Category Archives: FEATURES

A Conversation With Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper is not a monster. The blood, gore and guillotines of his longtime act are but a smokescreen for some of rock’s best-made, endearingly contagious and complex (think Sondheim meets the Stooges) songs. Combine that with relentless energy and unceasing loyalty, and you get his latest album, Paranormal (earMUSIC). Produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Lou Reed’s Berlin), Paranormal was written and recorded in part with high-school pals Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway, with whom Cooper made classics such as Killer, School’s Out and the epic Billion Dollar Babies.

You recently finished the Hollywood Vampires tour where you managed to outpace bandmates Johnny Depp and Joe Perry. How do you do it?
I’m older, but I’m in better shape that those guys. Remember, I never quit touring. It’s been like 45 years nonstop. I know how to do this, pace myself. And I really am in better shape since I don’t smoke and haven’t had a drink in 35 years. I’m on a tour now that ends December 6, where, after that, Johnny, Joe and I go in the studio with songs we wrote for another Hollywood Vampires record, which we’ll tour in 2018.

Well, that’s certainly news. Is it going to be covers of deceased friends like HV’s debut or new songs?

All originals. We did our tribute to our dead, drunk pals already, but there were a few new ones of ours on that record, too.

Without sounding corny, when you’re writing songs for an album of yours like Paranormal, do you have to put yourself in the character of “Alice”? And I don’t mean you’re putting burnt cork around your eyes.
No, I write from a perspective where the titles come first. I hear something catchy like, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” that commercial—that then becomes “I’ve Fallen In Love And I Can’t Get Up.” Now that’s good. That’s the coolest rock song ever. I write from the punchline backward.

That’s classic Marx Brothers comedy.
I studied how Chuck Berry wrote songs. He could tell an entire story in three minutes. A lot of us learned how to navigate our stories though Chuck. Only my stories usually seem to have a twist ending. Think of “I’m Eighteen.” He can’t go to war or vote. He’s sexually confused. He complains through the whole song, only to finish with “I’m Eighteen … and I like it.” He embraces being confused and frustrated. That’s the trick of that song.

Paranormal doesn’t touch upon spirit visions. In fact, unlike your norm, there’s no real theme at all.
Nope. Just great songs. Besides, my whole career has been paranormal. Not like anyone else’s. A step into another dimension. Every album of mine has its own flavor. And it’s so normal for Bob Ezrin, me and whoever’s writing with us to have a theme. The “paranormal” thing about this one’s goal was to just write 20 great songs with the best 13 getting on the record. Now every character I write here—after I listened back—wound up with some mental defect, so it ended up having a theme without us planning for one.

You once told me that you wrote with horror, rock ’n’ roll and West Side Story as your reference points for records such as Killer and Billion Dollar Babies. Do young cats and new bandmate songwriters get where you’re coming from?
Here’s a funny story: Some of my guys are in their 40s. I remember saying, “Let’s do my ‘Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets.’ Let’s make it have that gang look.” So they all showed up looking like 1920s Chicago gangsters. None of them had ever seen West Side Story, so I sat them down and we watched. Funnier still, my 28-year-old guitarist Hurricane Nita Strauss—she shreds like crazy. We’re setting up a show and I said, “Let’s do ‘Pinball Wizard,’” and she said, “OK … what’s that?” I said, “You know, from Tommy.” “What is Tommy?” Now, when she heard it, she got it, but she had no reference point.

That’s not true of your old Phoenix high-school pals Bruce, Smith and Dunaway, with whom you wrote and recorded songs on Paranormal such as “Genuine American Girl” and “You And All Of Your Friends.” The classic Alice Cooper sound came from such shared references. So how did that work in the present day with you guys working together?
We loved the Beatles and those chord changes. But we were all art students, so doing creepy, surrealistic things was second nature. Dennis Dunaway was an abstract artist—still is—and he had his own twists. I remember Frank Zappa (who released Cooper’s first albums) heard us and said, “I don’t get it.”

A supreme compliment.
I was bowled over by confusing Frank Zappa. The earliest songs were written way before the real Alice Cooper. The reunion songs? The original band? We didn’t leave each other with bad blood. There were no lawsuits. Nothing awful happened. We were just creatively exhausted after doing seven albums in a row, and their tours, without stopping. We just got tired. We stayed great friends, though. We golf all the time. Neal, Dennis and Mike were actually working on new songs and I said, “Bring them around.” All three were so great that when we listened back to the 20 that we had in the can, those three floated to the top. “Fireball” is a killer. They didn’t just get to write them, though; they had to play them in the studio.

And those guys are even doing select dates with you, like a mini-set within the new band’s set?
I’m putting them to work. It feels great. I used to run track with these guys when we were kids. They’re just fun to be around, as well as the music being as smart and creative as we ever were.

A.D. Amorosi

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Downtown Boys: Gimme Friction

Downtown Boys deliver a multiracial, bilingual, queer-positive message

Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys may be the most challenging punk band in America. Their sonic barrage is relentless, driven by Joey DeFrancesco’s searing lead guitar, bright bursts from the sax of Joe DeGeorge and the visceral vocals of Victoria Ruiz; the punchy rhythms of drummer Norlan Olivo and bass player Mary Regalado send the music into overdrive. But it’s the band’s revolutionary message of inclusion that sets it apart from other groups.

The songs on third album Cost Of Living (Sub Pop) deal with racism, the struggle for human dignity and the daily economic uncertainties of living in a capitalist system. Their live shows always have crowds up and moving, but their realistic lyrics and the introductions Ruiz gives to the songs can cause discomfort for their audiences.

“We create friction,” says Ruiz. “The message resonates with a lot of people, but at the same time, the message can get warped or co-opted, or people wanna fight with it, or people wanna put me on some made-up pedestal because I am the one saying it. The hope is that people realize our message is coming from a collective consciousness, that I am simply putting words to what so many of us have learned. It’s messy and we’re imperfect, but hopefully we will all grow and continue to fight the war against toxic masculinity and colonial racism.”

“We do bring a different kind of connection to the crowd in the live setting,” says DeFrancesco. “That’s largely from Victoria’s introductions, where she’s able to relate songs to what’s happening in the moment, in the city, to whoever’s in the crowd, in a very direct way. It’s a super-important part of our music and really elevates the entire experience on both an intellectual and emotional level.”

j. poet

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Japanese Breakfast: Planet Of The Aches

Space is the place for Japanese Breakfast‘s Michelle Zauner

With 2016’s Psychopomp—a collection of songs deeply informed by the death of her mother and her reach for hope in the face of sadness—Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner bowled over audiences with her intimate, despairing bedroom synth-pop. Whether it was people who knew Zauner from her time with Philadelphia punk band Little Big League, critics, Girls’ Lena Dunham (Psychopomp became a topic of her podcast) or those experiencing similar loss, Zauner’s solo debut struck all the right chords and hit all the tautest nerves and wounded souls in need of healing.

“Getting that attention was nice,” says Zauner. “As an artist, writing work so personal, you feel alone. It was satisfying to see people reaching out to me, that there was a world of people with whom I could share such pain—mine, theirs—and it was more comforting than anything else. Challenging, too, as you can feel so awkward in your experiences, sharing them and such.”

Japanese Breakfast’s latest album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans), is no less focused on fragile self-reflection, spiritual pain and death—occasionally all at once—than Psychopomp. This time, however, with the help of a bigger studio (“any studio, really, and not a bedroom,” says Zauner with a laugh) and co-producer/instrumentalist Craig Hendrix, Zauner is seeking healing at the rim of the cosmos, looking toward the insurmountable limits of the universe, space and science fiction for guidance and a sense of a future.

“This album actually started life as a science-fiction musical about a man who falls in love with a robot, but that was just somehow too restrictive to me,” she says, pointing out how steely new songs such as the electro-vibey, Vocoder/AutoTune-heavy “Machinist” is a holdover from her Asimov-specked first thought for a second album. “I ended up just writing all about myself instead of a robot.”

Robots aside (Zauner wanted to borrow from 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye for “Machinist”), Soft Sounds From Another Planet came from a far more deliberate place than the writing and crafting of Psychopomp. “I used to write, and a lot, without the worry for perfection,” she says. “That time, though, I was stuck in a very bad place and just needed to get out.”

Despair will do that to a person, and the narratives for Psychopomp revolved tenderly around Zauner’s return to her native Oregon before and after her mother’s 2014 death from cancer. “I was in this house in the Eugene woods with my dad, supporting him after losing his wife of 32 years,” she says. “There were things he couldn’t do, like put her clothes and makeup away. I felt, too, as if I couldn’t do anything.”

When Zauner was able to work again, she became obsessed with productivity, packing her days with tasks, a subject she embraces handsomely on “Diving Woman,” on which she claims to be a woman of regimen. “Work was safe,” she says. “I wouldn’t have to think about human stuff, which just may have something to do with the alien thing.”

When she looks at the consciously expanded vision of Soft Sounds From Another Planet and how it broadened her view of the self, she sees Psychopomp as small and focused, a micro-lens observing little but the immediacy of heartache. “All I could see was my mother—everything in my life was directed there,” she says. “I was confused and vulnerable and raw.”

With Soft Sounds, she’s pulling back that lens to a more panoramic view of life, here and beyond. “I’m moving on from death and mourning in general and becoming alive, yet I’m aware of the connection that I have to those who have suffered loss,” she says. “I’m making sense of the world after such struggle.”

A.D. Amorosi

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Sloan Peterson: Steppin’ Out

With Sloan Peterson‘s debut EP, Australia’s Joe Jackson shows she’s wise beyond her years

Joe Jackson, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the pop/punk band Sloan Peterson, was raised in a religious family. “I was at church every Sunday,” she says. “After the service, I’d go and play the keyboard while everyone else was socializing.” Growing up in a small town outside of Brisbane, Australia, Jackson found her options limited.

“Most secular music was forbidden at home, but on Saturday, while we did our weekly chores, my dad played his old CDs,” she says. “My brothers and sister and I would be mopping, vacuuming and dancing like crazy to Herman’s Hermits, Gene Chandler and the Beach Boys. When I was 13, they sent me to public school. A friend lent me her iPod. When ‘All You Need Is Love’ came on, I died and went to heaven. I listened to it for a year straight. We didn’t have internet at home, so I didn’t realize the Beatles had 236 other songs I could obsess over.”

At 15, Jackson picked up a guitar and started writing songs. When she turned 16, she moved to Sydney on her own and joined Black Zeros and began exploring the retro sounds that dominate Sloan Peterson’s self-titled debut EP (on Mirror).

“As I grew musically, the band changed and came along with me,” says Jackson. “I’ve always been intrigued by other eras. Doo-wop and girl groups resonate with me. I love simple, catchy tunes about love and heartbreak.”

The songs on Sloan Peterson are bright bursts of pure pop, driven by Jackson’s incendiary guitar and passionate vocals. “Good News Day” is a mid-tempo breakup song; “Midnight Love” sounds like the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) on overdrive; and on “I Want You,” Jackson’s slide-guitar work intensifies her feelings of unattainable love.
“I’m a total lover and always have been,” says Jackson. “I’m also a sensitive person, so it’s natural to write a song when I’m low or high on love.”

j. poet

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Rainer Maria: Growing Up Rainer

After a decade-plus hiatus, Rainer Maria returns with a rejuvenated spirit and a definitive, powerful new album

When Rainer Maria called it a day in 2006 after a healthy dozen-year run, the band went out on a high note, basking in the adulation of its cultishly numbered but arena-impassioned fanbase. The post-rock trio’s final shows were so enthusiastically received, bassist/vocalist Caithlin De Marrais observed, “We should break up every night.”

“We’d been in a band since college, so we grew together,” says De Marrais. “I think that perhaps we needed to do some growing on our own.”

In the 11 years between Rainer Maria’s last album, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, and its bracing self-titled new release (on Polyvinyl), the threesome went on separate journeys of musical and personal discovery. De Marrais took the solo route, recording, touring and learning a few studio skills along the way; guitarist Kaia Fischer studied Tibetan language and Buddhism and came out as a trans person; and drummer William Kuehn manned the kit for several bands at home and abroad, even living in the Middle East for a spell. Through it all, there was still a lot of love in the world for Rainer Maria.

“We’ve had some offers and we’ve declined them all, but those offers brought us together,” says Kuehn. “We were like, ‘Maybe it would be fun to write music again.’ That was always our first love, being in the studio, or back when it was the basement, collaborating and creating new songs.”

Once reassembled with the stated purpose of writing new music, the reconvened Rainer Maria found its chemistry had inexplicably increased in potency. Volume, intensity and passion had all developed a higher gear, and the band slipped into it easily.

“If anything, I was kind of weirded out by how telepathic things still were,” says Fischer. “Except for key moments, there was a lot less talking about the songs and a lot of just playing. As our experience has grown, I was surprised; I was like, ‘William is hitting harder than ever, Caithlin’s voice has even more earth in it and sounds so beautiful.’”

Perhaps the biggest structural shift for Rainer Maria was putting Kuehn in charge of the LP’s production, a decision that was made when the trio was still in the writing phase.

“There were important points in the songwriting and recording process where we called on William’s very specific and coherent aesthetic that informs our work,” says Fischer. “At one point, Cait and I talked about putting William at the producer’s helm as a way of streamlining and encouraging that aesthetic to find full expression in the album, and I think it does.”

The resultant eponymous album is very much a Rainer Maria record—an emo/indie pop/rock heart pulsing through top-volume shoegaze guitars, Entwistle bass thunder and Viking drumming—albeit one that displays a cinematic expanse and roiling power only hinted at in the trio’s earlier work. It’s a perfect reflection of the individual growth that the band has experienced, channeled into a familiar yet strikingly fresh group translation.

“We wrote a number of songs as a rehoning of our practice together, but when we wrote ‘Lower Worlds,’ we thought we were clicking into the jet stream,” says De Marrais. “It was a feeling of, ‘We’ve caught something, let’s keep going with this.’”

“It’s not a rehash, it’s not the next Rainer Maria album if we’d written it 10 years ago,” says Kuehn. “It’s very much who we are as individuals and as a band in 2017.”

Brian Baker

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The War On Drugs: The Experimental Rock Band

Adam Granduciel’s ever-expanding studio lineup joins together, separately, to make the War On DrugsA Deeper Understanding

Personalities define some bands. The unique talents of the three or four or five players, the frictions and the fusions, become inextricable to who and what the band is. That’s a simple truism, whether applied to the Beatles, the Band or the Jam. Remove a piece, and things fall apart.

The War On Drugs is not that kind of band, according to Adam Granduciel. The group, at least on record, is a vision, a sound, a playing field. And A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic), the fourth War On Drugs full-length, expands the vision laid out on Lost In The Dream, the band’s 2015 breakthrough album, the one that took them from clubs to theaters to headlining New York City’s Radio City Music Hall and gave Granduciel and Co. the opportunity to jump to a major label.

“The bands like Sonic Youth, the four or five of those guys in a room—and Kim (Gordon)—it’s a special chemistry; without one of those people, it’s really not the same thing,” says Granduciel. “It’s not something every band has. I’m not saying we don’t have that, but it’s a different kind of music. We make a sound together, we make that noise when we’re on the road playing these songs. But I’m not sure what getting in a room together and making a record we would sound like.”

Although two of A Deeper Understanding’s 10 tracks feature the full complement of the War On Drugs touring band that has been in place for the last three years—bassist Dave Hartley, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, guitarist Anthony LaMarca, saxophonist/keyboardist Jon Natchez and drummer Charlie Hall—they’re supplemented by others. Granduciel and Hartley (who also helms Nightlands) are the only constants on every track on this album (and from the band’s start in 2005). Granduciel has always been a studio obsessive, going back to the days in Philadelphia when he and Kurt Vile played in each other’s bands and worked together on bedroom recordings. Later, for albums such as 2011’s Slave Ambient, his method was to sift through hundreds of hours of home recordings, looking for the best ideas, building layers of sound into dense, sweeping sonic landscapes, bringing in other players as needed.

But Granduciel recorded most of A Deeper Understanding in Los Angeles, where he moved with his girlfriend in early 2016. (He’s since relocated to Brooklyn, although the band has a rehearsal space in Philly.) And although he still anchors all the tracks—the credits sometimes show him playing a one-man-band’s worth of instruments on a song—he prioritizes what individual players bring to the table. Six different drummers, for example, provide the backbeat over the course of the album.

For a band known for its big guitar sound, the focus on drums could seem surprising, especially since War On Drugs songs tend to ride a steady rhythm—whether a leisurely, pulsing one for the 11 minutes of “Thinking Of A Place” (drummer: Hall), an accelerated, emphatic one for “Holding On” (drummer: Patrick Berkery) or a laid-back, thoughtful one on “The Strangest Thing” (drummer: Darren Jessee). On this album, the songs swell and flow. Granduciel’s decision-making process for who plays on what track is part skills-based, part trial-and-error, part serendipity.

“I guess the easy answer is everyone has different strong suits,” says Granduciel. “But I don’t really know until in retrospect what someone’s going to bring to a song. Sometimes it’s just a scheduling thing that could be a blessing in disguise. It’s really just experimenting, just hearing what would the song sound like in this way.”

And although that experimental process works with the keyboards and guitars, it’s especially true with the drums and percussion.

“I guess to me the drums are the most important part of the song,” says Granduciel. “Some people think they’re an afterthought because they’re not a very insane thing. But I spend more time on the drum parts and getting the drums to sound the right way than on any other piece. I feel like I exploit the fact that I don’t really have the track record on record of using the same people. Part of it is me wanting to have my mind blown or wanting to involve people that I’ve known from the road in my music and invite them into my world, invite them into the fold.”

Granduciel loves working in the studio, and he knows he can go down a rabbit hole and have trouble letting go of a song. He’s a tinkerer, susceptible to analysis paralysis. For this album, after an initial month of excited recording, he spent four or five months tweaking ideas. “I was working on it and changing everything and never really breaking through and never really feeling like I was tapping into what I was trying to do,” he says. But then he took the recordings to New York and, working mainly on his own, finished the LP.

“If I were to listen to the record, which I never do, I’d hear the last four months, which was the final blast of inspiration,” he says. “I’d hear that kind of chaos; I’d hear some rough edges, but that’s the stuff I like: not mistakes, but interesting decisions that only I would notice.”

And now, he’s looking forward to hearing what happens when the band takes these songs on the road. “I kind of like that idea of the live band being the vehicle that gets to reinterpret the studio recordings into a new thing,” he says. “It’s a special thing.”

Steve Klinge

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Luke Elliot: Doorway From Norway

Jersey crooner Luke Elliot looks to duplicate his European success back at home

Luke Elliot never cried wolf. But whenever the sepulchral, New Jersey-bred singer has returned home lately, with his exotic tales of overseas stardom, his friends have been somewhat skeptical. “Because telling people here that I’m playing to 1,000 people in Norway, and doing all these shows in Germany and France, touring three weeks with Tom Jones?” He sighs. “It just doesn’t make sense—it’s so fucking unfathomable to people that all that shit happened to me in Europe when I’m actually a U.S. resident.”

But every last word of his success story is true. The 33-year-old Elliot—the son of a poet mother and an English-professor father—understandably grew up fascinated with dark, edgy literature, and by age 16 had penned roughly 50 songs.

“I don’t feel like my parents monitored anything, really,” he says. “And there was good and bad to that. My personal behavior was a nightmare; from 11 on I was arrogant, angry, just impossible to deal with.”

But he began playing around New York, recorded two low-budget EPs, and then—through sheer serendipity—bumped into a renowned Norwegian journalist from national newspaper VG backstage at a Jay Farrar concert, who urged him to tour Norway. Elliot obliged.

Soon, the composer signed a record deal and assembled a band there to record his stark, mostly analog 2016 debut, Dressed For The Occasion, with its noirish Nick Cave yarns such as “Trouble,” “This Gun Of Mine,” “People Like You” and a gothic cover of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe.” Jullian Records is reissuing it in the U.S. this month with high hopes.

“So when people say, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky you met that guy from Norway,’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, but you didn’t see any of the other shit, all these years of playing to three people in some Lower East Side club where nobody gave a shit,’” says Elliot. “So I think the universe does reward you.”

Tom Lanham

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Cigarettes After Sex: Songs From A Room

Eight years in the making, the debut Cigarettes After Sex album finally finds its way into the light

Cigarettes After Sex singer/songwriter Greg Gonzalez likes the idea of listening to his band’s eponymous debut album as if you’re eavesdropping on some secret thing happening. “I love Paul Simon and Bob Dylan equally as much, but Leonard Cohen—‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ or ‘Chelsea Hotel’ era—is much more in line with my identity,” he says. “There’s a different darkness and depth there. My music is really influenced by the emotions that kind of intimacy can convey.”

Gonzalez is currently on the road with his band Cigarettes After Sex, a collection of musicians that has changed membership a number of times during the eight years in which he has been shepherding the project but has solidified around the release of his band’s debut (on Partisan). After years of wandering in search of a sound—“This might surprise you, but I started out heavily influenced by Madonna’s early-’80s singles,” says Gonzalez with a self-deprecating chuckle—Cigarettes After Sex has landed squarely in the languid, hazy terrain of dream-pop forebears such as Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies circa The Trinity Sessions or Cocteau Twins: songs slowed to a maple syrup drip that wistfully recount any number of romantic liaisons gone by.

“It took a long time to find my voice,” says Gonzalez of his student days in El Paso, Texas, before relocating to Brooklyn around the time of the release of the I. EP in 2012. “I was recording by myself in a home studio on acoustic guitar, bass and vocals but not really capturing what I heard. I’ve always been inspired by things like Miles’ Kind Of Blue, The Trinity Sessions or even Dylan or Elvis with their session guys—ensemble records I loved where the collaboration gave it a special, spontaneous vibe. I could still lead the group and write the songs, but it needed the flavor that band interaction would provide.”

The irony is that Gonzalez’s long-form debut has all the hallmarks of a solo bedsit symphony, a barbiturate-paced essay on heartbreak in a minor key that will immediately call to mind notoriously independent solo performers such as Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek. On songs such as the first single, “K” (or the equally forlorn “Sunsetz” and “Truly”), there’s as much space between the notes as notes themselves, with Gonzalez’s sparse guitars doused in a heavy bath of reverb as his high-register vocals document a Lower East Side encounter that graduates from physical attraction to love connection before atomizing, its airy qualities disguising the brutality of the inevitable break. It’s solo music that benefits from a band’s touch, a journey that Gonzalez deliberately sought.

“The 2012 EP was the first time where the band I was playing with got the concept of ‘space,’ which is ironic because they broke apart only a few months later,” he says. “But it formed the blueprint for the album, because I was looking for players who could play simply because they wanted to, not because I told them to. I knew that’s what the music needed, but it took a whole life to find.”

Well worth the search, from the sound of it.

Corey duBrowa

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Susanne Sundfør: Exit Music

Susanne Sundfør is waiting for the end of the world

Norwegian singer/songwriter Susanne Sundfør, despite the aforementioned label, doesn’t consider herself a musician. “I connect more with films than music, so for me, making an album is almost like making a movie,” she says. “Arranging a song is more about associations than composition. With the jazz outro of ‘Good Luck, Bad Luck,’ for example, I wanted to feel like I was in a bar, drinking a fancy drink and smoking cigarettes, looking at a band play softly while outside the world was coming to an end.”

Music For People In Trouble (Bella Union), Sundfør’s new album, is a meditation on heartache and mortality. She sings her songs in a quiet tone, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and piano. The production is sparse, but at the end of many tunes, she segues into wordless, jazzy, ambient instrumental passages with hints of classical music. The tunes are world weary, shining out of the existential darkness to provide a spark of hope.

“I was tired after years of working hard on my music and having bad relationships on the way,” says Sundfør. “I felt like I was falling off a cliff, and there was no safety net. I hit rock bottom and wrote ‘Mantra,’ the first song on the record. The lyrics were my ground zero. I built myself up from there, through writing the music, doing therapy and traveling. What helped me most was being made aware of the lies I tell myself about my feelings and the world. It’s pretty awesome when you’re in the therapy room and you’re like, ‘Wait, that’s not true!’ Chains that have bound you down for years are suddenly gone—like ‘poof!’

“This is my effort to make an existential album. It’s a journey. I want people to come out on the other side feeling rejuvenated, ready for life again, ready for the challenges we face.”

j. poet

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tricot: The New Math

Japan’s tricot explore new dimensions of American math rock

As Japan’s tricot expand their profile westward—a recent licensing deal brings their third album, 3, from the Bakuretsu label to the U.K’.s Big Scary Monsters imprint as well as San Diego’s Topshelf Records—an intriguing chicken-or-egg story surrounds the Kyoto trio. The group’s sound appears indebted to the nonlinear angularity of Don Caballero, Battles and Tera Melos, albeit with a playfully poppy edge. But as the ladies collectively explain via translator in an email, they’d never heard of those bands—let alone the math-rock subgenre—until after they starting writing and playing music along those lines.

“As for the math-rock scene, [those bands] use their head and make smart, cool songs. But we are making songs a little more sensual without thinking too much. So, I don’t know if calling us math rock is suitable, but it is not uncomfortable.”

When asked about the genesis of the tricot sound, they reply, “It came across unexpectedly when we met. Our music is often called post-rock and math rock, but none of us are particularly familiar with those genres. Our songs are born naturally. Originally, we were influenced by Japanese pop music, rock and funk from overseas. Since tricot became categorized as math rock and post-rock, we started listening to math rock and post-rock.”

After finding their moniker in a French dictionary and undergoing some initial growing pains in finding an accepting audience (“When we started the band, we often thought, ‘Why don’t people understand our cool sound and style?’”), the band has learned to live with the fact it creates a challenging sound and its own inherent limitations, including not having a full-time drummer and recording its second album, 2015’s A N D, with five different people behind the kit. This, however, hasn’t stopped them from embarking upon a glut of overseas touring, with a return to Europe this summer/fall.

“What particularly impressed us about shows abroad is that the audience reaction is very straightforward,” they say. “In Japan, audiences are shy, do not express emotion and tend to keep in step with surroundings.”

Kevin Stewart-Panko

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