Category Archives: FEATURES

Circuit Des Yeux: Vision Quest

Circuit

One-woman bedroom expat Circuit Des Yeux learns to branch out

Circuit Des Yeux is the recording persona of Haley Fohr. Pronounce the first word English-style, the rest in French. “Its translation is ‘the nerve that leads the eye to sight,’” she says. “It’s not really a natural thing—it’s just something I kind of created.”

That’s not the only thing that Fohr, who was raised in Lafayette, Ind., has invented. The Midwest breeds artists who are stubborn and singular out of necessity—that’s what it takes to transcend the cultural milieu. She started making records in 2007, the summer after she graduated from high school. Those early LPs, issued by De Stijl, articulate an entirely solitary perspective; they were written, sung and played entirely alone. Their rudimentary instrumentation and murky recording are balanced by Fohr’s decidedly non-amateurish singing, which had been honed by training and competition since the first grade. Her contralto voice has a supple maneuverability, even at its deepest pitch, and that projects extreme emotional states with withering power.

Years of solo touring on the basement punk and noise circuit actually reinforced the internalized character of her music. “I would get onstage and tap into something, and I would not even notice the audience,” she says. But in 2013, she forged an alliance with engineer and multi-instrumentalist Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin Bajas), and through him began working with the Chicago-based musicians who appear on her fourth album Overdue (Ba Da Bing!). Subsequently, she moved to the city.

While Fohr is at the controls on In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey), the fifth Circuit Des Yeux LP is a more communal affair. Guest musicians contribute woodwinds and strings that infuse the grainy black-and-white sonics of her early platters with timbral color. On “Do The Dishes,” a chopped and looped sample taken from a Southeast Asian mouth-organ record forms a hurtling rhythm, which matches the pace that Fohr sustains through rounds of chores and a nude run on a treadmill in the song’s accompanying video. Its images of desperate domesticity, utter vulnerability and quiet recovery indicate that Fohr is thinking about other peoples’ lives.

“For a long while, I think I used writing and music as a chance to work through things within myself,” she says. “Now I have reached an age where I really want to be a part of society, and I want to give something back.”

This impulse has also led Fohr to begin working with other musicians. Despite her dismissive assertion that she was just a “side guy,” her voice brings a transformative emotional presence to the trance-inducing patterns on Mind Over Mirrors’ latest release, The Voice Calling (Immune). And on a wild new single, she and ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt do gladiatorial battle over the course of four brief, unnamed songs.

“I’ve made it a point for 2015 to be my collaborative year,” she says. “I’m trying to work with other people and learn from them and grow in that way.” She’s off to a hell of a start.

“So, we got in touch, or we’ve been in touch off and on,” she says, “but I got in touch and said I’d be interested if you ever need a vocalist, so he sent me about an hour of material, and I was a huge fan of Harry Pussy in high school—I used to be in a punk band that was kind of like a Harry Pussy worship band, and so I know his vibe. It’s pretty raw, there’s not much overdubbing or anything, so I did it kind of true to the form. I just took a day when I was feeling a certain way and like ripped four or five tracks, and they’re all between 20 seconds and a minute and a half. And they’re all going to be on that single. It was pretty easy and pretty great.”

—Bill Meyer

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Young Buffalo: Boys Will Be Boys

YoungBuffalo

Oxford, Miss.’ Young Buffalo is feeling California

What is it about the Deep South these days? Once considered an indie-rock no-fly zone, the region has been popping out great bands one after the other of late. There’s the whole ’Bama revolution led by St. Paul And The Broken Bones and recent MAGNET cover band Alabama Shakes. Louisiana has weighed in with Hurray For The Riff Raff and the Deslondes. And now Mississippi is stepping it up, if Young Buffalo’s House (Votiv) is any indication. So, why now?
“I really don’t have an answer to that,” says an audibly weary Jim Barrett, who’s been sharing songwriting, singing and guitar-playing duties with longtime friend Ben Yarbrough as Young Buffalo since 2009. “Then again, we’re not from L.A., so it takes a little longer to find some people who can really back you.”

Barrett has been on the road for months, and he’s just hours away from a well-deserved break back in Oxford, the artsy university town that was once home to William Faulkner and is still a literary haven. “It’s not as backwoods as people think—it’s a pretty awesome place,” says Barrett about where he grew up.

Most prominent on House are the richly layered, Wilson-esque harmonies of Barrett, Yarbrough and drummer Tim Burkhead. The album was produced by Dave Schiffman (Haim, Weezer) with just enough beefy crossover sheen to accentuate the group’s SoCal-skewed pop instincts.

Fittingly, perhaps, there’s absolutely nothing about its 11 tracks to suggest a band with Southern roots. But even without that suddenly trendy reference point, audiences are responding. “I definitely feel like more and more people are paying attention to us,” says Barrett. “Our last shows in New York went really well, with people singing along to the songs.”

Now, it’s back to Oxford, where the band isn’t expecting any welcome-home parades or handshakes from the mayor. “We’ll sleep, pay some bills we neglected, then hit the road again,” says Barrett. “We know we’ll have to tour this record for a while. It’s gonna be a slow-burner.”

—Hobart Rowland

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A Conversation With Giorgio Moroder

GiorgioMoroder

Giorgio Moroder is dance music. Long before Daft Punk lionized the disco king with “Giorgio By Moroder” on Random Access Memories, the producer/composer created the hypnotically repetitive ’70s electro-disco canon, first (and best) with Donna Summer before doing likewise for artists such as Berlin, Sparks, Queen and Irene Cara, then on his own grooving solo albums. When disco passed from fashion, he brought his syncopated skills to film scores for Midnight Express and American Gigolo before (mostly) retiring by the late ’80s. Now, at age 75, he’s back in the game with Déjà Vu, a rousing EDM-based album featuring name-above-the-title dance divas such as Britney, Kylie and Sia.

I know at your start that you played in jazz combos and rock bands in lounges throughout Switzerland. I can’t picture you doing that. Were you ever much of a band guy?
No. I would not think so. I mean, it was fun being 27 or so doing that with a bassist and a drummer, doing a Beatles song and such, but I knew …

Knew that being a producer would be more your speed?
Yes, actually, that’s right about it. I wanted to promote my own stuff. I had some money put aside so that I could survive the first years of that. Getting a hold of an early synthesizer convinced me of such.

So, when did you hear these new songs in your head?
Very recently. I was retired, you know. I did some composition for one of the Olympics, but I was out of the game. I did dip a toe in doing some DJ work, and then came the Daft Punk success. That really spurred me on. Changed my mind. I thought a modern dance record with some retro—disco—could work. I didn’t want to rely on the past.

So, you had to psyche yourself into making music again through DJing?
You know what—a little. Ten, 15 years ago, I got asked so often to DJ, but I turned everyone down by saying, “I’m a producer.” Now, it’s nothing like the old days, nothing like I imagined. By the way, I think I was one of the first DJs ever. In 1969, I performed as a DJ and a singer at a little club in Germany. I became part of a management company: the German DJ Association.

I think that was one of Kraftwerk’s earliest names. When you started doing disco—with Pete Bellotte, with Donna Summer—did you have a blueprint or did you just wing it on a purely experimental tip?
With Donna, it was an accident, as Pete and I were working on a project and needed women without English accents to sing. We found her. She did a great job. I also said that when I had something great for her that I was going to call her. That was “Love To Love You Baby.”

You’ve worked with male vocalists such as Bowie, Phil Oakey and Freddie Mercury, but mostly you’re all about the ladies: Summer, Irene Cara, Terri Nunn, all the women on this new album like Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue. What about a woman’s voice gets you, works better within the confines of your music?
You know, I don’t know. Maybe it is the sex feeling, the sensuality of the female voice against my melodies. I can’t think of too many guys who can do it. I mean, in the old days, you had the Village People, but … [Laughs] A woman has a more pleasant, sexier sound. They project the image of sexiness better.

In the ’80s, you set aside disco for atmospheric soundtrack work, put aside production for making neon art, left Europe and moved to Manhattan. What were you looking for?
I was looking for the grass that was always greener. I was restless. I wanted to do something else. Plus, disco went through all those problems with the whole “disco is dead” thing. I just kept fading away from music. I had so many other projects: I helped create a car; I did a short movie, which did not work so well.

When you decided that you wanted to do a new project, did the singers come to you? Did you go to them?
It was a mix, really. I had a wish list—my ideal names—and we went from there. Someone such as Sia was at the top of that list.

Do you like the way artists such as Sia or Britney record, piece-by-piece with vocal producers and such? The artists with their own teams, considering that back in the day, an album of yours had one producer in one studio with only your vision and that of the artist to consider?
I’m not a fan of the committee, but it is the way that these things are done now. These artists are very busy with so many different commitments other than music.

Does this mean now that this is how you must operate? Are you competitive in that way, especially since you’ve stayed away from the charts and the business for a while?
I think so. I hope so.

As a producer and a provocateur, do you feel as if you are truly making music differently than you did 30 years ago—or different music than you did 30 years ago? Is it less or more than a series of seductions than in was in the past?
That’s a funny way of looking at it. Yes, it’s very different now. There are so many people involved with each production—co-writers, co-editors—that it is hard to conjure up a seduction. It is not so intimate. It’s changed so much from when it was just me and maybe Pete Bellotte in a studio. There were no such things as vocal producers and executive producers. There was one producer. I am happy the way it is now. You really have to be, as there is no way back.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Bobby Long: Ode To Restraint

BobbyLong

Blues/folk misfit Bobby Long learns the art of compromise

“I love that record … I’m really proud of it.”

The album to which Bobby Long is referring isn’t the new Ode To Thinking, but 2013’s Wishbone, his second and final release for ATO. And the reason he’s talking about it, quite frankly, is because the guy interviewing him won’t shut up about it. “This is one of the most in-depth Wishbone interviews I’ve ever had—I was hoping for this kind of interview when it came out,” says Long with a chuckle. “It just shows you that, sometimes, things don’t stick.”

Wishbone’s swept-under-the-rug status was all the more perplexing given the strength of its songs—nearly every one an engaging marriage of the Englander’s competing passions for folk, blues and Britpop. If any album that year was equipped to bridge the divide between “September Gurls” and “The Thrill Is Gone,” Wishbone was it. So, is it any wonder that ATO didn’t quite know what to do with the thing?

“I don’t want to be one of those people who slags off their old label—there were some really lovely people there,” says Long, who’s now settled in Beacon, N.Y. “I was instantly put in the singer/songwriter bracket, so I was kind of rebelling a bit. I remember playing a song for the people in my camp early on, and one said it reminded him of Coldplay. I was like, ‘Well, isn’t that a good thing? They sell a shit-ton of records.’”

To be clear: Nothing on Ode To Thinking sounds even remotely like Coldplay. Recorded by Mark Hallman at his Congress House Studios in Austin in September, the album was funded by a PledgeMusic campaign after Long cut ties with ATO. “It was just me and the producer in the studio; I played whatever, and Mark played the rest,” says Long. “We’d start a song in the morning, and we wouldn’t stop until we were finished. We did 24 tracks in, like, 10 days.”

With its crisp, unobtrusive production and emphasis on Long’s gritty, increasingly nuanced vocals, Ode is a solid compromise between Wishbone’s burly full-band sound and the sparse, live-to-tape feel of 2011’s A Winter Tale, produced by Grammy winner Liam Watson (White Stripes). “Not a lot of people work with Liam Watson on their first record—he’s a maverick producer,” says Long. “Maybe I should’ve recorded this album first.”
Perhaps that would’ve made Wishbone easier to swallow.

—Hobart Rowland

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SOAK: Killing Them Softly

SOAK

Still in her teens, SOAK is an old soul with a young heart

Latitude 30 is your typical Sixth Street watering hole: sticky floors, $2.50 Jägerbombs, shitfaced collegiate carousing. At the moment, however, all is quiet, by order of an effusive BBC DJ, who’s just introduced the next act in a string of showcases. Shrouded in dense red-and-blue stage lights, Bridie Monds-Watson (a.k.a. SOAK) makes her way gingerly to the front of the stage with her acoustic guitar. Jagged bangs partially obscuring her eyes; she looks significantly younger than her 19 years. That the packed club stays silent for a solid half-hour is all the more surreal, given the barely controlled South By Southwest chaos unfolding just outside.

“My music works better in the quiet,” says Bridie (the name she prefers in conversation) over the phone from England, several weeks after her SXSW appearance. “It just wouldn’t get across otherwise.”

A few hours from now, the Derry, Ireland, native will be appearing on Later… With Jools Holland, sharing airtime with Father John Misty and Paul Weller, the latter almost three times her age. At SXSW, SOAK’s stunning half-hour set cast teenage upheaval in a luminous confessional glow, carried along by a voice from another planet—though not in the histrionic Björk sense. Her singing can’t help but convey a certain vulnerability, though that unusual Derry accent helps subdue any overt preciousness.

Bridie first picked up a guitar six years ago, and she still has no problem singing stuff she wrote at 14—songs like “Sea Creatures,” the title track of her first EP, released when she was 16 and still catching rides to gigs with her mom. “I wrote it about a friend who was getting bullied in school,” says Bridie. “It was very stream of consciousness … kind of like getting everything out of my head. When I sing it now, I just try to put myself in the position I was in when I wrote it.”

“Sea Creatures” can also be found on the new Before We Forgot How To Dream (Rough Trade), a richly varied full-length debut that’s being pegged as a coming-of-age statement. Truth is, SOAK already sounds pretty damn sure of herself. And while a lyric like “I’ve got a ghost, and she’s haunting me” seems to speak to some degree of dysfunction, home has always been a place of acceptance for Bridie. The middle child of three, she was 14 when she told her parents she was gay. Both are supportive wannabe hippie types with solid jobs and killer vinyl collections. “My parents were always playing music around the house,” says Bridie, an avid skateboarder when she’s not performing. “My dad would play ‘Sweet Baby James’ on his guitar as a lullaby.”

In 2012, a demo of “Sea Creatures” found its way to the BBC courtesy of Bridie herself, who uploaded it to the station’s “Introducing” web page. Radio 1 latched onto it from there, and she wound up on a European tour with Tegan & Sara. Things advanced even further when she met Tommy McLaughlin, of the Dublin-based indie-folk outfit Villagers, who produced Dream and is now part of SOAK’s touring band.

Since her eye-opening SXSW appearance, the minor buzz is approaching a loud hum in the U.S., and she’ll be touring small venues here over the course of the summer. But is it all coming too fast? “It doesn’t seem like it happened all that quick,” says Bridie. “I’ve been playing gigs since I was 15, so, to me, it feels like a slow and steady rise.”

Four years can seem like a lifetime to a teenager.

—Hobart Rowland

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Failure: Two Communicate

Failure

Nearly two decades after Failure’s greatest triumph, the trio returns with its brilliant bookend

A lifetime of change can occur in a year. Multiply that calendar by 20, and the potential for course deviation rises to an almost astronomical level. Factor in the context of a band’s history and you’re looking at a possible alternate reality of epic science-fiction proportions.

Perhaps that’s why Failure’s new album, The Heart Is A Monster, is an unexpected surprise. After a two-decade absence and a parade of band/side projects, guitarist/vocalist Ken Andrews, bassist/vocalist Greg Edwards and drummer Kellii Scott reconvened to follow up 1996’s critically acclaimed and commercially ignored Fantastic Planet. Monster sounds contemporarily fresh, and yet still feels like a logical next step 19 years after its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean Monster was stitched together the same way.

“The only difference between this album and Fantastic Planet is that we’re older now and we have families and kids,” says Andrews. “The idea of doing exactly what we did on Fantastic Planet, where we rented a house and lived like a little fraternity for six months, wasn’t going to happen.”

Failure’s reunion began nearly 10 years after the band’s 1997 break-up, which was fueled by Edwards’ substance issues (although Andrews readily admits they all struggled; see sidebar). After a fairly long stretch—Andrews pursued new directions with ON, Year Of The Rabbit and a solo album, while the newly sober Edwards assembled Autolux. The pair rekindled their friendship, a process that continued when Andrews and Edwards became first-time fathers, and eventually expanded into informal jams at Andrews’ home studio.

“It was all super casual, but we came up with a couple songs that sort of sounded like Failure,” says Andrews. “The backdrop of us hanging out again was that our friends were like, ‘You guys need to get the band back together.’ But Greg was doing Autolux, and still is, and my main job is mixing records for other people, so there wasn’t this huge, ‘We’ve got to do this because we don’t have anything else going on.’ It just came down to desire. I think we both started waking up and going, ‘What do we really want to do today?’ I wanted to get back in the studio with Greg, and I think he wanted to get back in the studio with me.”

Eventually, Andrews and Edwards formalized the reunion with the stated purpose of crafting true Failure songs and creating the successor to one of the 1990s’ greatest albums. The sticking point for Andrews wasn’t necessarily in believing that Fantastic Planet was an influential and beloved work; it was whether there was demand for another Failure album in the new millennium.

“We keep hearing how Failure has become this cult favorite, but there’s no way to gauge what that means,” says Andrews. “We proved to ourselves that we could make something we think is cool and is potentially a worthy follow-up to Fantastic Planet, but is anyone out there who will listen to it or care? So, we booked the L.A. show that happened in February 2014, and it sold out right away. That’s when we knew we should make a full go of this.”
The trio flirted with dropping an EP and leaving it at that, but the response to the L.A. show was overwhelmingly and undeniably positive. The stage was set for a full-scale Failure resurgence.

“We realized there’s a whole new audience for our band,” says Andrews. “It gave us inspiration to finish a full-length.”

The Heart Is A Monster crackles with Fantastic Planet’s incendiary passion, and even mimics its physical structure; “Segue 1,” “2” and “3” on Fantastic Planet are mirrored by “Segue 4” through “9” on Monster. The blistering ring of Failure’s skewed metallic grunge remains as thrilling in the present tense as it did 20 years ago, and the trio has been energized by resurrecting the songs, sounds and processes it created almost half a lifetime ago.

“Failure’s core sound is Greg and I working together—we’ve had different drummers, but I’d say Kelli is a big part of the sound now—but without us, the Failure sound doesn’t happen,” says Andrews. “The first three albums were all pretty different. In the most functional way, we tried to emulate Fantastic Planet in terms of writing and recording songs one at a time, soup to nuts, before moving on. That was the major difference between Fantastic Planet and the albums before that. The studio becomes less about a technical exercise of recording a song you’ve already demoed and becomes a discovery thing, and it makes for an overall more creative experience.”

—Brian Baker

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Flesh World: Positive Feedback

FleshWorld

Long live Flesh World’s unique commingling of punk, pop and noise

Flesh World comes at you with an overwhelming rush of melody and noise. On The Wild Animals In My Life, the band’s first full-length, guitarist/vocalist Jess Scott and guitarist/synthesizer player Scott Moore produce a sizzling tidal wave of feedback-drenched guitar pandemonium that overwhelms your senses. Scott’s warm voice bobs along on the crest of the breaker, like a delicate origami boat, a splash of color that complements the darkness of the music.
“We love feedback,” says Scott. “My favorite part of the record is the last few minutes of ‘Here In The Dark.’ It’s nothing but feedback and synthesizer noise. It comes at you like a racecar.”

Scott (Brilliant Colors) and Moore (Limp Wrist) put the band together to fuse the most extreme elements of the music they love: hardcore punk and carefree pop. “After Brilliant Colors, I was in a punk band where I just sang,” says Scott. “I didn’t play guitar. I jumped around the stage like a monkey. It made my singing stronger and more melodic. That experience became a pivot between Brilliant Colors and this band.”

The group’s aggressive twin-guitar attack, supported by drummer Diane Anastasio and bassist Andrew Luttrell, relies on music more than lyrics to get its message across.

“I like to leave room for interpretation,” says Scott. “One person’s obvious is another person’s riddle. Defining yourself as gay traps you in a historical, linear way of thinking. Music is about creating something that’s above all that.”

The album art, a photo of a man slipping out of a black leather jacket, is just as striking as the band’s music.
“It’s a photo by J. Brian, a well-known gay porn director from the ’70s,” says Scott. “It’s elegant and unisexual, gay without shouting gay, which is what we’re aiming at. Like the lyrics, it has an ambiguous element we like.”

—j. poet

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MAGNET Feedback With Chris Stamey 

ChrisStamey

There are a few classic modalities of musical commentary. One is where an observer writes about how the music makes him feel, including thoughts that come to mind in an almost stream of consciousness way—Paul Nelson rhapsodizing about Dylan in Crawdaddy! comes to mind. Once you get familiar with, say, Robert Christgau’s tastes, you have a slide rule by which to take it with a dash of salt (to mix metaphors) and decide if it’s something you, too, might like or dislike.

Another modality is that of the trees-not-the-forest variety, i.e., Stravinsky’s famous record review where he said nothing about musical intention or evoked emotions or grandiose literary allusions, but simply noted places where “the tuba came in early in bar 58” and “tempi were ignored in the last movement” (not literal quotes here).

And then there’s the “everyman/woman” utilitarian approach, one I love. I’m not sure which Atlanta/Athens ’80s fanzine it was—maybe Tasty World or Flagpole?—whose every live review had this form: “They started around midnight,” followed by one or two details, maybe about the band’s clothes. Then it gets to the point: “And we danced and danced and danced.” I’m not sure which of these camps I fall into, since writing (or even talking) about music is something I have until now managed for the most part to escape doing! But it was nice of MAGNET to ask. Let’s see what happens. —Chris Stamey

Ryan Adams, “Gimme Something Good”
from: Ryan Adams
Hypnotic Fender rhythm-guitar accents with spring reverb in a minor key, a good backbeat, organ drones from the Benmont Tench school of stealth (and it’s actually him; how perfect). I could listen to a loop of just the intro, even, for a few hours. It reminds me of the similarly ’verby cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that Whiskeytown and I cut years ago during one long, long session. Desolation reverb, minimal elements, nothing extraneous, classic tones.
The static texture fits the lyric about “waiting here until the end of time.” Then the launching pad of the VI-VII (IV-V of the relative major) seems about to move it forward, but it gets stuck on the insistent title “gimme something good” and moves into 3/4 phrasing until the 3 against 4 adds up to an even sum to bounce it back into the minor verse groove again. A tight connection between a song’s lyric and music is what good songwriting is all about. It’s so cool that, the next time it launches into the “gimme something good” 3/4 phrasing, it goes on and on, entreating, seeming much more desperate because of the unexpected extra bars as the math collides and spins out of control.
I’m with Letterman: This is an easy song to listen to over and over. (The last dB’s record had a tune that reminded me at the time of Ryan’s writing, I guess in the drop-D guitar chord fingerings—pinkie finger required—but also in the dissatisfaction with status quo, the plea for help; it was similarly entreating, and similarly titled: “Send Me Something Real.”)

Big Star, “Nightime”
from: Third
I know this one well, having played it with Chilton in the late ’70s, and more recently at a series of international concerts of Third/Sister Lovers, the album it’s on. (And, by the way, does “sister lovers” come partly from that line in David Crosby’s “Triad”?) This recording was mind-blowing when I first heard it on a raggedy bootleg cassette, and once I dug into the specifics of its notation for the concerts (courtesy of original arranger Carl Marsh), its icy artificial harmonics and vibrato shivers, its specific “text painting” of the lyric, my mind was blown again. (I have to tell you, to stand onstage right next to a good string quartet and play this song and hear those combinations of sounds en plein air is transporting, amazing, every time.) Even the one-“t” misspelled song title seems to say this is one of a kind here. It was one of the real handshake drugs for me and many others, early on—that combination of folk guitar, confessional lyric and chamber music. Still unique now, but really groundbreaking then, and doubly so when following two landmark electric-guitar records. In contrast, when Chilton would play this song in our CBGB sets in NYC, it became a wild, demonic thing at times: gloves off, feedback in place of string harmonics, and the lyrics would shift around: “When you’re in the moon, you look more like a werewolf,” for example. And that vindictive version, too, was very, very nice.

Wilco, “Candyfloss”
from: Summerteeth
Wilco is a band that doesn’t let grass grow under their feet. I like this period of their landscape, although Being There is the record I know better from around this time. There’s a lot that sounds Beach Boys-y to me on this, in that handmade piece-by-piece manner, but it also has a little bit of the sound of that era’s digital convertors, perhaps, that kind of grain. (As we all did in those years.) Very nice to hear the bass panned all the way to one side; CDs really liberated the sonic panorama in some ways. If you did this positioning on vinyl with any big low end, the lopsided groove pits might make the needle flip right out of its road.
I think it’s the jolliness of the melody that reminds me most of Brian Wilson, perhaps circa Love You, but also Pet Sounds in the “what the hell’s going on here?” clatter and space echo of the harpsichord-like intro, the happy fairgrounds organ throughout, and the stacked-guitars-and-keys handoffs during the instrumental. Of course, any song that talks about a Slip ’N Slide sounds summery to the max. Maybe the acoustic guitar could have, in hindsight, been cut in the verses to leave some more room in the mix there? Or maybe not … Jeff Tweedy is so adept with a turn of a phrase, his lyrics have that “did he really say that?” quality. You hear more cool lines every time you spin his songs. A good song for the morning. (Like one of the Three Stooges, I’m perpetually surprised by Opera Man there at the end.)

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The Bird And The Bee: Busy Bees

BirdAndTheBee

The Bird And The Bee carves out some spare time for an unexpected triumph

Inara George doesn’t blame anyone for believing that the Bird And The Bee (her L.A.-based duo with Greg Kurstin) was kaput. After all, it had been five long years since its last effort, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates, and six since its sophomore set of space-age lounge-pop originals, Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future. George stayed busy with the Living Sisters, while Kurstin worked with Pink, Lily Allen and Kelly Clarkson, as well as overseeing Tegan & Sara’s 2014’s hit Heartthrob. “But we never really broke up,” she says. “We just stopped making music as quickly as we used to.”

Now the team has bounced back with an unexpected new release, Recreational Love, featuring jazzy, cocktail-exotic concoctions like the bubbly “Runaway,” the pulsing “Jenny,” the new-wave-edged “Doctor” and kickoff single “Will You Dance?” an undulating hand-clapper with a surreal lavatory-filmed video that boasts appearances from actors Patton Oswalt and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg. More surprising is the method they employed to accomplish this feat—composing and recording only one day a week, Friday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. On the dot.

“I have a five-year-old, and two almost-three-year-olds at this point, and the last time the Bird And The Bee put out an album was right before my eldest was born,” says George, the daughter of Little Feat’s Lowell George, and wife of film/TV director Jake Kasdan. “So, that’s what kind of stalled everything, in addition to Greg’s amazing career. So, we had a standing date—for the last five years, we’d just get together for a couple of hours on Friday and just sort of chip away at this record. So we could always keep working on the music.”

The setup suited Kurstin perfectly. As his schedule booked up—and he began tackling assignments like scoring the soundtrack for last year’s Annie reboot—he could still conduct personal business on Friday afternoons. The appointments always started the same way: with roughly 20 minutes of discussion before he’d begin experimenting with piano chords while George toyed with melodies. “And then I start to think of where the song’s going to go on the production side of things,” he says. “So, we work simultaneously, and it’s a bit of a race sometimes to see who finishes first.”

“I’m usually able to finish first,” says George. “But Greg’s so fast. We used to have the goal of finishing the song in one session. Now we kind of half-bake it and then check in with it the next week. We can really think about whether the song is good.” The musicians estimate they ditched a full two albums’ worth of tracks; just when they thought they were finished with Recreational Love, they’d pen more material. “We were our best and worst critics,” says George.

In fact, “Will You Dance?” was originally relegated to the slush pile. Three years ago, it was slated for an early version of the album. “But it got pushed aside, “ says George. “Then Rachel—Greg’s wife and our manager—heard an old mix of it in the car, and she said, ‘Why isn’t this song on the record?’ And we didn’t have to do too much to it to change it. It went from the chopping block to being our first single.”

So, not only did the pair not splinter; they see no reason to discontinue the relationship any time in the foreseeable future.

“It feels like we can do anything with the Bird And The Bee,” says Kurstin. “There are no rules. We can make our records however we want.”

—Tom Lanham

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White Reaper: Caught In A Mosh

WhiteReaper

The blistering Louisville punkers in White Reaper are unbalanced in a very good way

White Reaper is known for the scorching power of its onstage attack. The band generates a thick, throbbing musical pulse that blends interlocking rhythmic figures and sinuous lead lines played simultaneously at an ear-splitting volume, while the group turns the stage into an obstreperous mosh pit with its uncontained approach. The quartet—guitarist/vocalist Tony Esposito, keyboardist Ryan Hater, bassist Sam Wilkerson and drummer Nick Wilkerson—is rolling down the highway on the way to a gig in Detroit, its phone conversation as energetic as its music.

“We love to bounce around and bump into each other when we’re onstage,” says Esposito. “I accidently gave Sam a bloody nose the other night.”

Hater chimes in: “I fall off the stage all the time. I lose all control when I’m playing.”

The band’s debut album, White Reaper Does It Again, is as intense as its live shows, cramming 12 bursts of furious, punk-fueled mayhem into 34 minutes. It’s loud and full of infuriatingly catchy, distortion-drenched guitar hooks, sinister sci-fi keyboard accents and a rhythm section tough enough to shatter concrete. The band’s sound has hints of the Ramones, ’60s Britpop, ’70s thrash and neo-classical rockers like Ty Segall, all delivered in WR’s own inimitable highly charged style.

“We all agree that the Ramones are the best band ever,” says Hater. “We don’t think of any band or era when we’re making songs, but we’re a four-piece, so those influences just kinda happen.”

“I have arrangements in mind when I write the songs,” says Esposito, “but everybody puts a bit of their own flavor into them. When we have enough good songs, we find a studio and go for it.”

“The music just does its own thing,” says Hater. “There’s no conscious thought about how we want to sound. We just make up songs and play ’em.”

—j. poet

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