, and shows even if you traditionally think of a song as one way, like a prism its actually much more about the angle of how you view it. Lucky for us as listeners, Karen Choi has provided a perspective that’s absolutely bursting with rainbows of light.
East Palestine, Ohio-based band Third Class has explored a kitchen sink’s worth of twisting, turning, transforming sounds and melodic adventures since their initial formation in 1999, led by frontman Lee Boyle. We’ve talked at length about a few of those prior sonic trips here on OTBEOTB, but I think Third Class’ latest release Haunted Until The Very End might just be a ticket to listen to the best work the trio has done to date.
The LP’s title certainly feels like an apt one, as plaintive organ fills, darting guitars, moments of churning, sludgy production and darker lyricisms are just some of the elements that feel right at home exploring a cemetery on Halloween night, or the darker side of the soul. Ouija board sold separately. And while there are lighter moments (like the airy “Call Me Anytime”, guitar-centric “Happiness Is My Favorite Thing”, and the quiet introspection of “I Own Everything”), the songs feel like the musings of a person reliving a life flashing before their eyes just before the trip to their final destination arrives. Or a spirit as yet unaware that the existence it once knew has already begun to disappear into that mysterious, never-ending voiceless void between the reality of awareness and the drift of permanent sleep.
However, not every moment of Haunted is as deathly serious-minded as implied (no pun intended). The band does take a few pleasantly spacey sci-fi steps in their concept with the song “Holy Alien”, as well as the outer planet radio static rock of the title track. The concoction of the entire LP ultimately settles down right at home in the Third Class catalogue, as Boyle and crew have long been able to expertly weave together songwriting/arrangements that are as much sincere as they can be endearingly tongue-in-cheek or experimental.
Those touches certainly lighten the mood of this sonic journey, though the nagging ominous feeling of exploring the veil between life and the unknown plane we feel as “the Great Beyond” still remains. Look no further than album opener “Watch Our Souls”, which opens on imagery evoking Sunday church service before a burial. I unfocus my ears a bit and almost immediately find myself in the crowd of black-garbed funeral mourners paying last respects, just before a Band of Horses-esque breakdown hints at something more spiritually ethereal in the room; that the dead can’t rest without a few more stories.
Altogether, the portrait of Haunted may seem a tad Dali-esque at times, but the heart at its center is undeniable beneath the acrylic layers.
Check out the new album below and follow the band across social media channels!
When the mood hits just right, blues music has an almost drug-like power of intoxicating promise and persuasion deep within the storytelling of its sandpaper hollowed bones. Take Anne Bennett’s dark, rumbling new song “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me” for instance, which kicks off with an entrancing pattern of assertively arpeggioed acoustic guitar notes. The resulting melody feels like slow surrounding serpentine menace; beautifully engrossing to the eye until it’s too late to see the coils encircling your throat for an unfriendly final squeeze.
That thunder-streaked, ominous fog is the perfect place setting for the backwoods murder balladry of “Hell”, which feels a bit like the love child of Alison Mosshart and Jack White’s Dead Weather side project, or White’s Raconteurs work (think “Carolina Drama”). It’s the perfect vibe as we get close to Halloween to imagine Bennett’s protagonist suffering a grim and gruesome demise on a dark, stormy night…. only to rise again, pulled back by the pursuit of revenge so fiery, swift and terrible even Lucifer himself can only stand back and watch with awe and admiration.
In fact, as the rhythm of the song rises with swirling shades of harmonica, simmering electric guitar heat and chains in the percussion, I suddenly visualize that trademark hand from any horror movie rising from the freshly overturned dirt and dust. Stirred on by the trauma of those sins committed in the deep dark muddy, Bennett breaks free of those chains, her croon as equally unleashed as the ultimate promise of retribution, retaliation and brutal vengeance.
I can’t begin to describe my sheer enjoyment when it comes to the atmosphere of “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me”. Half of the blues is just that, conveying… real blues and making the listener believe that truth. Take one guitar riff, add a pinch of “I woke up this morning”, but you gotta feel it somewhere down deep in your blood and soul. Lucky for us blood and soul is just the passion Bennett pours into this energizing blitz of a track.
Oh, Brandi Carlile. We’re here to discuss her new country/folk rock album “In These Silent Days”, and opening track “Right on Time” just started… it makes me incapable of words outside of Brandi, WOW Brandi this level of power is so special. Carlile has musically graduated by the length of planets compared to the young singer-songwriter trying to break out of her birthplace in Ravendale, Washington.
Not that it took her long to rise, especially with musical compatriots (and guitarist twins) Tim and Phil Hanseroth acting as the heart of Carlile’s backing band. Accolades from the recording booth to the stage soon followed. The bond between the three emerges quickly on other ITSD standouts like “Broken Horses”, Stay Gentle”, “Mama Werewolf” and “This Time Tomorrow”, as powerful harmonies amongst the trio function with the precision of a surgeon’s blade. Even Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their prime would have trouble making voices sound that clean, crisp and pure; brim-filled with fret-worn emotional storms.
Carlile still has the same Seattle rocker instinct that made the shriek of her voice so filled with intrigue in her 2005 breakout “The Story”, but in the 15 years since she’s taken that power and refined it with both time and experience. As she recently proved during a live gig at The Gorge she’s still as capable of keeping pace with members of Soundgarden singing their hits, but can also slow to a crawl in the next moment for a Joni Mitchell croon on “In These Silent Days” track “When You’re Wrong”.
Since hearing Joni’s “Blue” album with her songbird-like melodies, I’ve felt as though I was witness to something I’d never hear again the same way. But if anyone gets close it’s Brandi Carlile. Just put on the closer of ITSD “Throwing Good After Bad” and that tone comes through loud and clear like gems we thought gone long ago.
I think Carlile hit a definable height with her prior album “By The Way I Forgive You”, and has managed to continue that type of pace here with “Silent Days”. Rightly the praise continues to logjam for her as a result, and in my mind it couldn’t happen to a better person. Especially a musician working this hard not to just get better, but to redefine the art form as we know it.
Check out Brandi and the Hanseroth twins below slaying the SNL stage last night for some added audio magic!
There’s a certain majesty in the many stained-glass hues of an untapped night sky. Constellations and the stars we find as familiar friends dot the territory like a box of overspilled paints coursing down a sidewalk. But if anything it all feels like department store blinds concealing our view of something much more than just a backyard to a quiet neighbor’s house down the street. And the deeper delved, the further the mystery goes… that infinite realm holds so much open space (no pun intended) where many stories can begin to take root within the path of the orbit.
It’s in those cascading waves where we find Jude Shuma’s new trippy audio/visual hybrid project Suzy Space Cadet. The record itself is a hay fever psychedelic, ricocheting mood of thick percussive bridgework, pacing bass/synthesizer lines, and lockjawed guitar fuzz to emulate and characterize the main character Suzy’s descending direction. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the iconic Major Tom come to mind in Suzy’s tale, though more if ”Oddity” became a short film given time to have access to a relatable emotional center and background.
The visual/comic book side of “Suzy” as well as Shuma’s occasional unsteady lyrical narrator fill in the gaps between the sonic instrumental moods due to their ties together, creating a frustrated feeling of elation that becomes uncertainty, fear, and a loss of everything familiar through the eyes of our space-bound narrator hurtling through the endless void. The drifting arc of this narrative path leads to the question of how far do you spread your eager wild wings without fear of becoming Icarus, a casualty for flying too close to a sun at the edge of the universe.
Moreover, we can easily extend that warning to all humanity itself. In my prior post we discussed musician Andrew Thomases and his climate fears on new single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. But there’s also the likes of Bob Dylan’s 1983 Infidels track “License To Kill”, in which Dylan laments humanity’s violence and that man’s thirst for colonization included our first step that ever touched the moon.
Humanity has a relationship as raggedly raw as Shuma’s guitarwork when it comes to the realm of space, especially as Earth’s climate issues spark debate of our future trying to survive on other planets. There’s still so much we don’t know, plus the thought that we as a society may only act as a blight to any other place we choose to inhabit. As much as Shuma’s “Suzy” project is meant as light, slightly substance-enhanced fun, it also raises questions as numerous as each of the stars above us.
Get the full immersive experience of Shuma’s latest project below!Visual media features illustrations from German artist Denise.
In today’s fiery think-piece I have for you all, we’re going to explore what I’d describe as my Festivus moment from the TV show Seinfeld. Its currently the Airing of Grievances part of the episode, and as the late great actor on the program Jerry Stiller would say, I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!
Specifically, you’re going to hear about my grievances with country-folk label Bloodshot Records, as well as what digital streaming services are doing to harm the only reason they have money in the first place! Remember that point specifically: the ONLY REASON these companies even exist.
But first up, batter up Bloodshot. There are several publications readers interested should research about this topic, as multiple writers have done some excellent reporting on the heavily problematic, years-long issues with this label. I myself had been drawn back into the organization’s orbit following 2019 allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled at the partner of Bloodshot co-owner Nan Warshaw (who later resigned). But, I hadn’t become aware of shady financial impropriety until Bloodshot co-owner Rob Miller recently departed his post as well.
I can’t pretend to say I’m a fly on the wall inside the label’s operations knowing what goes on, but leaving yourself allegedly thousands of dollars in debt to your unpaid artists who have been dealt a highly-uncertain future through your own sketchy actions is wildly questionable behavior. Leaving those creators in the dark about when or how they might get their master recordings back if the shit hits the fan might be even worse, especially when those in charge start to go and jump ship. And you know why that is?
Because in music, so much remains cyclical. Pick an era and odds are you can fit these same scenarios into some other past creator’s nightmare. I love music don’t get me wrong, but the business is a hellscape that can deny those in its path money, opportunity, and property of their own art for generations no matter how good, “big” or influential they might happen to be. Even those few hypotheticals are just the tip of the iceberg; I know we probably all have our own favorite infuriating “musician getting screwed over” story. The nature of the system never seems to improve for the better.
The overarching point is this: Bloodshot Records, pay your fucking artists who helped you even get a seat at the table of notoriety. Give them the rights and publishing to their music they well-deserve. This week the label was acquired by Exceleration Music, a collective put together by various industry notables. We can only hope that the move means deeply overdue compensation is coming for those that have earned it. Singer-songwriter Cory Branan comes to mind especially (who was quoted as allegedly being owed $10,000 by Bloodshot).
On that note, lets jump over to my complaint for digital streamers Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora. You can read more details here, but suffice to say the three biggest giants on that market would like to propose giving the artists whose work they constantly use an even lower cut of the money generated off their own songs through each stream. Do these decision-makers think we can’t read or understand what these actions mean? It’s like so many other industries in the free market economy, how much more can you push down the smallest person on the totem pole until they push back because they’ve got nothing left to give to you and your greed?
I’ve known and spoken with countless musicians who’ve continuously derided the streaming system as a complete joke that generated them fractions of pennies on the dollar. It reminds me of trying to monetize old Youtube videos I made that qualified for the status, only to eventually realize the site’e monetary program with Google was exclusively designed toward the benefit of a fortunate few. It’s great if you wind up becoming one, but unless the stars are aligned for you odds are video and/or streaming services won’t provide much more than joke checks worth roughly half the paper they’re printed on.
And yet, here we are with these belt-tightened proposals sitting before the US Copyright Royalty Board trying to create an even more skewed deal for 2023-2027. I’m just one lowly writer and I don’t profess to quitting my day job anytime soon, but as a hypothetical musician if I could avoid digital streaming I’d walk over broken glass to do it. Having an online outlet like Bandcamp for those to BUY your work outright is one (problematic) thing, but streamers like Spotify start to feel more like the plain, two-bit prize at the bottom of a Crackerjack box by the day. Like pornographers ready to rob exposure in exchange for a few suspiciously wet dollars while they sit there slicked back in gold Gucci slides.
But that all-seeing hand with its fee-seeking fingers out causes pain in both digital streaming as well as physical releases, where artists often get saddled for the costs to make merchandise, vinyl and CD’s. Inevitably, everyone in the chain wants a piece of the profits, and the pie never equitably spreads out. It’s hard to say when or even if that wobbling table will ever be fixed; there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done.
I wish I could wrap up this rant with a neat, bow-wrapped solution for this entire unwinding set of dilemmas. Unfortunately, its not made for fixing in a single blog post. Its made for plenty of grievances as I wished to demonstrate here, but with any luck over time we’ll also see bigger pushes in the right direction leading to greater industry independence.
Until then, I’ve got my eye on you Bloodshot, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify! We need solutions!