In the realm of music, it’s amazing how much insecurity appeals as much as confidence. Ordinarily, feeling and feeding your own uncertainly is recipe for some form of disaster. But put that out in beautiful, contemplative, expressive lyrics that make you FEEL things late at night when your thoughts get long, and well… then you’ve really got something.
Not that confidence doesn’t work brilliantly in its own success. I think of the sneer of rock and roll strut, the assertion of funk, the certainty of if in alternative, saying what you want to say. Prince is The Purple One for a reason, after all. The Rolling Stones are The Stones because they rock that hard (feel free to insert The Beatles there too/instead, which I’m obligated to say having grown up in a Beatles-listening house).
But, as they say, I digress.
Grief is also extremely powerful in music in this year 2023. The latest splendid works from the Foo Fighters, City & Colour, and Julie Byrne handle this in ways that are hard to imagine. Hard in my opinion because its not only the act of confronting great pain, but doing it in a public way that leaves so much vulnerable.
That takes great strength. But Here We Are finds the Foos suddenly losing long-time drummer Taylor Hawkins. City & Colour’s Dallas Green was left reeling by several close losses and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his latest release The Love Still Held Me Near. Byrne meanwhile lost her longtime producer and close friend, a theme that shades her upcoming release The Greater Wings.
The Foo Fighters, as you might expect, achieve catharsis here via hard rock guitars backing lyrics that reach out for Hawkins still hoping to find him there. Songs like “Rescued”, “Hearing Voices”, “Rest” and “The Glass” wrench as hard as Dallas Green’s The Love Still Held Me Near opening track “Meant to Be”, which questions religion, death and everything in between.
There’s a lot of nuance to grief.
I’ve already spoken of my praise for Byrne’s work here, but I wanted to add the Foos and City and Colour to the equation as well. Not just because they’re the bands they are, but because they dared to present the realities of hurting and grief and pain on their new material. And their new material is worth sharing in as an experience.
Queens of the Stone Age return June 16th with their latest full length LP dubbed In Times New Roman…, their first release since 2017’s stellar Villains. I’ve yet to hear the full picture of this album as of yet given we have a few more weeks before release day but suffice to say new single “Carnevoyeur” is lining up alongside “Emotion Sickness” to already make this a massive sounding album.
“Emotion Sickness” already began as a quick kick in the tail, finding lead singer Josh Homme approaching from through a screen door and across the room, humming before letting loose his trademark roar. What I’ve especially enjoyed about QOTSA as they’ve aged is their continued ability to not only be full of melodic earworms, but to build layers into their work. “Emotion Sickness” has that six string throwdown, but also approaches a David Bowie-like harmony section. Its like the Ringo Starr feeling drums on “Vampyre of Time and Memory”, there are twists and turns here.
And that’s certainly the case with new single “Carnavoyeur”, which begins as a series of bleeps and bloops on the keyboard before launching into a dark rocking dirge. Not that it forgets the softer sides either, as Troy Van Leeuwen’s drums pace the harder moments as easily the lyrically contemplative. Though once again its hard to keep the spotlight away from Homme, whose distinctive sinuous falsetto guides both of these songs and keeps the mood invitational. There’s enough face-melting guitar tone to attract the diehards, while also holding true to plenty of melody along the way.
Duane Betts might be a new name to many listeners, though his musical pedigree is undeniable as the son of Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts. That’s a large mantle to carry, though Betts has proved himself capable of the challenge, most notably in his pair up with Gregg Allman’s kid Devon Allman in the Allman Betts Band. As the 2023 term goes though, there isn’t an ounce of “nepo baby” in either of these artists performing in a band with such tall, notable influences looming in the background.
Rather, this duo succeeds just as well together as apart in forging their own paths, and Betts takes some time in 2023 to release his soon to drop debut solo LP “Wild & Precious Life” as further evidence of that. Two songs have thus far been released from the upcoming release called “Waiting on a Song” and “Stare at the Sun”, the latter of which features a memorable turn on the six stringed axe from the one and only Derek Trucks.
As for the songs themselves, each proves a steady slice of Americana rock, with “Waiting on a Song” acting as a steady-beat rave-up country workout, while “Staring at the Sun” is elevated by the swell of instrumentation as well as the guitar work of both Betts and Trucks. Both will succeed in making your foot tap, and if not, I’d be checking your pulse just to make sure.
I know it’s only the second song released from their upcoming collaboration for a (presumably) full-length as-yet-untitled-LP, but singer/rapper Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge appear to have done it again on their newly-released NxWorries song “Daydreaming”.
The duo had delivered plenty of experimentalist intrigue with their 2016 R&B leaning soul debut “Yes Lawd!”, and they showed no signs of slowing down earlier this year with the H.E.R.-featuring single “Where I Go”. “Daydreaming” takes the same notions of romanticism and puts them through an edgier blend of spacey 80’s rock guitar courtesy of axeman Jairus Moizee and lyrics representing “Bonnie & Clyde, like its 2003”. It gives similar vibes to Kid Cudi’s grunge influences on his “Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven” album, though .Paak is his own smooth criminal compared to Cudi when he gets behind the microphone.
In addition to having a golden touch between his solo career, NxWorries, Silk Sonic, and even his early days of Breezy Lovejoy, .Paak is the ever-charismatic figure who can carry the focal point of almost any project. Not to say he’s cutting the folk-polka album next, but I’ve long trusted in the groove he’s been on. Putting him with a producer like Knxwledge is just icing on the cake. If the rumors of the long awaited Mac Miller/Madlib tape is true, 2023 might just be one of the best years of great rappers beefing up on great tapes with fantastic producers.
All images courtesy of Google. Check out each single down below.
Shelton, Connecticut is the site of our latest foray into this ever-exciting phenomenon we call music. And today is particularly fun because A: I love a good interview, and B: I love getting to speak with artists doing things I’ve never had the privilege of highlighting on this blog before now. We’ve already featured the band The Inside Out a few posts ago in their superb show diary at Beeracks, but now we’re gonna focus on something else two of the members (Zach Stout and James Howard) are involved in along with Nick Howard.
The trio are owners of the Connecticut-based indie record label they’ve dubbed Black Barrel Records. I immediately jumped on the chance to ask these guys a couple of questions about owning/running a record label as the workings of one have always been fascinating to me. And while I’ve never viewed music as a sort of conveyor-ed factory floor process, it’s a curious thing to see how the sausage gets made at every stopping point. From the first notes at a band practice to how each melody gets out there to the masses.
Luckily, Zach, Nick and James were kind enough to answer some of my questions! Check out the interview and once you’re done head to the links below to find out more about Black Barrel and what they’re up to!
So how does a record label like Black Barrel get started, how do you make it come together?
James: We’ve put a lot of our mutual and different experiences in the music scene together, and we wanted to create something we can really stand behind that places the artists’ needs at the highest priority. We wanted a homebase for everything we were trying to accomplish. We hand designed and built our HQ and in-house recording studio. It all comes together with help from other peers of ours in the scene, friends and family, and most importantly the musicians we surround ourselves with.
As musicians first, what was the biggest adjustment about heading up a record label compared to focusing solely on the musical side?
Zach: Owning and operating a record label is a clearly completely different ball game than being solely a musician, but the latter greatly aids me in the former. Working in this new capacity has allowed me to further hone my communication skills with fellow artists and has allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for different styles artists use for song development. Aside from the musical aspects of running a label, there’s always a lot of organization, innovation, and general upkeep involved to keep things running smoothly.
What’s the process like scouting/signing new talent and running your day to day? Especially with three of you and three different voices in the room?
James: We are really looking for professionalism and raw talent when we’re prospecting. Running our day to day has become a part of my full-time schedule here, especially with running our in-house studio.
Zach: We’ve started building our team with some interns, and hopefully in the future we’ll be bringing on some more and continue to keep on growing!
Now I’ve read that you have a recording studio rolled into this endeavor as well, what is a recording experience like for a band coming into Black Barrel? What is that space like to give our readers an idea?
Zach: I’m proud to have hand-built a thoughtfully designed recording studio utilizing years of theoretical and applied acoustical knowledge. It’s safe to say that we swing well above our weight in terms of sonic quality, equipment selection, and engineering expertise compared to many other local studios. The experience of recording at Black Barrel from an artist or band’s perspective has been described as a welcoming, custom-tailored, productive experience. Aesthetically, our four rooms have a unique feeling to them, each designed with an intended range of functionality. Our live room has woody tones with two shiplap walls, a custom SJC drum kit, and a high-end PA system. Our lounge sports a chesterfield couch, natural lighting from windows, and a large TV with a soundbar and sub perfect for playing music videos on. Our control room is the most modern looking room with its angled walls and ceiling, a beautiful desk filled with state-of-the-art outboard gear, and Focal monitors. Lastly, our acoustically-dead isolation booth provides an ideally articulate environment for vocalists. Of course, we have a couple full-sized barrels lying around in our lounge and live room.
Where do you see Black Barrel heading going forward, what projects are on the horizon?
Nick: I see the future of Black Barrel Records being focused on multiple endeavors that anyone artistically interactive can find personal vision in. In regards to music specifically, we intend to branch out into different locations down the line, but treat Shelton like our main objective area as it is growing in its current state. With other areas in the CT scene popping up, we want to be able to transport artists that work with us to concerts at the corners of our state and across tour-bound distances. That way, the music reaches an abundance of audiences. As BBR expands as a brand in the artistic space, people can surely look to it as a place to help them achieve their goals.
And what’s next for The Inside Out?
James: What’s next for the group is constantly changing with our schedules and how busy we can get, but I can definitely say we have new music and a tour lined up for this year. We’re looking forward to only getting busier!
Thanks again to James, Nick, and Zach for answering my questions for this interview! Check out our Beeracks post I linked to at the top of the page with The Inside Out, and check out the Black Barrel Instagram and website below!
There’s something that’s dare I say comfortable and inviting when it comes to the first lines of The National’s “Once Upon a Poolside”, the first song off their latest LP First Two Pages of Frankenstein. The song has their usual heady blend of self-conscious self-introspection, set to a piano tuned out like a lullaby to back the pain of the track’s fears.
It almost feels like a strange turn of phrase to say a song could contain an emotion like lyrical fear. But that’s largely been the bread and butter of The National’s sound, especially as the group has evolved behind the baritone broadsides of frontman Matt Berninger. Fear of changes, fear of age, the fear of proving ourselves to others. Those truly honest emotions we may not openly say or describe, but we feel just behind the glimmer in our eyes.
I imagine Frankenstein must mean a lot to the group. Reading that Berninger walked into the studio for it with practically no material lyrically/melodically automatically makes me anxious as a writer. I can’t imagine still being able to pull out a win under those circumstances, but make no mistake: Frankenstein is a win.
Image courtesy of Google Images
And that’s despite flying in the face of a full on depression. I know, The National are basically the poster boys for making jokes about sadness, who can sort the fact from creative fiction? But it’s something different as a writer to not have the words for a deadline or to be unable to do something you’ve just always been able to do.
It makes you wonder if the skill that got you there is gone.
But, in the end, The National find a way to persevere. “Eucalyptus” , “The Alcott”, and “This Isn’t Helping” are gems, with Berninger shining once again alongside Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers. “Ice Machines” feels like a nod to old school Boxer track “Slow Show”, while the wanderlust of closing track “Send for Me” fits skillfully amongst the band’s best sign-offs.
So don’t sell The National short here with First Two Pages of Frankenstein. It’s worth staying for the whole book.
Julie Byrne has once again exposed the underlying tension of a shiny exterior on her new song “Summer Glass”. What lies on the surface may seem a gentle still water, but beneath is a gorgeous simmering tension. How we can smile with a shine that doesn’t quite extend to the eyes which feel the harsh wisdom of experience and trauma.
Strings and synthesizers dance amid Byrne’s haunting, ethereal assertiveness all through this song. The words, melody, the video itself which is a beautiful haze of swaying beauty. Byrne’s looks are a vision here, and she and her director were marvelous all through this creative statement.
And I could compare it to something, as every reviewer does ad nauseam from not until the end of time. But this song makes me instead pensive, free of making similarities. Like so much when art is a successful, beautiful, functional diamond, you let it stand on its own and that’s more than enough for gifting the world with songs like “Summer Glass”.
We the listeners benefit, let us never ruin that. Take a listen below, and try not to get a shiver during the way Byrne delivers the line “you were the family that I chose”. That line hits harder than a heartbreak.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first made landfall in my neck of the woods sometime around March 2020, the landscape of the world around me has irrevocably changed despite the efforts of many to refocus that now-warped glass. And this effect has also swept up concerts, which isn’t exactly surprising when they tend to consist of large, huddled together groups of sweaty people. But the slight germaphobe in me digresses.
Point being, despite some changes I don’t get to go to shows and experience the joy of them nearly as much as I used to anymore. So, I’m glad to get swept off into a bit of that nostalgia with this tour diary entry I present to you below from Connecticut-based indie rock outfit The Inside Out. They played a recent concert earlier this March near their home base at a placed called The Beeracks supporting their new album “No Brains, No Blood.” (Spotify in the hyperlink). But without further ado, let me let them tell you all about it.
MEET THE BAND
Hey, we’re the CT indie/alt rock band The Inside Out! Pictured left to right, we’re Zach Stout (lead guitar/vocals), John Landino (bass/vocals), Andi Wright (drums), and James Howard (guitar/lead vocals).
We’re here to share our night at The Beeracks in East Haven, CT on Saturday 3/11/2023. It was an album release party for the band Aunts, who we had the pleasure of meeting last year during a When We Were Young-Fest themed show in New Haven, CT. We made a lot of new friends during this Beeracks show, as we met and shared the stage with the artists of Lighthouse, Sober Bill, and Shagohod for the first time. We were hyped to discover new music and play to a fresh audience, and we had such a great time!
We started off our Saturday at rehearsal. We usually don’t rehearse the day of, but our schedules ended up clashing that week so we woke up, had coffee, and headed to the studio for an early (for us) practice at the crack of 1:00pm. We’re lucky to have a sick setup at Black Barrel Records in Shelton, CT to rehearse, write music, and occasionally play shows. We quickly ran through our set to make sure any rust from the past week was gone, and then we packed up our gear and headed to the venue.
We hadn’t played at The Beeracks brewery / local music scene venue since our first time there, which was over a year ago for a Christmas show in 2021. We immediately noticed a bunch of improvements to the sound and lighting that made us extra hyped for the evening. Our first Beeracks show was awesome, so this one was bound to be even better. After loading in our gear and grabbing some food and a beer, we couldn’t wait for our time to play.
We found a perfect place to set up our merch table: right next to pallets of kegs and a gigantic stack of unlabelled tallboys. It was dark af in that corner, though, so good thing we brought our glowing head and tea candles that lowkey turn our setup into an alchemy table. For legal reasons we can’t promise our merch is enchanted with magical powers, but we won’t deny it either… you’ll just have to see for yourself.
We were second to last to play, so we had a bunch of time to just rock out to the other bands. There was a great turnout and the audience had a welcoming vibe. Since the stage was in an actual brewery warehouse, the disco ball stood out and set a cool mood, throwing lights all around the big open space and reflecting off of beer cans and metal vats.
Individual band member pics – credit: @moolignon on IG
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
From the get-go we were stoked to be playing right before the headlining act, Aunts. Whoever was on lighting tech duty that night was absolutely nailing it, and it was cool to be on a raised stage instead of the warehouse floor like last time we played this venue. We mostly played songs off of our latest album, No Brains, No Blood., namely the title track and our single “Figure Me Out”. We were also able to sneak in our two favorite cover songs as well as an unreleased song that we’re currently writing/recording for our next album called “Mr. Arrogant”.
No show is 100% perfect, but this one went smoothly overall. There were some funny hiccups though, like when James realized he really had to pee right after set up/line check and we had to take a quick breather before starting our first song. Also as we started playing our last song, we realized John was still changing basses and was frantically plugging in as the rest of us played the intro to “Constant Headache” by Joyce Manor. That’s the unique side to live music that can’t be replaced; all’s well that ends well, and we definitely had an awesome time up there.
After our set we ventured over to the bar, where we found terpene-infused beer – aka weed beer. James grabbed the Grandaddy Purps and John got the Tangie strain (yuuum). Andi had a raspberry sour and Zach went for a belgian tripel. We rocked out to Aunts’ whole album start to finish, and then we came back to the bar to play the notorious “ring game”. Andi got it on the first try more than once, but she’s not bragging…
As we headed out we said goodbye to the last guy at the bar, but he wasn’t looking too hot… The bartender said not to worry, though, he’s a regular.
At the end of the day we sold some merch, made new friends and fans, had tasty beer, listened to amazing music, and had lots of fun. Successful show in the books!
Thanks so much for joining us on our day at The Beeracks! To listen to our album, No Brains, No Blood., watch our music videos, grab some merch, or follow us on Instagram, you can find it all at this link: https://linktr.ee/theinsideout Hope to see you at a future show!
Thanks so much to The Inside Out for offering their time, show experience and plenty of great photos! Again, check out their album “No Brains, No Blood.” on Spotify and their website listed above. Thanks again!
When 2022 began, if you’d mentioned Steve Lacy’s name to me in conversation I wouldn’t have had a clue who you meant. He was one of those guys on the list of artists I’ve heard long before I ever put a name to his work. Fast forward to the last sliver of the year though, and I’d now consider Lacy’s recent LP Gemini Rights odds on favorite for Album of the Year.
This one grows on you just that quickly. Let’s talk about it.
Even in a season that included new Kendrick Lamar, Wilco, Spoon, Adele and stellar entries from the likes of Brandi Carlile and Fantastic Negrito, like the cream of the crop it’s been Lacy who consistently comes out on top. The producer/guitarist for The Internet has hit all the right chords on sophomore release Gemini Rights. The LP is a tightly hook-laden punch that eloquently weaves in textures on its tracks resembling a living hybrid of sounds both old and new.
For instance Cody Freestyle has a synth vibe at home in the 2010s, while Amber sounds like Tapestry era Carole King holding down the piano for a swooning Prince singalong circa Dirty Mind era. Sunshine continues the retro grooves with an endearing burst of harmonies, while Bad Habit dwells somewhere within the 80’s sneer of Billy Idol and the lovelorn lust of today.
And I don’t exaggerate when it comes to the hooks here. It’s as though Lacy tapped into my ear like a safe cracker. Songs I heard a few times turned into more simply because they almost immediately resonated and stayed glued to my head. Sunshine, Buttons, Bad Habit, Helmet, Static, Give You the World… the miles on this LP merge with plenty of home run hits along the way.